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Art and Literature, Observations

And the Baxter for Best Picture goes to…

One of the better habits I have taken up this year is that of trying to watch all the Oscar Noms for Best Picture in advance of the actual awards night. Yes, I’m unfashionably up to date when it comes to current movies. To appreciate just how unusual this is, consider that I have yet to see Thelma and Louise. For the view from Your Girl Reporter on the eight films up for the Big One, read on.

spotlight-poster-693x1024Spotlight – My favourite reporter movie since All the President’s Men. Loved the way it took the time to show the plod work of investigative journalism. Yes, you young ‘uns. Before listicles and clickbait there were newspapers with specialist investigative journalists who were given the resources and the freedom and time to pursue difficult and complex stories, often on obscure leads that showed very little early promise.

The Washington Post had Woodward and Bernstein uncovering Watergate, as portrayed in President’s Men. The UK’s Sunday Times had the Insight team which included Australia’s own Phillip Knightley and exposed the Thalidomide scandal.

And in Boston a team of investigative journalists started digging around after a priest was accused of molesting a child and uncovered rampant sexual abuse and its cover-up by the Catholic Church.

What started with the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team in 2002 reverberates today, as chillingly pointed out at the end of the film with its list of all the places on Earth in which similar abuses have since been identified.

Of those places, 22 are in Australia – something to bear in mind perhaps amid the outrage over Tim Minchin’s song about Cardinal Pell, lest anyone thinks our top Catholic is the real victim here.

In Australia too it was the tireless work of journalists which brought this evil out into the light. Who will pay for the long hard investigative reporting that will uncover future abuses? We won’t know we’ve lost it until it’s gone… and this film is a great look at what ‘it’ is and the toll it takes on journalists.

Read the New York Times review of Spotlight

The Revenant – Boo. Why were these jerks eating raw dead things when they were surrounded by fire? Couldn’t they have taken a moment to shove that meat on a stick? Or would cooking be for sissies? These and other questions were a welcome distraction for Your Girl Reporter who found The Revenant’s unrelenting tough guy survival jag boring as bat shit.

My father Jack Spackman used to say that nothing bored him more in movies than when plotlines were resolved by someone pulling out a gun. In this film the hero takes a whole movie to get to that dreary end point. In the meantime, I don’t care how close up the snow feels.

Best bit: DiCaprio getting mauled by a bear. Twice. And I don’t usually like that sort of thing, so The Revenant didn’t bring out the best in me.

Rolling Stone’s review of The Revenant

Bridge-of-Spies_posterBridge of Spies – I LOVED this film. Gunna get pretentious enough to talk about its ‘texture’ – it was an absolutely pitch perfect rendition of a Cold War spy thriller (see Baxters passim).

Before Bono and The Edge there was a US spy plane which gave its name to a bit of an incident when it was shot down in 1960 over the Soviet Union. The pilot of the U2, Gary Powers, survived and was captured. His release, in a prisoner exchange for a Soviet spy – played here by Mark Rylance – is the subject of this film.

Or it would be, in a much lesser movie. Instead, Powers and the other American prisoner in the exchange are bit players, whose stories form the weakest sections of the film. In fact, the sequence in which Powers is shot down is laughable. It’s also the only action scene, making it especially jarring.

It’s a measure of how good the rest of the film is that I’m prepared to overlook that and the long, drawn out Lord of the Rings style ending – should have finished on the painting, Steve – and call this one of my favourites of this year’s noms.

And Mark Rylance is just a stunner. Don’t know how he manages to do so much acting with those liquid eyes alone.

Variety’s review of Bridge of Spies

The Big Short – Another cracker. Always have a soft spot for a movie that breaks the ‘fourth wall’ and this one did it really nicely, using it as an effective way to deliver complex information without making the audience feel it was getting a lecture.

It’s not true that no-one saw the sub-prime collapse coming – I remember listening to radio reports of how all these mortgages in the United States were due to reset and that mass defaults were expected when they did, and I’m in bloody Australia. But it’s possible I’m weird and everyone else was tuned to Classic FM Hits, I don’t know.

The Big Short is a great explainer of how some of the people who saw it coming set out to make a lot of money and in the process shafted the rest of us. We haven’t finished paying for the crimes of these people and this movie is a really important one for that very reason.

