The 2016 Biggie Awards (and My Top 10 & Bottom 5 of 2015)

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Winners are bolded and new commentary about the winners is in this green.

BEST PICTURE

  1. The Big Short (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchan- producers)
  2. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, Doug Mitchell, P.J. Voeten- producers)
  3. The Martian (Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam- producers)
  4. Sicario (Basil Iwanyk, Edward L. McDonnell, Molly Smith, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill- producers)
  5. Steve Jobs (Scott Rudin, Danny Boyle, Guymon Casady, Christian Colson, Mark Gordon- producers)

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  The Raid 2

The Big Short‘s ability to turn the complexities of the housing crisis into a cohesive story that is dramatic, funny, and intellectually accessible all at once is an incredible accomplishment. It’s a very difficult mix of tone and style, but here we have a movie that is both relevant and immensely entertaining, whereas most Wall Street-based movies are as serious as the thousand-dollar suits those douchebags wear to work everyday. Maybe I need to start reading Michael Lewis‘ books, since this is the second cinematic adaptation of them (after Moneyball in 2011) to be nominated for Best Picture.

Similarly, The Martian also achieves a mix of comedy and drama that you don’t usually find in science-heavy space movies. It’s Ridley Scott‘s most confident effort since American Gangster, and in this writer’s view, it may be the best sci-fi movie he’s ever made. It’s a marvel to look at, with flawless visual effects and a massive cast featuring some of my favorite actors (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña and Jeff Daniels are all on fire of late). This is also a great comeback for Scott after the controversial and extremely disappointing Exodus: Gods and Kings. You don’t often see a movie that is a great ensemble piece and a star vehicle at the same time.

I was not prepared for Mad Max: Fury Road to be as good as it was. When it came out, I declared it the best movie of the year up to that point, and I’m glad it’s still in the mix at year’s end. It’s one of those movies where you’re frequently wondering how the hell did they do that?, which is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence. I love the performances, the characters, and the stylized dialogue. I give extra points to movies that speak their own language. You don’t know when or where this movie takes place, and that’s just fine. It exists in its own world, and that’s a beautiful thing.

MM Furiosa scream

There have been a bunch of good movies made recently about the Mexican drug trade, but Sicario is undoubtedly the best, most brutally realistic of them all (at the very least it’s the best since Traffic in 2000), despite it being a fictional story. Every frame of it pulls you in, all of the excellent performances are dramatic without being showy, and the violence is scary, yet feels true to the kind of carnage that probably occurs on that border.

Sicario welcome to Juarez lineSicario welcome to Juarez

Steve Jobs was offensively underseen (grossing just $17.7 million), but is easily one of the best directed, written and acted films of 2015. It tells the story of one of the most interesting, frequently written about business leaders in American history, using an innovative, non-traditional 3-scene theatrical structure to show us the key relationships that helped form the man behind the legend. I feel like if this movie had come out the same year Jobs died (2011), it would’ve been a big hit. Either way, it gets its due recognition from me.

Jobs back of head.gif

It’s simultaneously frustrating and fun that it was so tough to pick the Best Picture winner this year. It’s boring drama, but I usually prefer a clear-cut, undeniably great winner, but we didn’t have one this year. I went with Fury Road in part because it was the only movie all year I saw and immediately thought that’s the best movie I’ve seen all year. I could make an argument for all 5 of these films, but aside from being a great movie overall, it was excellent in every aspect, and on top of that it’s a grand technical accomplishment. Those things together are why I go to the movies in the first place, so congrats to George Miller and his cast & crew. Mad Max wins 8 Biggies in total, and becomes our second action movie in a row to take home Best Picture.

