Written by Victoria Ferguson
It’s easy to get lost amid the buzz of awards season. In a world of #OscarsSoWhite and criticisms being hurled at the Academy right and left, it is getting harder and harder to trust the judgment of a group of rich old white men as the end-all, be-all opinion on the year’s film releases. How do we determine what should be required viewing for 2016 and what we as busy college students can pass on? Look no further: Here are five of this year’s nominees that are actually worth your time.
This film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, a legendary frontiersman who must survive in 1800s North American wilderness after being attacked by a bear and left by his hunting team. Glass must brave his near-fatal wounds and the wild in order to get back home — and track down the man who betrayed him and left him for dead. The film responsible for Leo’s first Golden Globe and Oscar win is no joke. Director Alejandro Iñárritu is not stranger to the little gold statue, having won Best Picture in 2015 for Birdman. A tale of true human endurance, The Revenant is a harsh, gritty and relentless drama that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.
Academy Awards Won: Best Directing, Best Cinematography and Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Watch Because: Leo deserved that Oscar.
Disney Pixar’s newest animated feature takes us into the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old hockey player whose life is upended when her parents decide to pick up and move the family to San Francisco. Told from the perspective of her innermost emotions who try to guide her through the big life change, Inside Out is innovative, colorful and just plain fun. When Joy (Amy Poehler), the leader of Riley’s emotions, is swept away from the control center of Riley’s mind along with Sadness, they must find a way to get back so that Riley can be happy again. Incredibly moving and beautifully animated, this one isn’t just for the kids.
Academy Awards Won: Best Animated Feature
Watch Because: You’ll love being in the mind of a kid again.
The Big Short
This is a movie about subprime mortgage loans and the faulty housing market that led to the global economic crisis, and while I know how that sounds, somehow it isn’t boring in the least. The Big Short boasts enough star power for at least two blockbusters (Christian Bale, Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling?!) and is humorously self-aware enough with the banality of its subject matter that you’ll never lose interest. It tells the real life stories of Wall Street adviser Michael Burry, who recognized the housing market was in danger of collapse, and a few big shots who did with that information what any honest man on Wall Street would do: Take advantage of the impending collapse to make a fortune.
Academy Awards Won: Best Adapted Screenplay
Watch Because: You will never have as much fun watching (and hating) a bunch of bankers.
This film about a woman and her 5-year-old son Jack who are held captive in a space they call Room is an emotional roller coaster, but oh-so rewarding in the end. The two are able to gain their freedom, and Jack experiences the outside world for the first time. The larger half of the film is about their adjustment to the outside and the impact it has on their family. With wonderful performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as Ma and Jack, Room is about the special bond between a mother and her son and the lengths the two will go to save each other.
Academy Awards Won: Best Actress (Brie Larson)
Watch Because: It might even make you cry, and is that really such a bad thing?
If you see one film on this list, make it this one. Based off the book of the same name by Andy Weir and directed by Ridley Scott, this movie is one part realistic sci-fi, one adventure drama, and a whole lot of fun. It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a NASA scientist on a mission on Mars who gets left for dead when a storm forces the rest of the astronauts to leave. Watney is forced to rely on his inventive wit to survive on the planet alone until he can be rescued. Meanwhile, a team of scientists on Earth races to bring him home safely. Although sadly it did not win any awards, it’s no secret why The Martian garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Damon. It balances all the action and innovation with enough lightheartedness to create a beautiful testament to the human spirit. This one has it all.
Academy Awards Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (Matt Damon)
Watch Because: It’s just really good, and even though it didn’t win in any categories it’s still a worthwhile film.