Friday, January 13, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 3: Craft Categories

And we're back again--that's right, two in one day, because the depths of my sadism know no bounds--and apparently neither does your masochism, since you've clicked over here twice in one day. This is what they did to Joan of Arc to make her recant--they just posted a couple links on her wall and suddenly homegirl was all about getting out of that prison cell. Some things are just too much to ask of a person. And yet here you are. Think about your choices. I'd say I'll think about mine, but this is my blog, so by law I don't have to.

And as quickly as it's all come, this will be my last big movie post. I'm sure I'll manage some Oscar predictions even though I'll be traveling (because some things don't change regardless of the scenery), but otherwise this blog will start morphing into a travel blog starting .... soon. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe never. I've never travel blogged, nor have I ever written about myself and my experiences in a public space (and, frankly, am dreading the whole enterprise), so we'll see how it goes.

For now, simpler things: today I'm going to shine a light on all my favorite movie-things about which no other sane human cares--the craft categories! Yaaaay! But I'd love to convince you why getting jazzed about costumes and sound effects and prosthetics is the right way to watch movies--because there's *so much* richness there for the taking, and all you have to do is look. So get in my imagination-boat and let's go have a look at some of the cool things I saw in movies this year, and I'll do my very best not to exhaust you.

(Note: I've included a brief description/definition of a few categories, in case you're not positive to what each craft category refers.)

Best Production Design
(designing, creating, and building the world of the movie--sets, props, art direction etc.)

5. Arrival-ovarian spaceships, aliens that are simultaneously lovecraftian tentacled nightmares and somehow (improbably) endearing, and that gorgeous new language that looks like Goodyear tires in a state of perpetual slow-motion explosion.
4. Zootopia-Biomes as neighborhoods with enclaves in each tailoring to various needs--massive points again for that gorgeous train sequence, but extra credit for clever little touches--the hamster-sized town, the odyssey traveled by those poor Popsicle sticks, etc.
3. The Witch-oppressive interiors drawn upwards like malevolent cathedrals, hole-in-the-wall hovels for all your baby-grinding needs, and the most poorly conceived and maintained farm this side of purgatory.
2. La La Land-a movie that lives or dies by its ability to recreate the spaces we see when we close our eyes--not the realities we inhabit, but the color-saturated, swooning dreamscapes that we're too embarrassed to share with the people around us. A bright and starry-eyed physical manifestation of LA as imagined by the ones who dream.
1. Passengers-Walt Disney would take one look at this movie, burn Tomorrowland to the ground, and then never stop crying. The Worlds of tomorrow and today clash in one cheerfully hedonistic one-man pleasure dome: that gorgeous old world bar, the palatial sweets, the spaceship like a lazily tossed javelin. Cool stuff.

Honorable mention: recreating Jackie Kennedy's White House Camelot in Jackie

Costume Design
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-flapper frippery for the magically inclined and their portly muggle buddies. Particularly dug Colin Farrell's vaguely fascist pinstripes and Samantha Morton's horrifying and sensible prison-eque frocks.
4. Jackie-chic formal wear for any lady in mourning, as well as flashbacks to better, more brightly colored times--the dress she wears for the string quartet concert is a particular standout.
3. La La Land-if Ritalin were marketed as candy for kids on Nichelodeon, it would look those eye-popping jewel tone dresses. Extra points for the semi-ironic new Jazz costumes worn by John Legend and his band of merry musicians.
2. A Bigger Splash-Lifestyles of the rich and famous (and the ones who hang onto them like well-dressed leeches): I can't get over Tilda Swinton's billowy black and white day-wear, the infinite army of open-buttoned shirts, or Dakota Johnson's entire line that delicately toes the line between bubble-gum-popping teenager and mid-range escort service.
1. The Dressmaker-Like I'd have anything else here? Look no further than Kate Winslet's rugby-match-ending dresses near the film's beginning--but if you have to, just take as your example any number of the architectural wonders that flit around the outback like sadistic little tropical birds.

Honorable mention: Capes, smocks, and warrior garb in Doctor Strange

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

5. Captain America: Civil War-for successfully rendering Captains, Americas, and Wars (if not necessarily Civils)--extra points for a Spider-Man that actually inhabit a world defined by the laws of physics and for an Ant-Man that gleefully doesn't.
4. Rogue One-expansive and barren new worlds, Roland Emmerich-level world-ending destruction, and impressionistic space battle straight out of a time-traveling Monet painting.
3. Kubo and the Two Strings-Speaking of Monet--for rendering painterly, expressionistic landscapes for our hero puppets to trudge around in, and for the puppets themselves--immaculately constructed, expressive little things that they are. What a lovely looking movie.
2. The Jungle Book-for somehow making a CG bear look like Bill Murray in a way that doesn't make me want to light my TV on fire, and for all the other photorealistic and fully personified animals.
1. Doctor Strange-finally, a movie in which magic isn't *just* candy-colored bursts of CGI light. Doctor Strange lets its characters weaponizes entire cities and have a blast doing it.

