Hi there. I know I'm in the middle of a dozen different recurring pieces around here, but the Academy Awards were this Sunday and as usual they got everything fucking wrong. Not that I'm not glad that The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar, that made my night, but there were quite simply much better films out there that got no attention, or were relegated to miniscule categories they didn't stand a chance in. So, let's see just who got snubbed this year, shall we?
Best Foreign Language Film
I'd like to state once and for all what a stupid, backwards idea it is that we have to draw lines down language barriers. Most of the films I saw this or any year that I consider to be the best are in other languages. It's fucking stupid and insulting that we have to put up with racist claptrap like The Blind Side receiving best picture nominations when there are movies like Gomorrah and Let The Right One In getting completely ignored. Il Divo, Gomorrah, Beaches of Agnes, Vincere, Red Cliff, Lorna's Silence, White Ribbon, A Prophet, Mother, Flame and Citron, Summer Hours, The Headless Woman, Tony Manero, Broken Embraces, Mesrine, Tulpan, Just Another Love Story, Thirst, The Good, The Bad, The Weird, and Police, Adjective were all stellar. Better than Avatar. Better than The Blind Side. Better, most of them, than The Hurt Locker.
Best Film Editing
I would say that this award should have gone to Julian Clarke for District 9 because of the film's brilliant use of mixed media, but there were so many expertly edited films this year. Star Trek, Thirst, 35 Shots, The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Not Quite Hollywood, The International, The Baader Meinhoff Complex, Bronson, Il Divo, Gomorrah, The Escapist and Bright Star are just some of the terrifically edited films this year.
Best Sound Mixing/Editing
I'll be honest and say that I'm not an astute audio student so I've lumped the editing and mixing together. I give it to Drag Me To Hell but runners-up Terminator: Salvation (the only accolade it deserves), The House of the Devil, Star Trek and District 9 all sounded thrilling as well.
Best Original Score
This is quite a tough one actually but I'm going to have to go with Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi's beautiful score for A Single Man. The film's hypnotic and lilting melodies matched the elegiac epiphanies of the film's hero. A close second would be Nick Cave & Warren Ellis' simple yet gorgeous score for The Road. Whether through terrifying dissonance or calming violin and piano arrangements, Cave and Ellis prove themselves masters of tone and understatement. Carlo Crivelli's score for Vincere is a similarly close third place, with its vibrant string melodies as quirky and irascible as its hero. Adrian Younge's serious score for the pastiche film Black Dynamite is not just a great piece of work, but also the result of a lot of love and research and deserves more credit than its gotten. And Hans Zimmer's score for Sherlock Holmes was really something, too.
Best Visual Effects
Yeah, I could give this to Avatar but that requires no creativity. Drag Me To Hell had some fun lo-fi effects; Star Trek looked great, thanks in large part to J.J. Abrams love of lens flares; the quidditch scenes in Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince were the best they've ever been; District 9's visual effects were pretty much flawless from start to end; Where The Wild Things Are made more likable characters out of CG-fied puppets than everyone in Avatar combined; The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus looked pretty stellar at times and The Road managed to conceal it's CG excellently.
Hands down Anthony Dod Mantle for Antichrist. He may never best his work in this film, indeed only the work of Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki compares. From the unspeakably brilliant black-and-white opening to the Japanese painterly quality of the forest images in Charlotte Gainsbourg's dreams, Mantle's images are almost too beautiful for words. Though he most assuredly did the year's best work it's a great sign that there were so many others with almost comparable photography. Javier Aguirresarobe turned The Road from great to masterpiece quality, translating prose to landscapes; Sean Bobbit found the beauty in the aching tragedy of Steve McQueen's Hunger; Martin Ruhe's work on the moribund The Countess was wonderful; Eliot Rockett captured the look of the early 80s perfectly in House of the Devil; Roger Deakins brings it once again in A Serious Man; Daniele Cipri's lush cinematography brought out the deep crimson hue of Vincere's story; Kyung-Pyo Hong's greyscale photography and technical prowess got to the heart of Bong-Joon Ho's Mother; Eduard Grau deserves much praise for his innovative style in A Single Man (his camerawork was nearly half the reason the movie worked so well); Lance Acord brought tranquility to Where The Wild Things Are; Larry Smith found the artistic side of the thoroughly mad Bronson; Christian Berger's beautiful black-and-white compositions were another character in The White Ribbon and Philipp Blaubach's work on The Escapist was equal parts grit and gothic. All in all, a great year for cinematography.
