Greetings all. After much thought and contemplation, I decided I'm ready to share my personal winners and nominees for the 2021 jdb awards for film!
I wasn't dazzled by Dune as a movie (or part of a movie), but I was dazzled by its special effects--a wizardly conjuring of plaintive, nightmarish imagery that leaped between the magnificent and the minutiae.
Director Denis Villeneuve's films continue to spellbind.
ANNETTE (three cheers for Baby Annette!)
Just because a movie is primarily about SOUND, doesn't necessarily make it a shoo-in here. But the use of sound is transfixing, surprising, scary, and meditative in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film. The scene where Tilda Swinton, almost desperately, tries to explain and recreate the thumping sound she's plagued with hearing with the help of an audio engineer, is particularly my favorite.
MAKE-UP & HAIR
As in Julia Ducournau's other film Raw, the make-up and prosthetic work hits a nerve as well in Titane, so to speak, and digs into the film's feverish thematic and visual ferocity.
Jacqueline Durran, SPENCER
"... what is useful is a dissonance between the costumes and what’s happening to the person." - Durran
ART DIRECTION / PRODUCTION DESIGN
Wes Anderson movies are usually all about the aesthetic, and it's difficult, as much as I found this particular film itself somewhat uneven, not to be awestruck by the movement and vitality of the sets and backdrops.
Felt a little underwhelmed by original song choices this year, the twinkly fleeting title song ditty performed by Suzanne Lindon, remarkably also the film's director, writer and actress, was a surprising hit of melancholy.
Once I heard that tumbling piano motif trying to break out and also going in circles, much like the film's central character, I was totally slung into the movie. Later, the motif takes on new dimensions. The score also features distressed jazz and gothic organs. Another dazzling effort from Jonny Greenwood.
nominees (The film score isn't dead! I loved all of these for their inventiveness and musical textures.)
Yorgos Lamprinos, THE FATHER
While Florian Zeller's source material offers a lot of richness and ambiguity, The Father doesn't really work as a film without the cryptic nature of Lamprinos' editing which brings us into a chilling state of mind, even when we are trapped in limited spaces and rooms.
There were quite a few notable movies this year shot in black and white, but Grau's work on Passing is particularly sublime--both in its visual beauty and its thematic underpinnings.
Few films felt as ALIVE this year as Questlove's doc as it mines and seamlessly assembles rousing concert footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
"The fragmentation of it is what’s fun to me. You can be in the moments. I always imagine a movie is a record with different songs on it, and I want it to only be hits — as you always do. We are trying to ride the structure of the scenes, rather than just create a plot." -Joachim Trier
"Writing the Passing script felt like working out the movie. The longer I spent with it, the more the vision, the images, even the sound design, began to be clear in my head — like how quiet it needed to be. It was always a tricky book to adapt, because it’s incredibly subtle and incredibly ambiguous. I wanted to keep that ambiguity alive. I didn’t want to signal anything too strongly. But I also wanted to leave an audience with a lot of possible interpretations." -Hall
Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt, THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD
"Since we wrote it for Renate, she contributed quite a lot. We showed her an early draft and she provided feedback. It’s a delicate thing to talk about these days. We’re having very valuable conversations that we must have about ideas of gender and representation in art. I have to say that I’ve written men and women before — old and young people who are quite different from me — but I believe as an artist that’s my duty: to try to be truthful and, from myself, try and find a way to understand someone that is not myself, which is the character. The dialog you have between actors and collaborators, that’s the place where we explore something together and question things. It’s not like I’m sitting on a high horse pretending to know the answer. I wanted to tell this story. I always feel that I am all of the characters and I am none of the characters. It was fun because I loved Julie as a character. She means a lot to me." -Trier
The mixing of non-professionals and professionals works wonders once again in a Sean Baker movie. The vivid cast and the way they play off one another really ignites Red Rocket.
This is the second win here in this category from a Sean Baker picture, the other being Tangerine.
I was so stunned by this performance--from her breathtaking first appearance to the intricate balancing of a tricky character throughout.
"Clare fascinated me and repelled me at the same time... and I wanted to understand her." -Negga
"...art and culture is like our collective memory, and that will remain after we're gone. I think on a more personal level of the character, the speech is also realization that all you have left as you grow older is the memories and memories of past experiences. All the things that you have been through in your life is ultimately what remains and that constitutes your identity, who you are. It's almost as if it's impossible to understand yourself if you don't have any memories, any stories about your life. There's a melancholy of the passage of time in the character. In this film, I think it's a recurrent theme in the Oslo trilogy and in Joachim Trier's movies. The monologue or the speech in the script, you never really know when you shoot the movie, what ends up being focused, thematic representation of something." -Anders Danielsen Lie
While Mass functions as an ensemble chamber drama, Martha Plimpton's singular, devasating performance stuck with me all throughout the year--its ache and torment, the spoken and the unspoken. It's also exciting see such a talented actor I've loved for decades get a great part to work with.
"She’s very tightly wound and balled up. She knows what has to happen and that she’s supposed to do something, do these things, say these words, but as she says in the film “I just don’t know if I can say it.” She’s in a battle with herself, and when it pours forth from her, it surprises her as much as anyone else. I don’t think she can even envisage saying the words until they are actually coming out of her mouth. And I think that’s the nature of that kind of experience, although I certainly never had anything near the experience that Gail is having. That’s what so hard for us as human beings, because we think of forgiveness or redemption or grace as some sort of achievement that we come to after doing all of this hard work, when actually it’s a process, and there’s an ebb and flow to it. It’s the opening of the door rather than the closing of it. That’s why I think “closure” is such a silly concept." -Plimpton
Another performance of the ages from Hopkins.
“I just looked around the set... I saw on the nightstand a pair of glasses I wore, a book and the photograph of the two daughters. And it suddenly hit me, just in that moment, about the transitoriness of life, the fragility of life. All our little possessions, our glasses, our little things: when you’re dead, you’re gone forever and they are the stagnant last remains. And then they’re scrapped or sold or rot away somewhere in a cupboard and you think ‘that’s life'. It hit me so profoundly. We can’t prove the past exists. I can’t prove to you my mother and father ever existed; we have photographs, but did they really exist? Time is so peculiar.” -Hopkins
Jasmila Žbanić, QUO VADIS, AIDA?
Extraordinary directing on a tight, tense picture. The final moments are haunting.
"The financing period was very difficult. Everyone said people don’t want to watch a film about genocide. And for a female filmmaker in the Balkans, where societies are still very patriarchal, it is ten times harder to position yourself to make a film. So, when the film premiered and the audience was in tears, I was surprised and beyond happy. It is great to see that audiences love films with difficult subjects as well." -Žbanić
The most disarming picture I saw this year and an unexpected surprise. It hit me emotionally with a cumulative power I wasn't prepared for.