Thursday, February 18, 2010

Best of 2009, Part 4: Tech Awards

Last installment, kids. Today, I'll briefly run down my favorite technical achievements for the year. I suppose I ought to take a moment to define the categories:
Art Direction: Production design: creating, designing, and building the world in which the movie takes place. Generally associated with set-building, but also stretches to conceptual aspects
Costume Design: ...The design of the costumes.
Visual Effects: Special Effects. CGI, models, etc.
Film Editing: Editing the movie: cutting in some places, lengthening in others. Generally responsible for the rhythm of a film, as well as keeping continuity and making sense of the plot.
Cinematography: In layman's terms, how pretty the movie is. Screen composition, lighting, camera techniques, etc.
Original Score: Music composed for the film itself.
Sound Mixing: Blending the four film sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, music) to create a coherent overall mix.
Sound Effects Editing: creating the sounds heard in the film.
Original Song: Songs written for the film.

Here we go!

Art Direction
5. Star Trek-wonderfully imaginative sci-fi worlds; Futuristic San Fransisco, Vulcan, plus the new Romulan ships and technology.
4. Inglourious Basterds-memorable, iconic locations. The basement tavern, the french restaurant, the farmhouse in the beginning, and, of course, that beautiful theater that gets absolutely trashed.
3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince-this series always looks great. In this installment, the London of Voldemort's youth is realized, as are the haunts of his adult life. England has never looked so creepy and surreal.
2. A Single Man-Near-perfect, immaculate designs. Every set, from George's apartment to the seaside bar to the surgically sterile bank, look like pages from a designer catalogue.
1. Avatar-Who else was going to be here? A whole new world, drawn from scratch, as well as futuristic military technology. Everything looks fantastic and plausible.

Honorable Mention: Industrial London looks both intimidating and inviting in Sherlock Holmes.

Costume Design
5. An Education-nice balance of 40s working-class British wear and more extravagant period style. The costumes are beautiful and character-specific.

4. A Single Man-Much like the sets, all the duds seem like they're torn out of a fashion magazine from the early 60s.

3. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus-the movie sucked, but the costumes were wickedly inventive. The players on Doctor Parnassus's stage look unlike anything found in the 'real world.'

2. Inglourious Basterds-the leaders of the Third Reich, as well as the well-to-dos of German Expressionist Cinema, are decked out in their best in this film, whose costumes manage to look both accurate to their period and slightly anachronistic.

1. Bright Star-Janet Patterson's designs for this movie are playfully silly in their coloring and complexity. I doubt anyone in the Victorian Era looked quite like this, but I wish they did.

Honorable Mention: the only aspect of quality in Amelia

Visual Effects
3. Star Trek-Starships, world implosions, and bizarre aliens; all look completely real.

2. District 9-The prawns and their mothership are seamlessly integrated into the Johannesburg slums.

1. Avatar-Do I really need to explain this? Photo-realistic CGI coupled with huge advancements in motion capture=cinematic gold.

Honorable Mention: the futuristic, pissed-off cyborgs from Terminator Salvation

3. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus-Making Christopher Plummer look 700 years old can't have been easy. Extra points for the ridiculous theater makeup the players wear.

2. The Road-Everyone looks so...dirty. And unhealthy. You'd think they kept Viggo and friends out in the wilderness without food for three years.

1. Star Trek-realistic aliens, plus some tinkering to make new actors look like old, familiar ones. Seriously, did Zachary Quinto look like Leonard Nimoy or what?

Honorable Mention: making lead actor Toni Servillo look old and creepy in Il Divo.

Film Editing
5. Joan Sobel-A Single Man-tightly edited, with skillful juxtapositions of fantasy and reality, flashback and present.

4. Dana E. Glauberman-Up in the Air-minimalistic, smart cuts. This film doesn't have an ounce of fat.

3. Sally Menke-Inglourious Basterds-skillfully draws all the plot-lines together, while summoning tension out of thin air.

2. James Cameron, John Refoua, and Stephen E. Rivkin-Avatar-manage to make sense of hundreds of hours of raw footage, create intense battle sequences, and edit around all the effects. Not an easy job.

1. Chris Innis and Bob Murawski-The Hurt Locker-this movie is so tightly wound it hurts. They create an unmistakable film rhythm. Plus, they had to sift through 400 hours of footage, because this film was shot with the 'Super 16' style, aka with four cameras simultaneously. They distilled all that footage into this impeccable film. Impressive.

