They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

New York Film Festival, Part 2

By J. Don Birnam

October 8, 2015

Spielberg films Tom making Hanks face.

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Although The Walk did not blow the lid off the race in the first week of the New York Film Festival, the second half has proven to be much more interesting, as we discuss today. As usual, keep your eye on this space and follow my live updates on Twitter and Instagram for the latest developments in Phase One of the 2015/2016 Oscar race.

Jobs and Spielberg: Two Solid Contenders

If ever there is a challenger to the current front-runner status of Spotlight, it has to be Danny Boyle's biopic of the Apple genius, Steve Jobs. Third time's the charm it seems, because after two failed attempts at chronicling the life of the troubled man, the overall consensus is that the director of Slumdog Millionaire pulled it off.

Steve Jobs first made headlines last year when the Sony leak exposed emails of executive producers Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal, vowing not to work with David Fincher for the film, and asking who Michael Fassbender was. Both of them likely now regret their ignorance. While Jobs is a great movie and a solid Best Picture contender, Boyle's superhero/comic-book-like direction is probably its weakest element. At the same time, Fassbender knocked it out of the park again, making the unlikable guy somehow more unlikable than you thought possible, while somehow a sort of demi-God you want to root for.


Undoubtedly, the strongest link in the chain is Aaron Sorkin's reliably punchy and witty script. It fires off at miles a minute and captures and challenges the viewer to pay attention, or else. The movie has very little in terms of action; it's mostly talking, but the talking is fast-paced, inter-connected, non-linear, and at times purposefully frustratingly difficult to follow. The movie demands repeat viewings. But the payout is worth it, as Sorkin brilliantly captures the anxieties that drive Jobs, from the personal to the professional. Overall, it is a delightful insight into Jobs' life and genius, and will do very well at the Academy Awards.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the strong role the cast plays. Both Kate Winslet as Jobs' life-long assistant and confidante and Jeff Daniels as a former Apple CEO provide key supporting roles that balance Jobs' ego and also explain a lot of his motivations.

I also had a chance to attend the second screening of Steven Spielberg's Cold War spy-thriller Bridge of Spies. In a few words: the master proves that he's still got it. The story is classic Spielberg: told linearly and with few frills in the narrative, with the expected emotional ups and downs. As you could expect, there is amazing artistry in the movie, with loving and detailed recreations of the 1950s and 1960s, both in the New York and the East Berlin sets, and yet another amazing and pointed photography by Spielberg-collaborator Janusz Kaminski. In addition, the good and the bad guys are always clearly defined, even if they don't fall into the neat categories of us vs. them.

So, a formulaic Spielberg film will do well? Well, yes. As I mentioned the last time, his last three movies have gone on to Best Picture nominations. Bridge of Spies won't win but it also should have a better than even chance at a nod. The movie is gripping if you're into that subject matter, the slow build-up and exposition, and the emotional and moral choices that his characters face. Tom Hanks is also a strong contender for a Best Actor nomination (although I expect Fassbender may become a runaway train in that category soon).

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