For all the stories written and told about the World Wars, people sometimes forget what came after that. Because before any Korean or Vietnam wars ever began, the Cold War existed between the United States-led West and Soviet Union-led East. But, unlike what came before it, this war was built more around political secrets and spies, not actual troops on the ground. And while that might not sound as exciting as a “Platoon” or “Saving Private Ryan,” it still has its place if done the right like “Bridge of Spies.” That’s the whole key no matter the subject and in looking back through the history of this ceremony; you might be surprised at just how many films with the backdrop of ‘war’ have won Best Picture. In fact, the very first Best Picture winner “Wings” was one. Since then, we have seen another 22 films go home with the night’s highest honor, the last being 2010’s “The King’s Speech” where WWII served as a key plot element. Out of the 88 years of this ceremony, that’s 25% of the total winning population which unfortunately won’t change this year despite a strong push from “Bridge of Spies.” That’s right, despite my love for this film; it only serves as the second runner-up in this very countdown.
Hey, you can’t win them all and unfortunately “Bridge of Spies” came out in the wrong year, just like “War Horse” four years ago and “Lincoln” three years ago. The connection outside them all being based around war is the director. That’s right boy and girls, Steven Spielberg was behind the camera for all three. And what’s amazing is how the addition of “Bridge of Spies” now gives Spielberg a total of five Best Picture nominees from this genre with “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” being the other two. Wow, that’s almost good enough to be a trivia question at your Oscar Party. Then again, what question isn’t when you are talking about one of the few directors’ in Hollywood who has a reputation purely based off their name. He by far is the most recognized director over the past 50 years and films like “Bridge of Spies” are the reason why. Because whenever he is behind the camera, the film really has no chance at failing. That’s why he is a legend and why I trusted him with Matt Charman’s story. Sure, its right in his wheelhouse given the historical period it took place in, but who cares. Fact is, Spielberg makes each film he does his own and it was no different here with some of those classic shots that only he can provide. Just the light he finds and puts to use leaves me in awe every time I watch one of his films. I know it’s crazy to say that for a guy that has brought Hollywood so much, but it proves even guys like him are still looking to improve and do new things. It just didn’t result in what would have been his eighth directing nod, tying him with only Martin Scorsese and Billy Wilder.
I have said it before, but when you have the likes of a Tom Hanks in your film, the rest of the cast really just does not matter as much. I know that sounds weird, but Hanks can make a cast unknowns great. And outside of maybe Alan Alda or Amy Ryan, that’s exactly what he was dealing with here. So I give him credit for not only handling his role with class, but allowing the rest of this cast to spread their wings a bit. Hanks is a pro and in this role as James Donavan showed he can still fall into a character and make you believe everything you are watching. I have always said that guys like Hanks are almost at a disadvantage because of their name recognition, so when they do something this great, it should be lifted up. Because as easy as this role might have looked to play, Hanks did some subtle things that only he can do. That’s greatness and why he should have been nominated for Best Actor, because without him, you wouldn’t have seen a guy like Mark Rylance shine. A guy mainly known for his on stage work back in England, stepped into this role like he had done it before. It was quirky and often hard to gauge, but that was the brilliance of it and why he was just nominated for his first Academy Award, which he could steal from the sentimental favorite Sylvester Stallone.
As for the other categories, I was surprised to see it was nominated for Original Screenplay. This film did take a bit to set up given all the history that was being made during those times like the building of the Berlin wall. But, I guess for the story being told, it’s hard to fault Charman or the Coen brothers, who revised the script, for that. I think given the time period, it all flowed really well and looked great proving that Spielberg should have been on the ballot versus someone like Adam McKay (“The Big Short”). As for the nominations for Sound Mixing and Production Design, good luck. It’s not that it has no chance; I just can’t imagine it will beat out the likes of “The Revenant” or “Mad Max: Fury Road.” So that leaves Music, as in Best Original Score. As I have said in the past, although this award isn’t as popular, it still adds to the overall success. Occasionally a song or overall soundtrack can really set a film apart from others, if the music is carefully intertwined within the story. And with this film, you definitely feel that in parts thanks to a score from the great Thomas Newman who with this nomination has reached lucky number 13. That means he will walk away the winner, right? Can’t imagine the Academy will allow him to go home empty yet again, but that’s why we play this game each and every year.