Another Year of Film Awards with a ZekeFilm Connection
As a member of the St. Louis Film Critics Association (SLFC) , I’m expected to see as many movies as possible in order to vote in our big year-end awards process. But it’s gotta be the right ones, lest I enter awards season (this time of year when critics and publications are honoring the Best of the Cinematic Year from all corners) unprepared. This being my third year in the group, I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. While I wasn’t able to see as many movies this year as I had by this time last year, I managed to qualify for voting in more categories this year than last.
Below, I’ve posted the results for the SLFC 2013 Awards, still hot off the press! I’ve included of course the winner in each category, and also the runner-up. Additionally, just as I did last year (for more on the ins and outs of awards voting, studio campaigning, and whatnot, see my 2012 article’s intro), I’ve included my own vote, with further exclamation where necessary.
Film awards season is a most curious process for a critic, both richly rewarding, incredibly time consuming (many of us squeeze film criticism around other work that either actually pays, or pays better), and often emotionally exhausting. Regarding that last point, I needn’t think further than this past weekend when, in cramming to make the voting deadline, watched two effectively draining Danish films back to back (The Hunt and A Hijacking), or two weeks ago when all in one day I saw August: Osage County, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and The Wolf of Wall Street. (Thankfully the epic loopiness of that last one helped nullify the gut-punch double whammy of the first two.)
I know that three movies in one day is unheard of for most people, many of whom would be lucky and even content to see that many in the theater in a year. Which is why we do this. Thanks to this list below (and the many like it that surface this time of year), the collective final fruit of the SLFC labors of this passing year 2013, you can immediately derive the quality. Or perhaps you disagree with the results, and wish to cry foul. Fear not, I did too, many a time, even as part of the group releasing the winner’s list. As you will see, I didn’t fall in line with nearly every final decision in the SLFC 2013 Awards.
If you don’t find this enlightening, I hope you will at least find this interesting. (Like so many of the close-but-no-cigar movies of the past year! Here we go…)
12 Years a Slave
runner-up: American Hustle
My vote: [Classified!] Why let the cat out of the bag yet? Our year-end film picks, with my #1 of the year, will arise (from the ashes) soon enough around here. (Yes, those are a bunch of clues.)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
runner-up: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
My vote: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave). Until now, a part of me has always been a little irked that his name is Steve McQueen. Really, Steve McQueen?? Couldn’t this filmmaker at least have gone by Steven, or even “McQ”?? I’d said that there’s only one Steve McQueen, and he faced the blob, snagged Ali MacGraw, and made The Great Escape. But after 12 Years a Slave, this director can call himself whatever he wants.
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
runner-up: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
My vote: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
runner-up: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
My vote: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks). Best Actress was one of the toughest categories this year, what with Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Judi Dench (Philomena) all but demanding that we boost the number of nominees up to six from the usual five. All are very worthy. But Thompson carries Mr. Banks, playing a stonewalling prude who doesn’t want Walt Disney to make the universally beloved Mary Poppins – and makes us care for her.
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
runner-up: Will Forte (Nebraska)
My vote: Will Forte (Nebraska). Make absolutely no mistake, Leto is GREAT in Dallas Buyers Club. He’ll likely win the Oscar, and he deserves it. But my heart was in Nebraska, not Texas. And Will Forte, playing the thankless “straight man” role to Bruce Dern’s more visible old fart character, is something to be admired. (Such performances are essential to the success of the more visible lead performance in such films, but are so rarely noticed or celebrated. Case in point: Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar winning Rain Man performance needed Tom Cruises’ ever-frustrated normal guy along side of him to be hitting on all cylinders for his work to be completely effective. Same with Dern & Forte. That’s not to undercut Hoffman and Dern, but rather to elevate their invisible supporting costars.) I was thrilled the former SNL funnyman got the nom, and even more thrilled that he scored runner-up here.
Best Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
runner-up: June Squibb (Nebraska)
My vote: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave). I almost voted for June Squibb, and it was honestly hard not to. But once you see 12 Years, you’ll understand…
Best Original Screenplay
Spike Jonze (Her)
runner-up: David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)
My vote: Spike Jonze (Her)
Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley and Solomon Northrup (12 Years a Slave)
runner-up: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope and Martin Sixsmith (Philomena)
My vote: LOCKED OUT! I missed out on seeing The Spectacular Now – one of the nominees – so that means I was ineligible to vote in this category. (To vote in any category, we had to have seen every nominee – a feat I managed for all but one film in one category this year. Although man did I cut it close…) But for whatever it’s worth, I probably would’ve voted for 12 Years again. Or Before Midnight. Or Short Term 12… Sigh…
(tie) Sean Bobbitt (12 Years a Slave) and Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
My vote: Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llweyn Davis). The winners here are deserving, but the main purpose of cinematography – and I’m convinced that this something that’s widely misunderstood – is to establish and maintain the mood of the film. Via lighting and camera. Not camera placement – that’s a directorial decision. But rather, modification of lenses, the way the image comes into the camera, etc. Inside Llweyn Davis is, if nothing else, a slam dunk of a mood piece. Watching the film, you can just feel the early 1960’s Greenwich Village frigidity permeating every nook and cranny of this lovingly crafted ode to the pre-Dylan folk music scene. It’s like the washed out cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” set into motion, and captured feature length.
Best Visual Effects
Tim Webber, David Shirk, Chris Lawrence and Neil Corbould (Gravity)
runner-up: Joe Letteri and Eric Saindon (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
My vote: Tim Webber, David Shirk, Chris Lawrence and Neil Corbould (Gravity). The biggest no-brainer this entire awards season.
