All caught up on the nominees, so here's the rundown of how I liked them, from best to worst. I still think that "Spotlight" is going to win, even though it's not my favorite, with "The Revenant" as a potential candidate for an upset. And yes, it's really a shame that "Carol" and "Inside Out" aren't in the mix too.
"Brooklyn" - It's a small, unassuming little Irish movie about a young girl becoming a woman, about falling in love, and about the immigrant experience. It looks old-fashioned at first glance, but the performances are lively, the direction is sure, and the writing is endlessly delightful. I don't know how anyone could resist its charms. In a year of giant tentpole blockbusters and endless franchises, it's a relief to find that movies like this are still being made, and being made so well.
"The Martian" - The secret weapons of "The Martian" are its humor and optimism, which immediately set it apart from all the other terribly serious space exploration movies of recent times. This is the first hard-science space movie I can remember really having a good time with in ages, and I just adore its can-do spirit and pro-science attitude. Also, this is a great comeback for Ridley Scott, who has finally managed to get himself out of his rut and put his skills as a seasoned sci-fi visualist to great use.
"Room" - Two remarkable, and beautifully linked performances make "Room" something special. Jacob Tremblay as a five year-old boy named Jack, and Brie Larsen as his fiercely protective mother, turn what could have been a by-the-numbers psychodrama into something far more thoughtful and affecting. I think the film probably works better if you don't have its secrets spoiled for you, but I knew all of them far in advance and still think that this is one of the best films I've seen all year.
"Spotlight" - As much as I enjoy all the actors involved, there's no one that really stands out in the ensemble of "Spotlight," and I think that's to the movie's benefit. This is a bare bones, straightforward procedural, looking at the ins and outs of the process of reporting a highly sensitive news story. There's drama in abundance, but all of it remarkable grounded and restrained. I can't remember the last time we had a proper investigative journalism film this good, and I hope we see more like it.
"The Big Short" - Now on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Adam McKay using his comedy powers to make the subprime mortgage crisis into something coherent and entertaining to the average moviegoer. This one's very rough around the edges, and I'm not a fan of some of McKay's filmmaking choices. Still, you have to admire the audacity of the celebrity cameos, the pithy asides, and tackling this kind of material to begin with. High marks for coming out of nowhere to deliver this surprise.
"The Revenant" - I have nothing negative to say about Emmaneul Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography or the intense, painful performance of Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. However, the movie struck me as Alejandro Iñárritu aping Terrence Malick, and felt more and more gimmicky and thematically muddled as it went along. It was epic, yes, but to what purpose? I fully appreciate how difficult it was to make the film, but that shouldn't mean it has to be this difficult to watch too.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" - It's a good action film, a great one even, but I confess that I don't understand why it's garnered the amount of praise it has. I love the chase sequences and the shiny, chrome worldbuilding, but I wanted more from the narrative and the characters beyond what we got. I absolutely understand and respect what George Miller did here with his storytelling, but it simply wasn't enough for me to think of it as anything other than a fun, disposable weekend matinee of a movie.
"Bridge of Spies" - I was looking forward to the usually trusty combination of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, but came out of the movie feeling frustrated with their usual brand of earnestness and idealism. It clashed so badly with the tone of the Cold War spy story that they were trying to tell. Fundamentally there was nothing wrong with the direction or the Coen brothers' script or any of the performances, but this time it was in service of a film I just couldn't swallow.