Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Fifties for 2012: Picture and Director

This is the last stop for The Fifties. Thanks to everyone who read and commented, especially after I've been out of commission for so long, and don't be shy if you didn't! Thanks also to Tim Robey and Joe Reid who published their own versions of this feature in recent weeks. I haven't revisited their lists while I was posting my own, so as not to pilfer ideas, but they're great and distinctive run-downs.

Speaking of pilfering, I've decided to nick the Academy's new practice of having a flexible concertina for the number of Best Picture nominees, instilling the cutoff point where I feel it naturally falls, between 5 and 10. And so:

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild, for plunging into the kind of mythographic storytelling we celebrate in our novels but often deny our movies, and for absolutely nailing it;

Damsels in Distress, for returning from long absence and from diminishing returns of two prior movies with his warmest, most eccentric film, still very much his;

In the Family, for proving that low-budget regional films, the kind that get affirmative-actioned into lots of local festivals, can outrun much bigger dogs;

Magic Mike, for being not quite the movie advertised or expected, and being funnier, more incisive, more ambitious, and more heterogeneous than that one;

Miss Bala, for having the formal and technical wherewithal to tell a story of brute social machines with apt stylistic determinism, and for nailing it;

The Snowtown Murders, for being such a complete package I've cited it in every category, and for earning the immersion in sordidness that gives me qualms about it; and

The Turin Horse, for telling an overtly apocalyptic story, detailing a quotidian existence with uncommon texture, and asking if the latter entails the former.

Honorable mentions are honorable but don't feel mentionable: I graded A Simple Life the same as some of these nominees, but its staying power and degree of difficulty rank slightly below those of the movies I've listed; the same is even truer of Corpo Celeste. The only movie that's truly tempting to sub in here is 21 Jump Street, which only seems more eclectically, amiably, berzerkly accomplished on second viewing, and is such a welcome surprise inside such an empty-looking gift horse. Expect at least a re-grade.

Best Director
Justin Kurzel for The Snowtown Murders, for mastery of craft that still avoids an airless film-school feeling, and ratcheting up confrontational material without going for prurience;

Gerardo Naranjo for Miss Bala, for achieving deep, taut frames even as he plays menacingly with their borders, moves the camera brilliantly, and stays focused on the story;

Steven Soderbergh for Magic Mike, for his great, distinctive strength of immersing us in his characters while also subtly dramatizing his actors' relations to their characters;

Béla Tarr for The Turin Horse, for beating even Haneke at sustaining bleak preoccupations without just parodying himself, treating humanity seriously as a guttering flame; and

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, for having such temerity, working with kids and water and magical realism and a raw nerve of recent cultural memory, and making it all click.

Honorable mentions include Patrick Wang for In the Family, Whit Stillman for Damsels in Distress, Ann Hui for A Simple Life, and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for 21 Jump Street, for all the reasons listed above. Benoît Jacquot and Tony Gilroy adroitly manage two forms of palace intrigue for two different eras, diffusing unease across memorable characters in Farewell, My Queen and The Bourne Legacy.  And Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) once again make me excited that they are alive and making tough, inimitable movies, even if I'll be more excited when they don't insert themselves quite so fussily between their images and their spectators.

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Blogger James T said...

A big thanks for the series!

In the Family was somehow off my radar. Read the plot summary at imdb and I obviously want to see it badly (also, and even more so, because you liked it a lot).

A nerdy question: After rewatching Margaret and giving it an "A", how would you rank it among the other ones (Tree of Live, Sleeping Beauty and My Joy)?

That is, if you know the answer, of course. I know and love that you think hard on these things.
I tried to make a "20 favorite films ever" list of my own some time ago and found it extremely hard until I just abandoned the idea.
FWIW Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Letter from an Unknown Woman and Dead Man Walking are fighting for the top spot.
You read it here first, people!

3:27 AM, October 11, 2012  
Anonymous Liz said...

Great series, Nick!

I'm especially looking forward to seeing more from Justin Kurzel. "Snowtown" was an aesthetic knockout, even if I actually found it only moderately compelling in a dramatic sense(which sounds like such a strange thing to say about this particular story, but it's true). Also, let's hope that Daniel Henshall is getting scripts thrown at him from every direction.

9:58 AM, October 11, 2012  
Anonymous Lars said...

You'll probably sneer at my low-level commentary, but I just think Magic Mike is a big disappointment. Technically, it's again pure Soderbergh. The strip scenes are perfectly executed, but there never were any excitement in them (yes, you can defend that by saying he doesn't want to glamorize the industry). However, my biggest beef is with Mike's character. It's certainly underdeveloped to me. He's a carpenter and dreams of starting his own business, but as an audience, I never get to see his skills or his ambition (except for that one scene in the bank where he gets turn down and he never tries again). Channing is great playing Mike as being lost, but the character could be written better. Also thought Matthew's character is also one-note (someone who's actually a ruthless businessman).

Maybe because I'm from Hong Kong, I appreciate what Hui does, especially creating two characters so deeply felt and well written, but so similar at the same time. It's a bit too long to me (the hospital scenes are not as well conceived), but Hui manages to create an unsentimental sob fest. I just wish more people would see her other films, especially Boat People, The Way We Are, and Night and Fog.

12:14 PM, October 12, 2012  

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