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The 8th Annual Munchie Awards; or 2015 in review

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Because it's Oscar time and there's perfectly good thunder to be stolen (and because I Can. Not. Help. Myself. ) it's time to look back at 2015 film through the lens of...ME!!!!! That's right, it's the 8th Annual Munchie Awards, a time to, I hope draw some attention to some of the cinematic gems from the last year. Because the Academy will surely let us down.

Best Documentary

Your nominees:

Cartel Land
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

I was happy to get to see more and better documentaries this year than last, and I actually think the Academy did a pretty good job picking the best ones out there. The upshot too, is that almost all of these picks are already streaming, like this instant, on either Netflix of HBO, so treat yourself! For me, however, the clear winner, and what I hope wins tomorrow at the Oscars, is Cartel Land, which is an endlessly engrossing look at the fraught situation with drug cartels and drug runners along the Mexican border. If you told me there would be a film that would make me see paramilitary vigilantes with a little more understanding, I would have scoffed. This film is fascinating because everyone acknowledges there are huge, huge problems with drugs and with border security, and it's striking how people are totally willing to get involved in solving the problems in their own ways, because the governments are failing to. But in doing so, it's interesting to see how things get out of hand without any regulation or accountability. Fascinating watch.

Best Feature Film (in order):

15. Beasts of No Nation
14. Tangerine
13. The Martian
12. Spy
11. The Revenant
10. The Big Short
9. Anomalisa
8. Ex Machina
7. Sicario
6. Creed
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Brooklyn
3. Room
2. Spotlight

So, I thought that this was just an average year in terms of film quality. Most of the films that I enjoyed were actually films that I really didn't expect to be as good as they were. They were either sequels (like the astonishingly good Mad Max movie and Creed) or films that were really aimed at a wide audience (The Martian, and Spy, which is one of the funniest movies in recent memory). I was a little let down by some of the quieter "award" films until one week in November, when I was able to see #2-#4 in quick succession and was blown away by their subtlety and craft. But I suppose given the general theme of the year, it shouldn't be surprising that the film I was most impressed by this year was targeted for the masses. It is the Pixar masterpiece Inside Out. In true Pixar form, this film is hilarious, while also having some of the most emotionally devastating moments in cinema this year. I don't know how they keep making these wonderful films with such emotional depth that seem so simple on their face, but really penetrate and stay with you forever.

Best Actor:

Tom Courtenay in 45 Years
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
Michael B. Jordan in Creed
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
Jacob Tremblay in Room

So for the first time in doing this, I had an exceedingly hard time populating this group of nominees. I was pretty disappointed in the lead actor performances this year. These are all pretty well known quantities too, except for Jacob Tremblay, the child from Room, who was a real revelation in a performance of power and intensity far beyond his years. So, this is essentially a 2-man race between DiCaprio and Jordan for me. Both captivating in their own ways, but in a squeaker, I'm giving the Munchie to Leonardo DiCaprio. The clincher was thinking about how physical and intense the performance was and how long he was forced to command the screen by himself. It's not a showy performance in that scenery-chewing way. Leo's doing something more primal and intense and interesting here. He's difficult to look away from.

Best Actress:

Cate Blanchett in Carol
Brie Larson in Room
Melissa McCarthy in Spy
Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

So if I went simply by how much I enjoyed spending time with an actress for a couple hours, this goes to Melissa McCarthy hands down. I think she's one of the premier comedic actresses of our time and she is in tip-top form in Spy. But factoring in all considerations, I think the Munchie award will have to go to Saoirse Ronan, for her excellent performance in Brooklyn. There's a completeness to that character and that performance that is absent from the others. This is the performance that best captures the journey and the development of a character. From her shy, sad, homesick beginnings to the confident, mature woman she becomes, Ronan is flawless in every scene.

