Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009 in Year: My Personal Oscar Ballott (If I had One)

If they gave me as Oscar ballot (and really they should, since according to many reports, most Academy members don't even completely fill theirs out - proving that many Academy either don't watch a lot of movies, or just plain don't like movies), this is what it would look like.

Best Picture
1. Inglorious Basterds
2. A Serious Man
3. The White Ribbon
4. Where the Wild Things Are
5. The Hurt Locker
6. Up
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
8. Antichrist
9. District 9
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans

I’ve said my piece about these films already, but what I will say is that I love how diverse these films were. A extremely violent, entertaining WWII alternate historical farce, an hilarious exploration of religion and morals, a black and white German study on the roots of terrorism, an adaptation of a beloved children’s book that is really an exploration of a child’s mind, a jittery and intense war movie, a heart warming animated adventure, an auteur taking animation to a new place, a Danish master’s exploration of his depression, a supremely entertaining sci-fi epic and a German nut job teaming up with an American nut job and going to places they’ve never been before. I’ve said all year that in order the Academy’s experiment with 10 nominees to gain traction, they need to reach beyond their normal boundaries to find nominees – if they picked my 10, they certainly would be doing that.

1. Quentin Tarantino, Inglorious Basterds
2. Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man
3. Michael Haneke, The White Ribbon
4. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
5. Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are

All five of these directors (well six, if you count the Coens twice) pushed themselves beyond their normal limits this year. I think that Tarantino, Bigelow and Jonze did the best work of their career this year, and Haneke and the Coens come very close to matching their best efforts.

Best Actor
1. Nicolas Cage, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans
2. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man
3. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
4. George Clooney, Up in the Air
5. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Again, I like how varied these nominees are. Cage goes wildly over the top in my number one choice, but Stuhlbarg is remarkably restrained and subtle in the number two position. Renner finally breaks through and delivers a tremendous performance that is at its best when he isn’t saying a word. Clooney is in full movie star mode and delivers the finest performance of his career. Finally, Bridges plays off his own image somewhat, but still delves deeper than he has in a while. Five great actors in five great performances.

Best Actress
1. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist
2. Cary Mulligan, An Education
3. Tilda Swinton, Julia
4. Ok-vin Kim, Thirst
5. Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell

Other than Mulligan, I expect my list to look completely different from the Oscar list this year. It’s too bad that Gainsbourg’s fearless performance is going to be overlooked, just as it’s a shame that no one even bothered to watch the great work by Swinton in Julia (she was great in her Oscar winning role in Michael Clayton, but it pales by comparison to this one). Ok-vin Kim has genre bias AND foreign basis working against her, not to mention that they like gorgeous women to look ugly to win Oscars. Finally, I find it sad that just because Lohman is in a horror film, that everyone overlooked just how brilliant she was in it. Oh well, go Carey for the Oscar!

Best Supporting Actor
1. Christophe Waltz in Inglorious Basterds
2. Peter Capaldi, In the Loop
3. Fred Melamed, A Serious Man
4. Woody Harrellson, The Messenger
5. Christian McKay, Me & Orson Welles

What strikes me most about this line-up is how four of my nominees dominate their respective movies. Waltz’s affable, evil Nazi is impossible to look away from every time he’s on screen – and the same could be said for Capaldi’s spin doctor and McKay’s Orson Welles. Woody Harrellson has far less screen time in The Messenger than Ben Foster, but I think he says a hell of a lot more – he cannot bare the silence. Only Melamed has a traditional “character” role in his film – a few brilliant scenes that refuse to leave your memory.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds
2. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
3. Mo’Nique, Precious
4. Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
5. Samantha Morton, The Messenger

With the exception of Mo’Nique, who gets a spot on this list for her swirling dervish of a performance as a monster, the other four nominees here all strike me as being remarkable sexual – yet remarkably different from each other this year. Laurent is a flirt and tease, when she needs to be, and when she gets dressed up to kill some Nazis, she is a knock out. Kendrick is a more wholesome, innocent and na├»ve young woman, but one who we sense is repressing more than she shows. Cotillard is overtly sexually attracted to Johnny Depp’s Dillinger, and those marvelous eyes dare you look away. And finally, Samantha Morton is a woman rediscovering her sexuality, and feeling guilty about it. Really a great line-up.

