Time to praise (and not-praise) crew contributions to cinema in 2009. A quick caveat: though it probably renders these “awards” moot, I’d like to give a shout-out to all of the crewmembers and professionals who are about to win Worst whatever awards or dishonorable mentions. For the most part, I know that these men and women are very talented people whose contributions to other movies have been worthy of praise. It’s very rare that I think someone who worked on a film is completely beyond hope, and that’s certainly the case here. I just think that their work has been compromised by some bad choices or decisions by those higher up, and have only attached their names to the ignominious Worst awards for clarity.
Case in point: last year I selected Anthony Dod Mantle’s work on Slumdog Millionaire as the Worst Cinematography of the year, knowing full well that he is a remarkable cinematographer with a long list of great projects behind him. However, I thought his work on Slumdog was hideous. That was either because of choices he made, or because of decisions made by director Danny Boyle. Saying someone’s work represented the worst cinematography or editing of the year is not meant as a diss against them personally. It’s just a way of saying that their work here was not up-to-scratch, for any number of reasons. I’m sure this little Get-Out Clause will make everyone feel so much better about what I say. [/delusion]
Another thing. Some of the technical categories such as Production Design and FX are there to praise more than one person or FX company, but for brevity’s sake, I’ve chosen to mention just the most prominent names responsible. Certainly, big FX movies feature work from dozens of different FX houses, and I feel really bad for just choosing to mention the one or two biggest names involved. If the movie is on the FX list or the Production Design list, rest assured I liked all of the work done on those movies, and everyone who worked on them deserve praise. My apologies for not going through every name. Just know that I am filled with respect and gratitude for all of the work done on those movies.
Right, on with the show, and I start with a completely unsurprising choice…
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Gaspar Noe (Enter The Void)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Armando Iannucci (In The Loop)
Sam Raimi (Drag Me To Hell)
Jacques Audiard (A Prophet)
Best Screenplay: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin, Tony Roche (In The Loop)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)
Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!)
Greg Mottola (Adventureland)
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Thomas McCarthy (Up)
Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
Best Editing: Jeffrey Ford, Paul Rubell (Public Enemies)
Best Soundtrack: Joe Hisaishi – Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
Elliot Goldenthal (Public Enemies)
Alexandre Desplat (A Prophet)
Michael Giacchino (Star Trek)
Michael Giacchino (Up)
Mark Mothersbaugh (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs)
Best Use of Music: Street Fighting Man - Rolling Stones (During the Terrible Tractors segment of Fantastic Mr. Fox)
Best Visual Effects: WETA / ILM (Avatar)
Uncharted Territory / Digital Domain / Many many many other FX workshops (2012)
BUF (Enter The Void)
Digital Domain / ILM (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)
ILM / Digital Domain (Star Trek)
Image Engine / The Embassy Visual Effects / Zoic Studios (District 9)
Best Production Design: Rick Carter / Robert Stromberg (Avatar)
Scott Chambliss (Star Trek)
Jess Gonchor (A Serious Man)
David Wasco (Inglourious Basterds)
Alex McDowell (Watchmen)
Denise Pizzini (Black Dynamite)
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle (Antichrist)
Dante Spinotti (Public Enemies)
Robbie Ryan (Fish Tank)
Benoît Debie (Enter The Void)
Morten Søborg (Valhalla Rising)
Steve Yedlin (The Brothers Bloom)
Funniest Cinematography: Shawn Maurer (Black Dynamite)
Most Gimmicky Cinematography: Dan Mindel (Star Trek)
I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked Mindel and Abrams’ insistence on using lens flares in about 89% of the movie. All I know is nothing else looked like it this year, for better or worse.
Best Cinematography Wasted On A Terrible, Uncinematic Movie: Caleb Deschanel (My Sister’s Keeper)
Best Sound Design: Ben Burtt (Star Trek)
Burtt, who last year excelled himself with his incredible work on Wall-E, did another great job this year in redesigning the sound effects from the original series of Star Trek. At once retro and futuristic, familiar and new, his work here was a joy to listen to. Here’s a fascinating interview with the great man.
Runner-Up: Ken Yasumoto / Thomas Bangalter (Enter The Void)
Immersive, ambient, constantly in flux. Yasumoto and Bangalter’s audio work here is as impressive as the visual work done by the rest of the crew.
Worst Director: Phil Claydon (Lesbian Vampire Killers) (The rest of the movie is exactly like this except more blue, to denote night-time.)
