Sunday, February 17, 2013

Best of 2012, Part 2: Directing and Screenplays

Hello again! I've no idea how (or even if) any of you made it through yesterday's embarrassingly large post, but if did make it through unscathed, then you're a stronger person than I. In deference to your clearly superhuman abilities, I'll try to keep this post a little shorter. Today, we'll look at the categories I like to be the most judgmental about, because they're the categories I plan to be not successful in professionally: directing and screenplays! So let's get to it.

Best Director
5. Steven Soderbergh-Magic Mike
Like I pointed out yesterday, Magic Mike is a miracle of elements that should have gone wrong but somehow didn't. If there's anyone to blame for guiding this movie to improbable success, it's Soderbergh. By  observing his characters' world without allowing the film to wallow in its own seediness, Soderbergh creates a piece of genuine honesty; a rarity among any kind of movie, much less in the admittedly small sub-genre of stripper movies. Points for his cold eye for stark compositions and dance scenes that are simultaneously on fire and totally frigid.

4. Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer-Cloud Atlas
By splitting up Cloud Atlas's six story segments between different directors, one would think that this creative team had given up any hope at forging a continuous creative whole. Quite the opposite--each segment retains its own flavor (as well it should) while simultaneously integrating itself with the rest of the film. Cloud Atlas is pretty much directors showing off; it covers six different genres (travelogue/closeted Victorian romance/70s political thriller/screwball comedy/dystopian sci-fi/fantasy) in six different time periods, each of which presented specific challenges. Though every segment might not be equally compelling, I still have huge amounts of admiration for the fact that this project exists at all.

3. Joe Wright-Anna Karenina
The fact that Anna Karenina feels vital and new, rather than a needless retread of a much-filmed novel is entirely due to Joe Wright's dazzling directorial vision. I previously mentioned that he decided to set the whole film within the confines of a theater. Visually, stylistically, thematically, it's jaw-dropping: the breathless claustrophobia, the beautifully choreographed scenes in which reality bleeds into fantasy as the camera dances with the characters. Joe Wright takes a film which could have been mediocre and elevates it to near-greatness through sheer cinematic chutzpah.

2. Michael Haneke-Amour
Amour is a fantastic example of a director employing his auteur identity to fashion a style which is entirely new to him. All the regular Haneke standbys are there--minimalistic framing, unflinching honesty, takes that hold on the subject until it feels like being waterboarded--but these techniques are used in service of creating a fragile, aching humanity hitherto unseen in Haneke's work. This marriage of Haneke's typical austerity and a newfound emotional core make for one of the most honest, involving films of the year.

1. Benh Zeitlin-Beasts of the Southern Wild
From that breathtaking energetic prologue to the devastating walk-on-water finale and everything in between, Zeitlin establishes himself as one of the new voices of American cinema. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a cinematic miracle made possible by the director's sure hand, whether it was used to shepherd fantastic performances from non-professional actors, or to establish a child's-eye perspective in an increasingly bleak world, or to infuse the whole film with overtones of intangible fantasy. Clearly by the end of this "Best of..." series I'll have written far too much on this film, but for now, all I can do is gush.

Honorable mention: Kathyrn Bigelow's unbelievably tense, admirably apolitical handling of Zero Dark Thirty

Best Original Screenplay
5. Reid Carolin-Magic Mike
For treating a marginalized subject with dignity, and for doing it honestly, intelligently, and entertainingly.
Mike: I have, like, $13,000 saved.
Paige: Wow. That's a lot of ones.
Mike: There are some fives in there.
Paige: Oh, ok. No twenties?
Mike: Oh, you don't wanna know what I have to do for twenties.

4. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola-Moonrise Kingdom
Whimsical, light on its feet, and tinged with an unmistakable air of bittersweet transience, Moonrise Kingdom manages to be both endearing and a little heartbreaking.
Sam: Why do you consider me your enemy?
Redford: Because your girlfriend stabbed me in the back with lefty scissors.
Sam: She's my wife now.
Redford: Congratulations!
Sam: Thank you, but I'm saying before that, six weeks ago, why didn't you like me?
Redford: Why should I? No one else does.

