Friday, January 7, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 1: Technical Achievements

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.
Technical Achievements: 

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a fun film. Director Edgar Wright visually and sonically got everything just right. Technically, the film has a lot to praise from Bill Pope’s cinematography and Marcus Rowland’s production design to the great songs written by Beck. But the work of editors Amos and Machliss really is what stands out. And what is more amazing is that the film was their first feature, both having about a decade’s worth of experience cutting TV series though. So much of the flow and comedy of the film is dependent on the editing, which really needed to be perfect for the film to work – and it was.

Roger Deakins – Cinematography – True Grit
True Grit, much like all the films mentioned in this list, has great work throughout the film. Deakin’s cinematography however is mesmerizing. The prologue to the film features a slow push towards a body lying on the ground outside a saloon, slow falling snow caught by the beams of light escaping the building perfectly framing the body. It is beautiful and interesting – taken out of contest the snow looks a bit like ash, as if this were a shot out of a post-apocalyptic film. That shot alone will have fans of photography enchanted, but Deakins follows it up with well captured and picturesque landscapes perfectly fitting the classic western genre of the film.

Let Me In needed to have just the right mix of tension and love/friendship to work, making the score an essential part. Giacchino’s (who won a LeapBackBlog Film Award in 2009 as well for his score to Up) work is haunting and terrifying, yet in other moments sweet and touching – but still with a lingering sense of dread and tragedy. Certainly, and without even looking at the screen, audiences will be on edge. It is probably the best score of the year.

Rob Hardy – Cinematography – Red Riding: 1974
Red Riding: 1974 (the first of the trilogy) takes places in a cold and dungy Northern England (Yorkshire). The characters and situations are scary and gloomy. The photography needed to be gritty and dark to match the tone. Hardy’s work captures the essence of the tone perfectly. He uses light to its greatest effect in the film as well, mirroring the main character’s emotions – while most of the film is dark and cloudy, there are moments of joy for the character and Hardy is able to visually show that with (though still de-saturated) oranges and other light pastels. Aesthetically, it is the most interesting film of the trilogy and one of the most artistic of the year.

Adam Kimmel – Cinematography – Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go is an entire film of subtlety and nuance, and probably the most aesthetically brilliant work of the year. Kimmel’s photography is both beautiful and tragic – capturing the hope, desperation and complacency of the film’s characters, which was no easy task. The most emotionally charged scene is Ruth’s completion (at least from the viewer’s standpoint) – visually it is shocking both from the bright white light and production design juxtaposed to the darker and restrained tones of the rest of the film and from the nature of the scene. However photography wise, my favorite shot is of the lighthouse at dust. As a still, it is a perfect image for the tone of the film and journey of its characters.

Matthew Libatique – Cinematography – Black Swan
Black Swan is a kinetic piece, and Libatique’s camera dances with its players. The film’s prologue – Nina’s dream of Swan Lake – has the camera floating on air, engaged in a beautiful dance with her, whisking and twirling. It is powerful and erotic. That scene informs all that see it, that the film and Libatique’s cinematography (and Aronofsky’s directing) are something special. The film goes in and out of reality into fantasy being completely unreliable, yet the lighting stays steady, intensifying the illusion. Much like Therese DePrez’s wonderful production design, the lighting and look of the film is minimalistic, letting the performances shine, while matching the tempered and cold tone of the film.

 As stated above, Never Let Me Go is an aesthetic masterwork. Portman’s score plays with the film’s themes of sadness and despair, but there is also hope in there. Her work represents the emotional language of the film, as the direction and performances (and really the story) are so restrained. This film, more than any other in 2010, affected me and stayed with me, Portman’s score had a lot to do with that. It is desolate yet radiant (and even a little playful despite what is to come) – much like the film.

The Social Network is a film all about power. Ross and Reznor’s score drives that theme with electronic music. The music feels very modern and cool, which perfectly fits the subject matter of the film – a bunch of kids revolutionizing social interacting in the midst of personal and business power struggles. The character of Zuckerberg is quite cold and cut off in the film, and the techno aspect of the score has the same feel to it, but the genius of Ross and Reznor is there are also moments of emotion and heart, if only for an instant. Maybe the great moment of is their cover of In the Hall of the Mountain King, it is so atmospheric and dramatic.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a film that is full of moments of torment and anguish. Thus, visually the cinematography needed to fit the tone of the narrative (i.e. dark and gloomy). Serra’s work captures it amazingly well. Muted colors and vast landscapes filled with jagged and uninviting terrain make up most of the photography. However, the sheer brilliance of Serra’s work is in the beauty of his photography. Despite the depressing and dark nature of the piece, it is presented in a stunning manner. The landscapes are breathtaking to behold. The lighting captures perfectly the tension and emotion of the characters’ faces. (In my opinion) it is the best cinematography of the year, no question (and that is saying a lot, both as this year featured tons of excellent work and Serra took over from Bruno Delbonnel, whose work on Half-Blood Prince was arguably the best of 2009 – big shoes to fill indeed).

Hans Zimmer – Score – Inception
With Inception (and building on his score for The Dark Knight), Zimmer changed movie scores forever (or at least for the time being), or more specifically music used menacingly in trailers. The strong notes that indicate impending jeopardy and threat like booming thunder highlight Zimmer’s work on the film and make it unforgettable (just listen to the trailer for examples). The score is also riving with emotion and passion, much like the film. It is big and action-packed on the outside, but what makes it great is the deeper drama within. Everything in the film is spellbinding and stunning, it is Zimmer’s score though that snares the viewer and in accompaniment with the performances and directing taps not just into the need for spectacle but the need for something real and relatable – something to care about and get behind, making this the extraordinary film it is.

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