While the Academy Awards may have just happened last week, the editing staff here at Action A Go Go wanted to make sure everyone knew that there is still love for genre work out there. Action was fairly well represented with The Martian (or is that a comedy?), The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road all nominated for Best Picture… but the winners don’t always shape up the way we want them to, do they?
So without further ado… here is what should have won:
Best Editing: Margaret Sixel – Mad Max: Fury Road
This was the award I was most hopeful the Academy would get right and lo & behold, they did. George Miller may get the lion’s share of the credit for the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, but most of the really wild moments come from the editing room. And Margaret Sixel is obviously the most talented type of crazy person. Twitter user Carl Garcia (@friedpundit) sometimes goes through films frame-by-frame as he works through his own editing projects and boy, were the few days he spent on this film thoroughly enlightening. With his level of detailed analysis, techniques like cutting out every 4th frame or cross-cutting Max’s face with bubbling lava to signify his pumping blood become clearly dynamic artistic decisions.
Runner-Up: Joe Walker – Sicario
Joe Walker ratchets up the tension by making sure not to overcut but is still able to switch between Roger Deakins’ dramatically different camera styles (from night vision, drone footage, handheld, etc) to create a connected narrative.
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins – Sicario
Roger Deakins utilizes different types of equipment and styles to fully create the study in contrasts that is Sicario. From intense Mexican landscapes to extreme close-ups, Deakins’ framing helps to ratchet up the tension while keeping the film darkly beautiful with juxtapositions between light and dark and often vibrant colors. He digs into his entire bag of tricks and yet the result manages to avoid feeling overdone.
Runner-Up: Emmanuel Lubezki – The Revenant
After fully embracing the single-take aesthetic in Birdman, Lubezki thankfully used it more sparingly in The Revenant in order to fully capture all the stark beauty of untamed wilderness.
Best Original Score: Ludwig Goransson – CreedLudwig Goransson’s score for this Rocky sequel is emotionally affecting and evocative of decades of film history. While never as catchy as some of the work in the previous films, it carries through that level of bombast while adding in an extra dose of percussive intensity. When Adonis shadow-boxes with his own father and his theme (“Adonis”) plays, the music seems to transcend time as it traverses the mournful loss of Apollo as a father, shades of the Rocky theme, and a modern epic tonal quality.
While the familiar phrasing of Bill Conti’s original piece over the climactic fight is what got people cheering in the seats, it’s Goransson’s multi-genre feat of melding music over the whole course of the film that makes everything work so well.
Runner-Up: Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight
While Morricone deserves a thousand Oscars over his career, this simple and haunting theme isn’t quite the one he might deserve it for. However it is extremely effective both in the film and out-of-context, so we highly recommend this haunting Lang Lang rendition that was apparently cut from being performed live at this year’s Academy Awards.
Best Original Song: Wiz Khalifa (feat. Charlie Puth) for “See You Again” from Furious 7
There were so many opportunities for this moment in Furious 7 to go wrong. They recreated a famously deceased actor through the use of CGI and a brother who looks just good enough. The song cues up during a montage of Paul Walker’s previous scenes in the film as a gracious goodbye. It should be dumb and callous. In fact, it’s touching. Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” is a big part of the reason for the ending’s success. And the superb context in which a song is used in the film should have some bearing on Beset Original Song.
Runner-Up: N.E.R.D. for “Squeeze Me” from The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water
The song is admittedly a bit silly and repetitive. However, even though it’s been over a year since I saw it in the theatre, I just can’t stop listening to N.E.R.D.’s catchy time travel jingle in this surprisingly stoner-friendly animated sequel.
Best Supporting Actress: Rebecca Ferguson – Mission: Impossible – Rogue NationWhat a breath of fresh air Rebecca Ferguson is in this movie. She pulls off the physicality, the mystery, and deadly proficiency of Ethan Hunt’s female foil, Ilsa Faust. It is seemingly a great role on paper, to be sure, but she manages to sell the question of the character’s alliances in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or hokey. The sheer surprise of this unknown (to most) Swedish actress is what puts her ahead of the pack.
Runner-Up: Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Jennifer Jason Leigh is having so much fun as the despicable badass, Daisy Domergue, despite being in cuffs the whole movie. It’s hard not to love how much she goes for broke here.
