Saturday, January 16, 2016

Of Space, Struggle and the Travel of Cinema: The 2016 Best Picture Nominees (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Of Space, Struggle and the Travel of Cinema: The 2016 Best Picture Nominees

In one of my poems, I wrote that the movies were a "sedentary jump, inclined to Africa." My point was that the vehicle of the cinema, when used to its full potential, can take us to other lands and other perspectives be they far away or close to home.

This is certainly true with the current batch of Oscar nominations for Best Picture. Each nominated film takes us far and wide, to either an interior space of the mind or a time period that we may be unfamiliar with, or to a distant planet.

The latter setting is especially poignant in the light of David Bowie's unfortunate passing this past week, he who put his mark on the cinema, as well as music, with his many eccentric roles.

First to lead off, there is "The Revenant," Alejandro Inarritu's  dog-eat-dog epic about the 1823 fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his will to survive and avenge his son. This is a genuine man-against-nature story with haunt and circumstance.  The director once again is in excellent form, this time portraying a wild Nature with jagged teeth always ready to tear at a small but stubborn human. DiCaprio is solid and compelling as a hard-bitten man who endures Christ-like suffering to merely breathe in a savage Winter.

Then there is "Room," a film that takes us psychologically within, as much as "The Revenant" focuses on the outside wilderness. Lenny Abrahamson directs this visceral tale about a single mom (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) held captive for years in one windowless room, with only a small sliver of a skylight. While the film might seem at first to be heavily weighted by its subject matter, young newcomer Tremblay gives an extraordinary performance and lifts the somber film to a buoyancy, both heartfelt and poetic.

For those who enjoy raging at recent history, try "The Big Short," an analysis of the subprime housing bubble and the hedge fund managers who bet that the whole mess would go bust. Actor Christian Bale is intense and quirky, as is Steve Carrell as a snarky know it all with a good heart. The financial shenanigans are compelling and while director Adam McKay (Anchorman) often goes for the funny bone (when the reality was much worse), he displays a sure hand.

If your anger is still unquenched, "Spotlight" is a gritty procedure-oriented story about the despicable sexual molestations of priests in the Catholic Church throughout and the no-holds-barred journalists who broke the story.

And if you like feverish Pop Art, Mad Max, the monosyllabic mercenary who spits metal returns in "Fury Road." Tom Hardy excellently inhabits the iconic warrior that Mel Gibson made famous. Hardy's nearly silent interpretation is a study in non-verbal expression as well as a tribute to past matinee heroes.

"Brooklyn" makes a trip of a different sort, taking us to the 1950s, within the heart and eyes of Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) who falls in love with a charming and nonchalant New Yorker, Tony (Emory Cohen.) While it is fair to say that the film has elements of a romantic comedy, it beguiles with a sneaky spirit. With just a few sincere and understated scenes, Director John Crowley shows us the fullness of a woman in the process of finding a new possible home.

This concept of home, one both lost and perhaps found, figures prominently in Ridley Scott's "The Martian." Fallen astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is marooned on Mars without a survival kit and must use his wiles to merely breathe each day. With its deadpan sarcasm and a disco score punctuated with a legendary song by David Bowie, the entire film seems to suggest the presence of the tinsel-suited musician, once an artist in residence and now returned to his home planet.

It seems no coincidence that the setting of "The Martian" matches the original environs of "The Man Who Fell to Earth, " not to mention the alien's fire-red hair.

While this year's Best Picture nominees glaringly snubbed both the intriguing and important concepts of retro films and cast diversity (Star Wars, Creed, Beasts of No Nation)  we still have a variety of sojourns, albeit full with themes of suffering and struggle in exploring blatant excesses as criminally egotistical as they are merciless.

Three of these nominees are currently showing at the Tropic: "Room," "The Big Short," and "Brooklyn," with "Revenant" expected in a few weeks.

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