Sunday, March 02, 2014

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Top 10 Films

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


*Again, I'm cheating my posting my list as published on The Wire back in December. Rankings haven't changed. Neither have the opinions.

Runners Up: #15: August: Osage County; #14: Blue Is the Warmest Color; #13: Enough Said; #12: Her; #11: The Place Beyond the Pines

#10: The Heat. The funniest film of the year deserves a spot on anyone's Top 10 list. That's easy. It gets easier when the funniest film of the year features a pair of marvelously talented women in Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, chemistry for days, clearly having a fantastic time. You almost want them to make a movie together every year or two, just to see in how many different configurations they can make each other funnier. It gets easier still when the story arrives at the kind of emotional places that even a very good movie like Bridesmaids couldn't get to, without it feeling tacked on. Did you get misty-eyed at the end of The Heat? Why not? What is your problem?

#9: 20 Feet from StardomHands-down (palms-up, actually; palms up to Jesus), unquestionably the best time to be had at the movies in all of 2013. If you exited the theater after watching this documentary about the lives and ambitions and shortfalls and triumphs of some of the most accomplished backup singers of a golden age of rock/R&B without a hop in your step and a belting power note in your throat, I quite simply do not know how to deal with you. It's that simple. These women are fascinating and compelling, as both subjects and objects. And their stories are worth being told. 

#8: The Act of Killing. For a while, it seems like Joshua Oppenheimer's film is an audacious stunt. An art project intended to shock. He took his cameras to Indonesia and asked death-squad members to re-enact their killings for the film in whatever dramatic and artistic way they wanted. It's an idea packed with danger and horrific frankness (the perpetrators/amateur filmmakers don't appear to have any problem boasting about their actions). But the accumulation of the scenes—reenactments and conversations among the regime members and the occasional moment of true introspection— builds to such surprisingly immediate conclusions. Out of this ugliness and crassness (some of these men have interesting ideas about how to best turn their murders into compelling entertainment) comes a narrative that hits hard. This is a project of true ambition and brave execution.

#7. Stories We TellSarah Polley's documentary look at her own family—its histories and myths and one scandal in particular—is so delightfully unlike anything else in the industry right now. Intensely personal without even a drop of masochism or a sense that Polley is reveling in her (or her family's) angst. Maybe it's the Canadian thing, but there is an openness about her family members, a self-awareness and sense of humor, that turns their telling of these potentially painful family secrets into something inviting. Like a trust exercise. Polley's skills as a director are so straightforwardly adventurous, it's rather exhilarating to watch her explore the possibilities of documentary filmmaking, almost as if she's testing concepts out that she just thought of that minute. She might be something of a genius. A Canadian child-star genius.

#6: Gravity. It's hard to deny the hokiness of a lot of the Gravity script, but I cannot stress enough how little that matters in the face of such elementally thrilling filmmaking. Honestly, if Alfonso Cuaron wants to boil his narrative about human determination to survive calamity down to simple terms like motherhood and home and will, I'm actually okay with that. To me, that hangs together. Meanwhile, the grooves in my palms from gripping my hands so tightly tell a different story. Pure, disciplined visual spectacle might not scratch all the itches I have when I go to the movies, but it's very hard to deny this film credit for scratching that one itch so satisfyingly.

#5: The Bling Ring. Sofia Coppola makes movies for me. They're not for everybody, that's fine, I don't need a consensus around my opinion that watching Stephen Dorff lounge around the Chateau Marmont is a riveting, soul-nourishing way to spend a couple of hours. The protagonists in her latest movie might be her most outwardly motivated—they get a LOT done, actually—while at the same time most inwardly hollow. There's an odd kinetic energy to their complete vacuousness, though, and their decision-making and posturing at every turn is compulsively watchable. Some of the most indelible individual scenes in any movie all year, too, from Taissa Farmiga with the gun to robbing Audrina Patridge's house to that dazzling shopping trip around Paris Hilton's house.