Best Original Screenplay
1. Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
2. A Serious Man – Joel & Ethan Coen
3. The White Ribbon – Michael Haneke
4. Up – Bob Peterson
5. The Hurt Lockers – Mark Boal

Tarantino wins this won for me for the sheer audacity of the screenplay, and the way he wrties dialogue – each and every “chapter” is perfectly constructed, and that started here. The Coen’s leave their normal icy detachment from their characters behind them, and truly delve deep in the moral underpinnings of the world they created. Great work. The White Ribbon feels like it is based on a dense, classic novel, but that is all Haneke. Up keeps things moving at a remarkable pace, and creates some of the most lovable characters of the year. Finally, even if The Hurt Locker is mainly Bigelow’s triumph, Boal’s screenplay is still incisive, honest and wonderfully structured.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Where the Wild Things Are – Spike Jonze & David Eggars
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach
3. In the Loop – Armando Ianucci et. al
4. Up in the Air – Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner
5. District 9 – Neil Bloomkamp & Terri Thatchell

Where the Wild Things Are gets my vote because it is a perfect example of a screenplay that is faithful to the source material, yet still molds the story and its themes to the themes important by the director. Anyone familiar with the Maurice Sedak book will see it in the movie, but Jonze and Eggars deepen it. Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach do the same thing with Rolad Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, deepening it, and making it suit Anderson’s very particular style. As I have never seen the BBC series, The Thick of It, I have no idea how faithful the script for In the Loop is, but with writing that witty, profane and sharp, I don’t care. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner do a great job turning Walter Kirn’s cynical novel into a movie - jettisoning everything that wouldn’t work on screen, and making the relationships are deeper and more meaningful. Finally, Blomkamp and Thatchell do a great job adapting their own great short film, into a feature.

Best Documentary
1. The Cove
2. Collapse
3. Tyson
4. Burma VJ
5. Food Inc.

I’ll be a top ten list for documentaries of 2009 next week, so I’ll keep this brief. The Cove is the best of a weak group of docs this year - a thrilling, intense movie about what goes in a remote cove in Japan - mainly a slaughter of dolphins. The film is heartbreaking. Chris Smith’s Collapse focusing on one man and his doom saying - convinced that the whole system is going to crash, so we better prepare. He seems less nutty than the doomsayers on Fox News, and the film is fascinating, even if like me, you’re not convinced. James Toback’s Tyson is a fascinating interview with Mike Tyson. You may come out hating him just as much as as before, but this is a one time chance to hear his version of events. Burma VJ is a fascinating documentary about what the videographers went through in 2007 to document the historic protests and then smuggling the footage out so the world can see what is happening. Food, Inc. is the type of movie that if you know about the issue going in - the corporatization of agriculture - you probably won’t learn much, but it is still a fascinating little film.

Best Animated Film
1. Up
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. Coraline
4. The Princess and the Frog
5. Ponyo

Again, a full top ten list for animated films is coming, but for now, let’s have a quick recap. Up is one of Pixar’s best movies, a heartfelt, exciting adventure, amazingly well animated and proves that Pixar is still the best at animation. Wes Anderson finally got to make the film he wanted to make in Fantastic Mr. Fox, a wonderfully animated “family” film. Henry Selick made his best film since Nightmare Before Christmas with the creepy, delightful Coraline. The Princess and the Frog proves that Disney should continue to make classically animated film. Finally, although it is one of his weaker efforts, Hayao Miyzaki’s Ponyo is still wonderful.

