oscar nom: cartel land (matthew heineman, 2015)
music friday: paul kantner, "have you seen the stars tonight"

oscar nom: sicario (denis villenueve, 2015)

This one picked up three “technical” nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Editing. All three seem reasonable to me, although I’m not the one to pick a winner ... I haven’t seen them all, and would probably just vote for the movie I liked best overall (hello, Fury Road).

I have seen two other movies by Villenueve, Incendies, which I liked a lot, and Prisoners, which I also liked but not as much. Sicario is closer to the latter. It moves along at a nice pace, the cast is interesting, as I was watching it I thought it good enough. But it doesn’t stand up to post-mortem analysis.

Emily Blunt is very good as Kate, an American FBI agent who has blinders pulled from her eyes. Benicio del Toro is also good as someone who had those blinders removed long ago. But the key character is Matt Graver, a CIA agent played by Josh Brolin in casual, aw shucks mode. He doesn’t have the personal attachment to the case that del Toro’s Alejandro does, and it’s unclear if he ever had blinders. He accepts the situation as normal ... the world sucks, let's have a beer. He does his job, probably thinks he is a realist, but he accepts Alejandro’s vengeance more than he does Kate’s idealism. Graver was never idealistic in the first place. I think the movie shares his version of The Normal, even as it professes otherwise. Nothing is going to get better, there is no point.

And then there’s what my friend Nathan called the “torture porn”. Torture has been a plot device in all of the Villenueve films I’ve seen ... without it, Prisoners has no reason to exist. When the ramifications pass through generations, as with Incendies, the impact is essential and moving. When torture seems to merely move the plot along, you have something else.

So I’m torn about Sicario, which seemed so much better before I thought about it. 7/10. For a better examination of the border between El Paso and Juárez, see the U.S. TV series The Bridge, which had its own problems but which at least tried to confront those problems.