Thursday, February 27, 2014

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Sights

The 2013 LowRes Movie Awards: Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films


All Is Lost

Captain Phillips
Stories We Tell

Lots of similarities to be found across the best editing achievements of the year, and I'll also cop to the fact that I have some historical tendencies that play into things as well. I'm always a sucker for expertly rendered suspense or tension, which obviously places Captain Phillips near the top of my list. I'll also always find a place for expertly crafted action in this category, wherein Rush barely edged out Fast and Furious 6. Both those qualities, suspense and action, combine to create something special in Gravity, so that was a pretty easy choice. And both Gravity and All Is Lost  make smart editing choices in order to advance the narrative when there's only one character on the screen. Finally, there's the intelligent, witty, and inventive editing that contributes to so much of the copious enjoyment to be found in Stories We Tell.

The Conjuring
The East
World War Z

This is a good category for films which were superb technical achievements but haven't been given their due across awards season. Far too few people gave Byzantium a shot, which is good bad, because besides the performances and the cinematography, there were also some richly realized sets, from murky flats to hidden caves. The Conjuring put together one corker of a haunted house, just as well as The East imagined the hideaway for its group of radicals. World War Z gets here on the strength of its emergency bunkers and especially the abandoned lab. Her is such a triumph of art direction, creating the future out of smart location scouting but also a million small touches, all of them allowed to accumulate rather than bash you over the head.

American Hustle
Beautiful Creatures
The Bling Ring
Blue Jasmine
Inside Llewyn Davis

A strong runner-up here to 12 Years a Slave, which is so uniformly accomplished across all disciplines that it's sometimes hard to single out the particular elements. Blue Jasmine outfitted Cate Blanchett so smartly on her road to disintegration, similar to how Inside Llewyn Davis treated its own title character. The Bling Ring knows the value of clothes in a way its characters only think they do. And in American Hustle and Beautiful Creatures, I'm more than happy to say that more is more.

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Beautiful Creatures
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Warm Bodies

I was very close to including a couple documentaries in this, either Stories We Tell for its subversive mimicry or The Act of Killing for is intra-narrative makeup work. Ultimately, they just missed the cut. The Hunger Games did a great job with its new characters, particularly the satisfyingly fantastic Johanna Mason. Beautiful Creatures worked wonders with the changing visage of Emmy Rossum's Ridley, in particular. I really loved the work on Warm Bodies to create a look for Nicholas Hoult that accommodated his character's need to create a personality from under all that zombie makeup. American Hustle should win here for all the reasons why everybody thinks it's ridiculous it wasn't nominated for Oscar. If not for makeup and hairstyle, what even is this movie? Finally, while I suppose I understand why awards voters wouldn't want to linger on these things for too long, there are some searing, indelible scenes in 12 Years a Slave that took a sure-handed makeup artist to accomplish. 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Wolverine

So, yes, fine, it's another instance where Gravity trounces all other competition, and rightly so. This is a major achievement, one that combines technical wizardly with an artful eye. But there are things to recommend in the four also-rans as well. For as much as the rest of the movie lay flat, the dragon scenes in The Hobbit were a highlight and represented some of the best effects work of Peter Jackson's entire time in Middle Earth. Similarly, though Ben Stiller didn't use them incredibly well, the effects as they were in Walter Mitty were very well done. Iron Man 3 gets points for some eye-popping scenes, particularly with the iron-man suit assembling in mid-air. And that express-train scene in The Wolverine was a wonder, the only moment from that movie I'll ever remember, but what a moment!

Christopher Blauvent, Harris Savides - The Bling Ring
Sean Bobbitt - 12 Years a Slave
Sofian El Fani - Blue Is the Warmest Color
Emmanuel Lubezki - Gravity
Bradford Young - Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Much love to runners up like Roger Deakins (Prisoners), Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips), and Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini (All Is Lost). It should also be noted that Sean Bobbitt produced award-worthy work in The Place Beyond the Pines and Byzantium in addition to 12 Years a Slave, making his Oscar omission even more perverse. Dreamy cinematography grabbed my attention in both Blue Is the Warmest Color and Ain't Them Bodies Saints, while The Bling Ring kept its feet on the ground but never stopped finding inventive ways to express repetitive behavior. And then there's Gravity, as ever-present as actual gravity, at least on awards ballots. 

