Category Archives: Oscar 2016

2016 Academy Award Best Animated Short

While I could see the merits in all the nominated animated shorts this year only two really caught my eye, World of Tomorrow and We Can’t Live without Cosmos. Both are science fiction and use very different animation techniques. World of Tomorrow is a US film that follows a young girl on a somewhat mind bending look at her far distant future. The script and acting is excellent and to some extent is dependent on that more than the animation itself – a problem I will address shortly. Still I really enjoyed the film and hope it is the winner this year. The second film is We Can’t Live without Cosmos and is from Russia. It follows the story of two friends who train to be cosmonauts. The story is humourous until the end which takes a dramatic turn. Again the animation is maybe a bit dated but the story is great and told entirely with images and no dialogue. Very entertaining and surprising. Certainly deserves the nod if World of Tomorrow doesn’t get it. The other nominated films are in my opinion mediocre or in the case of Prologue completely unnecessary.

Animated films are a real challenge for me. I like them but having to arbitrarily pick one for best picture either feature length or short is next to impossible. Unlike live action films which use… live action…, animated films are very individual works of art that use very different styles of images and reflect the vision of an artist much more so than do live action films. I suppose many will jump all over this as nonsense but I find I can’t get away from it. Also live action films have many more categories in which to be judged and maybe that is my struggle. Animated films don’t get to be nominated much for their artistic qualities (cinematography, effects etc) or for the story or acting (best actor, screenplay) or music (soundtrack or song) They could be so nominated but almost never are. As a result, one is forced to pick one movie and that seems so unfair.

2016 Academy Award Best Live Action Shorts

The live action shorts for 2016 are all very good and it is hard to pick. Whereas it is virtually impossible for a comedy or farce to make it as a nominee for best feature length film or Best Picture, this is not a problem with the shorts. In this case we have some heart wrenching dramas, a lovely romantic film and a total farce. My favourite is the farce – an Israeli film called Ave Maria. My second favourite is the romance – Stutterer, but I suspect the winner will be a very unhappy film called Shok. All the films came from different countries and I really liked them all to be honest. Ave Maria, my favourite, is about an Israeli family (husband, wife and mother-in-law heading back late one Friday afternoon from occupied Palestine to Israeli territory. They crash into a statue of Mary outside a convent run by nuns who have taken a vow of silence just as the Sabbath falls. This confluence of events leads to a very very funny confrontation and a wonderful punchline when it all wraps up in, yes, just 15 minutes. It is hard to find these films unless you are lucky enough to have something like TIFF in your city. The other idea is to look on iTunes for them which happens every now and then.

Stutterer is from the UK and as the name implies is about a young man with a severe stutter. Again very short but the lead actor (Mathew Needham) turns in a great performance. It tells the tale of a young man who stutters so badly he is learning sign language to more easily communicate. He carries on a 6 month texting relationship with a girl who after the 6 months suggests that they meet face to face. He is of course terrified but finally agrees. The ending when the meet is perhaps predictable and very sweet but keeps from being maudlin or sickening by the gentle nature of the film and great performance.

The third film – Shok – is UK/Kosovo production and is set in Kosovo in 1998 in the midst of civil war. It follows the story of two Albanian pre-teens who are forced to live in a racist/ genocidal conflict. It does not end well but that gives nothing away as one can see that from the opening scenes. It is very well done. I struggle to watch films that put children in situations they cannot hope to handle and this film just manages to make my cut. Still not fun if you are not okay with films that exploit the suffering of kids.

The other two films (Everything will be Okay and Day One) were very upsetting to watch depending on your personal circumstances and while well done don’t make my cut.

