Saturday, February 25, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Top 10

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Runners-Up: #15: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; #14: Shame; #13: Weekend; #12: Meek's Cutoff; #11: A Separation


#10 -- Rampart: The genre of Bad Cop Movies is generally not a favorite of mine. They either get caught up in the will-he-get-away-with-it plot mechanics or else they fall in love with the manly badness of the main character. Neither one of those things is an issue with Oren Moverman's Rampart, which takes a deep dive into the swirling murkiness of "Date Rape" Dave Brown without maintaining any illusions about him. Even better, every single character in Dave's life -- ex-wives, daughters, the brass at work, an informant, a lawyer who takes an interest in him -- brings a new dimension to the story. Of course, they all play a part in the grand paranoia of Dave's poisoned brain -- each one out to bring him down -- but Moverman doesn't make the mistake of leaving them flat. There's some chewy character drama in pretty much every scene, making for an awfully satisfying meal.

#9 -- Contagion: I know Contagion was supposed to be Soderbergh's designated popcorn movie this year -- a deadly disease flick filled with slumming A-listers and advertised with the horrifying/hilarious sight of Gwyneth's death mask. But the chilly, clinical style with which Soderbergh's handled this story of an apocalyptic plague has stuck with me for months, and in a weird way it's grown more and more thrilling in my memory. The luxury of being Steven Soderbergh, besides the fact that every actor working in Hollywood is lining up to work with you just because, is that you've amassed enough credit to be able to stick to your guns in the face of whatever the hell studios do to movies like this. Thus, Contagion got to be about how our institutions fail us for what boils down to the most human of reasons; about the mercilessness of nature and the fragility of man and how terrifying the clash of those things can be.

#8 -- War Horse: I've been kind of a wuss about liking this movie lately, and I'm realizing how silly that is. In a year when people are falling out over The Artist and Hugo and The Descendants, ain't no one got a leg to stand on when it comes to embracing naked sentimentality at the movies this year. And since this is my blog I'll go further to say that MY preferred naked sentimentality was the one that felt least like a crutch and the most in control of its own message. While The Artist had Uggie scampering all over town, with all the humanized agency of Lassie, wrenching "awwww"s of approval from an audience that has overidentified with the little creature, Spielberg had the discipline to make a movie ABOUT how humans write their stories onto these creatures, without actually committing to the dishonesty that the horse is doing anything but trying to stay alive. So much of this movie shouldn't work, but Spielberg has made a career out of it, so why are we surprised at the effectiveness of the pure fantasy of a no-man's-land meeting of English and German soldiers in order to cut the horse free from an unholy tangle of barbed wire? I also really appreciated his depiction of World War I, which has been slammed left and right for not being bloody enough. While I don't think Spielberg for one second lost sight of the brutality of the trenches, I really appreciated how -- after the merciless inhumanity of the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan -- he decided to show us war through a different prism, this time through the faces of men who couldn't possibly be prepared for the horrors that lay just out of sight (in tall grass, on the other side of a quiet country hill, over the top of a trench). It's why I love that windmill shot so much. It's the hand of a sad parent giving you one extra second of preserved humanity before the horror gets in.

#7 -- Margaret: I suppose I understand why this movie took five years from completion to distribution, but I'm not sure I 100% side with Kenneth Lonergan on the issue. Watching the movie with knowledge of the battles that raged behind the scenes of edits and final cut, it's almost impossible not to find scenes and subplots, even whole characters (sorry, Jean Reno and Matt Damon) who could have been cut. A resulting leaner cut of the film would have been tighter, more palatable, an easier sell for audiences. Probably a better movie for having a tighter focus. But it wouldn't have been THIS movie, with all its tangents and jagged edges and big ideas. And that's definitely what makes Margaret special. Of course, there are dozens of messy, jagged movies out there, and this one wouldn't work without something compelling at the center, and Lonergan certainly provides that: one of the year's most challenging characters, played brilliantly by Anna Paquin and given a series of thorny relationships; plus an inciting event that was unrivaled this year in terms of unbearable immediacy. There are few avenues the film doesn't explore.

