Cinema Chatter #5 – Hypothetically

The critics groups have had their say. There are announcements from time to time from slightly more obscure groups, but the tone that was set by the New York Film Critics in late November has largely been embraced - The Artist is the frontrunner to win Best Picture. But unlike previous years, the generally agreed upon films to secure a Best Picture nomination has fluctuated throughout the awards season. From the ho-hum response to Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to the warm reception of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the whole season has been an odd one. Dark horse Best Picture contenders such as Bridesmaids and Drive seem increasingly appealing as a film like War Horse stumbles with snubs by the Directors Guild of America and the American Society of Cinematographers. The Best Picture landscape remains shapeless, particularly given that prognosticators don’t even know how many films are slated for a nomination. While I had initially pegged the race down to six nominations, I’m slowly feeling that the race could very well expand to the full ten.

Seeing as how Academy Award ballots are expected to be in no later than Friday, January 13, I thought it appropriate to toss in my own hypothetical ballot  Feel free to check out the Prediction Page and sidebar for updates throughout the next few weeks – nominations are set to be announced on Tuesday, January 24.

Best Foreign Language Film

France, “Certified Copy” Belgium, “The Kid with a BikeSpain, “The Skin I Live In Romania, “Tuesday, After Christmas” Norway, “Turn Me On, Damnit

Fun Fact: Not a single one of these films was shortlisted or even submitted by their respective countries for the Academy Awards. So my favorites are really a non-factor. But it was an interesting year in foreign cinema, ranging from forays in genre filmmaking to stark relationship dramas.  But as it’s often the case, distribution for most of the major foreign Oscar contenders are held over the first quarter of 2012 – so I’ll need to catch up on those.

 Best Documentary Feature

“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” “The Interrupters” “Into the Abyss” “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” “Senna”

It was a remarkable year for documentaries in 2011 – even if the Oscar nominated shortlist doesn’t leave you with that impression. With the exception of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, not a single one of my nominated films were shortlisted for the Best Documentary category. As unfortunate as it may be, the backlash that stemmed from The Interrupters and Into the Abyss’ omissions seemed to turn heads. But then again, whether it is a startling omission in the foreign language category (2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) or documentary feature category (1994 for Hoop Dreams), there’s little the Academy does to prevent future oversights.

 Best Animated Feature

“The Adventures of Tintin”  “Cars 2”  “Kung-Fu Panda 2” “Puss in Boots”  “Rango”

Unlike previous years, the Best Animated Feature category will be populated by fairly mediocre films. In a year where Pixar stumbles and Dreamworks dispense all good will admiration from How to Train Your Dragon, it’s Nickelodeon that provided the two best animated endeavors of 2011, with The Adventures of Tintin and Rango. With Rango, the animation house provided one of the more peculiar films of 2011 – one rich with cinematic reverence, with references to Chinatown, Apocalypse Now!, and Once Upon A Time in the West.

 Best Visual Effects

“Hugo” “Melancholia” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” “The Tree of Life” “X-Men: First Class”

While Rise of the Planet of the Apes impressed me with its integration motion capture animation, it was the final scene in Melancholia that left me with the greatest visual sight – the collision of planets. In a year that explored the many ways the world could end, no film captured that visual quite like von Trier’s film.

 Best Sound Mixing

“Drive” “Melancholia” “Rango” “The Tree of Life” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

 “Play it loud” is the suggestion at the beginning of The Tree of Life on Blu-Ray.  It certainly enhances my appreciation for the film’s soundscape, which is so layered and precise. From its seamless integration of classical compositions to the rapturous creation sequences of the universe, The Tree of Life is as much a beautiful voyage of sounds as it is a visual feast.

 Best Sound Editing

“The Adventures of Tintin”  “Rango”  “The Tree of Life” “Warrior” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

A tough decision between We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Tree of Life is split by some hair raising transitions found in the former picture. With We Need to Talk About Kevin, the audience enters a fragile state of mind. The film layers sound together in the most compelling way, as moments of celebration fade into the foreboding sound of police sirens. And then there’s a curtain, gently drifting in the wind, with the sound of sprinklers heard in the foreground. Few films leave such a remarkably tense mark on you based solely on the sound of the minute.

