Forget the snoozefest that is the bulging middle section of the usual Oscar telecast.
Tonight promises fireworks after weeks of protest over the Academy’s lack of diversity, resulting in a vigorous #OscarSoWhite backlash. What will host Chris Rock do? That alone will boost numbers, declining fast in all demographics in recent years.
And yes, the backlash is long overdue. Any film festival fan knows the world of film is far more expansive than what Hollywood churns out yearly. If I can just plug for one moment the phenomenon of our very own TIFF, a festival where diverse global storytelling is on show daily for ten days every fall. Of the many reasons I attend, stoking my travel lust right there in my fangirl seat is one of the best.
I don’t get to vote for the Oscars, but if I did, I’d change the rules on a bunch of wonky categories. Why does animation need to be separate? Inside Out belongs among the years’ best list, not sent to the margins. Why aren’t there trophies for whole casts? More than anything, film is collaborative; hundreds of talents creating magic.
What stood out for me this year in this swirling circus of Oscar gold?
1. Canadian geography, the true star of The Revenant. Gasp-worthy cinematography from Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is what I will remember more than anything from this remarkable film, shot mostly in freezing conditions in the Rockies.
2. Subtlety from the masters, seen in 45 Years, a nuanced portrait of a long marriage, and a lesson in how to convey a world of emotion in one look from the wonderful Charlotte Rampling.
3. Reinventing cult classics into feminist fables is not a pipe dream, as 70-year old filmmaker George Miller demonstrated in the dazzling Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth instalment that came thirty years after the last.
4. Novelists can be screenwriters of their own material, despite the stark difference between the two literary forms. Emma Donoghue adapted her own acclaimed novel Room for the big screen and the result is an intense and powerful film with the most gripping escape scene of the year.
5. Finance can be fun. Exhibit A: The Big Short.
6. Charisma can carry an entire film. Saoirse Ronan in the beautiful Brooklyn, Matt Damon in one of my favourites from 2015, The Martian, Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, and the wondrous Jacob Tremblay in Room.
7. Brevity can be brilliant. The Oscar live action short The Stutterer stole my heart in 13 minutes.
8. The contest for Best Foreign Film is always the most compelling. This year, two of the best films of 2015 are up for the title: Mustang and Son of Saul. Both are must-see films.
9. Oscar often nods to the right actor but the wrong performance. While her turn in The Danish Girl was excellent, it is as Ava, the humanoid robot in Ex Machina where Alicia Vikander really shines. That film gets my vote for best original screenplay.
10. You can listen to the music and know the bullet points of a tabloid tale. But until I saw the poignant documentary Amy, I didn’t understand fully the tragedy of this British singer’s life. That’s the power of film.
“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”
For more on all my favourites see Best of 2015.