If I Were an Academy Member: Kim Hollis
By Kim Hollis
February 27, 2016
6) Mad Max: Fury Road
Some people complained that Max felt like a supporting character in his own film, but I believe that this daring approach to the story is what makes it stand out high above other action film reboots that try and fail to recapture the imagination of audiences. Throughout the film, we are always with Max; however, it is not necessarily his story that keeps us engaged. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the clear heroine of the tale as she attempts to liberate the “five wives” of Immortan Joe, one of the nastiest, most tyrannical antagonists we saw in 2015 cinema. (Fun fact: Hugh Keays-Byrne, who plays Immortan Joe, was also the primary villain “Toecutter” in the original Mad Max.)
We become invested in Furiosa’s hope of finding a better world for the women, and we watch Max evolve from potential opponent to uneasy ally to comrade-in-arms. War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) goes through a similar transformation, although his progression is far more tragic in nature.
Best of all, director George Miller has completely reinvigorated the universe where this story exists. The effects are nearly flawless, and the villainous characters who dominate the landscape are disgusting and ugly (but in a fascinating way). And really, any movie that features a guy with a flamethrowing guitar (not CGI, by the way) is aces as far as I’m concerned.
5) Bridge of Spies
This movie’s subtlety is what makes it sing. Restrained performances and patient storytelling take the place of splashy special effects, scenery chewing and overt plot lines. Tom Hanks is as terrific as ever as the attorney who agrees to represent a Russian spy despite the community reaction to his supposed “traitorous” actions. When he goes further to become the man to negotiate the trade of the Russian spy for an American accused of gathering intelligence, he does so with no hope of recognition, no need for heroism. It’s simply the right thing to do.
Bridge of Spies turns on the performance of Mark Rylance, heretofore primarily known for his work in British theatre (and the lead role in last year’s award-winning miniseries Wolf Hall). He plays the Russian spy Rudolf Abel with a melancholy and quiet precision that I fear is so understated that the Academy may not recognize what is probably the best theatrical performance of 2015.
Although Bridge of Spies is never an edge-of-your-seat kind of thriller, it still manages to keep the audience engaged straight up to the moment when the trade is supposed to occur. Something I really appreciated is that the movie wasn’t afraid to leave us with some moments of ambiguity. What will happen to Abel after he returns to Russian custody? Hanks’ James Donovan asks this question multiple times, and while we have an idea what may have happened, it’s never spelled out with specificity. Few directors other than Steven Spielberg would have the kind of confidence to leave the audience with that kind of uncertainty.
Although I think the novel does a better job of presenting both halves of the story, Room is indeed a deeply impacting exploration of the experiences of a young boy who was born in a shed known as “Room” to a woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and continues to be held captive by her abductor. The plot unfolds through the eyes of the five-year-old child - we see Room as he sees it. For Jack, Room is the only true place that exists, everything outside is “TV.” Because of the hopelessness of their situation, the only way Ma can reconcile the fact that what Jack sees on television doesn’t exist in their world is to tell him what he sees on TV is make-believe.
But as Jack matures, Ma (Brie Larson) begins to put together a plan for their escape. We see indications that she has tried multiple times to get away, at least once that resulted in injury from her captor. Thus, she has bided her time, planning for the moment when Jack would be mature enough to be instrumental in their getaway. And indeed, watching this unfold is one of the most thrilling moments in any movie from 2015.
Yet, the movie subverts expectations as their flight marks not the end of the story but a sort of second beginning. From there, we explore the psychological impact of their experience on Jack, Ma, and Ma’s family. Some reactions are expected, and some are tragically heartbreaking. All are completely realistic.