Dec 26, 2015

The 24FPS Awards 2015

It's not, in my estimation, been a good year, but this list of my personal awards for the past 12 months is at least reasonably varied (only one film wins in more than one category) and has thrown up a few surprises. This year the nominations in most categories weren't that hard to arrive at, the challenge was picking a winner. In multiple categories I found myself debating, chopping and changing the victor several times.

In a year of cinema that often struggled to impress me, every one of these nominees helped, in some small way, remind me why I write this site even in a year like this. None of them is making up the numbers; they all did great work and if I could write in detail about every nominee I would. I'd encourage you to see all the films on each of these lists, if just for the work of the person I've singled out.

Anyway, on with the show. Feel free to yell at me for not nominating Mad Max: Fury Road or [insert movie you loved here] in the comments or on @24FPSUK.

Best Director
Pete Docter: Inside Out
Francois Ozon: The New Girlfriend
Celine Sciamma: Girlhood
Peter Strickland: The Duke of Burgundy
Isao Takahata: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Francois Ozon
Francois Ozon stumbled with his last film, Jeune et Jolie and I wondered whether, after almost 20 years, my favourite working director had finally lost his touch. The New Girlfriend not only confirms that Ozon has picked himself up again, it's a film that, on repeat viewings, reveals itself as one of his best (perhaps behind 5 X 2 and In The House). His balancing of tone is masterful as he draws together the melancholy, comedic and romantic threads of this unusual story and the work with the actors is as strong as ever. Anais Demoustier and Romain Duris give detail rich performances in which tiny moments speak very loudly. Finally, the whole film is beautifully and evocatively shot; Ozon's precise framing accentuating every emotion in the film. It's another great example of why I find his work so engaging and so exciting.

Best Actress
Anais Demoustier: The New Girlfriend
Sara Hagan: Sun Choke
Nina Hoss: Phoenix
Ellen Dorrit Petersen: Blind
Sarah Snook: Predestination

Sarah Snook
Talk about a performance that came out of nowhere. I picked up Predestination on DVD because I found it for £2 and Ethan Hawke is one of my favourite actors, the generic cover didn't bode well. When Sarah Snook (who I hadn't seen before) first appeared in the film it took me a while to twig even that the role was being played by a woman. To say that her role is demanding is to seriously understate matters, her character's persona and appearance shifts so profoundly, and her various roles intersect at such levels of complexity that the mere fact that she manages to draw an emotional throughline in her character is hugely impressive. To deliver such a chameleonic and affecting performance that repeatedly takes in jaw dropping twists with seeming ease is little short of brilliance. Predestination isn't the kind of film that gets in the conversation for big acting awards, but Snook blows most of the competition out of the water this year.

Best Actor
Tom Courtenay: 45 Years
Romain Duris: The New Girlfriend
Ethan Hawke: Predestination
Oscar Isaac: A Most Violent Year / Ex Machina
Logan Miller: Take Me to the River

Oscar Isaac
It's taken me a long time to come round to Oscar Isaac, having first seen him slicing the ham very thick indeed in Ridley Scott's dreadful Robin Hood, which he then followed up with Sucker Punch: one of the ten worst films I've seen in this site's lifetime. I liked his performance more in Inside Llewyn Davis, but found the film extremely overrated and the character, well acted as he was, nigh insufferable, but for the first time I saw promise.

This year, Isaac delivered on that promise, with intense turns in two of the year's most intelligent dramas. A Most Violent Year is set in 1981, but its approach reaches back to the patiently paced and tense crime dramas of the 1970s. Isaac's performance as a man trying to remain moral despite the corruption around him is also redolent of that period; there are shades of a restrained Pacino or DeNiro here. Ex Machina is more forward looking and Isaac's brilliant but menacing programmer with a God complex has more notes than Michael Fassbender's take on a similar (real life) character. The performances are utterly different from one another and they've made me much more interested in where Isaac goes from here, as long as it's not Sucker Punch 2 or The Further Adventures of Robin Hood.

Best Supporting Actress
Barbara Crampton: Sun Choke
Kim Sae-ron: A Girl At My Door
Angeliki Papoulia: The Lobster
Assa Sylla: Girlhood

Assa Sylla
Sylla, like the rest of the young cast, had not acted prior to being cast in Girlhood but, great as lead Karidja Toure is as Marieme, Sylla's sheer presence often sees her dominate scenes in which all four of the girl gang led by her character 'Lady' appear. Silently and quickly she shifts from menacing to playful, from fierce to funny. It would have been easy to write and play the girls of this gang of banlieu badasses as caricatures of troubled kids, to make them one note wannabe gangstas. Lady and her cohorts are much more than that, and it's in this variety that Sylla delivers. Her interactions with Marieme go through several phases; first confrontational, then friendly, then genuinely open and caring, and watching her play on these registers within the same scene you see how versatile she is.