#4: Captain Phillips. At times unbearably tense—Paul Greengrass does that sometimesCaptain Phillips was a sterling example of the kinds of blockbuster films that should be the rule, rather than the exception. Tom Hanks brings every bit of his galvanized Hollywood charisma to bear on this role, and for a while that's all it is, and it's fine and the movie (and Barkhad Abdi as the lead Somali pirate) is humming along and doing a lot of the heavy lifting for him. And then, after about 30 minutes of high tension, there's the absolute gut punch of an ending that left me near breathless. It's a moment of surprising honesty in a genre (and from an actor like Hanks) where we've come to expect some degree of gloss. It's similar to how subtly Greengrass is able to suggest political truths that would otherwise feel inappropriately didactic. Greengrass lets the images and events of the film do the talking for him. The outsized might of the U.S. forces. The desperation in the Somali eyes. The ultimate ineffectiveness of Hanks's fatherly posture. Action, tension, heart, and brains. Food, fun, and fashion, Captain Phillips has it all.

#3: Short Term 12Destin Cretton's film seems build for terms like "delicate" and "heartfelt," but damned if I can find any better words to describe his story of a short-term foster care facility and, in particular, Grace (the wonderful Brie Larson in a performance that is getting her the attention she's deserved for years), who manages to be so perfectly empathetic as a worker and so frustratingly closed-off in her personal life. Larson and John Gallagher Jr. have a sweet chemistry that is somewhat rare in movies. It's the chemistry of equals. Of partners. It's very quietly subversive. 

#2: 12 Years a SlaveI can leave the bigger-picture stuff to people who are far better equipped than I to speak to the significance of this movie in the greater cultural narrative about slavery. Except to say that to boil this film down to "this one finally gets it right" vs. "no film can ever get it right in this regard," while interesting and worthy in its own respect, doesn't entirely belong in a discussion of this film's merits, which are plentiful. Director Steve McQueen has taken a decent amount of flak for the chilliness in his career, and there has been some talk that there's a remove in this film as well. But by occasionally stepping back, McQueen really lets you see the ecosystem at work, how slavery depended on the compliance of corrupted people and the inaction of men who might otherwise have been good. This isn't a faceless monolith at work, and McQueen never lets any of the component parts off the hook. But the film is also never so crass as to misbelieve that it needs to grandstand. The story speaks for itself, and it's a terribly impactful one.

#1: Frances Ha. There are about eight billion ways Frances Ha could have stepped wrong and become the hipster cliche I think many were expecting it to be. Maybe I was among those people at first. I certainly never expected a Noah Baumbach movie to hold back from his usual harsh judgments of humanity. Even in the films of his that I quite like (Greenberg, for instance, or Margot at the Wedding), there's a strong sense of withering disregard and  misanthropy. It would probably be too pat to chalk up the generosity of spirit found in Frances Ha to Baumbach's co-writer and star Greta Gerwig, but certainly something is going on here. The film doesn't indulge Frances for her flighty, indecisive life, but it doesn't condemn her either. It just gets down into it with her and finds a place of warm, knowing, genuinely funny empathy. It's also a startlingly true portrait of aimlessness not as a lack of conviction or substance but as an extended preparation for something that never quite begins. This all makes it sound like an intellectual exercise, when, of course, there's no way this movie would have hit #1 on my list if it weren't such a pure delight, boasting an unforced sense of humor that gets under your skin in the best way.

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Lead Actors

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

Amy Adams - American Hustle
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Brie Larson - Short Term 12
Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Enough Said
Julia Roberts - August: Osage County

Adams for flourishing under David O. Russell yet again and for that brilliant, wonky accent, and for finding the only compelling story in the movie in between her character's poses. Blanchett for slaying everything on screen, and on every adjacent screen, and for "Tip well, kids. Tip well because you get good service, and some people live on tips." Gerwig for her humor amid uncomfortably relatable drifting and for keeping Frances' heart on display at all times. Larson for doing the same, really, and for being such an unexpected source of gravitas onscreen. Louis-Dreyfus for picking the exact right expression at all times and letting whole comedies play out thereon. Roberts for going to that Closer place and facing down Streep in their screen duel. 

Runners Up: Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color); Paulina Garcia (Gloria); Meryl Streep (August: Osage County); Danai Gurira (Mother of George); Melissa McCarthy (The Heat); Sandra Bullock (Gravity); Gemma Arterton (Byzantium); Amy Acker (Much Ado About Nothing).

Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station
Isaiah Washington - Blue Caprice

Ejiofor for showing Solomon's pride and sense of self dying in silence. Hanks for, as everyone has mentioned, that shattering final scene. Isaac for embodying an exasperating and fairly rotten guy with at least some degree of sympathy, and for showing Llewyn coming alive in his performances. Jordan for creating a man when his film sometimes wanted a martyr. And Washington for terrifying dead-eyed certainty.

Runners Up: Robert Redford (All Is Lost); Joaquin Phoenix (Her); Jack Reynor (What Richard Did); Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now).

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Supporting Actors

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

Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
John Gallagher, Jr. - Short Term 12
James Gandolfini - Enough Said
Bill Nighy - About Time
Michael Zegen - Frances Ha

Fassbender for throwing himself into the role of a slaver and showing us the institutional insanity therein, keeping a smart balance between base weakness and inhuman savagery. Gallagher for making goodness interesting. Gandolfini for doing what he was always able to do, only in a way we rarely saw him, vulnerable and unsure and yet still utterly magnetic. Nighy for playing the absolute best dad, for undercutting his film's wonky premise with perfect humor. And Zegen for taking what on paper must have been an unbearable character and allowing him to deepen without sacrificing what was still pretty ridiculous (and funny) about him.

Runners Up: Ben Foster (Ain't Them Bodies Saints); Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips); Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines); Ben Mendelsohn (The Place Beyond the Pines); Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks)

Melonie Diaz - Fruitvale Station
Allison Janney - The Way Way Back
Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Michaela Watkins - In a World
Emma Watson - The Bling Ring

Diaz for transcending notions of passive girlfriend or harping nag, instead letting whole stories play out on her panicked face. Janney for being goddamn hilarious but also a real person with real feelings, drowned as they are in beach drinks. Nyong'o for a blistering debut, for the way she lets us see Patsy working things out in her head, then her ultimate despair at the answers she reaches; for that scene where she's making cornhusk dolls. Watkins for being perfect support for Lake Bell and for holding up her subplot with a minimum or cartoonishness or judgment. Watson for throwing all sorts of cartoonishness and judgment at her character, and thank God for it, because she was electric and hilarious.

Runners Up: Scarlett Johansson (Her); Lea Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color); Naomie Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom); Ellen Page (The East); Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave); Amy Adams (Her).

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Vision

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

Nicole Holofcener - Enough Said
Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Sebastian Lello, Gonzalo Maza - Gloria
Spike Jonze - Her
Destin Cretton - Short Term 12

Despite the futuristic vision of Her and even the "voice of a generation" Girls-ness of Frances Ha, these are five exquisitely written scripts about small-scale stories. Of unexpected love paired with neurotic doubt. Of personal and professional and existential crossroads. Of late-in-life DGAF-ness in South America. Of the limits of our idealized notions of love amid technology. Of makeshift families and the degree to which we allow people to care for/about us. If these all feel like airy concepts, they may well have been without the work these writers put into them. That Her represents the only crossover with the Oscar nominations is, frankly, insane. 

John Ridley - 12 Years a Slave
Sofia Copolla - The Bling Ring
Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix - Blue Is the Warmest Color
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope - Philomena
Scott Neustader, Michael H. Weber - The Spectacular Now

I honestly did come very close to nominating The Butler; for as many detours into odd Presidential vignettes as it took, there were some chewy ideas about Cecil acknowledging his place in the racial/political ecosystem and his ambivalence about it. Alas, it finished sixth to the skillful balancing of humor and righteousness in Philomena, the smart plotting of relationships in both The Spectacular Now and Blue Is the Warmest Color, the sly humor in The Bling Ring, and the flexed storytelling muscles in 12 Years a Slave, a script that's packed rather full of ideas a lesser writer might otherwise have found unnecessary. 

