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Friday, January 24, 2014

2013 In Review- Noah's Awards

            It’s that time of year again!  I apologize for the delay in getting this out, but since, as usual, all the “important” films have been dumped into theaters at the exact same time, I am still in the process of playing catch-up.  Meaning that this post will NOT be my Top 10 List- Wolf, Nebraska, and All Is Lost only just came out in Germany, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, and Dallas Buyer’s Club don’t come out until next month, and I’m still scrambling to figure out how I can see Fruitvale Station, Her, and The Wind Rises before the Oscar telecast.   

            As a result, not only will by Top 10 List have to wait a few more weeks, my Oscar picks (and rants- there are going to be a couple rants) will not be finished until February as well, to allow me enough time to see as many of the nominees as possible.  Instead, here are my own personal awards for the year 2013- not so much for whole movies, but rather for certain characters, scenes, and aspects of the films I saw this year that jumped out at me as worth paying extra attention to at the year’s end.  Enjoy!    

Jack Nicholson Award for Creepiest SOB: Michael Maertens as Claude (Finsterworld)

            Finsterworld as a whole was notable for a constant undercurrent of discomfort pervading many of the scenes, which it managed to maintain without ever doing anything explicitly disgusting or graphic.  That is, until we get a glimpse into the private life of Claude, and learn exactly why he loves working at an old folk’s home.  Yikes. 

Award for Worst SNL Impersonation of a US President:  John Cusack as Richard Nixon (The Butler)

           I didn’t particularly like The Butler (although I certainly laud its intentions) and I was very glad when it failed to receive any Oscar nominations.  Part of the reason the movie never really worked for me was because, despite its clear and desperate aspiration to be one of “THE Movies” about Black American History, there were so many bizarre and out-of-left-field casting and direction choices that, by the end, I was barely able to take the whole enterprise seriously. 

            This was nowhere more frustrating than with the utterly inexplicable casting decisions for the half-dozen US Presidents on display.  Granted, when you squint your eyes and tilt your head sideways, Robin Williams and Alan Rickman do passingly resemble Eisenhower and Reagan, but John Cusack?  Not only does he bear as little physical resemblance to Nixon as I do to Taft, he makes absolutely zero effort to even talk or act like him.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he was half-drunk during the filming- he certainly sounded like it.  In fact, that’s the best way I can sum up his performance- it’s like Lee Daniels got him drunk, showed him the Nixon scenes from Watchmen, and then let him loose on the set.  Great for a laugh, if the movie were a comedy, but for something trying so hard to be meaningful?  Bad call. 

Award for Best SNL Impersonation of a US President:  Jamie Foxx as President Obama, more or less (White House Down)

            Yes, I know, technically Jamie Foxx is playing a different black, Ivy League, progressively liberal President with larger-than-life aspirations to create a more peaceful world order and opposed, to an almost maniacal degree, by conservative and reactionary (and white) forces within and without the government, but then again, this is Roland Emmerich we’re talking about.  He’s fooling no one.  Foxx is President Obama, and he is forced to wield a bazooka to ward off assassination efforts by racist, white conspiracy theorists.  And it is awesome. 

Cloud Atlas Award for Most Under-appreciated Gem: Much Ado About Nothing

            Sadly, I’m not surprised in the least that this Tiffany diamond of a flick got zero attention from the awards committees this year.  Whedon put virtually no effort into a marketing campaign, it was given a brief, limited release months before the “serious” season, and the film itself was meant only as a fun side project for him to have a break from Avengers post-production.  Which is a real, real shame, because it’s one of the best movies of the year, one of the best film adaptations of Shakespeare in years, and when my list comes out in a few weeks, it will be in my Top 5.      

Doubles Award for Best Female Co-Leads: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur (Beyond The Hills) AND Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (Blue Is The Warmest Color)

            It’s interesting to note that this year featured not one, but two foreign-language films about young women struggling to deal with the fallout of a previously romantic relationship gone south.  I greatly enjoyed both of these movies, both use a very minimalist style, and both are carried solely on the performances of the two leads.  A few decades down the line, I hope they will be remembered as the early salvos of a new wave of increasingly diverse and complex relationships in film. 

Iago Award for Most Cold-Blooded of Villains: Maribel Verdu as Encarna (Blancanieves)

           This wasn’t a particularly brilliant year for villains.  There were exceptions- Fassbender’s Epps in 12 Years A Slave and Cumberbatch’s Smaug were welcome screen presences- but the queen of evil in 2013 was undoubtedly Verdu’s Encarna in this black-and-white, silent, Spanish version of Sleeping Beauty.  Endlessly devious and wretched in her attempts to separate a father and his daughter, her crowning moment is a scene revolving around a bowl of chicken soup that practically froze my entire nervous system in horror.  Nope, not saying how.  Go see it, it’s an amazing movie that everyone should see anyway. 