#6 -- Drive: This movie walked a very thin tightrope pretty much the whole way through, and the fact that it never fell off makes me love it immensely. Had Refn lost his nerve, or the final scenes fell flat, or Gosling took a wrong step, it would have crashed hard, but somehow, even with weaknesses like a weak Carey Mulligan character, it delivered exactly what it was promising. Unless you thought it was promising lots of car chases, I guess.

#5 -- Martha Marcy May Marlene: The twin debuts of Sean Durkin and Elizabeth Olsen were the story this season -- or they SHOULD have been if the movie had gotten any love during awards season. It's a bummer, because these are two serious talents. There's no better way to get me enthused about your movie than to wrap me up in tension so tightly I start to get neck pain. The movie fuzzes out at the edges until you're not sure what you're seeing, then snaps tightly into focus to show you something awful. Brilliant manipulation at work.

#4 -- Young Adult: I've always been on Diablo Cody's side, from Juno to Jennifer's Body to United States of Tara; she didn't have anything to prove to me. Jason Reitman, on the other hand, had some ground to make up. He mostly just stays out of the way of Cody and Charlize Theron here, but I have to give him credit for some improvements from Juno (the music is decidedly not intrusive; he gave a great sense of place without making the audience feel loaded down with tchotchkes). The Cody/Theron combo, however, is what made this so special. Without any concerns for cutesiness or redeeming qualities, they put out a frighteningly relatable story about going home again that hisses with vicious comedy.

#3 -- Higher Ground: Vera Farmiga's directorial debut does something great with a story about a born-again woman who wants SO much to truly feel her rebirth but who grows more and more certain of the absence of the divine in her life. This could have easy become something snide or preachy or -- on the other end of the spectrum -- toothless and weak. Instead, Farmiga asked some hard questions about faith in ways that were respectful, compelling, and most importantly entertaining. The deep roster of character actors give such a rich picture of this world, full of funny, honest, caring people whose beliefs clash and befuddle each other but ultimately we get a picture of intellectual curiosity and faith in a constant struggle for compatibility.

#2 -- Hanna: SO MUCH FUN, you guys. I had the best time watching this movie, remembering this movie, talking about this movie, watching it again. I've been a big fan of Joe Wright's movies, but who knew he had something this lurid and exciting in him? Perfect casting, from Saoirse Ronan's otherwordly, frightening child killer, to Cate Blanchett's otherwordly, frightening government hunter, to Tom Hollander's otherworldly, frightening Eurotrash odd-jobsman, to Olivia Williams's worldly, comforting hippie mom (curveball!). The bold visual style, snappy action scenes, and a fierce determination to pay attention to Hanna's humanity all add up to something thrilling and satisfying.

#1 -- Certified Copy: This movie is actually also so much fun, though it couldn't be more different than Hanna, obviously. But I am such a sucker for an intellectual exercise that layers itself with realistic, warm characters whose lives you've invested in. I could roll around in it for days. The are-they-or-aren't-they nature of the central relationship isn't beside the point -- digging into the conversations, the posturing, the way they're looking at each other is half the fun of the movie. Are these two married? Role-playing? Some kind of spontaneous exercise in committing to an improv bit? The questions of authenticity and the value found in copies are compelling but only because the characters flesh them out. The other half is the movie that's happening within those conversations, whether they're a put on or not. Juliette Binoche tells a billion stories with her face alone (and a hundred more with her bra straps), and whether there's a marriage or not, the story she's playing out is realer than real. In a year when Hollywood felt overly desperate to think warmly about the ways of the past, here's a movie that really asks us to engage with the stories we've been telling ourselves for decades. We become the stories we're telling.

Friday, February 24, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 3

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Tom Hiddleston - Thor / Midnight in Paris / War Horse
Jake Johnson - Ceremony
Hunter McCracken - Tree of Life
Ezra Miller - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Chris O'Dowd - Bridesmaids

Big, big year for breakout performances, and not just limited to the child actors this time. Though it will be awfully interesting to see if McCracken's naturalistic, un-hammy performance proves to be a herald of a real talent or the product of Malick's careful filmmaking. And Ezra Miller appears to be one of those self-serious teens who end up becoming really great actors because they're working at it 24/7. He certainly brought all sorts of uncomfortable edges to his character that weren't built into the script (stop flirting with your mother!).