3. Mark Boal-Zero Dark Thirty
Because it's unflinching in its examination of the way the US acted, and it refuses to politicize or emotionalize something that is (and should be) so coldly impersonal.
"Quite frankly, I didn't even want to use you guys, with your dip and Velcro and all your gear bullshit. I wanted to drop a bomb. But people didn't believe in this lead enough to drop a bomb. So they're using you guys as canaries. And, in theory, if Bin Laden isn't there, you can sneak away and no one will be the wiser. But Bin Laden is there. And you're going to kill him for me."

2. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard-The Cabin in the Woods
For being the most intelligent deconstruction of the horror genre to come to theaters in decades, and for doing it with style, wit, and a still-bleeding heart.
Dana: I'm so sorry I almost shot you. I probably wouldn't have.
Marty: Hey, shhh, no. I totally get it. I'm sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world.

1. Michael Haneke-Amour
For having the courage and the honesty to look at a profoundly painful subject for two hours, and to do it justice.
Georges: ...there was a young guy at the window who asked me where I'd been. He was a couple of years older than me, a braggart who really impressed me. "To the movies", I said, because I was proud that my grandma had given me the money to go all alone to the cinema. "What did you see?". I started to tell him the story of the movie, and as I did, all the emotion came back. I didn't want to cry in front of the boy, but it was impossible; there I was, crying out loud in the courtyard, and I told him the whole drama to the bitter end. 
Anne: So? How did he react?
Georges: No idea. He probably found it amusing. I don't remember. I don't remember the film either. But I remember the feeling. That I was ashamed of crying, but that telling him the story made all my feelings and tears come back, almost more powerfully than when I was actually watching the film, and that I just couldn't stop.

Honorable mention: Paul Thomas Anderson's not at top form with The Master, but even lower-shelf PTA is still great cinema.

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill-21 Jump Street
Because it's way, way smarter and funnier than it has any right to be. For being the rare sequel/prequel/remake that actually justifies its own existence.
"We've reviving a canceled underground project from the 80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they're out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle shit from the past and hope that nobody will notice."

4. Steven Chbosky-The Perks of Being a Wallflower
For insightfully adapting a popular book with an eye for little details, while staying true to the overarching emotional themes.
Patrick: My turn! Let's see. Let's think...
Charlie: Truth.
Patrick: How's your first relationship going?
Charlie: It's so bad that I keep fantasizing that one of us is dying with cancer, so I don't have to break up with her.

3. Tony Kushner-Lincoln
For taking a traditionally lifeless genre and injecting it with unlikely pulse.
Abraham Lincoln: Abolishing slavery by constitutional provisions settles the fate for all coming time. Not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come. Two votes stand in its way. These votes must be procured. 
William Seward: We need two yeses. Three abstentions. Four yeses and one more abstention and the amendment will pass. 
Abraham Lincoln: You've got a night and a day and a night; several perfectly good hours! Now get the hell out of here and get them! 
James Ashley: Yes. But how? Abraham Lincoln: Buzzard's guts, man! I am the President of the United States of America! Clothed in immense power! You will procure me these votes. 

2. Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer-Cloud Atlas
For preserving the integrity of the original novel while introducing the concept of reincarnation/repetition, in which the characters and actors appear again and again. For augmenting the book in a way that serves its original message.
"And all becomes clear. Wish I could make you see this brightness. Don't worry, all is well. All is so perfectly, damnably well. I understand now, that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me."

1. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin-Beasts of the World
For taking a coming-of-age fable and infusing it with fantasy, beauty, and poetry.
"When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me lying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. And when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I'm a little piece in a big, big universe. And that makes things right. When I die, the scientists of the future, they're gonna find it all. They gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy, and she live with her daddy in the Bathtub."

Honorable mention: Crafting a tense, engaging thriller from a newspaper article for Argo

Well, that's it for today. Time for me to get around to all the work I'm putting off, and time for y'all to get around to telling me why I'm wrong for including 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike on lists while excluding Argo, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, and any other number of movies that someone else decided were the best. What do we think?

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