Sequels Award for Most Improvement Within A Franchise: Catching Fire

            You might recall that The Hunger Games was my least-favorite film from last year, and it’s hard to find a better example of picking a franchise up off its feet than a film that leaps from “decent yet incompetently made” to “pretty damn good” in a matter of minutes.  Far better acting (see, Jennifer Lawrence, there's the talent David Russell's trying to hide!), but even more important, the movie has a much stronger sense of place.  The world feels way bigger and more real than it did last time around.  I’m still not in love with the series, but at least I’m solidly on board for the last two movies

Princess Peach Award for Most Abused Female Character: Pepper Pots (Ironman 3)

            Pepper Pots is Lava Woman.  She is indestructible, she can burn anything to nothing, and we must also assume she can now breathe fire.  Stop making her a DID (aka damsel in distress).  Stop punting her to the side so Robert can mug the camera some more.  Make her an Avenger.  She’s the only decent female character in the franchise.  Sorry Scarlett, but punching the dude from The Hurt Locker doesn’t mean you’ve now had a character arc. Seriously, I expect fire-breathing in Age of Ultron.  I have spoken.  

Luigi Award for Most Ignored Side Character: War Machine/Iron Patriot (Ironman 3)

            And speaking of DIDs, PLEASE stop making the franchise’s only black character not played by Mace Windu into one as well.  War Machine’s treatment in Ironman 3 was even more dismissive than that given to Pepper, and far more blatant.  Give him something to do next time.  Or, I dunno, maybe MAKE HIM AN AVENGER. 

Milkshake Award for Best Two Minutes of Acting: Tom Hanks (for the last few scenes of Captain Phillips

           I’m not as high on this one as a lot of other critics are, but it is a genuinely great movie, and what really seals the deal are the film’s last few, ridiculously intense scenes showing the climax of the hostage crisis.  Tom Hanks’ performance was not my favorite of the year (that honor goes to Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis), and he’s not the two-hour tour-de-force that Chiwetel Eijifor is in 12 Years A Slave, but his scenes before and after the pirates are killed and when he’s being examined on the Navy ship afterwards were my favorite single-scene acting moments of the year.  He already has two Oscars, so his lack of presence on the Oscar nominees list isn’t as bad a snub as Isaac’s, but it is a gaping hole nonetheless. 

Snorlax Award for Most Boring Snoozefest of a Film: The Hunt

             Currently, this is the “worst” movie of 2013 I’ve seen, although I have not yet seen American Hustle, which I am actively dreading.  Not that it’s bad- I still don’t think it is- I just thought it failed utterly in attempting to turn it’s very real and potent subject matter into anything of substantial interest.  I really hope the Foreign Language Oscar goes to something else. 

Shyamalan Award for Worst Plot Twist: Khan’s Jesus Blood (Star Trek: Into Darkness)

            I ranted about this to great length in my review of this movie, and I won’t bother repeating myself here.  It was stupid when the movie first came out, and it’s stupid now.  I no longer have high hopes for either the next Star Trek movie or the new Star Wars franchise.  In fact, I’m very, very worried.  Please, Mr. Abrams- put the twin holy grails of sci-fi on the ground, back away slowly, and no one else needs to get hurt.  

Broadbelt Award for Best Musical Number: “Let It Go” (Frozen) AND “The Death of Queen Jane” (Inside Llewyn Davis)

            These songs couldn’t be more different from each other in terms of sound, tone, and genre, and the same can be said of their respective movies as well.  Despite that, I’ve tied them for this award because they both serve essentially the same function- each is a major watershed moment for a specific main character and a significant turning point for the film as a whole, and they each fulfill this purpose brilliantly.  “Let It Go” is Elsa’s breaking out moment, her rejection of the confines of her childhood, a first tentative effort to fully assert not just her independence, but her very identity.  “Queen Jane” is, for Llewyn, his one real shot at breaking out of the seemingly endless cycle of failure he’s trapped in.  Making the scene even more emotionally charged is that he fully realizes this, and pours everything he has into the piece, only to be met by the simplest and most brutal of judgments- “I don’t see a lot of money in this.”  Two wonderful scenes, two wonderful movies. 

Avengers Award for Best Action Beats: Pacific Rim

            Screw the Academy for nominating Lone Ranger over this.  Who would have thought?  Wonderfully creative designs, made by someone with a genuine, honest-to-God tripod and a solid understanding of how to properly frame and shoot an action scene really are an excellent combination.  Some still say this just more dumb action.  I couldn't agree more.  It is simple, yes, but it's also genuine, and it's fun.  

Mel Brooks Award for Best Laugh-Out-Loud Comedy: Key of Life

           This movie was my ray of light during the doldrums of the summer blockbuster season- at least I’d seen one truly great movie already (actually, I’d seen three), one that I knew would be on my Top 10 list.  Full credit to the equally excellent World's End, but Key of Life had me laughing longer and harder than any other movie I saw this year.  

            And lastly, the 4-Star Club; the films I saw this year that, in my book, are 4/4 star movies. 

-Much Ado About Nothing

            I hope you enjoyed reading this list, because I very much enjoyed writing it.  My Top 10 and Oscar ballots will be out next month, along with any reviews I manage to write in between cramming for March 2nd.  So, until next time! 

-Noah Franc

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