Honorable mention: big ol' spaceships in Star Trek Beyond

Makeup and Hairstyling
3. Green Room-horrific and realistic wounds--brownie points (or not so brownie) for the way Anton Yelchin's hand dangles like a sad little puppet's.
2. Hacksaw Ridge-Mel Gibson's one and only real interest--torturing people in horrible ways in front of a camera--may make for problematic movies and a singularly horrible human being, but credit where credit is due for the gritty, lived-in (and died-in) war wounds in his latest peon to bloodletting.
1. Star Trek Beyond-As always, I'm a sucker for rubbery prosthetic aliens, and Star Trek never lets me down--black and white alien race is pretty groovy, as is Idris Elba's shark-toothed villain.

Honorable mention: post-rock glam and poolside up-dos in A Bigger Splash

Film Editing
(cutting--generally responsible for a film's pace, its continuity, keeping the audience focused on the right details, and showcasing the film's scenes in a comprehensible way.)

5. A Bigger Splash-parties like waves on a shore juxtaposed with the languorous realities of a forced seaside retreat, by turns tow-eyed and insistent.
4. Moonlight-three different phases of life stitched together to create a quilt of defined by silence and things unsaid--Moonlight is merciless in its shot length and pacing, giving everything room to refuse to breathe.
3. Arrival-that old adage about turning up the heat on a frog slowly enough to boil it, but in this movie the frog
emerges unscathed--things heated up, certainly, but Arrival always knows when to push the tension and when to break it.
2. Green Room-a movie wound so wire-tight that it made me want to throw up. Tension so thick it cuts itself.
1. Swiss Army Man-Gleeful, naive mania, crawling inside a (relatively) unsettled person's head and weaving together a rhythm which is simultaneously perplexing and engaging.

Honorable mention: three hours of ablution cut to ribbons in Silence

(Essentially how pretty a movie is. Lighting, composition, camera choreography etc.)

5. Jackie-a restless, roving camera staring at overly saturated palettes, all sickly reds and pinks.
4.  The Witch-Satan's domain may be hideous, but The Witch's job is to make it look attractive, and it does just that--although it's the kind of stark, razor sharp attractive that's as likely to slit your throat as it is to take you out to dinner.
3. Moonlight-another striking use of color (something of a theme on this roster), employing a barrage of deep-seeded blues to tint the world of its protagonist. Points for its striking compositions--the way characters vacillate between dominating the shot and ceding it to other, more inevitable forces.
2. La La Land-speaking of color--has any mainstream movie this year been so bold in its own vibrancy? Think the 'City of Stars' pier scene, or the wild variations in the Planetarium ballet--it's heady stuff that screams for attention and deserves it.
1. Silence-Rodrigo Prieto is something of a demigod, employing a conjurer's bag of tricks--fish-eye lenses, desaturated images enveloped in fog, (what looks like) natural light clashing with its own impressionism--to summon a world dominated by its own unforgiving beauty.

Honorable mention: blacks, whites, and grays deployed to staggering effect in Arrival (I hated leaving this one out of the top five, but what could I possible boot?)

Original Score
(for funsies, I'll link to my favorite track from each film.)

5. La La Land-the best kind of classic Hollywood pastiche, reminiscent of a bygone era of music-writing while still floating on its own merits.

4. Disorder-a panic attack forced through a synthesizer and turned into music--the kinds of sounds you hear in your head while running up the basement stairs.

3. The Witch-kind of the 17th century equivalent of Disorder's throaty panicked growl, The Witch is all shrieking violins, 2001-esque dissonant choirs, and guttural Enochian. Why not?
(and here's one with the Enochian, because how often does that happen?

2. Swiss Army Man-what a glorious, wonky delight this soundtrack is--claps and a Capella harmonies, woven into the film as the characters sing along.