Best Original Musical Score
Arcade Fire (Her)
runners-up (tie): Steven Price (Gravity) and Mark Orton (Nebraska)
My vote: Arcade Fire (Her). The Arcade Fire. I didn’t even know it was them until the name came up in the closing credits. Glad they were able to parlay their previous smaller collaboration on Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are into this unique and memorable score. May it not be their last!
T-Bone Burnett (Inside Llewyn Davis)
runner-up: Christophe Beck (Frozen)
My vote: Muscle Shoals. This is the film music category meant to celebrate achievement in usage of either original songs or previously recorded songs. Therefor it does get a little confusing that an established film composer, Christophe Beck, is listed here by name. But fear not, it’s the original songs of Frozen that he’s representing. And while Frozen and Inside Llewyn Davis are punctuated terrifically by musical highlights throughout, the wonderful documentary Muscle Shoals is the actually made up of its music to a large degree. All famous music that was recorded in the Muscle Shoals studios. I’ll elaborate more about this film below…
Best Art Direction
Damien Drew, Ian Gracie and Michael Turner (The Great Gatsby)
runner-up: Austin Gorg (Her). Being not just a film critic, but also a professional Art Department member on numerous feature films, I think I can safely say that while Gatsby scored lightning in a bottle production value with those large immaculate period mansions and whatnot, they still appeared to be walk-in-and-tweak locations. (Tell me it was all C.G., and I’ll eat some but not all of these words!) With the “five minutes in the future” vibe of Her, we see a familiar but different Los Angeles. A difficult to nail aesthetic was established and maintained. And they made it look easy. And I, of all people, know that it’s anything but.
Best Animated Feature
runner-up: The Wind Rises
Best Art-House or Festival Film
– for artistic excellence in art-house cinema, limited to films that played at film festivals, film series or had a limited-release here, playing only one to three cinemas.
Short Term 12
runners-up (tie): Blue Is the Warmest Color and Frances Ha
My vote: Frances Ha. I have no beef with Short Term 12 winning this, but in a movie year with a number of standout female characters (all of the ones represented in the three films mentioned here are unforgettable. And even still there was no room for any of them in our Best Actress category.), Greta Gerwig’s Frances entertained, enlightened, and bemused us as she strove (and often failed) to “become a real person” like no other.
(tie) Enough Said and The World’s End
My vote: The Way Way Back. Another tough tough category. (And this was before anyone saw Anchorman 2!) I do love Enough Said, and The World’s End seriously almost got my vote. But when Sam Rockwell turns to you and says, “I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero until the morning light.”, you don’t leave the guy hanging. The Way Way Back is a complete charmer, and filmmaking tour de force in its own modest way.
runners-up (tie): The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell
My vote:Muscle Shoals. That’s right, I picked my pet rock n’ roll music history lesson doc over such 2013 Easter Island head monuments of singled-out documentary filmmaking as The Act of Killing and Stories We Tell. But that’s okay, the SLFC collectively overlooked them as well when it went for the admired-nonetheless Blackfish as their pick. For me, that doc opens one or two cans of worms it can’t quite fish with, but still, I won’t debate too loudly. Blackfish can and will do a lot of good.But pushing the universally life-affirmingMuscle Shoals for Best Doc was one of my personal cause de jours in the nominating phase, and the fact that this easy-to-overlook doc got nominated not only here but also in Best Soundtrack had me tickled pink, and was something I knew I’d likely have to see as victory enough.
Best Non-English Language Film
Blue Is the Warmest Color
My vote: Wadjda. It’s true that Blue is the Warmest Color will tear your heart out amid all the controversy it’s kicked up. But Saudi Arabia’s Wadjda is a revelation. Being one of the first if not THE first film from that country to achieve domestic distribution, it’s a sheer wonder that it’s not only directed by a female, but also about one. In the film, young Wadjda decides that she wants her very own bicycle, even if her having one does utterly defy societal norms. Her path to trying to get what she wants is one of sheer subversion of her country’s ages-old oppressive patriarchal culture, and so is the otherwise breezy and adorable movie itself. In a year with such unforgettable weighty statements as 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, Wadjda may at first glance not be quite so noticeable. (The director had to hide in van while making it, for crying out loud!) But it’s the most forwardly revolutionary film of them all.
– favorite movie scene or sequence
12 Years a Slave – The hanging scene
runner-up: Gravity – The opening tracking shot
My vote: The off-screen OS sex scene in Her. As weird as it sounds, and as weird as might be that I’m singling it out, Spike Jonze, Joaquin Pheonix and Scarlett Johansson deliver a remarkable scene of emotional rawness and intimacy that gives the prolonged soft-core carrying on of Blue is the Warmest Color a run for it’s money. And all in a fraction of the screen time, and not showing a thing. We’ve never seen (or not seen) anything quite like it before.
So that’s a wrap! Feel free to post any comments or question in the section below, and I’ll do my best to answer. And now a bit from the SLFC press release…
The mission of the non-profit St. Louis Film Critics Association is to promote appreciation of great cinema in St. Louis and to promote St. Louis as an area that appreciates great cinema. The member film critics review films for a variety of media, including print, radio, television and Internet in the Greater St. Louis area. SLFC also presents awards at the St. Louis International Film Festival and St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, both presented by Cinema St. Louis.
For further information on the SLFC Awards, the St. Louis Film Critics association or the association’s other film awards and activities throughout the year, visit the SLFC website www.stlfilmcritics.org.