Mad Max: Fury Road
Better than I might have expected from the Mad Max franchise, but ultimately I thought it was a pretty shallow action spectacle, a decent popcorn flick but nothing special. I don't really understand all the critical praise beyond that, and I was pretty surprised to see it get a Best Picture nomination. Since they expanded beyond 5 nominations the Adacemy has seemed to use one or two slots each year to acknowledge blockbusters that don't suck, but I think Star Wars deserved it much more.
I couldn't help but love this, a sci-fi movie that tried really hard to be realistic, and came far closer to succeeding than anything since 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was still clearly a fairy tale, both in structure and in its somewhat whitewashed pro-science optimism, but I can accept that given how rare it is for a film to be pro-science at all. The geopolitical backstory was less believable than the science, and the Donald Glover character felt like a wrong note, but otherwise I found it to be geniunely uplifting and satisfying. A good palate cleanser after how much I hated Interstellar!
Grueling, and perhaps needlessly so, but also beautiful and engaging. After viewing, I felt a little underwhelmed by its seeming straightforwardness as a pure revenge fantasy, but the more I thought about it the more I appreciated its depth. A day or two later it struck me that there might have been a secret twist that changed a lot of what the movie was about; it's probably unlikely to have been intended, but I still find it pretty cool that there is room for interpretations like these.
The Big Short
I'm pretty familiar with the subject matter but it was nice to see another attempt at explaining it. I have reservations about this sort of fictional dramatization of a popular non-fiction book (I haven't seen Money Ball or Fast Food Nation but it seems to have become a mini-genre). I appreciate the idea of educating people about complex topics using a spoonful of dramatic sugar, but something about it felt clunky and not well-integrated here: the characters and their stories felt under-developed (and not always as sympathetic as intended), and the shifts into exposition felt jarringly didactic (despite the lampshading and fourth-wall breaking). The tone felt uneven too, sometimes flippant and comedic, sometimes apocalyptic. Ultimately it just didn't seem to have much of anything coherent to say beyond explanation.
The nutshell description of this film sounded both hackneyed and unappealingly bleak, but I was surprised at the wide range of emotions it evoked, not just in the expected sense of catharsis but genuine joy and wonder, without ever seeming cheaply manipulative. It's also even more clearly a fairy tale than The Martian, or maybe more properly a meta-fairy-tale, a story about stories. One of those rare films that you come out of with a truly renewed appreciation of the world.
Bridge of Spies
A lukewarm Cold War spy thriller. I didn't hate it, but there just wasn't much there there. Tom Hanks is always fun to watch but he felt miscast here, just playing himself more than the character. And while the Coen Brothers got a screenwriting credit, I could only barely detect their influence. I'm not much of a Spielberg fan but there didn't seem to be any of his magic either. I'm pretty bemused at its nomination.
I usually like most movies that are derided as "chick flicks", but this left me cold. The protagonist is torn between two unlikable men, and she's even more unlikable herself. She's not even really that torn; the second guy is more tempting to the audience than he ever seems to be to her. I suppose the real reading is that it's about leaving the Old World for the New World, but this just isn't as romantic to those of us who are native to the New World.
I don't know why but this kind of dramatization of a real story feels different to me than The Big Short. I guess the underlying story is more inherently a narrative, so the drama feels less forced? It's also, in a very different way from Room, a story about stories, and it was also more emotional than I was expecting from the nutshell description, but it fell a bit short of having something deep to say about the human condition. It settles for commenting on the nature of societal structures, which is fine too, just not quite Best Picture material.