Saturday, February 18, 2012

Best of 2011, Part 4: Craft Categories

Alright, it's my last big list post for this year, but it's a big one. Today, we're covering just about everything that goes into movie making that isn't done by people whose names you'll recognize. Before we get started, I suppose I ought to define these categories for you:
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.

Let's get going, shall we?

Art Direction
5. X-Men: First Class-an inspired, goofy, heightened take on the Kennedy era. The swanky strip-club, Xavier's mansion, and the futuristic-looking submarine core all stick out.
4. Immortals-Ancient Greece repurposed as a brightly colored nightmare. Extra points for that utterly bizarre temple-labyrinth.
3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy-An immaculate collection of cold, boxy spaces. Every set on this film looks and feels like a tastefully decorated prison.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-The wizarding world with which we're all so familiar by now morphs into a fascist, battle-torn wasteland. Whoever came up with the look of Hogwarts' big magical bubble deserves something special.
1. Hugo-Hugely extravagant, delightfully colored and lived in spaces; that huge, fairy-tale train-station, the maze of clockwork and pipes, Papa Georges' more restrained living space, and, of course, the recreations of the turn-of-the-20th century film studios. It's hard to deny how wonderful this movie looks.

Honorable Mention: the height of the Hollywood elite in The Artist

Costume Design
5. Hugo-Though less ornate and impressive than the sets, Hugo's costumes are still inventive and character-defining, adding another level of eye candy. Respect must be given to the wonderful costumes made for the film-making flashbacks.

4. The Artist-Spotless finery for the 1929 1%. George Valentin's favorite tuxedo is memorable, as are Peppy Miller's collection of fancy flapper dresses.

3. Jane Eyre-Both attractive and serviceable, Jane Eyre's costumes are period-specific, beautiful to look at, and define the characters inside them. Note how rigid and dark the threads of Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkin's characters are, compared to the (relative) flippant prowling-wear of Michael Fassbender's Rochester.

2. Captain America: The First Avenger-These clothes are just so much fun. Though everyone will remember the uniform-evolution montage, I find myself recalling the intentionally somewhat silly fusion of accurate 50s garb with the idealized world of comic women. No real women in the military looked like that, but the movie can certainly be forgiven for wanting them to look like that anyway.

1. Immortals-The late, great Eiko Ishioka turns in stellar work, as usual. Her designs gleefully pass the boundaries of hopelessly ludicrous and emerge on the other side as brilliant fairy-tale creations. The golden armor of the gods, the Oracles' absolutely absurd travelling clothes, and the animal-esque designs of King Hyperion's lieutenants; this movie has it all. And I haven't even mentioned what may be the best collection of fantastically goofy headwear this side of just about anything.

Honorable Mention: The fashionable, muted tones of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Visual Effects
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon-Though the movie sometimes has trouble integrating its humans into the mayhem realistically, the mayhem is admittedly incredibly well-rendered.

4. Hugo-Hugo recreates the Paris of the 1920s with a wickedly fantastical slant, conjuring a world both plausible and completely fictionalized.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-The high point of this series' effects. The magical shield and its subsequent bombardment and destruction are some of the most eye-popping visuals.

2. The Tree of Life-This film details the creation of the entire universe, from the formation of solid matter and the infinite reaches of space, down to the nucleus of a single cell. It's incredibly gorgeous work, and its snub from the Oscars in this category is nothing less than a sin.

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes-As beautiful as The Tree of Life's effects were, I can't deny the extraordinary technical prowess of Weta Digital's latest offering. It grabs motion-capture technology as we know it and warps it into something much, much better. Those monkeys look almost too realistic, and the level of detail afforded the motion-capture actors is simply unbelievable.

Honorable Mention: The big ol' boxing robots in Real Steel

3. Thor-giving Anthony Hopkins the weight of eons in his beard and face, giving each god some silly and identifiable look, and creating frost-giant prosthetics so convincing most people probably assumed they were CGI.

2. Immortals-the most improbably attractive gore this side of a Park Chan Wook movie. Extra points for titans that look like burn victims, realistically war-wounded soldiers, and (assumably) at least $20,000 spent on personal manscaping.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-Voldemort's creepy noseless visage, Bellatrix's impossibly poorly-groomed head, goblins straight out of Grimm, hulking werewolves, and battlefield-related carnage. Remind me why this series hasn't been noticed more for its makeup?

