Consider this my personal superlatives list, but I need to nail the coffin on 2011 beyond any reasonable doubt before moving on to the task at hand of Oscar coverage. It's been a long first week of this year, and that's not been hastened by any piece of news. I don't quite feel the progression of this year yet, but that may be what happens when a film like "The Devil Inside" premieres at the start of the year. So I have no hesitation in going back to more pleasant times as the end of last year.
BEST PICTURE: "Meek's Cutoff"
BEST DIRECTOR: Nicolas Winding Refn ("Drive")
Further Thoughts: I think there's little debating the directorial power that Refn had over this vehicle, having been given the keys to the kingdom by Ryan Gosling. This could have easily turned out any number of ways, and if it weren't for Nicolas Winding Refn at the lead, it wouldn't have become the beautiful, creative, shocking being it is now. You can't chock that up to any other director this year.
BEST ACTOR: Tom Cullen & Chris New ("Weekend")
Further Thoughts: Even if some miracle were to occur that put both these actors in this Oscar category this year, it'd be damn near impossible for either of them to win, because it's impossible to choose between either one of them. Both display copious amounts pent up vigor and expressiveness, despite being as new to the circuit as they are, and I couldn't hand that to any one actor in this category. The only one that comes close is Gary Oldman, who takes shotgun this time around.
BEST ACTRESS: Juliette Binoche ("Certified Copy")
Further Thoughts: I'm not sure what I could say for Binoche at this point. She's already won an Oscar, be it for a performance that was cuter than it was fascinating. Indeed she still has all that cuteness here, but she is working well overtime on the layers and specificities in this character as enigmatic as Ryan Gosling's similarly nameless protagonist this year. It's a role anybody would kill for, and Binoche both strives to understand and manages to have fun with it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Harris ("Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows")
Further Thoughts: Again, Gary Oldman was my second choice here for his role as the evil peacock in "Kung Fu Panda 2". Needless to say that my Supporting Actor bids usually strain towards the extravagant. Harris is a bit of an exception there, being the only reserved player on Guy Richie's vessel. That's because he knows when to dial it back, and when it dial it up to the extremes. Despite such a gleeful property, he seems to be the only one having fun in this film.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Carey Mulligan ("Shame")
Further Thoughts: Upon seeing Mulligan appear on screen, I was immediately taken aback by how unexpectedly repulsed by her I was. That's in no way a knock against her, rather a testament to how radical a departure this is for her. She bares all the ugliness of her character, shocking for somebody so beautiful.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: "Weekend"
Further Thoughts: You could attribute a lot of typical elements to Andrew Haigh's screenplay, though none of them really take when you see how the actors accommodate it. There aren't any assumptions as there often are in romances, particular homosexual romances. Haigh didn't stray away from the question of their sexuality like so many other films would. He delved right into the personal questions of it. There's no nonsense on the "ethics" of it. That would come off as rather offensive.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Further Thoughts: Never mind the doubtless trials it took to adapt John Le Carre's rather wordy novel into a two hour film that reserves the same potboiler pace as the five hour miniseries. There is still an impeccable knack for discourse in the conversations of Tomas Alfredson's film.
BEST ART DIRECTION: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Further Thoughts: You can expect to see Tomas Alfredson's film crop up a few more times, as it's probably the most pristine in terms of across-the-board production. I doubt there's a more commendable film this year when it comes to recreating the period and place down to each specificity. This is quite easily the most outstanding, and I only wish there were more competition for it beyond the stylish, but overly glitzy "Hugo".
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: "Shame"
Further Thoughts: Sean Bobbitt had a strong enough place here when "Hunger" came out, so his continuation with Steve McQueen did have a certain standard to live up to. A film this rich in ambiguity, Bobbitt's work is an absolute necessity to the film's success. Without it, it would have fumbled entirely. His is the externalized presence of Brandon's carnality, and conversely as his soul being chipped away.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Further Thoughts: You're not going to find much glamor in the costumes assembled for Fincher's film. Nevertheless, they're rather precisely tuned to each character's personality, aside from the fact that Lisbeth is always wearing back. Fincher is known for getting things down to the nail as far as his productions go. That worked quite a bit against him on "The Social Network", but here he gives the designers a freer reign within confines, and it seems to have worked out quite well from where I'm sitting.
BEST FILM EDITING: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Further Thoughts: Well how could I not end up giving this one to Joe Bini, who not only works under your nails in the film's latter and more narrative propulsions. The first half hour of the film is such a delicate composition that brings you into this world in a sense of delirium, fever, dread, freakishness, and fright, and the editing of it has as much to do with that as anything.
