Dec 22, 2012

The Year in Review: Part 1 - The 24FPS Awards 2012

I, as I hope I make clear each year on Supermarcey's pre-show podcast, hate the Oscars.  I hate their safe, tedious, predictable choices.  I hate the politics that surrounds them.  I hate the way they anoint certain people, rather than actually rewarding the year's best work, and I hate the fact they are still, for some reason, actually taken seriously.

Personally, I've never thought that consensus based awards are worth anything; they ultimately end up - for the most part - rewarding the same half a dozen films each year, perhaps in slightly different configurations, and pleasing few, if any, individual voters.

Happily, 24FPS is not a democracy, so these are my very personal, sometimes very esoteric, picks for what I consider the best cinematic efforts of what has been, for me, an extremely lackluster year (more on that in the next part of this series).

A note on eligibility: I have considered films that had their first release (theatrical or direct to DVD) in the UK during 2012, along with films that premiered at UK festivals in 2012, but which, as yet, do not have distribution deals.

There is no Best Picture category, as that will be covered in a Picture Show special, and in a written Top 10 Theatrical Releases of 2012.

Best Director
Jacques Audiard: Rust and Bone
David Cronenberg: Cosmopolis
William Friedkin: Killer Joe
Mamoru Hosoda: Wolf Children
Yorgos Lanthimos: Alps

These are my favourite films of the year, and though I think Best Director and Best Picture are categories that are linked, I haven't gone for the same winner in both categories.  There are a lot of different styles on show among the nominees, but all of these films are marked by supreme control from their directors, whether that be in the austerity and restraint of Lanthimos' work on Alps, the ability to make things that should be cheesy affecting in both Hosoda and Audiard's work, or the crackling energy of the reinvigorated Friedkin.

WINNER: David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg has been one of my favourite filmmakers for about twenty years, and this year he served up both his worst and his best film for many  years.  A Dangerous Method was a personality-free disaster, but Cosmopolis, despite its largely constrained environment (most of the film takes place in the back of a limo), pulsed with energy, contemporary relevance, and customary Cronenbergian themes and wit.  There are layers upon layers here, both in Cronenberg's own talky, challenging, and very funny script and in the visuals which give us a sense of how dislocated and insulated from the world Robert Pattinson's billionaire character is.  Cronenberg also marshals a large cast of actors capably, and manages to draw a throughline in a film that could easily just be a series of disjointed scenes.  It's his most interesting, and, I suspect, most personal film in at least 15 years.

Best Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master
Matthew McConaughey: Killer Joe
Robert Pattinson: Cosmopolis
Melvil Poupaud: Laurence Anyways
Matthias Schoenaerts: Rust and Bone

There are some surprising names listed above.  Matthew McConaughey; he's an actor I've often liked, but he's also an actor who has squandered or played down his talent over and over again in favour of cashing a cheque.  This year he wised up.  Melvil Poupaud; a fine actor, who gives a fantastic performance as a man embarking on a sex change, but in a film that has bone deep problems and which, despite this and other nominations here, I can't quite recommend as a whole.  Matthias Schoenaerts; who arrived out of nowhere to give a bruisingly emotional performance in a film I had few hopes for, but ultimately loved.  Then there's the legend in the making; Philip Seymour Hoffman, who teeters on the edge of parody in the overrated The Master, but just avoids falling over, giving a spellbinding performance.  The most unexpected, however, is the winner.

WINNER: Robert Pattinson

If you had told me at the beginning of this year that I'd ever write Robert Pattinson's name under Best anything (except perhaps 'forgotten'), I'd have laughed in your face for minutes on end - especially after I'd seen Bel Ami - but Cosmopolis proves that behind the vacancy of Edward Cullen lurks a much darker side, and a surprising, intelligent, actor.  Pattinson's Eric Packer is more a vampire than his Twilight character; feeding off the lifeblood of the world, but hiding from its light in a coffin like limo.  There's a sense of total dislocation from the world and from people, reflected in Cronenberg's imagery, but very present in Pattinson's work.  However, there's complexity too; an evolution scene by scene as Packer trashes his own life bit by bit, coming closer to engaging in the world as he does so.  It's the slow cracking of that mask that is so remarkable in Pattinson's performance.  I just hope that - unlike Hayden Christensen after Shattered Glass - Pattinson seeks out more challenging work, because here he's a revelation.