Best Costume Design
At first I gave it to The Countess but after reviewing Bright Star I've come to see that it really is a superb achievement. Fanny Brawne's gowns are always brilliant and exquisite. Janet Patterson not only designed the costumes, but also did a good deal of the physical production design. And so for that, she gets the award. Pierre-Yves Gayraud did a remarkable job on The Countess, one of many successfully costumed-costume dramas this year. Arianne Phillips for A Single Man, Moidele Bickel for The White Ribbon, Tim Yip for Red Cliff, Mary Zophres for A Serious Man, Choi Eui-Yeong and Yu-Jin Gweon for The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Bina Daigeler for The Limits of Control, Sandy Powell for The Young Victoria, Manon Rasmussen, Margrethe Rasmussen and Rikke Simonsen for Flame and Citron and of course Robin Fitzgerald for House of the Devil, all made splendid showings for themselves.
Best Art Direction
Well I give it up to Brendan Rankin for his art direction on Hunger, a film that is both a political treatise and an unflinching work of art. Briseide Siciliano for Vincere is a close second. And Irene O'Brien's work on the aptly titled The Escapist, Jane Levick for Bronson, Ian Phillips for A Single Man, Astrid Poeschke's work on The Countess, David Hindle and Christian Huband for Bright Star, Seong-Hie Ryu's design for Thirst and the half-dozen guys who worked on Where The Wild Things Are were also brilliant.
Best Animated Feature
As strict animation goes, it's definitely Coraline because Henry Selick utilized the form in a totally immersive and gripping fashion. I very much liked Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox but they weren't nearly as innovative or beautiful to simply stare at.
Best Supporting Actress
Allow me first to say that splitting actors down gender lines is kind of archaic and needs to stop. I get that it allows equal attention to both actors and actresses but it also implies that there is a fundamental difference between the way men and women approach roles and we really ought to get past making distinctions like this. That said best supporting actress is without doubt Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince. She has maybe five minutes of screentime in a two hour plus film and steals the whole movie. The same can be said of Marion Cotillard who owns both Public Enemies and that fucking terrible Nine. She's lovely, talented and radiant but neither film meets her half-way. Alia Shawkat proves herself capable of being feisty and intelligent in the little-loved Amreeka (a sober break from her much-loved turn as Maebe on the much-loved Arrested Development). Finally Aryana Engineer is the heart and soul of the heartless and soulless Orphan as the youg deaf-mute Max. Engineer, an actual deaf-mute, does and says more with a look than most of her co-stars (shit, she acts circles around Vera Farmiga) and comes off as the only sympathetic character. She is absolutely brilliant and gives star Isabelle Fuhrman stiff competition for best young actress in the film.
Best Supporting Actor
This is tough. The best supporting turns were largely comedic and it's always tough quantifying such things. I'll give it to Karl Urban, cause he's had it coming for many, many years and his Bones not only made Star Trek but proved there is no end to his range as an actor. Beside him are the ever-dour Mads Mikkelson, showing his sympathetic side in Flame and Citron, Paul Schneider as the impossible Charles Brown in Bright Star, Larry Fessenden in the part he was born to play in I Sell The Dead and Justin Long as the lovably hapless boyfriend in Drag Me To Hell.
Best Documentary Feature
If I wasn't going to give it best picture I'd give this to Beaches of Agnes. You know what, I'm still going to give it to Beaches of Agnes. It's a film about a life but also but why cinema is the most permanent and intimate artform and how it has come to embody the lives of its proponents. A gorgeous and heartbreaking look at many lives touched by film. Fred Wiseman's La Danse was unjustly overlooked by the academy, as was Not Quite Hollywood! both charming looks into an artform.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Tony Burgess adapted his own novel Pontypool Changes Everything for Bruce McDonald's film Pontypool and made it into one of the most intelligent and excitingly literate horror films of the last decade. Behind him is Chan-Wook Park and Seo-Gyeong for there loose interpretation of Zola's Thérèse Raquin, Thirst. Tom Ford and David Scearce turned Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man into a much more purposeful and insightful work. Dave Eggars and Spike Jonze turned a beloved (and very short) children's book into a totally engaging and harrowing examination of childhood.
Best Original Screenplay
A Serious Man. There's just no question. Joel and Ethan Coen's latest film is one of their best and it starts with their uproarious screenplay. Try keeping a straight face when you think of Sy Ableman from now on; it's impossible. If that went over your head, see the movie, then you'll see what I mean. Not only is it funny and acerbic, it's also totally unpredictable and fresh. Michael Haneke's uber-tense The White Ribbon is also a brilliantly written work, unfolding like a classical piece of literature. Robert Siegel's Big Fan shifts from claustrophobic to hilarious a the drop of a Giants hat and often doesn't know where the line between them lies - the film is thus satisfying complex despite a very simple premise. Glenn McQuaid's tribute to all things horrific I Sell The Dead is a loving and charming work, as is Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns' script for their blaxploitation send-up Black Dynamite.
