Friday, January 18, 2013

LeapBackBlog 2012 Film Awards – Part 3: Directors

Film in 2012 may not have been quite as strong overall as 2011, but right at the top there were a lot of good and very entertaining films. 2012 also featured many wonderful performances, particularly among men (many great performances that would have made my lists in past years were sadly left off). 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), 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.

As far as American auteur filmmakers go, Paul Thomas Anderson might just be the greatest in contemporary cinema right now. With The Master, he has made another film that creates a purely visceral experience. It is not easily pinned down, as it is not just about its story or characters but more so about the tumultuous times of post WWII America (soldiers finding it hard to return to life, clashing with the myth of clean and wholesome living propagated by corporate ad agencies – this is also very well done in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives). Anderson is a master filmmaker, garnering stunning performances (all three of the film’s main actors have made this year’s acting film awards lists) and creating a layered visual story that shines with aesthetic brilliance.

For all his quirkiness as a filmmaker, there is maybe no other director who takes as much care with the details of every single frame of their movie as Wes Anderson. His films are instantly recognizable, and Moonrise Kingdom is no different. Anderson does not shy away from showing his hand in the making of this film, from the camera moves (that sometimes feel like an expansion on Yasujiro Ozu’s style) to the specific blocking of characters in a frame (and everything this else he does) the audience can feel Anderson behind the camera orchestrating it all. However, even given his indulgent style, Moonrise Kingdom’s characters are so rich and their drama so grounded in pathos that even with all the stylistic elements the audience cannot help but be lost in the world of film completely engrossed in the story, characters, and drama.

3D exists in today’s cinema seemingly solely for commercial gains. Studios often insist upon it to pump up their bottom lines, much to the begrudging of directors as it usually adds nothing positive to the film going experience (usually detracting from it). All that said, Ang Lee takes 3D and uses it wonderfully and beautifully in Life of Pi, making probably the second film to use the medium to its advantage since the fad gained momentum (following the other film to use 3D well – Avatar). Lee also rises to the challenge of making a film with essentially only one human character for large portions of its narrative. Called an un-filmable story, Lee has made something exquisite and incredibly moving and cinematic with Life of Pi.

The Dark Knight Rises was maybe the most anticipated film of 2012, with unattainably high expectations – and yet writer-director Christopher Nolan delivered a brilliantly grand finale to his Dark Knight Trilogy (meeting and exceeding those expectations). The film perfectly blends the spectacle aspects of summer blockbusters with the exceptional character drama of prestige cinema. Nolan has taken blockbuster filmmaking to a different level, and his films are the standard by which all other blockbusters are judged. He has transcended the trappings of event filmmaking, which prizes the extravaganza above all else, by making his films (as big, dynamic, and entertaining as they are) about his characters and story first. Nolan is the best director working within the studio system right now.

Quentin Tarantino’s venture into genre filmmaking has yielded brilliant and extremely fun and entertaining work. With Django Unchained, he continues his Revenge Trilogy this time targeting slavery. Tarantino’s ability to effectively use his camera as well as shot composition and mise en scene set him apart from most directors working in Hollywood today, but more so in Django Unchained it is his dialogue and the performances that he garners from his actors (particularly Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio) that makes it a special film. 

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