Friday, January 13, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 2: Directing/Screenplays/Acting

And we're back again today--apply whichever Henry V quote best pertains to your state of mind at this moment (I always assume it's the one with going into the breach once more, dear friends, but what do I know? Maybe you're feeling the one about ghosts. This blog is your oyster) and let's sally forth.

Today will be a massive and ungainly creeping horror-show full of the worst kinds of intensity--should be fun. Because I'm trying to sandwich all of these posts in before I leave on Sunday, I'm going to be tackling a pretty massive amount of content: first, we'll tackle the categories at which I am contractually bound to say that I've dreamed at failing: directing and screenplays. And then, if anyone is still alive, we'll plow onto the acting categories. Hooray!

In interest of super brevity (brevity's rad cousin from Indiana), I'm going to try to do something pithy and insightful for every entry in only one sentence. I hope you've got your pearls close at hand, because by the end of this you will have clutched the ever-living crap out of them.

Best Director
Just for the hell of it, these will be written in the format of recipe instructions. Look out, world.
(I think this means I'm already going to kill super brevity and toss it in the desert just like I did regular brevity.)

5. Barry Jenkins-Moonlight
Take two parts identity crisis, one part three-pronged story structure, and simmer them repressed desire and gorgeous lighting for 10 years. Rinse, try not to repeat.

4. Pablo Lorrain-Jackie
Throw the recipe book out--you don't need it anyway--and make something gorgeous and jaw-dropping while glaring at everyone and daring them to ask why you're not going to let them eat it.

3. Denis Villeneuve-Arrival
Be patient--the cake of your dreams will come to you. In the meantime, whittle the most intricately crafted and lovely cake pan that you can. Expect the people looking for the cake to get what's going on.

2. Martin Scorsese-Silence
Don't cook anything--give everyone you know something wonderful, and then punch them repeatedly in the face. Say nothing if they ask why. Drink their sweet, sweet tears.

1. Damien Chazelle-La La Land
Spend years making the lightest, crunchiest, most colorful confections you can imagine, lay them out in a looooooong buffet, invite all your friends, let them fall in love with your spread, and then remind them that it will all be gone in an hour and they better enjoy what they can while they have the time.

Honorable mention: a cake metaphor that ends in horrific violence for Jeremy Saulnier and Green Room (I hate leaving him off, but that's how it is).

Best Original Screenplay
And these will all be tenuous metaphors packed to the gills with left-field allusions and historical jokes, because I'm feeling whimsical, and dammit, no force on Earth will damper my whimsy train.

5. Taylor Sheridan-Hell or High Water
Cormac McCarthy tossed in a blender with Tracy Letts and the guy who got fired from SNL for being too depressing.
"I've been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys. Not anymore."
4. Byron Howard, Rich Moore et al.-Zootopia
Like if Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Spike Lee were both furries and had a baby whose only sustenance was animal based puns.
Dad: Judy, you ever wonder how your mom and me got to be so darn happy?
Judy: Nope.
Dad: Well, we gave up on our dreams and we settled. Right, Bon?
Mom: Oh yes, that's right. We settled hard.

3. Jeremy Saulnier-Green Room
If the spirit of Pol Pot possessed a young Quentin Tarantino (rental store era Tarantino, not Jackie Brown era Tarantino) and convinced him to scribble out a dream journal after watching Triumph of the Will.
It's funny. You were so scary at night."

2. Kenneth Lonergan-Manchester by the Sea
This is the screenplay Will Hunting writes after driving out to California, realizing Minnie Driver never loved him, and then getting hit by a bus hitchhiking back to Boston.
Patrick: What happened to your hand?
Lee: I cut it.
Patrick: Oh thanks. For a minute there, I didn't know what happened.

1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou-The Lobster
No metaphor I can come up with makes this movie stranger or more delightful than it already is--Colin Farrell runs into the woods and invents a secret sign language to involve getting turned into a lobster. I can't beat that in terms of sheer wacky genius.
Hotel Manager: Have you thought about what kind of animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?
David: Yes. A Lobster.
Hotel Manager: Why a lobster?
David: Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.

Honorable mention: Jackie puts on a pink hat and coolly lights an entire genre on fire and then starts from scratch.