Let me reiterate: we shouldn't be making gender distinctions. But this is a corrective, and if I don't stick to some kind of rule then it would just be chaos! Giovanna Mezzogiorno wins this year for Marco Bellocchio's Vincere. Her portrayal of an increasingly mad Ida Dalser, Mussolini's forgotten mistress, is sympathetic and enthralling. As her sensuous energy gives way to a touching resilience, you can feel every second of her pain as her identity is taken from her. Runners-up: Isabelle Fuhrman for her fearlessly playing a psychopathic twelve year old with secrets worth murdering for in the B-tastic Orphan. Abbie Cornish as the outwardly frail, inwardly strong Fanny Brawne in Bright Star who is a thrillingly alive alternative to most teenage heroines. Ok-Bin Kim as the cutest murderous in history in Thirst. Alison Lohman as a feisty former farm queen in Drag Me To Hell gleefully owning every Bruce Campbell-esque blow to the head and histrionic shout at the devil. The heartbreaking Hye-Ja Kim as the titular Mother in Bong Joon-Ho's tribute to David Lynch, family and noir. Arta Dobroshi in the Dardenne brother's nightmarish Lorna's Silence. María Onetto as the hero of The Headless Woman, who had not only a head but a great deal of hair...and one of the most blistering performances of the year; she hardly says anything but she communicates so much.
Tom Hardy gets it this year for his outlandish turn as the unbeatable hero of Bronson. As Britian's most pugnacious prisoner, Hardy is like one big muscle, impossible to get a grip on and always menacing and impressive. Whether singing in solitary or battling all the guards in England in the nude, Hardy through his whole being into the performance and he's captivating from start to finish. Runners-up: Viggo Mortensen at his most touchingly human in The Road. Sam Rockwell as the increasingly tired and homesick Sam Bell in Moon. Michael Stuhlgard as the patently befuddled hero of A Serious Man. Sharlto Copley as the unluckiest man in the universe in District 9. Jeremy Renner as the war-hungry James in The Hurt Locker. Toni Servillo deserves accolades, whether its as the vampiric Giulio Andreotti in Il Divo or the unflappable Franco in Gomorrah isn't important. He's terrific as both. Colin Firth is pain personified in A Single Man and misery looks great on him. Christian McKay gives the best Welles in years in Richard Linklater's Me And Orson Welles. Michael Jai White owns every bit of overwrought dialogue with his perfectly hammy performance as Black Dynamite. And if we could give actor awards to voice talents then surely James Gandolfini and Ed Asner would get oscars for their roles in Where The Wild Things Are and Up, respectively.
Steve McQueen wins hands down for his feature debut Hunger. Forcing us into a myriad of uncomfortable situations so that we might consider the impossibility of fighting a war with no front lines. From his unflinching long takes (including the notorious 17 minute conversation) to his impeccable sense of visuals and timing, McQueen proved himself a worthy champion of the arthouse after years spent making video installations for galleries around the world. Hunger is a work of art and McQueen an artist. Close behind him or perhaps tied with him is Agnes Varda for The Beaches of Agnes who shows us the importance of every strip of film and how she has lived through films, something that has stuck with me. Matteo Garrone proves himself not only an ardent cinephile but one of the greatest directors of actors on the planet with Gomorrah. Ti West, director of House of the Devil and Nicholas Winding Refn, the crazed auteur behind Bronson, follow. There are of course many more: John Woo's lyrical Red Cliff showed him once again in charge of his artform. Bong Joon-Ho rebounded from the mediocre The Host with the blindingly weird and darkly wonderful Mother. Rupert Wyatt did a stellar job turning hopelessness into adventure with The Escapist. Joel and Ethan Coen deliver the perfectly orchestrated A Serious Man and Jane Campion handled Bright Star with seasoned touch. And of course John Hillcoat adapted one of my favorite books into one of my new favorite films.
Well as you may have guessed I'm a bit divided on this. Hunger is undeniably affecting, Beaches of Agnes inspiring and touching, Vincere beautifully haunting, Gomorrah as terrifying as the real thing, Bright Star romantic and tragic, House of the Devil intelligent and bone-chilling, A Serious Man wildly hysterical and poetically handled, A Single Man life-affirming in its thrilling-yet-morbid conceit. The best film of the year is in there somewhere. Or maybe you know what it is and I haven't mentioned it (if not, do let us know!). Maybe there's no way to quantify such a thing. Regardless, it's been a good year.