I meant to do these up yesterday, but then… life what happens to you while you’re busy something something, as the fella said. At any rate, following upon my nominations last month for the best movie things of the year – the U.S. release year, anyway – here are my winners in all categories. Congrats to all, and some day when I’m actually important you’ll all retroactively be given a small statue of an angry golden man.
Winner: The Illusionist
1st Runner-Up: Fish Tank
Toy Story 3
Not, I’m afraid, very much of a surprise to anybody who noted the relative rankings of my 2010 Top 10; but it’s fun to jump in anyway with one last hurrah for the film that best combined visual beauty and piercing emotional poignancy in one funny, desperately sad bundle.
Winner: Andrea Arnold, Fish Tank
1st Runner-Up: Jacques Audiard, Un prophète
Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist
Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine
Claire Denis, White Material
Notwithstanding some questionable use of symbolic imagery, Arnold’s sophomore effort is a masterwork of precisely controlled frames and performances, all of it saying “social realism” even as the film slowly reveals itself as something far more nuanced and subtle and poetic, a fever dream in which naturalism and impressionism slowly converge into one awe-inspiring whole.
It’s a little cheap, I guess: but when an actor can dig that deep into a character and find, on the one hand, the silly joy of falling in love, and on the other hand, so much raw, confused pain that it’s too damn overwhelming even to cry at it, I mean, well, heck. Nothing shattered me in 2010 as much as the pas de deux between two broken people at the heart of Blue Valentine, and it takes a fearless performer willing to go places most actors wouldn’t dare imagine to make that kind of thing possible.
Winner: Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
1st Runner-Up: Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank
Patricia Clarkson, Cairo Time
Isabelle Huppert, White Material
Kim Hye-Ja, Mother
Same as above, basically, though I think it’s at least plausible that Williams had the harder character to perform. While Gosling’s role is all about letting everything out with all due sloppiness and crudity, Williams is playing opacity and the deliberate refusal to let anything slip out. Which makes it even more chilling when the actress allows the character’s guard to drop in bits and pieces, revealing utter misery beneath.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Winner: Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank
1st Runner-Up: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Niels Arestrup, Un prophète
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom
Fassbender has seemed perpetually just on the cusp of exploding as a major international star (if it doesn’t happen with his turn in X-Men: First Class this year, I’m going to give up waiting), and when the histories of what are sure to be a legendary career are written, his absolutely perfect supporting turn here shall loom large. Playing a charismatic, selfish, sexually magnetic asshole neither as villain nor as tortured anti-hero, but just as a man who doesn’t seem to care if his actions affect any other human being, Fassbender’s performance is complex and yet direct, impossible to pin down as he is impossible to turn away from.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Winner: Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer
1st Runner-Up: Jackie Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Elena Morozova, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Donna Murphy, Tangled
Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy
The Long-Suffering Wife is a stock character about which little more can be said; but Williams finds new things to say anyway, and that’s before the script presents a mutation of the character that would be unbelievable and film-destroying in its arbitrary twistiness, if the actress hadn’t been so careful, with such elegant subtlety, to lay all the groundwork for that twist in every moment that she’s onscreen. I surprise even myself by declaring this the greatest performance of 2010, proof that genre is no impediment to creating a deep and fascinating character, and that one single actor can do so much to lift an exquisite piece of cinematic craftsmanship to the level of brilliance.