Best Supporting Actor:

Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy in The Revenant
Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina
Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton
Tom Noonan in Anomalisa
Sylvester Stallone in Creed

So this group of performances is utterly superior to the Lead Actor group. I was so impressed by a couple of unexpected performances here. Stallone displayed range and vulnerability that I had literally never seen from him, even in his many past visitations to this character. He hit it out of the park. On the flip side, I'd never even heard of Jason Mitchell, who plays Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton. This was a real breakthrough for him. It was hard to know who to nominate from that film, because it's a real ensemble achievement. They all lift each other up, but Mitchell's performance, especially in his final scenes, really stood out. But for me, the performance that really stood out to me was Tom Noonan in Anomalisa. Now I've been vocal (heh heh) in the past about how impressed I am with voice work in animated films. I think it's a real accomplishment to make the audience connect with a disembodied actor. This performance is so impressive to me because Tom Noonan's job is the make the audience disconnect with pretty much all the characters. Tom Noonan is the voice of every man, woman, and child in this film, except for 2. The achievement of the performance is in the way he paradoxically gives the characters tremendous idiosyncrasies but makes them totally indistinguishable. It's a voice acting achievement for the ages. Check it out if you get the chance.

Best Supporting Actress:

Rose Byrne in Spy
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Phyllis Smith in Inside Out
Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina
Julie Walters in Brooklyn
Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs

This is an odd category this year. Nothing really jumps out at me as an obvious winner, thought I really appreciated all the work done here. You'll notice that there's another voice actor in there, as well. I really can't help myself. I think the Munchie award this year is going to Jennifer Jason Leigh because of how thoroughly she threw herself in that role. Her character is so gleefully and utterly wretched in the way that only Tarantino villains can be. It was devilishly fun to watch, unlike the rest of the film, which is Tarantino's worst.

Best Director

Lenny Abrahamson for Room
Ryan Coogler for Creed
Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson for Anomalisa
Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road

I thought that the innovation and vision displayed by the directors this year was unprecedented and quite astonishing. There were so many tremendous achievements in directing this year that the directors for my favorite film of the year were actually frozen out of the shortlist. It's really hard to pick one winner here. I'm very impressed with films that can be high-energy but know how to savor the quiet moments (which I think Ryan Coogler did exceptionally well with in Creed, though Adam McKay got more credit for, inexplicably, for The Big Short). I also appreciated the quieter films like Room and Spotlight, which were perfectly paced. And I'm confident I will never again see a movie with the intensity of Mad Max: Fury Road, which is just mind-blowing. But for me, the most impressive directorial achievement was Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. The care, ambition, obsessive precision, love, and attention to detail that went into the production of this film are simply out of this world. It's an outrageous achievement to bring the vision for a film like that to fruition and I can only marvel at it.

Congratulations to the winners and congratulations to the lovers of film who got to experience them. For once, I pretty much got to see everything I wanted to see this past year. The only 2 films I wish I'd seen, just to be sure, were Timbuktu and Dope, just to make sure my bases were covered. But there are only so many hours in year. Thanks for reading, as always, and let's hope the Academy doesn't embarrass itself too badly tomorrow.

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  1. GlennHarman's Avatar
    Many thanks for directing me to your blog from the Academy Awards thread. I love your comments. I don't agree with all of your assessments of the ones I have seen, and you have seen many more than I did.

    I did see one of the 2 you wish you had seen: Timbuktu. I'm obviously no expert and no reviewer. But I did not like this nearly as much as the reviewers did who wrote what I read. I thought the cinematography was made the desert and the town look wonderful. But the action I found very uneven. There were long boring stretches, where nothing seemed to be happening that moved the story along, and then at other times, things were happening almost too fast. And then things happened that seemed only remotely tied to the main story line, and would not have been missed at all if left out. For me, it was not masterpiece, and only about average for movie quality. And while it proved that having one's town taken over by Al Qaeda is a bad thing, that was no revelation for anyone, and I think that point could have been made in a more interesting way.