This year I decided to do something different when it came to my year end awards ceremony. I was putting it off trying to see every last major release from 2011 till I could finish off the list. Then my house was hit by a tornado at the end of January, and so rather than push myself to deliver a year end collective in February, I decided to wait till the week of the Academy Awards. So lo and behold, a new thing I'm gonna do here at the Unicellular Review. Welcome to the first annual, Christian's Oscars!
Now, let's straighten a few things out first. This is not my Oscar predictions, but basically my 2011 awards for Best in Film, it just happens to coincide with when the Oscars have decided to do their 2011 awards for Best in Film. Really, though, the more I think about it, it is very illogical to try and have a year end list at the end of a year, because there is no way you can see every movie that comes out in any given year. I think giving an extra two month buffer during the two slowest months of the year, in terms of new releases, allows me to catch up on movies I missed or finally get to see movies that don't play in my neck of the woods until they come out on DVD or get nominated for Oscars, like The Artist did this year.
Ultimately, I feel 2011 was a step up from 2010 in terms of overall quality at the movies. There were a lot of good movies in 2011, but no movies that just flat out blew me away like in 2009 with Departures or in 2008 with the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Slumdog Millioanaire. Even still, the quantity of quality movies was the highest it has been in nearly three years, so it's hard to complain. I hope you all enjoy my list, as I start a new tradition here at the Unicellular Review. So now it's time for me to fire away with my 2011 edition of Christian's Oscars!
Best Effects - Real Steel
In some ways we've kind of gotten to a point where it takes little to wow us in terms of special effects, however there was a lot of solid effects work in 2011. Real Steel narrowly edged out Rise of the Planet of the Apes simply because it was so hard to differentiate the computerized robots from the real-life animatronics that the filmmakers built for the movie.
(Runners-Up: Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part II; X-Men: First Class)
Best Editing - The Way
Richard Chew's editing for Emilio Estevez's film The Way was nothing short of magical. The cutting was crisp, cutting to reaction shots at all of the right moments. Understanding how long to keep a shot to build up an emotional feeling and then cutting at the right moment to create that emotional release is spectacular editing, no matter how you cut it (awful pun).
(Runners-Up: Drive; The Descendants; War Horse; The Conspirator)
Best Cinematography - Drive
I have been a huge fan of Newton Thomas Sigel's work since The Usual Suspects. His ability to warp light is unparalleled, but it is his ability to frame some of the most beautiful tracking shots I have ever seen in Drive that marks his greatest cinematographic achievement. Not a single bump or unwanted wiggle of the camera, just smooth images sailing across the screen.
(Runners-Up: War Horse, Real Steel, The Conspirator, Water for Elephants)
Best Animated Film - Rango
This year was a really poor year for animation, with Pixar and Dreamworks churning out uninspired sequels to just meh movies to begin with. Even still, Gore Verbinski's Rango was an enjoyable film, original with some great vocal performances and breathtaking animation from ILM. The lighting work was astounding. If not for a few unnecessary bathroom gags, this one would have been up there in my top 10 films of the year.
Best Music - War Horse
I did something a little different this year, rather than highlighting only original movie scores, or songs written specifically for movies, I decided to open it up to the entire soundtrack. Whether the soundtrack had a traditional score, had excellent use of licensed music, had songs written specifically for the movie, or a combo of all three, that was my criteria for which movie in the year had the best music. While The Muppets came close, I loved John Williams' sweeping score for War Horse so much, I had to give it to Mr. Williams. The score for War Horse is so powerful, it encompasses every image and enhances it to create feeling within the image.
(Runners-Up: The Muppets; X-Men: First Class; We Bought A Zoo; Captain America: The First Avenger)
Best Screenplay - Peter Straughan & Bridget O'Connor, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I don't believe in stupidly separating an adapted work from an original work. A good screenplay is a good screenplay, hands down, and no other screenplay this year was more finely constructed than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. First off, taking a labyrinthine novel and trimming it down to two hours was no easy feat for Straughan and O'Connor, but unlike so many other screenplays that rely squarely on dialogue to try and show how well written they are, Straughan and O'Connor made a tautly structured spy thriller that never loses the viewer but requires genuine thought to keep up.