Honorable Mention: The tense, brooding rhythm of The White Ribbon

(My favorite category! Yay!)
5. Christian Berger-The White Ribbon-Stark, black and white imagery add to the overall menacing tone of the film. It's like American Gothic come to ghastly, unnatural life.

4. Barry Ackroyd-The Hurt Locker-on the surface, it feels like a documentary, but always pauses to catch images of macabre beauty. It's an incredibly tactile film: you can almost feel the sand, the heat, the sweat.

3. Anthony Dod Mantle-Antichrist-Stunningly gorgeous, even if what's being photographed isn't very nice. Wonderful color-work, and incredibly skillful use of slow-motion.

2. Mauro Fiore-Avatar-captures the world of Pandora with a sense of awe and wonder. The success of the film is due in large part to its visuals, and it certainly doesn't trip up here.

1. Eduard Grau-A Single Man-one of the prettiest films I've seen in a long time. The images are jaw-droppingly beautiful, almost hypnotic. The color work is extraordinary, as is the film's sense of composition. Watching this movie feels like swimming through a Monet painting.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Lesnie's expressive, moody work for The Lovely Bones

Original Score
(I'll embed my favorite piece from the film.)
5. Hans Zimmer-Sherlock Holmes-manic, aggressive, wickedly gleeful. Mandolins, low strings, and percussive elements congeal into something driving and compelling.

4. Alexandre Desplat-The Fantastic Mr. Fox-performed by small, quirky instruments, as well as whistling and snapping. It skips across genres, pretending to be a western one minute, a caper the next, while never losing its heart.

3. James Horner-Avatar-Cultural elements like chanting, clapping, and African percussion incorporated with traditional orchestration to great dramatic effect. It's a little bombastic, but hell, could Avatar have been made with any other kind of music?

2. Michael Giacchino-Up-alternates between delightfully whimsy and bittersweet. Playful, melancholy, and bouncy all at once. This score can do anything.

1. Abel Korzeniowski-A Single Man-String quartet is used to fantastic effect in this completely brilliant score, which effortlessly captures the emotions onscreen, while providing an appropriate counterpart to the more surreal aspects of the film. The whole score's just achingly beautiful. It hurts.

Honorable Mention: Michael Giacchino's bombastic, memorable contributions to Star Trek.

Sound Mixing
5. Inglourious Basterds-just the right balance of all the right elements. The last scene in the theater stands out.

4. District 9-combines slum life with alien noises and warfare, and nothing gets lost in the process.

3. Star Trek-combines the deadness of space with the liveliness of the ships floating through it. Battle scenes are crisp and aurally pleasing.

2. The Hurt Locker-gains much by being simple. The sound design is of singular importance to the film's tense atmosphere, and it succeeds with flying colors.

1. Avatar-Mixing this film must have been a nightmare. So many different elements, all woven together to create a different planet. Just wonderful.

Honorable Mention: G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra might not have been a great movie, but it sounded just fine.

Sound Effects Editing
5. Disrict 9-bizarre alien weaponry, a new language, and that stentorian roar of the mothership. Memorable stuff.

4. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen-I hate the movie, but even I have to admit that the sound effects were innovative and effective.

3. Terminator Salvation-creating a robot-led dystopia isn't easy, but these guys do it. The sounds are unique, believable, and creative.

2. Star Trek-incorporates well-known sound-effects into gleefully inventive new ones. Probably the most inventive sound design this year.

1. Avatar-I've got to give first place to this one though, by virtue of the sheer volume of sounds that had to be created realistically. It's a staggering achievement.

Original Song
5. "Smoke Without Fire"-An Education-Breathy, melancholy, fitting the period. Fun to listen to when you're feeling whiny.

4. "I See You"-Avatar-Sure, it's not a great song, but it's a POWER BALLAD. I love that they had the balls to finish this movie off with a big, 90s-esque ballad.

3. "Ma Belle Evangeline"-The Princess and the Frog-Sweet, lilting melody and lyrics aided by some great instrumental work. This song makes me swoon a little.

2. "The Weary Kind"-Crazy Heart-I wasn't a fan of the movie, but I can't deny this song's power. It's the perfect, bittersweet coda to the main character's journey.

1. "Almost There"-The Princess and the Frog-at once optimistic and sad, this upbeat-sounding tune captures the youthful hopes of the film's protagonist, as well as the reality that almost making it can be harder than not even getting close.

Well, there we have it! Tomorrow, I'll post my unofficial Oscar ballot, just as a sort of wrap-up, but we're pretty much done. What do you think? How did I do? Any movies I rewarded too much? Too little? I had to make a mistake in there somewhere.

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