Sunday, January 28, 2007

mainlymovies' Best of '06: pressing on...

Best Sound

Inland Empire

The Fountain

Miami Vice

Monster House

United 93

Best Costume Design

Patricia Field (The Devil Wears Prada)

Nancy Steiner (Little Miss Sunshine)

Robert Lever (MirrorMask)

Catherine Marie Thomas (A Prairie Home Companion)

Margot Wilson (The Proposition)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

mainlymovies' Best of '06: Cinematography

First sort out that mullet, then we'll tackle the cartels

Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men)

It’s not just those unbelievable, digitally aided long takes in the skirmishes, but the grey dawns, bleached landscapes and searching close-ups which made Cuaron’s film the grimly virtuosic and harrowing exercise it is. Lubezki gets the larger share of the credit, for me.

Andrei Butica, Oleg Mutu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu)

Not a pretty movie this, but the way the camera hovered sympathetically on the edges of Lazarescu’s worsening condition — never invasively close, anything but detached — gave it a huge portion of its humane grip.

Dion Beebe (Miami Vice)

Beebe could shoot a poncey deodorant ad and make it look like a shivery poem to the urban night, which is very often just what Miami Vice demanded of him. The film’s starstruck hi-def texture was nothing if not intoxicating.

Robbie Ryan (Red Road)

Ryan made this low-budget triumph the best-looking British feature in years, with his immediately arresting combination of extreme close-ups on Kate Dickie and distanced, wary reverse shots as she prowls the estate. Glasgow, viewed through a lava lamp, has never seemed so infernal.

Chris Menges (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada)

Ravishing work, in a year when Menges’s cinematography was also the best thing about the underrated North Country and valiantly resisted the usual Richard Eyre agoraphobia in Notes on a Scandal. Here he dazzled equally with sunsets and striplights, blinding dunes and craggy faces.

mainlymovies' Best of '06: Production Design

No, this is the post-millennial angst dome

Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland (Children of Men)

Easily the year’s most ambitiously designed picture, a gobsmackingly detailed panorama of social collapse circa 2029, wowing us on a huge scale with the bombed-out hell of its immigrant zone, but also on a tiny one, with the keepsake minutiae in Michael Caine’s hippie hideout.

Teresa Mastropierro
Forty Shades of Blue)

Not the first thing you might single out for celebration in this beautifully acted character piece, but I found the sets — from Torn and Korzun’s chilly, MC Escher-like Memphis pad, to the dilapidated manse where they attend a garden party as the relationship’s crumbling — astonishingly apt and memorably furnished.

James Chinlund
The Fountain)

On a severely constricted budget, Chinlund makes the film's cosmic transitions work by keeping things carefully confined and allowing us to house the movie inside its characters' headspace, if we so choose. His mini Mayan civilisation is ten times more evocative than those chintzy edifices in Apocalypto.

Dave McKean and crew (MirrorMask)

The design for this film kicks all known ass, and though there’s a fair bit of animation, the digital effects actually impress less than the surrounding collage of sets, painted backgrounds and bric-a-brac props, not to mention a wonderful half-real circus, and the haunting choice of the grimly palatial Embassy Court in Brighton (now renovated, I gather) as the heroine’s home turf.

Ed Verreaux
Monster House)

Responsible — along with the reliably raspy Kathleen Turner — for one of the year’s best characters: The House, which from attic to basement had a marvellously forlorn aspect and vicious, groaning, cackling personality bursting out from under its floorboards.

mainlymovies' Best of '06: Editing

Borat: well-edited, but doesn't cut the crap

Craig Albert, Peter Teschner, James Thomas (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan)

Many hands made light work of the visual and verbal punchlines in this carefully-spliced-together guerrilla comedy. Remember Bob Barr’s expression when he’s just been told he’s munching human breast cheese? Split-second comic timing, and all their work.

William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell (Miami Vice)

One of many factors in Miami Vice’s paradoxical status as the most technically brilliant dud of the year, the film’s ambient montage was, as they say, trippin’, even when the dialogue, plot and performances were just tripping over each other.

Dan Zimmerman (The Omen)

This amusing and snazzy remake got all of its best jolts from Zimmerman’s whiplash-quick, adrenalised action — Satan’s pooches are on top of you in the graveyard before you know it. His first credit as editor and I’ll be looking out for more.

Roberto Silvi (Three Burials)

Silvi cut smartly between characters and timeframes in ways which enriched the story rather than obscuring it (21 Grams) or revealing its mechanical essence (Babel). In a film which takes its sweet time, there was barely a sequence here which seemed to drag.

Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse (United 93)

Editing is all in a Paul Greengrass picture. It took two of his Bourne collaborators and one from Bloody Sunday to build force and momentum from all that air-to-ground cross-cutting, and to shred our nerves to pieces in the hideous, arrythmic climax.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm Killing You, I Know

So. I've got my entire list of personal film awards for the year gone all worked out and stuff, but it's driving me nuts trying to explain it all. I want the lists to mean something, you know. It's the eternal problem: to blog properly, or not to blog at all. To post all this stuff up and grade it and rank it and let it smugly sit here, bald and unjustified, or to actually get a conversation going. I'm determined to do the latter, but it's going to take time. In so many ways I'm just too lazy and slow and have exactly the wrong temperament for this.

Anyway, Nick is inevitably and shame-makingly setting a gold standard over at his place, building up a head of steam with Oscar predictions and keeping us tantalised with a Jan 30 deadline for his own honorees. Before I start working my way up the technical achievements from last year — yes, those mainlymovies best make-up citations that keep Hollywood's leading prosthetics experts awake at night — I want to throw out just a couple of my own Oscar Thoughts before tomorrow's announcement.

Fingers crossed for:

Ryan Gosling (Best Actor, Half Nelson). I hope he hasn't lost traction because of the film's early release date. He's tremendous, and this will be the most heartening nomination of the day if it happens, but it's touch and go. Forest Whitaker, Peter O'Toole and Will Smith aren't going to be dislodged, but I think Leonardo DiCaprio might be, much as I liked him in The Departed, and that would leave Borat and Bond to fight it out for the final slot. I give Borat the edge, certainly if it came down to nude wrestling, and I suspect there aren't many Daniel Craig fans around here who would cry foul at that, right?

Fingers crossed against:

Babel and The Queen. I'm not averse to the acting nods here — knocking Mirren, who appears to have far more widespread global support than the actual Queen, is hardly worth it, I'd be pleased to see the diligent and skilled Michael Sheen ride his film's coattails to a supporting nod, and Kikuchi and especially Barraza find an emotional urgency in their stories that impressed me enormously even as I was gritting my teeth, on a second viewing, through the crazy-making manipulations of Guillermo Arriaga's screenplay. But these are the two likely Best Picture nominees I'd least like to see crowned on the big night, for various reasons. A few snubs tomorrow in some key categories — one or other director missing out, say, to an Eastwood or Del Toro — would get the backlash in motion.

Why not swap:

...Cate Blanchett (Supporting Actress, despite being a miscast co-lead in Notes on a Scandal) for the brilliant-in-a-stock-role Vera Farmiga (The Departed)?

...Happy Feet (Animated Feature) for the far wittier and more inventive Monster House?

...Gustavo Santaolalla (Best, though I'd say least, Original Score, having lazily reprised his "Iguazu" theme from The Insider in Babel) for the man who poured all his talent into The Fountain, Clint Mansell?

More, very soon, I promise.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My next post will be the '06 roundup...

...once I've clambered out from under a big pile of work this week. Keep a lookout!

Monday, January 08, 2007

For Your Consideration: Grace Zabriskie

I'm unforgivably late for this — stinkylulu's web-wide celebration of actressing at the edges, circa 2006. But I still want to chip in, if that's OK, by mentioning the brief but unforgettable work of Grace Zabriskie — yes, Laura Palmer's mother from Twin Peaks — in my film of the year, Inland Empire. Though the lead performance of Laura Dern has been raved about in many quarters, I've seen hardly any attention paid to the smaller contributions, and the truth is: Zabriskie is structurally crucial to the picture, bookending it with her appearances, and representing our sinister oracle as we plunge into the dank and twisty rabbithole of Lynch's imagination. Her character has no name — she's listed as Visitor #1 in the credits. She has the first major dialogue scene, when this total stranger invites herself in, unannounced, to Dern's LA mansion, takes a pew on the sofa, and proceeds to forewarn Dern about what's going to happen some two and a half hours later in film-time. In a movie full of self-conscious cross-referencing, to Mulholland Drive in particular, the performance Zabriskie's most resembles is a tiny but terrifying one: Lee Grant as the insane Louise Bonner, turning up at the door of the apartment Diane and Betty are sharing in that film. ("I'm Betty". "No, you're not. Something's wrong...") Lynch loves casting older actresses and having them lose their marbles — remember Diane Ladd going lipstick-crazy in Wild at Heart? But what's chilling about Zabriskie's character is her utter, alien composure, and the way her neighbourly interest in Dern is pitched so unnervingly between knowing solicitousness and something like malice. It's the comic trope of the busybody across the street turning up uninvited and outstaying her welcome, given the creepy Lynchian twist that she knows far more about what's going on than anyone else. (Certainly us, in this early stage of a voluptuously baffling movie.) Zabriskie's face, a basilisk mask with wide-apart eyes, inspires Lynch's camera to lock onto it, fascinated and almost trembling, as she cryptically divulges several of the film's key secrets, takes her leave, and has us wondering if we'll be ready for her next visit. It may well be in our nightmares.