For starters, it should be stated that the film is no walk in the park. The heft of its subject matter -- a mother (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay) being held captive by a rapist in an 8x8 ft. shed for over five years -- is stifling, but of course that's the whole point. The "feel-good" payoffs aren't nearly as lasting as the intensity of the drama, and they don't have to be. That may hinder the indie's crossover appeal (we all know that festival euphoria doesn't always make it into the marketplace), but doesn't diminish its artistic merits.
Author Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her own bestseller is compelling and emotionally perceptive, only occasionally feeling like a novel transposed. Abrahamson effectively composes his images to communicate the worldview of a child growing up in captivity without even realizing it. Danny Cohen photographs closeups and subjective angles with a beauty that easily surpasses his Oscar and ASC nominated work on Tom Hooper's period pieces.
But the acting is what stands out above all. Vancouver native Tremblay was only eight when they shot the film, and its a revelation of a performance that will likely prove the equal of whoever this year's Best Actor nominees end up being. He may not get nominated unless dubiously campaigned as a Supporting Actor (straight up bull), but it's hard to imagine Larson not being nominated for her complex, emotionally draining turn as his Ma. Frankly, I struggle to imagine her not winning.
... If it gets nominated.
Also available for Oscar-compulsives to catch up on this week was 2015's top-grossing documentary Amy, just out on digital. Asif Kapadia's archival chronicle of the meteoric rise and tragically self-inflicted fall of the late recording artist Amy Winehouse has stirred much awards talk, and given its wide exposure, broad appeal, and box office success, I should imagine that if it gets nominated it'll win this year's Best Documentary Oscar in a cakewalk...
... If it gets nominated.
Kapadia's much ballyhooed Senna was generating similar buzz back in 2011, only to be snubbed by the Academy's rather particular documentary wing. It seems this branch of AMPAS likes for documentarians to actually go out and shoot their stories, rather than rely solely on pre-existing footage and some audio interviews. It's an unfortunate stigma that could hinder Amy -- which superficially seems more of an editorial achievement than a journalistic one -- in similar fashion, but there are some definite marks in its favour.
For one, I personally found the inside world of Formula 1 Racing explored in Senna to be impenetrably dry (and I suspect I'm not the only one), but the showbiz slant of Amy is certainly far more accessible to audiences and industry pros alike. Kapadia's presentation of Winehouse's story also has a deeper emotional reach than that of the enigmatic racecar driver at the centre of Senna. I lost no sleep over that first snub in 2012, but I would champion a nomination for him this time. Ditto his film editor Chris King, who aught to have earned Academy recognition five years ago for Exit Through the Gift Shop. If nothing else, it looks at least like an ACE Eddie award is in the bag.