I put my hands in the air, I’m a failure. I had intended to try and review all the major awards contender films I could before the Oscars happen this year, but due to a combination of busyness, laziness and late release dates where I am, I haven’t managed to. So please forgive me for compressing them into a few round-up posts.
‘The Big Short’
Adam McKay moves away from the broad comedies that made his name for this star-studded examination of the recent financial crisis. McKay employs a wide variety of cinematic techniques to tell his story, including fourth wall-breaking explanations and acknowledgements of the film’s own artifice at times, but in blending experimental comedic sequences with more angry docudrama ones about the actual, depressing state of the world of finance, he never hits a consistent tone (plus I was constantly reminded of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, which put a lot of the same tricks to better effect). It also isn’t helped by the fact that it initially appears to be telling a trio of interlocking stories but actually isn’t, as none of the characters in the three main strands ever encounter one another, leaving the film feeling a little disjointed and uneven. This extends to the performances, with Christian Bales twitchy, serious character work clashing with Ryan Gosling’s more overtly comedic performance. The messy film never entirely works as a whole, but it’s a valiant effort to try and tackle this important modern issue in a way that’s both entertaining and informative, and demonstrates that McKay definitely has a career outside of his comfort zone.
Todd Haynes’ first film since 2007 is an exquisitely made period piece chronicling the taboo romance between a young shop assistant (Rooney Mara) and an older woman undergoing a divorce (Cate Blanchett) in 1950s New York. Beautifully photographed and performed, Haynes’ subtle direction follows Mara’s character as she navigates her confusion about her feelings before the film segues into more of a road movie that also contains elements of fascinating legal drama, signalled by an expertly handled reveal. I can imagine this captivating film’s reputation only growing in the future
Room’s director Lenny Abrahamson has made it clear that he wanted the marketing to reveal what happens at the film’s half-way point, but just in case you don’t want to know here’s a spoiler warning.
Room tells the story of a woman (Brie Larson) who was kidnapped as a teenager and locked in a shed for many years, during which she had a child who has never seen the world beyond the room he was raised in. The film quite brilliantly captures the location from the child’s point of view, but as he passes his fifth birthday, his mother hatches a plan to escape. I have to admit that while the film’s latter half (post-room) explores some interesting character dynamics, overall I found it less rewarding than the first, which culminates in one of the absolute best and most powerful scenes of the year. I know the film wouldn’t have been satisfactory if it had all been in the one location but at the same time it definitely loses momentum in its latter half. Still, this is a film that has really stuck with me since I saw it.
Although their subject matter couldn’t be more different, the pleasures of watching Spotlight are somewhat akin to those of The Martian, as both films concern a team of smart professionals competently working together to achieve a goal. In this case, the true story of the Boston Globe investigative journalists who uncovered a pattern of child sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests across the state. The presentation of the film itself appropriately mirrors the actions of the onscreen characters; being an ensemble piece in which everyone delivers solid work, with no obvious weak links in the chain, on-screen or off, and no one trying to grab attention from the others. A consistently compelling film but one that never cheapens the nature of its harrowing themes; Spotlight is a terrific return to form for Thomas McCarthy following the disastrous The Cobbler.