Winner: The Kids Are All Right
1st Runner-Up: For Colored Girls
I Am Love
Toy Story 3
Five performers of wildly different backgrounds, and even different styles – Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo hardly seem to be in the same movie, which is part of the point – but they all coalesce into a wonderful whole. In a film that is at heart nothing but an exploration of how people in families relate to each other, Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, and Josh Hutcherson get that dynamic exactly right, to the smallest detail; on the outside, Ruffalo’s quiet, shambling performance is a masterclass in little heartbreaks and satisfactions. Every performer is just as generous to his or her costars as is exactly right, and they always click not as actors sharing a set but as people sharing a life.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Winner: Fish Tank, by Andrea Arnold
1st Runner-Up: Blue Valentine, by Derek Cianfrance & Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis
Another Year, by Mike Leigh
Everyone Else, by Maren Ade
Toy Story 3, by Michael Arndt
Blending close observation and something akin to magical realism, except grittier and more British, Arnold’s achievement as a writer is too easily overshadowed by her achievement as a director; but the framework of a confused young woman trying to find herself is already cutting and honest without a single frame of film or performance brought into it. It’s a screenplay that intensely understands the pain of being too old to be a child and too uncertain to be an adult, and forced out into the wide world to declare yourself anyway: the most pointed depiction of adolescence onscreen in many a day.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Winner: The Social Network, by Aaron Sorkin
1st Runner-Up: Un prophète, by Thomas Bidegain & Jacques Audiard
The Ghost Writer, by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski
How to Train Your Dragon, by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois
The Illusionist, by Sylvain Chomet
A character study like we don’t get anymore, using innuendo, sarcastic contrasts, prickly defense mechanisms and at the last, naked, confused humanity to build a vision – though not the vision – of a young man unable to function learning that it’s easier to change his world than change himself. It’s a great American tragicomedy buoyed by the most quotable dialogue of the year, and while I still have some structural quibbles here and there, it’s the nuance and totality of Sorkin’s depiction of Mark Zuckerberg that sticks in the mind. Also: “I’m 6’5, 220, and there’s two of me”.
BEST FOREIGN FEATURE
1st Runner-Up: Dogtooth
Bong Joon-Ho’s murder mystery-cum-domestic drama is at times overreaching, at times too absurd for its own good, and always totally engaging: a dark comedy cartoon thriller with a beating heart that can never be denied. Deep down, this is a profoundly universal story of a parent’s love for a child, and it’s that, not the twist edges, that define the experience of watching it.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Winner: The Illusionist
1st Runner-Up: Toy Story 3
How to Train Your Dragon
My Dog Tulip
The two films that made me cry the most all year, both here next to one another. But the edge has to go to Sylvain Chomet’s deeply felt treatise on aging and progress, presented in a sketchy style that evokes the jazzy style of Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians under a layer of painterly nostalgia. It’s both a natural extension of the director’s masterpiece The Triplets of Belleville, and a successful attempt to redirect that style into something quieter.
Winner: Last Train Home
1st Runner-Up: Sweetgrass
My Neighbor, My Killer
The year’s best feature-length project is a story of human beings and the world they live in, a critique of globalism that doesn’t focus on one family in order to make its polemic points, but because that one family is profoundly interesting – and so, the film implies is every other family in this massive pool of human beings that is the Chinese workforce. Astonishingly well-crafted and unnervingly intimate, it taught me more about family, life, love, hate, people, and the economy than any number of lesser films combined.
Winner: True Grit (Roger Deakins)
1st Runner-Up: Sweetgrass (Lucien Castaing-Taylor)
Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)
Buried (Eduard Grau)
Un prophète (Stéphane Fontaine)
As long as Deakins keeps shooting movies for the Coens, I expect to keep adoring everything he does (and if True Grit is, as the rumor holds it, truly his last work on celluloid film, it’s all the more important to praise the man’s name and work to the heavens). I am a hopeless romantic: when that much talent and ambition are yoked to that kind of soft, storybook aesthetic, I’m not even going to try to resist. The American West hasn’t looked this robust and mythic since… since Deakins’s last Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, now that I think of it, but you get my point.