Boy and the World – Director, Ale Abreu

This is a wonderful and surprising film. It depends pretty much entirely on the animation with no dialogue and only a music soundtrack. It follows the adventures of a small boy from a rural community in Brasil. After his father leaves to work in the city he decides to chase after him and reunite his family. His adventures reveal the complexity of modern Brasil including the good but mostly bad aspects of urban life. The animation art is beautiful and ranges from the very simple to very complex as the urban landscape is revealed. In watching the film I could not help but think that animation is an increasingly important part of all film making now. Not only the animated feature like this one but many live action films now as well. The Oscar category of Best Animated Feature Film (for which this is one of the nominees) seems hardly adequate anymore. I suspect this will not win the Oscar which I am guessing will go to Inside Out however I sort of wish there was something else it could win. I am not sure whether the time has come for animated films to be considered in other categories at the Oscars but ever since Disney created Snow White there has been a need to better recognize the talent and art that goes into these films.

I fear also this film will not get much attention. I saw it at the TIFF Lightbox and I was only one of 5 people in the theatre. Disappointing for what is a very beautifully created film. I may not get to see any of the other nominees except Inside Out which is also disappointing. There were many other Hollywood animated features this year that are not on the list so at least the Academy added some diversity here if not in other categories. If you like animation try to see this one.

The Big Short – Director, Adam McKay


I loved this movie. A very smart script, a great ensemble cast and a rapid fire, black comic look at the financial industry and the economic collapse of 2008. It manages to explain the complexities of the events that led to the crash and show us that it really wasn’t that complex. It was clear to some that it was bound to happen but the financial industry, banks and ratings companies all conspired to keep a very unstable and likely criminal process going that ended up devastating the lives of millions of people worldwide. The knock on the film is that it is really very funny and some feel the issue is too serious to be taken apparently so lightly. I disagree. The humour is very black and while I laughed I was also horrified. The characters all benefit greatly from the meltdown as they bet that it would happen and won very big. They are thrilled and in some cases very cold about the situation. The exception is Steve Carrell’s character who while benefitting is clearly also stunned that the whole thing could happen. The truth is that there was nothing these characters could do to change the situation so they took advantage of it. They couldn’t blow the whistle because they were not in positions of power to do so. The film makers use their stories to demonstrate how bizarre the whole thing was and how easily it could have been stopped if the greedy people who created it had obeyed the law and basic moral principles.

Christian Bale is nominated for Best Supporting actor but Steve Carrell also deserves a nomination in my opinion and the understated performance of Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are great. I have been a Steve Carrell fan for many many years. His start on The Daily Show and his role in The Office are classic in themselves but his recent ventures into dramatic roles shows an actor with a range of talent. He has had many nominations but only one win for The Office and he deserves more. It is still early in his film career but I suspect we will see an Oscar or Golden Globe in the not too distant future. So – bottom line? This is a great film, entertaining and informative and with a message to deliver. Enjoy.


This film has garnered 12 Oscar nominations including all the big ones except for the screenplay. It deserves maybe two of them. Di Caprio does not deserve a Best Actor award for one of his most forgettable performances ever. There is no real acting just a lot of grimacing and staring into the distance. On the other hand, Tom Hardy, who is one of my favourite actors, deserves a nomination for his role as the villain. He really does act and his scenes are among the best in the whole movie. He gets no recognition for some reason for some simply awesome character acting including Legend and The Drop to name but two. This is a great performance and deserves recognition but its not enough to save this disaster. The other nomination it deserves is for cinematography which is stunning but OMG… it just goes on and on. This is a very bad movie with the exceptions noted. It runs over 2 ½ hours and could easily be an hour shorter with no loss at all. I fell asleep briefly in one part and only stuck it out to the end to see how they were going to finish it. The story is of a scout who is leading a group of fur trappers back to what counted as civilization in the early American Northwest. They are attacked by native Americans who kill many of them and the survivors struggle on. Di Caprio’s character – the scout – is attacked by a bear and just survives but he is too badly injured to continue. His companions try to take him along but have to give up assuming he will die and they abandon him leaving one of their number to stay with him until he dies and then bury him. Di Caprio’s son also stays back. Needless to say the caregiver fails in his mission and abandons di Caprio assuming he will die and murders his son in the process. He heads back to join the others. He has miscalculated and of course di Caprio survives and comes back for revenge. The journey is long and grueling and actually totally unbelievable. The flintlock guns they use are deadly accurate (which is totally impossible) even over distances of hundreds of yards. The falls, cold and so forth di Caprio survives despite his grievous injuries are literally impossible to survive and it all becomes almost funny. The character played by di Caprio is totally unlikeable and his connections to the local native Americans are poorly drawn and not made a significant part of the story. For the last hour I must have looked at my watch every 10 minutes praying for the end to come. To be perfectly honest the only times I was captivated were with Tom Hardy’s scenes but even that, at the climax of the film, was poorly written. Also I take back my comment about the cinematography. One more shot of bleak wintery forests and mountains was one too many. Two thumbs down so to speak.