It bridges the gap between the incomprehensible things they were doing and the real world impacts of people losing their homes and finding their lives in ruins. Won’t get fooled again? Watch the negative gearing debate here in Australia and remember The Big Short whenever it all gets a bit too hard to understand.

The Wall Street Journal’s review of The Big Short

Mad Max Fury RoadMad Max: Fury Road – Unfortunately Your Girl Reporter hits the snooze button at car chases, so this one was never going to win my heart but I do enjoy George Miller’s gorgeous dystopian vision and there were some great touches – the guitar shredding flame-throwing mascot as the most obvious. What about that shot on the race back of a couple of mutants in silhouette? To die for.

Was it a feminist film? I’m a bit old school which can get a bird into trouble these days but I didn’t think so. It certainly didn’t seem to be the movie I had read about. If it could be said to be ‘for’ a group, it was more of a great film for people with disabilities than for women.

In a world where so much disability and deformity was on display, the main women of the film still somehow managed to look prettier than the average woman on the street. If that’s any kind of test.

A strong female character doth not a feminist film make. We’ve been fed strong female leads before but for mine I’d have preferred to see a gang of women busting out of that hell hole in a war rig. Instead I got a bunch of women getting rescued. Again.

Empire’s review of Mad Max: Fury Road

Brooklyn – Well that was pretty. That’s the best thing I can say about this period piece which treads a well-worn path with considerably less of the drama that usually accompanies a journey to the new world.

In Brooklyn an innocent Irish girl seeks her fortune in 1950s New York and no-one exploits her, rips her off, robs her virtue or breaks her heart. Which makes for a nice change, I suppose.

The clothes are lovely and there’s plenty of dignified keening to please the diaspora. Best scene was the down-and-outs’ Christmas dinner – the only time the hard life of the average Irish immigrant was even alluded to.

When it comes to acting-by-eyes I hope someone’s rushing to get Saoirse Ronan and Mark Rylance into the same movie.

The New Yorker’s review of Brooklyn

The Martian – Not my pick for Best Picture, but another good’un. Enjoyed it much more than I expected to. A peach of a performance from Matt Damon as the biologist using the magic of science to conjure up some life on Mars while bringing out the best of humanity to all work together to bring him home. And we’re feeling good.

This is not a great science fiction film but it is the latest in a crop of really fine movies which are taking a far more grown up approach to the genre, in response to an audience which is proving itself again and again to be perfectly comfortable with the S word.

Fave bit: Every time he gets admonished for swearing.

Variety’s review of The Martian

room_posterRoom – If it was up to me this one would win hands down, but it won’t. Instead Oscar will probably be going home with The Revenant, that more brutish, more predictable tale of survival.

Everything I hated about that film seems to be answered by this one. Instead of a hairy beast of a man grunting his way through Nature Huge and Implacable we have a young woman shielding her son from the horror of their existence through the creation of a ghastly domesticity.

Room couldn’t have a more difficult subject at its heart and the handling is extraordinary. It’s not based on a particular incident, although the book by Emma Donoghue was inspired by the Fritzl case.

We are all aware of the hideous real world examples of women being imprisoned in similar circumstances. Heck, we even had a post-Apocalyptic version of the phenomenon in Mad Max but this time there’s no Furiosa bearing down on the situation in a war rig.

There’s just Ma, who was kidnapped at 19 by a man known as Old Nick, and has been locked in his garden shed for seven years. She doesn’t even know her abuser’s name.

Room is told from the perspective of her five-year-old son Jack. He has been shielded from the reality of their situation by his mother who now shatters the safety and security of his tiny world as she prepares him for an escape.

If you’re looking for a tale of human resilience try Room – no bears in there but a beautifully drawn mother and child by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. While the story is extraordinary it’s also deeply ordinary, a coming of age tale anyone can relate to.

Director Lenny Abrahamson takes us right down to ground level to see Room and the world outside from the eyes of a five-year-old. You won’t believe how strange the pavement feels when Jack puts his hesitant little foot on it for the first time.

The Atlantic’s review of Room

© Sally Baxter 2016

This post was also published at the Australian Independent Media Network 

Want more Baxter? Try some further Adventures of a Girl Reporter here 


About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.


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Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.

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