Monday, January 16, 2017

The 7th Annual Jarmo Awards

Earlier, I posted my top 10 list, which you can find here. Now for the Jarmo Awards, my annual awards for the film year that, for some reason, none of the winners have yet come to claim. The offer still stands, folks!

Anyway, check out this year's winners below. There's even a new category this year, Best Use of Music, because a memorable pairing of music and image can make all the difference for a film. Enjoy, and feel free to tell me why I'm wrong about every one of these!

BEST ACTRESS


(tie) Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone, Certain Women

Runner-up: Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Finalists: Sonia Braga, Aquarius; Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Emma Stone, La La Land

I've handed out plenty of ties in the past, typically one a year, and most of them have been for performances in the same film. I've never, however, done a three-way tie before, but damn me if Certain Women doesn't deserve it. The film wouldn't work if not for the phenomenal performances that Dern, Williams, and Gladstone give. Dern seems revitalized by the role of Laura, a beleaguered lawyer exasperated with her client's over-the-top behavior. Williams, a regular of director Kelly Reichardt's films, is fascinating as Gina, a prickly mother with a single-minded goal: obtain the materials for the foundation of her dream home. The true revelation, however, is Gladstone. In her first onscreen role, Gladstone is astonishing as an unnamed rancher who, out of boredom, ventures to night classes and finds herself attracted to the new law teacher (Kristen Stewart). With very little dialogue, Gladstone mesmerizes purely through her subtly expressive visage, and sells the film's most emotionally-charged scene with sturdy aplomb. All three women were superior, and thus all three are winners.

BEST ACTOR


Colin Farrell, The Lobster

Runner-up: Adam Driver, Paterson
Finalists: Ryan Gosling, La La Land; (tie) Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight; Nilbio Torres, Embrace of the Serpent

Colin Farrell is vastly underrated. Anyone who's only seen his big-budget turns in Alexander (2004), Miami Vice (2006), and the misguided Total Recall remake (2012) would think that Farrell is simply a pretty face that Hollywood insisted could be a movie star. But such reasoning would disqualify the fantastic work he does when he's energized by the material: his one-two-three breakout punch of Tigerland (2001), Phone Booth (2002), and Daredevil (2003), for example, or his auteurist years with In Bruges (2008), Ondine (2009), and Seven Psychopaths (2012). Yet nothing he showed in these films truly prepared me for his performance in The Lobster. As David, Farrell doesn't just soften his voice and sport a truly awful mustache; he carries himself lack a man living without choice nonetheless bemused by his curious fate, he snuffs out the mischievous glint in his Irish eyes and replaces it with deadened combination of curiosity and defeat. David doesn't "move" the plot of the film so much as go along with it, but Farrell refuses to make him an amorphous cypher, instead imbuing him with a rich interiority that's enrapturing to witness. It's because of Farrell that the film's final scene holds such queasy power, and it's because of him that the film succeeds at such a high level. Underestimate Farrell at your own risk from now on.

More winners after the jump.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Rachel Weisz, The Lobster

Runner-up: Kristen Stewart, Certain Women
Finalists: Golshifteh Faranhi, Paterson; Lupita N'yongo, Queen of Katwe; Rachel Weisz, The Light Between Oceans

There are a lot of lingering questions from 2016, questions that we may never get the answers to. One of these mysteries is how did no one seem to notice Rachel Weisz delivering career-best work in multiple movies. I can't speak for Denial, though her performance appears to be warmly received in most reviews, but The Light Between Oceans would not have succeeded as melodrama if not for her remarkable performance as a grieving mother. Yet she saved her best performance for The Lobster, in which she appears as "Short Sighted Woman," a dedicated single woman living in the forest with the other rebellious singles in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos's bizarre dystopia. It's a deceptively complex performance, as Weisz balances the desire she feels for David (Farrell, see above) with the fear of punishment the other singles will bestow on them both if they find out about their secret affair. Weisz plays this singular character with elegance and grace, and it's a stunning performance in a film full of great acting. Hopefully time will justify the great work she delivered.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash

Runner-up: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Finalists: Jan Bijvoet, Embrace of the Serpent; Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!; David Oyelowo, Queen of Katwe

How long has it been since Fiennes got to be sexy? His sharp features are now so synonymous with villainy - thanks in large part to his role as Voldemort in the Harry Potter films and his role as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List - that it's easy to forget that the man can play romance and sex just as well (remember The English Patient?). Fiennes recent turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to have reengerized him, or at least landed him more fun parts, because his work as record producer Harry in filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's combustible erotic drama is nothing short of revelatory. It would be enough just to reward him for his incredible, lively dancing to the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue" and the monologue that precedes it. But Fiennes is the lynchpin to film's powderkeg of sexual tension, and he's barely keeping it together himself with his open shirts and even more open flirting with ex Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and possibly his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Fiennes more or less single-handedly jolts the film to life; here's hoping his creative resurgence continues down this path.

BEST CAMEO APPEARANCE/LIMITED ROLE


Ralph Fiennes, Hail, Caesar!