BEST DIRECTOR

  1. Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs
  2. Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
  3. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. Ridley Scott, The Martian
  5. Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Gareth Evans (The Raid 2)

Because 2015 was such a strange year, for the first time since 2006 I have a discrepancy between my Best Picture and Director nominees. And it’s fairly simple to explain. I believe The Revenant is a more impressive directorial achievement than The Big Short, but I think The Big Short is a better movie. Thus, Adam McKay narrowly misses out on Best Director, and Mr. Iñárritu’s film sits out the Best Picture race. I do wanna take a second to give props to McKay, though. I’ve been saying for years that I thought he was one of the few comedy directors who could successfully transition into drama, and on his very first attempt, he hit a home run. I didn’t nominate him here, but he’s not left out completely, as you’ll see in the adapted screenplay category.

The fact that Alejandro González Iñárritu could turn around and do The Revenant immediately after making Birdman, another incredible technical and actors’ accomplishment (4-time Biggie winner, 9-time nominee last year), is astounding. The Revenant is a fairly simple story, but in someone else’s hands it most certainly would not have been so well-made, nor featured such memorable performances. I’ve talked before about how one actor’s performance can elevate an entire movie and the actors around them. Well, it was Iñárritu’s involvement that elevated The Revenant from your average “revenge story in the wilderness” into a class-A dramatic awards season force.

Sir Ridley Scott, one of the Biggies’ most recognized directors, earns his first nomination since American Gangster in 2007. It’s his 6th Best Director nod in total, and he’s won twice previously (in back-to-back years for Gladiator and Black Hawk Down). His skill and efficiency at complex, big budget filmmaking is so strong that we now take it for granted. Well, I don’t. The Martian is populist entertainment, but it’s as good as populist entertainment gets, and it’s movies like this that are the primary reason cinema is my first love.

Few directors are as good as Danny Boyle when paired with the right material. I admit I was heartbroken when David Fincher left Steve Jobs, especially after he and Aaron Sorkin had made a modern masterpiece in The Social Network, also about the behind-the-scenes drama at an influential tech company. Well, Boyle may have been the perfect man for the job after all. It’s good to have him back in the Biggies race, after Slumdog Millionaire made such a strong showing 7 years ago.

I’m ashamed to admit Fury Road is the only Mad Max movie I’ve seen, and now I fear the older ones will pale in comparison having seen this one first. George Miller’s action extravaganza has an auteur’s touch to it that you rarely see in this genre. I’ve watched behind-the-scenes clips of some of these action sequences and I still don’t understand how they could’ve actually pulled them off. On top of that, he got fantastic performances out of a large cast of interesting actors (it’s the first time I’ve enjoyed a Zoë Kravitz performance). This is a movie where you definitely feel like no one else could’ve made it the same way. There will be another Tom Hardy Mad Max movie at some point, but Miller basically said he’s done making them. It’d be a tough act to follow, that’s for sure.

I’m thrilled to also nominate Denis Villeneuve, who has been one of the hottest directors in Hollywood over the past few years. He is certainly one of the best directors of this decade. I still need to go back and watch Incendies, the movie that put him on the map, but since 2010 he’s done Prisoners, Enemy, and now the amazing Sicario. I love this man’s sensibilities. At this point, he could make a dark, brooding adaptation of a travel brochure and I’d show up.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  1. Bridge of Spies, written by Mark Charman, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  2. The Hateful Eight, written by Quentin Tarantino
  3. Sicario, written by Taylor Sheridan
  4. Spotlight, written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
  5. Straight Outta Compton, written by Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo (Birdman)

These are all solid nominees, but I have to say 2015 may have been the worst year ever for original screenplay candidates. There were fewer than 10 films I even considered here, so basically if you wrote a really strong original script in 2015, you got nominated. Credit to 4 of the 5 (with the exception of Hateful Eight) for being based on true events, thus scoring very high on the difficulty scale. Typically, these types of movies are based on books, but here they were all independently researched and translated to the screen. Doing that without source material is just as tough as creating your own story from scratch, and actually, Sicario did both. That film is not “based on a true story”, but it is based on what the shady world of the Mexican drug cartels is actually like.

