Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best in Film - 2013

For the whole year, I am always thinking about this moment, when I finally get to take stock of the entire year as a whole and award what I thought was the best work in films from the past year.  While 2013 may have not been a banner year, it still had more than enough quality work to be worthwhile, and in a few areas, the work was rather revolutionary, but more on that later.  As for now, it is time to finally take a look back at the year that was and award the best work of 2013.  We'll be kicking things off with Best Song, going all the way to Best Director today.  Then, on the 31st, I will post my list of the 10 Best Films of 2013!  Here we go!


Best Song - "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Saving Mr. Banks
I have had conflicting feelings of how to award the best song of the year for the past few years.  Do you only do the original songs written specifically for a movie?  Or do you award both original and pre-existing songs?  What I'm doing now is simply awarding the best use of a song period, whether it be original or pre-existing, and with that criteria in my mind, "Let's Go Fly a Kite," was the best used song in 2013.  The way the song is used in Saving Mr. Banks is almost like an anthem of joy that helps Mary Poppins' author, P.L. Travers, cope with her own past traumas.  After seeing the song in this context, it makes the words take on a new meaning and be more than a joy-filled finale, but a song that speaks to our souls.  This song is still as affecting as it was back in 1964 when it was written by Richard and Robert Sherman for Mary Poppins.
2.) "For the First Time in Forever" from Frozen
3.) "Monsters University" from Monsters University
4.) "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Frozen
5.) "I See Fire" from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Make-Up & Hair - Rush
In many ways I feel that with the advent of CGI and motion capture technology, make-up and hair are a dying artform, but thankfully there were enough old school purists in 2013 to make it a good year in the make-up world.  While Star Trek Into Darkness featured great alien creature make-up, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made the weird hairdos of the people in the Capitol stand out, it was the work in Ron Howard's Formula-One racing drama, Rush, that was the best make-up and hair work of 2013.  Not only did the departments recreate many late Seventies hairstyles, without ever overdoing them to comical effect (like American Hustle), but the make-up department's work on actor Daniel Bruhl, who plays the burn-scarred racer, Niki Lauda, was phenomenal and so real it was unsettling at times.
2.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3.) Star Trek Into Darkness
4.) Lee Daniels' The Butler
5.) The Great Gatsby

Best Costumes - Man of Steel
For me, costuming is always more sensational when done for fantasy or science fiction stories, and I think that is because the costumers are having to make costumes for worlds that do not exist.  While  Man of Steel was far from my favorite film of the year, the costumes were so spectacularly beautiful that it was almost worth it just to see those costumes on the bigscreen.  From the battle armor that General Zod and his minions wear, to the beautiful dress of the Kryptonian high council, it was all phenomenal, but the true standout costume was Superman's.  The muted colors of the traditional Superman costume really accentuated the tone of the film, with the rest of the suit still being classic enough to be noticeably Superman.  Just a great job from all involved, and easily the best part of Man of Steel.
2.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3.) The Great Gatsby
4.) Saving Mr. Banks
5.) Rush

Best Sound - Gravity
There is no sound in space, and that is the defining principle to the soundscape of director Alfonso Cuaron's masterpiece, Gravity.  In Gravity, there are no explosion noises when the debris hurtles into satellites and space shuttles, but rather the sound effects are all coming from music cues, the breathing and talking of the astronauts, and the sound from inside the astronaut's helmets of them hearing their suits touching other objects.  This atypical sound design helps to place you in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and really makes this experience all the more realistic, which was Alfonso's goal.  Plus, I don't think I've seen a film in recent memory that utilized surround sound in such an all-encompassing way, circling around the audience and jumping all over the theater in a chaotic, yet entirely purposeful way.
2.) Rush
3.) Pacific Rim
4.) Star Trek Into Darkness
5.) Man of Steel

Best Special Effects - Gravity
Seriously?  There was no competition for this category, the special effects of Gravity are a benchmark in CGI-technology.  I don't know if I've ever seen a film with more convincing computer generated imagery than Gravity.  Without the CGI there would be no film, with majority of scenes featuring some sort of special effect, and yet it goes completely unnoticed.  Part of this ability to make the effects seem real and seamless is because cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, was working alongside the effects crew to help light the scenes and give the look that him and director, Alfonso Cuaron, were going for, and the end results speak for themselves.  However, I must give a shout out to the special effects work for Ron Howard's Rush, which might have won in another year for its clever use of mixing real archive footage with CGI and new shots to recreate many of the true-life races from that film.
2.) Rush
3.) Oblivion
4.) Star Trek Into Darkness
5.) Ender's Game