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard: Rust and Bone
Nina Hoss: Barbara
AnnaLynne McCord: Excision
Aggeliki Papoulia: Alps
Juno Temple: Killer Joe

When I come to write the awards post each year, this tends to be my favourite category.  It's often remarked that there aren't enough good roles for women, but I do wonder whether the people arguing that are looking hard enough, because each year I struggle to reduce the list for this category.  This year it's an interesting list.  There's the expected: the great German actress Nina Hoss, who would probably be listed every year if her films came out here more often and Aggeliki Papoulia, whose second role for director Yorgos Lanthimos is just as ambiguous and brilliantly played as her first was.  There's a surprise, for me, in Marion Cotillard, who I'd never rated that much until Rust and Bone, and there's the rising star, Juno Temple, who I've been tipping for a few years now, and who delivered in spades in Killer Joe.  But, again, the real surprise is the winner.

WINNER: AnnaLynne McCord

Until about a month ago I had no clue who AnnaLynne McCord was, it's only since seeing Excision that I've discovered she's essentially a soap opera actress, starring in the rebooted 90210 series.  In Excision McCord undergoes a total transformation to play Pauline, going from her beautiful 25 year old self to convincingly embody an awkward 17 year old who seems to have no concept of, or perhaps no interest in, presenting herself as attractive.  The physical side is what will be remarked on - because it's so 'brave' for a beautiful girl to allow herself to look unattractive on film - but it's really the characterisation beyond that that makes the performance so memorable.  The complexity of the performance is impressive, not just in the separation between the real Pauline and the lithe, confident, woman she is in her fantasies, but in the many layers there are to the real Pauline.  She's nerdy and withdrawn, but there's steel and confidence there; she's not doing well in school, but she's intelligent and sharp witted; there's compassion, but also hatred and violence.  It should, by rights, be a starmaking performance.

Best Supporting Actor
Thomas Haden Church: Killer Joe
John Hawkes: Martha Marcy May Marlene
Matthew McConaughey: Magic Mike
Patton Oswalt: Young Adult
Seth Rogen: Take This Waltz

An interesting category this year, in that I struggled a little for nominees, which isn't to say that these aren't all strong performances, but that two people were some way out ahead right from the start, and it was a challenge filling the other three slots.  Patton Oswalt was the real surprise, showing hidden depths as the sad sack who has carried a torch for Charlize Theron since they were at school together, and Seth Rogen proves that there's more to him than stoner comedy with a beautifully subtle performance as Michelle Williams' loving, but unexciting, husband in Take This Waltz.  Less unexpected, but no less impressive, was Thomas Haden-Church as Emile Hirsch's profoundly stupid Father in Killer Joe, but like I said, there were two I just couldn't separate.

WINNER(s): John Hawkes / Matthew McConaughey

I tried for ages, had each of them as the winner at various times, but ultimately I just couldn't pick a single winner here.  It's interesting, on the surface these are two totally different roles, two totally different actors and two totally different performances, but I think each performance is ultimately driven by the same thing: sheer force of charisma.

In Hawkes' case, in Martha Marcy May Marlene, it's a quiet, reserved, mysterious charisma, which allows him to seduce young men and women to revere him as their leader, and to do as he asks (which leads the film down some very disturbing paths).  The key to the performance lies, for me, in Hawkes' ability to project a quiet menace at all times, but also to allow us to see how easy it would be to be sucked in by his character, Patrick.  It's clearest in the scene where he sings Marcy's Song for Elizabeth Olsen's character, cementing for her her identity within the cult, but in a way that seems caring, even romantic, but Hawkes carries this right through his performance.  He may win an Oscar for The Sessions, but it should have been for this.