Honorable Mention: the uncanny aging effects in The Iron Lady

Film Editing
5. Paul Tothill-Hanna-Pulse-pounding rhythms, incorporating the film's various long takes with more frenetic rhythms without once losing forward momentum.

4. Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanivicius-The Artist-Good comic timing is tough. Doing it without aural cues is even tougher. The Artist zips along, focusing on all the right places, and (generally) pruning where necessary.

3. Chris King and Gregers Sall-Senna-Senna sifts through a labyrinthine collection of hours and hours of sports footage and crafts an impeccable narrative construction.

2. Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezenda, Billy Weber, Mark, Yoshikawa-The Tree of Life-Though it appears unformed on the surface, the editors of The Tree of Life managed to compress almost infinite footage of infinity itself into a finely observed tone poem whose seemingly disparate sequences are fluidly integrated into the whole.

1. Mat Newman-Drive-Drive's editing allows for the most delicate balance of the year, intertwining moments of quiet tenderness with the most tensely realized style of the year, interspersed with flawless action scenes. Drive works like a perfect Swiss watch of film craftsmanship.

Honorable Mention-the insistent, driving rhythms of Moneyball. It was really, really hard for me to leave this out of the top five, but you've got to make cuts somewhere.

5. Jeff Cronenweth-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Brooding, frigid, and singularly uninviting, Cronenweth's lensing captures a world as unfriendly to look at as it is to live in.

4. Alwin H. Kuchler-Hanna-brashly confident, exquisitely choreographed camera work, mixed with surprisingly captivating compositions and colors. Like a storybook come to ghastly, unnatural life.

3. Guillaume Schiffman-The Artist-Some of the smartest visual choices of the year, combined with sumptuous black and white, all in service of telling a story almost entirely through visual cues.

2. Thomas Newton Segel-Drive-skillfully deployed slow-motion, eye-catching symmetrical compositions, and evocative noirish lighting. Drive looks like the a pulp-serial detective turned inside-out who has wandered onto a macabre music-video.

1. Emmanuel Lubezki-The Tree of Life-Lubezki makes yet another convincing argument for himself as greatest working cinematographer. The Tree of Life is heartbreakingly beautiful, capturing images both incredibly grand and impossibly intimate images. The world through his camera is both instantly recognizable and delightfully impressionistic. This film walks through the world like a faded but fondly recalled memory.

Honorable Mention: Brendan Galvin's crazed, delirious work on Immortals

Original Score (I'll link to my favorite tracks from each movie)
5. Alberto-Iglesias-The Skin I Live In-these violins are almost violent in their passionate intensity. It perfectly fits the grand melodrama on screen.

4. Alexandre Desplat-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-Skillfully reconnects to the original music from the first Harry Potter while integrating new themes which match the later film's darker tones. Desplat's orchestrations is fantastic, as usual.

3. Ludovic Bource-The Artist-Bource is saddled with incredibly difficult task of creating a silent film score upon which the film can easily lean, and he does it with style and heart. His jazzy numbers have just the right amount of pep, and his more quiet numbers don't get lost in the shuffle.

2. Steven Price-Attack the Block-Driving, dance-hall beats mix with street sounds and ridiculous synth-tracks to create a sci-fi score that is simultaneously futuristic and a little seedy; just like the movie itself. <---that one's my favorite, but this one is also pretty nifty: Really, the whole soundtrack is just one big highlight.

1. The Chemical Brothers-Hanna-Hanna's soundtrack is absolutely instrumental (forgive the pun) in making Hanna the awesome experience it is. Like another character, the music drifts through the movie, making its presence known at crucial periods. Who can forget that beguilingly peppy whistling theme, or the delightfully melodramatic organ sections, or, of course the times when the music devolves into a wild combination of percussion and rhythm?
You ought to familiarize yourself with the whole soundtrack, but if you need to narrow it down:
This one is the most recognizable/most badass:
This one gives a good sample of the weird but appropriate incongruities the music strikes with the visuals:
And this one might be my favorite. It's not the loudest, or the most obvious, but it's just unbelievably gorgeous:

