Why Should We Care About the Oscars?

By VFS Web Team, on February 25, 2016

Few people love or know more about films than Vancouver Film School Writing Instructor Paul Jensen. So, when we wanted a breakdown of the Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars, the choice was obvious: Paul. Always ask Paul.

Enjoy this epic analysis!

Guest Post by Paul Jensen

The Academy Awards is Hollywood’s biggest awards show of the year with a television audience as large as that of the Superbowl or the Olympic Games; no other awards show garners as much hype.  Advertisements can cost above $2 million for a 30-second spot of air time, fans host Oscar parties, draw ballots on the winners.  For film buffs this is the biggest night of the year.  However, of late, there has been much controversy shrouding the Oscars with statements like are they out of touch with modern audiences, what’s the appeal in 2016, are people losing interest -- why tune in?  Are they still as relevant as they used to be?

Ricky Gervais nailed it during the Golden Globes when he joked that those award shows are only important to the celebrities nominated.  The whole purpose of the Academy Awards is to acknowledge those filmmakers that go the extra mile.  So why do the rest of us tune in?  Is it to hear the jokes and the stars’ reactions to being roasted live?  Or is it to see a room full of familiar famous people, hear the speeches, witness political jabs and perhaps even some controversy?  Some tune in simply to enjoy the formidable fashions, others truly want to see who wins – maybe even place bets.  After all, the never ending debate about what films are the best always gets people riled up.  Speaking of riled up, the controversy of #OscarsSoWhite seems to have hit an apex; never has this issue been attacked with as much venom and fervor as over the last two years.  People are sick to death of the white male dominance in the categories.

Apart from bringing awareness to powerful and profound themes, at their core, the Best Picture Nominees deal with the notion of ‘integrity’, and it seems like the Oscars seem to be embracing this in their own right.  With an unparalleled move, for the first time since its inception, The Academy Awards have announced that they will be changing their voting system.  Starting from next year, they plan to move away from the cliché of the white male voter whose average age is 62.  Instead, they will only allow film artists still working in the industry to cast votes, thus allowing for newer votes, those of mixed colour and ethnicity as well as more women, to be accepted.  Will this controversial change bring in fresh blood and allow for more diversity?  Time will tell.

On the flip side, as the saying goes – there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  Ratings have ironically soared with people seeming to have renewed interest in the show.  People have a morbid curiosity to see how Oscar host, comedian Chris Rock will handle the race issue - will he be unforgettably funny or will it be awkward and simply embarrassing.  The tension of the Red Carpet might also be entertaining to watch.  Bad publicity is good publicity. Mainly it has brought attention and made people even more aware and that is the first step to change.

THE REVENANT

Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has blazed to the forefront as one of Hollywood’s most coveted directors.  Last year’s Best Picture winner for Birdman, Iñárritu astonishes again with an ambitious survival story that emanates authenticity.  Shot in sequence, the film puts its cast and crew through the wringer both physically and emotionally; brutal conditions, freezing cold temperatures, shooting with only natural light so only 90 minutes a day… is it any wonder that actor Tom Hardy put the director in a headlock during a serious conflict on set?

Leonardo DiCaprio. For an actor known for dialogue-driven films, Leo barely speaks and when he does, it is rarely English.  Despite being vegetarian, DiCaprio threw himself into his character, ate raw meat which he later threw up, all while freezing his hands practically solid. And then there’s the bit where he actually slept inside a horse’s corpse overnight to prepare for the role.  Is this what an actor now has to do to win an Oscar?  Talk about giving us a convincing portrayal! 

It is worth mentioning that it is thanks to DiCaprio that these ambitious films get made in the first place.  An R-Rated high-priced grim survival story?  And it brought in a major profit?!  Like Leo’s work with Scorsese, he seems to know how to pick his artful projects.