Some of this may be taught, directed out of Sylla by Celine Sciamma. What isn't, what can't be, is her immense charisma. Sylla has it to burn. Just look at the image above (from the film's standout scene) and tell me that's not someone you immediately want to see more of.

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Daniels: Steve Jobs
Richard Kind: Inside Out
David Morse: The Boy
Michael Shannon: 99 Homes

Richard Kind
Several of my favourite actors are in this category this year, but it's an actor who can best be described - at least as I've always seen him - with the words "Oh, that guy. He's great" who is the ultimate winner. Richard Kind has done a lot of voice work (including giving Tom an incredibly pointless and ill fitting voice in Tom and Jerry: The Movie), but I doubt he's ever been better or more affecting than he is as Bing Bong, the long abandoned imaginary friend of 12 year old Riley, in whose mind most of Inside Out takes place. Kind's voice is warm, friendly and just a little silly. He makes Bing Bong the kind of thing we can imagine a little girl dreaming up as a playmate, but also gives him a rich inner life and sense both of optimism and deep longing.

Bing Bong's final scene, sacrificing himself to allow Joy to go and save Riley, capped with a truly heartbreaking read on "Take her to the moon for me" not only engages us with Bing Bong and with Riley, but makes us reflect on the imaginary friends we may have forgotten over the years. Kind's performance helps make the film personal for the whole audience. 

One To Watch [Actors]
Jared Breeze: The Boy
Devon Keller: Petting Zoo
Laurence Leboeuf: Turbo Kid
Ursula Parker: Take Me to the River
Charlie Plummer: King Jack

Devon Keller
This is, as is appropriate to the category, a very young group (the eldest is Laurence Lebeouf, who has been making films for some time, but broke through as the winningly nuts Apple in Turbo Kid). It's also perhaps no surprise that four of these five films could, to some degree, be called coming of age movies. 

Petting Zoo is perhaps the most naturalistic of these films and of the performances. Devon Keller was spotted by director Micah Magee at a fashion show at the school where the film was shot (and which Keller graduated from just before making the film). Keller, perhaps thanks to the closeness of the setting and the character, seems utterly at home in Layla's skin. She hits a lot of registers in this performance, but always convincingly, and for all Layla's sharp edges, her intelligence comes through and she's never less than sympathetic. Keller is at her best late in the film as she turns on a dime between some of the film's lightest material, as Layla is given a driving lesson by her new boyfriend, and some of it's heaviest, as she tells him she's pregnant with someone else's child. Keller's unforced naturalism throughout Petting Zoo is hugely promising, and I hope to see much more of her.

One To Watch [Filmmakers]
Akiz: Der Nachtmahr
Ben Cresciman: Sun Choke
Micah Magee: Petting Zoo
Gez Medinger, Robin Schmidt: AfterDeath

Ben Cresciman
Sun Choke came out of nowhere and knocked a lot of people over at Frightfest and as a first feature from writer/director Ben Cresciman it's pretty startling, largely for not feeling like a debut. Cresciman doesn't appear to be feeling out his style here, or unsure what he's saying (even if sometimes wants us to be), and that's often the mark of someone who it's worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Sun Choke is full of striking images. The light saturated moments that seem to draw most literally on the title, the cold images of the house where Sara Hagan and Barbara Crampton spend most of the film (a motif reflected in the pitch of Crampton's performance) and the more conventional horror images, such as a viscerally nasty murder that closes the second act. These bring a mix of tones that works brilliantly for the film. As you'll probably have guessed from the other categories, there is also much to admire about Cresciman's handling of his small cast (even Sara Malakul Lane, in a role that is purely decorative for much of the running time, does good work). 

Overall, Sun Choke is both one of the best films of the year and a hugely impressive calling card. I'm looking forward to whatever Cresciman does next.

Best Cinematography / Visuals
Crimson Peak
The Duke of Burgundy
The Forbidden Room
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Every one of these films is visually stunning. I came incredibly close (as in I'd started writing the summary) to giving the award to another film, but ultimately it's the handmade, effortful, artistry of Isao Takahata's film that wins out.

