The Oscar “Best Pictures”: An Anthology for Students


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Many Best Picture nominations involved controversial topics and subject matters

Title: Bridge of Spies

Rating: 4/5 stars

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Awards won/nominated for: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (WON), Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Writing/Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures/Original Score, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Achievement in Production Design

Summary:  During the Cold War, lawyer James B. Donovan is called on to defend Russian spy Rudolph Abel. Donovan loses the case, however, but asks for his client to be given 30 years in prison as he could be a bargaining device in exchange for American captives in Russia. When US Pilot Gary Powers is captured, Donovan receives a letter asking to exchange Powers for Abel. Donovan then becomes a negotiator in an international prisoner exchange.

Who would love it: History and war lovers

Why: This film is a depiction of the Cold War, and takes viewers through the reality and exhilaration of the time period.  

Who will hate it: People bored by historical fiction

Why: The film portrays the dramatic Cold War, and move watchers uninterested in history would most likely be easily bored.


Title: The Big Short

Rating: 4/5 stars

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Historical Fiction

Nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director (Adam McKay), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christian Bale), Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin)

Won: Best Adapted Screenplay (Charles Randolf and Adam McKay)

Summary: Based on the nonfiction book by Michael Lewis, “The Big Short” follows the few men who predicted the economic recession of 2008, sparked by the downfall of the housing market. With stars like Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carell and cameos from celebrities Selena Gomez and chef Anthony Bourdain, humor is integrated into explanations of exactly where the big banks took a wrong turn and how these gentlemen predicted the issues in the market.

Who would love it: Those who don’t understand the economic crisis and like witty comedy

Why: While this sounds like a movie that would only be appreciated by dads and older people, “The Big Short” explains big, abstract financial concepts in a witty manner that even those who know nothing about finances can understand and even enjoy. For this generation of high schoolers, the economic recession started when we were in elementary school, leaving many questions unanswered as we begin our journey into the adult world.  

Who would hate it: Adventure junkies who need special effects to be entertained

Why: This movie is mostly dialogue, and it goes by fast. It requires concentration and deeper thinking to really understand the plot.

Extra note: Walking out of the theatre, the audience is left with a lingering sense of resentment for how messed up this country’s economy really is, but a void is filled and they finally get it. Overall, “The Big Short” earned its rating for its smart humor and witty rhetoric on an otherwise depressing topic.


Title: The Martian

Rating: 4/5  

Genre: Science Fiction

Awards nominated for: Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Production Design

Summary: When a huge storm erupts on Mars, a team of six astronauts have to escape before they’re swallowed up by dust and debris. In the midst of the storm, Michael Watney is hit with debris and the other team members abandon him in order to save their own lives. As the dust settles, Watney has to heal his wounds, find oxygen fast, and survive until the next mission to Mars… which is five years away. Unless someone can find out how to save Watney, he’ll perish.  

Who would love it: People who like suspense, survival stories and action will think this film is a winner. The Martian is also surprisingly comedic and heart-warmingly emotional.

Why: Watney’s character is stubborn, sarcastic and extremely resourceful. Every time something goes wrong, he doesn’t give up and continues to fight against the odds, making him the typical underdog character. Watney’s relationship with his crewmates is similar to that of a family, adding a personal touch to the film. Additionally, all of the characters are well rounded and hysterical, especially Kristen Wiig’s character Annie Montrose.  

Who will hate it: People who like complicated, analytical stories that require a deeper level of thinking.

Why: The Martian has a very simple plot: rescue Watney. The Martian may be chockful of science and math, but the viewer does not need to think about much to enjoy the film.

Other notes: The Martian is a light-hearted and enjoyable film for all audiences. Whether moviegoers are children or elderly folks, The Martian impacts everyone. This film in the theaters, on demand, or on the shelves of several stores.


Title: Room            

Rating: 4.5/5

Genre: Drama

Awards/Nominations: “Room” was nominated for three Golden Globes in addition to four Oscars and two SAG awards, and Brie Larson took home the win for best actress in all three instances.

Summary: One room. Four walls. This is the extent of the world Jack knows. At seventeen, his mother, Joy, was kidnapped by a man known to Jack as Old Nick. For two years, Joy spent her days in solitude. Her evenings were spent with Old Nick, who came into the room at the same time every day to show Joy the kind of pain unimaginable to most people. At nineteen, Joy gave birth to Jack. Jack understands that Old Nick is a man who visits his mother each evening after he is tucked into bed, but his knowledge of the situation halts there. He does not understand the implications of his mother’s situation. He cannot comprehend a world outside of the room in which he was born.  Jack’s world, a single room, is all he has known since birth.

Jack, being only five years old, does not understand this. His understanding does not exist beyond the small shed his mother named Room. She fills the ten-by-ten foot area with nothing but care and warmth, nurturing Jack with all the love she has to offer. Behind all the warm sentiment, however, unrest thrives as Joy foils a plan to break herself and her son free from the tight hold of Old Nick. She desires to live in the world outside of Room, the world she knows to have leaves, trees, and a sky – all entities Jack does not believe to be tangible in the real world.

Who would love it:  “Room” is a movie which can be enjoyed by all audiences.

Why: Throughout this poignant, emotional film based upon Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel, viewers grow closer and closer to Jack and Joy. All experience palpable feelings of agony, hope, and trepidation as they watch the pair struggle from start to finish.


Title: Spotlight

Rating: 4.5/5  

Genre: Historical drama

Academy Awards nominated for: Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Film Editing

Academy Awards won: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay

Summary: In 2001, new editor of The Boston Globe, Marty Baron, assigns the paper’s investigative spotlight team of journalists to investigate accusations against John Geoghan, a Catholic priest who allegedly molested more than 80 young boys. The team is led by editor Walter Robison (Michael Keaton), with the help of reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams). They interview victims and tried to unseal incriminating documents to the public records. The reporters worked tirelessly to expose the cover-up the history of pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church.

