The Fifth Annual Andy Movie Awards – Part One

Notice the subtle changes? No... well I did it anyway.
It’s time once again for one of my signature posts: the fifth (and probably final) Andy Movie Awards, where I select not only who I think should win the awards being handed out this Sunday, but also who should’ve been nominated with those winners. There’s a lot of posts around this time of year where writers predict who they think will win Oscars, and some about they think should win. But unless you’re the only person in the world who agrees completely with the Academy’s nominees, it’s a false choice. What if your winner wasn’t nominated? What if you’re forced to choose the only worthy nominee in a group of junk?

Instead, I write a super-long post that basically amounts to a series of specified year-end lists, not only for the big awards that people care about, but also the other awards that most people don’t. The only Academy Award categories for feature length films that the Andy Awards don’t cover are Best Achievement in Editing (because I don’t know enough about the process to pass judgement, as with most viewers, I only notice editing when it’s bad), the two sound categories (as it’s not something I notice while watching movies), and Best Original Song (because it’s a stupid award. Instead, I’ve substituted it for my own award).

To make my decisions, I’ve seen 66 films that had a North American release date in 2008. The Academy nominated a total of 36 feature length films, of which I’ve seen 27 (75%). When you take out the ten films nominated in the foreign language and documentary categories (only four of which were released outside of LA/NY… I caught three of those), I’ve seen 24 out of 26 (92%), with the exceptions being Defiance (nominated for Original Score) and Australia (nominated for Costume Design). Thus, whenever my nominations divulge from the Academy (other than in those four categories), it’s because I disagree, not because I don’t know. Which brings me to why this very well may be my last post of this nature: I can’t imagine myself finding the time in the upcoming years to watch this many movies again.

So read on for part one of the end of an era…

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The nominees are…

Josh Brolin for Milk
James Franco for Milk
Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt
Bill Irwin for Rachel Getting Married
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

I’ll start with the most obvious winner so I can build up suspense later. But first, let’s talk about who’s not winning. Josh Brolin and James Franco were both great in Milk, with Brolin particularly notable for the depth and nuance he brought to a character that normally would’ve been a one-dimensional villain. Phillip Seymour Hoffman was his usual brilliant self in Doubt (which was probably his second best performance of the year, following his leading turn in Synecdoche, New York). Bill Irwin’s largely unrecognized turn as the father in Rachel Getting Married is my runner-up here, who spends most of the film as an overly-enthusiastic dope of a father of the bride, but as the veneer starts to fade, you see that the reality is that he uses cheerfulness to avoid dealing with the tragedy that’s been tearing his family apart. That Irwin reveals this in a slow, controlled manner instead of the standard histrionics that calls attention to his “ACTING” is probably why he’s gone largely unrecognized. As for the winner, yes it’s Heath Ledger, and no it’s not just because he’s dead you cynical bastards. It’s because he fully committed to the most dynamic, interesting, and memorable performance of the year, one that has left an indelible mark on American cinema. Name another supporting actor performance from this year that the same could be said of, then maybe I’ll listen to any “overrated” arguments. (Then when I’m done listening, I’ll still think you’re full of shit).

The award goes to…
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

Best Art Direction
The nominees are…
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I might be remembering wrong, but I think when Clint Eastwood or someone else from Changeling was on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart kept going on about the movie’s strict attention to historical difficulty, and how hard a process that must be. After watching it, I realize that he probably did that because the movie’s rigorous attention to period detail in the art direction was the only way in which it excelled. Everything else stunk. Period details are also what gets The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Duchess on this list, but the award goes to the otherworldly designs of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. At times, the stuff around the screen was far more interesting than the focus of the scene, which is probably why I didn’t enjoy the sequel as much as its predecessor, but you can’t say the set designers didn’t do their jobs well.

The award goes to…
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Best Foreign Language Film
The nominees are…

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
I’ve Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Waltz with Bashir

This is traditionally a five nominee category, but this year, I didn’t feel like I had seen enough foreign language films to nominate five. I did see more than five, but not much more, and in order for a list to have any meaning, there has to be exclusions. So four was a better number for me (I went the same way with documentaries for the same reason). If you’re wondering, I use North American release dates to guide me on what qualifies, which is why 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is nominated this year, instead of 2007 when it was eligible for an Oscar. After all, if I have no chance to see a movie, I can’t exactly nominate it, can I?

