Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Awards-Nazi Award nominations: Picture

*(In hopes of catching one or two more foreign films imminently, I am holding off on that category for just a few more days, but I won't wait any longer to declare my fav five of the year.)

And so we finally reach the big daddy of them all. I've already waxed philosophical at length on how 'connected' I felt to the best films of the year, but the time has come to be a little less general and a little more specific. Without further ado, I present my five candidates for Best Picture of 2013 (plus my five runner-ups, so for all intents and purposes consider this my Top Ten article):

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Bill Pohlad,
Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Arnon Milchin)
Steve McQueen stares unblinking into the darkest chapter of American history in this sensually crafted reenactment of an era wherein the wickedness of slavery was so deeply embedded, it had become commonplace on both sides of the racial divide. Yet McQueen still finds humanity in this most inhumane of settings, thanks largely to haunting performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, and Michael Fassbender, who compel us to watch when we'd rather look away.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Sara Woodhatch)
In its exploration of the sometimes tedious, sometimes unpleasant, but always necessary give-and-take of meaningful relationships, Richard Linklater's masterfully written bottle drama is a movie about what it takes for “real love” to endure in an increasingly pragmatic and disenchanted society. As a standalone film it's already excellent, but taken as a whole with the two films that preceded it, it's one of the most exquisite and singular achievements of modern cinema.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, David Heyman)
Deceptively simple in concept yet ingenious in execution, Alfonso Cuaron's landmark adventure serial of a woman adrift (in every sense of the word) reveals itself to be much more than mere Hollywood spectacle, but a spiritual exploration of human connection and the will to live. When an ambitious, groundbreaking invention of storytelling hits the praxis between art and entertainment in such astonishing fashion, how can you not consider it one of the best films of the year?

Short Term 12 (Maren Olson, Ron Najer, Joshua Astrachan, Asher Goldstein, Destin Cretton)
Destin Cretton's exceptional, unassuming drama about the act of healing requires no antagonists to generate its key conflicts. His story is populated entirely with damaged but decent people at war internally with themselves, their pasts, and their futures, but not with each other. Buttressed by a flawless narrative structure, and realized by organic character acting from its remarkable young cast, it is simply the most tender and uplifting film of the year.

Stories We Tell (Anita Lee, Sarah Polley)
Sarah Polley probes her own personal history in this intimate memoir on film; An extraordinary meta examination of how our memories shape our perceptions, and vice versa. Like the complex mysteries of Polley's past, the film itself is a complex mystery about many things at once: what defines 'family', long term cause-and-effect, artistic inspiration, and the neverending search for a “truth” which is ethereal, fluid, and becomes less clear the more you discover about it.

Just missed:
Blue Jasmine (Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson, Woody Allen)
Boasting an acrid, career-topping star turn from Cate Blanchett, Woody Allen's cynically witted homage to 'A Streetcar Named Desire' proposes that it's not the tragedies and crises – be they self-imposed or fateful – that define our lives, but our ability (or inability) to put the past behind us and move on. Smartly written and impeccably cast, it may not be the cuddliest of Allen's oeuvre, but we can't help but watch as our brittle antihero crashes and burns.

Captain Phillips (Scott Rudin, Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti)
The disparity between two worlds – one of affluence and one with no opportunity at all – is made sharply visible when men from each clash violently on the high seas in Paul Greengrass' meticulously constructed and riveting docudrama. His stringent code of realism penetrates every facet of the film, from the tense rhythms of Christopher Rouse's Oscar-worthy editing, right on up to his stars' performances. The final five minutes might the best work of Tom Hanks' career.

Dallas Buyers Club (Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter)
Matthew McConaughey completely disappears inside the character of Ron Woodroof – an HIV victim who undergoes an improbable transformation from homophobic drug profiteer to devoted advocate for accessible treatments of the disease – and makes us truly believe that such a repellent man could experience such a dramatic change on borrowed time. The characters are written with warmth and wit, and Jean-Marc Vallée's invaluable direction is lean and efficient.

Her (Spike Jonze, Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay)
A less visionary director would have made this into farce, but Spike Jonze reaches a level of profundity in this dreamlike meditation on love, loneliness, and the evolution of human interaction with our technology. Balancing subversive satire and soulful poetry, he tells the story of a love that transcends the physical, and perpetually finds unexpected directions to carry it. It's all tied together with hypnotic visuals and a mesmerizing score by French Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Scott Rudin)
Like a Homeric odyssey set to the earthy sounds of 1960s folk music, this elliptical character study from the brilliant Coen brothers lingers long after the credits roll. The layers of their screenplay (which weaves together both Modernist and classical influences) sing louder over time, and their craftsmanship is transfixing, particularly in regard to the cinematography and a superb soundtrack (courtesy of T-Bone Burnett) that seems to melt right off the vinyl.

Winners in all my Awards-Nazi Award categories will be posted on Saturday.


  1. I was close. I thought you would put Her in over Stories We Tell. I got your picks five for five last year, though.

    1. Impressive (although it helps to have a nifty index of all my ratings to reference). And for whatever it's worth, Her is actually running 7th behind Inside Llewyn Davis.

  2. Great year great picks. I was betting that you would choose Inside Llewyn Davis and Her over Short Term 12 and Stories We Tell.

    My nominees (and winners would be);

    Best motion picture of the year:
    12 Years a Slave
    Before Midnight
    Blue Is the Warmest Colour
    Her (Winner!)

    Achievement in directing:
    12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen
    Blue Is the Warmest Colour – Abdellatif Kechiche
    Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón (Winner!)
    Her – Spike Jonze
    Stories We Tell – Sarah Polley

  3. Just wanted to get your opinion: what is, if there is any, the significance of having a top ten list versus a top five? Many critics organizations pick five but many critics have a ten best list. Out of mere curiosity, how compels you to lean toward five?

    1. No significance. For the purposes of award nominations and such, five just feels right. A Best Picture nomination used to mean something before the Academy expanded to 5+. But for a ranked listing of an individual's favourite movies of any given year, ten is a better number to adequately articulate one's preferences. If I were to rank my favs rather than do it nomination/award-winner style, I'd probably include my top twenty!