Thursday, February 19, 2015

Best of 2014, Part 4: Craft Categories

And as quickly as it started, it receded back into the inky little holes where it stays for the ten months of the year when I'm not clogging your facebook, like a silly, verbose tidal wave. This is indeed my last major post (or last list, at any rate) until I re-emerge in 2016. Wackiness! Today, I'm going to take a look at what may be the most fun categories--and when I say 'most fun,' what I mean is 'the ones that build movies from the ground up and yet no one really talks about them.' The craft categories!

Before we dive in, here's a handy guide to each category, in case you're a little rusty.

Art Direction:  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 hop to, shall we?

Best Art Direction
5. Interstellar-Ugh, I kind of mega-loathed this movie, but I can't deny that the design is an eccentric mix of boxy futurism and dust-bowl chic. Bonus points for the robots that look like a geometry textbook come to ghastly, unnatural life.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive-Because if you're a vampire and you've been alive for hundreds of years, clearly your digs are going to be awesome. Overstuffed carcasses of mansions, Algiers as a luminous, bored nightmarescape, and Detroit as something that isn't even a little bit like Detroit.
3. Birdman-a great hulking wreck of a theater, dressing rooms delicate and unique to each character, and what looks like the most disastrous theater production Spider-Man on Broadway.
2. Snowpiercer-what a groovy-looking Apocalypse--each train car is its own zanily realized microcosm, tossing the audience into a new sphere of reality each time they open a door.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel-for turning the titular building into one of the most memorable characters of the year--heightened reality colliding with woozily remembered fantasy worlds, tossed in a blender and served up as dainty little finger food.

Honorable mention: an appropriately dusty Cambridge in The Theory of Everything

Best Costume Design
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past-for eastern-influenced future-wear, terrible 70s suits, and (most of all) for Jennifer Lawrence's silly hats.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive-for costumes that look as cool as the undead wearing them. For Tilda Swinton's white pantsuit, Tom Hiddleston's dilapidated rocker clothes, and John Hurt's surprisingly dapper 300-year old dressing gown.
3. Inherent Vice-God, the 70s were horrible to look at, weren't they? Horrendously colored suits, obscenely inappropriate bathing suits, and only the classiest of hooker-ware.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel-Clothing as colorful confections to match the gorgeous little dioramas that the characters run around in. What a wacky, brilliant idea to clothe the bellboys in bright, bright purple.
1. Snowpiercer-From the rags of the cockroach-eating downtrodden to dystopian formal wear for all the best drug-fueled new year's parties, Snowpiercer has it all. Points for making Tilda Swinton look like Margaret Thatcher wearing a straitjacket.

Honorable mention: silliness abounds in Into the Woods, but I just can't forgive that awful, awful zoot suit that Johnny Depp inflicted on all of us.

Best Visual Effects
5. Guardians of the Galaxy-for the most charismatic raccoon and talking tree this side of Pom Poko, and for the tiny little doomed spaceships lining up like giddy little worker bees.
4. Edge of Tomorrow-aliens as crazed masses of tentacles, doomsday visions of a sequel to the battle of Normandy, and mech suits that make us believe that Tom Cruise can still be an action star.
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies-this movie was a colossal misfire in just about every respect, but it's tough to find fault with how immaculately rendered all of that awfulness was.
2. Godzilla-Gojira! For making our favorite giant lizard a tangible mass of flesh, muscle, and sassiness, for helping create the film's surreal beauty, and for the pure, childlike joy it gave me when Godzilla straight-up decapitated a giant bug with his breath. These are exciting times.
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-Once again, Weta pushes the motion-capture envelope, continuing to re-draw the line between visual effects, acting, and inscrutable voodoo wizardry.

Honorable mention: spaceships, alternate dimensions, and big ol' walls of water in Interstellar

Best Makeup
3. Guardians of the Galaxy-hey, maybe it is just 100 different variations on a full-body paint job, but what silly and inventive variations. How long until we start seeing some of Drax the Destroyer's red scar tattoos showing up on woefully misguided fanboys?
2. Only Lovers Left Alive-The first (but not the last) movie in this category that got here by giving Tilda Swinton wacky hair! Who could turn down her aging vampire dreadlocks, or the translucent sheets of gossamer that these characters claim as skin?
1. Snowpiercer-finally, an apocalypse movie that understands that survivors of an extinction-level event are probably going to look dirty. Add that to Tilda Swinton's hair--a horrendous and immoral adaptation of the Prince Valiant bowlcut--and you've got something special.

