Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Best of 2015, part 4: Craft Categories

And as quickly as we found each other, now we have to let go. I know. It's hard. I'm going to cry in a train station, David Lean style, as soon as I'm done writing this, and I only hope you're going to stare moodily out your window and listen to John Grant crooning at you. (Those were Brief Encounter and Weekend jokes, by the way.) (Because they're both about people who--. You know what? Just go watch those movies. Seriously. Do that right now. I'll wait right here.) This is my last big list post until I slither back into the shadows until February 2017. Wackiness. Today, I'm going to tackle all of the most fun categories, aka the categories no casual movie goer enjoys! Oh happy day! So before I whisper something into your ear and then get in a taxi, leaving you to wander Tokyo (Lost in Translation. Keep up.), let's spend a few more happy moments together while I try and come up with exciting new ways to describe sound editing.

(I've included definitions for a few categories, in case you're not too positive to which craft each is referring.)

Best Production Design
(Production design: designing, creating, and building the world of the movie. Sets, props, art direction, etc.)

5. Bridge of Spies-a faithfully re-created 60s Berlin, enough American imagery to make Norman Rockwell fall into a giddy coma, and a neverending series of frigid hotels and apartments.
4. Cinderella-the kind of gorgeous palatial estates that make princesses turn around and slap their mothers. Unbelievably high ceilings, ornate gardens, and profoundly decadent tapestries.
3. Carol-a world of repression and longing condensed into the little things; train-sets, window displays, tasteful handbags. It's like strolling through a snowglobe.
2. Crimson Peak-glorious expressionism at its giddy macabre best: bleeding walls, snow drifting through gaping cedar chasms, elevators that shriek with malign intent. The child of Grand Guignol and Andy Warhol's cocaine-addled fever dreams.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road-a world on a spindly, steampunk wire. Manic, twisted vehicles juxtaposed with faux tranquility in the Citadel scenes, accented by an infinity of gorgeous, miniscule details--Nux's bird-skull bobblehead, ancient water-wheels repurposed as elevators, those ridiculous chainsaw-wielding polecats. Fascinating world-building from the tire-treads up.

Honorable mention: Giddily colored and realized grey matter in Inside Out

Costume Design
5. Mad Max: Fury Road-the chic-est bedsheets this side of Valhalla. A million tiny, fascinating details: the serrated teeth on the chastity belts, Immortan Joe's bizarrely see-through chestplate and hilariously modest codpiece, a repurposed doll's head on a warrior's mask. Wild and wacky stuff.
4. Crimson Peak-dresses that act as haunted houses in their own right. Ridiculously long trains that flutter down the stairs like a glamorous bat, puffy, horrifying boy-sleeves, and the silliest collars this side of Eiko Ishioka's work on Dracula.
3. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.-I would wear everything in this movie, regardless of intended gender. Bug-eyed sunglasses, brimmed hats capable of deflecting a nuclear warhead, and suits so aggressively fitted and tailored it's amazing they didn't start WWIII all on their own.
2. Carol-What lovely, lived in finery. Blanchett's jackets, Mara's modest little dresses, Sarah Paulson's vaguely mannish shoulder pads. Such character-defining work in a film already brimming with telling details.
1. Cinderella-to quote Nathanial Rogers/The Film Experience, Sandy Powell might as well be directing this movie, her colors are so bold. Dresses so vibrant, garish, and preposterously scaffolded it's a wonder they can hold up under their own weight, those obscene baby-blue leggings on Richard Madden (seriously), and an iconic take on an already iconic blue Cinderella dress--this is eye-popping, drop-dead gorgeous work.

Honorable mention: delightfully sensible lady-vests and swoon-y farmer gear in Far from the Madding Crowd.

Visual Effects
(Visual Effects: both practical effects (things accomplished in-camera) and CGI (animation, color correction, compositing, etc.)

5. Ex Machina-amazing work for a low-budget indie. Ava is a singular, dazzlingly realized creation; all mesh, pulsing wires, and creeping sexuality.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens-the return of grungy, lived-in practical effects (that cage alien on Jakku? Nifty), animated Lupita Nyong'o to look like Smurfette left in the sun for 2,000 years, and of course the snap-crackle-pop lightsaber battles that made me feel like a giddy schoolgirl.
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron-enough wacky robot carnage to make up for the fact that Spike's Robot Wars got cancelled, plus wild n' wacky eastern European magic, runnin' real fast, and that creepy floating Vision.
2. The Martian-for, y'know, Mars and stuff.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road-for both doing as much as feasibly possible in camera (seriously, go check out some 'making of' videos and bathe in the sheer insanity) as well as recognizing when to utilize fantastic CG work (that improbably beautiful sandstorm). Max pushes both envelopes, proving you can not rely on computer work while still deploying it to staggering effect.

