Wednesday, February 1, 2012

2011 Year in Review: My Personal Oscar Ballot

If I was the only Academy member, this would be who would have been nominated.
Best Picture
1.       The Tree of Life
2.       Drive
3.       Hugo
4.       Shame
5.       Moneyball
6.       The Descendants
7.       We Need to Talk About Kevin
8.       Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
9.       Martha Marcy May Marlene

Tell me you don’t prefer this line-up to the actual Oscar one? Yes, it has 4 of the same films (and a fifth was at number 10), but it also contains some darker films as well. The Academy nominated 9 feel good movies this year, but I think you need a little darkness to even things out.

1.       Terence Malick, The Tree of Life
2.       Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive
3.       Martin Scorsese, Hugo
4.       Steve McQueen, Shame
5.       Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin

This is the first time in I’m not sure how many years where my top 5 directors aren’t all from the top five films of the year – I usually don’t like to do it. But this year, I just felt that Lynne Ramsay’s directorial achievement with We Need to Talk About Kevin was greater than Alexander Payne’s or Bennett Miller’s, whose films placed ahead of Ramsay’s. Criticize me if you want, but I’m comfortable with my choice.

Best Actor

1.       Michael Fassbender, Shame
2.       Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
3.       Brad Pitt, Moneyball
4.       George Clooney, The Descendants
5.       Ryan Gosling in Drive

A sex addict, a Cold War spy, a baseball GM, a father struggling to connect with his daughters, and a stunt driver turned killer/hero. A pretty eclectic mix I’d say. Too bad the Academy overlooked the best performance of the year.

Best Actress

1.       Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
2.       Elizabeth Olson, Martha March May Marlene
3.       Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
4.       Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5.       Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Narrowing this down to five was very hard, but these were the best of the best in a very strong year. Too bad the Academy didn’t recognize the three best performances in this category this year.

Best Supporting Actor
1.       Albert Brooks, Drive
2.       Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
3.       Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
4.       John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
5.       Patton Oswalt, Young Adult

For me, no one came close to Albert Brooks for this award, not matter how good the rest of them were. Too bad the Academy saw fit to nominate none of these five.

Supporting Actor
1.       Carey Mulligan, Shame
2.       Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
3.       Carey Mulligan, Drive
4.       Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
5.       Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter

Two relative newcomers contribute 4 performances to this list, and one great veteran proves she still has the goods. Too bad the Academy didn’t recognize Mulligan or Redgrave’s brilliance, and gave it to Chastain for at best, her third best performance of the year.

Best Original Screenplay
1.       The Tree of Life – Terence Malick
2.       Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
3.       Shame – Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan
4.       Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin
5.       Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols

I know that for many, The Tree of Life was an achievement of directing and editing, but that screenplay was the most complex of the year. Midnight in Paris the most charmingly original, Shame the darkest, Martha Marcy May Marlene a complex character study, and Take Shelter a haunting portrait of paranoia. A strong year to be sure in this category, but these were the strongest.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1.       Moneyball – Steven Zallian & Aaron Sorkin
2.       The Descendants – Alexander Payne & Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
3.       Drive – Hossein Amini
4.       Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
5.       We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear

What Zallian and Sorkin did to a book about baseball stats is impressive – making a book about baseball stats into a fascinating, supremely entertaining film. Alexander Payne and company wrote a wonderfully comic, and touching, movie in The Descendants. Hossein Amini’s Drive screenplay turns a not very interesting novel into a great movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy captured LeCarre’s novel perfectly – and even added a brilliant flashback that ran through the movie. Finally, the We Need to Talk About Kevin screenplay was brilliant, as it turns a very literary novel into a very cinematic movie.

Best Documentary
1.       Into the Abyss
2.       The Interrupters
3.       Tabloid
4.       Project Nim
5.       Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Too bad the top three didn’t even get shortlisted, and the fourth, which did, didn’t get nominated. They have a new system in place to begin next year to try and fix the doc system at the Oscars – but I doubt it will do much.

Best Animated Film

1.       Rango
2.       The Adventures of Tintin
3.       Chico and Rita
4.       Winnie the Pooh
5.       Arthur Christmas

Not really a strong year at all for animation – but Rango deserves the top spot, and would in some other years as well. The Adventures of Tintin was shamefully overlooked by the Academy – whose animation branch, it seems, will never embrace its style of animation. Chico and Rita, a surprise nominee at the Academy, is a charming, adult themed animated film, with some great Cuban music. Winnie the Pooh is the simplest animated film of the year – but that just adds to its charm. And finally, Arthur Christmas may not be in the same league as other Aardman films, but it’s highly enjoyable just the same.

Best Foreign Language Film
1.       Aurora - Romania
2.       Poetry – South Korea
3.       A Separation - Iran
4.       13 Assassins - Japan
5.       Café de Flore – Canada

Many probably think me insane for picking the three hour, slow moving Romanian film Aurora as the best Foreign Language film of the year, but I don’t care – it was. The Korean Poetry was heartbreaking. A Separation – the best of the actual nominees – a complex moral puzzle. 13 Assassins pure action filmmaking. And Café de Flore a mind bender I’m still trying to my head around.