Honorable Mention: the muted trumpets and acoustic guitars of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Special Music Awards
Normally I don't do this, but I have to spotlight two movies for their music.
First, War Horse: it's got some genuinely stirring, powerful music, and that main theme is so lovely. But, because it's John Williams, he starts crescendo-ing in the first five minutes, and he only continues from there. So the music lacks for subtlety, and it NEVER shuts up, but some of the things there are wonderful. For instance:, which has got to be one of the prettiest tracks available for consumption this year.
Secondly, The Eagle. Though most of the film is scored with fairly routine period-action music, the credits whip out this doozy of a track, which is hands down one of my favorite musical offerings of the year: If the whole movie had been scored at this level, I'd probably have it at the #1 spot. Alas, it's relegated to the bargain bin instead.

Sound Mixing
5. Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol-That sandstorm, inside the giant computer, the fight in the parking garage; this movie knows exactly how to control chaos.

4. War Horse-Horses! War! Bombs! Horses! I know, I know, I feel a little bad for putting something this desperate for love in the top 5, but I can't deny how accomplished and layered this mix is.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-Harry Potter sound mixes have always been impressive in their own way, but the last installment really brings it here. The battles always sound crisp and clear, despite the maelstrom in which they're taking place.

2. Drive-As usual, when talking about this film, I need to talk about balance. Drive finds the perfect medium between its long stretches of silence and its sudden violent cacophonies.

1. The Tree of Life-Not only does this movie take time to create the universe, it makes it as wonderful to listen to as it is to look at.

Honorable Mention: the giddy insanity of Hanna

Sound Effects Editing
5. War Horse-cavalry charges, never-ending rows of machine guns, and the unpleasant but unmistakable hiss of gas in the trenches.

4. Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol-sophisticated gadgets, quick, brutal fights, the slap of sticky gloves against glass 100 stories high, and the year's most surprising car crash.

3. Transformers: Dark of the Moon-I hate this movie with a burning passion, but its effects are astounding, as always. The robots sound organic, and the humans sound robotic. This movie plays like the inside of a robot sex dungeon. ...In a good way.

2. Rango-The sounds of the Old West are repurposed and given their own distinctive voice, and the action scenes remain an impressive standout. The aerial chase in the canyon is still the only scene this year whose sound effects elicited an impressed gasp.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-The scale of the events shown, and their aural uniqueness, allowed Harry Potter to take this one in a walk. Specific sounds--Voldemort destroying the shield, snake-on-throat action, a giant hitting a bell with his club--can all be immediately recalled in my memory.

Honorable Mention: world-building stentorian roars in The Tree of Life

Original Song
5. "Star Spangled Man"-Captain America: The First Avenger-a silly, manically peppy pastiche of World War II bond drives.

4. "Fake I.D."-Footloose-Ok, so it's admittedly country, but it's face-paced, energetic, and a hell of a lot of fun.

3. "So Long"-Winnie the Pooh-It's quirky, upbeat, and adorable; naturally, it's sung by Zooey Deschanel.

2. "Life's a Happy Song"-The Muppets-It's the opening toe-tapper, and it succeeds admirably at both getting our toes and the dancers' toes tapping. It's so joyful that it's basically impossible to frown during this song.

1. "Pictures in My Head"-The Muppets-Kermit's at his best when he's doing mopey ballads, and the latest Muppets iteration is no exception. Nostalgic, melancholy, accompanied by weepy piano; I just want to run up and give him a hug.

Honorable Mention: the silly/comic powerballad "Man or Muppet" from, you guessed it, The Muppets

Well, that's it for this year, believe it or not. I'll wrap everything up tomorrow with my dream Oscar ballot, but here end the lists. In summation, here are movies with the most nominations:
1. Drive-8
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2-8
3. The Artist-7
4. The Tree of Life-7
5. Hanna-5
6. Bridesmaids-5
7. Weekend-4
8. Martha Marcy May Marlene-3
9. Jane Eyre-3
10. The Muppets-3

And as far as most wins are concerned, only four movies racked up more than one win:
Drive-3 (Director, Actor, Film Editing)
Weekend-2 (Picture, Original Screenplay)
The Tree of Life-2 (Cinematography, Sound Mixing)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Makeup, Sound Effects Editing)

Well, where did I go wrong?

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