Wednesday, August 25, 2010

2009 Honorees: Directors

The last category where I'll be profiling Bests from last year, either because I didn't fall in love with a lot (non-festival documentaries were generally weak, and Score comes down to Duplicity, The Informant!, and not a lot else), or I'm having a hard time remembering (if I don't do Sound right away, I turn forgetful), or else it's just the same films crowding all the categories (viz. Beeswax, Duplicity, In the Loop, Summer Hours, and Whip It in Best Ensemble, with The Hurt Locker, The Maid, and others following up).

These Best Director picks won't come as much of a shock given the Top Ten List I published lo these many months ago, but it's still worth applauding from our seats for...



Roy Andersson for You, the Living, for working from a palette of theater, painting, and still photography without just dabbling; the ambivalence and wit feel shaped by cinema;

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, for conceiving a ruminative movie in long shot around Mackie, and a relentless one in close-up around Renner, and knowing how to mix them up;

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne for Lorna's Silence, for equaling the elegance of L'Enfant but with richer, less abstract emotion; the finale's debatable, but all else clicks, and I like risks;

Jim Jarmusch for The Limits of Control, for taking a bold gamble on geometric, rhythmic, chromatic, and tonal abstraction; I was spellbound, and he rarely has that effect on me; and

Erick Zonca for Julia, for driving his film with the pedal-to-floor ferocity of an old sedan crashing across a policed border, yet every element is tightly managed.

Extremely honorable mentions to the warmth, spryness, and subtlety that Andrew Bujalski brings to Beeswax; to Sacha Gervasi's sensationally funny-sad shaping of material in Anvil! The Story of Anvil, which could have been played for jokes or banalities; to Olivier Assayas for the tenderness and finely edged toughness of Summer Hours, which implies a modern France while having the elegance and lovely remoteness of an object from the past; and to my constant muse and inspiration, the single reason I write about film today, Jane Campion, who showed again in Bright Star that there are many ways of exploring a period, communicating a love-bond, or evoking as fragile and internal an act as poetry on screen.

Further honorable mentions to Park Chan-wook for Thirst, Tony Gilroy for Duplicity, Drew Barrymore for Whip It!, Sebastián Silva for The Maid, Armando Iannucci for In the Loop, Cary Fukunaga for Sin Nombre, and Frederick Wiseman for La Danse. And speaking of established masters, I didn't love everything that Aleksandr Sokurov did with The Sun or Claire Denis did with 35 Shots of Rum, but no one else could or would have made those intriguing pictures, and at their best moments, who could match them?

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8 Comments:

Blogger James T said...

Evaluating the work of the director, for me, is tha hardest thing. I just never seem to really understand what in the movie is the product of his mind. Well, the whole look, the mood etc but it's hard for me to know whether I like his/her choices because I don't know what I might want to see differently. With actors and the script it's easier. For example, when I saw (and liked a lot) It Happened One Night, I wrote something like "the direction is nothing special" and then I read that you love the direction of that film so I think I'll learn more about cinema before commenting on direction from now on.

Any way, I finally watched Beeswax (you were really convincing :p). I liked it, especially how low-key it was with everything it wanted to "talk" about. The acting was great. The one thing that I'm not sure how I feel about is that I sensed a questionmark in the relationship between the sisters. If the answers were subtly conveyed and I just didn't get it, then fine. But I was left kind of wondering about which feelings might be hidden.

Re: Lorna's Silence, I wathed that because of you, as well. I liked it except the ending and I'm glad you partly seem to agree. It felt like being incompatible with the rest of the movie, I think, tone-wise.

I also watched Thirst because of your recommendation (Hey, I went against you with My Summer of Love :p) and I think that film (perhaps along The Hurt Locker among your honorees that I've seen) has the best "obvious" direction.

I might not understand a director's work that well, but Zonca gets my award because he made my favorite movie of 2009, partly by giving Tilda the chance to be unlimitedly wild.

11:05 AM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

When was the last time you and Oscar agreed on Best Director?

