Thursday, February 17, 2011

2010: The Best Movies of the Year: Personal Oscar Ballot

Best Picture
1. The Social Network
2. Blue Valentine
3. Black Swan
4. Carlos
5. Shutter Island
6. Toy Story 3
7. Inception
8. True Grit
9. Animal Kingdom
10. Another Year

Why? I have already explained why, so I won’t go into many more details here. What I will say is that while I think this is as strong of a list as I have had in recent years, I do wish there was a little more variety to the films – no real comedies made it this year, and only three films were made outside of America. I do think there is a nice mixture of genres here though.

1. David Fincher, The Social Network
2. Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
3. Olivier Assayas, Carlos
4. Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island
5. Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine

Why? I am usually quite boring when it comes to my director nominees – picking the filmmakers behind the 5 best films of the year, and this year is no exception. David Fincher deserves to win the Oscar for several reason – his career for one thing – but mainly because he did make the best film of the year, and found the perfect visual strategy for the film. It may not be his most impressive visual accomplishment, but I think good director is about finding the perfect style that suits the material – and Fincher does that here. In case you’re wondering why I moved Derek Cianfrance to the number 5 spot, when his film is at number 2, it’s simple – I feel like Black Swan, Carlos and Shutter Island are more “director” accomplishments, whereas Blue Valentine is a triumph of writing and acting – although Cianfrance deserves a lot of credit for directing as well.

Best Actor
1. Jessie Eisenberg, The Social Network
2. Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
3. Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island
4. Edgar Ramriez, Carlos
5. Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Best Actress
1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
3. Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
4. Kim Hye-ja, Mother
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Best Supporting Actor
1. Matt Damon in True Grit
2. Ben Mendohlson, Animal Kingdom
3. Christian Bale, The Fighter
4. Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
5. Justin Timberlake, The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress
1. Lesley Manville, Another Year
2. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
3. Michelle Williams, Shutter Island
4. Mila Kunis, Black Swan
5. Amy Adams, The Fighter

Why? I commented individually on the performances already, so I won’t say much here. 9 of the 20 performances that I listed got nominated for Oscars with a high of three for supporting actress (that’s including Hailee Steinfeld who they nominated in the wrong category) and a low of 1 for supporting actor. I do wish the Academy had noticed the great work by Manville, Damon and Gosling in particular, because they were from films that were nominated elsewhere, but for whatever reason they didn’t. Oh well.

Best Original Screenplay
1. Blue Valentine - Derek Cianfrance & Joey Curtis & Cami Delavigne
2. Inception - Christopher Nolan
3. Black Swan - Mark Heyman & Andres Heinz & John McLaughlin.
4. Animal Kingdom - David Michod
5. Another Year - Mike Leigh

Why? Blue Valentine gets my vote for the best of the year, because really it all began at the writing stage for this emotionally devastating film – yes Gosling and Williams bring it to life, but Cianfrance and company delivered a great, detailed script. Inception is my number 2, even though the dialogue is a little rote in places, because of the sheer ambition and complexity to it. Black Swan is number three – the screenwriters do a great job at detailing Sayers breakdown, but the film is more of a triumph for Portman and Aronofsky – this screenplay easily could have flown off the rails. The work for Animal Kingdom and Another Year does an excellent job at keeping large casts filtering through wonderfully well.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
2. Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt
3. Shutter Island - Laeta Kalogridis
4. True Grit - Joel & Ethan Coen
5. Incendies - Denis Villeneuve

Why? Was there a more quotable movie than The Social Network this year? A more complex one or one that defined its area and its character so well? I don’t think so. The work on Toy Story 3 expanded the characters in ways I didn’t think possible for a movie about talking toys. The work on Shutter Island is act on deception. True Grit may use a lot of the dialogue for Portis’ novel, but finds the perfect tone for it. And finally, Incendies should be the model for all future play adaptations - making the story so cinematic that if you didn’t know it was a play before, you’d never have a clue.

Best Documentary
1. Inside Job
2. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
3. Exit Through the Giftshop
4. Public Speaking
5. The Tillman Story

Why? Again, I’ve detailed why already for each of these five films – but if you insist I remove Public Speaking because it’s a TV film, then add in Last Train Home. And if you only want films that made the Oscar shortlist of 15 films, put in Restrepo.

