Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Fifties for 2011: Images and Words

Here I continue my yearly enterprise of isolating the achievements I admire most from amidst the first 50 films I viewed from this calendar year of U.S. releases.

Please be advised, by the way, that Tim Robey and Joe Reid have both gifted us their parallel lists, Joe conveniently at the 50-mark as well, and Tim so far past it I wonder if he can remember it. Also, several commenters have got enticing lists to share. Keep reading around!

Best Cinematography
Stéphanie Weber-Biron for Heartbeats, because even if Dolan borrows most of his ideas, his films move gorgeously between swoony, heightened sensuality and deftly deoxygenated dolors;

Pavel Kostomarov for How I Ended This Summer, because faces and framings evince mystery, tension, and texture, landscape evades cheap pathetic fallacies, and Arctic glow is soft but spooky;

Adriano Goldman for Jane Eyre, because all the bounced light sources serve key themes, and moody lensing has a metaphysical severity that echoes Jane's tough, devout outlook;

Chris Blauvelt for Meek's Cutoff, because the palette's dusty austerity and the inspired boxiness of the Academy framing make these dioramas both antique and transcendent of era; and

Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life, because as in operatic music, Malick's camera is characterization and worldview, a free-indirect means for exploring souls without being of them.

Honorable mentions in alphabetical order by film title to Peter Zeitlinger for Cave of Forgotten Dreams, an atypically uneven but still exciting Alwin Küchler for Hanna, Kim Hyun Seok for Poetry, Reinhold Vorschneider for The Robber, who would have shared the citation with his hard-working camera operators, and the team of Yukontorn Mingmongkon and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Maybe Boonmee should be in for Heartbeats? I'll live with it.

Best Screenplay
Mike Mills for Beginners, because a long chain of short, taciturn, yet revealing scenes can be harder to write but richer to discover than three acts of heavy dialogue;

Abbas Kiarostami for Certified Copy, because Kiarostami has not previously disclosed a knack for probing reality and illusion with such finesse or such stirring emotional depths;

Moira Buffini for Jane Eyre, because not since the mid-90s glories of Hossein Amini has anyone stayed so true to a landmark novel while so aptly condensing and taking risks;

Lee Chang-dong for Poetry, because a few stock scenes and meandering passages are a worthy tariff for such probing and delicate characterization, such breadth of mystery; and

Alexandru Baciu, Răzvan Rădulescu, and Radu Muntean for Tuesday, After Christmas, because to hold shots so rewardingly and lift performances to such heights, you need to start from an acute anatomy of intimacy and its failures.

Honorable mentions to John Logan, Gore Verbinski, and James Ward Byrkit for Rango. The year's funniest movie so far, The Trip, is too heavily improvised to count here, and apparently too much so to even credit a screenplay.

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Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

wonderful choices. nice to have someone else pulling for Heartbeats, Beginners and Jane Eyre (three of my favorites this year) as usual fine writeups though i will admit to a bit of confusion about what you mean in regards to The Tree of Life's cinematography exploring souls within being of them. Is it not soulful? I'm not sure i'm totally getting that.

12:27 AM, September 18, 2011  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

Love to see Heartbeats in there. The images that stick out most in my mind were the gorgeous party scenes and the confession scene late in the film. Those very precise close-ups, all the different angles. Admittedly, a lot of it is in the writing and acting, but it brought me close to tears, which I never expected.

Yet to see Jane Eyre, but your write-up of it makes me ever so keen to see it. The trailer sells the look of the film harder than it sells anything else.

12:30 AM, September 18, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Nathaniel: Yeah, that was hard to spit out, but what I mean is that Malick's roving eye suggests to me an essentially nonhuman intelligence or spirit, and yet it sidles up so closely to the deep core of the characters' experience. That moment very early when Pitt gets the news of his son's death over the phone at the airport tarmac, and the handheld camera just jags diagonally downward with the pure force of convulsive grief—though Pitt is neither in the shot nor its orienting POV—is the kind of thing that slays me over and over in Malick's movies.

@Sam: Two votes for Heartbeats already, and it was the one I almost dropped! Sure is luscious. Do see Jane Eyre. I had tempered enthusiasms on the way in, but Wasikowska is so good that you instantly feel sure you'll be seeing her for a long while to come.