In The Revenant, you believe everything you see on screen.  Even the jaw-dropping bear attack is handled with utmost respect to the accuracy of nature.  The animal displays both dominance and control, thus practically raping DiCaprio’s character on a symbolic level.  The bear is also only protecting her cubs, much like Leo is trying to protect his son.  There is a strong feminine theme throughout.  Not just the bear but also Mother Nature, the sole-surviving old woman in the massacred village and Leo’s wife guiding him onwards.  In film, women often represent the future in a symbolic sense; without women there would be no future.  As in Mad Max, women represent progress, civilization, community, family and home.  In classic westerns, they represent the taming of the Wild West whereas men often represent its anarchy.  Throughout both The Revenant and Mad Max, the feminine spirit is strong and guides our heroes.

It is a committed and brave film of conscience where everything you see on screen is real (heck, they even triggered a real avalanche!).  The Revenant sits nicely alongside legendary films by Werner Herzog (like Aguirre, Wrath of God and especially the legendary filming of Fitzcarraldo) and the production is reminiscent of Apocalypse Now.  Iñárritu draws from his foreign film influences of both Andrei Tarkovsky and Akira Kurosawa (the scene of DiCaprio healing in the sweat lodge is very reminiscent of a similar blizzard sequence in Dersu Uzala).

The film doesn’t just tell a story but it makes you experience an exhausting journey through constant resurrection, and ultimately the triumph of the human spirit.  Leo is consistently reborn, first in the grave, then baptized in the freezing water, then in the hut during the snowstorm, then inside the horse – literally emerging naked and covered in blood; then finally once again, in the bath at the fort, cleansing himself of all the horror.  The film captures the endurance of human will – metaphorically, like the roots of a tree, human will and perseverance is strong and deeply rooted.  The branches might sway in a blistering wind, but in the end the trunk – the soul and sprit – will survive.  Leo’s will for justice for his son is what keeps him persevering.

The grisly bits are balanced with poetic and reflective moments that remind us of Terrence Malick (particularly The New World).  The dirt and fog on the camera lens, the sound design itself by allowing Leo’s heavy breathing to overtake the soundtrack, and finally, his piercing look directly into the camera – at us - all involve the audience in a way that’s cathartic, visceral and self-reflective.  As Leo weeps for his son, and we drift into the clouds as if weeping for an entire people whose land was invaded and way of life destroyed for the natural resources their lands held.  It was Aboriginals back then, and today it just as well may be invading the Middle East for its oil.

The Revenant is about the birth of capitalism – take everything and give back nothing.  Raping the land for profit.  Tom Hardy’s character is the epitome of the birth of capitalism. He meant no harm and was transparent about what he stood for – making money off the pelts no matter what it took.

Visually, The Revenant is a spectacular film.  Director of Photography Emanuel Lubezki has a good shot at winning the Oscar for the third time in a row.  The opening battle scene alone is jaw-dropping and believable.  His extended long-shots having become famous among Mexican filmmakers thanks to his work on Alfonso Cauron’s Children of Men and Gravity, and Iñárritu’s very own Birdman.  It is also worth noting that Lubezki also shot both Terrance Malick’s The New World (also dealing with the invading aboriginal lands) and the modern masterpiece Tree of Life.  Using natural lighting has become the norm for him.

Getting back to DiCaprio, the final moments of the film where vengeance is within his grasp, reminded me of the old Chinese Proverb that if you seek vengeance, be prepared to dig two graves; one for yourself when you return.

DiCaprio looks at us and essentially tells us to let it go.  We’ve got to stop invading other countries and the onslaught of destruction from one country to the next. Instead of trying to conquer nature we should try and be in synch with it.  DiCaprio let’s go of the Tom Hardy’s body and lets it float down the river, embracing the natural way of things.

The Revenant is an epic film (Martin Scorsese called it a masterpiece) that manages to capture both mammoth landscapes alongside the human face.  Whether it is a Native American face or our survivor DiCaprio, we see the desperate humanity in these people.  In the end it’s the kind of film that makes you feel alive and perhaps a little grateful.

