Dec 31, 2013

The 24FPS Awards 2013

Whenever I sit down to write and record the review of the year in movies (a 3 part podcast series is underway) I end up asking myself one key question... what kind of year has it been?  Last year was, for me, an historic low, one that threatened my dedication to new cinema and saw me struggle to complete a Top 10, while at the same time having enough for a list of the 30 worst films of that year.  2013, to my immense relief, has been an improvement.

However, this hasn't for my money been the historically excellent year that many people have pegged it as.  2013 has been a year of highs and lows; it delivered the first film I've felt happy to call a masterpiece since I saw Dogtooth in 2009, but it also, for me, was jam packed with movies that, while not all of them were terrible, were extremely disappointing and baffled me with their critical reception.  On the whole, from what I've seen, it's been a perfectly middling year for film.  There are movies, good and bad, from 2013 that I'll carry with me in the future but there are many more I've already forgotten.

With all this said, here are the 24FPS Awards for 2013.  These are purely personal picks, not predictions for the upcoming award season (which I hate anyway).  The films I've considered eligible are those released in UK cinemas or as DVD or Blu Ray premieres in 2013 as well as the handful of festival films I saw that have not yet gained distribution deals in the UK.

Kathryn Bigelow: Zero Dark Thirty
Fernando Franco: Wounded
Richard Linklater: Before Midnight
Francois Ozon: In The House
Park Chan-Wook: Stoker

WINNER: Park Chan-wook
I don't say this lightly but - deep breath - I think Stoker is essentially a perfectly directed film.  I don't mean that it is a perfect film as a whole, but it seems that it is an exercise in supreme and supremely beautiful directorial control from Park Chan-Wook. The watchword here is precision; Park conducts this film, the clarity of each moment and the rhythm of the piece as a whole are individually stunning and complement each other beautifully, revealing new depths every time you revisit the film (I'm on my sixth watch since March)

Matthew Goode: Stoker
Ethan Hawke: Before Midnight
Caleb Landry-Jones: Antiviral
Matthew McConaughey: Mud
Jack Reynor: What Richard Did

WINNER: Ethan Hawke
For my money, Ethan Hawke is one of the most underrated actors working right now and if the Golden Globe nominations are anything to go by he's about to get screwed again because despite the fact that he turns in career best work in Before Midnight, adding a deeper melancholy to a now middle-aged Jesse, he has been passed over while his co-star Julie Delpy has been nominated.  Hawke rips your heart out with the smallest things in this performance; the hurt when Celine doesn't pass him the phone after speaking to his son; the way he receives one devastating line from Delpy and the quiet desperation of the film's final moments.  However, this is also still the Jesse we recognise; sometimes playful, sometimes pretentious, it's like seeing an old friend again and finding him the same but different.  It's masterful acting.

Marian Alvarez: Wounded
Julie Delpy: Before Midnight
Isabelle Huppert: Abuse of Weakness
Cosmina Stratan: Beyond The Hills
Mia Wasikowska: Stoker

WINNER: Marian Alvarez
I honestly thought about making this category a five way tie (and, so good a year was it for female leads, I could have added five more with no struggle), but ultimately I just can't deny or overstate how deeply I felt Marian Alvarez' performance in the as yet undistributed Wounded.  There is definitely a degree of personal experience leaking in to my admiration for this performance, because I've never seen the experience and the feeling of clinical depression and anxiety better captured on screen.  Alvarez' performance is scrupulously real, but what she and the film never lose sight of is the lengths people will go to to hide problems like this, and she draws distinctions between the (effective) mask she usually shows the world and the glimpses of the vibrant person the depression often hides.  It's a layered performance, and perhaps you need to have been there to get the most from it, but I was blown away.

Barkhad Abdi: Captain Phillips
Jason Clarke: Zero Dark Thirty
Matthew McConaughey: Bernie
Lars Mikkelsen: What Richard Did

WINNER: Jason Clarke
Jason Clarke has been cropping up in supporting roles and doing solid work for a few years now.  In fact, so good has he been that I've not spotted him from film to film, but Zero Dark Thirty is where he throws down a marker.  For me his character is one that gives the lie to the idea that the film simply brushes concerns about torture under the rug.  It's a subtle performance, but we do see how performing 'enhanced interrogations' affects this man, and the way he tries to mask it with bravado to Jessica Chastain's Maya.  He also shows a great ability to show how the character must slip between gears, whether in interrogations or from that active role to a more passive one sitting round tables in meetings.  The character seems thin to begin with, but Clarke does a lot with it; the mark of a real talent.

Doona Bae: Cloud Atlas
Kaitlyn Dever: Short Term 12
Cristina Flutur: Beyond the Hills
Rosana Pastor: Wounded

WINNER: Cristina Flutur
Beyond the Hills was a late entry into my Top 10, but I was knocked out both by the film and by the two central performances (each is as good as the other, but I decided I shouldn't have ties, which is why only Cristina Flutur has won her category).  Flutur is heart-wrenching as Alina; a young woman reunited with a friend (and likely lover) from her younger days in an orphanage, who finds that friendship changed because her friend has become an orthodox nun and now only want to take care of Alina.  Like Marian Alvarez, Flutur is playing a character with undiagnosed (and in this case misunderstood) mental illness, but while the way that storyline works out is tragic the real sadness comes at watching her try to find a way back into relationship that is now gone forever.  It's a raw performance, and easy to identify with.

