With the Academy Awards just a few days away, the once inspiring list of nominees has paved the way for predictable results. Ben Affleck’s much publicized Best Director snub has given Argo an almost insurmountable momentum for Best Picture – various pundits and Oscar prognosticators will be happy to quote various stats of how no Best Picture nominee has won the trophy without a parallel Best Director nomination. Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director snub has been less publicized; instead, the once formidable contender in Zero Dark Thirty has buckled under the weight of a torture controversy that has soured much of its awards bid.
Like last year, I opted to present my own slate of nominees. My take on all categories diverges largely from the Academy’s taste, though there is some overlap. Perhaps my mock ballot serves to represent how consensus voting operates – passionate support for a single film does not translate to widespread appeal.
Best Foreign Language Film
“Beyond the Hills”
“Oslo, August 31st”
“Rust and Bone”
The year’s foreign film offerings were superb, with returning auteurist work and relatively new directors populating my favorites. My two favorite in the category, Holy Motors and Rust and Bone, provided different cinematic results –Carax’ work was manic and bold whereas Audiard provided a more traditional and precise perspective. In the end, it’s Rust and Bone that springs to my mind most, resonating (just a bit) more than its contemporaries.
Best Documentary Feature
“The Central Park Five”
“West of Memphis”
In a category populated by films dealing with social injustice and physical uncertainties, it’s Room 237, a film about film that sticks out more prominently. It’s analysis of The Shining is only the beginning – it’s a deconstruction of how cinema and can be interpreted (and misinterpreted) based on one’s own life experiences. While many of the various perspectives of the picture prompt skepticism, they all arouse some measure of entertainment.
Best Animated Feature
“It’s Such a Beautiful Day”
Academy rules dictate that the Best Animated film category fluctuates in the number of nominations based on what films are submitted for viewing. 2012 saw many animated films reach the masses – and most of them were terrible. It’s Don Hertzfeldt’s ambitious It’s Such a Beautiful Day that provides the most satisfying animated experience of 2012. It’s been a decadent few years in animation, but even with that in mind, Hertzfeldt’s film remains a remarkable effort that would still be commended during any animation renaissance.
Best Visual Effects
“Life of Pi”
“Rust and Bone”
Visual effects can operate in one of two ways – overt usage that dominate the structure of a film or more subtle touches that are deployed at the benefit of the film’s narrative. This comes down to the incredible sights seen in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and the small but crucial imagery used in Rust and Bone. The latter possessed more finesse in its use, with an incredible amount of effort to hide it effects as opposed to exposing them.
Best Sound Mixing
“Killing Them Softly”
“Not Fade Away”
“Zero Dark Thirty”
While I’m no fan of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, it remained one of the few films of 2012 that stuck out for its integration of sound. Perhaps a result of perpetual use of slow-motion, but the sound of a trigger compounded with splattering rain and breaking glass all came together in a conglomeration of technical prowess and chaos.
Best Sound Editing
“Killing Them Softly”
“Rust and Bone”
In a surprisingly dense category, I went with the bone-crushing aspects of Rust and Bone over some of equally visceral delights found in Killing Them Softly and The Impossible. It truly comes down to the film’s rather eclectic subject matter that demands an extensive array of sounds. One has to think of scenes involving orcas, wrestling, and battering ice to understand the extent of the picture’s reach as a film of sound.
Best Original Score
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“The Dark Knight Rises”
Perhaps individual scores work better on their own terms, that is to say, I truly admired Heather McIntosh’s springy yet foreboding score for Compliance. But when operating strictly within the context of the film, nothing quite creates such an auspicious aura of anxiety as Jonny Greenwood’s score for The Master. As was the case with his score for There Will Be Blood, the way in which the music operates within the film helps perpetuate an unrelenting sense of unease.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
For a film so dependent on the changing of appearances, it’s a shame that Holy Motors never got its due. Not only is it by far the most impressive display of transformative makeup, but how it’s deployed in the picture is such a crucial part of its success. No 2012 film comes close to matching it on this level.