Best Foreign Language Film
1. The White Ribbon - Germany
2. Tokyo Sonata - Japan
3. Police, Adjective - Romania
4. Il Divo - Italy
5. The Headless Woman - Argentina

Yes, there will be a top ten list for these as well. And for the record, A Prophet should get nominated for the award, as it is a masterpiece, but since it won’t be released until 2010 here, I didn’t count it. The film that should win though is Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, a great, black and white study on the roots of terrorism. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is as timely and brilliant as anything else released this year. Romania’s Police Adjective is a brilliant black comedy, and a study on the country as whole that ends, I kid you not, with a thrilling scene involving reading out of the dictionary. The Italian film Il Divo redefines the political biopic for the modern, corrupt age. Finally, from Argentina, comes The Headless Woman a complex examination of a male oriented society and how they treat women. Five great films.

Best Cinematography
1. The White Ribbon – Christian Berger
2. Antichrist – Anthony Dod Mantle
3. Inglorious Basterds – Robert Richardson
4. A Serious Man - Roger Deakins
5. The Hurt Locker – Barry Ackroyd

There were a lot of great looking films this year. Perhaps because I am a sucker for black and white films, I found Christian Berger’s work on The White Ribbon to be the best - so many memorable shots and images there (I particularly love the sequence when the little boy comes downstairs and wanders around in the dark before discovering something he shouldn’t). It’s a good thing that Anthony Dod Mantle won an Oscar last year for Slumdog Millionaire, because even though his work on Antichrist is astonishing (the opening sex sequence alone is outstanding, not to mention the rest which is full of striking imagery) it isn’t coming close to the Oscar this year. Robert Richardson is one of the great DP’s in cinema history, and he gives Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds five different chapters’ distinct looks and feels, and lots of great images (none better then the closing fire with its camera caressing the gorgeous Melanie Laurent. Roger Deakins continues to be the Coen’s MVP behind the camera, giving A Serious Man one of the best looks of the year (that opening sequence is masterful, but then again, so is everything else). Finally Barry Ackroyd helped to build the suspense and paranoia in The Hurt Locker - the jittery camera work being one of the highlights of the film.

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. District 9
4. A Serious Man
5. Where the Wild Things Are

The editing of The Hurt Locker is one of the key ingredients to the success of the movie - rapidly cutting in the action sequences, but slowing it down when necessarily. It is easily the best of the year. The editing of Inglorious Basterds was also excellent - keeping the story moving at a breakneck pace for 2 and half hours. The work in District 9 is brilliant - the documentary style in the first half is brilliantly paced, and the action sequences at the end move at a wonderful fast, intense pace. The Coens cut together their A Serious Man in a style that draws us in deeper and deeper into their moral puzzle. And finally, the editing of Where the Wild Things Are is key to getting inside Max’s headspace. Great work by all.

1. Up – Michael Giacchino
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Alexandre Desplat
3. Where the Wild Things Are – Carter Burwell & Karen O
4. A Serious Man – Carter Burwell
5. Avatar –James Horner

Michael Giacchino’s Score for Up was far and away the best movie music written this year. It is alternately sad and thrilling, and soars as to new heights for this great composer. Alexandre Desplat has become perhaps my favorite movie composer right now - and his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox is wonderfully goofy, funny and at points rather tender. I know that the Oscar disqualified the work of Carter Burwell and Karen O on Where the Wild Things Are (idiots), but there were few scores as memorable, and as pivotal to setting the mood, as this was. Speaking of Burwell, isn’t it about time he got recognized for his work with the Coens? His score for A Serious Man subtlety underlines the emotions in the movie without ever becoming overbearing. Finally, you have to admit that when it comes to blockbuster action scores, now that John Williams has effectively retired, that no one is better than James Horner. His work on Avatar is slowly becoming iconic - and deserves to be.

