Last list post for 2010, and it's a doozy, so I ought to get started. First things first though: I feel like I should define the categories I'm about to talk about, so here you go:
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 sound elements and sound effects heard in the film.
Original Song: Songs written specifically for the film.
5. Shutter Island-Grand Guignol-inspired, instantly memorable locations. That grungy cell-block, the bright white patient ward, the creepy mausoleum in the woods.
4. The King's Speech-wonderfully specific set design, with locations built to look interesting for long periods of time. Lionel's study is delightfully off-kilter.
3. Inception-Paris dreamscapes, rotating hotels, and snowbound strongholds. This movie looks as classy as it feels.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Our protagonists leave Hogwarts for the first time, and the world they discover is dark, surreal, and beautiful. Malfoy Manor and Godric's Hollow stick out in my mind.
1. TRON Legacy-Nothing could beat the creation of a new world. TRON's visualization of the secret world of computers is gorgeous and unique. I love Jeff Bridge's hidden townhouse, and the futuristic dance club.
Honorable Mention: Black Swan's terrifying apartments and foreboding performance spaces.
5. TRON Legacy-Sci-fi minimalism. The designs are simple, but evocative and memorable.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-Clothing for the Canadian hipsters out there, and their slightly psychotic exes. All the threads are great and character-specific.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Wizard-chic and scared teen formal-wear. The beginning wedding scene is a particular standout.
2. Burlesque-Delightfully wacky performance clothes. That dress made entirely out of fake pearls, or the one with the big silly handprints on it. Or what about that beautiful green dress Christina Aguilera wears with the huge train? Great stuff.
1. I Am Love-I love the incredibly rich colors used to garb this group of filthy rich Italians. These people dress like they're expensive food. Tilda Swinton's wardrobe is consistently gorgeous.
Honorable Mention: A melodramatic interpretation of ancient Greek fashion for Clash of the Titans.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-Constantly appearing video game effects, coupled with flashy fight scenes.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-Dementors, giant snakes, silvery Patronuses. Plus, the duels look better than they ever have.
3. Clash of the Titans-So many monsters! Giant scorpions, winged horses, plus that ridiculous turtle-Kraken. Delightfully goofy work here.
2. Inception-Nolan and team tweak the laws of reality to jaw-dropping effect. Folding cities, exploding cafes, rotating hotels, and a disintigrating Limbo.
1. TRON Legacy-Beautifully evocative digital spaces, spectacular light cycle races, and the coolest fight scenes all year. Oh, and they de-aged Jeff Bridges too. How did the Academy not nominate this?! *despair*
Honorable Mention: Helping Nina transform, physically and mentally, in Black Swan.
3. Black Swan-lots of memorable gore effects; broken toe-nails, peeling skin, people getting stabbed. Plus that already icon Black Swan ballet makeup.
2. Splice-creating one of the strangest, most realistic almost-human creatures I've seen in a while. Dren looks too lifelike to exist.
1. Clash of the Titans-Lots of silly hair, A half-man-half-scorpion, those amazing, troll-like Fates, and that beautiful rendition of Charon, who looks like he's been carved out of driftwood.
Honorable Mention: The movie sucked, but everyone looked appropriately unhealthy in Frozen.
5. Michael Levine-Restrepo-sifting through a year's worth of footage to create a compelling, tightly structured film.
4. Lee Smith-Inception-sorting through a number of different plotlines in three different levels of reality and still coming out completely understandable in the end.
3. Jon Harris-127 Hours-splitscreens and quick cuts create a desperate rythm to counterpoint Aaron Ralston's own desperation.
2. Andrew Weisblum-Black Swan-Beautifully realized dance sequences, frenetic scenes of psychological distortion, and a plodding inevitability. Black Swan is edited like a train-wreck.
1. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall-The Social Network-Things like typing and coding shouldn't be interesting to watch, but the pulsing, churning rythm of the film makes it that way. This movie plunges in from the very first scene and doesn't come up for breath until the end.
Honorable Mention: The clean-cut, effortlessly suspenseful Animal Kingdom
5. Thimios Bakatakis-Dogtooth-Sumptuously lit with slightly off-kilter framing. I love the shot of the son playing with his airplane, where we can only see his hands and his toy.
4. Robert Richardson-Shutter Island-Contrasting between the low-key present day scenes, and the high-key flashbacks. The use of light in this film is nothing less than painterly. Points for that horrific concentration camp tracking shot.
3. Wall Pfister-Inception-Clean, competent, with evocative use of slow motion. The framing/camera choices are exquisite.
2. Roger Deakins-True Grit-It's not his best work, but even mediocre lensing from modern day demigod Roger Deakins is head and shoulders above the rest. Beautifully lit, intelligently filmed. The scene with the hanged man in the grove is really stunning.