Best Cinematography
1.       The Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki
2.       Drive – Newton Thomas Siegel
3.       Hugo – Robert Richardson
4.       Melancholia – Manuel Alberto Claro
5.       Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Hoyte Van Hoytema

I quite easily could have added five more nominees here – Martha Marcy May Marlene, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Artist – and still have overlooked some great work, in what was an amazingly strong year for this category. Still, no matter how many memorable shorts there were in Drive, or how great Robert Richardson’s work on Hugo was, or the brilliantly stylized work in Melancholia or the subtle complexity of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy was, Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Tree of Life is quite clearly the best work this category has seen in years.

1.       The Tree of Life
2.       Drive
3.       Hugo
4.       We Need to Talk About Kevin
5.       The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Malick’s editors deserve this award simply for spending years of their lives doing it - just kidding of course – the work itself is amazing and complex. Drive’s work set the tone in the action sequences, but also allows things to slow right down when needed. Thelma Schoonmaker once again proves with Hugo why she’s the best in the business. The work on We Need to Talk About Kevin is precise and brilliant. And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo shows how to edit a thriller to maximum effect.


1.       The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
2.       The Artist - Ludovic Bource
3.       Drive – Cliff Martinez
4.       Hugo – Howard Shore
5.       Moneyball – Mychael Danna

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are reinventing what a movie score can do, and following their win for The Social Network, deserve another one for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the fact that they didn’t even get nominated strikes me as criminal as any other snub on Oscar morning. Yes, Ludovic Bource’s work includes part of the Vertigo score, but most of it is all his, and all brilliant homage to the scores of yesteryear. Cliff Martinez’s great work may have been deemed “ineglible” by the idiots in the Academy, but it’s still vital to Drive. Howard Shore did more than one great score this year (A Dangerous Method could have easily made this list as well), but his Hugo score ranks among his best. And finally, Mychael Danna’s work in Moneyball is subtle, but brilliant and memorable.


1.       The Muppets – Pictures in My Head
2.       The Muppets – Man or Muppet

The Academy only saw fit to nominate two songs this year, and I take this as a good sign for those of us who feel this category really doesn’t need to be around any longer. Both of my nominees come from The Muppets – and I prefer the more emotional one done my Kermit.

Art Direction

1.       Hugo
2.       The Tree of Life
3.       Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4.       The Artist
5.       Midnight in Paris

To this day, I cannot believe that the fact that Scorsese and company built New York for Gangs of New York didn’t win them this Oscar, no matter what one thought of the film itself. Their Paris should win it this time. The work on The Tree of Life is stunning. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stays just this side of the over the top in its depiction of the 1970s – especially its wallpaper. The Artist has a fine, phony art direction, that brings to mind silent films – just like it should. And finally, all the work done Midnight in Paris is quietly wonderful.

Costume Design
1.       Hugo
2.       Midnight in Paris
3.       The Artist
4.       The Tree of Life
5.       Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Hugo’s costumes are meticulous and wonderful – straddling the line between period and fantasy. The Midnight in Paris costumes, both contemporary and period, are fine. The work in The Artist effortlessly brings to life silent film. The Tree of Life is quieter period work, but no less fine. And you can tell the personalities of every one of the spies in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by the difference in their suits.


1.       J. Edgar
2.       Hugo
3.       Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

I’ll admit the work done on Armie Hamer wasn’t the best in J. Edgar, but the work done on DiCaprio puts most old age makeup to shame, so it gets my vote. A lot of work done in Hugo, and all of it quite good. Finally, I don’t think I’ve given enough love to the Harry Potter films over the years, and the work in them was always stellar, so let’s give it third spot.

Sound Mixing

1.       We Need to Talk About Kevin
2.       The Tree of Life
3.       Drive
4.       Hugo
5.       Take Shelter

The sound design of We Need to Talk About Kevin is absolutely stunning – and the type of work that never gets recognized. Normally, The Tree of Life would win this hands down, because its work is brilliant as well. Drive complex mix of sounds is not noticeable – as it should be. Hugo’s work is the grand stuff that wins awards – and should. And finally, sound plays a key role in getting us in the head of the paranoid lead character in Take Shelter.

Sound Effects Editing
1.       Hugo
2.       The Tree of Life
3.       Drive
4.       Rise of the Planet of the Apes
5.       Super 8

The sounds of the train station makes this Hugo’s. Not quite as much sound effects editing in The Tree of Life, but what there is, is wonderful. Drive’s action sequences make this one a no-brainer. And two summer blockbusters with terrific work deserve attention – Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Super 8.

Visual Effects
1.       The Tree of Life
2.       Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3.       Hugo
4.       Harry Potter and the Deahtly Hallows Part II
5.       Super 8

Legendary visual effects supervisor Douglas Turnball (2001, Blade Runner) proves with The Tree of Life that old school effects can still be the best one. Rise of the Planet of the Apes represents another huge leap forward in motion capture, and integration of digital characters with live action. Hugo’s work is subtle sometimes, but always spot on. Harry Potter’s effects are still impressive after all these year. And yes, Super 8 did have great effects – too bad the Academy missed them.

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