Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The 4th Annual Jarmo Awards

Thankfully earlier than last year's edition, it's time for the 4th Annual Jarmo Awards. For those who haven't seen these before, the Jarmos are The Entertainment Junkie's annual film awards, sort of like the Oscars, only chosen by me and there aren't any statuettes (and if there were, no one comes to claim them). You can find previous winners here. And for what it's worth, for the first time, there are no ties amongst the winners (just one amongst the runners-up)! Sometimes I share the love; leave me alone.

As always, there is no Best Picture prize; check out my top 10 list to find the year's best movies. Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts/picks in the comments.

The awards begin after the jump.


Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
(runners-up: (tie) Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color)

There was no shortage of great performances this year, especially when it came to leading ladies: my personal shortlist contained 15 different actresses, and that was after narrowing it down from the "contenders" list. However, none stood out more than Julie Delpy's phenomenal work in Before Midnight. She builds on two previous movies' work as Celine, and digs deep to find new depths in her character. This Celine is a little bored, pushed a little too hard by the balance of family, career, and romance, and craving just a little bit of a break. She pushes back against Jesse, and their lengthy discussions reveal her more jaded worldview. And then, of course, there's the fight, where Delpy plays a range of emotions that always come organically within the flow of the argument. It's a truly remarkable performance, and stands tall as one of the year's best.


Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
(runner-up: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave)

In comparison to Delpy's work, as well as the crowded competition of leading-man performances this year, it can be easy to overlook just how special Ethan Hawke's performance in Before Midnight is. His Jesse is a laid-back, freewheeling author, and he wears that shaggy "I'm an artiste" air like a badge of honor. However, Hawke isn't coasting. There's a subtlety to the way he approaches his character's troubles and desires, and understands how Jesse would fight with Celine: he shakes off blame and launches into his own venomous accusations, while deflecting Celine's barbs. His performance is, at times, very emotionally quiet; sometimes it doesn't even seem like he's acting. And that's what's so incredible about his work here: you can't see the seams. It's a masterclass in making-it-look-easy subtlety (to be fair, the same can be said of runner-up Ejiofor).


Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
(runner-up: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave)

When I saw Blue Jasmine at the Carolina Cinemas in Asheville, my first reaction was the same as everyone else's: "wow, Cate Blanchett was incredible." That still holds true, and she's likely on her way to a Best Actress Oscar for it. However, the more I think about the film, the performance that stands out more is Sally Hawkins' role as Jasmine's put-upon sister Ginger. At first glance, she's a working-class woman with a history of questionable boyfriends and meager jobs, a modern-day Stella Kowalski. But there's a unique beauty to what Hawkins does with her character, as she quietly shows us Ginger's soul and desire not to be rich, but merely accepted by Jasmine, her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and her friends. It's not as flashy as Blanchett's work, but whenever I think about the film, it's Hawkins' performance that I keep coming back to.


Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
(runner-up: James Franco, Spring Breakers)

There were very few performances, by any categorization, this year that were as electrifying as Barkhad Abdi's portrayal of Somali pirate Abduwali Muse in Captain Phillips. As I've noted over and over again, Abdi is a first-time actor, landing the role from an open casting call in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yet he commands the screen from his first appearance: standing on the beach, as the call for an expedition to raid a ship is answered by his fellow visitors, you can see the contradictory feelings of eagerness and dread flashing across his face. In his scenes with Tom Hanks, he holds his own against the acting legend, very nearly stealing scenes from him. Apart from the rightfully-famous "I'm the captain now" moment (I still get goosebumps), his brief discussion with Hank's Phillips in the lifeboat is a quietly humane moment, in which Muse shows the scared person underneath his act. Muse may not have been completely confident in his mission, but there's no question that Abdi has confidence - and talent - in bounds. Here's hoping that he has an exciting career ahead of him.


Melissa Leo, Prisoners
(runner-up: Pierce Brosnan, The World's End)

I would hate to write too much about Leo's exquisite performance, since she's so integral to the plot of Prisoners. But wow, what a performance.


12 Years a Slave
(runner-up: The World's End)

More often than not, star-studded ensembles prove to be more distracting than effective, with the appearance of famous faces shattering the illusion of the characters they're playing. And in all honesty, 12 Years a Slave isn't immune to this, with Brad Pitt in particular being a distracting presence in his handful of scenes. However, the film gets this award because so much of the cast is firing on all-cylinders, turning in uniformly terrific performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor is remarkable, internalizing so much of what Solomon goes through and struggling to maintain himself. Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, meanwhile, bring previously-unglimpsed ferocity to their roles as the Epps, sadistic plantation owners who use their slaves as pawns in their twisted marriage. Lupita Nyong'o is heartbreaking as the target of Mr. Epps unwanted advances and Mrs. Epps wrath, while Adepero Oduye is devastating as a woman separated from her children. With brief appearances by Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, and Michael K. Williams as well, the film is loaded with great performances, working in tandem to make this film all the more breathtaking.


Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
(runner-up: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips)

At first, I was going to go with Abdi in this spot; it wouldn't be the first time I honored the same actor in different categories here at the Jarmos. But I wanted to use this spot to highlight one of 2013's more under-sung performances: Michael B. Jordan's work as the doomed Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. Yes, Jordan has been around for a while now, most notably on the small screen on The Wire and - my first exposure to him - as Vince Howard in the later seasons of Friday Night Lights. But with his first starring role in a feature film, Jordan seized the opportunity to show off his considerable talents. The film's somewhat-sanitized script is elevated through Jordan's performance, as he finds all sorts of complex notes to play and even takes some the film's tackier portions (the dog at the gas station) and sells the emotional points of them. It's rightfully put him on the radar of casting directors everywhere, and will hopefully lead to bigger and brighter things for him.


J.C. Chandor, All is Lost
(runner-up: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave)

All is Lost is, in many ways, a director's film. There's little in the ways of plot or characterization, so there aren't any writerly flourishes, and Robert Redford's terrific performance mostly requires him to react to the complications thrown his way, essentially as himself. So the film's power comes from the way that J.C. Chandor assembles the various elements of the film to create the impressionistic, water-logged parable that he created. And Chandor proves his impressive range here, especially when you consider that his previous film was the talky Wall Street drama Margin Call. All is Lost is perhaps the greater achievement, though, as he commands all the elements to create an intoxicating cinematic experience. I, for one, can't wait to see what this adventurous filmmaker does next. 


Blue is the Warmest Color; screenplay by Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix
(runner-up: 12 Years a Slave; screenplay by John Ridley)

As sprawling as Blue is the Warmest Color is, clocking in at three hours and covering several years in the life of its characters, the screenplay - adapted from the graphic novel "La Vie d'Adele - Chapitres 1 & 2" by Julie Maroh - is remarkably focused. The film is a classic coming-of-age tale, but rarely has such a film been as emotionally tender and honest as this one. Wisely, Kechiche and Lacroix keep the focus on Adele's journey, capturing the confusion one feels when entering adulthood and learning about one's self, as well as the stability a long-term relationship can provide during this period. What's even more remarkable is that Adele's girlfriend, Emma, lives and breathes as her own person, not just through the eyes of Adele. It's a very smartly constructed film that mines a lot of truth about growing up and relationships, and stands not only as the strongest adapted screenplay of the year, but the strongest screenplay, period.


Prisoners; written by Aaron Guzikowski
(runner-up: Before Midnight; written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke)

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for a well-constructed mystery; I'm still impressed by the execution of Memento, for example, even though I've seen it millions of times (that's a rough estimate). So I had a feeling, going into Prisoners, that it would be right up my alley. Though much of the film's effectiveness lies in the performances and impressive cinematography, the screenplay is the foundation upon which it is built. It could have been a standard kidnapping drama, but Guzikowski takes the story and uses it to explore how grief and fear can eat away at a person's sanity, driving people to make irrational and regrettable choices. It's a cracker-jack potboiler, terrifically written and flawlessly executed.


The Conjuring
(runner-up: World War Z)

There wasn't really much to hope for here: a ghost story with a run-of-the-mill title from the director of Saw. However, the resulting film was unexpectedly great and genuinely frightening. The Conjuring is an old-fashioned ghost story, but rather than the popular jump-scares of modern horror, director James Wan takes his sweet time, allowing us to explore the space of the house and understand the characters before unleashing a hellish spirit upon them. The more the tension builds, the more clear it becomes that the horrors are rooted in the characters, and when something frightening does happen, it's much more effective than it has any right to be. Though the third act is a bit of a letdown from every that happened before, there's still no denying that The Conjuring was a superior horror film, and an unexpected surprise during the CGI-smashing of the summer.


Man of Steel
(runner-up: Only God Forgives)

I'll admit that my expectations weren't exactly high for Man of Steel. Sure, I like Christopher Nolan, but he was only on-deck as a producer. I've enjoyed Zack Snyder's previous efforts, but not to the point that I greatly anticipate his every film. And believe it or not, I really like 2006's Superman Returns, and I didn't think we really needed another reboot of Superman, certainly not a "darker" one. I could have been on board with this new origin story, though. I could have handled a flashback-heavy structure that explains why the new Clark Kent is so troubled. I could have accepted the mindless destruction of the third act, causing far more casualties that it prevented. Hell, I could have even made due with that controversial ending. But I didn't, because through it all Man of Steel was just so lifeless and dull, as if nobody involved had any interest in what they were doing except that this was going to make tons of money. Well, nobody except Michael Shannon, who's performance as General Zod was the film's only saving grace. Superman, and we in the audience, deserved better than this over-CGIed flotsam.

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