Best Production Design - Oblivion
This is a category where I tend to find myself favoring fantasy and science fiction films, as well, but it's because I feel they require more imagination from the production designers working on those films, and no other film had more architectural beauty in 2013 than director Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion.  While I was not a raving fan of the film, I enjoyed it, and partly because it was so beautiful and appealing to the eye.  The post-apocalyptic landscapes of future Earth were hauntingly beautiful, but it was the glass house in the sky where Tom Cruise's character lived that won me over with this film.
2.) Man of Steel
3.) Pacific Rim
4.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
5.) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Editing - Rush
This was another category where there was no competition for me, Rush was simply the best edited film of 2013.  Ron Howard shot all of the dialogue scenes like a documentary, and the cutting reflects that, but it's how the racing scenes are cut together with so much energy that really impressed me.  Rush would not have nearly the style and vivacity that it has were it not for editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill editing your heartbeats in the high octane races.
2.) Gravity
3.) Captain Phillips
4.) The World's End
5.) World War Z

Best Cinematography - Rush
There were many shots in 2013 that took my breath away in their sheer beauty, but Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography for Rush was so spectacular on a technical level, I had to award it.  This was Mantle's most exciting work since he won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and it shows.  Mantle's use of cameras strapped to the cars and helmets of the drivers really bring the racing scenes to life and give you the feeling of actually being on the track and in the race yourself.  There is almost a controlled recklessness to the way Mantle shot these scenes, but it's also the way that Mantle made his cinematography match the real-life archive footage with his own shots that really just made my jaw drop upon seeing this film.  You would be hard pressed to notice the shots in Rush that were actually shot by the crew and the shots that were the real-life events from the late Seventies, and to me that is the mark of a phenomenal cinematographer.
2.) Gravity
3.) Saving Mr. Banks
4.) Oblivion
5.) Jack the Giant Slayer

Best Animated Film - Monsters University
I don't think anyone would say that 2013 was a great year for animation, but as is usual for even the weakest years, there is always at least one animated film that rises to the top, and in many ways it makes things like this easier.  Monsters University was the only animated film this year that I gave an A+ rating, and for good reason.  While I was wary of Pixar making a prequel to Monsters, Inc., I think they succeeded in recapturing the magic of the original film, without trying to recreate the same experience.  They knew they could not make as heartfelt of a film without the little girl Boo, so rather than try to match the sweetness of the original, they decided to just fully embrace the comedy of seeing these characters in college.  The college hijinks in the film are humorous for anyone who went to college, but the film still manages to have that Pixar heart in showing us how the one-eyed cretin, Mike Wazowski, became best friends with the furry blue giant, Sully.  No other film in 2013 made me laugh as much and make me feel as good as Monsters University did, and sometimes there's nothing else I'd rather want from a film.
2.) From Up On Poppy Hill
3.) Frozen

Best Supporting Actress - Jena Malone, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
This was a fairly weak year for female roles, but even in a weak year there are always one or two that stick with me, and Jena Malone's portrayal of Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire really played well for me.  The way Malone portrayed Johanna as this fiercely defiant person, who is not really all that likable, but says and does what she thinks, was with so much charisma it was infectious.  However, it was the way Malone managed to allude to her character's past through subtext that managed to make her work more phenomenal.
2.) Alexandra Maria Lara, Rush
3.) Joanna Vanderham, What Maisie Knew
4.) Andrea Riseborough, Oblivion
5.) Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Best Supporting Actor - Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks
I have never been the biggest Colin Farrell fan, so I was genuinely surprised myself to find that his performance in Saving Mr. Banks as P.L. Travers' father, Travers Goff, was the finest supporting performance of the year.  With all of the talk about Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, I was not expecting to actually favor Farrell's performance over Hanks's, but that is just how these things go sometimes.  As Goff, Farrell is in many ways the most important character in the story, aside from Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers, with his character being the real-life inspiration for the father in Mary Poppins.  What makes Farrell's performance so remarkable is the fact that he makes Goff very charming, and yet flawed.  There is both an imaginative presence he brings to the role, as well as a world weary reality, especially in the way he portrays Goff's spiral into alcoholism.  Simply put, the finest performance of Farrell's career.
2.) Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3.) Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
4.) George Clooney, Gravity
5.) Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek Into Darkness