Honorable mention: fairy designs and sentient wings in Maleficent

Best Film Editing
5. Why Don't You Play in Hell?-without a steady hand, this film would have been an incomprehensible mess--and hey, maybe it still is, but it's got a pulsing, wild-eyed enthusiasm that keeps throwing the audience into the fray.
4. Boyhood-sure, you could argue that the films is a bit formless, but that's just the way it's supposed to be--like the events it depicts, the movie crawls along across 12 years, only imposing a narrative on its events by virtue of their implacable continuity.
3. Nightcrawler-this film moves forward like a shark, chasing its next movement and dashing inevitably forward
2. Under the Skin-the exact opposite of Nightcrawler, somehow Under the Skin maintains its fascination while hardly seeming to move at all. It's a seemingly unconnected series of lurching vignettes which somehow coalesce to form something unique and lovely.
1. Edge of Tomorrow-Why did no one see Edge of Tomorrow? It was one of the best movies of the summer, and huge part of that was the editing, which made the film seem like an unholy but perfect alliance between Groundhog Day and a video game--constant re-starts, breakneck action, comedy entirely through cutting.

Honorable mention: a great mix of epic scope and tense day-to-day in Selma

Best Cinematography
5. Robert Yeoman-The Grand Budapest Hotel-for immaculately lit dioramas, for the herculean task of juggling three different aspect ratios for one movie, and for the most woozily romantic lighting of the year. seriously, that shot on of Saoirse Ronan on the merry-go-round? Priceless.
4. Robby Baumgartner-The Guest-How the hell do you make lighting sarcastic? I've no idea, but Baumgartner does, making every shot a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of heroism and folksy Americana. Extra points for the profoundly ridiculous way that those silly dance lasers frame the titular psycho in the scene at the dance.
3. Seamus McGarvey-Godzilla-for understanding that this movie needed to be *big*, and for lighting and framing it as such. Of course that hallucinatory nightmare jump scene sticks in the memory, but what about the way Godzilla's back lights blue before he breathes fire, or those impossibly merry little red lanterns in the midst of San Francisco's destruction?
2. Daniel Landin-Under the Skin-for the eeriness of Scarlett Johannson's black room alone, but also for unsettling beach-side tableau, people emerging from the fog like ships passing in the night, and that gorgeous and inevitable fiery run through the forest at the end.
1. Emmanuel Lubezki-Birdman-What a not-surprise to have Lubeski--DP for Gravity, The Tree of Life, The New World, and Children of Men, among others--at the top of the list again. He could take it on the strength of the film's one-shot conceit alone, but Lubezki injects the film with far more beauty than he has any right to. That wacky shop lit entirely with Christmas lights, or the expressive scenes on the rooftop--New YOrk becomes a wounded animal, bashfully prodding at its wounds with light.

Honorable mention: Robert Elswit's brash, brutal work on Nightcrawler

Best Original Score (I'll link to my favorite tracks from each movie)
5. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-Gone Girl-Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) continues to impress with his skill as a film composer. Gone Girl's music is all pregnant pauses, icy little electronic flairs, and uncomfortable crescendos.

4. Joe Hisiashi-The Tale of the Princess Kaguya-You *could* argue that Hisiashi's scores always err on the side of traditional, but why wouldn't they when his tradition is so gorgeous? Hisiashi proves once again that no one utilizes a full orchestra as well as he does, but he also surprises with the lovely, Indian-influenced Celestial Beings theme.

3. Antonio Sanchez-Birdman-this one gets on here for being so darn atypical. The score for Birdman consists entirely of an improvised drum track, and it's perfect. The ceaseless drumming sets the pace for the film, driving forward despite the character's best intentions, chasing them around New York City like a coked out, percussion-happy monkey.
(It's a bit silly to link to this track, as it's not really a score that got on this list because it's fun to listen to on Youtube, but for what it's worth...

2. Alexandre Desplat-The Grand Budapest Hotel-a construction as delicate and immaculately rendered as the film itself, Desplat's score is an essential part of building the world that Wes Anderson's film envisions. Melancholy liltings craft nostalgia for places that never were.

1. Micah Levi-Under the Skin-Simply unlike anything else we heard at the movies this year. Wavering uncertainly between menace and fragility, a tinkling little black widow creeping its way across a violin. It's great stuff, and it elevates an fantastic film.
This one really underlines the creepy:
But this one sells the gorgeousness of it all: 

Honorable mention: Alexandre Desplat's catchy, movie-serving work on The Imitation Game

Best Sound Mixing
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier-for bringing order to chaos, and managing to make comic movies sound clear again. Every action scene is crisply mixed and defined. There's a time and place for aural chaos, but great action movies are neither the time nor the place.