Sicario 1aSicario 1bSicario 1c

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  1. The Big Short, screenplay by Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
  2. Black Mass, screenplay by Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth
  3. The Martian, screenplay by Drew Goodard
  4. Room, screenplay by Emma Donoghue
  5. Steve Jobs, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)

I guess the only question is what technology CEO will Aaron Sorkin tackle next? That’s a joke, but I certainly wouldn’t mind another one. Make it the Tech Giant Trilogy!

This was one of the toughest categories to decide, and while Sorkin’s innovative structure for Steve Jobs almost got him the win here, I thought The Big Short, which had a brilliant script, had the slight advantage on the degree of difficulty scale, which pushed it over the top.

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

  1. The Big Short
  2. The Hateful Eight
  3. Spotlight
  4. Steve Jobs
  5. Straight Outta Compton

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Birdman

BEST ACTOR

  1. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  2. Matt Damon, The Martian
  3. Johnny Depp, Black Mass
  4. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  5. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Not satisfied with winning every television award known to man, Bryan Cranston has now successfully entered the world of film awards with his wonderful performance in Trumbo, which tells a sad, but important chapter in the history of Hollywood. Cranston has been giving excellent supporting performances in film for years now, but he’s certainly earned his chance at leading man status. Particularly since after Breaking Bad, he has nothing left to prove in television.

I clearly liked Black Mass a lot more than the industry did, but almost everyone can agree Johnny Depp‘s performance in it is a welcome return to dramatic form. I haven’t seen an actor be that menacing since maybe Heath Ledger‘s Joker. Everyone is calling this “Leo‘s Year” to finally win that Oscar, but I’ve already given him a Best Actor prize, for his amazing work on The Wolf of Wall Street two years ago. The things he willingly endured during The Revenant‘s notoriously difficult shoot are now the stuff of legend, and if it’s even possible, I’ve got more respect for the man now than I did before.

Revenant bear slap.gif
Bear slap!

There are only a few moments in Steve Jobs where I thought Michael Fassbender truly resembled the real man (most of those instances come in the third section of the film when he finally puts on the Jobs black shirt & jeans uniform), but his portrayal of the truth of the character is what’s important, and Fassbender nailed that in every scene. And last, but not least, Matt Damon gives one of the best performances in his stellar career as the castaway on Mars, Mark Watney. Not many actors can so deftly handle the delicate balance of drama and humor that made The Martian so captivating. By the way, give Damon credit for taking a chance on another lost-in-space character, after playing one just last year in Interstellar.

Martian colonized.gif

BEST ACTRESS

  1. Cate Blanchett, Carol
  2. Brie Larson, Room
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  4. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
  5. Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

It was a soft year for top-quality female roles, but we’ve still got 5 deserving ladies represented here. Awards magnet Cate Blanchett has won twice previously for individual performances, including this category just two years ago for Blue Jasmine, and she’s wonderful again in the elegantly made same-sex love story Carol. I’m pretty sure Brie Larson, who I’ve been watching climb the ranks for a few years now (and almost nominated right here for Short Term 12 in 2013), has won everything she’s been up for this awards season for her brilliant work in Room. Room is an amazing, original, intimate two-person show, which she carries with devastating authenticity alongside 9-year old Jacob Tremblay, who I almost nominated for Best Actor (it was between him and Bryan Cranston for the last slot).

Alicia Vikander gives the best performance of her young career in Danish Girl, an otherwise okay film, as a woman struggling to support and understand her husband’s sudden desire to become a woman. For the final slot, it was basically a coin flip between Jennifer Lawrence and Daisy Ridley’s breakout lead role in The Force Awakens (yes, I think she was that good in it). It would’ve been cool for Ridley to become the first acting nominee in a Star Wars movie, but in the end I just felt Lawrence got more to do as an actor. Even though Joy was a mediocre film, Lawrence got to shine.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  1. Christian Bale, The Big Short
  2. Joel Edgerton, Black Mass
  3. Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton
  4. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  5. Sylvester Stallone, Creed

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Jason Mitchell’s Eazy-E is the standout performance in a film filled with them. And YES, he’s my only non-white individual acting nominee. File a lawsuit. Send the P.C. Police to arrest me. I don’t nominate based on skin color. I nominate based on merit, which is how it should be. As mentioned above, the problem is that people of color don’t often get these awards-worthy roles in the first place. I considered Will Smith for Concussion, I considered Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight and Michael B. Jordan & Tessa Thompson for Creed. They were all great, but didn’t make the cut. That’s how it goes.