Meanwhile, it's always nice to get an import like Chris O'Dowd to remind us of how male love interests get to look like in other places. And while lumpy-faced Irishmen charm our women, we're bringing in angel-faced Brits to play our sneaky villains like Hiddleston did in Thor. I had Hiddleston marked down for this category for Thor alone, and brilliant bit work in the two Best Picture nominees only enhanced his case.

And then there's Jake Johnson, who currently has a sweet TV gig with New Girl, but he was so, so strong in Ceremony. Which I know you all haven't seen, but give it a go. It may not be your cup of tea as a movie (we've seen these over-verbal, self-centered 20-year-old characters wayyyyy too often these last ten years), but stick around for Johnson's hilarious and sad work on the periphery.

Nina Arianda - Higher Ground
Haley Bennett - Kaboom!
Jessica Chastain - The Help / Take Shelter
Adepero Oduye - Pariah
Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Chastain's the no-brainer that you know about; I was maybe less than bowled over by what amounted to a lot of longing glances from behind curtains in Tree of Life, but she was so weird and delightful in The Help and then sympathetic and strong in Take Shelter. She's deserving of all the roles being thrown at her.

Nina Arianda is THE Broadway breakout star of the year, but I need to make sure people don't sleep on the promise she's also showing on the big screen. She was a crackling counterpart to Paul Giamatti in Win Win for a couple of scenes, but she really made a mark when it came to playing Vera Farmiga's sister in the wonderful (have you noticed I'm fond of it?) Higher Ground, effortlessly pulling laughs and blazing a path through her meager running time.

Both Oduye and Bennett announced themselves as big talents -- though they could not have arrived there via two more disparate projects than the critically-lauded, respectful Pariah and the crass, loathed, insane Kaboom!. Here's hoping both women will be given the roles to really make their mark (I'll say it again, Lionsgate: wrap up Haley NOW for Johanna Mason in the final two Hunger Games movies; she's perfect). I'm only slightly less bullish on Woodley, because as wonderful as she was in The Descendants (my favorite performance, easily), my only other data points on her are from abysmal work on an abysmal show like Secret Life of the American Teenager.

Adrien Brody - Midnight in Paris
John Forest - Young Adult
Gianna Giachetti - Certified Copy
Bill Irwin - Higher Ground
Allison Janney - Margaret

Once again, thanks to Nathaniel for giving me the inspiration for this made-up category. It helps separate true supporting performances from one-scene wonders, I'll say that. These performances vary from glorified extras (Giachetti as a chatty and oddly perceptive waitress) to one-scene wonders (Forest as the World's Happiest Cripple; Janney in a barnburner of an accident scene that kicks off the entire main plot), to parts that almost feel like featured cameos (Brody's performance as Dali pretty much IS a cameo, but it's delightfully entertaining; Irwin is more part of the patchwork of the story, but his churchy earnestness feels specific without being jokey). All five of them were secret weapons to their films' respective success.

Hanna: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden.

Higher Ground: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk, Norbert Leo Butz, Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Taissa Farmiga, Bill Irwin, Nina Arianda, Kaitlyn Rae King, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Michael Chernus, Barbara Tuttle, Boyd Holbrook, Sean Mahon, Matthew Biltonen.

Rampart: Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Brie Larson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, Jon Bernthal, Robert Wisdom.

A Separation: Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi, Ali-Asghar Shahbazi, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Kimia Hosseini, Merila Zarei.

Young Adult: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Kate Nowlin, Louisa Krause, John Forest, Rightor Doyle.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 2

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Michael Fassbender - Shame
Ryan Gosling - Drive
Woody Harrelson - Rampart
Peyman Moadi - A Separation
William Shimell - Certified Copy

Fassbender and Gosling were really riding parallel lines in 2011, weren't they? Both delivering multiple well-received performances en route to climbing the Hollywood ladder of success and recognition. Both getting critical acclaim for auteurist movies that audiences found alternatively riveting or pretentious. Both giving signature performances in said films as isolated, taciturn individuals tormented by inner/outer demons and carrying on complicated relationships with Carey Mulligan. Both the thinking person's sex symbol of the moment. Both ultimately turned down by Oscar voters. To me, Fassbender's was the performance of the year, at least among lead actors. Gosling is ever-so-slightly the beneficiary of a weakish year, but even though I may have found his character's nameless remove a bit writerly, he brings charisma like crazy and fills in a lot of the script's gaps.