Oscar Controversy 2016

This year, like most years, there is controversy around the Oscar ceremony and the nominations. This year like last year the Academy has been accused of failing to show much diversity of race or ethnic origin in its list of nominees and has also failed to recognize the contributions of women to film other than the obvious Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories. The criticism from the black community has been particularly harsh and pointed this time to the point of attacking those who were nominated but I was impressed with the reaction of this year’s host, Chris Rock who tweeted he would be hosting “the white BET awards”. This gets the point across without insulting those who have been nominated or the existing members of the Academy who vote on the nominees. It sticks it to them by being funny and spot on.

A look at the membership of the Academy shows them to be largely older white men and this unfortunately looks like a description of the Tea Party membership. I think however that to paint these two groups with the same brush is completely inappropriate. The other aspect of the criticism this year that is disturbing is the implicit and sometimes explicit criticism of the quality of the nominated films and artists. It is completely appropriate to question the lack of diversity but to then say that films that were nominated were undeserving is something completely different. Those who feel that Compton or Concussion or Beasts of No Nation deserved a nod ahead of the films nominated are expressing a critical and aesthetic judgement that can be argued both ways.

There has also been more tempered reaction from black artists who point to the fact that the issue is complex and lies with other factors. There is a need for more films that give meaningful and diverse roles. This is being done more and more as illustrated by the recent Star Wars film in which the lead protagonist is a woman and her closest ally is black. Although Stallone got the nomination for Creed when his co-star Michael B. Jordan was also deserving and went un-nominated also illustrates the point as does The Hateful Eight and other films. Stallone was nominated likely because of his history and length of service to film. Beasts of No Nation is a great film but made for TV, Hollywood’s increasingly important competition, so may well have suffered for that. Furthermore, it needs to be stated that the nominated films and actors are not undeserving themselves despite their skin tone. The view I tend to support is that this is a complex issue and that greater diversity in the industry itself will allow for great diversity in the award ceremony.

Increasing diversity however must be addressed actively and not simply left to develop on its own. The Academy has pledged to increase the diversity of its membership but that will take time, meanwhile it will be important for the current members to enter into this discussion and be encouraged to recognize the contributions of everyone, black, female, latino etc. The other point that needs to be made is that recognition of diversity through awards also opens the door to diversity in the industry and encourages participation by everyone. It can only be good. In the meantime, the decision of Spike Lee to boycott the show and not even watch is unhelpful and asking Chris Rock to pull out of hosting is not the solution. Rock has agreed to continue despite pressure to pull out. His tweet suggests to me that there is no one better to do the job. He will not pull his punches I hope and will be intelligent in doing so. I look forward to the show and particularly to Rock’s contribution.

Quincy Jones, a long time Hollywood musician and composer, has been asked to make a presentation this year. He has said he will ask for time to address the diversity issue and will withdraw as a presenter if he is denied his request. I think it would be in the best interests of the Academy and the show if he is given his time. It can only help to address this issue. I think it is great that no one is asking for quotas but rather opens the door to full diversity and the recognition that awards like the Oscars that exist to promote the industry need to be fully inclusive.