1. Jackie-more than any other soundtrack this year, Jackie's lifts its movie onto another level, never giving the audience the kind of easy swells or catharsis that lend themselves so easily to the biopic genre. Instead, Mica Levy's score is a snaky, slithering thing, constantly undermining the images it accompanies by pushing them into more complicated territory than the kind of lionizing an audience might be tempted to do.
(fun note: Mica Levi has only written one other movie score (the other was for 2014 masterpiece Under the Skin, and both have taken the #1 slot on my list. Girl's got talent.)

Honorable mention: Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka's lilting and lovely work on Lion

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

5. Swiss Army Man-a spectacle of corpse magic in the forest, punctuated by moments of moments of both silence and ridiculous, giddily overblown intensity.
4. Green Room-a movie almost entirely about leaning forward, straining to hear what's happening on the other side of the door--Green Room knows exactly how much quiet a person can take before losing their marbles.
3. Arrival-an aural tapestry in a movie about communication--Arrival manages to find a still small voice amidst its own stentorian roar.
2. The Witch--to quote Lars von Trier's Antichrist: 'nature is Satan's church.' The Witch knows this, and never once lets its audience forget the towering presence of the wind and the woods, and what might be masking itself behind the silence.
1. Don't Breathe-not exactly a prestige choice, but Fede Alvarez's squirrelly thriller about outwitting a blind man in his own house lives and dies on what its characters--and its audience--can and can't hear. A pretty staggering achievement of storytelling through sound done on a shoestring budget.

Honorable mention: evoking the aural headspace of a PTSD-ridden bodyguard in Disorder

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

5. Doctor Strange-all the gritty, dimension-bending business of rolling up your sleeves and using magic to slap Mads Mikkelsen with a city.
4. The Jungle Book-bringing a jungle to life, giving each character its own distinctive voice--human or otherwise--and understanding that movie fire needs to roar.
3. Star Trek Beyond-for weaponizing the Beastie Boys, for the broken glass cries of the villain's self-disassembling starship, and for always welcome sci-fi zaps of phasers, lasers, and all the energy weapons a 6-year old me could hope for.
2. Rogue One-Star Wars movies always dominate in this category--lasers, lightsabers, planets exploding, and space battles that sound like a junkyard getting in a fight with a discarded battleship.
1. Arrival-subtle, inspired work--tectonic alien grumbling, spaceships that moan like wounded elephants, and the ever-present hum of another world.

Honorable mention: I do love the snap-crackle-pop magic in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Original Song
5. "Audition (The Fools who Dream)"-La La Land-a lovesick ode to all the things we could touch if only we stretched our hand out just a bit further.

4. "How Far I'll Go"-Moana-Disney does ra-ra girl-power ballads better than anyone, and this year is no exception, offering us up this warbled cry against The Man:

3. "Another Day of Sun"-La La Land-it's hard not to fall in love with this easy jazz anthem to chasing your dreams in LA--it's a bright-eyed call to dizzy, probably ill-advised action, demanding romance and drama in a world all too ready to crush your spirit.

2. "Try Everything"-Shakira-what, like I was going to be able to deny Shakira a spot on this list? I'm just not strong enough. Going with the theme, here's another optimistic howl to the moon about chasing the things you love, despite the speed bumps.

1. "Montage"-Swiss Army Man-one the one hand, it seems a bit silly award this the top spot (the lyrics are literally just what's happening on screen) (sample: "now we're shooting some fish, we're using your body like it's a machine gun now"), but on the other hand, I want to reward it for just that ridiculous and bold spirit. 'Montage' gives one of best scenes of the year the spring in its step, providing the perfect soundtrack for a most unlikely bromance.

Honorable mention: La La Land's ubiquitous, weepy piano anthem 'City of Stars'

Believe it or not (and somehow I think you'll believe it), that's it for the year! For those playing along at home, here are the movies that showed up most frequently on these lists:

La La Land-8
The Witch-6
Manchester by the Sea-5
Green Room-5

As for the most wins, I've got something strange this year, in that it's a four-way tie, each with two:
La La Land (Picture, Director)
Fences (Actor, Actress)
Silence (Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography)
Swiss Army Man (Film Editing, Original Song)

Wacky, but fitting, I suppose, since last year Mad Max was an awards hog and took 8 categories. Also strange that Swiss Army Man is one of the top winners, since I kind of despise that movie in a lot of ways, but I can't deny its various successes either.

There goes another year, then. How'd I do? Things I should change? Shocking and egregious omissions? How was this year at the movies for you? Quality-wise, I'd say it was super--I have so many movies with which I am head-over-heels in love, and I only managed to see 50. Who knows how crazy and Sophie's-choice-esque these awards may have been had I managed to see what the year *really* had to offer? Madness.

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