FIRST-HALF FYC: Below-the-line standouts

Posted by · 11:45 am · January 11th, 2011

For the penultimate installment in our reflection on the most Oscar-worthy achievements from the largely forgotten first half of 2010’s release calendar, I’m backtracking away from the major categories to the place I should perhaps have started: the technical sphere.

Had I thought to start this column 20-odd weeks in advance of nomination day, I could have given each craft category the attention it deserves — though if I’m being honest, picking five outstanding Best Sound Editing contenders from the year’s first six months wouldn’t be the easiest of tasks.

As it stands, I’ve arrived at an admittedly drastic compromise: singling out five individual technical contributions, across the range of categories, that made a particularly strong impression. With such a doubly curtailed brief, the list of painfully excised honorable mentions inevitably runs very long indeed, so I’ll jump straight in with a few of them.

As much as “Shutter Island” didn’t work for me as a whole, it delivered considerable rewards as a craft showcase: I was particularly tempted to include Dante Ferretti’s art direction, which will likely find its way to Oscar recognition without my help.

I also pondered “I Am Love” in multiple categories, notably for Antonella Cannarozzi’s immaculate contemporary costume design — a category where such contrasting titles as “The Runaways,” “Please Give” and “Robin Hood” all deserve some applause.

Cinematography was a crowded category, one that could present a wholly credible awards slate without need for the year’s second half: a tip of the hat to “Lourdes,” “Winter’s Bone,” “Wild Grass,” “The Killer Inside Me,“Greenberg” and the aforementioned duo of “Shutter Island” and “I Am Love.” Original Score was less hotly contested, though that’s to take nothing away from wholly feasible Oscar contenders “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Ghost Writer.”

I could go on — the editing of “Frozen,” the visual effects of “Micmacs,” the pleasing crop of sharp non-period production design in such films as “The Ghost Writer,” “Dogtooth” and “The Human Centipede” — but for fear of overshadowing the five ace achievements I did wind up selecting for the spotlight, I’ll leave it at that. (Before you ask, however, I’m not “forgetting” “Alice in Wonderland,” however many tech nods the Academy tosses its way next week.)

BEST ART DIRECTION: Silke Fischer and Volko Kamensky, “Everyone Else”
As much as I appreciate the Art Directors’ and Costume Designers’ Guilds having a category for contemporary work, I’m baffled each year by the lack of imagination they put into it — more often than not, it becomes another place to slot ubiquitous Best Picture contenders, regardless of the complexity of their production design. Too rarely recognized are modest contempo efforts that make a tangible character of ostensibly ordinary spaces, as Fischer and Kamensky achieve with the haphazardly decorated 1970s Sardinian holiday home that houses most of the film’s action, its dun, dated finishes and unwieldy domino layout both reflecting and compressing the relationship at the film’s center. The Berlinale jury, at least, got it.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Robbie Ryan, “Fish Tank”
I tried to put another film in here, honest, lest you’re sick of me wittering on about this one. But while some of the titles listed in my preamble were duly considered, Ryan’s work still places comfortably ahead of them on my hypothetical Academy ballot. With director Andrea Arnold, Ryan unusually opts to shoot in the Academy ratio (a choice that also raised eyebrows in Kelly Reichardt’s recent “Meek’s Cutoff”), the boxiness of the format effectively constricting the film’s restless protagonist, as his camera spryly ducks and dives in thrall to her unpredictable movements. There’s visual lyricism amid the grit, too, with the exquisitely lit “California Dreamin'” dance sequence Ryan’s creative centerpiece.

BEST FILM EDITING: Christopher Rouse, “Green Zone”
I was late catching up with Paul Greengrass’s critically and commercially discarded Iraq thriller, largely because nothing I’d heard about it suggested the big-screen-dependent technical sugar rush of the director’s scarcely improvable work on the Jason Bourne franchise. I came to regret that: while the film’s low-surprise narrative and gappy politics disappointed, its visual and auditory properties remained thoroughly stimulating. Rouse, coming off his Oscar for “The Bourne Ultimatum,” appears to spot these limitations: his terse, layered scene construction often suggests more activity than the script has to offer, culminating in an electric climax that breaks with Hollywood form by locating both contrast and a crisp throughline in rotating courses of action.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Dickon Hinchliffe, “Winter’s Bone”
British multi-instrumentalist Hinchliffe had already established himself as a film composer of great delicacy and intelligence on his collaborations (both solo and with his former band Tindersticks) with Claire Denis, but his simultaneously shimmery and menacing work on Debra Granik’s tough Ozark thriller still managed to surprise. Hinchliffe has crafted an atmospherically-based score that nonetheless retains a sharp strain of musicality against the brooding, fuzzy sonic wall: he’s sparely playful with the film’s Southern element, weaving jangly lines of banjo into amorphous, electronica-influenced soundscapes, cradling the narrative’s own juxtaposition of the foreign and the familiar. Have a listen here.

BEST SOUND MIXING & EDITING: Tae-young Choi, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”
This category is so often given over to noisy action fare that I tend to prefer spotlighting more counter-intuitive work in this category. In the case of Kim Ji-woon’s crashingly chaotic Korean spaghetti western hybrid, however, I’ll make an exception: there is an awful lot of sound here, with gun battles, whooshy hand combat, screeching trains and explosions all shouting over one another for your attention, but Choi articulates them with considerable flair — while retaining the messy, bludgeoning collective effect the whole film reaches for. More is more in this particular case — though Choi equally proves his chops with a quieter, if no less eccentric, mix for Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother.”

