DiCaprio – Academy Award For Best Actor


One can scarcely name a more deserving recipient of the Best Actor In A Leading Role award. Stretching all the way back to some of his earliest performances, like his 1993 role as mentally challenged Arnie Grape in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” DiCaprio has delivered some of the most consistently brilliant performances of any American actor. The 88th Academy Awards on Sunday night highlighted incredibly stiff competition, reminding us that 2015 was a remarkable year for cinema. After masterful performances in “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “The Aviator,” “Inception,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and many others, Lenardo DiCaprio’s name was finally inside that envelope.

“The Revenant” is a unique film in a lot of ways, but what’s most interesting is how common – even boring – the story really is. Based on historical figures, the narrative travels down a well-worn path. The principal character is betrayed, overcomes great obstacles, and exacts his revenge – nothing too terribly complicated. It’s something in the movement of the camera, of the locations, of the orchestra, the cello being treated almost percussively – hinting at the danger, solitude, and sadness of the film – that leaves the viewer feeling awakened, disturbed, saved. The transcendental tale and panoramic vistas remind us of how beautiful and dangerous this world is.

There is something spiritual about “The Revenant,” about watching Hugh Glass, mortally wounded, crossing the snow-capped mountains. He is a single-minded character with only one motive: bring his son’s murderer to justice. Once he has accomplished this goal – as we already knew he would – we watch him stare onward for a moment. We cannot tell if there is satisfaction in his vengeance, if he has found peace. It is this ambiguity that stays with us after exiting the theater. We aren’t told how we’re supposed to feel about the movie. We’re left to think about it and come to our own conclusion.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu likewise earned his statue for best director. He respects his audience. He challenges his audience, but does so without pulling punches or treating us cavalierly. He’s a leader who doesn’t take the audience on an amusement park ride; we don’t fasten our belts and wait for it to eventually end. He takes us on a hike, on a rafting expedition; we have to use our own muscles to get through it to the other end.

We live in a golden age of film and television and “The Revenant” is a noble addition.

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What’s So Special About “Fury Road” Anyway?


This is a question that’s been plaguing a lot of moviegoers this Oscar season. After news broke that the George Miller’s fourth “Mad Max” film had fetched ten – that’s right, ten – Oscar nominations, many heads flew atilt with confusion. A film with such clichés as maidens in distress, revving motorcycle engines, and great big dumb explosions can’t possibly make the cut – or can it? That’d be like giving “Lethal Weapon” an Oscar nod, and that just doesn’t happen!

Even with the disappointment with “Birdman” winning best picture last year (just go see “Boyhood,” then think long and hard about it), at least audiences could sit back and remind themselves of that movie’s half-sensical whimsy. We actually kind of get it when an “artsy fartsy” film is trying to be clever and avant-garde. We actually kind of get it when a film is intentionally bizarre and eventually fetches a lot of awards; it’s happened a thousand times before, even if it isn’t quite to our liking. But that still doesn’t explain why an action beat-em-up like “Fury Road” is getting so much attention. So what’s the deal?

The deal is this. We’re currently entrenched in an era of film-making that largely produces only two kinds of mainstream feature: special-effects-driven action films and dialogue-heavy or otherwise “literary” films. The former represents, as an example, just about any comic-book movie out there. The latter represents your so-called “art” films, those “Oscar bait” features like “The Hateful Eight” or “The Revenant.” I advocate for all category of film, to be sure, and I enjoyed “The Force Awakens” as much as anybody else. That being said, I think we all knew going into the theater, 3-D glasses in hand, that the new “Star Wars” flick wasn’t going to win a ton of awards (save, of course, for visual effects, sound engineering, and the like). It’s just the way that particular cookie crumbles.

So where does “Mad Max: Fury Road” fit into this bifurcated cinematic equation? It doesn’t – simple as that.

I will concede that, on the surface, it certainly does have the appearance of a brainless visual effects parade. Upon closer investigation, the film reveals itself to be infinitely more creative than that. Rather than confuse plot complexity with artistic brilliance, director George Miller reversed course, using a basic and straightforward narrative as a foundation from which to explore a relatively dormant style of visual storytelling.

The first thirty minutes of “Fury Road” present a deeply sophisticated visual rhythm that explains everything the moviegoer needs to know without relying on standard Hollywood action tropes. In almost every regard, the setup for “Fury Road” is a sublime sequence of pictures that approach a “silent film” quality unlike any other movie in the action genre, or any other 2015 title of any genre. I challenge any reader to re-watch the beginning of the film with no sound (or with any old song of your choosing – I’m quite convinced this would play remarkably well with a Chopin nocturne) and consider how marvelously rich and detailed the mythology of this “Mad Max” story is – and all without the aid of narration or expositional dialogue.

That is the brilliance of “Fury Road.” It is deceptively simple, but speaks in a universal, wholly accessible visual language that doesn’t rely overmuch on historical allusion and the tropes of “avant-garde” or “high” art cinema. It is a primal story that presents itself in primal, pictographic language. It’s honest with itself, it’s honest with it’s audience, and it accomplishes what very few films today accomplish. It’s visually remarkable but behaves as though its practical and digital effects aren’t important; that’s a rare quality in the action and adventure genre, and I’m pleased to see that the Academy has taken note.