Runner-up: Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
Finalists: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight; Zoey Deutch, Everybody Wants Some!!, André Holland, Moonlight

And just like that, Ralph Fiennes is the first-ever multiple Jarmo winner! The Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar! is an uneven film, consisting of a few genuinely brilliant moments cobbled together into a surprisingly incoherent whole. But Fiennes, as stuffy prestige director Laurence Laurentz, is easily one of the highlights. Reworking the stuffy propriety of Gustav H. from The Grand Budapest Hotel, but shirking that character's more ribald proclivities, Fiennes draws huge laughs simply from his over-enunciation of "would that it were so simple." Yet more than that, his exasperation and patronizing interactions with his star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) are deliciously pithy as Fiennes neither overplays or underplays Laurentz's frustration. It's a tiny comic masterpiece.

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE


Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!

Runner-up: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Finalists: Madina Nalwanga, Queen of Katwe; Tika Sumpter, Southside with You; Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch: A New England Folktale

As mentioned above, Hail, Caesar! is an inconsistent film that is definitely not without its pleasures. Chief among those pleasures is the "who is THAT" turn by Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, an actor in "cowboy pictures" recruited to work in a drawing-room drama and feeling completely out of place. Doyle is a classic Coen protagonist: the "simple" person who believes firmly in a set idea and will not be deterred from it (see also: Marge Gunderson in Fargo, Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski in The Big Lebowski, Llewyn Davis in Inside Llweyn Davis). Ehrenreich plays this note-perfectly with an aw-shucks attitude, from the way he noodles with a lasso while waiting to go to dinner with his studio-assigned love interest (Veronica Osorio) to his physical discomfort whenever he's not shooting a Western to his own excitement at talking about the ways his movies are made. It's certainly an affable performance, and once the film's narrative about Communism gains momentum, it's Doyle who seems the most incensed by it. It's odd that the Coens chose to make the film about Josh Brolin's beleaguered studio boss Harry Mannix and George Clooney's clueless movie star Baird Whitlock, because Ehrenreich's Doyle is easily the heart and soul of the film. It's truly a breakout performance, and the world has already taken notice: he'll be headlining that Han Solo Star Wars spinoff in a few years.

BEST ENSEMBLE


Don't Think Twice
Runner-up: Everybody Wants Some!!
Finalists: Love & Friendship, Moonlight, The Lobster

It's rare for a film to revolve around an ensemble that feels as lived-in, as personal, and as affable as the improv troupe at the center of comedian/filmmaker Mike Birbiglia's delightful Don't Think Twice.  It's even more rare for that ensemble to turn that energy into across-the-board greatness, and yet that's exactly what this film does. A murderer's row of comic actors - Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher, Kate Micucci, and Birbiglia - brings these characters to life, each of them thriving on one another and building off each other's work. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what an improv troupe should be able to do. Yet more than just being funny, everyone gets an opportunity to be a person, giving performances that speak to the difficult emotions and interactions that everyone cycles through in any given moment. This is ensemble acting at its very best.

BEST DIRECTOR


Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women
Runner-up: Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster
Finalists: Damien Chazelle, La La Land; Gareth Edwards, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Robert Eggars, The Witch: A New England Folktale

As I noted in my description of Certain Women on my top 10 list, Reichardt's style is easy to overlook. There's certainly nothing particularly flashy in the way she frames her camera (though said frames are often gorgeous to gaze upon), nor in the way she moves the camera; she doesn't draw attention to her long takes or score big moments with well-deployed pop songs. In short, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that her films are directed at all. You'd also be incredibly wrong. Certain Women is a microcosm of Reichardt's gift: her films thrive on performance, and here she guides a terrific trifecta of actors - Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone (plus Kristen Stewart) - to performances that rank among their finest. More than that, though, she imbues those performances with power and meaning by lingering on them, watching these characters at moments when other filmmakers would look away. It's a magnificent work of direction, and a fine reminder that great direction doesn't have to be flashy.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


Love & Friendship, screenplay by Whit Stillman (adapted from the novella "Lady Susan" by Jane Austen)
Runner-up: Moonlight, screenplay by Barry Jenkins (adapted from the unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Finalists: The Light Between Oceans, screenplay by Derek Cianfrance (adapted from the novel by M.L. Stedman); Queen of Katwe, screenplay by William Wheeler (adapted from the nonfiction book The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers); Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (adapted from the 1977 film Star Wars written by George Lucas)

Over the years, there have been tons of adaptations of Jane Austen's work. In fact, a cursory search of IMDb reveals nine separate adaptations of Pride & Prejudice - and those are just the ones that carry the same title as the novel (adding in other titles would illuminate many more). And yet most Austen adaptations only seem interested in one thing: the romance set against the English class system of the 18th and 19th centuries. What many of these adaptations fail to capture is Austen's acerbic sense of humor: many of her novels were intended as satires of that class system, as her characters challenge the norms of their day with their strong wills and sharp wits. It should come as no surprise, then, that Stillman - the preeminent chronicler of blasé bourgeois youth, who essentially adapted Austen's Mansfield Park for his 1990 debut Metropolitan - produced one of the finest Austen adaptations ever with Love & Friendship. The lascivious selfishness of Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), the panic over living in a dreadful place called Connecticut, the brilliant on-screen introductions ("a bit of a 'rattle'"), and gloriously cutting monologues somehow all remain true to both Austen's and Stillman's voices. Can he adapt all of her novels from now on?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