Noah Baumbach - Frances Ha
Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips
Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
Sarah Polley - Stories We Tell

I'm still so proud of Noah Baumbach for setting aside his usual acidity towards humanity in telling the story of Frances Ha. Gerwig's influence, perhaps, but ultimately it was Baumbach who was able to adapt his style to this newfound lack of bile. Greengrass and Cuaron were both able to deliver smart and thrilling films within the boundaries of classic blockbuster filmmaking, and we'd all be better off if they became the norm. Steve McQueen made a film that doesn't rely on simply emotional or cerebral appeals, knowing that there is no shortage of ways that we can, or should, approach the horror of slavery. And Sarah Polley managed to turn the potentially solopsistic Stories We Tell into something almost humble, if it wasn't also so innovative. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

LowRes 2013 Movie Awards: The Actors, Part 1

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

Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
Israel Broussard - The Bling Ring
Tequan Richmond - Blue Caprice
Nick Robinson - The Kings of Summer
Keith Stanfield - Short Term 12

There are years when I feel like the Breakthrough candidates are all but assured, if not gleaming Hollywood careers, then at least a few grasps at the brass ring ahead of them. That's not so this year. I would hope that Hollywood recognizes the talent these five come armed with. That they'll recognize Abdi's ability to wring sympathy from a character so often marginalized. That they'll see the kind of difficult ambivalence that actors like Richmond and Broussard can bring to characters who can be difficult to draw out. Or the beyond-his-years charisma hiding beneath Robinson's boyishness. Or Stanfield's ability to command a scene even while being still and vulnerable. Here's hoping all five of them get their fair share of chances. 

Kaitlyn Dever - Short Term 12
Adele Exarchopoulos - Blue Is the Warmest Color
Tracey Fairaway - Enough Said
Danai Gurira - Mother of George
Lydia Wilson - About Time

These women are somewhat further along the road than the boys. Anyone who watches Walking Dead could have told you that Gurira was a major talent, for example, even if this was a breakthrough year for her on the big screen. Likewise, Wilson is a bit more of a familiar face in Britain and Dever won a lot of fans via her recurring role on Justified. And certainly Exarchopoulos will have plenty of chances to follow up her big breakthrough, after all the attention her Cannes-winning performance brought her. I think I've got my fingers crossed for Fairaway most of all. She's got a Lauren Ambrose thing that I'd like to see get developed in more movies as good as Enough Said.

Brian Cox - Her
Polly Draper - Side Effects
Angela McEwan - Nebraska
Michael Nathanson - Side Effects
Alfre Woodard - 12 Years a Slave

[As always, credit for this category goes to Nathaniel.] Top-notch cameos were a bit harder to come by this year, but these five were some diamonds in the rough. Side Effects in particular was probably most successful in the micro-performance realm than any other. Nathanson's aggressive attorney and Draper's wary boss were the two highlights of the film. McEwan's scene is the best in Nebraska, bringing some much needed depth to the usual townie characterizations. Cox's voice-only cameo in Her delighted me to no end and reminded me that Spike Jonze must treasure Cox's performance in Adaptation as much as I do. Honestly, though, this whole category is just a platform for me to sing the praises of Alfre Woodard's perfect performance in 12 Years a Slave. That is a scene that grows richer and more compelling the more I think back on it, and it's too bad one-scene wonders aren't the thing in Best Supporting Actress anymore.


12 Years a Slave: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Adepero Oduye, Garrett Dillahunt, Bryan Batt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Michael K. Williams, Dwight Henry, Bill Camp, Christopher Berry, J.D. Evermore, Chris Chalk.

About Time: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan, Lydia Wilson, Will Merrick, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Richard Cordery, 

Frances Ha: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Zegen, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer, Charlotte d'Amboise, Patrick Heusinger, Josh Hamilton, Juliet Rylance, Britta Phillips, Maya Kazan, Cindy Katz.

The Heat: Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Michael Rappaport, Nathan Corddry, Joey McIntyre, Jamie Denbo, Jessica Chaffin, Demian Bechir, Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Bill Burr, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Kaitlin Olson, William Ambrose Kennedy, Patty Ross, Adam Ray, Chris Gethard, Michael Tucci, Ben Falcone, Zach Woods.

Short Term 12: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Keith Stanfield, Kaitlin Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Frantz Turner, Kevin Hernandez, Alex Calloway.

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.