This is a solid list of four, with Waltz with Bashir an ambitious, if not entirely successful, fourth nominee. It was at times haunting, with a pioneering animation style, but ultimately felt a little slight to me. It was more admirable than successful. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was a stark, formalist exercise in realism, although interestingly, I found the language barrier an obstruction. I realize that seems like an odd criticism for a foreign language film, but so much of the story comes from small, subtle movements from the actors that you miss when trying to read the dialogue. It’s not a flaw of the movie, but a barrier that kept me from completely appreciate it. No such barrier existed for the other two nominees, I’ve Loved You So Long and Let the Right One In, two of my favourite movies of the year. The nod goes to Sweden, with one of the most original movies in years.

The award goes to…
Let the Right One In

Best Musical Arrangement for a Film
The nominees are…
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Rachel Getting Married
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The Wrestler

I created this award last year to replace the Best Original Song farce. The award recognizes the movie that best uses non-orchestral music to enhance the film, be they original compositions or not. The good use of a soundtrack can enhance a film’s appeal in a significant factor, which makes this a far superior idea for a movie award than one that picks out the best song to play over the credits while the audience walks out of the theatre. Of course, last year was a great year for music in movies, as several music biopics and musicals were released; so my job was easier. This year was a bit tougher, but I still like my nominees.

The most obvious film to be enhanced by its soundtrack this year was Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a movie that basically played like a visual soundtrack. Without the music, there is no movie. However, while I enjoyed both the music and the movie, both struggled with familiarity, and thus it plays more like this year’s attempt at selling CDs to budding hipsters. I loved the original music of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, be it Jason Segal’s hilarious Dracula musical numbers or Russell Brand’s popstar satire numbers. Rachel Getting Married and The Wrestler were able to overcome their limited music budget to use music very effectively to convey character and mood, be it from Jonathan Demme’s almost over-indulgent scenes of music throughout the wedding weekend, or Darren Aronofsky’s use of 80s heavy metal to reinforce his theme of what happens to amusements that go out of style (with assists from Bruce Springsteen’s original tune “The Wrestler” and Mickey Rourke’s buddy Axel Rose letting them use “Sweet Child of Mine” for free). But the best use of music as mood enhancer comes from Vicky Cristina Barcelona, whose seductive Spanish guitars and flamenco songs coerced me to actually enjoy a Woody Allen movie.

The award goes to…
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
The nominees are…

Hiam Abbass for The Visitor
Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Rosemarie DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler
Elsa Zylberstein for I’ve Loved You So Long

First off, I thought Viola Davis’ scene was as powerful as everyone else who saw it, but I just can’t reconcile nominating someone for five minutes of work. It’s a little insulting to the actresses who had to develop a character throughout the film in more than one scene. This is one of the toughest categories to choice a winner from, as they were all strong performances, with none standing tall above the others. Incidentally, this is the one category that doesn’t seem utterly predictable going into the Oscars. The introduction of Hiam Abbass’ character in The Visitor is what elevated the film from a nice, but predictable tale of the immigration experience in America, to something far more affecting. Penelope Cruz is great in anything that lets her speak Spanish, while Marisa Tomei is probably the one I’m rooting for at the show, if for no other reason than to give her a chance to tell everyone who thinks that Jack Palance just read the wrong name when she got her first Oscar to suck it. Elsa Zylberstein and Rosemarie DeWitt each had similar roles in their films as the stable, more dutiful sister coming to terms with their troubled sisters coming home. Each did a phenomenal job scratching out their own territory while supporting the more dynamic roles of their co-stars. Rosemarie DeWitt has the more thankless task, as she deftly alternates between sympathetic and supportive, and frustratingly put-upon, and does so brilliantly.

The award goes to…
Rosemarie DeWitt for Rachel Getting Married

Best Original Score
The nominees are…
Alexandre Desplat for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Elfman for Standard Operating Procedure
James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer for The Dark Knight
Thomas Newman for WALL-E
A.R. Rahman for Slumdog Millionaire

I’m not a big score guy, so I tend to recognize the bigger, more bombastic scores, which I’ll admit isn’t always the most effective work (sometimes a score can be too loud and big to properly service the story). This award comes down to two nominees, A.R. Rahman’s lively Indian score provided the necessary flavour for Danny Boyle’s sensualist approach going up against James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s haunting work on The Dark Knight. Both were excellent compliments to their respective films, but when in doubt, go with Batman I says.