BEST MAKEUP: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Further Thought: You thought I was about to hand it off to the simple work they had to do on "Hugo" and "Harry Potter"? What makes the makeup in this film so outstanding, beyond the simple fact that they made Gary Oldman into a carbon copy of my father, is how cold and seething these characters seem. How much warmth is allowed to get through to the surface of their faces? It's delicately controlled, and I couldn't possibly slight it.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Further Thoughts: You will not see me giving a lot of commendations to the final film in the "Harry Potter" franchise, but if there was one man who was firing on all cylinders where everyone else seemed to be tone deaf, it was Alexandre Desplat. His music is what establishes the tone perfectly at the beginning, and tragically during the action sequences. The worst parts of the film are where he is ignored in replacement by John Williams. I understand their desire for continuity, but it simply did not work as well as Desplat's deep swells and intricate orchestration. I'll listen to the score and cry a great deal more than the film itself made me do.
BEST SONG (ORIGINAL): "Man or Muppet" ("The Muppets")
Further Thoughts: With everyone shifting their perspectives over to the other two songs of the film, I'll be sad to see the true gem of "The Muppets" go unrewarded on nominations morning. More or less the Muppets' take on an Elton John song, this was just so passionate in its parody and ridiculously entertaining as a song alone. As used in the film, it's so close to emotional ecstasy.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
Further Thoughts: I'm really the only person who rather enjoyed the third film in Michael Bay's fighting robots franchise. There's a lot having to do with across the board excellence in the technical department, and there's scarcely a second of this film that isn't done up in gorgeous visuals. Hack apart the script all you'd like, though that's hardly going to make any kind of impact. The effects in this film are pristine and give it its jolt.
BEST ANIMATED FILM: "Rango"
MOST UNDERRATED FILM: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Further Thoughts: This may actually end up with a Best Picture nomination after all, but there's still a general presence of negativity surrounding it. A lot of the falters of this film are to blame on the hack job of editing it together. It was frantic, aimless, and just plain stupid at times, but the film itself is damn entertaining for the greater portions of it. Fincher's stylistic edge is still one of the main things to come out here.
MOST OVERRATED FILM: "The Tree of Life"
Further Thoughts: Two months ago, I felt it was a fine film, but nothing extraordinary. A month ago, I was sick of hearing about it. Now, it's gotten to the point where I'm struggling to find even appreciation for Malick's posturing. Leave it to hype to dilute any appreciation you have for a film that's been under construction for many years.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: "Rango"
Further Thoughts: I don't think there's a single person who thought that this was going to work out, and I'm quite happy that it did.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Further Thoughts: I didn't get the experience that everyone else seemed to get. It frankly felt that they were just phoning in their work for the finale, which isn't what you want, especially since they were on such a strong roll following two of the best films in the series. Yates messed up massively, and I left one of the longest cinematic experiences in my life bitter with disappointment. Disagree with me all you like, but at the end of the day I'm going to be the one who is still disappointed.
BEST YEAR FOR AN ACTOR/ACTRESS: Ryan Gosling ("Drive", "Crazy, Stupid, Love.", "The Ides of March")
Further Thoughts: Michael Fassbender had a great deal more films this year, but some of them just didn't work out. As far as actors with the strongest berth of work this year, it's got to be Ryan Gosling. He did outstanding in nearly every single film this year, with special props for "Drive".
WORST YEAR FOR AN ACTOR/ACTRESS: Cameron Diaz ("Bad Teacher", "The Green Hornet")
Further Thoughts: And then we had the antichrist. Bradley Cooper might have had some even worst films this year, though I didn't see them. But I think when it comes to atrocious work across the board, it's got to be Cameron Diaz. When she is the "sexy female" in your superhero movie, you know you're on cracking ice.
BEST POSTER: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Further Thoughts: A rare case where the US marketing department has more sense than the UK, whichever poster you come across, it's just oozing with the sort of subtle tension the film exuded the first time I laid witness to it.
BEST TRAILER: "Shame" ("New York, New York")
Further Thoughts: This year had some tight trailers, from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". I ended up being most taken with this more delicate and heart-throbbing second trailer for "Shame", and it'll please you to know that the song is just as heartbreaking in the film itself.
BEST TITLE SEQUENCE: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Further Thoughts: I don't think I gave much mind to title sequences until the very end of this year, with strong work in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", but even more startling work at the start of David Fincher's film. It's a nightmare vision of things to come, and it's as exciting as if it were shot up the arm via injection.