Every Oscar season pundits attempt to figure out if there is a film from the first half of the year can survive the marathon to the February ceremony. For instance, last year ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ managed to keep itself for almost a full year after premiering at the Berlin Film Festival and its subsequent March release. Early opinions make it seem like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is this year’s hopeful, and while it is absolutely deserving, the fanfare around George Miller’s film overshadowed another film that had everyone talking about a month earlier, ‘Ex Machina.’
While ‘Ex Machina’ may not be as flashy as the aforementioned ‘Mad Max,’ it is a supremely well-made and interesting film from the top down. It features three young actors supremely on their game and an excellent directorial debut. Let’s take a look at these from the idea of likeliest though.
Alex Garland’s previous writing credits included films like ’28 Days Later,’ ‘Sunshine,’ and ‘Dredd,’ but ‘Ex Machina’s’ script fits rather nicely on top of that list. If were talking about thrills, there actually really aren’t that many in this film, but it grabs your attention nevertheless thanks in large part to the script. It’s not unheard of for a dark-horse contender to score its lone Oscar nomination in one of the script categories, and if ‘Ex Machina’ is likely to score anywhere in the major categories, this is probably it.
One of the big reasons the film took off in the first place was the breakout performance by Alicia Vikander as the mysterious A.I. Ava. Vikander has been everywhere this year, and most believe that she will earn her first Oscar nomination for ‘The Danish Girl;’ but why isn’t this performance getting more love? She’s superb here as she plays a delicate game between her creator (Oscar Isaac) and the man who was sent to test her (Domhnall Gleeson). I haven’t seen ‘The Danish Girl’ yet, so perhaps that is her better performance, but it’ll be hard to top this one.
Also still looking for Oscar love is a man who bears its name. Oscar Isaac was most notably snubbed for ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ but a case could be made for him here as the genius but bizarre inventor of Ava, Nathan. Let’s be honest, his dance alone deserves its own FYC campaign.
Last, but not least among the film’s trio of actors, is Domhnall Gleeson. He’s the one that we take this journey with and he is a fantastic voyeur for the audience to unravel this thriller. It may honestly be the best performance that Gleeson has given in his young career. But, trying to push into a lead category is going to be near impossible for him here. While he plays the role perfectly, it is small potatoes compared to bigger performances like Michael Fassbender in ‘Steve Jobs’ or Matt Damon in ‘The Martian.’
Finally, we come back to Garland, who handled his first feature film like a seasoned veteran, making a film that could have easily gotten bogged down in its ideas and own wackiness one of the most intense and suspenseful theatergoing experiences of the year. Garland pulls something akin to what Ridley Scott did with the first ‘Aliens’ movie; make a sci-film that doesn’t feel like a sci-fi film. It’s great work, but will certainly be forgotten as more and more work from other industry greats roll out. Shame, but he will in all likelihood have another go at it one day.
Anybody else want to beat the drum for this first-half-of-the-year contender with me?