Friday, February 22, 2013

LowRes 2012 Movie Awards: The Top 10

The 2012 LowRes Movie Awards: Video Compilation / 35 Amazing Moments / Best Trailers / Best Techs (Visual) / Best Techs (Audio) / Screenplays + Director / Supporting Actor + Actress / Lead Actor + Actress / Breakthrough + Cameo + Ensemble / Top 10 Films


Runners-Up: #15: Your Sister's Sister; #14: Bachelorette; #13: The Queen of Versailles; #12: Cloud Atlas; #11: 21 Jump Street

#10 -- The Wise Kids: It's so easy to play teenage rebellion in big fat brushstrokes. Often, that's what is called for, since the shattered boundaries and rapid-fire epiphanies of that stage of life feel so huge. But that's not always how they manifest themselves externally, and The Wise Kids is very smart about that. These huge changes happen internally to three high-school seniors that forever affect the way they'll interact with their families, their friends, and their faith. I'm a sucker for a movie that deals with breaking from faith in a way that grants everybody a voice and good intentions. I know that's not always the case, but it very often is, and I think indie culture can get really bratty about religion, refusing to look at people as people. Beyond that, though, it's just a wonderfully empathetic story of three kids figuring their shit out.

#9 -- Chronicle: A second viewing last week shot this movie back into my Top 10. It's just very special filmmaking at every level. It's probably more straightforward about being a superhero movie than most superhero movies, despite the fact that it's set within an otherwise mundane universe. Actually, "superhero" isn't quite the word. Supervillain. This is as solid a supervillain origin story as you'll see, but rather than ground the story with metatextual knowingness (our protagonists are not Wolverine-quoting comic book guys, not even the nerdy one), it's grounded in utterly relatable angst and fear. Nothing Andrew does throughout the movie doesn't make complete sense, once his abilities and his circumstances start to collide. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan are flawless, likeable and fallible at once. Do I wish the filmmakers had ditched the first-person/found-footage crutch? Sure. But I appreciated how unfussily they dealt with the logistics of it. At some point, they're just ... floating a camera. By that point, you're too enthralled to care.

#8 -- Take This Waltz: What a messy movie. What an imperfect creation. What a frustrating lead character. But nothing that stuck with me about Take This Waltz didn't blossom in retrospect. Michelle Williams's performance shed the distracting twitchiness of its early frames and became about the way she cowers from hearing herself speak her desires for the first time. Seth Rogen's ill-fitting comedic sensibility became sad and self-fulfilling. Sarah Silverman's barbed monologues blasted through the petty clichés of the "off-the-wagon drunk" trope. Luke Kirby's rickshaw pretty much vanishes from my memory like Marty McFly's siblings in a Polaroid. I'm left, instead, with a film that sticks around far past the happy ending. Or even the sad ending. I'm not sure there even are endings. I think that's the thing. I think we whirl around on that carnival ride until the music stops, but eventually, we'll be back on that ride again. The best thing I can say for Sarah Polley is that even movies that should be noble failures, like this one, end up utterly indispensable.

#7 -- The Forgiveness of Blood: Joshua Marston is just a really good guy. I know following down the cult-of-personality road with any filmmaker (or, God forbd, actor) is a dangerous game. At any moment, I'm liable to be knocked down by some didn't-tip-his-waiter story or some idiot quote about women in film. But I mean Joshua Marston is a good guy within the boundaries of his filmmaking. What that boils to in regards to The Forgiveness of Blood is that he's an inquisitive guy, a studious guy, a guy who's not going to hang a lantern on how far he's stepping out of his zone of cultural familiarity. He just wants to get it right. In this case, with this particular story of Albania blood feuds and the children left bewildered and orphaned in their wake, he gets it so right.

#6 -- Middle of Nowhere: Indecision is a hard emotion to sell. Ambivalence. Really deep, internal indecision and ambivalence. So much of the terrain in Middle of Nowhere exists within Ruby herself, somewhere in the vast expanses between her stubborn loyalty and joyful selfishness. Ava DuVernay illuminates those internal struggles through smartly drawn supporting characters (Ruby's sister, her mom, a new love) and a whole lot of confidence in Emayatzy Corinealdi's ability to play the part. That faith pays off.