Which films from early 2010 stood out for you in the technical department? Have your say in the comments, and check in next week, when we’ll wrap up the feature with a first-half Best Picture 10.

[Photos: Universal Pictures, The Cinema Guild, IFC Films and Roadside Attractions]

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20 responses so far

  • 1 1-11-2011 at 11:52 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    I think I know what one of your first-half Best Pictures will be… ;)

  • 2 1-11-2011 at 11:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Watch me confound you all by leaving it out in favour of ‘Valentine’s Day’.

  • 3 1-11-2011 at 11:55 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    Heck, I’ll contribute to this discussion as well:

    the make-up and art direction of “Daybreakers”
    the make-up and art direction of “The Wolfman”
    the score of “How to Train Your Dragon”
    just about anything from “Shutter Island”

  • 4 1-11-2011 at 11:57 am

    Hans said...

    Ha. The Human Centipede. Bravo for being Makeup-branchlike in your craft analysis.

    It’s interesting how crafts aspects of earlier films tend to have a better shot at scoring nominations than than their “big 8 category” achievements. I do like how you strayed from choices that are still very much in the running, though as much as I wasn’t a huge fan of Winter’s Bone, I really hope that cinematography doesn’t get overlooked.

  • 5 1-11-2011 at 12:01 pm

    Parrill said...

    Shutter Island for Cinematography – Is my pick for the whole year

    Ghost Writer for Art Direction

    Those are my two biggies.

  • 6 1-11-2011 at 12:14 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***… however many tech nods the Academy tosses its way next week.)***

    Two weeks, actually.

    ***… with the exquisitely lit “California Dreamin’” dance sequence Ryan’s creative centerpiece.***

    Huh, I thought “Chungking Express” owned the rights to the ‘California Dreamin’ sequence!

  • 7 1-11-2011 at 12:15 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    Best Editing: Cindy Mollo, “The Book of Eli”
    Best Original Score: Atticus Ross, “The Book of Eli”
    Best Cinematography: Don Burgess, “The Book of Eli”

  • 8 1-11-2011 at 12:19 pm

    Jeff said...

    Guy – Several films that you mention here–“Lourdes,” “The Killer Inside Me,” “Frozen,” “The Human Centipede,” “Everyone Else,” “Fish Tank,” “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,”–are not eligible for Academy Awards consideration, and one–“Dogtooth,”–is eligible only in the Foreign Language Film category. Ignoring the Academy’s list of eligible films is fine for this sort of exercise, of course, but I wonder if you’re doing it intentionally.

  • 9 1-11-2011 at 12:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I wasn’t aware of all of those rule-outs, but following the Academy’s more inexplicable eligibility rules makes this exercise all but impossible.

  • 10 1-11-2011 at 12:30 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Guy, how come A Prophet is not a first half release?

  • 11 1-11-2011 at 12:32 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Speaking English: “Chungking Express” owns the Mamas and the Papas’ version. “Fish Tank” claims the Bobby Womack version. There’s room for both!

    Matthew: What I just said to Jeff notwithstanding, “A Prophet” is one film I haven’t been including because of its confirmed ineligibility from the outset.

  • 12 1-11-2011 at 12:42 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    You should have included it all along. Especially now that we realize a majority of the films you have included are ineligible just the same.

    To hell with the Academy’s rules I wanted to read Guy Lodge’s first half winner’s based on Guy Lodge’s eligibility rules. Perhaps change the rules for this column next season.

    And to further snub your nose at the Academy you can finish the column this year by picking FIVE best pictures. Take that AMPAS!

  • 13 1-11-2011 at 12:48 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    You’re probably right. Oh well. Suffice to say ‘A Prophet’ would easily have placed thus far for Director, Original Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actor. Possibly Art Direction too.

  • 14 1-11-2011 at 1:33 pm

    Peter said...

    ‘The Ghost Writer’ for original score.

  • 15 1-11-2011 at 1:51 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Agreed with Peter. I really hope Desplat gets a nod for Ghost Writer and not King’s Speech. One is just so much damn better than the other. (the film and the score)

  • 16 1-11-2011 at 2:22 pm

    Graysmith said...

    Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design: Shutter Island
    Makeup: The Wolfman
    Original Score: The Ghost Writer
    Sound Editing & Mixing: Iron Man 2
    Visual Effects: Alice in Wonderland

  • 17 1-11-2011 at 2:33 pm

    ScottC said...

    Art Direction and Score for The Ghost Writer.

    Art Direction, Score, Cinematography and Costumes for I Am Love.

  • 18 1-11-2011 at 3:15 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Cin – Shutter Island
    Art D – Ghost Writer
    Cost – Alice
    MakeUp – Shutter Island
    Sound – Green Zone
    Score – HTTYD

  • 19 1-12-2011 at 9:21 pm

    Tom C said...

    “Vincere” is not only my favorite cinematography from the first half, but has remained at that position to this day.

    I’d also vote for “Splice” for Visual Effects and “Daybreakers” for Art Direction.

  • 20 1-15-2011 at 4:32 pm

    John said...

    1. cinematography/sound/art direction (SHUTTER ISLAND)
    2. visual FX, score, song, costumes, make-up, art direction (ALICE IN WONDERLAND)
    3. Cinematography, editing, sound, make-up (THE CRAZIES)
    4. visual FX, sound FX, make-up (SPLICE… they can find room for Jonah Hex, but not this?)
    5. Cinematography, Sound, Score, Costumes, Make-up, Art Direction (THE WOLFMAN)