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Sounds

The 2013 LowRes Movie Awards: Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films

20 Feet from Stardom
Captain Phillips
Inside Llewyn Davis
Upstream Color

Sound mixing, sound editing, all are welcome here. I was ultimately a sucker for the expert musical stylings in both Inside Llewyn Davis and 20 Feet from Stardom. I feel bad leaving out All Is Lost for similarly themed Captain Phillips (aquatic ambience) and Gravity (sounds in isolation), and I feel bad leaving out 12 Years a Slave because it's excellent. Finally, while I'm still not sure what's going on in Upstream Color, I know its purposeful vagueness was aided by some truly crafty sound work.

Thomas Newman - Side Effects
M83 - Oblivion
Steven Price - Gravity
Marcelo Zarvos - Enough Said
Hans Zimmer - Man of Steel

Kind of a bummer that Thomas Newman (whom I love) got nominated for the oatmeal-y Saving Mr. Banks score when he was much more worthy for his work on Side Effects (which I did not love). Similarly, I know everybody dumps on Hans Zimmer, but he had a pretty fantastic year in 2013, with super scores for 12 Years a Slave and Rush, in addition to what had to be a tall order in composing another theme for Superman in Man of Steel. While I love that Arcade Fire ended up with an Oscar nomination for Her, the pop act I'd have rathered see nominated was M83 for being the only worthwhile part of Oblivion not named Andrea Riseborough or Melissa Leo. The quiet charms of Enough Said were perfectly served by the perfectly underrated Zarvos. Finally, the bombastic work by Steven Price in Gravity is not everyone's cup of tea, but I found it incredibly moving and in keeping with the tone of the film.

20 Feet from Stardom
Frances Ha
Inside Llewyn Davis
Spring Breakers

For anything that isn't strictly an original score, it goes here. So the songs—and particularly the way the songs are delivered—in 20 Feet all count, as do the folk interpretations found throughout the sublime soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis. The other three nominees here did something special with song choices. The final scene in Gloria, with that eponymous song, was too spectacular not to honor somewhere. Same with the "Everytime" scene in Spring Breakers (not to mention all the Skrillex). Frances Ha manages to best them all, with a wall-to-wall fantastic soundscape, punctuated by David Bowie's "Modern Love."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Low Res 2013 Movie Awards: The Trailers

So, okay, I'm going to try to get this years awards in under the wire, starting, as I often do, with the trailers. I actually got a head start on these back in December when I posted about the year's best trailers at The Wire.

Beautiful Creatures
The Bling Ring
Frances Ha
Man of Steel
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

How could a trailer front loaded with Emma Thompson dressed in a Sunday church hat and speaking in a hilarious southern accent have done anything but convince audiences to flock to their local multiplexes by the dozens? The teaser for Beautiful Creatures is an intoxicating blend of gothic atmosphere, top-notch actors (Viola Davis! Jeremy Irons!), doomed lovers (our favorites Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich), Emmy Rossum as diva'd out as you please, and a whole lotta Florence + the Machine. At the very least, this should have earned Creatures—the best possible version of the supernatural teen romance genre that Twilight foisted upon us—a bigger box-office haul than The Mortal Instruments. Alas.

The use of Sleigh Bells' "Crown on the Ground" in the first teaser for Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring turned out to be a fine preview for the opening scene of the film itself. In both, it serves as a siren alarm for the teen delinquents as they strut around L.A. in a haze of larceny and selfies. Coppola's movies have always been smart about their music choices, and this trailer took that tendency and ran with it.

The truth-in-advertising people were probably very happy with the trailer for Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Frances Ha, since the clip was a perfect distillation of that film's goofy charm and appeal. That the David Bowie song that scores the bulk of it actually appears in the film doesn't hurt either.

It took them three tries, but Warner Bros. finally delivered the stirring trailer that a hero like Superman really deserves. Zack Snyder's film did not end up impressing the critics, but by harnessing the grandeur of Hans Zimmer's score, it certainly seemed like it might live up to expectations.

All too often, a brilliant teaser—brief and punchy and evocative without being explainy—can give way to a humdrum trailer, if only due to the inflated expectations. Good for the people who cut the trailers for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for following up their rather poetic teaser with a longer trailer that doesn't lose any of the first clip's impact. Doubling down on the Of Monsters and Men track with José González's (sadly Oscar-ineligible) "Step Out" really pays off.