9 March 2010

The Mad Prophets 2009

It's come to my attention that there were some awards being given out to certain films this weekend. I noticed that, yeah. Seeing as how I gave negligible coverage to the Oscars last year, I decided the beginning of February this year should lend the blog a little more prestige. I couldn't afford a tux, so I donned a jaunty bow-tie and decided to create the inaugural Mad Prophet film awards. This isn't a compilation of my favourite films of 2009, but a more subjective recognition of what I thought were the best in each field last year.

So here's my little awards thing for the period starting March 1st 2009 and ending on February 28th 2010, which is about the same period the Oscars are supposed to cover. Supposed being the operative word, if today's nominations are anything to go by. Also going by UK release dates, a-like so...

BEST DIRECTOR

Kathryn Bigelow- The Hurt Locker
Neill Blomkamp- District 9
Terry Gilliam- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Duncan Jones- Moon
Quentin Tarantino- Inglourious Basterds

If this had been going for February 2008 to February 2009, Danny Boyle would have been the winner by far and away for Slumdog Millionaire, and that should tell you something of my appreciation for directors that have overcome incredible working conditions to deliver an excellent final product. That's naturally why Bigelow, who filmed in a war zone, and Gilliam, who lost his lead actor during filming and still made a cohesive final cut, made the list without a second thought.

Tarantino is naturally on there because as much as he pays homage to the things he loves in his films, they still feel fresh and Basterds is infinitely rewatchable. Blomkamp and Jones are both recognised for bringing back intelligent and enjoyable sci-fi in precisely the way James Cameron didn't last year. However, the win has to go to Kathryn Bigelow, and that's one of the things the Oscars got absolutely right. There just wasn't a film that does what it does better than The Hurt Locker last year, and it's probably one of the best action thrillers ever.

WINNER- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tom Felton- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Christian McKay- Me And Orson Welles
Alfred Molina- An Education
Stanley Tucci- The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz- Inglourious Basterds

In contrast to the female counterpart, Supporting Actor is always a category that's bursting at the seams, because it constitutes a great deal of more subtle performances as well as most villains, and everyone loves a good villain. Tom Felton gets special mention for really giving a remarkable performance as the troubled and weary Draco Malfoy after five films making not much of an impression, to be frank. Elsewhere, Christoph Waltz won the Oscar and many more accolades for his unforgettable performance as Hans "the Jew Hunter" Landa. He's like a Nazi Batman in that film- the world's greatest detective and creepy as all hell to boot.

Off-centre for reasons of Zac Efron, Christian McKay's turn in Me and Orson Welles qualifies here too. His villainy is less obvious as he's more of a rival to the protagonist, but he completely embodies Welles, with all his charisma and talent. On the other hand, Alfred Molina is compelling and wonderful in An Education, but he's hardly the violent type- instead, his performance is excellent for the sense of impotence he brings to his patriarchal character. Unforgettable as Waltz and McKay are, I have to hand it to Stanley Tucci, who's tremendously brave in taking on the role of Mr. Harvey, consummately discomforting the audience with his repressed deviance throughout The Lovely Bones.

WINNER- Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Anne-Marie Duff- Is Anybody There?
Anna Kendrick- Up in the Air
Lorna Raver- Drag Me to Hell
Ok-bin Kim- Thirst
Sigourney Weaver- Avatar

Actresses are often heard to complain that there just aren't enough good female roles out there, and whenever you come to tot up the best female performances of the year, it's never hard to argue with that claim. Nevertheless, it certainly hasn't been a terrible year for supporting actresses. Kendrick made her mark as someone to watch in the future with Up in the Air, while Weaver was one of the best things about Avatar, although I'll be mentioning the film in another acting category too.

Both Kim and Raver gave terrific horror performances- horror isn't a genre I've ever been enormously bothered about, and yet both made for brilliant villains in their respective films. The winner has to be Anne-Marie Duff though, in an understated role struggling to keep her business afloat. You really feel for her not just because her melancholy about the family business and about her husband's mid-life crisis, but because she genuinely sells the character to you with her performance.

WINNER- Anne-Marie Duff, Is Anybody There?

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

District 9

An Education
In The Loop
The Lovely Bones
Watchmen

Both The Lovely Bones and Watchmen were screenplays that came across remarkably well from source material that should by all accounts have been unadaptable- a sprawling murder mystery about a child's perspective on the afterlife and an incredibly complex graphic novel respectively. An Education was urbane and witty while District 9 proved a rollicking graduation to the big screen for Neill Blomkamp's original short film. The award would have to go to In The Loop though- it's gloriously profane and laugh-out-loud funny, and a fine companion to the original series, The Thick of It. And if there were any justice, it would've won the Oscar too, cos Precious was way overrated.

WINNER- In The Loop

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up

The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds both took a side-on approach the war genre. Of the two, Inglourious Basterds is probably the more memorable, for Tarantino's trademark dialogue and for its sheer audacity, but hey, the Academy disagreed and went for The Hurt Locker. This was a very strong category for the last year though. All five of these scripts were excellent, from the pure originality of Up's premise to the incredibly well constructed tragi-comedy of A Serious Man. But, the winner has to be (500) Days of Summer- it's the most original romantic comedy in years, by equal turns endearing and insightful, and I think this should have followed Little Miss Sunshine and Juno for some recognition of well-written and original screenplays. Something is rotten in the state of Hollywood.

