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Snarcasm: Let’s Talk About How the Oscars Don’t Matter (Again)

oscars don't matter

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read. 

A hit piece on why the Academy Awards are pointless comes about once every 33 seconds, like a YouTube comment about how Donald Trump supposedly “tells it how it is” or a Tweet referencing that other thing you don’t like.

What I never come across is an article that says, “Well, the Oscars are important for good reasons you’re probably not aware of.” Not a surprise considering conversations around the Oscars usually boil down to a few clever hashtags, rather than some real discussion.

And who better to trash the Oscars than a film critic? Joanna Connors wrote this thinker for the aptly named Cleveland.com,

Oscars 2016: Why the Academy Awards matter, and why they don’t

Spoiler alert: she only talks about why they don’t matter, but you knew that already.

 As we approach the total fabulosity that is the annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night…

Look, just because “fabulosity” is technically a word doesn’t mean we, as a society, should remind everyone.

…I find that I can barely dredge up even mild excitement about it.

That’s terrible news for everyone.

Maybe it’s the #OscarsSoWhite issue.

Reasonable.

Maybe it’s that “The Revenant,” a movie I loathed, is poised to win a lot of the awards.

Even more reasonable. I also loathed The Revenant.

Maybe it’s the very idea of ranking films at all, the absurdity of declaring one better than all the others.

Are you seriously criticizing the practice of ranking? You know, that thing everyone instinctively does, proving why Buzzfeed is the first thing you see on Facebook every morning?

It’s not absurd to award someone for doing something competently. It just so happens that the only useful way to evaluate competence is through comparison, AKA ranking. Pretending this practice is somehow insane is what’s truly insane.

Whatever the cause, I’ve had so little interest in the Oscars over the past few weeks that I’ve started to wonder: Do they really matter?

I’ve had this same existential crisis about craft beer and Jennifer Lawrence, but you don’t see me protesting Hunger Games with a Bud Light in my hand.

Of course they matter to the people who win them. Obviously. Winners get that exciting moment in the spotlight and the chance to thank their minions ad nauseam.

OK, let’s attack people who get excited about winning the most prestigious award in entertainment. How dare they value themselves?

And if we’re going to call earnest fans of a movie “minions,” then what does that make your readers, Joanna?

They reap more tangible benefits, too. Money. Winning actors, actresses, directors and even some below-the-line workers such as art directors will see their price tags go up for future movies. Winning films will get a nice bump at the box office.

In other words, the Oscars have gone on to greatly benefit filmmakers by giving them enough prestige to create more interesting, remarkable films. Well, sometimes that’s how it works out.

But apparently, none of that matters because Joanna hates “top 10” lists.

But do the Oscars matter as a judge of artistic merit? No. They don’t. They never have.

“This ultimately subjective practice has absolutely never been subjective.”

Don’t believe me?

Hey, at least she’s self aware.

OK. Let’s do this. Close your eyes, just for a moment, and think back to your high school prom. (Don’t worry: This will only sting a little.)

Is she talking to herself at this point? Fine, I’ll go along with this.

closes eyes to imagine prom

All I see is a cover band doing a terrible rendition of “Hey There, Delilah.”

Got the image? A parade of lovely, over-made-up girls wearing beautiful, overpriced gowns, some of them revealing much more than their fathers would like. Boys in tuxedoes, staring dumbfounded at the girls.

So at this point, Joanna is deriding the very existence of prom, including your own, in order to illustrate a completely unrelated point.

“Hey, prom is meaningless! Just like your dreams.”

SHE IS A FILM CRITIC!

You’re mingling with people you know – everyone knows them — but you’ve never actually spoken to a lot of them. You’re nervous and excited.

Yes, Joanna gets paid to write about movies. But no judgement here, considering the band is now doing “Dangerous” by Kardinal.

Everyone is buzzing: Who’s the most popular? Who will score tonight? And, most important, who will be crowned prom queen and king?

Go on.