On a side note, Iñárritu is the only non-white person nominated from all the major categories. If he wins again it will be the second Oscar in a row. (He took home the DGA award twice in a row - also a first). He is a true auteur with a reoccurring theme of father and children.  If he does win, hopefully it won’t be as stressful as last time when he was winning the Oscar for Birdman.  Amidst the Oscar hoopla, he was receiving news that their entire location for Revenant was flooding. Two days later he was back on set in the madness.

SPOTLIGHT

It may not have the size and scale of ambition as The Revenant but it certainly has its equal share of integrity and bravery.  Spotlight attempts to be as objective as journalism is supposed to be.  It captures the integrity of reporting the truth.  Reminiscent of a 70’s political thriller like All the President’s Men, but instead of attacking the President of the Unites States, the writers are attacking the church’s cover up of pedophilia.   Its attack on the church is as bold as when the writers of President’s Men tried to get Richard Nixon out of office.  On a personal note, the church in my neighborhood is planning on holding Oscar sermons about each Best Picture nominee in hopes to get younger audiences and larger crowds to attend.  It may very well be the first time since Sunday school during my youth that I’d be tempted to attend simply to hear how they address Spotlight.

Spotlight is directed by Tom McCarthy who, ironically, played a journalist with zero integrity on the award winning TV series The Wire.  Based on true events, this film not only exposes a crucial issue and cover-up which, tragically, is still occurring around the world, but it also focuses on a community in which everyone finds it easier to turn a blind eye to what’s happening.  Most regular folk hope to sweep unpleasant issues under the rug.  Spotlight, as the title suggests, does the opposite.  It strives towards truth and honesty in a community, both on a personal scale (the relationship between Rachel McAdams’ character and her Grandma), and on a larger scale with the city of Boston, and how a city’s local papers can make a difference.

The set-up of the film allows us to follow a hierarchy of knowledge and power from bottom to the top.  Starting with Mark Ruffalo’s character at the bottom, eager to follow-up a lead and investigate by pounding the pavement.  He still has journalistic hunger and doggedness in him.  Next up the rung is his boss, Michael Keaton, yet he also answers to a Supervisor.  Then we have the Stanley Tucci character – a lawyer with integrity - who holds many of the answers which he cannot disclose as compared to the slick rich lawyers with their secrets, then finally the Priests and ultimately the Vatican.  The film does an excellent job is revealing how everyone is guilty.  Just like with a community turning a blind eye to injustice and the truth, we all potentially share blame at avoiding dealing with ugly realities.

This may very well have the best ensemble cast of the year.  Such understated acting.  The restraint across the board is applause worthy.  The filmmakers refuse to show any melodrama.  Something they could have so easily done with the victims. Instead, they stick to the facts; like true news is supposed to.

Mark Ruffalo’s twitch and mannerisms are apparently an extremely accurate portrayal of real life Mike Rezendes, whom he is playing.  Ruffalo captures a young journalist’s eagerness and impatience with boyish buoyancy, ready to jump to his feet and get in the thick of a story.  So it is especially powerful to see him, of all the characters, breakdown to McAdams and reveal the he essentially felt that a part of him had been ripped away because in his heart of hearts, he felt he might return to the church one day.  In this sense, this film talks not only of physical rape, but emotional and spiritual rape as well.

Likewise McAdams also delivers a performance filled with nuance and subtlety.  When interviewing the now adult victims, a lesser film would have had her show sympathy.  The film resists her reaching out with a hug or touch of a hand and instead she maintains professionalism, focusing almost mechanically on the facts.  It would be easy to pull emotion out of the audience by milking the victim’s tragic stories, but this is not what the film is trying to do.  Instead, it keeps a distance and simply wants to expose this issue.