Best Animated Film
1. Toy Story 3
2. The Illusionist
3. How to Train Your Dragon

Why? Once again, Pixar shows the rest of the world how to make a truly great animated film - it isn’t just the care they show with the visuals, which are the most remarkable of the year, but the time they put into writing the movie as well. Toy Story 3 is a masterpiece of storytelling. Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist is a pure joy - a visual experience in the style of the great Jacques Tati - it is a joy to see a traditionally animated film in a world where that has all but been abandoned. Finally, How to Train Your Dragon maybe the best of the Dreamworks animated film - a thrilling, funny, visually rich film that works on all levels. All in all, this was an excellent year for animated film.

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Incendies - Canada
2. Mother - Korea
3. I Am Love - Italy
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Sweden
5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Thailand

Why? Call be biased if you want, but the best films not in English I saw this year was from Canada - Incendies is simply brilliant. Korea continues to be one of the best film industries in the world right now with the wonderful Mother. Italy’s I Am Love is a film that ties together its cinematic and political past, with its future. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the best of the Millennium trilogy, which stands as one of the best thrillers of the year. And finally, you cannot argue with the great Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, with its great, art film quality.

Best Cinematography
1. True Grit - Roger Deakins
2. Black Swan - Matthew Libatique
3. Shutter Island - Robert Richardson
4. Inception - Wally Pfister
5. The Social Network – Jeff Cronenweth

Why? Any of my top three would be a fine choice for a victor this year. I am going with Deakins, because his work on True Grit was breathtaking and gorgeous, and yet still managed to capture the gritty, dark, bloody, violence of the film – give this legendary DP an Oscar already! Matthew Libatique’s work on Black Swan is pretty much Deakins equal – dark and sensual, the camera moves along effortlessly. I love Robert Richardson’s work on Shutter Island as well, capturing the unreality of the island, the mental hospital and the grounds with ease, and helping to establish the dark tone of the film. As for the other two, Wally Pfister does amazing work for Christopher Nolan – always has – and in Inception his work is more complex than ever before, if perhaps a little less striking than it was in The Dark Knight, Batman Begins or The Prestige. And while Jeff Cronenweth’s work on The Social Network is far from flashy, he accomplishes an amazing feat – moving his camera effortlessly, and making The Social Network a visually complex film, even though it takes place almost entirely in small, cramped rooms.

1. Shutter Island – Thelma Schoonmaker
2. The Social Network – Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall
3. Black Swan – Andrew Weisblum
4. Carlos – Luc Barnier & Marion Monnier
5. Blue Valentine – Jim Helton & Ron Pantane

Why? To me, Thelma Schoonmaker, who already has three Oscars at home for her work with Martin Scorsese, did the best editing job of the year with Shutter Island – creating that ominous atmosphere, and that sense of unease through the entire film. It’s great work. The Social Network also had a near perfect editing job, matching the tone and at times the speed of Sorkin’s screenplay. Black Swan’s work is quite extraordinary as well. The work on Carlos is all important, because it helps to keep the film, even at five and half hours, moving. And finally, cutting back and forth between the two storylines in Blue Valentine needed excellent work – and the editors delivered. Cannot believe I had no room for Inception or True Grit – it just shows how great the work was this year.

1. The Social Network - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
2. Never Let Me Go - Rachel Portman
3. Inception - Hans Zimmer
4. The Ghost Writer - Alexandre Desplat
5. I Am Love - John Adams

Why? The work done by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network truly is the most original, brilliant and memorable of any film music this year. The mournful score to Never Let Me Go, is the best work of Rachel Portman’s career and it somewhat saddens me that her tremendous work is mainly being ignored this season. Hans Zimmer does big action scores as well as anyone right now, and his work on Inception rivals his best work. Alexandre Desplat was nominated for The King’s Speech, but it is his work on The Ghost Writer, which helps to up the paranoid feel to the film, that I really admired. And finally, I think John Adams, soaring, sweeping, romantic score for the epic love story I Am Love is brilliant, and deserves more attention.

