Sunday, January 29, 2012

Best of 2011: Art Direction

You know how this is often one of the first awards Oscar doles out on the telecast? If it's good enough for him...


... for avoiding temptations to modernize but still maintaining an eerie, defamiliarizing pall, and making us feel all temperatures and textures;

... for sticking to its pop-guns, flaunting an everyone's-a-freak flag for kids and adults alike, and finding images to suit a rococo script;

The Skin I Live In (ANTXÓN GÓMEZ)
... for using color, texture, and lines brilliantly to evoke psychological atmospheres and then pouring more meanings into them than we guessed;

Sleeping Beauty (ANNIE BEAUCHAMP)
... for keying up the world's ritual and antiseptic qualities, yielding uncanny yet oddly plausible environs that buoy protagonist's alienation; and

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (MARIA DJURKOVIC)
... for what I've called a "Cinecittà of mildewed bureaucracy," a sad, post-Mod spin on Zodiac, entrancing to peer at but soul-sapping to inhabit.

Runners-Up: 3, for balancing palette, geometries, styles of décor, and evocative Berlin locations to suit its thesis on people as free-radical molecules; Albert Nobbs, for being so unpretentiously convincing in its period idiom, and specifically as a mid-grade hotel; The Artist, for duplicating some early-Hollywood touchstones and elevating others to the stature of dreams; Hugo, for being a colossal technical achievement, even if it could have stood to feel less heavy and cluttered; and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, for marshaling locations better than any franchise movie out there, and handling everything from sandstorms to gadgets to skyscrapers just right.

For Distinguished Work with No Dinero: Beginners, for the great illustrations, and a world that passes back and forth from looking like one of Ewan's cartoons; Leap Year, for that indelible and character-revealing apartment; Like Crazy, for believable dorms and workplaces, and good indicators of when the relationship has energy and when it doesn't; Weekend, for saving lines and screentime by showing us just who these guys are, via what they own and how they live; and Win Win, not just for credible suburban living but for a vaguely pop-inflected palette that places the movie nicely between realism and fable.

For Distinguished Work with Prehistoric Technology: The proto-humans of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, whose efforts with a hunk of charcoal, some variable lines, and the curve of a cave wall led to some pretty fabulous mo-cap, and plenty of incredible trompe-l'oeil and forced perspective, putting a lot of film crews with $100 million budgets to shame. Way to go, Ayla and Og!

Films I'd Have Mentioned If I'd Seen Them in Time: War Horse

Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: City of Life and Death, House of Pleasures, Mysteries of Lisbon

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Blogger James T said...

It. has. started! :)

Even though I enjoy our commentary, I wish I had reached that level of understanding that you have reached (art direcion, costumes, cinematography are not just about how pretty or superficially atmospheric the movie looks etc).

I can't talk specifically for Sleeping Beuaty's art direction, but the movie is, indeed, a visual marvel and I think I like it even more with every passing day.
(But I feel like choking even be recalling that scene with the thing that guy puts in her mouth (@People who haven't seen the movie: You surely misunderstood that))

By the way, I finally read August: Osage County and I share your reservations, adding them to my own but I did like it a lot.
Now it's Death Of A Salesman and after that, The Pillownan, partly because you loved it.

I'm random and talk too much. And then, lamely, apologize just in case. What am I going to do with me?
I guess I'll go eat my F*CKING CATFISH ;)

6:41 AM, January 29, 2012  
Anonymous JStor said...

Yay! I love that this feature is back. Completely ditto on the Jane Eyre and Tinker Tailor love and I really respect - albeit more admiration than outright-love - the sets from The Skin I Live In. In terms of animated Art Direction, there's a Ghibli beauty coming up in the US called Arrietty but the Rango love is also great to see here. All too often animated art direction (and editing, for that matter) gets shafted for something live-action that has all the 'flamboyance' of animation but none of the heart. Having not seen Sleeping Beauty I can't comment upon it, but I'd like to use this opportunity to showcase the kitschy goodness of Deneuve-vehicle Potiche and the kooky designs and weird signage of Damsels in Distress.

But most of all I'm just happy that this is back, and look forward to the rest of the 'awards'!

6:43 AM, January 29, 2012  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

Art Direction and Cinematography are my two favourite of the awards that are not included in the super 8, so I'm particularly excited to read anyone's picks on their favourite art direction.

On Sleeping Beauty, I didn't love it as much as you (although, I liked it a whole lot more than everyone it seems) and one my issues with it, was also one of its strength, there were moments I felt myself getting actively lost in staring at its sets and not paying attention to the story - but the attention to detail is stunning. And, I'm easy, but I so love it when contemporary films actually care to look nice AND complement their films in terms of set.

I liked the work on Rango, too, it's production design is for me one of the best in an animated film of this decade and the last (along with Coraline, I think). Your writeup on Jane Eyre is SO spot on, and makes me feel just a bit sad because I wish the film could have felt as good and true to the story (but better than the novel) as good as it looked.

(PS. And I feel rather happy that even though you didn't like them much you included Albert Nobbs and Hugo. And, sure, I know liking the film has nothing to do with adjudging its technical aspects...but you know how these things go, sometimes.)

And @ James T (YES!!! on that scene, I couldn't even watch it properly, I was gagging when it happened both times.)

2:19 PM, January 29, 2012  
Anonymous Steve said...

Great list! My own looks like this:

1. The Artist (for my money, the art direction, even more than the cinematography or costumes, really sold the milieu)
2. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
3. The Skin I Live In
4. Hugo
5. Rango

I'm surprised The Tree of Life didn't make your honorable mentions anywhere. Obviously, it's not on my list, but I think Fisk did typically strong work. Was it all about the cinematography for you?

2:23 PM, January 29, 2012  
Anonymous MARK W said...

Yay! I’m so glad the Nick Flick Pick honorees are returning! And with such delicious choices and enriching write-ups. Love the inclusion of RANGO and SLEEPING BEAUTY for Art Direction!

5:58 PM, January 29, 2012  
Anonymous Lev Lewis said...

Between the NFP Honourees and the Film Bitch awards, who needs the Oscars?

9:37 AM, January 30, 2012  

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