Mark Ruffalo gives the showiest performance in an ensemble filled with fantastic low-key performances, so that gives him the edge here over Michael Keaton, who I also considered. And Christian Bale plays what I believe is the most interesting character in The Big Short, another excellent ensemble cast.

Sylvester Stallone is the first person to be nominated after receiving one of my Marlon Brando Legendary Performance awards. I gave one to him in 2007 for his combined efforts in the Rocky series, and here he is being nominated for playing the same character 8 years later. Pretty remarkable. His understated performance in Creed was pitch perfect. It’s amazing how a guy who is normally an average actor at best can flip a switch and become a damned good actor when playing one specific character. I can’t think of any comparable examples to the Sly-Rocky relationship. However, I hope this is the last time Stallone plays Rocky, because Creed is a beautiful and touching farewell for the character. If there is to be a Creed sequel (and there probably is), it’s time for torches to be passed.

I’m still shocked Stallone didn’t win the Oscar. That would’ve been a great TV moment. Alas, ’twas not to be, but he gets his due recognition here. Congrats, Sly.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  1. Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation
  2. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  3. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
  4. Rachel Weisz, Youth
  5. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

This Year’s Oscar Winner:  TBD

Last Year’s Biggie Winner:  Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson was a revelation in Rogue Nation, stealing the show from Tom Cruise and the boys. She joins a very short list of women who have been nominated for an action movie. Her ability to handle stunts and action beats just as well as her many dramatic scenes put her over the top for me. It truly was a star-making role, and I hope she parlays it into bigger and better things going forward (while also returning for M:I-6…obvi).

I watched Youth because supposedly Jane Fonda was a strong supporting actress candidate. I come to find out she’s in maybe 2 scenes for a combined 3 minutes or so. Uhh, no. Completely unbeknownst to me, Rachel Weisz was also in the film and is the one deserving of attention. She’s fantastic as Michael Caine’s daughter. Youth is a weird movie with some weird people inhabiting it, but it’s definitely worth a watch. It was probably the most Kubrick-ian movie of 2015, which I was not expecting.

Alicia Vikander unknowingly took advantage of a very weak year for female roles to become the first actress in Biggies history to be nominated in the lead and supporting categories in the same year. Unfortunately, she did not become the first person to complete the Actors’ Triple Crown with an ensemble nomination, because both of her films were more star vehicles than ensemble pieces. I don’t know if anyone will ever pull off that feat, but it’s a cool possibility. For the record, the only other person to be nominated in both acting categories was Morgan Freeman in 1989 (the first year of the Biggies). He was nominated for (and won) Best Actor for Lean on Me, and was up for Supporting Actor for Glory (which, like the Oscar, went to Denzel in the very same movie). I didn’t institute the Ensemble category until 2000, but if it had existed all along, Freeman would certainly have hit the Triple Crown, as Glory would have no doubt won Best Ensemble. Just some fun history for ya.

Ex Mach 2Ex Mach FX.gif

Vikander had a phenomenal year. In addition to her nominated roles in Danish Girl and Ex Machina, she was also great as the female lead in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and in her bit part in John Wells’ underrated Burnt. I’m happy to say we’ll see her 3 more times in 2016, most notably as one of the key female roles in the upcoming fifth Bourne movie (which joyously reunites Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass).

Kate Winslet takes home her second individual acting award (after a Best Actress win for The Reader in 2008), and becomes one of the rare breed who have won in both the lead and supporting categories. She also becomes one of an even smaller group who have completed a career Acting Triple Crown, having also won the Ensemble category this year for Steve Jobs.

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