Part two of the Chasing Oscar series takes a look at a film that didn’t receive a Best Pictur nod, even though it should have: Steve Jobs.
Who was Steve Jobs, really?
That’s the question that has been bandied about several times since the Apple founder’s 2011 death from cancer. Films, documentaries, books, longform articles, colleagues, friends, enemies, they’ve all laid their claims on the man who effectively changed our lives. It would seem that everything had already been said about the Silicon Valley legend.
At least, that’s the explanation behind the spectacular box office collapse of Steve Jobs, once a favorite to sweep the Academy Awards. Although it was better suited for a limited release, the film opened wide in October and quickly made headlines after coming in a shocking seventh place its first weekend. The underperformance came as criticism of its accuracy, and attempts by Laurene Powell Jobs to kill the film, surfaced. Two weeks later, Universal pulled the film from most theaters and the film was labeled a “flop”.
Steve Jobs saw its awards fortunes evaporate. The film received only two Oscar nominations this year: Michael Fassbender as the titular lead and Kate Winslet as his long-suffering marketing director Joanna Hoffman. No Best Picture, No Best Adapted Screenplay, No Best Director. No film I can recall has suffered such a fall from Oscar grace.
Steve Jobs, for all of its wild historical inaccuracies, is a firecracker of a film. It all begins with Aaron Sorkin and his screenplay, with its dense dialogue and dizzying pace. Adapted from Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography, Sorkin breaks the film up into three product launch acts: the Macintosh, the NeXT computer, and the iMac. In those spaces, Steve is confronted with several crises, of product and conscience. Amidst the failing demos, media chatter, magazine cover rants, and general Jobsian mania is Lisa, the first daughter that he famously disavowed. She is present in all three acts, an insistent reminder of his deep sociological failings, even amidst mammoth professional triumph.
Steve Jobs isn’t a faithful rehash of the Apple founder’s life story, I doubt that was the point in the first place. It hits some key points, but anyone looking for a complete biography is better off with Isaacson’s book. No, Sorkin and director Danny Boyle are more interested in tapping into the essence of Jobs’ persona. They wanted the drama, the spectacle, and the feeling that this man was on the cusp of something life-changing, niceties and compassion be damned. The film’s pace, masterfully controlled by Boyle, is intense and frenetic, just like Steve was to his adoring (and not so adoring) audience. Sorkin and Boyle’s liberties with his life don’t feel like a betrayal to the public man. Instead, it takes the core tenants of the mythos and crafts a thoroughly enjoyable tale of a brilliant man with brilliant flaws. Steve Jobs only falters in its attempt to reveal some deep private truth, like an explanation why Steve denied Lisa so adamantly. Movie Steve explains that he’s “poorly made”, and it’s a hollow, meaningless line that almost undermines a sterling script.
Thankfully, Michael Fassbender is there to carry such an unfortunate line, and the whole film. Fassbender bares no resemblance to the real Jobs, but you forget the physical dissonance when he appears on screen. He melts into the role, embodying Steve’s laser-sharp attention to detail, his grandiosity, and his stark frankness with astonishing accuracy. He tears through Sorkin’s dialogue with a remarkably on-point mimicry of Steve’s voice. He infuses wit, condescension, and simmering rage into his lines, sometimes all at once. It is a truly captivating performance, would’ve been awarded an Oscar under different circumstances. The whole cast is really an embarrassment of riches. Kate Winslet is excellent as always in her nominated role, while Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels were woefully ignored for their performances. Rogen, in particular, surprises with his vulnerable take on Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Everyone has wonderful chemistry with Fassbender, and they all work like a supercharged machine to make your jaw drop.
The only reason why Steve Jobs is largely absent from the Oscars this year is a studio misstep, releasing it wide. Steve Jobs and its relative failure at this year’s Academy Awards is a cautionary tale of the importance of a note-perfect campaign. It deserved so much better.
Coming up next: Will Spotlight, the lowkey frontrunner for months, fall to flashier fare. I take a closer look. Please share and leave any comments you have below. Keep the conversation going. Until next time! – BL