WINNER- (500) Days of Summer

BEST ACTRESS

Zooey Deschanel- (500) Days of Summer
Lina Leandersson- Let The Right One In
Carey Mulligan- An Education
Saoirse Ronan- The Lovely Bones
Zoe Saldana- Avatar

Now, hear me out. Andy Serkis was unofficially the Best Supporting Actor in 2002 and 2003 for playing Gollum, a performance that wasn't recognised just because it was computer-generated. Similarly, Zoe Saldana gave a terrific performance as Neytiri, however immersed in pixels she may have been. She's really a more worthy candidate than Meryl Streep, who's seemingly reclined into making films for the same target audience as Loose Women nowadays. That's fine, but stop nominating her for awards anyway! Especially as elsewhere, Lina Leandersson and Saoirse Ronan both performed well-rounded young characters in extraordinary and other-worldly scenarios.

Similarly, Zooey Deschanel put a new turn on that usual starry-eyed persona for (500) Days of Summer, possibly to do with the fact that the excellent screenplay gave her some new material. On the other hand, the very same screenplay didn't really expand upon her character so much as Joseph Gordon Levitt's. Carey Mulligan began as a favourite for this award at the Oscars, but eventually lost out to Sandra Bullock, who won a Golden Raspberry for All About Steve the night before. Swings and roundabouts, but Mulligan lost out. So she gets this one, for what it's worth- in recognition of a performance that rings true and utterly compels throughout. And for not blinking.

WINNER- Carey Mulligan, An Education

BEST ACTOR

Michael Caine- Is Anybody There?
Sharlto Copley- District 9
Jeremy Renner- The Hurt Locker
Sam Rockwell- Moon
Michael Stuhlbarg- A Serious Man

Really, properly, this was the hardest one to nail down. Usually it's the Supporting Actor category, but once I figured the best five performances of the year, it was really difficult to decide on one. Every one of these performances was not only believable but really outstanding. At the Oscars, it was bound to be Jeff Bridges, because he's a tremendous actor who was long overdue a nod. The Dude abides, but there should've been more love for Copley's largely improvised turn in District 9, Renner being dangerous and damaged in The Hurt Locker and Stuhlbarg being utterly helpless to avert various impending catastrophes in A Serious Man.

My favourite performance of the year was Michael Caine's in Is Anybody There? and as much as I love that role, and how much you empathise with Clarence as soon as he wanders on-screen, this is based on the best, not my favourite. This is worsened because so few people will recognise this film, being a low-budget, limited release film. The more criminal oversight of the Oscars though was ignoring Sam Rockwell in Moon. I'm maintaining the self-imposed spoiler embargo on that film, but if you haven't seen it yet, go and watch it now. It's a career-best for Rockwell- the role where he finally got to show off all he could do after years in supporting turns.

WINNER- Sam Rockwell, Moon

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Coraline

The Princess and the Frog
Up


I've always taken issue with the Academy separating off films into this category, and this year especially, because there just haven't been enough really good animated films for me to mention. Segregating animated films like this is especially ridiculous when you consider that Shit Chipmunk Film 2 qualified in the longlist as an animated film because of animated rodents, whereas Avatar with its CG landscapes and characters for more than 50% of the running time, is live-action. Presumably because it made more money, but it's an incredibly snooty distinction, especially when you consider that Up is approximately a million times better than Avatar.

So yeah, Up wins it in this category and every other similar category, but the only other reason I included this segregation was to praise the other three. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was the biggest surprise of last year for me, combining a genuinely funny script with some talented and worthy voice actors to make a really entertaining family film. Any other year, I think The Princess and the Frog would've won, because it's so vibrant and memorable. And Coraline also stood out from the sequels and the rest of the 3D gubbins to provide an enjoyably creepy film with real visual flair. But Up is pretty damn close to perfection, so...

WINNER- Up

BEST FILM

An Education
The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds
The Lovely Bones
Moon

Best, not favourites. And yeah, I know I'm allowed ten, technically, but look at the good that idea's done in its inaugural year.

While I think The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds did have one or two problems, they're both very technically good, and Basterds has the distinction of being really entertaining to boot. Again, The Hurt Locker won overall, and in those nominations, it was probably second only to Up, which, as mentioned, was segregated somewhat. An Education was picking up the slack from 2009's surfeit of unrealistic and vacuous teen romances on film by subverting all audience expectations when we hear "a minor and an older man" and boasting some of the best performances of the year. And The Lovely Bones is a beautiful film that could and should have gotten more recognition, but I feel was killed by its poor critical response. Bloody critics.

And it's with some awkwardness that I avoid justifying my choice of Moon as the first Mad Prophet winner for Best Film, on account of that spoiler embargo. Go and watch it! You'll enjoy a consummate and personal film that re-establishes sci-fi cinema as a serious dramatic device and gets a tremendous and personal performance from Sam Rockwell. This was the most criminal oversight by the Academy this year.

WINNER- Moon

Join us next year for the 2nd Annual Mad Prophet Awards, to see Robert Pattinson NOT win Best Actor and to enjoy Michael Bay's head getting tap-danced on by Neil Patrick Harris for the opening number.

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