Truby Rates the Oscar Hopefuls – 2016

oscar2013Oscar nominations are out, which makes this a good time to review and learn from the Best Films of 2015. In this breakdown, John Truby crystallizes the essence of 16 talked-about films under consideration, in order of preference (from his Top Picks to those films that are over-rated at the bottom of the list).

#1–MAD MAX FURY ROAD:   This dystopian action film is a bullet to hell; a feminist movie told the most masculine way possible. This underestimated script is a master course in narrative drive, the single most important story element in popular storytelling worldwide. If you want to sell speed, this is how it’s done.

#2–EX MACHINA:   One of the smartest and best science fiction films in years. The combination with horror gives the soaring intellect intense emotional impact.

#3–INSIDE OUT:   A powerful female myth that dramatizes a young girl’s mind with tremendous force and complexity. A major accomplishment in storytelling, and a guidepost to our myth future.

#4–SPOTLIGHT:   Excellent script and film that shows the need for and the power of good journalism. It begins as an intellectual detective story of pedophile priests and ends with the deep emotional power of real people’s lives destroyed.

#5–THE BIG SHORT:   A highly unique genre mix of true story with social satire. These strange financial nerds have the smarts and the guts to go against the conventional wisdom and the easy money. Writing a funny story that also explains the complex details of the financial crash is quite a storytelling feat.

#6–ROOM:  Incredible screenwriting challenge of depicting the world through the eyes of a five-year-old, and shows that the joys of living come from the smallest moments. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful expression of a child’s love for his mother, or a mother’s love for her child. Tough going, but also the most touching film of the year.

#7–THE MARTIAN:   Outer space Robinson Crusoe story about problem-solving and community. Luckily the hero is not only an expert in botany but apparently every other science known to man. A fun popcorn movie based on an internet novel.

#8–BRIDGE OF SPIES:   The slow march of a quiet hero. This film plays out the “proper” moral argument, but the lack of narrative drive makes it feel like a civics lesson.

#9–BROOKLYN:   A sweet, simple tale about a young woman torn between two countries and two ways of life. Not much in the way of story, but quite moving.

#10–THE REVENANT:  Some amazing moments that you have never seen before in film. But this movie lasts as long as it takes for a man to crawl across the continent. The hero is a combination of Job and Mr. Bill, magnified ten times. The cinema of attrition.

#11–CAROL:   Heartfelt drama of love between two women in a more repressive time. Unfortunately, endless car rides and hotel room conversations without any plot whatsoever make this a slooooow go. But the ending is a knockout.

#12–STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON:   Classic rise and fall story structure for a rock band, but this time it’s rap, so it’s rougher, more in your face. Has a number of powerful moments, but the story is predictable.

#13–TRUMBO:  On the nose script that preaches to the choir. It would seem impossible to come up with a complex moral argument in this story because it’s so hard to justify the other side. Then again, it’s all happening right now, just with a different source of fear.

#14–STEVE JOBS:   Some strong conflict scenes, but the overall structure is bizarre and often silly, and the main character, at least as presented here, is despicable. Please, Aaron Sorkin, stop with the deeply personal confrontations broadcast loudly in front of dozens of embarrassed onlookers, including the audience. Having characters who are extremely bright doesn’t hide the fact that these moments are emotionally phony.

#15–JOY:   Ridiculous set up of the most dysfunctional family ever, with the heroine as enabler. Every character is an idiot. A success story in overkill.

#16–THE HATEFUL EIGHT:   Bloated, boring, self-indulgent, sadistic exercise in cruelty. When will the international screenwriting community realize that this emperor lost his clothes a long time ago.

  1. Kristin Reply

    Agree on “The Hateful Eight,” as it seemed like a retread of “Django Unchained” and gratuitously misogynistic. I didn’t watch either but read the screenplays. Agree on “Inside Out” and “Ex Machina,” but disagree on “Steve Jobs”. Yes, Jobs was unlikable but you could identify with his single-mindedness. Subtext in the film is brilliant.

  2. Matches Malone Reply

    The answer to your statements about #14 & #16 is simple: Marketing overrules common sense these days, and as long as the distribution companies continue to make money, we’ll continue to get more tripe like this….

  3. Ronnie Tharp-Garber Reply

    The problem I had with Ex Machina is that I felt manipulated throughout this story: The young nerd wins a week with the CEO of his company, who is wealthy, evil, an alcoholic, a womanizer, a murderer, an abuser, a man who overpowers the female machines that he has created and then destroys: A dystopian Pygmalion story. None of this is explained to us. Then HAL in the form of one of his female creations takes control and simply walks away onto a crowded street. We wouldn’t want to kill her because then we wouldn’t get a sequel. I thought this was a gory mess, slow-moving with the “gaze” segments between the nerd and the machine/woman. Nudity of these poor female machine robots did not spice this up at all. It made the story even more idiotic. What was the Weakness/Need of the twisted Main Opponent? Is Google the evil world we now live in? What was the nerd’s Weakness/Need? Was he but a mere tool of the HAL/female to one day rule the world? How has the evil CEO hidden his “issues” from his company? Are they all machines too? Yes, this is the Horror of it all, but done in a very predictable manner.

  4. Roger Reply

    Pleased to see The Hateful Eight get the bashing it deserves. In addition I think Sicario deserves a dishonorable mention for being the worst script of the Oscar contenders (horrible script saved from disaster by a brilliant director, good actors and genius cinematographer). I think The Martian was interesting because it worked better than it “should” based on it’s lack of some elements (like a human opponent, and it’s rather episodic progression of plot).

  5. Jana Segal Reply

    Why no foreign films? I am so tired of the Hollywood offerings. The best films I’ve seen for the past few years are foreign films. The most moving film I saw this year is, “Mustang.” It is only film by a women to be nominated for an Oscar. It got 5 out of 5 stars on Rotten Tomato and a 97% rating. It was the most moving film I saw this year. “Room” being the second.

    I did love, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

  6. Jana Segal Reply

    Whoops! Did I mention that, “Mustang” was the most moving film I saw this year? lol

  7. Efraim Reply

    I know this review is on Oscar Nominated films… but no review on Star Wars yet? We’re dying to know!

  8. BillHays Reply

    I can’t agree with “The Big Short” being nominated for Best Screenplay. First, repetitive. Second, no character development. We are told who these people are, but other than place an order to buy some esoteric derivative, they never do anything. The script has characters explaining how mortgages are bundled into packages that can be traded without having to prove every mortgage in the package is likely to be repaid. Then, they visit the salesmen who write the mortgages, and they call them “Dorothy” because it’s like they fell out of the sky. So, in this instance, no one who invests millions of dollars for their members (charities and retirement funds) or clients (hedge fund) ever checked to see what they were buying. The script need Great Characters to make the story come alive and they weren’t there. Great Actors took the roles, we liked watching them, but the script wasn’t Oscar-worthy

  9. Tim Lane Reply

    Loved the very apt Mr. Bill reference.

  10. Pingback: How to Create a Complex Moral Argument for Your Theme – Learn. Understand. Create

  11. Jon Reply

    Guys, who is the opponent in SPOTLIGHT?? Reading Truby´s book, Im confused, because if the opponent has the same goal of the hero, who is the opponent here?

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