After giving an unforgettably bold and dramatic performance in Birdman, Michael Keaton demonstrates his range through restraint - just like a Supervisor at a newspaper is meant to do.  For this film, subtlety is the key.  Even a reference to 9/11 is handled in a manner which is downplayed; as Mark Ruffalo’s character heads off to Florida, when asked why he went, Keaton simply responds, “That’s where they learned to fly,” referring to the terrorists who piloted the planes.  Nothing is spoon-fed to the audience and this is what 70’s filmmaking had in spades. 

The editing is also extremely tight.  The filmmakers trim the fat and deliver tight scenes which we enter at the last possible moment and get out as soon as possible.  The writers create suspense during potentially dull scenes.  Take for example Ruffalo trying to get the documents from the Record Office; he arrives too late so the office is close, the next morning, the clerk refuses to release the files to him saying he needs to get clearance from a judge.  The judge hesitates in granting clearing after learning why Ruffalo wants the files.  After getting clearance, Ruffalo returns to the Records’ Office only to be told he cannot remove the original documents from the building and that he must make copies.  Of course, the photocopier is located elsewhere in the building.  After he finally gets everything done, he barely catches a taxi to take him back to the office!  Talk about brilliant progressive complications.  And that was just one sequence; the film is full of them. Is it any wonder why it is nominated (and most likely win) for Best Screenplay?

Its ending is also powerful yet subtle and non-dramatic.  After the story breaks loose, we expect to hear an outcry of protests and the “powers that be” attack the newspaper.  Instead our main characters are shown back in their office as the phones start to ring with victims coming forward.  The floodgates have opened and a cathartic outpouring of therapeutic confessions come streaming through the phone lines.  This story is proof that media - and as an extension film - can make a difference in bringing awareness and hopefully change for the better.  This is why we have the Oscars.  To award great works of art like Spotlight.

THE BIG SHORT

This political satire directly addresses the 2008 housing crisis in America, exposing how things got out of hand along with who should be held accountable.

The film is adapted by a novel of the same name written by author Michael Lewis, who also wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side.  Impressively all his books have been nominated for Best Picture.

Credit must be given to the filmmakers for making what could potentially have been a dry subject entertaining thanks to solid casting, interesting yet absurd characters, and a slick film style.

Christian Bale captures socially inept, introverted, yet incredibly intelligent, character Michael Burry perfectly.  As illustrated in The Social Network, these ‘socially challenged nerds’ are running the world right now.

Why has Oscars embraced the film?  Simply put:  it is the underdog story.  Not just the socially awkward characters who triumph in the end but even the “little guy” who is struggling to get to the top or get a piece of the pie, like with the two young partners.

As with Twelve Years a Slave, Brad Pitt returns to play a small yet integral role which summarizes the moral compass of the film.  No coincidence, he is the Producer on both films. 

Perhaps what is most unusual about this film is that it is a very recent story.  The people involved are still alive and went through this only 8 years ago.  Talk about relevant.  It must almost feel as if they are hanging out their dirty laundry for everyone to see, especially since everyone comes across like total money-grabbing asses.  Of all the characters, however, Steve Carell’s is probably the most interesting.  He’s a total jerk, yet he imbues the morality of the film often addressing ethical concerns amidst the crisis of the housing bubble collapse.  From a writing perspective this is a great choice – it’s far more fascinating to create this duality of character rather than him simply being a Good Samaritan.

Another unusual choice was hiring of Director Adam McKay previously known for directing Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers.  McKay’s smart-aleck approach may have tickled many viewers but for this reader it felt as if it was trying a little too hard to capture the style of The Wolf of Wall Street which remains a far superior film.

The Big Short also continuously cuts to images of pop culture, making a statement that we were all too pre-occupied with media, movies, celebrity gossip and consumerism, that we were oblivious to the economic crisis unfolding.  Ironically, I would argue that the film itself contributes to this delusion.  It gives us a serious topic but fills it full of bells and whistles in order to make it easier to digest.  As a result, we laugh and grin at the constant winking at the audience.  For my money, a much better underdog story about five guys going up against the powers that be (“Goliath” so to speak) would be Straight Outta Compton.  (But as we can see, the Oscars don’t vote for people of color… right?).