I've been writing awards posts like this, in various places, for about ten years, and I don't think I've ever previously nominated the same actor in Lead and Supporting categories in the same year, which only goes to show what a year Mathew McConaughey has had.  I very nearly split the Lead category between him and Pattinson, but, while Killer Joe is his best performance of the year, Pattinson was the standout for me there, and McConaughey is no slouch in Magic Mike either.  There's a different kind of charisma and seduction on display here; more... ahem... naked and in your face.  He may not exactly be a cult leader, but McConaughey effortlessly draws you in as entrepreneurial male stripper Dallas.  He gleefully plays on his image; half spoofing it, half living into it, and he's seldom appeared to have more fun, or given a better performance.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams: The Master
Suzanne Clement: Laurence Anyways
Sarah Gadon: Cosmopolis
Judy Greer: The Descendants
Isabelle Huppert: Amour

Once again, in this category, I think I'm showing how uneven I've found some of this year's films.  Just like in the Best Actor category I've got nominees from The Master and Laurence Anyways, which didn't work for me as whole pieces, but each had great elements.  Otherwise the category reflects its usual mix of rising stars (Sarah Gadon, who seems to work exclusively with people named Cronenberg) and acknowledged greats in small roles (Isabelle Huppert, working again with Michael Haneke, and excelling as ever), but my favourite is the professional scene stealer.

WINNER: Judy Greer

I love Judy Greer.  I'm sure plenty of you are on board already, and don't need me to say any more than that (and if you aren't, seriously, go and watch some of her films, we'll wait).  She'll never be the biggest star, she may not always get the greatest roles, but when she appears on screen Judy Greer does two things: brightens my day and immediately improves whatever film she's in.  In The Descendants she has only three scenes, but in them she credibly runs the gamut of emotion from A to Z.  She's particularly brilliant in her last scene, as a torrent of emotion pours out, directed at the coma stricken woman who had been having an affair with her husband, your heart just bleeds for her, perhaps especially because Greer, both in her earlier scenes and in general, is so totally endearing, but there's much much more than charm on display here.

Best Ensemble
Killer Joe
Your Sister's Sister

I've long felt that the Oscars need an award like this (several other bodies have an equivalent), perhaps it could be given to the casting director, whose contribution to movies is often undervalued and to my knowledge, at least in the major players in award season, there is no category that recognises them.  The ensemble casts here are quite varied in the forms they take and the way that is reflected in the films.  For instance, Cosmopolis has just one major recurring character, while most of the rest of the cast come in for one or a handful of scenes, but Your Sister's Sister revolves entirely around the interactions between its cast of three.  Argo and Alps are perhaps more traditional; with featured leads (respectively Ben Affleck and Aggeliki Papoulia) anchoring quality supporting casts; an expansive one in Argo's case, and a tiny one in Alps.

WINNER: Killer Joe

I nominated three of the individual performances from Killer Joe in the acting categories, and frankly I could have also nominated the other two if I'd had the space.  Each of the five leads is simply electrifying, but what's really impressive in both the performances and the way that William Friedkin marshals the cast, is the way that none of them gets in the way of the others.  It would be easy for, for instance, Matthew McConaughey to monopolise the screen, but he knows when to dial back a little and allow Juno Temple's vulnerable turn as Dottie to take centre stage.  The same is true of scenes between Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden-Church and Gina Gershon, which could easily have been eaten up by Gershon's hilariously trashy performance, but rather than being muted by her the more restrained performances work as an effective counterpoint.  Everyone's brilliant in their own right, but the balancing of each different performance is what wins Killer Joe this category.

Breakthrough Performance
Tara Lynn Barr: God Bless America
Kara Hayward: Moonrise Kingdom
Gretchen Lodge: Lovely Molly
Channing Tatum: Magic Mike
Iko Uwais: The Raid

The rules are always hazily defined for this category, but just to clarify, I've taken it to mean a performance that is either the first time I've noticed and been impressed by an actor or a performance that has changed my perception of an actor.  Four of these five fall into the former category.  Iko Uwais is clearly the black sheep here, but I enjoyed him in The Raid, okay, he's no Brando, but I see much more charisma there than I ever did with Tony Jaa, and I think he's got the skills and the presence to become a great action star.  Kara Hayward was the standout thing in a movie I didn't like very much (and sometimes found uncomfortable in the way it looked at her character), but there's clearly a talented and intelligent young actress there.  Tara Lynn Barr almost took this category; God Bless America is uneven, but her energy and comic timing really power it along, and make me anxious to see more from her.  Channing Tatum was the perception changer, I'd seen him do nice comic work (21 Jump Street and his small role in The Dilemma), but Magic Mike really showed that he's got dramatic chops too.  Here's hoping he can deliver on the promise of 2012.