#5 -- Beasts of the Southern Wild: You can leave your "poverty porn" comments at the door, I can tell you that right now. First of all, what does that even mean? Second of all, don't even bother. If there's nobility to be found within Hushpuppy's universe of the Bathtub, her covertly mythological neighbors and overtly mythological monsters that she's dreamed into being, it's the nobility afforded to anyone by virtue of being a human person. In her own words, she's just one piece of the puzzle; an indispensable piece, as they all are. Nobility like that can stay right where it is. Nothing in the universe of this movie is cute (well, fine, Quvenzhane Wallis is, but the girl can't help it), and the magic that produces things like spiky beasts and talking t-shirts and offshore mom-brothels is neither soothing nor indicative of condescension on the part of the filmmakers. Is giving these characters dignity and pride something we shouldn't be doing? I can't agree. For me, this movie goes far beyond message. It's about building worlds within our own worlds, about defining their rules and the places where those rules and the outside world meet, about a girl fighting for her place in the universe.

#4 -- Anna Karenina: You can see Joe Wright's big ideas floating above the screen throughout Anna Karenina. I'm not going to pretend you can't, and I'm not sure he would either. This film calls attention to its own conceits immediately and constantly. I think to be subtler about the "all the world's a stage" aspects of this movie would be imbuing that message with a solemnity that it doesn't need. The flourishes found all over Anna aren't there for you to stroke your chin at, any more than the Grimm imagery in Hanna was supposed to make you say, "Ah. Allusions to classical children's tales. I see." Anna's palace life is a ridiculous, soapy burlesque of costumes and horses and marriage as stock-trading, choreographed and contrived to the last. Within these constructs, watching the string play out (nobody's even pretending we don't know that you-know-who ends up under you-know-what) is thrilling good fun; Wright once again knows exactly where and how to let unreality bleed in to enhance the experience. Packed with elaborate costumes and savory performances -- Keira Knightley in particular. She and Wright are practically finishing each other's sentences, they're so in tune with one another. The chemistry between Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is disgustingly hot. Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander are improbably sweet. Matthew McFadyen and Ruth Wilson are a riot. There's something for everyone.

#3 -- Amour: I don't think I'm being all that hyperbolic when I say Amour is perfect. I'm not even being THAT effusive about it. It's more a matter of fact. Everything Amour sets out to accomplish, it accomplishes. Every emotion it's meant to evoke, every truth about aging and helplessness and death, they're all conveyed. Nothing misses its mark. The pigeon is goofy enough to undercut the obviousness of the metaphor by the perfect percentage. The nightmare with the hands is exactly as jolting as it needs to be at the exact right time. Emmanuelle Riva projects the precise level of strength vs. bewilderment vs. panic. Jean-Louis Trintignant holds up just long enough, just nobly enough, before the fear creeps in at the exact right moment. Nothing misses. Michael Haneke is content to let you just be devastated without judging you for it. Perfect. Perfection.

#2 -- Zero Dark Thirty: This was a difficult movie for me. I'm not surprised that it ended up being the subject of a contentious response ... I'm just a bit surprised as to what we ended up arguing about. I probably shouldn't have been. The torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty were unsparing, vile things; of course people would react strongly. That people took the movie for supporting torture will never not seem wrongheaded, though. My hard time was more about the general spirit of rah-rah vengeance ("the GREATEST MANHUNT IN HISTORY," which makes me wonder whether we've been keeping tally of great manhunts all this time). But the more I sat with the movie, the more I respected Kathryn Bigelow's willingness to allow the story to play out and let us answer our own questions. The film is strong -- indelible images; an ensemble full of actors capable of taking the narrative baton and running with it at a moment's notice -- enough to stand up to such scrutiny.

#1 -- Life of Pi: I was surprised enough by my reaction to Life of Pi that I didn't arrive at my full assessment of it right away. The fact that I stopped evaluating the movie in my head as I watched it left me at a bit of a loss in the immediate aftermath. It had been a while since I was so thoroughly engaged in a story, almost in a childlike way, to the point where everything else just disappeared and I was on that boat with Pi and Richard Parker. Once I was able to gather my critical faculties again, Ang Lee's achievement only improved in my estimation. Beyond the captivating adventure story (my favorite on film since Where the Wild Things Are), Lee conveyed the religious framing parable into something contemplative rather than mindlessly vague and spiritual. What some readers of the book promised would be a heavy-handed case for the necessity of God became instead an evocative case for the necessity of storytelling itself.