In the end, the lesson we take away from The Big Short, much like Steve Carell’s difficulty in accepting his brother’s suicide, it is difficult for us to comprehend, much less stop the economic travesty that continues to take place in our modern world.  Best to just go ahead and invest in water. 

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

It starts with a cataclysmic bang and never lets up. Apart from what is probably the greatest action ever filmed on screen, one feels the story and characters reach mythic proportions. A post-apocalyptic world obsessed with minimal resources, male vs female social orders, lifeforms preying off one another (the blood bags), use of religious "dogma" to control the masses, all captured with such astonishing craft. George Miller and editor (and wife!) Margaret Sixel manage to tap into fundamental ideas and images that resonate in our collective unconscious. Mad Max becomes a mammoth folktale that both exhilarates and stirs the soul.

This writer would like to share a little story… I was celebrating my 8th birthday and my Dad took me and my friends to see The Road Warrior on the big screen. I couldn’t believe the intensity and R-rated images before me. I could barely take it all in and remain a major fan to this day. I never dreamed that I would be experiencing the exact same arresting and ecstatic rush almost 35 years later. George Miller’s latest installment, Fury Road, blows every other post-apocalyptic movie through the back wall of the theatre. Those magnificent overhead shots with non-CGI stunts, insanely functional vehicles and relentless mayhem keep us gripped, exhausted and afraid to blink from start to finish.

At one point during the onslaught, there was a euphoric moment (amidst one of the many epic and overwhelming car chases) where the strange beauty of its carnage left me dizzy; as if everything that made the original Mad Max and the entire sub-genre work, was pumped directly into my bloodstream, hitting me with post-apocalyptic imagery that teetered on operatic poetry.  

The casting is impeccable with Tom Hardy capturing the isolated, unapologetic and damaged Max to perfection. But the character who steals the show is Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Her no-nonsense and tough-as-nails character is what makes Fury Road so compelling. What she’s fighting for brings about a brilliant and much-needed political subtext. The feminist empowerment elevates the testosterone action to a level of social importance that’s refreshing in a Hollywood blockbuster. At one point she collapses on her knees and lets out a primordial cry for Mother Earth - encapsulating the very essence of post-apocalypse. (Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes has nothing on her).  The poster of the film sums it up succinctly.  The man Max, is muzzled, while the woman, Furiosa stares directly at us in a challenging and determined way, as if to say, “We’re taking charge now. Deal with it.”

Speaking of feminist subtext, even Max himself is baptized through “mother’s milk” after finding a glimpse of redemption. It is one of many poignant moments in a film filled with allegorical imagery. Not least of all, the suspenseful sequence involving Max and Furiosa’s desperate attempt with a dying tree chained to the truck.

Fittingly for a film called Mad Max, the cinematic experience is truly insane. It captures a pre-existing world with zero sentimentality, no-bullshit dialogue, and a pacing that never lets up. Certain images linger long after the film is over.  Like the deserted terrain with vultures and creepy landstriders stalking the dying green wastelands. Suffice it to say, the action set pieces are unparalleled. Here the stunts and intense violence deliver in a way where fans couldn’t possibly ask for anything more. Sci-fi action fans can rejoice. A masterpiece has arrived in all its fury. 

ROOM

A shockingly disturbing film about a young woman and child being held in captivity.  If only this story was pure fantasy… sadly, it’s not.  Emma Donoghue, the Irish-Canadian author of the novel and screenplay was inspired by the real-life horror story of Austrian psychopath Joseph Fritzl who held his daughter Elizabeth captive for 24 years, fathering seven children with her.

In terms of the film, its major achievement lies in vying away from exploitation, focusing instead on the moving relationship between mother and son.  Told from 5-year old Jack’s point of view, we hardly focus on the kidnapper at all.  This is an intimate film with camerawork that captures close quarters effectively – we are in the room with the characters.  The mother Joy and Jack are trapped in a tiny room, a shed in fact.  Despite this horrific premise, the film at its heart is about how family both challenge and help one another.  We are at our best and worst amid family.  The film would work even if all the elements of captivity were removed in that it would become an allegory on parents raising kids. 

