Hello again. Since yesterday's post was so devastatingly gargantuan, I'm going to follow it up with a short-ish post today, so maybe I can avoid carpal tunnel. Today, we'll look at a few specific behind-the-camera film aspects: directing and screenplays.
5. Danny Boyle-127 Hours
It's not an easy task to stick a movie in a canyon for 90 minutes with an immobile protagonist and still be entertaining. To accomplish this feat, Danny Boyle used every cinematic trick in the book; split-screens, time-lapses, unpredictable camera placing, big zoom shots, interesting sound choices, etc., etc. 127 Hours is primarily an exercise in style. The screen just sweats Boyle visual style.
4. Roman Polanski-The Ghost Writer
Almost nothing endears a director to me like restraint does. The Ghost Writer is an ode to reigning one's impulses in and taking the careful, controlled route. This approach pays off in spades; The Ghost Writer is effortlessly paced, unnerving, almost painfully suspenseful. Not only do the visuals succeed, but Polanski somehow drew a fantastic performance from Pierce Brosnan, which is something near an impossibility.
3. Yorgos Lanthimos-Dogtooth
This movie could have gone so terribly wrong in so many, many ways. Only a perfectly executed tightrope walk could have landed this film's bizarre mashup of comedy and cat-murdering. Lanthimos maintains his film's unique tone throughout, never once stopping to pander to the audience, or flinch away from the story's uglier aspects, and he still manages to wring some guilty laughs out of the audience. Lanthimos must be a Schadenfreudist at heart, because the fun he has at his characters' expense is pretty horrific. It doesn't hurt that the film looks spectacular, either. Bonus points for some of the strange framing decisions.
2. David Fincher-The Social Network
David Fincher is something of a perfectionist. Not since Kubrick, I've read, has there been a director so slavishly devoted to monitoring every aspect of a film production. While this cold, sterilized approach may ring false with some storylines (not sure "cold and emotionless" were the best adjectives to bring to Benjamin Button), Fincher's style suits The Social Network perfectly. The whole movie is about building a tiny, perfectly controlled world. It only makes sense, then, that the world the characters inhabit is perfectly controlled. The film also achieves the strongest, most compelling rhythm of any film this year, no doubt due in large part to Mr. Fincher. It also must have been a major feat in itself just finding ways to make Aaron Sorkin's verbose screenplay sound perfectly natural. The Social Network is a great film, and a great film can't exist without a great director.
1. Darren Aronofsky-Black Swan
Yeah, yeah, no surprise who's at the top. Black Swan, like Dogtooth, is another flawless balancing act. It would have been all too easy for the movie to fall into silly, melodramatic territory. Aronofsky sure throws himself at the line between drama and camp, but always manages to keep at least one toe on the side of serious. What results is a genuinely disturbing movie, due in part to the seeming dissonance between the subject matter and gleefully malovolent way that it's handled. With Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky again proves that he would make the coolest horror movie we've seen in years. How insane would his rendition of an exorcism movie be? Aronfsky is also one of the most interesting visual directors working today. Moving past his earlier Requiem-esque style, he treats Black Swan with the same grainy, cinema-verite style that he used on The Wrestler. I've heard a few complaints about the seediness of it all, but what else should a story about a psychotic ballerina be but seedy? Black Swan shouldn't look like a postcard, and Aronofsky knew that. He nailed the visuals, the tone, and the performances; the three major obstacles a director has to face to create a great film.
Honorable Mention: David Michod's taut, intelligently paced work on Animal Kingdom
Best Original Screenplay
5. Mar Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin-Black Swan
The dialogue is minimalist, like so much else in the film, but the story achieves a sort of grandly tragic inevitability by chaining itself to 'Swan Lake.'
"Everything Beth does comes from within, from some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times."
4. Will Gluck-Easy A
Witty, hilarious, full of genuine humans instead of stereotypes. How often in a teen comedy are the two funniest characters the parents?
Mr Griffith: I don't know what your generation's fascination is with documenting your every thought, but I can assure you, they're not all diamonds. 'Roman is having an OK day, just bought a Coke Zero at the gas station. Raise the roof.' Who gives a rat's ass?
Olive: That Roman! Another Coke Zero? He's incorrigible.
3. David Michod-Animal Kingdom
Conjures suspense from the most mundane situations, creates some of the most engaging and vicious characters of the year. Enough great twists and turns to keep the viewer from ever nailing down where the movie's going.
"Things survive because they're strong. You may think you're one of the strong creatures, but you're one of the weak ones. You've survived because you've been protected by the strong. But they're not strong anymore."
2. David Seidler-The King's Speech
Intelligent, emotionally resonant and incredibly light on its feet. The King's Speech understands and wonderfully conveys the processes by which friendships develop.
Queen Elizabeth: My husband's work involves a great deal of public speaking.
Lionel Logue: Then he should change jobs.
Queen Elizabeth: He can't.
Lionel Logue: What is he, an indentured servant?
Queen Elizabeth: Something like that.
1. Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg-The Kids Are All Right
Wonderfully observed human comedy, and the year's most believable family. Writing this natural is something of a minor miracle.
"Marriage is hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It's a fucking marathon, okay? So, sometimes, you know, you're together for so long, that you just... You stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices. I don't know, maybe if I read more Russian novels..."
Honorable Mention: Derek Cianfrance captures first love and romantic breakdown in Blue Valentine.
Best Adapted Screenplay
5. William David, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders-How to Train Your Dragon, based on the book by Cressida Cowell
Manages to sidestep a minefield of cliches to become funny, honest, and heartwarming.
Hiccup: He never listens! And when he does, it's with this disappointed scowl, like someone skimmed the meat on his sandwich. 'Excuse me, barmaid! I'm afraid you brought me the wrong offspring! I ordered a boy with extra-beefy arms, extra guts, and glory on the side. This is a talking fish-bone!'
Gobber: Now you're thinking about this all wrong. It's not so much what you look like, it's what's inside of you that he can't stand.
Hiccup: Thanks for summing that up.
4. Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy-127 Hours, based on the book by Aaron Ralston
Great scripts aren't always about the dialogue, and 127 Hours manages to tell a great story without anyone explaining it as it happens. Extra points for that gallows-humor self interview.
"This rock has been waiting for me my entire life. Its entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface."
3. Robert Harris and Roman Polanski-The Ghost Writer, based on the Robert Harris novel The Ghost.
Great dialogue, great pacing, and characters that leap off the screen. Fitting that a movie about a book should sound so literate.
"Do you know what I'd do if I was in power again? I'd have two queues at the airports. One for flights where we'd done no background checks, used no intelligence gained under torture, infringed no one's precious bloody civil liberties. The other for flights where we'd done everything possible to make passengers safe. Then we'd see which plane the Rycarts of this world would put their bloody kids on."
2. Michael Arndt-Toy Story 3, based on characters created by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich
The crowning achievement of an already impressive trilogy. An inspired mix of comedy and no-holds-barred tearjerking.
"Now Woody, he's been my pal for as long as I can remember. He's brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he'll never give up on you... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what."
1. Aaron Sorkin-The Social Network, based on the The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
This film is a scalpel; it cuts in all the right places at all the right times. There's not one ounce of fat. The dialogue is some of the sharpest I've heard in quite a while.
Gage: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don't want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Gage: Okay - no. You don't think I deserve your attention.
Mark Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
...So, it wasn't as short a post as I had dreamed it would be, but these things to happen. I'm just terribly long-winded when it comes to movies. So where did I mess up? What did I get right? I'll continue tomorrow with the acting laurels.