February 12, 2016
Will Win: George Miller
Could Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Birdman, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s previous feature, and a swirling, manic gift of a movie, won him last year’s ‘Best Director’ belt. This year, the Mexican director focuses his efforts in the frontier and in the furrowed features of his star, Leonardo DiCaprio. Hugh Glass, his half-Pawnee son, and the rest of their trapping party are ambushed by indigenous warriors. One boat, a bear, and a few horses later, Glass tracks the venomous Fitzgerald, murderer of his son, to a sheet of ice in the snowy boonies.
The Revenant is without a doubt, a less fully-realized movie than was Birdman. Less graceful, less poetically-wrought. But the charisma of Inarritu’s photography and direction, overcomes the movie’s drawn-outness. Glass travels for days, weeks. There is a lot to see, and Inarritu shows it all to us. Whether DiCaprio is catching snowflakes on his tongue with a prophetic Pawnee Indian or heaving himself into the corpse of his horse, Inarritu’s camera floats, seeing like a plume of smoke, turning organically like a head.
George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is his long-awaited follow-up to Mad Max, Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Fans of the decade-spanning serial entered auditoriums clutching popcorn like boomerangs and other utensils of Miller’s past futures. Partial to stunt work, not computer generated images, Miller’s action is for all intents and purposes, real. Tom Hardy, also in The Revenant, plays a young maverick inadvertently on the run with the wives of an apocalyptic warlord. Despite positive reviews and a foaming-at-the-mouth fan response, I left the theater disappointed. Gone was the magic of Road Warrior, somehow. Fury Road loses the hokey fun of its predecessors.
McKay, McCarthy and Abrahamson, the dark horses of this race, make a strong showing. McKay’s direction pops like a glossy magazine. He lets Margot Robbie delineate esoteric real estate jargon in a bathtub, while tossing shrimp cocktails into her mouth. There is a debt to Scorsese somewhere. Abrahamson’s Room opens on a young woman and her androgynous child, born into the captivity of her mother’s predator. All the child knows is this ‘room’ until, he is introduced to the rest of the world. Spotlight, a frontrunner for Best Picture features perhaps the most subtle, if assured direction of the cluster. McCarthy’s slow pans and fixed frames reinforce the funereal tone. But undeniably, Spotlight leans more heavily on the performance of its ensemble cast, and on the sparse writing, than on McCarthy’s muted supervision.