Now, step back for a minute and imagine that almost all the people who get to vote for the king and queen are 63-year-old white guys, many of whom have not set foot in a high school (or on a set) in years.

She…she’s joking. She has to be joking. This can’t be real.

Some of them have never even seen the kids they vote for; they’re voting based on what their friends – and probably their grandchildren – like.

Please, for the love of Snarcasm, don’t let this be her metaphor.

And so, ladies and gentlemen: There you have it. The Oscars!

No. Just no. This…NO.

Joanna, your metaphor/analogy, or whatever you want to call this is wrong on every level I can fathom. For one thing, you seem to have absolutely no knowledge about what the criteria is for being in the Academy. In your mind, you just have to be an old white guy, apparently.

And I don’t blame you for this assumption, considering that is what the Academy is mostly composed of. But have you ever wondered why?

The Academy is made up of the top filmmakers, writers, engineers, technicians, and actors of all time. Their knowledge of what it takes to make a great film make your prom analogy read like a 7th grade essay on Huckleberry Finn. 

People in the Academy have won Oscars in the past, which is a practice that ensures the very artistic merit you’re questioning. Is this perfect? No, because the traditionally white institution has led to exactly what you’re complaining about in terms of age and demographics, and this won’t be resolved until Hollywood itself grows more diversely.

Either way, it’s the antithesis of some creepy old dudes voting on prom king and queen, which is just a cheap shot.

Being “prom king and queen” is built on relationships between high schoolers. Winning an Oscar is determined by artistic evaluation of a film by the best people in the craft. Undermining the Academy in this way is like saying a film critic is useless because I once ate bad fish sticks at a Red Lobster recommended by Yelp.

A popularity contest that has almost nothing to do with artistic merit, decided by mostly white, mostly male, mostly older voters who are not required to see all of the nominated films, and probably haven’t.

If it’s just a popularity contest, then why do unpopular movies win so often? (She references this later on by saying Citizen Kane lost to a movie no one’s ever heard of).

And the assertion that these voters haven’t seen most of the nominated films is misleading, considering the fact that they would have to watch over 500 films in a year in order to do so. That’s why marketing and Oscar buzz is such a crucial facet of this process. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s vastly more effective than strapping these guys and gals to a chair and forcing them to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

How many of these guys saw Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation”? How many of them have even heard of Idris Elba?

I agree that Beasts of No Nation deserved a nomination, but Joanna is just guessing that they didn’t watch the film at all because it helps her opinion look correct. In fact, she even cites an anonymous voter later in this article who HAS watched Beasts and talks about why he doesn’t like it, refuting this entire point altogether.

Led by its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy is taking steps to correct this imbalance. But that may take a few years, and even then, there’s no guarantee the voters will actually see the nominated films. Even if they do, they might still vote based on personal popularity.

The alternative is forcing these voters to watch a preselected list of movies that deserve to win Oscars based on the opinion of…who knows? See, it’s not reasonable to make sure they watch all of these films, but it’s also unreasonable to assume they need to. The Oscars are an institution built on popularity integrated with artistic evaluation. Trying to forcibly shut one of these aspects out is just absurd.

Joanna goes on to cite three examples of Academy voters who said mean things about actors in the nomination. Yeah, hard-hitting evidence:

explaining why he won’t vote for Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor, the voter said, “He’s a pig…. I can’t stand Sly as a person.”

“Tommy Lee Jones has been such a bitter guy — all that scowling at the Golden Globes? I’m telling you, people don’t like the guy.”

“Jennifer Lawrence I was on the fence about, but she lost me with that ‘Saturday Night Live’ bit [in which she ‘trash-talked’ her fellow nominees]; I thought it was mean-spirited and shows a lack of maturity on her part.”

Sound like high school to you?

Yes, because you purposefully leave out important information in order to mischaracterize what was really said by these voters.

