Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Victim's Gold Stars: Technical Categories

This is ridiculous.

Fact is, I'm done with 2007. It's too far gone now, too far away both in the temporal and mental senses of the word. But I, attention-seeker that I am, cannot let my personal awards rest. You must all know what I think. So, here, in three posts of visual and scriptual splendour, I will present all my awards in just a few days, therefore putting it behind me forevermore. As Mr. Burns would say, excellent.


The Bourne Ultimatum
Like everything in these movies, the visual effects are precisely calibrated to produce the maximum desired effect of pure, heart-racing adrenaline, and are, as has been celebrated, starkly realistic.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Alright, so enough with the green CGI for the evil characters, but the broom effects were far more believable than The Golden Compass, and the sight of all those glass orbs crashing to the floor was truly an amazing thing to behold.

The Kingdom
Much of this movie is rather chatty and honestly quite dull, but when, about twenty minutes from the end, the action stuff kicks in, it does so with a truly explosive car-crash, which was so horrifying it sucked me straight back into the movie. The gunfights that follow are almost as intense, and provide a listless film with a true kick to the pants just before it's too late.

The sun is as much, if not more, a character as the people themselves, and the effects are a big part of the destruction of the film's ship, vast and glowing and truly imposing. And I can't forget that sight of Michelle Yeoh slamming into the camera.

There Will Be Blood
I think my scene of the year is the explosion of the oil well about halfway through this movie, a virtuoso sequence in which the effects are just a small part. But these are effects that don't want awe, they want reality: oil lies there, it seeps, it gushes out in horrifying geysers.


Bug- Brad Wilder, Christien Tinsley
As unnerving and horrifying as the rest of the movie, the make-up team subtly underplay their hand and thereby manage to make everything that bit more starkly real and disturbing. Whether the marks have been done by bugs or Agnes and Peter themselves, their effect is no less immediate.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- Myriam Hottois, Benoit Lestang
It's not just making Mathieu Almaric look totally immobilized, which they do very well, but also the tired but bright faces of the nurses looking down at him, and the rosy facade of his beautified, fatigued wife. Extra kudos for underlining the weary lines of Max Von Sydow's face.

Right at Your Door- Galaxy San Juan
Covered in poisonous dust or simply exhausted from emotional separation, it's the make-up team that really hammer in the dark psychological effect of nuclear terrorism; dark circles, pale faces, worn-down horror are all over this movie.


Bug- Steve Boeddeker & Aaron Levy
Bug's deadliest weapon is its nerve-wracking sense of claustrophobia, and it's much due to the sound that everything feels so enclosed, so tense and overwrought: a phone ring slices through the silence as we begin; the bug-catchers bulbs whirr menacingly; the crack of a tooth is as wrenching as the sight of it.

No Country for Old Men- Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff & Peter Kurland
No Country's empty landscapes are never truly empty, for all the creeping winds and invisible animals, but all the same a vehicle's engine roars into a hollow vista and sends a chill down the spine. Words cut through the movie like a knife because they're so rare, and because so much of the film is filled with waiting, watching, wondering.

Right at Your Door- Gary Gegan & Brian Slack
Another movie, another encroaching sense of claustrophobia. But Right at Your Door gives you no chance to slide into this atmosphere; it revels in the everyday normalcy of phone conversations and birdsong before suddenly swooping down fuzzy sound barriers with the visible tarpaulans. The disaster is seen, distantly, but more heard, with faint sirens and screams, and professions of sorrow through glass are more heartbreaking than you'd ever expect.

Them- Francois-Joseph Hors & Serge Rouquairol
Just as frightening as the darkness and the shadows and the pointy things coming through keyholes that you clearly shouldn't be looking through are the noises that you don't understand: your car moving off even though you're inside the house, a dog suddenly piping up, those unfeasible tarpaulans hiding someone trying to scare you.

There Will Be Blood- Tom Johnson, Christopher Scarabosio & Michael Semanick
There are many stunning moments in There Will Be Blood, but the one that towers above them all in my memory is the one pictured: the oil suddenly blowing out of the derrick and pouring down on those below, H.W.'s hearing plunged into mist, the oil going up in flames and the entire thing burning for hours, on black and on blue. The intensity of the noise pins you into your seat, terrified by what they are making you hear.


Hot Fuzz- Julian Slater
All that's in my head when I think about this movie is that moment when someone's (god knows whose) hand in close-up SLAMS a pair of keys down on the bar and the next moment is some moment of frenetic action I'll be damned if I can remember. But this movie POPS and BANGS and FLUMPS with aural wonderousness.

There Will Be Blood- Matthew Wood
The macabre PLONK of the part of the derry as it falls dead onto someone's head. The CREAK of the tower toppling, finally, after burning for hours overnight. The SNAP of the gunshot as Daniel finally breaks and shoots. Horrifying sounds accompany horrifying moments.