The style of Kaguya's animation often lends the film an impressionistic feel. At times it feels like an artists's sketchbook come to life, but that's not to say it feels unfinished. In many ways the animation is perhaps more effective for all its roughness, you can feel the work in every brush stroke and the varying qualities of the drawing enables Takahata and his team to suggest emotion not just through the expressions the characters make, but through the way they're rendered. 

This is never more true than when Kaguya runs away from her wedding; the drawings become smudges, reflecting both the speed of her intended escape and the emotional turmoil she's in. It's one of the year's standout sequences and one of the most affecting bits of animation I've seen for ages.

Best Screenplay
Celine Sciamma: Girlhood
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley: Inside Out
J.C Chandor: A Most Violent Year
Francois Ozon: The New Girlfriend
Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki: Phoenix

Inside Out
Pixar have been pretty seriously off the boil since the wonderful Toy Story 3, but in 2015 they recaptured their mojo with Inside Out. Long time readers will know that I'm a huge fan of coming of age cinema, and Inside Out is perhaps the most unique entry in the genre for years. It takes a look at the process from the inside, with Joy, Sadness and the audience watching as 11 year old Riley processes the world, retaining what she needs and literally discarding what, at 11, she's outgrown.

The visuals used to bring this interior world to life are stunning, but it's the sharpness of the writing, which makes complex concepts relateable and funny for adults and kids alike while, in the outside world, creating a believable and affecting family story, that makes Inside Out so special. The screenplay has it all, from gorgeous emotional moments (the opening moments killed me) to cleverly written set pieces (Abstract thought) and some hilarious throwaway jokes ("GIRL! GIRL!"), all tied together by the brilliant concept and characters.

Best Score / Use of Music
Click the links for a clip or a song. The Tami Tamaki song is VERY NSFW.
Girlhood: Score by Para One / Use of Light Asylum, Rhianna
Phoenix: Nina Hoss sings Speak Low
The Skeleton Twins: Starship Karaoke
Something Must Break: Use of "I Never Loved This Hard This Fast Before" by Tami Tamaki
Turbo Kid: Score by Le Matos

There is a lot to be said, in cinema and in music, for simplicity. This scene from Phoenix speaks to the power that simplicity can convey. The scene consists of three shots that Christian Petzold cuts between and two performances, both superlative. The moment the music cuts out and we see the expression on Ronald Zehrfeld's face is one of the most powerful of this entire year of cinema, and the clarity of Nina Hoss' voice, the way it cuts so beautifully through everything draws both the scene and, as this is the film's closing moment, the story as whole, together with incredible power. It's a jaw dropping moment, perhaps the best of either Petzold or Hoss' estimable careers.

Best Scene
Diamonds: Girlhood
Bing Bong: Inside Out
"This was very disrespectful": A Most Violent Year
Sex scene: The New Girlfriend
Driving Lesson: Petting Zoo

The New Girlfriend
Francois Ozon has long used sex scenes as a dramatic device in his films. Much of his work is explicit and involves a lot of nudity and sex, but those scenes are always about advancing character. I don't think that's ever been more true than in The New Girlfriend, especially in its second sex scene, the first between Claire (Anais Demoustier) and David/Virginia (Romain Duris). 

Throughout the film, Ozon has deftly led us to a place where this moment is inevitable, what it becomes is the film's most emotionally fraught moment. It's cathartic yet confusing for the characters. Shifting identities are a huge part of Ozon's ouvre and especially of this film, but he's never visualised it so nakedly and with such impact. It's an identity crisis of the most intimate sort, and it, along with many other scenes, has stuck in my head since I saw The New Girlfriend at LFF 2014.

Biggest (and best) Surprise
The Final Girls
Landmine Goes Click
Sun Choke

I expected less than nothing from Unfriended. A real time, essentially found footage, horror film that takes place entirely in the visual space of a Mac desktop. It sounded dull and like it would be the cheapest, most visually uninspiring, horror of this year and perhaps many to come. While it may not be the best film on this list, I was genuinely shocked by how good it is. Unfriended gives us two things that feel truly rare in what passes for mainstream American horror now: effort and invention.

There is an argument that not all films need to be seen in a cinema, but this may be the first film I would actively recommend watching not on a cinema or even a TV screen, but on your laptop. There is an ambience that watching Unfriended via your own computer (especially if it's a Mac) lends it. I found that it sucked me into the visual space, which is inventively used, making the film more involving and scarier. I wonder how it will date, but as a movie of the moment, Unfriended is involving, largely credible, and entirely surprising in its quality.

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