Best Original Score

“Attack the Block” “Contagion” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” “Hanna” “The Skin I Live In”

It was an interesting year for film scores – it seems like last year’s winner, The Social Network, has had a substantial effect on the category. I admired Cliff Martinez’s effort in Contagion (and Drive for that matter) and I found Attack the Block’s score to be its most impressive aspect, but it all paled in comparison to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ back-to-back collaboration with David Fincher.. Even if they didn’t do anything particularly innovative (as I commented before, it was essentially a B-Sides version of The Social Network’s soundtrack), the duo effectively constructed a score that elevated mood and tension, perfectly complementing Fincher’s cold and brooding eye.

Best Makeup

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” “The Skin I Live In” “X-Men: First Class”

I haven’t really seen much this year that wowed me in the makeup category (though I haven’t had the chance to see the current frontrunner, The Iron Lady). So I approach the category with a bit of a shrug. I did admire Elena Anaya’s transformation in The Skin I Live In, and along with the subtle touches to an increasingly insane Antonio Banderas, the film’s makeup department left a more substantial impression on me than any other.

 Best Film Editing

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” “Senna”  “Take Shelter”  “The Tree of Life” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Both Senna and Martha Marcy May Marlene hinge on their editing to make a compelling feature, so this category was a bit difficult to narrow down. Take Shelter was an impressive editing feat, particularly in its stark transitioning between dream and reality. And the seamlessness of images that unite The Tree of Life is astounding. But again, with We Need to Talk About Kevin, the picture fluidly moves through past and present, illustrating a haunting state of mind to a tangible degree.

 Best Costume Design

“A Dangerous Method” “Jane Eyre” “Midnight in Paris” “Shame” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Shame’s costume design was truly superb and a beautifully realized contemporary effort. But it was Jane Eyre that managed to bridge a particular gap, as eloquence was found even in drabness. It all worked wonderfully with the other mechanics of the picture, ranging from the rich cinematography to its stellar art direction.

Best Cinematography

“Melancholia” “Shame” “The Skin I Live In” “Submarine” “The Tree of Life”

It was a year of beautiful cinematography. It partly due to the themes that were addressed for the year, as the creation of the cosmos and end of the world were touched upon by two of the best looking films of the year. But in the end, everything about Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography in The Tree of Life was astounding. It’s not just the best looking film of 2011, but the best looking film in quite some time.

Best Art Direction

“Drive” “Jane Eyre” “The Skin I Live In” “Sleeping Beauty” “The Tree of Life”

From the cool swagger that drips from Drive’s art direction to the meticulous details of opulence found in Sleeping Beauty, my preferences vary from the contemporary to period pieces. But there was simply something so vibrant about Carlos Bodelón’s work in The Skin I Live In. It’s a picture that runs a fairly murky path, but manages to maintain a rhythmic quality to visual set pieces.

 Best Adapted Screenplay

“Carnage” “A Dangerous Method”  “The Skin I Live In” “Submarine” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

My preference is somewhat biased given that I actually read Lionel Shriver’s novel. And knowing the text only serves to reinforce my appreciation for what Lynne Ramsay did to adapt it for the screen. What starts as a verbose correspondence is turned into a fragmented screenplay on the nature of memory and recollection. It’s a meticulously crafted screenplay that captures a different side of the novel.

 Best Original Screenplay

“Certified Copy” “Martha Marcy May Marlene” “Midnight in Paris” “Take Shelter” “The Tree of Life”  

Part of what makes this category so difficult is trying to remove the screenplay from the other elements of the film – how effective is it on its own? With all the films but Midnight in Paris, there are particular qualities that stand above the screenplay – the directorial prowess of The Tree of Life and Certified Copy, the performances in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Take Shelter. With Midnight in Paris, the smile-inducing script is what draws me in more than any other aspect of the film.