300- Scott Hecker
300 is a hollow, vapid beast of a movie, but it's never boring, and much of that is due to the perversely delicious slice of the blades or the stunted impact of the spears, or the clatter of shields as the shell formation comes together like 300 beetles scuttling away to hide.


Marco Beltrami, 3:10 to Yuma
Beltrami's deep, menacing score prepares you for a deeper film than you get, but the music itself remains a rich, taut underside to a tame retread of a familiar plot, strings plucking jarringly and bass ballooning to provide an entertaining sideshow all the way to the end of the credits.

Carter Burwell, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
I've said before that Before the Devil... is a Greek tragedy of proportions that probably overstep acceptable boundaries for a modern-day film, and Burwell's grandiose overtures really helps to pitch the film at this level, grand and pompous in their orchestration, but somehow moving amongst all the bigness.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Cave and Ellis' score is as haunting and momentary as the first of the titular characters, elusive and mysterious as it sweeps over the richly photographer wheat fields and frosty forests. It accents the pensive, seeping deadliness of the film while proving incidental pleasure of its own: a score that works with the movie but without it too.

Alexandre Desplat, Lust, Caution
Desplat has become celebrated, at least in cinematic and classical music circles (I hear him on the radio quite a lot; unfortunately it's usually The Queen), for his delicate piano melodies, and they weave themselves deliciously into Lust, Caution, as elusive and fragile as the plot and characters. A hint of cultural influence is all Desplat needs (as opposed to Kite Runner Oscar-nominee Alberto Iglesias) to fit into the setting, but it's never overpowering, never detrimental and never less than beautiful.

Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood
Look at it the wrong way and Greenwood's unique score might seem horribly studied and craftily formed, but all you can think while you're watching it is how bizarrely perfect these strange instruments are for this moment, how the repetative beats are ratcheting up your heartbeat, and how all you want is for this music to play while you're walking around, so that life can seem as epic and magnificent as this movie.


Arjun Bhasin, The Namesake
Bhasin mixes traditional Indian saris with the Western clothing the characters shift into; while the arc may not be the most subtle, Bhasin never goes into overload, making the progress gradual and never taking either extreme into cliche.

Mona May, Enchanted
The costume is really where the Disney-princess idea comes into it's own, at least apart from the deliriously enthusiastic performances of Adams and Marsden, and May is as deliciously unsubtle as they are; see the enormous bouffant of a dress that Adams clambers out of a manhole, or the expansive sleeves of Marsden's prince. Or maybe I just like to see such invention as a dress being miraculously manufactured out of curtains.

Patricia Norris, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Dark, drab and worn, the clothing in Assassination is as weary as the characters themselves; it subtly emphasizes Jesse James' innate smoothness in wearing bold black when placed next to paler shades of brown that Robert Ford wears; and how the perfect, tailored suits don't fit the later Ford, the fraud and opportunist that he is.

Lai Pan, Lust, Caution
Lust, Caution doesn't totally eschew any kind of glamour; after all, Tang Wei is trying to seduce the man, not make him indifferent. But even in the gilded, tight dresses, Lai Pan doesn't go overboard; Tang's not rich, and most of her clothes are plain, affordable, student-money clothes, the best that this group can scrape together for.

Yan Tax, Black Book
Black Book darts around places and moods and people, and the costumer has to keep up, decking out Carice Van Houten in plain, worn, dull threads to match her straggly brown hair, and moving to the more colourful, slick dresses as she tries on her new role. But Tax is clever to show even these not fitting right: the prominent red dress hangs awkwardly on Rachel's frame, and she looks much more comfortable in a thick coat, scarf and hat, because she'd always rather be leaving.


Franco-Giacomo Carbone, Bug
Such a small space must be etched to the exact degree, and Bug ultimately seems to use its entire space, weaving around between the four rooms that all seem to hide from each other; even in this small space, claustrophobia is rampant. And then its all turned upside down in the madness and the motel room becomes a silver spaceship, vague shapes recognisable beneath the mountains of foil, wrecked centrepieces of the former room becoming horrid instruments of death.

Stuart Craig, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I've never been the biggest fan of the Harry Potter films, but the production design has always be the film's largest asset, perhaps not what I pictured myself but just as magnificently grandiose and magical; this time around, check out the towers of glass balls that come shattering down at the climax, and especially the gleaming blackness of the magical world's political centre, London underground-come-Ministry of Magic.

Jack Fisk, There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview's derricks make their way from ramshackle, rudimentary, bloody-dangerous things of creaking iron to... ramshackle, rudimentary, only slightly-less-bloody-dangerous things of even more creaking iron and a lot of creaking wood. But this isn't only the progression of the oil industry: it's a great shock on the final temporal thrust forward to find that Daniel's house looks only slightly older than yours does, and suddenly you're not in the long forgotten past, you're in yesterday, and yesterday someone was having a rough time with some bloody heavy bowling pins...