Let’s take the voter who said “I can’t stand Sly as a person.” This wasn’t all he said. His entire quote includes that he didn’t think Stallone’s performance was all that great compared to Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy. In other words, he evaluated an actor and compared him to the competition. Mentioning his personal disdain of Stallone was an aside.

In the rest of that article, the voter even mentions how he nominated Tangerine, which stars actors of color and is about a transgender sex worker, for Best Picture. He also gushes about SpotlightThe Revenant, and other movies in a meaningful way. In other words, he’s a person, not a quarterback.

That quote about Tommy Lee Jones? Buried in a sea of sound criticism yet plucked out of context in order to make some grandiose point.

See, these voters weren’t really just talking about their reasons for voting. They were digging into their overall perceptions and how that shaped their opinions. There’s a lot of substance in their commentary, but Joanna noticeably draws attention away from their artistic merit in order to prove they have none.

Do I need to list all the great movies that should have won the Academy Award and did not?

A pointless exercise. Yes, we all know the Academy doesn’t get it right all the time, but that’s simply because the voting process actually isn’t much of a popularity contest. It’s more of a percentage contest that can split votes and create surprises.

Going further, we have other award shows that pay attention to what the critics and general audiences like. Those are the shows that will award movies that remain in the minds of most people for years, but that doesn’t mean the Oscars need to do the same. If we only go by the films “everyone likes,” then that means Fast and Furious 7 should be up for Best Picture.

Roger Ebert himself once said that the Oscars are important because of how they draw attention to what the industry honors each given year. Even if they get it wrong sometimes, that’s fine because we still glean insight from these decisions and how they shed light on cinema of the past.

I could go on, but I’m feeling too depressed.

Over the Oscars not being exactly the way you want them to be? For someone who doesn’t think the Oscars matter, you’re getting pretty riled up over them. That or the prom experiment took an unexpected toll on you.

I’ll watch the Oscars Sunday, because it’s my job. Otherwise, I wouldn’t. I confess that I haven’t watched in past years, when it wasn’t my job.

That’s so interesting.

oscars don't matter

Not even the dresses interest me any more, now that the stars don’t dress themselves and rely instead on stylists and designer freebies.

Yup, even the fashion is corrupted. Keep going, Joanna.

Where’s the fun in everyone looking perfect? Why does anyone care who they’re wearing, if it wasn’t their choice?

This is so tedious. It actually depresses you that people work hard to look good when thousands of cameras are blaring at them. Next week, Joanna is going to write an article about how much she hates colorful logos on dish soap.

This year, the only thing that sparks my interest is what the host, Chris Rock, will say in his monologue about the All White Oscars. I can’t wait to hear his message to all those older white guys who have been in Academy forever, the ones who will give Leonardo DiCaprio the Best Actor Oscar because – well, because he’s such a great guy! Everybody loves Leo! Haven’t seen the movie, but they say he’s wonderful in it.

That’s right, Joanna is asserting that most of these guys haven’t even seen The Revenant, a box office smash with audiences and critics. She has no evidence for this aside from the quote that says the voters don’t see “everything,” which consists of hundreds of movies she hasn’t seen either.

And I just want to point out that Joanna’s dripping, dramatic, disdain for this collective group of homogenous human beings feels just like the thing she’s criticizing them for. Irony? Coincidence? Apathy? Take your pick.

Also, I forgot to mention that one of the voters she criticizes early on in this article hates The Revenant just as much as she does. But I’m guessing she just skimmed the parts of the article that didn’t support her rant.

OK, but do the Oscars matter?

Well, do movies matter? Because if so, then a ceremony that attempts to highlight the best of cinema certainly matters. We can debate all day on how good of a job the Academy is doing, but dismissing them entirely is a pure exercise in immaturity, akin to telling your readers how depressed you are that celebrities love to wear dresses.

The problem is that it’s so incredibly easy to say the Oscars don’t matter. You can throw in your two cents right now and complain away about the Academy and how flawed it is. In fact, it’s “cool” to hate on the Oscars, judging by how quick people are to jump on criticizing it.