Honorable mention: Judy the Amazing Technicolor Dream-Bear in The Revenant

Makeup and Hairstyling
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens-the glorious, triumphant return of rubbery, silicon aliens--hooray! What silliness! Also, everyone should get an Oscar for making Oscar Isaac's hair so Loreal-poofy under duress. (*swoon* Oscar Isaac in that movie tho)
2. Carol-speaking of *swoon*--everyone in Carol looks like they were coiffed by angels. If my hair ever looked as good as Cate Blanchett's does in this movie, I'd never stop throwing up (with joy).
1. Mad Max: Fury Road-I know, Max is everywhere, dill wif it. Grotesque wounds and scars that still somehow feel like accessories--rusted metal rivets in faces, whimsically tattooed cancer cysts, Charlize Theron's sassy smoke eye, and the most horrifying case of backne ever to hit the screens.

Honorable mention: oh the vicarious joys we all got to experience watching pieces fall off of Leo in The Revenant

Film Editing
(Film editing: cutting. Generally responsible for the film's pace, as well as for continuity, keeping the audience focused on the right details, and showcasing the film's scenes in an understandable way.)

5. Steve Jobs-a daring triptych structure made navigable through smart cuts and self-reflexive pacing. Mirrors on mirrors on mirrors.
4. Spotlight-wringing tension and suspense from a well-known court case. Fashioning a series of seemingly mundane tasks into a highly compelling race against the clock.
3. It Follows-creeping insanity disguised as a movie. For being patient enough to let certain scenes unfold in all their inevitable glory. Where lesser movies might have been tempted to ratchet up the tension with quick cuts, It Follows forces the audience to stew in its own uncomfortable juices.
2. Sicario-so nerve-wracking I want to die. For effortlessly crafting the most anxiety-inducing, nail-biting sequences of the year.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road-for taking an obscene amount of footage and cuts (averaging 22.5 cuts per minute!) and making it totally legible, compelling, and absorbing. Despite the film's lightning-quick progression, Mad Max's sense of continuity, space, and tension is always taut as a piano wire.

Honorable mention: high-wire boxing scenes and deceptively calm domestic rhythms in Creed

(Cinematography: in layman's terms--how pretty the movie is. Lighting, composition, camera movement, etc.)

5. Carol-colors that make my heart jump into my throat, painterly frames, and impressionist lighting that would make Douglas Sirk slap his mother in frustration.
4. The Revenant-bravura long takes, sparse, unblinking looks at a rugged West, and the unbelievably difficult harnessing of natural light to illuminate the casual horrors to which we are subjected.
3. Creed-for that one-take boxing sequence, but also for the deliberate, languid camera movements, the coy, warm light juxtaposed with the harsh florescent realities of the ring, and for the moment when Adonis first sees Tessa in the club, bathed in blue light like a Gustav Klimt avenging angel.
2. Sicario-because Roger Deakins is a demigod. For the daredevil night vision and infrared sequences, for casting an empty, unforgiving sky as a main character, and for the spellbinding shot of Juarez lighting up in the distance like a malevolent Christmas candle.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road-I promise, this is the last time Max will be at the top of a list (I think), but how could I not? John Seale takes the teal/orange color palette so beloved of Hollywood action movies and perverts it, warping it into a wind-blasted, blood drenched hellscape in which moments of beauty drag themselves screaming out of the muck. I want to hang every frame of that night sequence in the bog on my wall (and then have nightmares forever).

Honorable mention: there are some unbelievably arresting compositions in Magic Mike XXL. I seriously almost put it in my Top 5, which continues to surprise me. Seriously, look at this. It's crazy.

Original Score
(music composed specifically for the film)
(for funsies I'll link to my favorite track from each film.)

5. Carol-reminiscent of Phillip Glass, Tchaikovsky, and all of my wistful teenage longings. Bittersweet, lilting melodies accompanied by insistent string intervals.

4. Inside Out-Who wouldn't reward a score whose orchestrations include tuba solos, a glass harmonica, and a Wurlitzer? Inside Out gives each emotion a distinctive musical voice (really, listen to the piece below and tell me you can't tell which character isn't being foregrounded at any given moment), and pushes the movie forward with an equal mix of manic jubilation and low-key sweetness.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road-a quintessential piece of action movie music; driving, pulsing red-eyed mayhem pushed to the brink with insistent drums, pissed-off brass instruments, and one kick-ass flamethrowing guitar.

2. It Follows-A pure exercise in sonic horror. The kind of horror movie music that crawls under your skin and dies there. And yet it still finds time to be melancholy and lovely. What a wonky, wonderful piece of composition.
Here's a scary track:
And here's a pretty one:

1. Sicario-the driving force behind the most nerve-wracking movie of the year. Sure, the film-making's great, but without the music lovingly shoving a red-hot poker into your ear, it just wouldn't be the same. It's less music than it is primordial battle cry--a guttural roar into the abyss that wakes something dead-eyed and untameable.
Like It Follows I'll give you one scary track:
And one pretty (er, pretty-ish) one:

Honorable mention: the otherworldly rhythms and melodies of Beasts of No Nation

Sound Mixing
(blending the four sound elements--dialogue, music, sound effects, and ambient noise--into one cohesive overall mix.)

