Friday, February 21, 2014

Best of 2013, part 2: Directing/Screenplays

Welcome back! Mind you, I say 'welcome back' knowing full well that yesterday's post probably left most of you in a deep, deep coma, so this 'welcome back' is mostly hypothetical. But welcome back anyway, dear viewers who have yet to succumb to the acute brain trauma caused by reading these things. As a bit of an olive branch and/or act of mercy, today's post will be much shorter. We'll keep it to three categories--directing and screenplays. Commence with the rejoicing after the jump!

Best Director
5. Joel and Ethan Coen-Inside Llewyn Davis
Like any good Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis giddily waltzes along the line between comedy, drama, reality, and fantasy. Improbably, they (almost) never set a foot wrong. The Coens have the good sense to step back from their subjects and allow them to breathe--this slight distance lends the whole proceedings a bizarre kind of intimacy. Music, light, and one confused kitty all coalesce into something more than the sum of their parts.

4. Sofia Coppola-The Bling Ring
Coppola's less of a director than she is an anthropologist for this film. Better yet--she's a wildlife photographer, keeping her camera focused even when the baby zebra's getting devoured by lions. She's always consciously taking a step back. Rather than trying to sentimentalize the kids, or turn them into some kind metaphorical criminal representation of glamour or something, The Bling Ring's got the balls to acknowledge that we're just watching a bunch of stupid kids, and the only way to help them is to force them to help themselves. Overall, what I admire most is Coppola's ability to just let things be: she doesn't need to move the camera or break the shot to capture a sense of vitality and intensity.

3. Steve McQueen-12 Years a Slave
Funnily, 12 Years a Slave is McQueen at his most docile. That's a profoundly relative statement, considering the film is one long whirlwind of torture, bodily violation, and emotional degradation mercilessly captured by an endlessly roving camera. Like Coppola, McQueen has the guts to leave everything on screen long enough to force the audience to really interact with it. That unbearably long hanging scene, for example, or the exquisitely painful unbroken take of Patsy being whipped. Steve McQueen's auteur impulses are some of the freshest and most daring of upcoming directors, and I can't wait to see his career continue to develop.

2. J.C. Chandor-All is Lost
As far as degree of difficulty is concerned, Chandor's film just about takes the cake. Given nothing to work with but Robert Redford, a shipping container, and a boat, Chandor crafts a film of suspense and profound emotion. I loved his repeated use of the camera to turn every-day objects into abstractions: the way that shipping container fills so much of the screen it becomes some kind of monolith, or the way the mast climbs into the sky to become a ladder to nothing. Chandor isn't given much to work with, which is why the tapestries he paints with such limited raw material is all the more impressive.

1. Alfonso Cuaron-Gravity
As impressive as Chandor's achievement is, Cuaron had to face all the same types of challenges he did, but in space. Gravity is such an astound technical and cinematic milestone that it's hard to imagine anyone else taking the top prize here. Cuaron's control of visuals, his fondness for unbroken takes, and his near-peerless instincts for suspense and tension all combine to make something totally extraordinary. Nothing less than a visionary could have guided Gravity with such a confident hand; Cuaron makes it look all too easy.

Honorable mention: Harmony Korine's beautiful, bonkers interpretation of college-age debauchery in Spring Breakers

Original Screenplay
5. Spike Jonze-Her
It's not without its flaws, but the film's concept is so original, so well-executed, and so damn romantic that I've got to give it its proper due.
Amy: You know what? I can over-think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. And since Charles left I've really been thinking about that part of myself, and I've just come to realize that we're only here briefly. And while I'm here, I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.

4. Woody Allen-Blue Jasmine
Thorny, complicated relationships, a profoundly unlikeable yet somehow still sympathetic protagonist, and, improbably, a wellspring of humor in a story of total ruin.
Jasmine: Anxiety, nightmares, and a nervous breakdown...There's only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.

3. Shane Carruth-Upstream Color
For being wildly innovative, totally unique, and completely, unapologetically perplexing. This movie doesn't need you to like it or understand it, but it's sure going to show you something strange.
Thief: I have to apologize. I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun.

2. Joel and Ethan Coen-Inside Llewyn Davis
It's such a delicate, subtle balance of dark humor, wry cynicism, and grim personal tragedy. One of the more poetic downward spirals we've seen at the movies in a while.
Jean: You don't want to go anywhere, and that's why the same shit's going to keep happening to you, because you want it to.
Llewyn: Is that why?
Jean: Yes, and also because you're an asshole.

1. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig-Frances Ha
For being both the funniest movie I've seen all year, as well as one of the smartest. This movie just keeps growing on me. And how utterly gorgeous is this monologue:
"I want this moment. It's that thing when you're with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it... but it's a party... and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining... and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes... but - but not because you're possessive, or it's precisely sexual... but because... that is your person in this life. And it's funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it's this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It's sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don't have the ability to perceive them. That's - That's what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess."

Honorable Mention: the endlessly quotable shenanigans in American Hustle

Adapted Screenplay
5. David Gordon Green-Prince Avalanche
Wackiness ensues, but somehow it's never dishonest. Giggles and insights abound.
Lance: When you say something negative and insult the other person... You're really just showing that other person what an unsure-of-yourself-type person that you really feel like you are.

4. Billy Ray-Captain Phillips
Terse, affecting prose that effortlessly amps up the tension from one minute to the next.
Muse: It was supposed to be easy. I take ship...Ransom....Nobody get hurt.
Captain Phillips: You had thirty thousand dollars. And a way to Somalia. It wasn't enough?
Muse: I got bosses. They got rules.
Captain Phillips: We all got bosses.

3. Jonathan Levine-Warm Bodies
For being a wonderfully pleasant surprise which balances horror, romance, and comedy, while never straying into melodrama.
Kevin: Hey.
R: [voice-over] Say something human. Say something human.
R: [voice-over] Nailed it.

2. Francois Ozon-In the House
For being a hot literate mess which makes no attempt to gloss over the ugliness of all of its characters.
Germain: They say the barbarians are coming, but they're already here, in our classrooms!

1. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke-Before Midnight
Like it's even a contest. This series is always the most well-written film of whichever year it's released. Thanks guys, for once again bringing us into the unbelievably well-developed lives of these characters.
Jesse: You're just like the little girls and everybody else. You wanna live inside some fairy tale. I'm just trying to make things better. I tell you that I love you unconditionally, I tell you that you're beautiful, I tell you that your ass looks great when you're 80. I try to make you laugh.
Celine: OK.
Jesse: All right, I put up with plenty of your shit. And if you think I'm just some dog who's gonna keep coming back, then you're wrong. But if you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It's not perfect, but it's real. And if you can't see it, then you're blind, all right, and I give up.

Honorable mention: the dispassionate high-school antics of The Bling Ring

Well that's it for today. If you're as much a sucker for punishment that I hope you are, you'll come back tomorrow for more! Even worse, you might even go check out yesterday's post if you haven't already! Here it is, in case you're curious:

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