Yet just take a look at some of the movies elected this year. Who would have guessed that Mad Max: Fury Road (the most non-Oscar bait movie of all time) would be nominated for 10 awards, including Best Picture? Or The Martian, a sci-fi blockbuster featuring a director no one has cared about in years getting a nod, despite being filled with scientists who aren’t evil for a change?

My point is that while the Oscars aren’t perfect, they continue to change. “Oscar bait” as we know it today is incredibly different from the tastes of a decade ago. The Academy gains new voters—and new perspectives—every year. And countless people will watch great movies every year because they watched the Oscars, a curated collection of movies that matter to the people who make them.

Let’s continue to hold the Academy accountable for a lot of things, but can we please get off this absurd conclusion that they don’t matter because they may not matter to you?


Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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My Top 10 Films of 2015

top 2015 movies

2015 will be known as the year that westerns took on space operas again, and the year that audiences clamoring for more LGBT dramas want better LGBT dramas. It was the year that practical effects and 70mm film started popping up more in the conversation, dictating some of the biggest hits of the box office.

It was a great year for movies, and one I was happy to participate in as a critic. Of the 80 films I saw in 2015, I’ve curated a list of my “top” favorites. This list differs from my 2015 Movie Power Rankings, in that it isn’t dictated by grade. I’m selecting movies that I personally loved, even if they have some notable flaws holding them back.

And this list comes with a significant caveat, in that I’ve been away for the holidays. I’ve missed several new releases, like The Hateful EightThe RevenantAnomalisa, and Son of Saul. For that reason, they didn’t make the list, even though one or two of them certainly had the potential.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the best movies 2015 had to offer us, starting with:

#10 Creed

Though I was charmed by Southpaw, the other mainstream boxing movie of 2015 that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Creed worked harder to land its punches. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, this mashup of an unprivileged kid turned privileged, then unprivileged again, ended up being my favorite origin story of the year.

Director Ryan Coogler could have easily defaulted to many of the same beats that have carried previous installments in the Rocky universe, but his decision to keep Stallone out of the writing room and to place more emphasis on brand new themes (like an inventive soundtrack that still manages to pay homage to the original) push Creed to incredible heights as a franchise starter.

#9 Paddington

Movies made specifically for children have a tendency to forget the rest of their audience, including the older versions of the children who love these movies in the first place. Paddington makes no such compromises, infusing a charming script with equally charming characters.

If you had to fault Paddington for anything, it would have to be the absence of any real risks. But the true achievement of this kid-friendly adventure in London is how well it sets the standard for accessible adaptations of children’s classics.

#8 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It’s easy to pick fun at Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that’s deftly aware of its indie status with showy camerawork and a parade of film references that will manufacture old Hollywood nostalgia. But it’s also easy to look past its genius, as a movie that centers around a concept most coming-of-age films never get right: detachment.

This quirky summer film harkens back to The Way Way Back, another somewhat flawed movie that floored me emotionally. If you’re seeking heart mixed in with an original concept and even more original characters, then this is a must-see.

#7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For all of its controversy for being a mimic of past Star Wars films, you have to admit that The Force Awakens is certainly the most interesting movie of the year. It’s a film with such rich appeal and complexity, fans and haters alike are still at each other’s throats over whether or not it’s actually good.

Of course, it’s a great movie that cancels out its many flaws with even more moments of awe and spectacle during an age when practical effects and real film were on the way out. But what makes the hype around TFA worth it the most is its lovable characters we can’t wait to see more of.

Is it shameless in its premise that it doesn’t work fully as a standalone movie? Absolutely. But as Hollywood makes this fascinating transition into an industry of franchises, not movies, TFA is at least a glowing example of how to do it well.

#6 Spotlight

My favorite ensemble of the year comes from this team up of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Lieve Schrieber, and others as they uncover the massive sex abuse scandal within the high ranks of the Catholic Church.