The Lobster, written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Runner-up: La La Land, written by Damien Chazelle
Finalists: Everybody Wants Some!!, written by Richard Linklater; Hush, written by Mike Flanagan; Paterson, written by Jim Jarmusch

There's plenty of comedy out there about "how we date now;" hell, just about every professional and open-mic comedian ever has dedicated at least some of their set to that very topic. So what more is there to even say about relationships without the "men are like x, women are like y" construction or "Tinder, amirite?" Leave it to Greek filmmaker Lanthimos and his frequent collaborator Filippou to craft a dystopian satire that transforms those hokey bon mots into scathing cuts into courtship. Structurally speaking, the film presents a bold premise: in a society were couplehood is compulsory, singles are taken to a seaside resort where they have 45 days to find a mate or else be transformed into the animal of their choosing. The film is littered with fantastic details, from naming most of the characters by the attributes that define them ("Lisping Man," "Nosebleed Woman") to the reward of extra days for capturing rogue singles outside of the resort. But what really sets the film's screenplay apart is the writers' astute observations of human behavior: no matter how absurd the situation becomes, it's grounded in a feeling that's all too recognizable. We understand immediately why someone would, say, slam their face against a wall to simulate nosebleeds so they can be paired with the partner they find most attractive. That's a truly impressive feat for a film that pushes the boundaries of the ridiculous as often as The Lobster does.

BEST USE OF MUSIC (new prize!)


Sing Street (original songs)
Runner-up: La La Land (original songs)
Finalists: A Bigger Splash ("Emotional Rescue"), Hail, Caesar! ("No Dames"), Zootopia ("Try Everything")

This may have been the hardest category to decide this year, and it's also the newest (so many movies make use of music, so why not recognize it!). Though I love the songs of La La Land, they're not really the strength of the movie - that would be the visuals and the emotions that the songs conjure in the viewing experience. Sing Street, on the other hand, places its emphasis on its '80s-inspired original songs remind you how easily a song can change your life as a teenager. Cribbing from a number of styles and sounds, songs like "The Riddle of the Model" and "Girls" match their pop stylings with goofy music video qualities for their scenes. But the real standout is "Drive It Like You Stole It," a pop song so perfectly crafted you'd be forgiven for thinking it was an actual relic of the era. Trust me, once you hear it, it will be stuck in your head for weeks. And it's that elemental power that gives Sing Street the advantage in movie music this year.

MOST (PLEASANTLY) SURPRISING FILM


Zootopia
Runner-up: How to Be Single
Finalists: Hush, Queen of Katwe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There was every reason to be wary about Zootopia when the first trailer arrived. Disney, whose animation branch was on a roll after the successes of Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6, released a trailer that carefully and exhaustingly explained the concept of talking animals. Let me repeat: the company with a talking mouse in red shorts as a mascot was apparently concerned its audience couldn't grasp the idea of animals talking and wearing clothes like people. Needless to say it was an inauspicious beginning, but I imagine Zootopia exceeded even the most ardent Disney fan's expectations. The final film is hilarious, beautiful, exciting, and most surprisingly, thought-provoking, using its setting as a parable of social intolerance and ingrained discrimination. More than that, it's an incredibly nuanced parable, directly tackling the fact that change doesn't happen overnight, people will make mistakes (and that doesn't inherently make them awful), and progress will be painful. That's a hell of a message for a so-called kiddie film in 2016.

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM


Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
Runner-up: Midnight Special
Finalists: A War, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, X-Men: Apocalypse

There was reason to be excited about Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. It was a return to the world of Harry Potter, only set decades before the events of those films and thus expanding that world. It would be directed by David Yates, who's directed every Harry Potter film since Order of the Phoenix (including the disappointingly underrated Deathly Hallows Part 1). It would feature a screenplay written by J.K. Rowling herself. And it would star Eddie Redmayne, then coming off his Oscar win for The Theory of Everything. Sure, the announcement that it would become a trilogy - and then a pentalogy - was worrisome, as was Redmayne's dreadful performance in The Danish Girl. But there was reason to hope that magic could be conjured twice. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. A great idea - magic in Prohibition-era America - is squandered on a limp movie that's well short of the fantastic and never seems certain of where to find itself. Redmayne mumbles his way through a thoroughly boring performance, though his partners Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, and Dan Fogler at least have flickers of personality. The beasts are mostly dull (the adorable Niffler excepted), and a number of better actors (Colin Farrell! Ezra Miller! Samantha Morton! Carmen Ejogo!) are wasted on thankless characters. At least we only have to sit through four more of these things, right?

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