For as much as I was cool on Harrelson's Oscar-nominated performance in The Messenger, I'm equally passionate about the work he does in Rampart. If only the buzz could have been flipped. He's monstrous in ways that are unnervingly typical. You get the terrifying sense that if you were ever in the same room as him, he'd have you bullied onto his side within minutes. And he modulates the performance so well depending on which characters he's in a scene with. Lots of avenues to drive down with this guy.

I was surprised to find out that Shimmel was an acting novice given how well he was able to keep up with Juliette Binoche as they dance their dance of shifting reality. And Moadi manages to shine among a VERY strong A Separation ensemble with a performance that gets to the pride and helplessness at the root of a good man who lies to himself so he can remain as such.

Runners Up: Jean Dujardin (The Artist); Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother); Tom Hardy (Warrior); Brad Pitt (Moneyball); Gary Oldman -(Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).

Juliette Binoche - Certified Copy
Viola Davis - The Help
Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Anna Paquin - Margaret
Charlize Theron - Young Adult

As thin as the herd was among the lead actors, Best Actress is pretty well stacked, with former Oscar winners like Theron and Paquin digging into all-too-rare roles that were worthy of their talents, plus this year's possible Oscar winner in Viola Davis. I've wondered, in the months since I saw and had complicated reactions to The Help, if I'm more willing to throw accolades at Viola's performance because her character, Aibleen, so deserves accolades of her own. Maybe. That's a woman who's earned some good news. But Davis brought her to life, with notes of pride and anger and irreconcilable ties on both sides of a divided society.

I've probably bored you all to tears already with how much I loved Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy, from her bra straps to the well-worn soles of her shoes. (They do a LOT of walking on cobblestones in that movie.) She's perfection as so many of the film's most affecting scenes play out right on her face.

Olsen is another face that told a lot of story, even if that story was mostly in how much she couldn't tell. I'm still flummoxed at how she somehow didn't get the new-star breakthrough acclaim that a Rooney Mara or even the far inferior Felicty Jones got. Still, she's lined up years' worth of work thanks to the film's Sundance success, so she'll have plenty more chances. She's kind of in a position that Anna Paquin was in back when Margaret was made. Seriously, finally getting to see her work in Kenneth Lonergan's movie fills in some crucial career gaps and helps me really GET the whole Anna Paquin thing. As for the performance itself, t's a thrill to see her finally deliver a character so maddeningly confident in her own certainty.

My vote for a winner would go to my beloved Charlize, though, who broke open the flourescent tube that was Mavis Gary -- all harsh and ugly brilliance -- and released toxic fumes out to anyone who entered her orbit. She's savagely funny, remorselessly mean, and choking on her own mid-level success. She's got the audience's admiration and revulsion clenched inside the same fist, squishing them tightly until we can't tell the difference.

Runners Up: Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin); Michelle Williams (Meek's Cutoff); Adpero Oduye (Pariah); Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground); Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia).

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 1

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Albert Brooks - Drive
John Hawkes - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Tom Hollander - Hanna
Joshua Leonard - Higher Ground
Corey Stoll - Midnight in Paris

Hey there, John Hawkes. Nice to see you once again atop my list of supporting performances for playing a creepy rural goblin man! Actually, kidding aside, the reasons I was so dazzled by Hawkes's turn in Martha Marcy were because of the crucial differences from Teardrop in Winter's Bone. Everything about Teardrop was intended to keep you away, while his cult leader in Martha Marcy is all spindly magnetism and sincere insincerity. He scared the shit out of me.

Corey Stoll stole (ugh) every single scene of his in Midnight in Paris, and even a few when he wasn't on camera and I was busy wondering when I'd see him again. Tom Hollander didn't have the "luxury" of an underwhelming movie around him, and even then he managed to make a dynamite impression as a pansexual Euro dungeon gnome who exists solely to stalk people with extreme creepiness and athletic apparel. And Albert Brooks tears into that most celebrated of Hollywood roles, the merciless crime boss with flair.