Spike Lee on announcing his boycott praised Rock for continuing and said he could think of no one better take on the role this year particularly. Funny then that he would choose not to watch or participate in support of his friend. Participation and labelling of the issue is the solution, dropping out or dumping on your colleagues who were nominated is not the way to go.

Trumbo – Director, Jay Roach

Another all white nominee for an Oscar this year – Bryan Cranston (nominated for Best Actor) for a great portrayal of Dalton Trumbo the Hollywood writer who was blacklisted and exiled from Hollywood for being a communist during the McCarthy years. He played a key role in resisting the anti-communist efforts of the Committee on Un-American activities which hurt or ruined the lives of many people not only in Hollywood but beyond. Cranston is very very good in the role and the film is well-written and acted. I was disappointed that Helen Mirren pictured above was not included in this year’s nominees for Best Supporting Actress. She plays journalist Hedda Hopper, one of Trumbo’s and others nemeses as she rode the anti-communist wave in the entertainment industry. She is wonderfully despicable. John Goodman also puts in a great performance as Frank King, one of the only producers willing to hire Trumbo anonymously after his exile. All in all a very entertaining film. I am curious however about a documentary I have not seen called Trumbo that came out in 2007 and is well reviewed. I will definitely track it down and post my impressions. It garnered no awards that I can find but sounds very interesting.

The Martian – Director, Ridley Scott

This is one of the first Oscar nominated films I have seen so far this winter. Telling the tale of an astronaut isolated on Mars with only his wits to help him survive, it is thrilling, funny, uplifting and Matt Damon is excellent, carrying the film very much on his isolated shoulders.  With 3 of its 6 Oscar  nominations for sound and production design and visual effects it is also great to watch.  The science is mostly pretty good according the geeks who have seen it. Sure there are lots of misses and miscalculations to those who choose to pick at it but all forgivable in my opinion for an excellent cinematic ride.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Director, George Miller

This reboot of the Mad Max franchise is a visual extravaganza with wonderful performances from Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. While I enjoyed it very much and clearly so did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, I am like many who saw the new Star Wars movie. Yes its great but…. The original was much more mind blowing if you were lucky enough to be around and see it for the first time in 1977. The original Mad Max with a very young Mel Gibson came out in 1979 and was a great sci-fi post-apocalyptic vision with a pretty low budget. It rocketed Gibson to international fame and its sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) was a brilliant follow up. There is no question that this latest take directed by the same director but 35 years later is very good and very special but it’s a sequel and a reboot and it just didn’t grab me the way the original did. So that’s the perspective of a 66 year old movie reviewer. It is interesting that a movie like Mad Max can have a much greater impact when it is first released in the context of movies of the time then it can to younger fans who see it 10 or 20 years later in a world already influenced by those films. It is less of a thrill and less of a novelty and clearly no longer ground breaking since it already did that previously. I will riff on this a bit more in my review of the new Star Wars movie. But for all my reaction from the perspective of an old movie fan don’t get me wrong, this a really fun movie and a great ride just not the same one I was on in 1979.

The Hateful Eight – Director, Quentin Tarantino

If you like Tarantino, you will like this movie and if you don’t you won’t. Personally I am a big fan and loved this movie. Set in a single room for most of the 187 minutes it all hangs on the acting and that is top notch. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell as the leads are very good but the best performance is turned in by the only major female character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. The supporting cast are also all wonderful with great performances in particular from Tim Roth and Bruce Dern. The claustrophobic setting lends great tension to a movie that sparkles all the way through. I am tempted to look at my watch in any movies that extend past 90 minutes but not this time. One is never sure about the agenda of each character or who is going to die in some over the top violent manner until the final twist ending(s) and the script and timing keep you on the edge of you seat throughout. Great stuff delivered with skill and humour from Tarantino who continues to improve with each outing.