Winner: Un prophète (Juliette Welfling)
1st Runner-Up: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss)
Fish Tank (Nicolas Chaudeurge)
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan and Mary Stephen)
The Social Network (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall)
Un prophete is a propulsive film, and most of that propulsion comes not from its tremendous direction, nor its urgent screenplay, nor a miraculous lead performance – though all of those things are wonderful, for a certainty – but from Welfling’s assemblage of those things into an arrhythmic collection of adrenaline moments: the contrast between long and short takes has not been used to such overwhelming effect in a long time, while each individual moment jangles with a deliberate jerkiness that pulls us into the heightened world of the protagonist.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Winner: The Ghost Writer (Albrecht Konrad)
1st Runner-Up: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Marie-Hélène Sulmoni)
Agora (Guy Dyas)
I Am Love (Francesca Balestra Di Mottola)
Please Give (Mark White)
From the moment I learned that the gorgeous, sterile house in which most of The Ghost Writer takes place was top-to-bottom designed and built just for the movie, I knew there was no chance of anything else taking my pick for this award. It’s hard to fathom the movie working half so well if it took place against any other backdrop besides the stylish aquarium where disgraced politician Adam Lang spends his retirement, all square edges and glass, a beautiful, lifeless cage.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Winner: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Chattoune & Fab)
1st Runner-Up: I Am Love (Antonella Cannarozzi)
Burlesque (Michael Kaplan)
Inception (Jeffrey Kurland)
Made in Dagenham (Louise Stjernsward)
Any movie in which Coco Chanel is a character is raising the bar for itself, costume-wise; but Chattoune and Fab (I don’t know what those words refer to and I don’t want to find out) double down but not just paying appropriate service to the most important clothing designer of the 20th Century, but by further dressing the rest of the cast in period-specific, emotionally suggestive dress that demonstrates at once both the casual glamor and the frantic weariness of Europe in the ’20s.
Winner: Survival of the Dead
There are two sorts of people: the kind who are able to resist the siren song of top-notch zombie effects, and the kind who are morally and intellectually superior. That is to say: it’s a completely private choice, but these are my completely personal awards, after all.
Winner: TRON: Legacy (Daft Punk)
1st Runner-Up: The Social Network (Trent Reznor & Atticus Rose)
The Ghost Writer (Alexandre Desplat)
Ondine (Kjartan Sveinsson)
White Material (Tindersticks)
TRON: Legacy is a pretty bad movie, but it’s also a pretty phenomenal music video to Daft Punk’s uncharacteristic, profoundly ambitious and transporting electronic symphony. There was no better marriage of music and image all year, and no music that on its on is so haunting and otherworldly as this attempt to score the inner life of CGI.
BEST SOUND MIXING
1st Runner-Up: True Grit
The Social Network
Documentaries capture strict reality, supposedly, but there’s nothing realistic about the heavily subjective mixture of the sounds of men and ship and the Montana wilderness that makes up the soundtrack to Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s depiction of the dying gasp of the American sheep herder. And at the same time, that soundtrack creates such a particular mood, one that so brilliantly comments on the visuals, that it’s hard not to suppose that we’re being let in on a deeper, more profound truth than strict reality would allow.
BEST SOUND EDITING
Winner: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
1st Runner-Up: TRON: Legacy
How to Train Your Dragon
I imagine that everyone born after, oh, maybe 1978 or ’79 has an intuitive understanding of what the inside of a video game must sound like. Only the team of geniuses behind Scott Pilgrim‘s innovative soundscape have had the chance to actually create such a world for the rest of us to experience, enjoying all the crazy edges of a film that keeps one-upping itself with one bold new sonic gesture after another, all of it skirting the grotesque but always landing firmly on the side of playfulness and imagination.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Winner: TRON: Legacy
1st Runner-Up: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Throwing out a whole movie’s worth of effects because the attempt to de-age Jeff Bridges looked, admittedly, horrible is just plain short-sighted. Everything else about the almost completely artificial world inside TRON: Legacy is dramatic, complex, beautiful, and completely convincing, and it gains rather than loses believable detail in the unforgiving scope of IMAX. In a film where the effects are the whole point, and not the story they’re telling, the successful execution of those effects is all, and TRON: Legacy, despite a hiccup here and there, uses every last penny of its huge budget to staggering, grand results.