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Hamill – Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Force AwakensDerek “Lone Wolf” Scarzella insisted that the winner for this category be The Joker himself, Mark Hamill. Sure, it’s funny because all he does is kind of glower in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But you have to admit… it’s a great glower. Plus we’re not the actual Oscars, we can do whatever we want.
His reveal is a strong and simple scene that, while still leaning on the traditions of the past (Luke pops off his hood in a similar way that Obi-Wan does in the original film), manages to look forward to a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.
Runner-Up: Sylvester Stallone- Creed
Speaking of the traditions of the past, Stallone masterfully uses Rocky Balboa’s history to his advantage in his internalized, standout performance as Adonis Creed’s mentor.
This is likely Quentin Tarantino’s densest and most politically rife story. And while it is also his least “tight” script, the more bloated nature of both this and Django Unchained can possibly be attributed to the tragic loss of his incredible editor, Sally Menke, rather than the screenplay. Regardless, there are deeply fascinating things going on in The Hateful Eight that demand multiple rewatches. It’s an achievement in presenting challenging topics in an entertaining way.
Runner-Up: Taylor Sheridan – Sicario
A joyfully complicated story that zags when you think it would zig and artfully pulls the audience along. The fact that it’s Sheridan’s first ever produced screenplay is simply an extraordinary sidenote.
Best Actor: Leonardo Dicaprio – The RevenantAs alluded to in our Morricone “snub”, we’re not looking to give out “career awards” with this inventory of the year. In trying to be as limited to the particular performances of 2015 as possible, it’s still hard to see who gave a better leading performance than DiCaprio. While the role is 90% physical and mostly demands he give a realistic depiction of intense pain, the determination and sorrow on Hugh Glass’ face as he slowly deteriorates to a ghostly form hellbent on revenge is palpable.
Runner-Up: Michael B. Jordan – Creed
Jordan does some good work with a character whose primary trait seems to be “brooding”… it’s a fine performance, but the script would need just a bit more meat to beat out Leo.
Best Actress: Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury RoadThis was a close call, but Charlize Theron gives Imperator Furiosa an immense amount of backstory simply with body language and a quick look with her eyes. Many people have argued that this is truly her story. However, on rewatch, Max’s character arc is firmly in the center of the film, even if it is sharing a significant amount of space with Furiosa. It’s simply that Theron’s commanding presence threatens to focus the camera, story, and action all on her. The dialogue’s mentions of her redemption makes it clear that she has done terrible things in Immortan Joe’s employ. Even though the audience never sees the despicable person who needs this “redemption”, we have no problem believing that she was equally as capable a villain as she is a hero.
Runner-Up: Emily Blunt – Sicario
Like Theron’s Furiosa, Emily Blunt’s exceptionally professional FBI agent also manages to be a complete badass without sacrificing her femininity. Blunt embodies this astonishingly well.
Best Director: George Miller – Mad Max: Fury RoadThis is kind of a no-brainer. In hindsight, we all know that Mad Max: Fury Road won six Academy Awards last week, and while the accolades were more on the technical side, it speaks to the collaborative nature of a director as well as Miller’s ultimate success in that role. This is a movie that’s being touted as a singular vision of unique chaos and was awarded on so many different levels of design and craft. It’s illogical that the guiding, auteuristic hand that made it all a cohesive experience went home empty-handed. George Miller is an unqualified artistic genius and hopefully the 71 year-old director gives the world a few more tastes of his wild skill in the years to come.
Runner-Up: Joss Whedon – Avengers: Age of Ultron
While not entirely successful as a final product, Avengers: Age of Ultron was, by all accounts, a massive undertaking and maybe even better than it should have been. It seems to have almost broken Whedon, so big ups to him on the achievement.
Best Picture: Mad Max – Fury RoadWe’d be derelict in our duties as the premiere hub for all things action if we didn’t award this the Best Picture. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most compelling pieces of visual storytelling of the modern age. It’s absurdly over-the-top in such a joyous way that the only appropriate reaction is to grin from ear-to-ear for the whole film. Director George Miller presents everything at such a fast pace that every rewatch reveals more fascinating details amongst the most beautiful carnage and explosions that cinema has ever seen. This one’s going down in the history books.
Sicario is an almost oppressively intense tale of “lambs” and wolves” navigating the dangerous waters of the drug cartels in Mexico. The dark tone is so engrossing that it sometimes feels like you’re not even watching a movie anymore.
And check out our Anti-Oscars episode of The Debatable Podcast where we discuss the Top 10 Action Scenes of 2015!