I think I'm happiest to be able to throw Joshua Leonard on this list, since I've had a soft spot for him ever since The Blair Witch Project and it's been nice to see him salvage a career that his castmates couldn't manage. He's really phenomenal as Vera Farmiga's faithful but empathetically limited husband in Higher Ground, particularly in scenes late in the movie where he's so disarmed by regret.

Runners Up: James Badge Dale (Shame); Christopher Plummer (Beginners); Jake Johnson (Ceremony); Shahab Hosseini (A Separation); Patton Oswalt (Young Adult).

Jeannie Berlin - Margaret
Rose Byrne - Bridesmaids
Dagmara Dominczyk - Higher Ground
Carey Mulligan - Shame
Amy Ryan - Win Win

I totally didn't see Jeannie Berlin's character coming, and I think the lion's share of Margaret's unexpected brilliance comes from the fact that she shows up and goes toe-to-toe with Lisa, challenging her in ways that cut through her eighteen layers of bullshit. This is hand-to-hand emotional combat and they're both fighting dirty even as they're ostensibly allies. She's prickly and impatient and so insanely New York I could smear her on a bagel.

Amy Ryan and Dargmara Dominczyk offer more traditional support to their respective lead characters, but they thankfully never fade into the background. Ryan, gifted by Tom McCarthy with an uncommonly rewarding role despite being "the wife," delivers a warm-hearted woman who is still holding onto just enough Jersey deep down to make her formidable. Higher Ground's Annika embodies a kind of free-spirited Christianity that Vera Farmiga's character desperately wants to attain, and Dominczyk delivers a woman worthy of such adoration.

Carey Mulligan was given a tough assignment, externalizing everything Fassbender was internalizing; making her face and limbs and tragic posturing match everything stuck inside her brother's slender, put-together frame. It'd be hard not to come across as a needy gargoyle, and I take it that's exactly what a lot of people saw in her, but I think I take better to open-wound characters like hers. That "New York, New York" elegy was a sensation.

Finally, I realize I'm stealing a nomination from the wonderful Melissa McCarthy and handing it to her beautiful, Australian co-star. Heartless, I know. But while McCarthy was quite funny, I was openly blown away by how Byrne stood toe-to-toe Kristen Wiig in the funniest scenes in Bridesmaids and didn't flinch. For an actress who isn't from the kind of comedy background her co-stars were, it was remarkable.

Runners Up: Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs); Sarah Paulson (Martha Marcy May Marlene); Aasha Davis (Pariah); Anjelica Huston (50/50); Mary Page Keller (Beginners).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Vision

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Abbas Kiarostami - Certified Copy
Kenneth Lonergan - Margaret
Sean Durkin - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Andrew Haigh - Weekend
Diablo Cody - Young Adult

There are clever conceits here among the five nominees and certainly, with Margaret's inclusion especially, there are big ideas at play. But the uniting factor across all these nominated scripts are how they brought these ideas out through specific and fascinating characters. Lisa Cohen's aggrandized determination to get justice, or Mavis Gary's poisoned ideas about where her life went wrong. Or Russell and Glen feeling each other out figuratively after a night spent feeling each other out literally. Or the distinct ways Durkin and Kiarostami used murky plot mechanics to keep the audience as off balance (and thus riveted) as possible.

Carolyn S. Briggs; Tim Metcalfe - Higher Ground
Steve Kloves - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Aaron Sorkin; Steve Zaillian - Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor; Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Lynne Ramsay; Rory Kinnear - We Need to Talk About Kevin

I hate to get backhanded in these write-ups -- this is all about what was great at the movies this year -- but there were seriously slim pickings in the Adapted field this year. So much so that I considered Hugo for a spot here for quite a while, despite the fact that I only half-liked that movie, and certainly not for the script. Thus, Harry Potter and the Great Personal Awards Compromise, a movie that solidly pulled that franchise's train into the station with workmanlike skill by Steve Kloves. Moneyball was another movie I merely liked but could never love, but I can at least appreciate the good work done in making a decidedly un-cinematic story into something suitably dramatic with stakes we (mostly) cared about. The exception to my general lack of enthusiasm in this category is Higher Ground, which would win in a walk were I actually casting votes.