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Whit Stillman-Love and Friendship
Jane Austen and the writers of Arrested Development get together and make Thomas Hardy's bear dance around in a frilly dress--this movie is an ironic interpretation of that bear's interior monologue.
"Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates. Only by having children ourselves can we begin to understand such a dynamic."

4. Jeff Nichols-Loving
This is the sound an unstoppable force makes when it encounters an unmovable object, and both simultaneously decide to drop their adjectives for the common good.
(No quotes worth posting from IMDB, and I just don't remember the movie's screenplay to quote it verbatim. At any rate, the dialogue isn't so much the point of this movie.)

3. Barry Jenkins-Moonlight
Somewhere, in a parallel universe where everything is one shade more beautiful and profound than the one we inhabit, a closeted, 40-year old investment banker wakes up crying, but can't remember why. 
"Ok, let your head rest in my hand. Relax. I got you. I promise. I won't let you go. Hey man, I got you. There you go. Ten seconds. Right there. You in the middle of the world."

2. Eric Heisserer-Arrival
If Andrei Tarkovksy and a very patient linguist got together and slapped an Isaac Asimov pinata, this movie would eventually fall out.
Halpern: We have to consider the idea that our visitors are prodding us to fight among ourselves until only one faction prevails.
Dr. Banks: There's no evidence of that.
Halpern: Sure there is. Just grab a history book.

1. Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese-Silence
A sermon using a Bible in which all the red words have been taken out, delivered by a pastor who has never met his congregation, heard by an audience that turns into giraffes when no one is looking.
"You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as his. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don't have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted."

Honorable mention: sweat-drenched pastiche in A Bigger Splash

Note: I've disqualified Fences from this award--not because it's not a fantastic script, which it absolutely is, *but* because it is the exact same script as used for the theater production (the writing credit at the end of the film is "August Wilson, adapted from his play," but August Wilson has been dead for a decade). I loooooove this script/play, but think there's something to be said for reserving movie awards for scripts that were written for the movie.

And though I imagine they are totally worthless in helping you understand why I picked these movies/performances, or why you should see them, or what is special about them, I'm going to keep up the tenuous metaphor track, because I'm having a blast and want to see how deep this rabbit hole goes. I bet two categories from now I'll be able to smell colors.

Best Actor
5. Jesse Plemons-Other People
The Anger and Sadness characters from Inside Out stacked on top of each other and wearing a trenchcoat, tasked with lying their way into a country club for successful straight people.

4. Daniel Radcliffe-Swiss Army Man
A farting and lovelorn corpse with superpowers. This isn't a metaphor or an embellishment--it's just what Daniel Radcliffe plays in the movie.

3. Joel Edgerton-Loving
If an Easter Island head were given the opportunity to speak about all it had seen, but chose not to.

2. Casey Affleck-Manchester by the Sea
The angry foster child of a closed throat and a clenched fist.

1. Denzel Washington-Fences
The leader of a pack of mammoths, carelessly wandered into a tar-pit, glacially sinking lower, centimeter by centimeter, doing its best to pretend it doesn't mind that everyone around it can keep walking.

Honorable mention: Ryan Gosling's by turns weepy and ebullient jazz pianist in La La Land

Best Actress
5. Kate Winslet-The Dressmaker
Sing, muse, of the anger of Kate Winslet, daughter of a RuPaul's Drag Race fever dream, who came here to make dresses and burn down your house, and she's all out of dresses.

4. Taraji P. Hensen-Hidden Figures
This is the way a rung near the bottom of a ladder feels if it knew it could do advanced mathmatics much better than the rungs closer to the top.

3. Ruth Negga-Loving
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, the sound it makes will eventually move to Virginia, don a gingham house dress, and stare into the camera.
(Very few clips of this movie on Youtube, so just go have a second look at the clip I posted w/ Joel Edgerton.)

2. Natalie Portman-Jackie
Camelot--not the real place, but the fantasy, the romantic yearnings of hundreds of thousands of wistful bookworms, English majors, and suburban housewives strewn across centuries--comes to ghastly, unnatural life and staggers down 5th avenue in New York, wailing to all the people who can't hear it.