2:18 PM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

Mine would be:

(if you don't count Juan Jose Campanella, "Secret In Their Eyes")

James Toback, "Tyson"
Nina Paley, "Sita Sings the Blues"
Joel and Ethan Coen, "A Serious Man"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Erick Zonca, "Julia"

Honorables to: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, "Tokyo Sonata," Wes Anderson, "Fantastic Mr. Fox," Spike Jonze, "Where the Wild Things Are," John Hamburg, "I Love You, Man," and Ramin Bahrani "Goodbye Solo."

2:20 PM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@James: I think turning your worry into an active, productive question is the best way to think about directing: "What would happen to this movie if it were shot differently, edited differently, started or stopped in different places, informed by a different level of understatement or showmanship, with more or less attention placed here or there, with more or fewer capacities of cinema exploited for effect," etc. The director has to coordinate all of these things with her or his team, but their coordination ultimately falls into the director's responsibility more than anyone else's. I feel like it took me a while to feel confident assessing direction, too, and I erred on the side of flash pretty often (which sounds like your taste as well, given the endorsements for Bigelow and Park). As with everything, watching and thinking about a lot of movies is the best education, followed closely by reading a lot of in-depth and disparate responses, followed closely by talking to lots of filmmakers or listening to them talk to others.

@Robert: If we're talking, from amongst the Academy's nominated choices, then previously to Bigelow it was Scorsese in '06. If we're talking from the full year of cinema, then I'm a right snob, but it's Michael Curtiz in '43, and only because you can't in any way expect Oscar to have cared about Maya Deren's poetic revolution.

@Nick: I like seeing other people's lists, but I have to state my problems with two of these. Campanella shoots unmistakably like it's for TV (I pegged the Law & Order aspect before I found out he actually is a regular L&O director), except when he rather busily goes out of his way to be "cinematic," i.e., in the admittedly engaging chase-POV shot in the stadium. And all those gratuitous flashes of the murder, and the woman's violated body. Why?

As for Toback, a different kind of objection: when Tyson bowed at Cannes, it contained several montages of archival clips that were reproduced exactly from Barbara Kopple's own documentary about Tyson from several years ago. Amy Taubin spotted the thefts and raised holy heck about it in her Film Comment dispatch from the Croisette. The end credits of Tyson now include a thanks to Kopple. I don't have all the particulars, and certainly don't have the two cuts to compare or Kopple's film sitting around, but if that's even part of his m.o. (when he's not just pointing the camera at Tyson and letting him talk), we need to be leery.

10:21 PM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

Damn...(a qualified) 1943?

Knowing that, I still can't wrap my head around your choice to divorce yourself from Oscar coverage this year. I mean, yeah, you disliked most of the major competitors, but I would think that seeing your favorite film beat all of them would make this year the sweetest of all, especially since the Best Picture before that scored a D+ from you.

11:23 PM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Robert: Believe me, I watched Bigelow's speech over and over, and felt the thrill of that win. But rooting The Hurt Locker through the Oscar process felt totally different than loving it as a movie. If I had to hear one more repetition of the "Art vs. Commerce" meme, flattering neither to Bigelow nor to Cameron... Anyway, it's getting to be damned if you do and damned if you don't: when a crappy movie wins, it just feels lewd and dumb, and when a great one wins, you resent that all the media attention isn't actually making people smarter or more sensitive to the film, but dragging it through a bunch of "Did the producer really try to wheedle votes over e-mail?" or "Can it win?" or "Did it not make enough money?" coverage.

Of course there are a few people who write terrifically about the Oscars, and I obviously still care about the awards, but what actors say all the time about performances&#151talk about them too much, and they can wither from the attention&#151is definitely happening in my relationship to the awards. I'd rather talk about the movies than the horserace, and even at that, I'd prefer to talk only about the ones that seem worth talking about.

11:57 PM, August 25, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

I'm glad you recognised Zonca. Most people just seemed to jump on the Swinton bandwagon (if any bandwagon at all) and forgot all about him, but he steered that ship magnificantly.

2:26 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

Did not hear of the whole "Tyson" debacle. If I had, maybe I wouldn't have liked it as much. Also, maybe why the film was snubbed from even the Oscar longlist, which, w/o that knowledge, I thought was the worst snub of last year.

10:02 AM, August 26, 2010  

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