1. Emmanuel Libatique-Black Swan-Beautifully monochrome shots with stunning compositions. Great use of reflective surfaces, both thematically and stylistically.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak's roving camera in 127 Hours
Two notes: 1. I know the winner here won't be a surprise to anyone who has talked to me for five minutes for the last three months, but bear with me here.
2. This was a really close race. The top four slots could all have easily won in a different year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the top three all showed up on a best of decade list (if I'm still making lists in ten years...)
(I'll link to my favorite tracks from each movie.)
5. Randy Newman-Toy Story 3-A classic score in the best sense, Newman's compositions are big and bold, but find the right quiet beats to help the movie rip your heart out.
(Further listening: 'Sunnyside,' 'What About Daisy?')
4. Dmitri Golovko-Red Hill-A giddy Ennio Morricone-esque riff on Western music. Big trumpet themes, inventive percussion use, aggressive acoustic guitars.
(It's not on youtube, but if you have iTunes, search "Red Hill Soundtrack" and listen to a couple of the sampels. 'Alice's Theme,' 'Shane's Theme,' 'The Panther,' and 'Finale' all stick out to me.)
3. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-The Social Network-totally atypical movie scoring. Pulsing electronic rythms, strange orchestrations, and the tiniest bit of decorative piano.
(Further listening: ''Hand Covers Bruise,' 'The Gentle Hum of Anxiety,' 'Complication With Optimistic Outcome')
2. John Powell-How to Train Your Dragon-I love this score. It's so huge. Big brass fanfares, Celtic/Irish influences, ethnic instruments. Plus it's just gorgeous. Just go listen to this score. It's awesome.
(Further listening: 'Test Drive,' 'Forbidden Friendship,' 'Romantic Flight,' 'Dragon Training')
1. Daft Punk-TRON Legacy-Come on, what else was it going to be? Daft Punk's score is an sometimes an orchestra, sometimes a dance hall anthem, and always, always awesome. This music elevated the movie beyond anything it could have been on its own.
(Further listening: ...Really, the whole score, but especially 'Son of Flynn,' 'End of Line,' 'The Game Has Changed,' 'C.L.U.,' 'Arena')
Honorable Mention: Inception has some greally fantastic tracks, but a few too many "BRAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUs" for me.
5. Inception-a complex wall of sound that never gets (too) muddled.
4. How to Train Your Dragon-huge dragon battles, aerial acrobatics, and just the right amount of quiet.
3. Black Swan-Nina is completely nuts, and it shows on the Sound Mix. Bird noises, whispering voices, and breaking glass are all incorprated alongside the bombastic Swan Lake score.
2. TRON Legacy-This film creates an entirely new space, with a soundscape of its own, and Daft Punk's music is effectively integrated to seem like part of the world itself.
1. 127 Hours-Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. 127 Hours takes the few sounds it has and uses them to conjure the fear of being stuck in the same place for a long, long time.
Honorable Mention: living inside a tank that sounds like a sentient being in Lebanon.
Sound Effects Editing
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1-This series has never sounded so interesting. Points for the duelling scenes, which sound unlike anything we've heard in movies before.
4. 127 Hours-The biggest cringe of the entire film is the sound of an arm breaking. This sound team plays the audience like a piano.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-This movie is convinced it's a video game, and it sounds like it. Beeps, boops, 8-bit sound effects, and silliness.
2. TRON Legacy-Whirs, hums, mechanical screams, all in service of realizing a reality completely seperate from our own.
1. How to Train Your Dragon-Every type of dragon sounds unique and believable. Add in amazing combat, pyrotechnic, and weapons work, and all those great flying noises, and you've got something special.
Honorable Mention: Creating Nina's aural manifestations of her psychoses in Black Swan.
5. "Express"-Burleseque-A trashy dance-hall anthem, belted as only Christina Aguilera can.
4. "We Belong Together"-Toy Story 3-Bouncy, energetic, happy. All the things you need to stop crying at the end of this movie.
3. "Mother Knows Best"-Tangled-A mix of saccharine sweetness and veiled threats.
2. "Black Sheep"-Scott Pilgrim vs. The World-An angry chick-rock anthem. It wouldn't be out of place at Lillith Fair. It's the best of Scott Pilgrim's decidedly awesome soundtrack.
1. "Sticks and Stones"-How to Train Your Dragon-It's a four-minute ball of pure joy. Fast-paced, energetic, and sometimes in Norwegian. What else could we want?
Well, there we have it. I'll finish up tomorrow with my dream Oscar ballot. Until then, what do you think?