1:05 AM, September 18, 2011  
Blogger Andrew Rech said...

Hmm, I might have to make a return trip to Heartbeats because my first viewing I thought it was sumptuous, but a little too much like A Single Man in that it felt kind of hollow and didn't necessarily add anything. I just wasn't too keen on the film overall, so I might need to give it another look. Can't fault any of those other choices that I've seen! Poetry pretty much had me from the first frame, and those final shots. Wow. Would be hard to dislodge from my own cinematography ballot.

I'm eager to revisit Certified Copy as I had a double feature of Close-Up and Taste of Cherry a few weeks ago and they've given me more to mull over about the way all three of them deftly handle reality and fiction. I think Certified Copy might be a little "showier" in its script and direction than the other two, but I definitely want a second viewing, because on the first it felt a tad fussy. Yet the more I think about it, the more insight I see. Kiarostami certainly elicits some of the most acute feelings and truths I've ever seen.

3:30 AM, September 18, 2011  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I expected to feel the way you did about Certified Copy and was stunned at what felt like its stylistic light touch and the unpredictable, unresolved riddles of its script even when the movie hit its copy/original tropes a little hard. I'm interested at what I'll think on second pass, too.

I see your point about Heartbeats, but I thought the colors and camera placement (in conjunction with the soundtrack) made much less pretense at character exploration or at really socking it to you emotionally the way Single Man seemed desperate to do. There may be a hollowness to what Dolan is after, but the shots themselves have a panache which I often found missing in the Ford pic, sometimes because it was hammering so hard at Stylishness but coming across as so flat.

12:28 PM, September 18, 2011  
Anonymous JStor said...

Yes for Jane Eyre. That there is one b-e-a-yoo-tiful film. It manages to make Yorkshire the desolate, uninviting place that it really is. When I was thinking about my list for these categories (as one does), I found it surprising how hard it was to whittle the cinematography category down to five. For me, at least, it's been a strangely strong year for cinematography so far. Not that I'm complaining...


Andrew Reed for Cold Weather, because making Oregon a wintry and desolate place doesn't seem like the hardest job in the world, but finding hidden gems with regards to light and shadow is, and pays dividends;
Adriano Goldman for Jane Eyre, for the reasons described by Nick (and its similarities to Cold Weather, now that I think about it);
Chris Blauvelt for Meek's Cutoff, for the reasons described by Nick;
Roger Deakins for Rango, because animated films still need guidance on light and stuff, and no one seems to do it better or more consistently than Deakins (see: WALL-E), even if he's technically a 'visual consultant';
Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life, because duh! (and for the more verbose reasons put forth by Nick... but mainly duh!)

I even have honourably mentions! That's how good a half/three-quarters year it's been so far having seen less than half the films you have. Colour me surprised:

Hélène Louvart for the gorgeous 3D work in Pina, José Luis Alcaine for giving a deftly clinical edge to The Skin I Live In and Erik Wilson for somehow finding the beauty of urban Wales in Submarine.

Screenplay, on the other hand, seems to be harder to find the diamonds in the rough at this stage. I'm not sure how many of these will end up staying with me until the end of the year.


Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa for Arrietty, because they manage to inject the Ghibli spirit into a beloved novel without distorting the heart of the novel;
Mike Mills for Beginners, for the reasons described by Nick;
Aaron Katz for Cold Weather, because while doing Sherlock Holmes is now very familiar, mixing it with mumblecore-y dialogue only seems to elevate the reality of the situation;
John Logan, Gore Verbinski, and James Ward Byrkit for Rango because they know the difference between quirky-as-off-putting and quirky-as-endearing, and manage to make their script the latter, for the most part;
Manish Pandey for Senna, because while finding the narrative in hundreds of hours of documentary is enough of a challenge, making the journey so emotional while giving nods to religion, politics, fame, death and all other sorts of issues is a ridiculously hard feat to pull off.

Again, love this feature, website, you etc. And there probably will be a category coming up where I don't wax lyrical about Cold Weather... I hope?

12:59 PM, September 18, 2011  

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