In anticipation of the 88th Academy Awards set for Feb. 28, Et Cetera writer Hunter Cave, life & arts editor David Silva, news editor James Hartley and intro to cinema professor Dusty Thomas sat down to discuss their love for movies and the biggest award of the night: Best Picture. This is a short summary of their thoughts on the Oscar heavyweights. Cave chose ‘Spotlight’ as his “will win” and Silva wanted it as his “Should win.”
—Compiled by David Silva
Illustrations by Jonathan Wences/The Et Cetera.
This collaboration between the Coen brothers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks proves to be a powerful film. Based on the 1960 negotiations for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, the Cold War setting could have made for an uneventful spy movie, but Spielberg allows the emotion to bleed through the screen. Hanks’s powerful performance as the complex and burdened lawyer of an accused traitor makes for an excellent Spielberg-Hanks matchup, and the Coen brothers’ signature screenwriting shines through several characters.
Directed by John Crowley, the film tells the story of a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) who immigrates to Brooklyn and quickly falls in love. However, her life in Ireland catches up to her, and she finds herself stuck between two distant worlds. This historical period drama does an excellent job capturing the 1950s setting, with top-notch costume and set design. However, the film suffers from a sedated tone and a familiar tale. It’s perhaps the least known of the nominees and for good reason, as it doesn’t jump out of the screen with passion.
Director George Miller’s fourth Mad Max film is set in a future desert wasteland. It follows Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) as he joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to escape from a powerful cult that controls water and gasoline. The visual and sound effects add to the film that delivers the post-Apocalyptic world the early Mad Max films led up to. Ultimately, the effects cannot support the weak plot. The movie seems out of place in comparison to the other heavy hitters, at best being a fun shoot-em-up adventure.
Brie Larson’s breakthrough performance makes the risky and existential plot of “Room” a grounded and even relatable experience. Based on the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name, the film takes the audience inside the room in which a woman and her son have been held captive for five years. After finally gaining their freedom, the film focuses on the boy’s first experiences in the outside world. Director Lenny Abrahamson keeps a steady pace in the early claustrophobic setting and creates a colorful and complex world that Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay’s characters break into.
The film follows the Boston Globe news team that uncovered the Catholic church’s molestation scandal in 2001. This film flows perfectly through every individual reporter’s assignment and subplot to build a story full of depth and class. Director Tom McCarthy takes a multilayered and hard-fought piece of investigative journalism and breaks it into compelling journeys taken by the Spotlight team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James).
“The Big Short” features an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. However, the film is elevated by director and writer Adam McKay’s ability to tell a story that could have easily been a snooze fest. Based on the Wall Street actions that led to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the film is a funny, easy to understand and overall satisfying tale.
Based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, “The Martian” follows the story of Mark Watney (Matt Damon) after he’s pronounced dead and left to struggle to survive on Mars. The film also takes the audience behind the scenes of NASA’s various attempts to find Watney and return him home. Damon’s performance soars in what could have been a cliché search-and-rescue drama, adding a fun and confident element to the majority of the film. Director Ridley Scott stays true to the majority of the novel, and the special effects and scientific accuracy earns it its Oscar nod. However, it doesn’t seem to hold up to the grandeur of the other nominees, experiencing certain inconsistencies in pace and humor. Also, the cast seems to overcrowd some aspects of the film, making Scott’s consistency with the novel a bit of a backfire.
Based on Michael Punke’s novel of betrayal and revenge, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu presents the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). Glass is abandoned by his fellow fur trappers after he’s mauled by a grizzly bear, and after he witnesses his half-native son’s murder, committed by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Glass sets out on a long and bitter journey to find Fitzgerald. DiCaprio’s passionate performance contrasts Hardy’s treacherous villain, and the two are paired with Lubeski’s stunning and poetic cinematography that drives this film to its Oscar nomination. However, the lack of a strong motive and character development can make the film appear as mere spectacle. The beautiful scenery does not seem to be enough to elevate the film.