1. Country Strong - Coming Home
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Threshold
3. Life During Wartime – Life During Wartime
4. Despicable Me – Despicable Me
5. Toy Story 3 - We Belong Together

Why? This is a fairly useless category – always really has been. This year, I went through the list of potential nominees, and nothing jumped out at me like last year’s The Weary Kind from Crazy Heart or The Wrestler from The Wrestler the year before that. The song Coming Home is I think the best of the bunch from Country Strong – a subpar Crazy Heart lite if you will, and is perhaps the most memorable song of the year. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World had many good songs, but Threshold, written by Beck was the best of the bunch. Todd Solondz wrote the title song from his movie himself, and while it is not quite as catchy as his song for Happiness, it still better than most of the other songs this year. The final three come from a trio of animated films – with the catchy, funky Despicable Me being the best of the lot. We Belong Together from Toy Story 3 sounds much like all of Randy Newman’s songs, but it is effective. Overall, I can’t say I really care that much about this category ever – and even less this year.

Art Direction
1. Inception
2. Shutter Island
3. Black Swan
4. I Am Love
5. True Grit

Why? The work on Inception truly is phenomenal, and what’s more extremely varied, since they have to create separate environments for each dream level they go to, so it easily gets my vote here. The work on Shutter Island, creating that dark and dreary mental hospital is great as well. Black Swan has very specific work – both as sets for the ballet itself, as well as “the real world”. I Am Love has the most elaborate, and brilliant, old school art direction of the year. And finally, the Coen brothers once again helped to create masterful visual environments for all their films.

Costume Design
1. Black Swan
2. I Am Love
3. The Tempest
4. Shutter Island
5. True Grit

Why? The costume design for Black Swan truly is the best of the year – and not just because of the great ballet costume that become prevalent in the last act – but because of smart costume choices for the entire movie. The work on I Am Love is sumptuous and beautiful throughout. The very smart work on Julie Taymor’s underrated The Tempest is also great – and truly reflects the characters, and is not just work for its own sake. The period detail on display in Shutter Island is superb. And finally, the work on True Grit is wonderful as well – from Steinfeld’s modest teenage garb, to Damon’s impeccably dressed man to Bridges pile of dirty laundry look.

1. Barney’s Version
2. Black Swan
3. Shutter Island

Why? I tend to shy away from the movies that will be nominated in this category, which typically reward MOST make-up work, rather than work that is more subtle, yet suitable to the movie at hand. In this case, I think that the work done on Barney’s Version truly does deserve this Oscar - I have seen so many bad aging make-up effects that when I see it done right, it is cause to celebrate. After that I think the work on Black Swan is truly exceptional and inspired, and that the work on Shutter Island, making everyone dirty, grimy and in some cases downright insane works wonders.

Sound Mixing
1. Black Swan
2. Shutter Island
3. Inception
4. Carlos
5. The Social Network

Why? The overall sound design work on Black Swan is truly wonderful – and Shutter Island’s as well – both with the same purpose – increasing the intense creepiness of the entire movie. Inception is more of a typical nominee in this category – loud – but it really is quite a technical feat. The work on could not have been harder, as there are a lot of distinct elements at play in each scene. And finally The Social Network’s work is subtlety brilliant – bringing to mind something I heard once about this category – the best work are the ones you don’t notice. But listen to The Social Network, and you’ll understand why it’s here.

Sound Effects Editing
1. Inception
2. Shutter Island
3. Black Swan
4. Toy Story 3
5. True Grit

Why? The work on Inception truly is extraordinary – coming up with interesting, complex sounds all throughout its running time. Again, Shutter Island and Black Swan do similar things to help up the suspense and creepiness. The geniuses behind the sound at Pixar pretty much always deserve a nomination. And finally, True Grit’s work is inspured.

Visual Effects
1. Inception
2. Tron: Legacy
3. Monsters
4. Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part I
5. Enter the Void

Why? I picked Inception here, because its mixture of practical visual effects and CGI made for the most seamless blend of unreality there was this year. TRON: Legacy’s work is more in your face in every scene, but it is the only live action movie this year where the 3-D actually worked, so it gets major props for that. The work on Monsters was done by one man on his computer for under $25,000 – and they could not be more appropriate for the film itself. Harry Potter’s visual are always top notch. And finally, let’s give some props to Gaspar Noe for his strange, visual effects work on Enter the Void – a film I’m still not sure if I loved or hated, but had to admit the visual are trippy in the best sense of the word.

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