WINNER: Gretchen Lodge

Lovely Molly (which JUST missed out on a place in my official Top 10) was one of the year's best surprises; an intelligent psychological horror film which, unaccountably, went direct to DVD and Blu Ray after screening at Frightfest.  Gretchen Lodge is pretty much the whole film: everything is filtered through her character, Molly, and she's in just about every frame of the film.  The reason the film works on all the multiple levels that it does is that Lodge convinces on all of those levels, it's easy to believe that Molly is simply scared, and going crazy, because she's being haunted, or that it's happening because she's turning back to drugs, or that she's simply going crazy.  It's also all the more affecting because in the early part of the film there's such an easy charm about Molly, and that makes you invest in her being okay.  It's a terrific, fearless, performance, and one that it's worth getting excited about.

Best Screenplay
David Cronenberg: Cosmopolis
Tracy Letts: Killer Joe
Jason Segel / Nicholas Stoller: The Muppets
Jacques Audiard / Thomas Bidegain: Rust and Bone
Lynn Shelton: Your Sister's Sister

And here's where the shittiness of this year really starts to bite.  If I'd had to do separate categories for original and adapted screenplays I'd have been sitting here until the review of 2013 trying to think of nominees.  That said, these are five excellent pieces of writing.  There are screenplays that are dense and theatrical (Cosmopolis, Killer Joe), one that is much more naturalistic, and probably much looser (Your Sister's Sister) and one that strays close to melodrama at times, but always finds a naturalistic way to express even the most outlandish events (Rust and Bone).  There was only ever one winner though.

WINNER: Jason Segel / Nicholas Stoller

The Muppets has a brilliant, brilliant screenplay, one that is just shot through with affection for its characters and indeed for its audience.  It certainly delivers all the expected Muppety things, from the basic 'hey kids, lets put on a show' feel of the whole story to the celebrity cameos to the little moments for everyone's favourite characters.  It delivers the jokes, pitching them perfectly so that references that play to the adults in the audience are done in a way that will also work for kids.  What makes it really remarkable though, outside the quality of the dialogue and the characterisation, is the vein of emotion that runs through it.  Take the unexpectedly heartbreaking scene where Kermit recruits Fozzie from his 'dressing room' in a terrible Vegas hotel, the writing is so good that you forget that these two old friends, each embarrassed by this conversation for different reasons, are puppets.  No other film's writing managed to so organically mix tones this year, making me laugh uproariously and wipe away tears, sometimes in the same moment.

Best Cinematography
'Peter Andrews': Magic Mike
Stephane Fontaine: Rust and Bone
Mihai Malaimare: The Master
Seamus McGarvey: Anna Karenina
Robbie Ryan: Ginger and Rosa

I often find that in reviews (and I'm as guilty as anyone at times), the visual design of a film is credited solely to its director, with scant attention paid to their key collaborator, the cinematographer or director of photography.  This year I have one cinematographer nominated who is also the director; Peter Andrews, who acts as DP for Steven Soderbergh, is a pseudonym for Soderbergh himself, and his capturing of sun baked Florida exteriors was just as striking as the many club scenes in Magic Mike.  Other DPs nominated here contributed work that made sure some patchier films at least looked great.  Seamus McGarvey's cinematography for Anna Karenina manages to both expand the world of the theatre it takes place in and bring it crashing back in on us when it's appropriate, and Robbie Ryan's typically lush images are the only reason other than Elle Fanning to sit through Ginger and Rosa.  Once again, I'm frustrated by how much I like things in The Master, without much liking the film itself.