The film is a Telefilm Canada production in part with an Irish film company.  It also has an Irish director who expertly balances the terror of the characters captivity with most surprisingly the horror of the aftermath.

Jack’s daring escape ranks as one of the most nail-biting sequences of the year and the cathartic reunion with his mother is devastating as it is relieving.  Brie Larson gives us such a complex, strong, yet fragile character.  Ironically, she is stronger in captivity and slowly becomes more fragile upon release.  The characters are handled with utmost respect.  Likewise, William H. Macy, balances a complex and difficult role in his character.  As Joy’s father, he is unable to look at Jack – his grandson and offspring of his daughter’s rapist.  Even though we know he is wrong, we cannot help but empathize with his predicament.  Coupled with the guilt of not being able to protect his daughter, the breakdown of his marriage with Joy’s mother, he does the only thing he knows how to do: flee.  Realistic and sad.

Then the media gets involved and no holds are barred.  On the one hand, we chastise the reporter as she asks Joy a series of probing and accusatory questions that can only be described as cruel.  Yet… we want to hear the answers to these questions… perhaps we were thinking them ourselves.  Like the reporter we are exploiting the situation.  In fact, our simple act of buying a movie ticket is proof of this.

One of the most intense moments is when the interviewer asks Joy, “Did you ever think of killing yourself?”  Why didn’t she ask kidnapper Old Nick to drop her child off at a hospital so he, at least, could have been saved from captivity?  It is at this point Joy starts to realize that she needed Jack more than he needed her and the guilt that surges from within is devastating.

Yet, in the end, she realizes that Jack does need her, just as she needs him.  Together they heal one another; she gives him the tooth, he gives her a lock of his hair.  Both equate strength.  With love comes pain, and both are held in equal measure.  As difficult as the situation has been for Joy and her parents, the simple statement Jack makes to Joy’s mother of, “I love you, Grandma,” is what makes the film so powerful.  It is family who save one-another through the trials of life.  Like the mother and son, hand-in-hand, walking away from the Room.  They got through it together.

 THE MARTIAN

Legendary director Ridley Scott brings us a story based off a novel written by a scientist.  Bridging the gap between science-fiction and – potentially - science-fact, The Martian is a survival story that is captivating, humorous and thrilling.

At its center is the Oscar-nominated performance by Matt Damon.  He carries the film.  He is the everyman; relatable, endearing, funny and most importantly in this story, believable.  His portrayal of a lone astronaut struggling to stay alive on Mars for months until he gets rescued could have been executed in many different ways from ultra- serious to psychotic to paranoid, but Damon chose to ground the character in levity and practicality which suits his personality, much like Tom Hanks in Castaway. A more serious or forlorn actor portrayal may have not worked.  Imagine a Timothy Dalton-esque actor playing the role?  I don’t imagine it would have taken home the surprising (and frankly absurd prize) of Best Comedy at the Golden Globes.

Apart from its sci-fi premise, this film also brings to light some strong political and socially relevant comments on modern-day society.  Much like Saving Private Ryan, one person (Matt Damon again!) becomes symbolic for people to put aside their differences and try to save a life.  China, England, the US and others work together to achieve what seems impossible.  Add to that the environmental message of sustainability during our current climate change crisis.

In the end, The Martian is highly entertaining if a little forgettable.  Oscar winner?  Certainly not. But it falls nicely into the Apollo 13 category; an adventure survival story that puts mankind in a tough situation but manages to triumph through sheer will, comradery and perseverance. 

BRIDGE OF SPIES

An old-fashioned spy movie that captures the very essence of the spy genre:  Every character has their own agenda and secret motif.  All the characters are hiding some crucial bit of information about the other guy.