Spotlight gets you invested within the first few minutes of its interactions between journalists at the Boston Globe. Its recency in events keeps the story harrowing to think about, but it’ll stand the test of time for its adherence to the real culture behind spotlight journalism. It will hopefully inspire (and de-inspire) future journalists for years to come.

#5 Room 

Lenny Abrahamson’s film adaption of the popular novel by Emma Donoghue, Room, is one of the boldest movies of the year, and one of the most emotionally gripping, thanks to incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Imagine a film in which the main character, someone who is the victim of a horrible crime, is shamed for her imperfections throughout?

Room doesn’t sugarcoat the messiness of life. People are sick, terrible, and (sometimes) good. Watching their lives play out in one of the most horrible ways possible should make you uncomfortable, but only because the connection you’ve made with the characters onscreen is genuine and hard to forget.

#4 Mad Max: Fury Road

Technology finally caught up to the insane vision of George Miller, and audiences had the privilege of seeing this post-apocalyptic masterpiece unfold in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Designed to be something worthy of the big screen, I’m unsure of how well Fury Road will translate on a tablet or flatscreen TV. But the impressive visuals, captivating lore, and truly spectacular effects will keep fans like me re-watching this future classic for years.

#3 Inside Out 

Inside Out is one of those rare movies with such an attention to detail, it’s hard to find any real flaws (CinemaSins notwithstanding). Its storytelling is actually superior to its good story, its side characters transcend the main ones, and the comedy is even more fun than some of the more emotional moments expected from a Pixar film.

In other words, Inside Out is full of surprises, a compliment I wish I could give to more films this year, animated or otherwise. It’s spirited, original, and isn’t asking for a sequel to make it relevant.

#2 It Follows

I truly wish we could have more horror films like It Follows, which trades glossy production for an earthy feel that mixes nicely with a jarring soundtrack you have to hear to believe. Though simple in its premise, It Follows can take a while to dissect, as a film about a group of teenagers in the Detroit suburbs trying to foil a persistent, shapeshifting demon.

What makes the film superb, however, is its ability to twist its own flaws into elements of the film itself. Of course these kids are morons. That’s the point. Of course that’s a plot hole. These kids are morons. As far as horror films go, It Follows is a true standout.

#1 The Good Dinosaur

For me, The Good Dinosaur will always be one of the most fascinating films of 2015. It’s a film that feels wholly imperfect in conception, but nearly perfect in execution. For that reason, I think most moviegoers gave up on the film before they could experience it in action.

The energy of this film, which is absolutely my favorite movie of 2015, comes from its harmony between story, effects, music, animation, and characters. Everything is crafted to fit, so if you don’t like one aspect of the recipe that makes up The Good Dinosaur, then there’s a chance you won’t enjoy the meal.

But more than that, The Good Dinosaur pulls off what Pixar hasn’t tried to do in ages: something completely new. As much as I love Inside Out, it ends up feeling like a standard Pixar movie. The Good Dinosaur, while clearly paying homage to many westerns, doesn’t feel like something made by Pixar, and that’s an exciting thing in and of itself. But it’s the movie’s ability to transcend its own makers that makes The Good Dinosaur my #1 pick of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ex Machina
  • The Intern
  • The Martian
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
  • The Gift
  • Still Alice
  • Love and Mercy

Have something to add or discuss? Sound off in the comments below.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Snarcasm: There’s Only One Reason To Hate ‘Room’

room movie

Snarcasm is a weekly series about the worst articles on the Internet, and how we can snarcastically deal with them. 

Warning, this week’s Snarcasm contains spoilers for Room. Read at your own risk! 

Room is one of my favorite movies of the year, but it’s no surprise that not everyone feels that way. But my face went inside out when I read that veteran film critic of San Diego Reader, Matthew Lickona, gave it 1/5 stars.

Ouch.

That’s fine, I said aloud in a room full of people I didn’t know. Lickona always has his reasons. Sure, sometimes I disagree, but at least he gives good explanat—then I read the review.