Best Film Editing
“Zero Dark Thirty”
Unlike last year, there aren’t very many clear-cut editing examples that help drive a film. With last year’s films like Senna and Martha Marcy May Marlene, the sense that the editing plays a crucial role in a film’s construction isn’t as apparent. Instead, I’m looking for precision and movement. Magic Mike comes close to being a perfectly cut picture – one that shows no weight or slows down in its production. But it’s Zero Dark Thirty that perhaps is most impressive an effort – spanning time and space with rugged edge. It largely comes down to the raid sequence in the film, where Bigelow’s direction coalesces with the film’s editing for a pitch-perfect example of action cinema done right.
Best Costume Design
“Silver Linings Playbook”
I could perhaps have made a solid argument against the Academy’s penchant for only nominating stuffy period piece in this category, but then I came to realize three of my five selected films, including my favorite of the bunch, are period piece works. But a case can certainly be made for Silver Linings Playbook, which presents it characters as they are, emotionally invested in their community and surroundings. But it’s the meticulous precision (and general cuteness) of Moonrise Kingdom that makes is truly exceptional.
“The Deep Blue Sea”
“Take this Waltz”
It was an incredible year in cinematography, with the debate over film versus digital entering a broader conversation. While I was incredibly impressed with Mihai Milamiare Jr.’s work in The Master, the stunning images of Skyfall remains a talking point about the film to this day. Perhaps it’s the surprise of seeing a James Bond film with such visual sophistication, but Skyfall immersed its audience in some of the most impeccably shot scenes of the year.
Best Production Design
No argument from me on the ambition of Anna Karenina’s moving set pieces and general production. The first act of the film alone displays such a high level of craft that it alone is worthy of a mention in the category. But its lack of consistency is the film’s undoing. Again, this is where Moonrise Kingdom’s meticulousness serves to highlight some of the gorgeous set pieces for the film. It’s not quite a wash, as Skyfall’s globetrotting provides audiences with equally stunning pieces of work – but the reason for one over the other comes down to its brown-hued simplicity.
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Oslo, August 31st”
I favored original screenplays over the adapted work in 2012, but it’s not to dismiss the quality on display in this field. Lincoln is a work of great skill, delegating between a large ensemble of actors while remaining steadfast in its thematic intent. Similarly, the way in which Richard Linklater adapted a small-town news article into a full-fledged picture of communal testimonies is something that requires exceptional skill and imagination. But it was David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Dan DeLillo’s novel (a cryptic and dense work) that worked best for me.
Best Original Screenplay
“Damsels in Distress”
“Rust and Bone”
What we see here are five unique writers who just so happen to know how to write a screenplay and direct. It’s the clarity of Django Unchained’s writing, something that registers throughout all of Quentin Tarantino’s work. But on any other day, I can pinpoint expertly written scenes in all of the above films and acknowledge the deft skill on hand.
Best Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt, “Looper”
Jennifer Ehle, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Bella Heathcote, “Not Fade Away”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Brit Marling, “Sound of My Voice”
The acting categories this year have been particularly bad at blurring the lines of what constitutes a lead and supporting performance. Seeing someone like Helen Hunt in a supporting category remains something of a mystery this year. The above five women gave excellent performances in roles that were meant to contextualize and assist their lead actors/actresses and assist in the momentum of their narratives. It was Brit Marling’s work in the underrated Sound of My Voice that resonated most – a brooding and haunting performance that accepts and subverts expectations.
Best Supporting Actor
Matthew McConaughey, “Magic Mike”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”
John Goodman, “Argo”
Paul Giamatti, “Cosmopolis”
Samuel L. Jackson, “Django Unchained”
2012 did not provide very many interesting male supporting performances – that is until Django Unchained was released. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson looked like potential spoilers in this year’s Oscar race only to get shafted by a lead performance in Christoph Waltz. Regardless, the strengths of DiCaprio’s performance rest in the fact that he actually seems to be enjoying himself playing an off-kilter slave merchant. The slew of dreary roles he’s embarked on in the past painted the actor as something of an awards hound. Whether his intent was for another awards-grab with this role is something we’ll never know, but at least there’s something tangibly different (and downright enjoyable) about this effort.