Best Supporting Actress

Elena Anaya, “The Skin I Live In” Jessica Chastain, “Take Shelter” Jodie Foster, “Carnage” Melanie Laurent, “Beginners” Carey Mulligan, “Shame”

This isn’t really much of a contest – Jessica Chastain gave one of my favorite performances of the year and nothing else in the category comes close. It’s the sort of role that can be viewed as fairly typical, but the way in which Chastain realizes it is truly exquisite. I admired Carey Mulligan in Shame and Jodie Foster in Carnage, but both exemplify a sort of overreaching method of acting that I don’t usually gravitate toward. Melanie Laurent’s quiet performance in Beginners could have really benefitted had she some more screen time.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life” John Hawkes, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” Viggo Mortenson,  “A Dangerous Method” John C. Reilly, “Terri” Christoph Waltz, “Carnage”

This is a particularly difficult category to get behind anyone. The five I selected are my favorite at the moment, though only Christoph Waltz in Carnage and John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene have left me with any sort of lasting impression. The snide charisma that Hawkes brought to such a reprehensible role is enough for me to give him an edge though.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Juliette Binoche, “Certified Copy” Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”

This is perhaps the most stacked category of the year – there were a lot of impressive performances by women this year, even if the material they were working with was less than substantial. In the end, it was between Juliette Binoche and Tilda Swinton, both giving monumental performances. But perhaps a result of my overall appreciation for We Need to Talk About Kevin, the pendulum swung in Swinton’s favor.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas, “The Skin I Live In” Demián Bichir, “A Better Life” Michael Fassbender, “Shame” Hunter McCracken, “The Tree of Life” Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”

Shannon’s performance in Take Shelter stands head and shoulders above the remaining actors in the category, though the vastness in roles for men is truly impressive. From an illegal worker, to a sex addict, to a mad scientist, the performances and roles for male actors were diverse and brilliantly realized. Nothing, however, impressed me quite as much as Shannon’s meltdown, where he speaks to friends and family of the coming apocalypse, only to crumple to pieces after delivering his prophecy.

Best Director

Richard Ayoade, “Submarine” David Cronenberg, “A Dangerous Method” Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life” Lynne Ramsay, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” Nicholas Winding Refn, “Drive”

As I’m piecing this column together, it’s really not too difficult to narrow down my choices here: it’s between Terrence Malick and Lynne Ramsay. Malick may have been a bit more refined in his directorial choices, but it’s almost as if the slip-ups that Ramsay makes only adds to the whole structure of the film – an ill selected song serves to reinforce other aspects of her film. On one day it might be Malick, but for today, it’s Ramsay.

Best Picture

“Carnage” “Drive”  “Hugo” “Into the Abyss” “Midnight in Paris” “The Skin I Live In” “Submarine” “Take Shelter” “The Tree of Life” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

After watching Carnage, there’s been a bit of tweaking on my favorite films of 2011 since my previous Thursday Ten, but what hasn’t changed – and what should be pretty clear based on my selections – is my admiration for Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s the best film of 2011 and  yet probably won’t get nominated for a damn thing (outside of Tilda Swinton… maybe) come January 24th.

For the nerd in all of us:

Tally Count

11 – The Tree of Life

9 – The Skin I Live In

7 – We Need to Talk About Kevin

5 – Take Shelter

4 – Carnage, A Dangerous Method, Drive, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Midnight in Paris, Shame, Submarine

3 – Certified Copy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jane Eyre, Melancholia, Rango

2 – The Adventures of Tintin, Hugo, Into the Abyss, Senna, X-Men: First Class

1 – A Better Life, Attack the Block, Beginners, Cars 2, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Contagion, Hanna, The Interrupters, The Kid with the Bike, Kung-Fu Panda 2, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Sleeping Beauty, Terri, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tuesday, After Christmas, Turn, Me On Damnit!, Warrior


6 – We Need to Talk About Kevin

3 – The Skin I Live In

2 – Take Shelter, The Tree of Life

1 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Into the Abyss, Jane Eyre, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Rango