Thursday, February 16, 2012

Best of 2011, Part 2: Directing and Screenplays

Welcome back! If you made it through yesterday's giant post and are still coming back for more, than you're really beyond my help. People with this much appreciation for punishment tend to die like David Carradine. (...You know, after asking so nicely for views, I suppose I ought to abuse you less. You're a tragically noble figure out there. Keep that chin up!) So anyway, as a change of pace, I"m going to try to keep today's post a little more brief. So, let's get to it: the categories I plan to screw up later in life. Directing and Screenplays!

Best Director
5. Andrew Haigh-Weekend
Though his film isn't as flashy as some of the others on this list, I mostly admire Weekend as an exercise in restraint. Haigh's camera always knows when to linger so as to give its characters privacy, and the film's hard-hitting moments tend to be delivered in sneaky, verite-esque ways. Extra kudos for allowing his two lead performances to evolve in medium/shared shots. Too many movies today rely on close-ups and one-person compositions. Weekend has the guys to makes us watch these two guys act together.

4. Joe Wright-Hanna
Where Weekend tends to hide its stylistic impulses, Hanna pounds its style into your eyeballs with a rusty socket-wrench. Wright shows obvious courage in some of the shots he captures; long takes, difficult choreography, and unexpected framing. He then saturates his piece with the zanily grim fairy-tale aesthetic which makes Hanna so unique.

3. Michel Hazanivicius-The Artist
The Artist couldn't possibly have succeeded without an assured presence at the helm, and Hazanivicius fulfills that role with carefree wit and panache. Outside of the performances (which must certainly owe something to Hazanivicius as well), The Artist's primary successes stem from its deceptively smart visual sensibilities. Hazanivicius finds novel ways to convey story without the crutches of sound and dialogue, and he does it effortlessly.

2. Terrence Malick-The Tree of Life
Above all, The Tree of Life is a directorial achievement. It's a huge, sprawling, gorgeously unformed work of art, splashed across the canvas like a Jackson Pollock/Monet lovechild. More than any other film this year, The Tree of Life relied on the vision of the man behind the camera to congeal into something relevant. Under Malick's guidance, The Tree of Life does better than relevance; it reaches greatness.

1. Nicholas Winding Refn-Drive
I almost gave the top spot to Malick, but he ultimately lost out (mainly because almost all of Tree of Life's flaws can be traced back to his own choices). Where The Tree of Life is unformed, Drive is wound as tight as it possibly could be without breaking. Having achieved the most compelling atmosphere in cinema this year, Drive ups the ante by veritably oozing style and cool out of every orifice. Take the atmosphere and the style, then add the film's perfectly executed balancing act: Drive is part crime drama, part romance, part action movie, and part one lucid dream, and every single part manages to slip effortlessly in and out of the others. This movie bleeds excellence.

Honorable mention: the hazy, surreal stylings of Sean Durkin for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Best Original Screenplay
5. Sean Durkin-Martha Marcy May Marlene
An impeccably structured waking nightmare that combines emotional honesty with creeping paranoia.
"Think of someone who hurt you, lied to you. Feel it. Feel how they made you feel. Let it build, let it transfer to the gun. Building in the gun. Breath out, release. Feels good, right?"

4. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo-Bridesmaids
A fantastic blend of broad comedy, subtle wit, and frankly observed pathos.
Annie: You read my diary?
Brynn: At first I did not know it was your diary. I thought it was just a very sad handwritten book.

3. Woody Allen-Midnight in Paris
Funny, charming, intelligent, Midnight in Paris makes a compelling argument that Woody Allen is still one of cinema's more interesting writers, when he feels like it.
"I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who's truly brave. It is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it."

2. Mike Mills-Beginners
Ornately structured, full of quietly observed personal moments. A perfect blend of humor, bittersweet determination, and abstract musing.
"I can really see Anna's eyes in 2003. Her ears, her feet. This is what it looks like when she says "I love you" in 2003. This is what it looks like when she cries. When she tells me there's always a new empty room waiting for her. They used to make her feel free. Now they make her feel the opposite of free."

1. Andrew Haigh-Weekend
Simply put, one of the most emotionally honest, achingly vulnerable constructions I've seen in some time. This movie speaks the way I wish I could speak.
Glen: Do you ever think about finding your real parents?
Russell: Not really.
Glen: Why not?
Russell: I don't really see the point. You know, I don't think it would change anything.
Glen: Why don't I pretend to be your dad and you can come out to me?
Russell: That is so weird.
Glen: Just ignore the fact we just had sex.
Russell: Don't think I can. Guess I'll try. Ok. Dad? I got something to tell you.
Glen: What's that?
Russell: I'm gay.
Glenn: Hmmmm.
Russell: I like guys, not girls.
Glen: Well, you know what, son? It doesn't matter to me. I love you just the same. And guess what?
Russell: What?
Glen: I couldn't be more proud of you if you were the first man on the moon.

Honorable Mention: the delightful, dog-filled antics of The Artist

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Steve Kloves-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, based on the book by J.K. Rowling
Klove's script captures the heart of the book while streamlining it for uninitiated audiences, hitting a number of fresh insights on the way.
"It doesn't matter that Harry's gone. People die every day. Friends, family. Yeah, we lost Harry tonight, but he's still with us, in here."

4. Moira Buffini-Jane Eyre, based on the book by Charlotte Bronte
An adroit adaptation of a classic novel, reinterpreted and pruned without sacrificing the integrity of the original.
Rochester: Who's there? This hand. Jane Eyre.
Jane: Edward, I've come back for you. ...Fairfax Rochester with nothing to say.
Rochester: You're altogether a human being, Jane.
Jane: I conscientiously believe so.
Rochester: I dream.
Jane: Awaken, then.

3. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller-The Muppets, based on characters created by Jim Henson
Witty, light on its feet, true to the spirit of the original characters, and capable of wringing emotion and heart out of even the most used cliches.
Kermit: Guys, we can't kidnap Jack Black! That's illegal!
Fozzie: What's more illegal, Kermit? Briefly inconveniencing Jack Black, or destroying the Muppets?
Kermit: ...Kidnapping Jack Black.

2. Hossein Amini-Drive, based on the book by James Sallis
Takes a potentially tired story and reshapes it into a terse, unyielding take on the frog-and-scorpion fable.
"I used to produce a lot of movies in the 80s. Kind of like action films. Sexy stuff. One critic called them European. I thought they were shit. Anyway, he arranged all the cars for me. Did all the stunts. I liked him. I liked having him around, even though he overcharged the shit out of me. His next business venture, he got involved with some of Nino's friends. They didn't go for the overcharging bit. They broke his pelvis. He's never had a lot of luck."

1. Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin-Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis
These two guys took a dry-for-non-fans nonfiction book about baseball statistics and turned it into a witty, heartfelt character study.
"I know these guys, I know the way they think, and they will erase us. And everything we've done here, none of it will matter. Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They're drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team...We'll have changed the game. And that's what I want. I want it to mean something.

Honorable Mention: the tightly wound, sharply observed prose of The Ides of March

Well, that's it for today. I'm off to do homework and contemplate the rosters for tomorrow's acting awards, which I *still* haven't sorted out. Anyway, how did I do? Did I really honestly put both The Muppets and Harry Potter in a category over fancier movies? Yup, I totally did, and I dare you to tell me what I should have put in instead.

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