Sean Durkin - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Abbas Kiarostami - Certified Copy
Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
Kelly Reichardt - Meek's Cutoff
Joe Wright - Hanna

Of these five directors, one (Durkin) is here for his debut feature, one (Kiarostami) is an acclaimed foreign-language director whose films I am not familiar with, one (Refn) made a splash with a previous film that I did not care for -- despite the fact that it featured a whole lot of nude Tom Hardy -- and one (Wright) had made a pair of wonderful movies that I loved, followed by The Soloist. Hey, but I sure did love Kelly Reichardt unreservedly! Anyway, a big ol' whatever to all of that, because these five directors put themselves steadily within my good graces by tackling some big projects.

I'm impressed by how far away from his comfort zone Joe Wright travelled, not only in the pulpy subject matter, but in everything from visual style to a campy, just-this-side-of-vulgar sensibility. All while taking great care to do justice to the relationships between characters. Adventurousness while never forgetting about character is also exactly what made me love Certified Copy so much; the whole thing's a game, but while the audience is never privy to who's winning, you always feel like Kiarostami is inviting you to play.

No one could accuse Nicolas Winding Refn of caring about his characters in equal measure to his experiments in style. His lead character is quite brazenly an aesthetically appealing shell of some kind of Hollywood "hero," and the less said about the roles written for Carey Mulligan and Christina Hendricks the better. But he knew well enough that you can make ciphers work if you cast them well (Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Oscar Isaac fill in the blanks so well), and that if you nail the style well enough, it's going to work anyway. Maybe it shouldn't, but Drive really does.

I love Sean Durkin and Kelly Reichardt for refusing to take the easy way out. Durkin could have leaned on a strong, creepy premise and the acting of Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes to carry his picture along. Indie sensations have been built on much less. But Durkin took all of that and still put his back into making sure everything from the editing to the light to the pacing conspired to tighten a vise around the audience, slowly enough that we almost didn't notice it at first. Reichardt, meanwhile, wasn't afraid of stillness or silence or a fatalistic narrative. Every choice she made was true to nothing but this doomed pioneer tale, and I give her so much credit for it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Sounds

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Super 8

My incremental appreciation of the ins and outs of movie sound continues to creep forward. Hanna made sure menace never sounded more than a few steps away at all times, while Super 8 kept things natural and dreamlike at once. Rango had a lot of fun with its menagerie of lowly desert creatures squeaking and jangling and (in some cases) screeching along. M:I - GP was all about that cracking glass and power-upping gloves on the exterior of the Burj Khalifa. And the kicker in this category is definitely Dragon Tattoo, featuring the coldest sounds I've ever heard whipping around the inside of a movie theater.

The Chemical Brothers - Hanna
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Alberto Iglesias - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Cliff Martinez - Drive
John Williams - War Horse

Eligibility for Oscar be damned, there was some great work done by composers this year, in cutting-edge electronic work like the Chemical Brothers brought to Hanna, or the heavy atmospherics in Dragon Tattoo, or how Martinez set the table so nicely for Drive imported '80s feel. Iglesias put a fun, un-showy spin on the paranoid spy score. And honest to God, I thought the score for War Horse was old-fashioned, rousing, beautiful stuff. All movie music manipulates in one way or another, and War Horse did its work with fat, lush strokes. I wasn't complaining.

Higher Ground
Young Adult

I got a chance to write on NPR about my preference for an evolved music category at the Oscars that recognizes films that brilliantly blend orginal and classic music in ways that are undeniably creating something new. Drive is kind of the perfect example of that, with its sleek and showy '80s aesthetic. Shame took pieces of old scores to set a cold and almost barren downtown Manhattan (plus that poignant usage of "New York, New York"), and Melancholia did similar shaping work with classical pieces. The church songs picked for Higher Ground were illuminating ("How Great Thou Art" was worth reprising at the end), and the songs young Corrinne and Ethan composed as teens were pitch perfect. And I really loved the subtlety of the early '90s grunge songs underscoring Mavis's attempted trip back in time. "It's a Shame About Ray" explains SO much.