Best Actress - Sandra Bullock, Gravity
This was one of the few categories this year where there was no contest in my mind, Sandra Bullock's performance in Gravity is not only the best from an actress this year, but is the best from any actor in 2013, and easily the best of her entire career.  What makes this such a powerhouse performance is the relatable nature of Sandra Bullock as a personality.  She's like a female Jimmy Stewart, you can't help but love her, because she feels like an ordinary everyday person, not a movie star.  That simple charm is what allows us to immediately connect with her in this film, with her being the proxy that we experience all of this horror through.  Of course, what makes this a performance to remember is the way that Sandra Bullock portrays the character arc of her character, Dr. Ryan Stone, going from a first-time astronaut who feels she has nothing left to live for, to a woman who decides to re-embrace life in the wake of her daughter's death.
2.) Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
3.) Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
4.) Judi Dench, Philomena
5.) Onata Aprile, What Maisie Knew

Best Actor - Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
It was the final scene of Captain Phillips that made up my mind here.  When Tom Hanks's Captain Phillips is finally rescued from the Somali pirates who kidnapped him and is being looked over by the medical crew, I don't think I've ever seen a more emotionally raw performance.  Tom Hanks literally breaks down into tears, with all of the terror he'd just experienced finally hitting him.  It was in that moment that Tom Hanks wowed me, yet again.  Hanks is one of those actors that continues to do phenomenal work, just when you think you've seen everything he can do, he comes back and does something that blows your mind once more.  There is a reason why there is only one Tom Hanks, and I don't think we'll ever see another quite like him.
2.) Daniel Bruhl, Rush
3.) Chris Pine, Star Trek Into Darkness
4.) Christian Bale, American Hustle
5.) Chris Hemsworth, Rush

Best Ensemble - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Sometimes there is no individual performance that really stands out in a film, but in rare cases that's because each and every performance in the film is just so strong no one performance is clearly better than the other.  For The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, that was the case.  From Jennifer Lawrence's emotionally honest portrayal as Katniss, to Donald Sutherland's venomous President Snow, the cast of Catching Fire was all top notch, with a weak link hard to find.  Almost every character feels as if they stepped out of your imagination, and when you can pull that off, then you have a phenomenal book-to-film adaptation.
2.) Star Trek Into Darkness
3.) Saving Mr. Banks
4.) Rush
5.) American Hustle

Best Screenplay - Saving Mr. Banks
This was a script I had been hearing about for years.  It's been floating around Hollywood for a long time, being deemed one of the best scripts that would never get produced because of its dealing with the behind the scenes dealings at Walt Disney Studios.  Alas, Disney decided to make the film themselves and when I was finally able to see the film, I saw what all the fuss regarding the script was about.  Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith's script is just a well written piece.  The characters are complex and three-dimensional, with clear character arcs from beginning to end, and the plot structure is strong and works to create maximum emotional connection when needed, however, the script manages to go beyond all that.  In the end it is the thematic ideas regarding fathers and daughters and the origins and importance of storytelling in our lives that gives this film heft, and it is why this was the best written script of the year.
2.) Gravity
3.) Rush
4.) Monsters University
5.) Ender's Game

Best Director - Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
This was the easiest call I had to make for this year.  If Alfonso Cuaron does not win the Best Director Oscar for Gravity in March, I'll be calling foul and asking for a recount.  You cannot tell me that any other film's director was more valuable to the end result than Alfonso Cuaron.  It is Alfonso's attention to detail, making his films feel as if they are actually happening, while still embracing the lyrical, operatic possibilities of film as metaphor, that makes his work so staggering.  Of course, I think what really makes Alfonso Cuaron such a phenomenal director, is while he is quite possibly the best technical director currently working in the film industry, it is the way that Alfonso doesn't rest on the impressive technical aspects of his work and places the human aspects of the characters first that makes his work stand out.  This is why his work on Gravity is so monumental, and it's why he was the Best Director of this past year.
2.) Ron Howard, Rush
3.) J.J. Abrams, Star Trek Into Darkness
4.) John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks
5.) Francis Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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