None other than Steven Spielberg brings this true story to life in a believable and utterly convincing scenario. The environment and setting is bang on for its time.  The visuals are also extremely Spielberg.  Fascinatingly, the Coen brothers helped write this Oscar nominated script.  A surprise to say the least.  One would normally never associate the Coens along with Spielberg.  But in this case, it clearly worked. That said, for some viewers the whole experience may come off somewhat dry and a little dull.  It’s certainly no Indiana Jones or even Munich.

That said, now that Spielberg is in his “golden age” he is finally tackling one of the more challenging aspects of filmmaking: Talking heads.  Like his previous film Lincoln, so much of Bridge of Spies is characters in confined rooms sharing secrets and nothing more than talking heads.  It is not always easy to make that cinematically thrilling.

But when you have an ace actor like Mark Rylance, it can go a long way.  It also helps having Tom Hanks who effortlessly fits into the role.  But every moment Rylance is on screen, his performance is captivating with his calm and dignified demeanor.  His repeated line of “Will it help?” is also apropos given the theme of the never-ending struggle to make peace between nations.

Once again, we bring it back to integrity.  Hanks’ character becomes an everyday hero by insisting that Rylance is treated fairly.  Like the opening shot of the portrait illustrates, we are all human.  No matter where you come from, what country, religious belief or perspective, there is humanity in each of us.  Like our very human hero himself, we are all susceptible to catching a cold.

BROOKLYN

If you want sweetness and charm, look no further.  This coming of age tale warms the heart as we follow young Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) leaving her small town in Ireland for New York City and then becomes torn between choosing love and modernization over the pull of her homeland.  A classic underdog story, she is an outcast.  Initially unglamorous, introverted and shy, Eilis matures, gains wisdom and experience, and most of all learns about heartache and the difficulty in letting go.

At 21 years of age, Saoirse Ronan is a huge success story.  Not only has she received an Oscar nod, she has achieved this in a role in which she bravely bears her soul and vulnerability.  Much of the success of this film lies in the expressions of the actors, especially Saoirse.  The camera continuously focuses in on her eyes, especially during emotional, quiet and vulnerable moments.  It is this sort of intimacy with the characters that makes Brooklyn stand out.

The worst one can say about this film is that it’s a little light and a tad too safe – a few darker elements would have added another layer to the story.  However, we are willing to overlook this thanks to the universally resonating theme of letting go of your past and living your own life.  The film captures the bond of family, love and sacrifice.  It also highlights differences in culture and the hopes of immigrants wanting to build better lives which is still a relevant theme in our modern world of constant change.  Everyone has a little of this coming-of-age story in them.

Once again, we have another Telefilm Canada production, partnered with the Irish Film Board.  It’s worth mentioning that Canada has an unprecedented amount of involvement in the nominations this year.  Both Brooklyn and Room are Telefilm Canadian productions, while Spotlight and The Revenant were filmed in Canada, and as a result many of the films’ crews came from Canada.

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Getting back to my original question of why should we care about the Oscars?  Every year, the Oscars have a responsibility to acknowledge the talents and the hard work that went into making these films, films that more often than not, reflect universal truths in our lives.  In many ways, it’s us up there on the silver screen.  Like others before them, this year’s eight Best Picture nominees have taken risks to say something of integrity.  Not to mention the many great films nominated in other categories this year. Films such as Carol, The Danish Girl, Creed, Steve Jobs, Anomalisa, Inside Out, Ex Machina, Sicario, Amy, Son of Saul and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all of which have a chance of walking home with an Oscar this Sunday night.  So, if movies are what grab you and you have something to say, then now is as good a time as any get out there and grab the industry by its audacious throat.  After all, it may be you walking that red carpet next year.

In addition to being a six-time “Instructor of the Year” and “Best Course” winner at Vancouver Film School, Paul also hosts the “Film Night” podcast – a delightful deconstruction of modern and classic cinema.

Thanks, Paul! We're all set for the Academy Awards this Sunday!