2011: the year in superlatives

Posted by · 10:11 am · December 16th, 2011

So we’ve spent a week digesting and considering every critics organization’s list of winners from LA to New York and everywhere in between. It’s probably resulted in a numbing effect, the sheer volume of announcements whittling the season down to a point where it doesn’t resemble much of anything anymore.

But who am I to complain about the amount of year-end kudos announcements when I had this post coming all along? I know. I’m so hypocritical.

Alas, after starting with the top 10 column on Monday and continuing with The Longlists on Wednesday, I’m wrapping up a week of year-in-review specials today with the annual list of superlatives, née, “The In Contention Awards.” I have over 30 categories here with winners in each. Basically I take the Oscar fields and add a bunch of peripheral stuff to round out the year and send it off with a bang.

I look forward to hearing everyone else’s choices for best this and best that as the season continues and more of you are able to see the films in release. But for me, I’m putting a bow on it with the below. Enjoy.

Best Picture: “Margaret” (Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”)

Thoughts: What I have to say I think I’ve said in the top 10 column, but to reiterate, it’s the most emotionally complex film of the year. It’s messy and bold and enriching, brilliantly acted, an accidental masterpiece.

Best Director: Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Kenneth Lonergan, “Margaret”)

Thoughts: A close call, just like in Best Picture, but Terrence Malick’s wavelength on “The Tree of Life” is another one entirely.

Best Actor: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter” (Runner-up: Woody Harrelson, “Rampart”)

Thoughts: There were a number of top-tier performers among the leading men this year. The runner-up was tougher to decide than the winner for me, though. Michael Shannon is a beast in “Take Shelter.” It’s a monument to his arrival these last few years.

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Runner-up: Anna Paquin, “Margaret”)

Thoughts: This was a really close call for me but I ultimately couldn’t argue with the remarkable control and skill and ease of Swinton’s work.

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Andy Serkis, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”)

Thoughts: I ended up shuffling Andy Serkis over to the supporting side of things rather subconsciously, to be honest, after considering him a lead in the film for so long. Very strange, but I think he deserves some of the spotlight, and he wouldn’t likely have broken in for me with Best Actor. Here, though, it was Brad Pitt’s career-best work that stole the category.

Best Supporting Actress: Mélanie Laurent, “Beginners” (Runner-up: Jeannie Berlin, “Margaret”)

Thoughts: Another close call, but Laurent just stole my heart in “Beginners.” It was such a fresh and authentic spin on what has become such a cliched stock character of indie cinema.

Best Screenplay: “Margaret” (Runner-up: “Moneyball”)

Thoughts: What Kenneth Lonergan put on the page with “Margaret” is to be treasured, raw, unbridled, probing, dense, significant. Much respect to my runner-up, though.

Best Art Direction: “Hugo” (Runner-up: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)

Thoughts: There really is no other contender, as far as I’m concerned. It’s these two then everything else. But “Hugo” pulls out a win for the sheer volume of detailed reconstructions and dazzling environments.

Best Cinematography: “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: “Rampart”)

Thoughts: Emmanuel Lubezki’s contribution to the cinematic landscape this year is monumental. His images in “The Tree of Life” will be argued and considered for years to come.

Best Costume Design: “Hugo” (Runner-up: “Midnight in Paris”)

Thoughts: Once again, the recreations were considerable in “Hugo,” a wide swath of designs and functionality.

Best Film Editing: “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: “Margaret”)

Thoughts: A film like “The Tree of Life,” much like most of Malick’s work, is made in post-production, sculpted in the editing bay. “Margaret,” meanwhile, bears a lot of scars but they work in its favor.

Best Makeup: “The Iron Lady” (Runner-up: “Green Lantern”)

Thoughts: Two very different makeup jobs here but it’s difficult not to give “The Iron Lady” its due in this regard.

Best Music (Original Score): “Attack the Block” (Runner-up: “Rango”)

Thoughts: Steven Price and Basement Jaxx have as much to do with the identity of “Attack the Block” as any other element, if not more. They created a living, breathing soundtrack that, like Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross and Daft Punk before it (and the Chemical Brothers this year), signals a lively new era for the alternative film music score.

Best Music (Original Song): “Star-Spangled Man” from “Captain America: The First Avenger” (Runner-up: “Pictures in My Head” from “The Muppets”)

Thoughts: Much as I love the tunes from “The Muppets,” no song in a film this year has meant quite as much to its film than the Alan Menken-penned USO ditty “Star-Spangled Man.”

Best Sound Editing: “Rango” (Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”)

Thoughts: Few films this year felt quite as unique as “Rango” for use of sound effects and editing. And while a lot of the year’s action films deserve serious props in this field — “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Fast Five” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” among them — it was the handling of sound design in “The Tree of Life” that stuck with me enough to land as a runner-up, particularly in the oft-discussed cosmos sequence.

Best Sound Mixing: “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Runner-up: “Rango”)

Thoughts: It can’t be overstated how much of an impressive sound job the “Transformers” films have been, blending such a massive batch of tracks with the other assaulting elements of a Michael Bay film. The effect has never been overpowering, always crisp and defined.

Best Visual Effects: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”)

Thoughts: Believe it or not, for me, this was closer than it has probably been for others. The two films are so drastically different and use visual effects in such drastically different ways. I might as well have flipped a coin but I ultimately went with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for the progression in the field it represents.

Best Animated Film: “Rango” (Runner-up: “Chico & Rita”)

Thoughts: No, you don’t see “The Adventures of Tintin” there. I didn’t feel right considering it animation, frankly, but obviously it would be the winner otherwise. Instead, a different film from my top 10, and likely the Oscar winner, at the end of the day.

And finally, a few extraneous awards in categories, some common elsewhere, others I’ve made up along the way:

Most Underrated Film of the Year: “The Ides of March”

Most Overrated Film of the Year: “The Artist”

Breakthrough Performance (Male): Hunter McCracken, “The Tree of Life”

Breakthrough Performance (Female): Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Best Cameo Performance (Male): Ray McKinnon, “Take Shelter”

Best Cameo Performance (Female): Allison Janney, “Margaret”

Best Performance in a Bad Film: Christoph Waltz, “Carnage”

Worst Performance in a Good Film: Nick Krause, “The Descendants”

Best Hero: Driver, “Drive”

Best Villain: Kevin, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Best Poster: “Moneyball” (link)

Best Trailer (for a trailer released in 2011, not necessarily a film released in 2011): “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (teaser)

Most Surprising Film of the Year: “The Muppets”

Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Most Ambitious Film of the Year: “Margaret”

Most Intriguing Failure: “The Skin I Live In”

Best Action Sequence: “The Adventures of Tintin” (Bicycle chase through Moroccan village.)

Entertainer of the Year: Weta Digital

Five Worst Films I Saw This Year (in order): “Your Highness,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Limitless,” “The Green Hornet,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

Top 10 Films of the Year (in order): “Margaret,” “The Tree of Life,” “Drive,” “Rampart,” “Shame,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “A Separation,” “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Take Shelter,” “Rango”

And that does it for 2011, the year in review. I’m frankly surprised it came and went so fast. Again, if you’d like to revisit some stuff, you can check out the top 10 podcast here, my top 10 column here and the longlists special here.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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