All five of the nominees here are at least worth seeing; two are among the best films of the year period, I think.
Embrace of the Serpent certainly has striking images, both in terms of the richness of the black-and-white photography, and the hallucinogenic quality of its set pieces, which highlight a kind of Heart of Darkness-style madness wrought by European missionaries to the native peoples in the Amazon. I thought the narrative was a bit episodic for my taste, and the cutting between two narratives brought out interesting parallels but prevented the movie from ever really staking a claim on a solid narrative for me. It gets at something interesting ideas, but I imagine it will just be way too strange for voters.
A War has a strong central premise -- what are the moral/legal ramifications for a military leader who makes a decision trying to save the lives of his troops that inadvertantly kills innocents? But I thought the movie had a not insignificant structural issue -- there's just too much exposition up top, and it takes way too long for the movie to get into its core dilemma. I thought this also caused an issue on the back end too, as the film reached its resolution in a manner that made me think, "you really aren't working that hard for your story there." I'd have preferred more development in that main trial segment, but this movie too, explores some compelling themes.
Theeb actually has a not dissimilar structural issue, in my view, as the most compelling aspect of its story -- the relationship between two characters on opposing sides of a conflict who need each other to survive the harshness of their surroundings -- doesn't arrive until WELL into the movie. Much of the first portion struck me as a gripping but not especially deep adventure plot, but when it got to this point, I thought the movie had the potential to move in a more unique direction. I still think, in the end, the story is a bit simple -- the big reveal, while surprising, didn't necessarily seem like anything more than a MacGuffin -- but, like Embrace of the Serpent, it's a worthy portrait of colonialism from the point of view we haven't seen as often throughout the majority of English-language film history.
There have been a lot of murmurs about the potential for a Mustang upset, and I guess I wouldn't be rooting for that, sort of in the same way Mister Tee doesn't want Best Actress upset -- in a year when I found the front-runner here so outstanding, and in a category where countless less deserving Holocaust films have triumphed, why would Son of Saul have to be the one to miss out? But I feel that to harp on that wouldn't really be fair to Mustang, which I think is a pretty wonderful movie. I think the thing I like best about it is the fact that, despite going in some very dark and tragic places, so much of the film is so buoyant and full of life, and the relationship between the five sisters is such a pleasure to watch. I always marvel when a movie can be so fun and lovely, as well as truly grim, while seeming of a piece, but Mustang is just such a confident and thoughtful work, it's in total command of its sense of place/culture and tone throughout. Strongly recommended, for those who haven't had a chance to check it out yet.
But, as I wrote in my review, I think Son of Saul is one of the very best movies of the year, and deserves this prize hands-down. I'm inclined to think it will still win here -- I know some have argued that it's a "difficult" movie, but certainly horrifying content hasn't kept similarly-themed films from winning Oscars in the past. Is the verite style really going to be so alienating to voters? Or does it seem that, like Amour, which I think appealed to both conservative voters due to subject and hipper ones due to form, Son of Saul could appeal to both the default-to-the-Holocaust crowd, and those looking for something more stylistically innovative? I'm going to lean toward the latter, and predict it here, as another pretty stellar entry in the run of A Separation-Amour-The Great Beauty-Ida that this category has been on as of late.
For the films of 2015
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