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.

1 comment:

Will said...

Still blown away with what Reichardt accomplished with "Meek's Cutoff," and I don't think any other American filmmaker could have made this film