4. Godzilla-a surprisingly subtle take on the big ol' monster movie. What first comes to mind are the moments of silence punctuated by the stentorian vocalizations of our creatures--Aaron Tayler-Johnson's character hiding on the bridge as a MUTO shifts by him, or the haggard breathing and muffled roars of the jump sequence.

3. The Babadook-Great horror movies live and die by their use of sound, so how could we have called The Babadook a great horror movie without giving it a place here? Palatial silences filled by creeping little scratches across the audience's retinas. Creepy, evocative stuff.

2. Stranger by the Lake-For having the guts to keep the sound as low-key as the onscreen murders we're listening to. It could have gone for heightened reality at any time, but Stranger on the Lake chooses to remain an impartial observer, and is all the better for it. A muffled cry and a dainty little splash is far more effective than all the ceiling-rumbling bass that a mainstream blockbuster would have gone for.

1. Under the Skin-I really can't praise this movie enough, can I? Combine all the wonderful things I've said about the other movies on this list, and you've got Under the Skin in a nutshell: it's controlled like Captain, uses silence and horror as well as Godzilla and The Babadook, and knows how to restrain itself like Stranger. If you haven't seen this movie, go check it out. You won't be wasting your time.

Honorable mention: the typically stellar world-building in Fincher movies is on display again in Gone Girl

Best Sound Editing
5. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies-I do hate praising this movie, but the sound effects really are fantastic--ridiculous giant earthworms, fights on a constantly shifting ice-field, and one big ol' disappointed dragon sigh.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier-bionic arms clashing against fancy shields. the ominous groans of a window caving in against a battering ram, and, of course, the delightful maelstrom of Helicarrier destruction.
3. How to Train Your Dragon 2-Like its predecessor, Dragon gives voice to a panoply of different creatures, each instantly recognizable and characterized by their sounds. Bonus points for the eardrum-destroying clash between Alphas.
2. Edge of Tomorrow-Aliens who sound like a washing machine full of razor blades when they move, A sci-fi D-Day torn from my 10-year old imagination, and for managing to find variations and giggles in a plot which revolves around repeating the same day over and over.
1. Godzilla-I mean, I probably would have given Godzilla this prize just for not screwing up the big guy's roar, right? In addition to doing my favorite city-destroying lizard justice, we got super memorable giant bugs (I can still recall how each of them sounds 8 months later) and enough city carnage to last me until the next big lizard movie.

Honorable mention: heightened reality and downright silly violence in Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Best Original Song
5. "The Big House"-Muppets Most Wanted-This was honestly an awfully weak year in this category, and I'm hard-pressed to find songs that I really love. And I certainly don't *love* this one, but it gets in for giving me my Tina Fey fix, and for pandering to my secret love of doo wop.
4. "Glory"-Selma-Another one I don't necessary love. I think the lyrics get a little on-the-nose (particularly in the rap bits), but it's an uplifting chorus, and it provides the right emotional umph for the end of the film.
3. "For the Dancing and the Dreaming"-How to Train Your Dragon 2-a lovely emotional beat in a film that too often eschews emotion for being busy. This song provides a quiet and heartfelt interlude to rest of the film's bombast. It's delicate and gorgeous and funny, showing off all the film's best qualities at once.
2. "Lost Stars"-Begin Again-for being integral to the plot, morphing through three different version throughout the course of the film, and for being just an awesome little acoustic ballad by the end.
1. "Everything is Awesome"-The LEGO Movie-Because if you saw this movie, chances are you burst into this song about once a week. Everything really *is* awesome when you've got silly, purposely trashy dance music caterwauling through your head like a drunk toddler. 

Honorable mention: My love of Middle Earth end-credit ballads *almost* got the better of me, and I almost included "The Last Goodbye" from The Hobbit, but I persevered.

Well, that's that, wherein "that's" means "my movie lists for the year," and "that" means finished. Now we all have to go another year without a new list popping up here everyday! We can get through this together. For those playing along at home, here's a list of the movies that showed up the most on my lists:

Under the Skin-8
The Grand Budapest Hotel-7
Captain America: The Winter Soldier-4
Stranger by the Lake-4
(note: I'd make that a top 10 list, but after Godzilla it's a 10-way tie for 9th place, so I think I'll just leave it here...)

As for most wins, four movies managed to walk away with more than one prize:
Under the Skin: 4 (Picture, Director, Original Score, Sound Mixing)
The Grand Budapest Hotel: 3 (Actor, Original Screenplay, Art Direction)
Birdman: 2 (Supporting Actor, Cinematography)
Snowpiercer: 2 (Costume Design, Makeup)

Well there's another year done. What do we think? Good year? Bad year? I'm leaning in favor of good year (movies-wise), but would entertain a debate!

No comments:

Post a Comment