The award goes to…
James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer for The Dark Knight

Best Animated Feature
The nominees are…

Bolt
WALL-E
Waltz with Bashir

As I understand it, the Academy has a rule where a film that is nominated for another Best Picture award (like THE Best Picture, or Best Foreign Language feature) can’t be nominated here. Obviously, I have no such rule, as I already nominated Waltz with Bashir, and SPOILER ALERT: you may be seeing another of these nominees in another category. I saw four and half animated movies this year (skipping out on $9.99 after I dozed off a few times), meaning that Kung Fu Panda is the odd man out here. It was cute, and better than the average celebrity-filled talking animal picture, but not much better than average. I suppose you could say the same for Bolt, but it was about a dog, so it gets the bump for me. But let’s be honest here, this isn’t even a contest.

The award goes to…
WALL-E

Best Costume Design
The nominees are…
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Milk
The Other Boleyn Girl
Slumdog Millionaire

They finally made a batsuit whose wearer can move his head and neck, and no nomination?!? Philistines! What about The Joker’s custom clothes with nothing but knives and lint? I know this category always goes to the best period garb, but how about those films that take the word “costume” literally? The outfits in Slumdog Millionaire were so vital to the overall story that Danny Boyle brought costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb with him to Toronto. If you’re looking for period costume, you’ve got Milk‘s 70s designs (although, I wonder how much was design, and how much was “going to San Francisco vintage stores. Still, I thought the clothes were cool), and then you’ve got lavish royalty garb of The Other Boleyn Girl (which existed almost only to show off costumes and sets) and The Duchess. Both were impressive achievements, but since the big billing for The Duchess was how the Duchess of Devonshire was the fashion plate celebrity of her day, so it was essential that they were as ornate as impressive as anything in the film.

The award goes to…
The Duchess

Best Documentary Feature
The nominees are…

Bigger Stronger Faster*
Encounters at the End of the World
Man on Wire
Standard Operating Procedure

As I wrote earlier, four nominees here. This was a year I felt like I missed a lot of the best documentaries, mostly due to slow distribution. I particularly look forward to seeing Trouble the Water when it comes to town. For what I did nominate, Bigger Stronger Faster* is a nice, Michael Moore-ian look at the world of performance enhancing drugs, with director Chris Bell serving as a more amiable tour guide. Werner Herzog did his usual bizarro narrator thing in Encounters at the End of the World, taking a look at Antarctica that only he could, while Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure was a revealing look at the offences of Abu Ghraib, albeit a little too flashy for its subject matter. The winner is Man on Wire, a glorious look at Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to walk across a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center. This film accomplished the near impossible: drawing real drama and anticipation out of a historical event that we already know succeeds before we start watching. And when he gets on that wire, it’s as exuberant and poignant a moment as any conjured up by fictional films this year.

The award goes to…
Man on Wire

Best Visual Effects
The nominees are…
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A nice mix of nominees here, with the epic scale of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘s journey through the ages, Hellboy II‘s extravagant fantasy world, and The Dark Knight‘s explosive look at Gotham City. Hellboy‘s designs were the most imaginative, and the visuals were the most impressive part of Benjamin Button. But no visuals were more stunning this year than Batman gliding from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, the Joker blowing up hospitals, or an 18-wheeler flipping over end-over-end.

The award goes to…
The Dark Knight

I’ll be back in a bit with the awards you might actually care about.

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7 thoughts on “The Fifth Annual Andy Movie Awards – Part One

  1. Pingback: The Fifth Annual Andy Movie Awards - Part Two « Critically Speaking

  2. “Penelope Cruz is great in anything that lets her speak Spanish”

    Until I saw Volver I never really thought much of her as an actress, and her English-speaking roles usually reduced her to playing a winsome foreigner. She really can act… in Spanish.

    • Volver was what did it for me too; which reminds me that I need to add her other Almodóvar films to my queue. I think in the English roles I’ve seen her in, she was to busy concentrating on her English that she couldn’t naturally emote.

  3. Pingback: The Fourth Annual Andy TV Awards « Critically Speaking

  4. Pingback: Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part One « Critically Speaking

  5. Pingback: Critically Speaking Picks the 83rd Academy Awards – Part Two « Critically Speaking

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