Adele Exarchopolous: Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Chloe Pirrie: Shell
Waad Mohammed: Wadjda
Keith Stanfield: Short Term 12
Marine Vacth: Jeune Et Jolie

WINNER: Waad Mohammed
I hope that we will be seeing much more from everyone on this list but, though I've been talking about it for well over a year now, Waad Mohammed's wonderfully sparky but entirely unforced performance in Wadjda still stands out for me, even in what is a good field.  I love how the film doesn't impose its themes on the character, but instead lets her simply be a kid and trusts that the larger themes will come good because there is something recognisable in Wadjda, even for someone who grew up in a completely different situation.  Mohammed strikes just the right notes in playing Wadjda's different relationships; to her Mother, her Father, her teacher and her cheekier interactions with the boy next door and other people she meets.  I think what I like most about this performance is what it lacks; the forced precociousness that you can feel from child stars, instead a natural charisma just jumps off the screen.

Brandon Cronenberg: Antiviral
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater: Before Midnight
Skip Hollandsworth, Richard Linklater: Bernie
Francois Ozon: In The House
Fernando Franco, Enric Rufas: Wounded

WINNER: Francois Ozon
Thank God that Francois Ozon had two films out this year, because this way I can somewhat wash away the sour taste of Jeune et Jolie (perhaps his single worst film) by reminding myself that he also delivered In the House, which may not be his best film, but is almost certainly his most interesting and his finest screenplay.  The writing here is a masterclass in juggling tone; there is a playful vein of comedy as literature teacher Germain encourages a student to continue writing a voyeuristic story about the family of a fellow student, but Ozon also maintains a sense of tension; a threat underlying the whole story.  At yet another level the screenplay works as a very funny analysis of storytelling, with Ozon almost goading the audience, daring them to figure out where the narrative will go next.  It's a confident work that shows off Ozon at his best, which is why Jeune et Jolie baffles me so much.

Christos Voudouris: Before Midnight
Lukasz Zal: Ida
Yoliswa Gartig: Shell
Chung Chung-Hoon: Stoker

WINNER: Chung Chung-Hoon
I saw some dazzling sights in the cinema this year, but no award was more assuredly sewn up than this one, I think it was over by the time the opening credits ended the first time I saw Stoker.  The composition and lighting of Stoker are so precise, so perfect, that I can see how it might disconnect some viewers from the film.  For me it was quite the reverse, this was the first film for ages that I wanted simply to dive into, to break down shot by shot because I could tell just how much every frame might hold (there will be more of this in the Top 10 podcast).  For me the shot (and the edit) of the year was the moment that Park dissolves in a perfect match from a brush running through Nicole Kidman's hair to a field of reeds.  That moment, and a hundred others, have stuck with me since March.

Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin: The Punk Singer
Christophe Beck / Richard Lopez / Kristen Anderson-Lopez: Frozen
M83: Oblivion
Cliff Martinez: Only God Forgives
Clint Mansell: Stoker

WINNER: Frozen

I grew up on Disney movies, but had felt disconnected from their non-Pixar efforts for some time until Tangled came along a few years ago.  That film, along with Frozen, seems to be ushering in a new golden age for the studio.  Frozen is a brilliant film; driven by its characters and taking a slightly unusual approach to Disney tropes, retaining fairytale ideas, but not simply having a handsome guy save a princess.  It's combined with a great set of songs which range from the comedic to the heartwarming to the dramatic.  Let It Go (see above) is the crucial point of the film, establishing a different sort of 'villain' that you can still identify with, and Idina Menzel's barnstorming delivery of it turns what had looked like an entirely standard Disney movie into something else (something better) in three minutes.

The hotel room: Before Midnight
Alina is read a list of sins: Beyond The Hills
Piano duet: Stoker
Richard tells his Dad what happened: What Richard Did
Killing Bin Laden: Zero Dark Thirty

Even with a great film (and all those listed above are great films) there will always be a moment or a scene that will stick out in the memory above the rest and 2013 brought many of them (I could have also picked moments from Wounded or Stop the Pounding Heart or Captain Phillips or... you get the idea), ultimately though this was another category with almost no competition in it.  The 25 minutes or so that Before Midnight spends with Jesse and Celine in a hotel room are the most heart in mouth moments of cinema that 2013 delivered.  We've grown to love these people, individually and as a couple and to see them have a real argument - not something that will go away in five minutes, but a fight that might end their relationship - is genuinely upsetting.  I was on the verge of tears the whole time, and then broke when Celine says a line I could never have imagined I'd hear going into this film.  That moment hits like a punch to the gut, and that's why Before Midnight has no real competition here.

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