Who would love it: Anyone with an interest in journalism, especially of the investigative variety. People with an affinity for conspiracy theories and cover-ups, or those who like to watch justice be served and the truth prevail.

Why: The film exhibits the power of the truth and the impact journalism can have on the public by  unwrapping a long history of crimes committed by Catholic priests. Previously, due to the cover-up, the offenders got off scot-free. Once the Spotlight team exposed their actions, however, they began to see the consequences.

Who will hate it: Those with strong Catholic convictions or loyalty to the Roman-Catholic Church. Those who look for happy, light-hearted movies.

Why: The movie lists the extensive misdeeds of the Catholic church, including priests and administration, and the journalists in the story were without religious beliefs, so Catholics may take offense with the film’s content. Due to the frequent interviews of the abuse victims, the movie is quite dark and deals with a very intense subject matter.

Other notes: This film is intended for older, more mature audiences. Those who cannot handle listening to victims describe how they were tricked into sexual encounters with priests should not watch this film.


Title: Brooklyn

Rating: 3/5  

Genre: Historical Period Drama/Romance

Academy Awards nominated for: Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, and Writing (Adapted Screenplay) “Brooklyn” did not emerge victorious, but it did draw much attention.

Summary: Set in the 1950s, “Brooklyn” follows an Irish immigrant by the name of Eilis Lacey who comes to Brooklyn, New York. Both a historical period drama and a romance, this film based on Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, immerses viewers in Eilis’ journey from a small town in Ireland to the Big Apple. Along with the coming of age story, Eilis finds romance in both the two countries.

Who would love it: People who are fans of old-school romance without the grand gestures and the glamorized version of the 50s will definitely love this film. Although the plot is slow and not as alluring as the 50s are made out to be, the ending is truly spectacular as Eilis finally starts to make decisions for herself and all loose ends are tied up.

Who will hate it: People who are not into romance, or an otherwise slow movie.

Other notes: Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding performance as lead actress stands out in this otherwise bland plot. She portrays the torn feeling of Eilis as she is trying to balance and figure out where she belongs, Ireland or Brooklyn. This movie’s soundtrack also stood out, as did the beautiful cinematography, both combining to give an old fashioned, glamorous 1950s feeling.  Though the plot was rather slow, the soundtrack, cinematography, and actresses in the film brought an otherwise boring story to life.


Title: Mad Max: Fury Road

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Action/Science Fiction

Awards nominated for: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (WON), Best Production Design (WON), Best Costume Design (WON), Best Makeup and Hairstyling (WON), Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing (WON), Best Sound Editing (WON)

Summary: Set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, Mad Max: Fury Road follows the journey of survivor Max Rockatansky as he tries to traverse the treacherous terrain and murderous warlords. After being captured by Immortan Joe’s army and being used as a blood bank (Max is a universal donor), Max is caught in the middle of a feud between Joe’s army and the rogue imperator Furiosa after she stole Joe’s wives. After managing to escape Joe’s men, Max joins Furiosa on her journey to find a safe haven for Joe’s wives. Action packed from beginning to end, Mad Max: Fury Road  blended perfectly choreographed fight scenes, stunning explosions, and spot on sound effects with enough semblance of a plot to create one of the most entertaining movies of 2015.

Who would love it: Pyromaniacs

Why: If ever a movie was made for D-Box (the synchronized seats designed to move or vibrate with your movie), it’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Mad Max was so violence-oriented that it bordered on the disgusting from time to time. Having said that, at no point does the violence go too far, often doing just enough to emphasize the tone of every scene. This wasn’t just lazy explosions with dumb shootouts thrown in either, Mad Max has perfectly choreographed combat both on foot and on the massive big rigs. If nothing else, Mad Max: Fury Road never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Who will hate it: People with sensitive ears, light stomachs, or an affinity for the concept of “Language”

Why: The sound effects are spectacular and always improve the quality of the scene; however, they are quite an earful. It is not hard to imagine why two hours of explosions, gunshots, and screams would grow old for some audiences. Mad Max was rated R for good reason, as blood makes frequent appearances. The gore is actually tame for the most part, but those with light stomachs should still be warned. The biggest turn-off for most audiences though, will undoubtedly be the lack of dialogue. There very well may have been more explosions than words in this movie. Though there is enough substance to keep a story going throughout, the plot of Mad Max definitely takes a back seat to the action.  

Other notes: The Mad Max universe is by far the most interesting thing about the franchise, and it is a shame that there isn’t more focus on the lore of the world. Overall though, most audiences will be able to overlook the lack of dialogue and enjoy Mad Max: Fury Road for what it is: A wild ride chock full of action that does not fail to impress.


Title: The Revenant

Rating: 2/5

Genre: Drama film/Thriller

Nominated: Actor in a Leading Role, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cinematography, Directing, Actor in a Supporting Role, Costume Design, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Visual Effects

Awards won: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Cinematography

Summary: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Who would love it: People who enjoy Historical Drama and Action/Adventure

Why: Every scene is action filled with people getting murdered and with scenes like Leonardo DiCaprio getting mauled by a bear. The audience will not get that attached to the characters so all of the action scenes will be a lot more enjoyable.  

Other notes: Every single scene was predictable and different people are killed every four minutes. It is strange how Leonardo DiCaprio won the award for Best Actor when he has starred in much better movies than this piece of garbage.  The best part of the movie is when Leonardo Dicaprio is mauled by a bear and even then it is predictable.

Who would hate it: People who don’t like violence and action scenes
Why: Most scenes in this movie have a character that dies in every scene, lots of blood and gore.