Let’s start!

A cowardly movie about brave people. 

This isn’t even a sentence, but OK. Lickona begins his review with what Rotten Tomatoes will extract for a blurb. I can almost hear Lickona knocking on wood in celebration that he’s come up with the perfect “finish him” moment.

Part one is heartrendingly human, bordering on wise: a considered portrait of motherly love under extreme duress.

Well, that sounds nice.

To wit: Ma (Brie Larson) is both captive and sexual slave to a dim Midwestern monster, trapped in a soundproofed shed with a son (Jacob Tremblay) who has never seen the world outside. (Well, except on TV.)

See, this is good writing. Clear, concise, no nonsense. You know, like Lickona’s other reviews.

Wonderfully and believably, she gives the boy a life, an education, a cosmology, and a family; what is more, she manages to shield him from the horror of her own situation.

Go on…

It’s only when the boy’s innocence is threatened that she resolves to set him free. (Spoilers, of a sort, to follow.)

This is a nitpick, but that’s not entirely true. So yeah, spoilers if you don’t want to get spoiled…

Her choice to enact an escape plan isn’t solely intended to protect Jack’s innocence. The inciting event is clearly the revelation that her captor has been laid off for six months, and he’ll soon have no more money left to sustain their captivity. She’s literally fighting for their lives at this point.

Free him she does, and that’s when the film loses its nerve,

And…I can say the same for this review.

transforming from an unflinching look at love amid suffering into an embarrassing bout of wishful thinking. 

Nothing about this sentence makes sense if you’ve watched the movie or…otherwise. Because the main point of the second two acts is that they’re still suffering. But the problem is that their love for each other is strained. What is embarrassing about this? In what way is this wishful thinking on the part of anyone Lickona is referring?

It makes sense for Ma to fall apart once the ordeal is over.

Right.

But it does not make sense — psychologically, developmentally, but above all, narratively — for an anger-prone child whose entire, largely happy world has been ripped asunder to magically become both moppet and angel of salvation.

Cherrypicking. Call the child anger-prone, and you can get away with propping him up as a one-dimensional character, even though this same child is also (as we see in the first act): adventurous, loving, curious, and filled with ingenuity.

But Lickona couldn’t look past one element of his character to leave room (get it?) for a story arc.

In other words, Lickona seems to despise Room because he doesn’t think Jack should’ve adapted so easily to the world. Never mind it takes incredible acting to get that across or that the movie provokes you to rethink Jack as a character throughout the entire movie.

room movie

No, Lickona claims  Room is wishful thinking because one character reacts harshly to a tough situation, but the innocent child finds a way to thrive in the way his mother did in the first act.

Seriously. 1/5 stars.

Of course, I’ve been responding as if I accept Lickona’s premise that Jack is a moppet throughout the movie. Except, Jack doesn’t immediately adjust to the world, especially not physically. He’s quiet, hard to talk to, combative, and distant throughout the second act, which is artfully demonstrated by his physical limitations early on.

And overall, he’s not that much of a salvation for his mother, despite saving her life a second time. The film ends with her barely gripping with the fact that she was a selfish parent all along.

The true angel of salvation in this movie was Jack’s grandmother, who served as a narrative gift that Ma truly wanted for her son: someone to connect with. That moment when Jack tells his grandmother that he loves her is an earned moment, not just the words of a moppet. And then there’s that second moment when Ma sees him in the backyard connecting with someone else without her help. 

room movie

Oh, and this is the end of the review! I left nothing out. Lickona gives no basis for his assertions here, effectively saying that the film’s cinematography, score, and performances offer no merit beyond 1/5 stars. It’s a “bad” movie because Lickona got hung up on one aspect of the story that’s arguable at best. How is this a review?

Look, if you didn’t like the structure or coherence of Room, that’s one thing. I even criticized the pacing in my own review. Maybe that makes the film a 3/5, or maybe even a 2 for some. But to pan the film based on the delivery of a story for reasons that amount to your own cloudy expectations is lazy to say the least.

