Sunday, February 21, 2016

The 6th Annual Jarmo Awards

After a bit more of a recess than I expected, it's finally time for the 6th Annual Jarmo Awards! The Jarmos are my personal film awards, selected solely by me, based only on what I had seen from the eligibility year (2015) before I made these decisions. I picked out my winners shortly before the Oscar nominations were announced, and with the ceremony only a week away, now's the perfect time to present them!

Winners, as always, you are free to pick up your awards whenever it is convenient for you. There's bound to be a trophy place somewhere in Boston, so I'll be sure to have something ready for you.

And the winners are...

BEST ACTRESS


Ronit Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Runner-up: (tie) Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Finalists: Emily Blunt, Sicario; Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash; Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road

Elkabetz is already regarded as one of Israel's finest actors, having won numerous awards in her home country and making a lasting impression on the international scene in films such as Late Marriage (2001) and The Band's Visit (2007). Her performance in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem should win her even more acclaim. As Viviane, Elkabetz runs the gamut of emotions over the course of her divorce trial, but also subtly evolves the character from conservatively-dressed and oppressed toward liberation and agency. That she does so mostly with glances and half-spoken statements only makes her performance all the more accomplished. Her work is a towering achievement that demands to be seen.

BEST ACTOR


(tie) Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, The End of the Tour

Runner-up: Shameik Moore, Dope
Finalists: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation; Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road; Mattias Schoenarts, Far from the Madding Crowd

It's impossible to truly separate Eisenberg's and Segel's performances without disrupting what makes them both work so well. As journalist David Lipsky, Eisenberg's drive and curiosity - as well as his willingness to push and misread cues - come across as arrogant and off-putting. Similarly, as author David Foster Wallace, Segel's fluctuations between aw-shucks genteel and prickly withdrawal make him difficult, if still captivating (Segel's never been better). But together, the actors push and pull at each other, making those aforementioned tendencies establish the dynamics of their relationship without unbalancing them. This is a masterful duet that reflects the intelligence and insecurities of both men, and the film needs both of their voices in harmony to work as well as it does. And what magnificent music Eisenberg and Segel make together.

The rest of the winners of cinema's most prestigious awards (that are presented by The Entertainment Junkie) after the jump.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Runner-up: Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Finalists: Rose Byrne, Spy; Phyllis Smith, Inside Out; Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

First, credit where credit is due: despite becoming a household name for her catatonic work in the Twilight films, Stewart is a gifted actor, as evidenced by her strong work in smaller films such as Adventureland (2009), Camp X-Ray (2014), and Still Alice (2014). Yet even I never really thought I would consider her work the best performance of the year, which is exactly what her performance as Valentine is in Clouds of Sils Maria. As actress Maria Enders' (Juliette Binoche) personal assistant, Stewart insinuates remarkable desire: to be respected, to be heard, to be helpful, to be loved (or at least lusted). But what sets Stewart's performance apart is how she calibrates these desires internally and externally so that we, the audience, cannot discern which, if any, are real or just performed. Valentine frequently exposes her inner self, and yet it remains unknowable. Stewart fully captivates every time she's onscreen, and she makes a more than formidable scene partner for Binoche (no slouch herself in this film). Believe the hype: Stewart proves she's one of her generation's most talented actors.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Runner-up: Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Finalists: Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road; Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina; Liev Schreiber, Spotlight

"Time to meet God." With those four words, spoken in Spanish, Del Toro delivered the most chilling line delivery of the year and capped off one of, if not the, finest performance of his career. As Alejandro, Del Toro is opaque: there's no way of knowing who he is, but it's clear we're not going to find out. He exudes cool menace in every scene, yet there's so much more to his performance than threat: he hints at the unknowable in ways that are indescribable. Long after the credits roll, this performance stays with you.

BEST CAMEO APPEARANCE


Rubi Porat Shoval, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Runner-up: Shih-Ching Tsou, Tangerine
Finalists: John Cena, Trainwreck; Anthony Mackie, Ant-Man; Peter Sarsgaard, Black Mass

In a film about the crushing weight of the Israeli courts on women, Shoval gives the film a scene-stealing jolt of righteous anger and energy. She comes into the film like a wrecking ball and leaves a lasting impression as she expresses everything the film has been building to at this point. This is absolutely what you want from such a quick appearance.

BEST ENSEMBLE


Spotlight

Runner-up: Inside Out
Finalists: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, Ricki and the Flash, Wild Tales

Spotlight could have easily taken this award based on the quality of the individual performances. Michael Keaton delivers what may be his career-best performance (yes, that includes Birdman), Rachel McAdams reminds everyone of her considerable talents, Mark Ruffalo makes good use of his "average guy" persona and righteous passion, Brian d'Arcy James delivers inner turmoil and disbelief, John Slattery plays up his more trustworthy side, and Liev Schriber is remarkable as the soft-spoken new editor of the paper. And that doesn't even mention the great work of the tertiary characters, such as Len Cariou as a potentially corrupt archbishop, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as lawyers involved in the case, Neal Huff as an abuse victim, and Jamey Sheridan as a old friend and potential source. But what made Spotlight the obvious winner here was how these performances added up to the whole: nobody showboats or steals scenes unless called for. Everyone is measured, balanced, and in-sync, working together to keep the dynamics simpatico rather than flying off the rails. It's because of this that the ensemble should really be considered one collective performance. It's a masterwork of acting.