Harley Jessup, Ratatouille
I don't play computer games, but if I did, I know I'd want to play the one that surely exists for this movie, if only so I could navigate through the perfectly detailed kitchen Jessup has created, make Remy scuttle his way along the various pathways he creates, creep along the maze of walls he hides in, jump over the traps and run along the streets of Paris.

Mark Tildesley, Sunshine
True to its name, the Icarus II is as fragile as the people aboard it, and watching the ship fall apart is almost, or perhaps more, fascinating than watching the crew succumb to the various forces as they near the sun. It's reminiscent of ships of old like Nostromo of Alien, but, fittingly for its different mission and time period, more intimate and relatable in its design: why else have a tropical garden in the middle of your ship? Neither is it the ghostly metallic of Solaris; this is a ship to live in, but big enough that the crew's disconnection from each other never feels fake.


Peter Christelis, A Mighty Heart
Christelis is really the author of A Mighty Heart's unpredictable rhythms of shocks, realizations and false hopes; the brave move to abandon Angelina Jolie's Marianne Pearl and instead journey with Irfan Kahn's detective makes complete sense within the film's pulsating, wilful narrative, one that is resigned to an outcome the audience already knows while hanging onto Marianne and her team's hope that Daniel will be found.

Herve de Luze, Tell No One
Rare is it to see an action-thriller this raw and emotional, and rarer still one that feels completely on top of all its variants of speeds; sudden jumps out of doctor's windows take the wind out of your sails and suddenly you're careening off down the street with the hero, or else breathlessly living with him as jagged imagery brings him across a motorway and unpredictably down tiny Parisian streets.

Christopher Rouse, The Bourne Ultimatum
I say rare, but here's another one, looping itself into complex, organic strands, dazzling in its action scenes and quietly contemplative in others. And all the while there's a sense of an ending, a destination that must be reached, as if every scene is simply another thing delaying Jason from getting to his answers. It's a breathless, sickening, exhilirating finale to a superb series.

Dylan Tichenor, There Will Be Blood
Long and slow this film is, but Tichenor works well with the other departments- music, photography, etc.- to maintain the horrific tension within the film; it never lets you out of its grip, slowly tightening and relaxing, like a hand on a pulsating heart. Every perfectly judged moment, subtly letting you do the work when it wants and then wickedly flaunting something in your face; it's as tauntingly magnificent as the film itself.

Jeffrey M. Werner, Right at Your Door
Rhythms of everyday life are suddenly deadened by a mysterious bomb, distantly seen but not realized properly until it's too late; panic slowly ratchets up before fear explodes with the dropping of a plastic enclosure, editing living with the horrified couple the film centres on as the man runs around his increasingly smaller house, trapping the woman within the physically wider but mentally small neighbourhood where help doesn't seem to exist.


Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Accusations of showiness might have a point, but more often than not Deakins works effectively to highlight one of the film's many conclusions: that the myth it partly debunks is ultimately impossible to remove. Striking effects like the blurred circular edges reinforce the idea of the story as a memory, as blurred and mysterious as the picture itself; and the train-robbery sequence is one of the year's two most indelible filmic experiences.

Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
Speaking of: I think it's time to stop flogging this, but the explosion of the oil derrick in this film really is magnificent, and Elswit captures it in all its horrifying glory, positioning his camera up and under so the scale of the thing is truly realized. But more than that, its all about capturing the greed and starkness of these landscapes, keeping the needed off-balance between Daniel and Eli, and showing the perverse horror of all these moments in their rabid glory. Bonus points: watching the train take H.W. away from his father.

Alwin H. Kuchler, Sunshine
The sun reverberates around the entire spaceship here, cannily reflecting its ever-advancing seepage into our characters' minds. The slightly misty glow suggests the distance between them, and, when they venture into the darkness of the abandoned former ship, the frame almost freezes over- you live with these people, experiencing temperature and state-of-mind through the visuals, and it really sends a chill- or a heatwave- down your spine.

Oleg Mutu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Deliberate, painful, these long, slow, uncut takes would be languid if what they were photographing- what they choose to photograph- wasn't so compulsively horrifying and personal, but as it is, you are forced to endure seeing characters run down pitch-black alleyways in harsh rain, try your hardest to ignore the imposing sight of an aborted foetus as a discussion goes on above it, and- in the film's most taunting scene- live through a vapid, empty dinner party with a character whose thoughts are decidedly with her troubled friend.

Rodrigo Prieto, Lust, Caution
Slinky and elusive in places, and in others plain, worn and dowdy, Prieto's gorgeous work envelops every aspect of this story, from a painful loss of virginity in a dull, bare room to a key phonecall in a restaurant that loops around the story. Lust, Caution is both a seductive spy story and an immediate depiction of war-torn, political trauma, and Prieto cleverly blends the two to create a seamless visual experience.

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