1. Viola Davis-Fences
The part of an iceberg that's visible over water may only be a small fraction of the iceberg's size and strength--but it's the only part that has a voice, and so it does the best it can, it sings its songs and it feels small, but every now again an ocean liner comes along and the iceberg gets to remind us and itself that it is vast--it contains multitudes--and can still be counted on in a pinch to do something world-shattering.

Honorable mention: Emma Stone's sass and vulnerability in La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
5. Garrett Hedlund-Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
A G.I. Joe doll comes to life, and its first words are that it wishes it could have voted for Elizabeth Warren for president.
(Totally unironic side note--can we talk about how criminally underappreciated Garrett Hedlund is, and how he's constantly giving complex and nuanced performances in movies that have no interest in complex, nuanced performances? Why doesn't this guy have a better career?)
(Side note two--I forgot to mention the other day that no movie this year has misunderstood its source material as breathtakingly as this one. Who thought it was a good idea to take an unbelievably angry satire about the falseness of patriotic pageantry and try to turn it into a feel-good celebration of patriotism?)
(Side note three--no clip. Bummer.)

4. Lucas Hedges-Manchester by the Sea
This is the puppy that thinks it doesn't need you, but then you leave, and it doesn't know what to do with itself--it cries and yowls and maybe it pees on the rug, and when you get back it jumps up on your leg and you momentarily forget that it fully expects you to clean up what it did.

3. Mahershala Ali-Moonlight
You have been floating on the ocean in a life raft for weeks--just you, a pack of rations, and your thoughts, not even a tiger that's a metaphor for God to help you while away the time--and suddenly it starts to rain, the kind of warm, gentle rain that reminds you of summers spent from someone else's childhood, the kind of rain that makes you feel, however briefly, that you're a human being with wants and needs and hopes and dreams that have nothing to do with survival.

2. Trevante Rhodes-Moonlight
But when that rain ends, you become very, very cold. You have two choices--throw yourself into the ocean and accept your fate, or stay on the raft and make yourself believe that you no longer have the ability to perceive temperature. Somehow you manage to do both simultaneously.

1. Alden Ehrenreich-Hail, Caesar!
You know Karl May never actually visited the Southwest, right? He stayed up, late into the night, scrawling dizzy daydreams of cowboys and their dizzying and charmed lives, basing all his novels on the American Southwest on the cowboy he pretended to be while playing as a child. This is that cowboy--fully grown, sure of himself, and then forced to move to the city and become a real estate agent for rich, older women.

Honorable mention:

Best Supporting Actress
5. Michelle Williams-Manchester by the Sea
You know the tired-looking woman who is forced to hold the boom mike every day during the filming of Real Housewives of New Jersey? Ask her about her life.

4. Molly Shannon-Other People
It feels kind of disengenous and strange to try to come up with a silly blurb for a performance that's a woman dying of cancer, so I'll just say it's a lovely, warm, sad performance.

3. Linda Edmond-Indignation
A conquered Amazonian who, as punishment for her crime of daring to live in the jungle, is forced to make kosher meals for lesser men for centuries.
(There's literally no video on Youtube that features Logan Lerman's poor, harangued mother in this movie, so just close your eyes and imagine you're watching a clip right now.)

2. Kate Dickey-The Witch
Anne Coulter has night terrors--this is the worst of the apparations that comes to her in the night, the one that oozes out from under the floor boards and stares at her until she can no longer tell the difference between the mirror and the silent, dead-eyed banshee weeping in the corner.
(also no clips here, but why haven't you seen this movie yet?)

1. Naomie Harris-Moonlight
There is nothing moral or immoral about a tornado--it is purely amoral, a primal force of nature that acts according to its nature without thought to the consequences, because what would it think? A trailer park is a tiny, insignificant obstacle standing in the way of its ancient and inevitable quest to move from A to B. So the tornado goes through the trailer park with its eyes glazed over, and there's nothing to do but wait until it's over and then try to pick up the pieces.

Honorable mention: Terrible wigs but man what warmth from Nicole Kidman in Lion

That was utterly ridiculous. I don't really know what to make of anything I just wrote, and I daresay you might not either. Hooray! It was fun though.

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