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Sights

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meek's Cutoff
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The best editing of the year managed to enhance what was on the page and in the performances of the movies it served. Be it the unbearable suspense of Martha Marcy, the full-speed action of Hanna, or the accumulating dread of Contagion. I liked how the rhythms of Meek's Cutoff felt appropriately drawn out without losing interest in the characters or feeling like a stunt. And I admired how Tinker Tailor was able to hop to multiple characters and timelines, playing with a disorienting structure before ultimately tightening its focus like an assassin's scope.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Melancholia gets a nod for that unbearable wedding villa, feeling at once too busy (crowding Justine out of her own reception) and too sparse (so many places for her to hide!). Hugo probably has the most art direction, but I have to give credit for creating an entire ecosystem with that train station and making sure all the parts worked as a whole.

Hanna manages to juggle multiple locations -- tundra to desert, Tom Hollander's red-light dungeon to Cate Blanchett's clinical-grade bathroom -- and make each one feel specific and detailed, and though some found it a bit too VERY, I thought the Grimm's theme park finale was delicious.

Dragon Tattoo used art direction in tandem with cinematography and sound to create the coldest interiors I have seen in quite some time. And Tinker Tailor is an absolute wonderland of period detail, with gems hidden on every desktop, outdoor café, and upholstered wall.

The Adjustment Bureau
Higher Ground
Meek's Cutoff
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Young Adult

In many ways, The Adjustment Bureau IS its costume design, and the threads thankfully justify all the fuss made about them. I loved how everything Corrinne wore felt ill-fitting or out of place in Higher Ground. The same thing with Young Adult, really, plus how they made Patrick Wilson look positively dumpy, plus all of Mavis's trying-too-hard ensembles. Th prairie garb in Meek's felt utilitarian rather than show-offy. And my sweet lord, did the clothes on everybody in Mission: Impossible make them look like the most fuckable covert ops team in history. In a movie that was meant to maximize pleasure to all the senses, that's a big win.

Meek's Cutoff
My Week with Marilyn

Almost always, the Oscar nominations in this category are for old age (The Iron Lady and the unfortunate coda of Harry Potter, though thank God, they avoided the J. Edgar trap in this regard) or gender-swapping (Albert Nobbs). Which is all great. I decided to go with the wind-blasted faces of Meek's Cutoff or the clammy creep of disease in Contagion or the period-fantastic color pop in Hugo. Or how about just making Michelle Williams look as much like Marilyn Monroe as a woman who looks nothing like Marilyn Monroe can look. Or the eight layers of shellack on Cate Blanchett's monster face in Hanna. I could not mean that as more of a compliment.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Tree of Life

Harry Potter offered its usual very strong work particularly with that thrilling bank-vault chase and the gargantuan setpiece at the end. Planet of the Apes took performance capture to uncanny new levels of shifty eyes (even if I admit I'm cooler on the "OMG Andy Serkis BESSSSSST!" stuff than a lot of people). Brad Bird's first crack at the Mission: Impossible franchise featured some death defying skyscraper work, but the stuff that really dazzled me was the hallway hologram, which felt that Houdini gone digital.

The two most exciting effects work of the year came from captial-A Artistes Malick and Von Trier. Much as I found the big-bang-and-dinosaurs stuff in Tree of Life to be writing checks the rest of the movie couldn't cash, it was undeniably mesmerizing. And most of the reason while Melancholia -- a movie I didn't like when I saw it, and one which I still have lingering issues with -- has stayed with me for months has been the dazzling sights on display in its final moments. The world ending amid brilliant blue flame.

Luca Bigazzi - Certified Copy
Bobby Bukowski - Rampart
Robert Elswit - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Manuel Alberto Claro - Melancholia
Emmanuel Lubezki - Tree of Life

Every few years, Emmanuel Lubezki does work that gets near unanimous praise, fervent awards hope, and ultimately it loses out to something or another. I don't expect this year to be any different, but that doesn't diminish the work he's done. I'm certain I wouldn't have appreciated much of anything in Tree of Life (all that breathy narration!) were it not for the gorgeous pictures onscreen. Similarly, so much of my appreciation for Melancholia was tied up in visual spectacle. Rampart's murky moodiness and Certified Copy's playfully shifting perspectives are both reflected in their respective cinematography. And an expert like Robert Elswit took a big-budget sandbox like Mission: Impossible and somehow kept things from ever feeling impersonal.