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Sara Paxton, “The Innkeepers”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Michelle Williams, “Take this Waltz”
If this Cinema Chatter reflects anything, it’s my growing adoration for Rust and Bone. And an integral part of the film’s success is how its two lead actors, Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard, interact. The two have an odd chemistry, reflected largely through the way the narrative is built. But it’s the way the two interact as a result of a flourishing friendship that has unexpected gravity. Cotillard perhaps resonates more as a result of the physical nature of her role – but the sensitivity and complexity she conveys throughout the picture leaves a lasting impression.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors”
Danielsen Lie, “Oslo, August 31st”
Matthias Schoenaerts, “Rust and Bone”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
It was a strong year for male lead performances – a definite step-up from the fairly limited slate from last year. Performances like Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master were barely edged out. But what can be best understood from my crop of performances were the strengths of foreign-language performances. While the group covers a fairly eclectic set of characters, ranging from a prophet, drug addict, and bounty hunter, none quite cover the vastness of Denis Lavant’s multifaceted performance in Holy Motors. It’s the singular most impressive performance of the year, and quite frankly, the best performance of this young decade.
Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Leos Carax, “Holy Motors”
David Cronenberg, “Cosmopolis”
Steven Soderbergh, “Magic Mike”
The outlined five directors are here for different reasons. Steven Soderbergh’s formalism blends with vibrant enthusiasm to make Magic Mike one of the most enjoyable films of the year. David Cronenberg’s very deliberate and careful hand is utilized to maximum effect in Cosmopolis. Leos Carax’ Holy Motors is a bold achievement in uniting images and sequences without ever giving into audience sway – it’s a film that never quite leaves the oblique yet forces its audience to understand it on its own terms. Kathryn Bigelow covers time and space with steadfast precision as her abilities as an action director bring about a crescendo of unrelenting tension. But it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master that impresses most – it remains an enigmatic film, one with a concise narrative structure but something of an ominous tone. While all the outlined directors display the highest level of craft in their work, it’s Anderson’s efforts that genuinely feel progressive – searching to expand the language of cinema itself.
"Girl Walk // All Day"
"Oslo, August 31st"
"Rust and Bone"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
While a bit different from my original list posted at the end of 2012, it does serve to show the importance of stepping away from a film and allowing it to linger in your memory. All ten are films that I will revisit years from now, but it’s The Master that remains the most accomplished of works. There’s a haunting aspect to the film’s tonal approach – a result of the various moving parts of the film, from Johnny Greenwood’s score to the incredible performances. But it goes beyond the superficial qualities of constructing a film into delving into how characters and actions are presented to an audience. Much of the film is an example of broadening the horizon, merging the ideals of narrative cinema with a thematically dense subtext – it’s a film that constantly rewards its patient viewers.
10 - "The Master"
7 - "Holy Motors"
6 - "Django Unchained", "Rust and Bone", "Zero Dark Thirty"
4 - "Cosmopolis", "Lincoln", "Magic Mike", "Moonrise Kingdom", "Oslo, August 31st",
3 - "Haywire", "Looper"
2 - "Amour", "Killer Joe", "Killing Them Softly", "The Impossible", "The Imposter", "Not Fade Away" "Skyfall", "Take this Waltz"
1 - "Argo", "Beasts of the Southern Wild", "Bernie", "Beyond the Hills", "The Central Park Five", "Compliance", "Damsels in Distress", "The Dark Knight Rises", "The Deep Blue Sea", "Girl Walk // All Day", "The Grey", "Head Games", "The Innkeepers", "It's Such a Beautiful Day", "Life of Pi", "ParaNorman", "Prometheus", "Room 237", "Silver Linings Playbook", "Sound of My Voice", "West of Memphis", "Wreck-It Ralph" , "Wuthering Heights"
4 - "Rust and Bone"
3 - "The Master"
2 - "Django Unchained", "Holy Motors", "Moonrise Kingdom"
1 - "Cosmopolis", "It's Such a Beautiful Day", "Killing Them Softly", "Room 237", "Skyfall", "Sound of My Voice", "Zero Dark Thirty"