Lee Daniels (Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire)
Steve Carr (Paul Blart: Mall Cop)
Robert Luketic (The Ugly Truth)
Chris Columbus (I Love You, Beth Cooper)
Richard Curtis (The Boat That Rocked)
Worst Screenplay: David Benioff / Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Paul Hupfield / Stewart Williams (Lesbian Vampire Killers)
Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li)
Brandon Camp / Mike Thompson (Love Happens)
Brian Helgeland (The Taking of Pelham 123)
Richard Curtis (The Boat That Rocked)
Worst Editing: Jeff Freeman (Paul Blart: Mall Cop)
Worst Use of Music: Sabotage – Beastie Boys (Star Trek)
Worst Cinematography: Russell Carpenter (The Ugly Truth)
David Higgs (Lesbian Vampire Killers)
Ken Seng (Obsessed)
Tim Suhrstedt (All About Steve)
Robert McLachlan (Dragonball Evolution)
Danny Cohen (The Boat That Rocked)
Most Annoying Sound Design: Chang-seop Kim and Suk-won Kim (Thirst)
No offense to either sound designer. They did exactly what was asked of them by director Chan-park Wook. Unfortunately that meant two hours of slurping sounds. After about five minutes it became unbearable. Then came the gristly snapping sounds. ::feels ill remembering it::
Worst Directorial Decision: The Nigerian Gangsters – Neill Blomkamp (District 9)
Blomkamp and co-screenwriter Terri Tatchell hobbled their movie with the controversial decision to depict the Nigerian gangs ruling the District 9 slum as cannibalistic criminals. The Nigerian government took steps to ban the movie in their country, and debate over the potentially racist overtones of this depiction detracted from Blomkamp and Tatchell’s message about the venality of all humans no matter what their race. Certainly the cannibalism of Nigerian gangs is meant to be equated with the white South African’s fondness for vivisection, and Wikus’ treatment by both his white compatriots and the dreadful gang leader Obesandjo is similar, but did Blomkamp have to make them specifically Nigerian? Wouldn’t he have managed to make the same point if he had just had a generic gang in District 9? Or is that just a mealy-mouthed way for me to feel a bit better about this depiction, by making it diffuse instead of specific?
When I left the cinema my overall positive experience of the movie was tempered by this one directorial decision. Though Blomkamp has been bluff about it (to this blogger’s disgust), his choice — whether wrong in my eyes or right in his — has lingered in my mind ever since. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with it. Maybe that was the point, to shock this liberal out of his complacency instead of just giving me an easy, toothless fix of self-congratulatory righteous anger against the evils of racism, as the utterly empty Blind Side did. Nevertheless, it left a bad taste in my mouth. He got so much else right, but I can’t help but fear he went too far on this one point.
Runner-Up: Endless Starfuckery, Nepotism, and Navel-Gazing – Judd Apatow (Funny People)
There’s a really good 105-minute-long movie hidden inside Funny People. A really good movie that manages to capture the exact James-L.-Brooksian aura that Judd Apatow was trying for. Sadly it’s buried under endless, pointless cameos, home videos, and poorly edited introspection. Some critics complained that the movie changes tone and direction too drastically once Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen turn up on Leslie Mann’s doorstep, and Apatow should therefore cut a lot out of those scenes, but to be honest there is more interesting and funny material in the final hour than there is in the previous six months or however long that shit is. If Apatow had tightened the first part of the movie up, he could still have retained the observations about the uncertain and insecure life of the comedian and still have that entertaining plot about chasing your past. It was a movie we liked a lot, but damn if it wasn’t a frustrating experience.
Most Sexist Poster:
Best Response To Said Sexist Poster: From The Frisky…
Strangest And Worst Poster Change: First poster for Moon…
…and the second, uglier poster for Moon
Best Promotional Campaign: District 9
Now lauded as the movie launched by Twitter, it was a perfectly judged idea to screen the entire movie to fans and journalists at the San Diego Comic-Con. Journalists were forced to observe an embargo on full reviews, but the word spread via Twitter and Facebook, and it wasn’t long before the film rolled into theatres on a tidal wave of viewer-generated hype and enthusiasm. Paramount did a similar thing by showing Star Trek at the Alamo Drafthouse to an audience primed for a screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but that was a film that owed much of its success to a typical PR blitz on top of a bunch of very enthusiastic reviews. Sony Pictures used a smaller promotional budget with greater skill, building word of mouth through that first screening, creating funny teaser posters (a necessity considering how the movie had no name recognition and no well-known stars), and airing thrilling and mysterious TV spots. District 9 is a good enough movie to deserve its high box-office take, but it was the beautifully judged PR campaign that really pushed it over the edge.
Worst Promotional Campaign: Inglourious Basterds
Hey look everyone! Quentin Tarantino has made another of his mad pastiches of genre cinema from the past! There’s a comedy Hitler and Brad Pitt’s all silly and there’s gonna be a ton of violence of action all the way through! It’ll do for WWII movies what Kill Bill Vol. 1 did for martial arts movies! Yeeeeeeeee-hah! Except not. Tarantino’s maturity has been hidden behind some entertainingly silly post-modern pyrotechnics for a while now, but his intellectualism has been bubbling up to the surface. The most dramatic example of this is the difference between the Grindhouse and non-Grindhouse cuts of Death Proof. While the former moves faster and works well enough as an exploitation piece with a nifty sting in the tale, the longer version features much subtext about both groups of women targeted by Stuntman Mike and their relationship to him. It’s a slower movie but a much richer one.
Inglourious Basterds is richer still, and looks and feels nothing like the action-packed diversion the trailers and posters make it seem. The PR campaign also plays up the Basterds as the main characters when in fact they’re mostly secondary to the main plots involving Landa, Dreyfus, Hicox, and Zoller. Though enough people liked it enough to make it a reasonably sized hit, who knows whether it might have made even more money if it had pre-empted the oft-heard complaint that Brad Pitt wasn’t in it enough. Or maybe it worked perfectly in getting bums on seats? What do I know? I’m just a shlub with a blog.
Okay. If there is any more list-making to be done, it’ll be haphazard, even more trivial, and will arrive whenever I can get around to it. I’d forget about it but the world must know what I considered to be the best insult of the year.