1. Crazy Heart - The Weary Kind
2. Nine - Take it All
3. Where the Wild Things Are - Hideaway
4. Where the Wild Things Are – All is Love
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Petey’s Song

Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnett’s The Weary King is easily the best song of the year - sad, touching, catchy sung with soul and pain and completely integral to the movie itself. Absolutely brilliant. Marion Cottilard’s singing of Take It All from Nine makes it truly memorable - a burlesque inspired number full of pain and passion - the best song in the film. I loved the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and two of the songs that lead singer Karen O wrote for Where the Wild Things Are were brilliant - Hideaway was soft, slow and soulful, whereas All is Love is a creepy kid’s song brilliantly written and performed. Finally, one of my favorite moments in Fantastic Mr. Fox was Jarvis Cocker’s Petey singing his strange song about the three bad farmers, which just comes out as a brilliant stream of consciousness. If it gets nominated for an Oscar, they need to invite Michael Gambon on stage to flick a cigarette at Cocker and say “That’s just bad writing”.

Art Direction
1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. A Serious Man
4. District 9
5. Public Enemies

The art direction of Inglorious Basterds is clearly the best of the year. Each setting for the five chapters is brilliantly well realized - the dilapidated cottage, the room with Churchill, the underground bar and of course that movie theater at the end. Truly great. Just because Fantastic Mr. Fox was animated, doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t great. The tree, the underground layer, the sewers, all of it is as brilliantly well realized as anything Anderson has done. The Coens are always meticulous with their art direction, and the work on A Serious Man does a wonderful job of recreating 1967 Minnesota. District 9 created a South Africa that was both a realistic recreation of the shanty towns of old, and a great science fiction setting. Finally, the work on Public Enemies places us right back in depression era America - the banks, the jails, everything just about perfect.

Costume Design
1. Where the Wild Things Are
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Public Enemies
4. A Serious Man
5. Nine

The work on Where the Wild Things Are is brilliant - the costumes of the Wild Things themselves are the reason this is the best work of the year, but the costumes for Max and the rest of the “humans” is also exceptional. Inglorious Basterds contains great work - Nazi uniforms, glamorous movie stars and the rest, all pretty much perfect. Public Enemies is all dapper suits and ties for the men, and the gorgeous dresses for Cottilard are all old school Hollywood glamour. A Serious Man is less glamorous then the other nominees, but helps to set the mood perfect for their period film. Finally, all those outfits for the beautiful women in Nine are sexy, flowing and wondrous. Great work on a film that was slightly disappointing.

Sound Mixing
1. District 9
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Avatar
4. Inglorious Basterds
5. The Lovely Bones

The sound design on District 9 was one the best things about it – from the opening chaos of the scenes where they try to move the aliens out, to the final action sequences, the entire movie is a marvel of sounds. The Hurt Locker uses the entire arsenal of sound tricks to help elevate the suspense to great levels. Avatar is a wonder of sounds all around you – a reminder that the film is a massive achievement in more than just special effects. The sound on Inglorious Basterds, from all those conversations to the shooting to the music, to that ever tapping bat of Eli Roth’s is wonderful. And finally, the sound work on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is haunting on a number of levels – that creaky floorboard alone was brilliant.

Sound Editing
1. District 9
2. Avatar
3. The Hurt Locker
4. Up
5. Star Trek

All of that alien technology is District 9 gives the sound editors many chances to create new and exciting sounds. Avatar offers similar opportunities, throwing in some strange animals. The Hurt Locker’s bombs and gun shots, along with everything else, are crucial to their success. The work on Up is less complex than on previous Pixar movies like Wall-E, but no less brilliant. Finally, the work on Star Trek is wonderful.

1. District 9
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Star Trek

Sharlto Copley gets the most benefit of the makeup, as he slowly turns from human to alien – yes some of it was CGI, but the makeup work was also great. Inglorious Basterds uses makeup in every scene, to memorable effect – those swastikas craved into the heads of Nazis only a tip of the iceberg. Finally, Star Trek continues to use makeup to recreate many of your favorite characters of old.

Visual Effects
1. Avatar
2. District 9
3. Where the Wild Things Are

There really is no contents here, as Avatar’s visual effects raise the bar for every film that is going to come after it. District 9 had some more realistic special effects that I admired a great deal as well. And finally, Where the Wild Things Are would not be nearly as good if the CGI had not been able to make the faces of the Wild Things as expressive as they are.

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