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Trailers

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

Not the strongest year for trailers -- already 2012 is outpacing it, with that clip for Snow White and the Huntsman alone -- but I'm happily settling on these. What they may have lacked in groundbreaking structure they made up for in some expert momentum-building.


The cold open with the head-shaving scene is smart and attention-getting and sells the movie on exactly what it should be sold on: the buddy chemistry of Rogen and JGL.

I like the detailed build through Hanna and her dad's tundra life before the whole movie breaks open. The plot twists feel genuinely shocking the first time you see it, Cate Blanchett is sold as the theme-park attraction she is, and the Chemical Bros. score is used perfectly.

My Week with Marilyn
It's probably the faintest of praise to say a trailer vastly oversold the quality of the film it represents, but there's an energy to this clip, to the spell Marilyn casts over everyone in the film, that just dissipates in the film itself. If there was something more in the film like the way the trailer splashes the stars' faces on the screen, their faces bigger and more beautiful than life, the film itself could have really been something.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Good, old-fashioned suspense-building and table-setting, immediately placing you with the Cold War spy novel contexts, laying out the rogue's gallery of well-dressed suspects, and utilizing a John Hurt statement of purpose the way God intended it.

Young Adult
Much like 50/50, this clip utilizes a cold open that gives you all the information you need, both about Mavis's sour entitlement and how the movie reflects her feelings of small-town glamour-shot-of-the-Hampton-Inn revulsion. Plus it's flat-out hilarious and that Bowie song is perfection.

Monday, February 20, 2012

LowRes 2011 Movie Awards: The Moments

The 2011 LowRes Movie Awards: 25 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

You know I couldn't miss out on making my Oscar Week best-of-the-year posts. No matter how scattered my online life if at the moment, I really treasure getting to engage in the conversation of the year's best movies, moments, actors, and achievements. So like last year, I'm starting it off with a collection of my favorite moments -- scenes, characters, whatever -- from the movies of 2011.

25 Amazing Movie Moments from 2011

Michelle Williams loads her shotgun -- twice -- in Meek's Cutoff.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anjelica Huston as Adam is wheeled into surgery, and experiences a last-minute moment of panic, in 50/50.

The phone-call strategy sessions/battles of will in the lawyer's office in Margaret.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's sparkling chemistry, holding things together even when the plot gets silly, in The Adjustment Bureau.

The Charlize Theron/Collette Wolfe scene -- obliterating any personal growth in a hurricane of enablement -- at the very end of Young Adult.

The home invasion in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

A night out with the Fitzgeralds (Allison Pill and Tom Hiddleston) in Midnight in Paris.

The out-of-nowhere taxi kill in I Saw the Devil.

Gwyneth Paltrow's autopsy in Contagion.

The hilarious/captivating/deeply weird scene in Albert Nobbs when Glenn Close and Janet McTeer emerge in fancy dresses; despite how tonally adrift it felt within the rest of the movie.

Bill Cunningham getting that very last question in Bill Cunningham New York.

Melissa McCarthy drives by in the puppy van in Bridesmaids.

Kate Winslet's advanced levels of drunkenness in Carnage.

Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

The barbed wire scene in War Horse.

Jake Johnson's equally barbed (and blitzed) wedding toast in Ceremony.

Carey Mulligan singing "New York, New York" -- wounded and desperate -- in Shame.

Watching a wedding through reflections in glass in Certified Copy.

Nina Arianda sitting bored and wide-legged in the middle of a church meeting in Higher Ground.

The spectacular end of the world in Melancholia.

The hallway mirage in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

Hanna goes on her first double date in Hanna.

The dreamy, tone-setting opening credits of Drive.

The small-town kids cut loose at the country bar in Footloose.

The final scene at the train station, out of our range but still subject to offscreen hostility, in Weekend.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Still Got It!

Look, if Ian Somerhalder was going to perfect one pose, I'm pretty okay with it being this one.

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.