Now, you might be thinking, “Jon! Why should we care if one critic didn’t like Room?”

Well, what’s really got me frustrated is that someone is going to read Lickona’s lackluster review and write off a movie that deserves to be seen. A movie that person may have cherished. My point is that if you’re going to demolish a film, at least give us more than a paragraph explaining why.

Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below! 

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: ‘Room’ is as Captivating as it is Devastating

room review

This review contains mild spoilers that are also revealed by the trailer. If you haven’t seen the trailer and don’t want anything about Room to be spoiled for you, then you should click away now, 

Room was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and is based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. She also wrote the screenplay for this adaptation, which stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son forced into captivity before the son’s birth.

The film begins by skipping its explanation for why this mother and son are trapped in what they call “Room.” Instead, we watch them live their daily routines within the harsh confines of a world that feels smaller with every scene.

For that reason, many will enjoy the first half of Room the most, because that sense of discovery and dread holds as you realize how tiny their living space is. Of course, it will also make you yearn for their escape, making Room a clenching thriller on par with the drug wars of Sicario.

room review

As the trailer reveals, “Ma” and “Jack” do manage to escape, and a second “movie” picks up as a pseudo sequel for they must adjust to life outside of Room. Strangely, this is where the film’s most devastating moments occur, mostly because Donoghue has chosen to present this as a fictional story.

She portrays the darkest aspects of Ma and Jack, raising questions we wouldn’t dare ask (out loud) if they were based on real people. This makes Room the boldest risk-taker I’ve seen all year, as it challenges how we perceive victims of major tragedies.

Room strikes a delicate balance between hope and despair that other well-intentioned movies tend to fall short of, as it can be difficult to keep any movie from overwhelming with too much of either extreme. That said, several moments drag on a bit, and some of the narrated exposition actually sheds light on how the second act is a little too slow compared to its superior beginning and end. But that might be Abrahamson’s intention, as it clearly illustrates what we’re supposed to glean from the new life of these characters.

What truly surprised me about Room, however, was its score. Do yourself a favor and look up “New End” by Stephen Rennicks, as well as the rest of this film’s soundtrack. It is my favorite of the year so far, surpassing both Inside Out and Paddington. It might even be my favorite score of the last two years.

I wasn’t surprised by Larson’s Oscar-worthy performance. Since Short Term 12, many like myself have been waiting for the actor to get the attention she deserves as a serious performer. And Room is easily her best movie yet. She conveys multiple, conflicting emotions throughout, allowing every decision she makes to feel earned and inevitable, but also sympathetic. I’m not sure I could picture any other actor disappearing into this role.

room review

And Jacob Tremblay is a revelation, surpassing the also-talented Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation as the most promising child actor of the year. It astounds me how well nine-year-old Tremblay can act at his age, portraying a young child who must adjust to a world where he is no longer the master of everything around him. It’s a subtle, heartbreaking, and even joyous performance.

Grade: A

While it suffers from seemingly intentional pacing issues, Room is one of the best movies of the year and a drama that deserves to be remembered for a long time.

Extra Credits

  • Seriously, it’s called “New End.” Look it up.
  • I should also mention that Room is an artful movie, and thankfully so. Some of its most pleasant moments come from the imagery that rhymes the first and third acts, including snowfall and simple moments in the backyard.
  • Abrahamson also directed Frank, the musical dramedy I fell in love with last year. Room is certainly proving that the Irish filmmaker is one of cinema’s best.
  • Keep an eye on the ending credit for Brie Larson. It’s a nice touch.
  • A24 Films is having an incredible 2015. They’ve released While We’re YoungEx MachinaThe End of the Tour, and Room, which are all among the top films of the year.

For a more in-depth look at Room, come back this Sunday for the Now Conspiring podcast, where we’ll discuss this and other new releases.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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