WINNER: Stephane Fontaine

Stephane Fontaine wins for Rust and Bone because not only does the film look spectacular throughout, not only are images from it still running around my brain more than a month after I last saw it, but he also manages to give distinct visual flavours to different parts of the film, without making them feel like separate entities.  For instance, parts of the film have a stark, almost social realist, feel, especially scenes focused on Ali and his son, others - especially scenes involving whales - have a dreamlike feel to them, and still others, like the fight scenes, possess a gritty, grainy rawness that makes you feel the physicality of the scenes.  The look of the film can go from idealised to dingy and back again very quickly, but it all looks fantastic, and it's never jarring.

Scene of the Year
Prostate exam: Cosmopolis
Pictures in my Head: The Muppets
Hallway Fight: The Raid
Firework: Rust and Bone
Telling Lou: Take This Waltz

Sometimes, in films I love or even in films I hate, one scene will just lodge itself in my head, and ultimately stand for the whole film.  That's not all that makes a scene great, but it seems to be the linking thread with these five picks.  I've got massive reservations about Take This Waltz, but it is half brilliant, and the scene in which Michelle Williams explains to her husband, Seth Rogen, that she's leaving him - played entirely on a close up of Rogen - is spectacular.  Just as emotional, and perhaps just as surprisingly so, is Pictures in My Head; Kermit's nostalgic song about the Muppets, and the things he misses about the group.  I cried, then realised that I was crying because a piece of green felt was singing, then realised that didn't matter.  The hallway fight in The Raid is here for one reason: it's the most asskicking fun scene I've watched in years, and deserves a place among anyone's greatest martial arts sequences list.  As for a film in microcosm, how about the prostate exam in Cosmopolis, which is pretty much David Cronenberg's career in five minutes; body horror meets deformity meets social commentary.  That said, I'd heard about it all year, and then I saw it, and it FLOORED me...

WINNER: Rust and Bone

Since Cannes, everyone had been talking about the Firework scene in Rust and Bone, and they were right to.  It's actually the second time we hear Katy Perry's 'inspirational anthem', which, for all my fondness for pop music, I had never liked, but when it comes on over a scene of Marion Cotillard doing exercises in her wheelchair, it's such a powerful callback, and such a crescendo of emotion, that it's not just a great cinematic moment, it actually made me reevaluate the song (it's indirectly Jacques Audiard's fault that I watched a Katy Perry concert movie this year).  If this had been the first time we'd heard Firework in the film I suspect it would have felt cheap and manipulative here, but instead it takes us into the character's experience, into her small triumph.  The shot we see just as the song fades out is perhaps my favourite shot of the year.

Best Score / Soundtrack
Laurence Anyways
The Muppets
Rust and Bone

I'm not a great fan of film scores, like editing I tend to find that much of the time if I notice a score it's because it is getting on my nerves.  That said, I do enjoy some, and I love the way that music can affect our emotions, whether in films or otherwise.  This year my soundtrack choices are based not around music but rather collections of songs, be it the incongruous choice of bluegrass covers (notably The Velvet Underground) that Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and their collaborators put together for Lawless, the funny and touching original songs from The Muppets or the intelligently, eclectically, chosen pop and rock in Rust and Bone.  However, one filmmaker looks like he might dominate this category in future.

WINNER: Laurence Anyways

I've seen two of Xavier Dolan's three films, and my take on his work can be roughly divided into three things I've felt for approximately a third of the running time of each. 1: This guy's really talented.  2: Jesus Christ Xavier, get an editor.  3: I'd love to hear Xavier Dolan DJ.  Laurence Anyways is frustrating; it has passages of brilliance, but is at least 45 minutes too long, and prone to break out into music videos.  The catch is, those music videos are powered by a brilliant soundtrack, largely consisting of electronic music, and from the pulsating menace of Fever Ray, which opens the film, to tracks by the likes of Duran Duran and - in maybe film's most striking scene - Visage, Dolan never puts a musical foot wrong.  The soundtrack, ultimately, is better than the film, but it's incredibly effective in a cinema. 

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