(Runners-Up: Will Reiser, 50/50; Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller, The Muppets; Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash, The Descendants; Emilio Estevez, The Way)
Best Supporting Actress - Jessica Chastain, The Help
The Help was a movie filled with many magnificent performances, but I really felt that Jessica Chastain's work as Celia Foote was the best performance in the movie. The humor that her character brings to the story, as well as the tragic heartbreak, all stems from her performance. Not the script or the directing, but from Chastain.
(Runners-Up: Angelica Houston, 50/50; Maggie Elizabeth Jones, We Bought A Zoo; Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Evangeline Lilly, Real Steel)
Best Supporting Actor - Kenneth Brannagh, My Week With Marilyn
To portray a famous historical figure such as Sir Laurence Olivier must have been a daunting task, but Kenneth Brannagh proved he was up to the challenge. Brannagh, who had a banner year with this role and having directed Thor, was not merely a caricature of a great actor, but delved deep within what is known of Olivier's own thoughts on acting to inhabit that kind of persona. Like Olivier, Brannagh's performance is very traditional in theatrical quality and highly controlled.
(Runners-Up: Jesper Christensen, The Debt; Thomas Haden Church, We Bought A Zoo; Benedict Cumberbatch, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Tom Wilkinson, The Conspirator)
Best Actress - Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Now, think about portraying one of the most iconic movie icons of all-time, while also trying to portray the real person behind that iconic persona, and the appreciation for Michelle Williams' portrayal as Marilyn Monroe increases. Williams did her homework and not just mimics Monroe's way of talking and walking, but perfectly captures the emotional state of the troubled star who merely wanted to be seen as a good actress.
(Runners-Up: Viola Davis, The Help; Emma Stone, The Help; Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter; Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Best Actor - Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
I have always loved Gary Oldman as an actor. He is one of the finest working in the industry today, and he proved that once again with the lead role in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, his finest performance to date. Oldman, who is usually a very big actor, who plays many larger than life characters, tones it down and delivers a reserved performance that is all about what is evidently going on within his character, George Smiley's head. It is evident he is thinking behind those thick horn-rimmed glasses by just watching his eyes, the way they will stare or occasionally shift their focus, making this the performance of the year.
(Runners-Up: Ryan Gosling, Drive; Kermit the Frog a.k.a. Steve Whitmire, The Muppets; George Clooney, The Descendants; James McAvoy, The Conspirator)
Best Ensemble - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There were many movies this year with marvelous acting ensembles, but the ensemble for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, was really the perfect who's who of British character actors getting to play serious. From Gary Oldman's marvelously controlled leading role, to Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch's heartfelt performances, to a scenery chewing role from the fantastic John Hurt, this ensemble had it all. A charismatic Colin Firth, a reserved Toby Jones, and a equally reserved Mark Strong. No other movie this past year had finer acting.
(Runners-Up: The Muppets; The Help; We Bought A Zoo; My Week With Marilyn)
Best Director - Steven Spielberg, War Horse
If anyone knows me, then they should have known that this one was a no-brainer. Steven Spielberg is my favorite filmmaker of all-time, and War Horse was a true return to vintage Spielberg movie magic. The way that Spielberg dictates when to push the camera in towards the actors to create deeper emotional connection, or the energy that he directs all of the battle scenes with, just shows that he is still the master of modern moviemaking. Some call it sentimental, I just call it a director who knows how to make even the stoniest of hearts feel emotion by throwing himself and his idealistic world views into every movie he directs.
(Runners-Up: Nicholas Winding Refn, Drive; Matthew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class; Tomas Alfredson, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Robert Redford, The Conspirator)
(Come back in the next few days as I will be posting Part 2 of Christian's Oscars, which feature what I feel were the Top 10 Movies of 2011!)