5. The Revenant-for daring to make the Great Outdoors sound empty--echoing, vacant roars of waterfalls, the moody howling of the wind across miles of ambivalent landscapes, and a bear-mauling scene that refuses to heighten the drama.
4. It Follows-I've such a soft spot for horror movies in this category, but how could you not? The perfect mix of silence, slowly building crescendos, and moments of eardrum-destroying panic. The way the soundtrack screams during one particularly memorable sequence (think: tall guy in a door) is one for the ages.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road-perfectly controlled aural chaos, in that it's not actually chaos that we're hearing--it just sounds like it. A maelstrom of voices (both human and machine) screaming for relevance in a vast and uncaring storm. A shocking and successful exercise in sonic juggling.
2. The Assassin-arguably the most interesting world-building through sound all year. The film never caves in and gives us the Wuxia movie we want; instead, everything is capture in a humid, dreamy haze, as if every action were taking place inside a fecund terrarium.
1. Sicario-If the music is the engine that gives Sicario life, then the sound mix is the gas it needs to keep going. What a brittle, volatile concoction, foregrounding different elements and assaulting the sense like someone smashing a glass cylinder in your ear.

Honorable mention: sharp boxing mixes and all the messy goings-on in between in Creed

Sound Editing
(creating the sound effects heard in the film--aka all the things that need to be added in post-production.)

5. Sicario-all the automatic weapons that go thump-thump-thump in the night, brought to ghastly, unnatural life.
4. The Revenant-for stentorian momma bear roars, the wet slap of a horse going off a cliff, and the sounds of Leonardo Dicaprio joyfully munching on a raw bison liver--man I hope the foley artist who got to simulate that was well paid.
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron-for Vision's bedazzled head ray that sounds like something out of a 60s-era Godzilla movie, for the ever-present clarions of Captain America's shield, and the zethyr implosions Scarlet Witch tosses with reckless abandon.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road-for giving each vehicle a distinct, shrill voice, for the random and horrifying animals roars spliced into key moments of the narrative, and for the all-too-satisfying squish that Immortan Joe's face makes when it comes off.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens-always a champion in this category. For BB-8's anthropomorphic little grunts and squeals, for planet-ending death-star sized laser screams, and for the childhood-inducing snap-hiss of the lightsabers,

Honorable mention: the ickiest body horror in years, lovingly displayed in Bone Tomahawk

Original Song
5. "Cold One"-Ricki and the Flash-good grief, I despise this movie, but who am I to pass up an 80s power ballad as sung by Meryl Streep? I'm just not that strong.

4. "Fine on the Outside"-When Marnie was There-A melancholy, lilting little ode to isolation that sends the (possibly) last Studio Ghibli film out on a proper note of reflection.

3. "Love Me Like You Do"-50 Shades of Grey-I'm also not strong enough to deny the cheesiest of pop ballads this side of Celine Dion, apparently. I am what I am--and what I am today is someone who secretly grooves to terrible pop songs from that movie that your friend's mom tried to get you to see. Ugh, who am I kidding, I love this song.

2. "Feels Like Summer"-Shaun the Sheep Movie-despite its profoundly inane lyrics, I just can't deny the bubble gum positivity and forward momentum of this ditzy pop rock extravaganza--particularly in the context of the movie. I'm not sure I like this song, but I sure as heck know that I totally love it. It makes my heart sing in the silliest ways.

1. "I'll See You in My Dreams"-I'll See You in My Dreams-a note-perfect, lilting number that effortlessly captures the bittersweet realities of growing old and outlasting the things you love. It's a song that snuck up on me--I didn't think too much of it 9 months ago, but now I can hardly get it out of my head.

Honorable mention: the latest showcase for Jennifer Hudson's next-level pipes: "I Run" from Chi-Raq

Believe it or not (and I've a sneaking suspicion that you'll believe it), that's it for lists this year! I'll be back tomorrow for one final post to put a nice little bow on everything, but this is the end of it, new content-wise. For those playing along at home, here's a list of movies that showed up the most on my lists:

Mad Max: Fury Road-13
It Follows-6
Inside Out-5
Clouds of Sils Maria-4

Note: I'd do a top 10, but after Clouds it's an 11-way tie for 8th place, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

As for most wins, only two movies managed to come away with more than one:
Mad Max: Fury Road: 8 (Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Production Design, Visual Effects, Makeup, Film Editing, Cinematography)
Sicario: 2 (Original Score, Sound Mixing)

Note note: It's really very rare that I movie sweep wins like this. For comparison, my biggest winners of the past 5 years were Under the Skin (4 wins), Gravity (5 wins), Beasts of the Southern Wild (4 wins), Drive (3 wins), and Black Swan (4 wins). I've never had a movie top this many lists since I started writing these things. Wackiness.

Well there goes another year. How'd I do? Anything you'd have changed (apart from going back in time to stop me from writing this)? Good year? Bad year? I thought I was leaning toward bad/mediocre year, and I think that might be true for depth of field, but I've got such passion and warm fuzzies toward my top 10 that I'm not really sure I can stand by that claim.

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