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE


Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

Runner-up: Shameik Moore, Dope
Finalists: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine; Tom Sturridge, Far from the Madding Crowd; Mya Taylor, Tangerine

Vikander was inescapable in 2015: she appeared in six different films over the course of the year, ranging from British period drama Testament of Youth to slick retro action flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to fantasy burn-off Seventh Son to her Oscar-nominated performance in The Danish Girl (and with a high-profile role in this summer's Jason Bourne, she's hardly going away anytime soon). Yet no performance quite made the same impact as her role as AI Ava in Ex Machina. The most significant contribution Vikander supplies is how she plays Ava as a character rather than just a concept, suggesting at an interiority that shouldn't be possible and her experimenters cannot understand. The premise of the film is that Ava must pass a test to prove she can pass as human. Ava - and Vikander as an actor - pass with flying colors.

BEST DIRECTOR


Denis Villeneuve, Sicario

Runner-up: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Finalists: Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen, Inside Out; Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem; James Ponsoldt, The End of the Tour

Villeneuve first came to my attention with 2013's Prisoners, a tense thriller that landed on my top 10 list for that year. If Prisoners was evidence that Villeneuve could work in Hollywood and deliver top-notch films (I haven't seen his work from his native Canada), then Sicario proves what an incredible gift he has. In anyone else's hands, the film could have been a heavy-handed morality play or bloody exercise in rah-rah jingoism. Instead, Villeneuve crafts a gorgeously-shot thriller that's so tense it feels as if it could snap at any moment. In his hands, a traffic jam on a bridge and a night out at the bar become potential battlegrounds where no one is safe. He demonstrates a remarkable control of his craft. He's been attached to the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner; with him at the helm, that film may actually stand a chance of not being terrible.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


The End of the Tour; screenplay by Donald Margulies (based on the book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky)

Runner-up: Cinderella; screenplay by Chris Weitz
Finalists: Ant-Man, story by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, screenplay by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish and Adam McKay and Paul Rudd; Beasts of No Nation, screenplay by Cary Joji Fukunaga; Black Mass, screenplay by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth

Playwright Donald Margulies had written a few television films before The End of the Tour, but never a feature film. It should come as no surprise, however, that he wrote a script that preserved the literary intelligence of author David Foster Wallace and kept the focus on the conversations he had with journalist Daivd Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). It is, in short, written much like a play, and while the film's cinematic qualities come courtesy of director James Ponsoldt, the screenplay is nevertheless a towering achievement. The characters' conversations are spellbinding and profound, and the structure of the film is seamless. How Margulies' work missed out on an Oscar nomination is baffling.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


Inside Out; story by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley
Runner-up: Ex Machina; written by Alex Garland
Finalists: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, written by Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz; Ricki and the Flash, written by Diablo Cody; Spotlight, written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer

Inside Out could win this prize simply for the "original" aspect: taking place inside the mind of a young girl, the film not only visually depicts the emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, but finds brilliant ways of depicting everything from memory to abstract thought to dreams to personality to a literal train of thought (not to mention hilarious gags involving advertising jingles, cats, and interpersonal relationships). Yet the film is so much more than that, intelligently constructed and imbued with profound insights on emotional maturity and why it's sometimes okay to feel sad. There's something in this film that everyone can relate to. Not bad for a film ostensibly aimed at children.

MOST (PLEASANTLY) SURPRISING FILM


Cinderella

Runner-up: Ant-Man
Finalists: Black Mass, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tangerine

Disney's strategy since the beginning of the decade has mostly been remaking their own catalog, either through live-action remakes (Alice in Wonderland), retellings (Maleficent), or remixes (ABC's Once Upon a Time, Disney Channel's Descendants). The success rate of all of these have wildly varied, particularly because they've been heavily reliant on CGI effects to create their worlds of fantasy (and staging massive, Lord of the Rings-aping battles). What a refreshing change of pace Cinderella is, then. Relatively modest by its contemporaries' standards, the film is a straightforward retelling of the story, with Lily James effervescently portraying Ella and Richard Madden making a fine Prince. Cate Blanchett nearly runs away with the film as the wicked stepmother, and Helena Bonham Carter is delightful as the Fairy Godmother. Most impressive, however, is Kenneth Branagh's stately, romantic direction; with the exception of one chase sequence, he doesn't rely on special effects to do the heavy lifting. And the result is a film that is, quite simply, magic.

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM


The Hateful Eight

Runner-up: Avengers: The Age of Ultron
Finalists: The Good Dinosaur, Spectre, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

The more time passes, the more evident it becomes that former editor Sally Menke, who tragically died in a hiking accident in 2010, was the true author of Quentin Tarantino's films. Though certainly not as incoherent as his previous film, Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight is without a doubt his nastiest, most nihilistic film to date. Which is a shame, because the film has a lot going for it: the setting - a single cabin in the Wyoming wilderness - is ripe for Tarantino's trademark macho dialogue and perfect for some gorgeous, widescreen, 70mm cinematography. The cast is an eclectic mix of Tarantino veterans (Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Walton Goggins) and newcomers (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum). And Ennio Morricone came out of retirement to compose an original score that's rousing and menacing. And yet the film wastes all of these elements in favor of toxic racism, misogyny, homophobic rape, and gruesome violence that's over-the-top even for Tarantino. Most significantly, none of it seems to matter. The film is a three-hour exercise in violence for the sake of violence. There's a much tighter, more interesting movie somewhere in The Hateful Eight. It's too bad Tarantino just kept going.

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