In Part 1 we announced our favorite technical achievements in cinema this year, and in Part 2 we honored our favorite films in the realm of animation, nonfiction and more. These awards up the ante a bit: our favorite achievements in acting, writing and directing. And on Monday, to close out the Film Misery Awards. we announce our shared Top 10 List!
Let’s announce this next chunk of 2013 Film Misery Award winners…
Best Original Screenplay
WINNERS: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha and Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, Before Midnight (Tie)
In the grand scheme of things, Frances Ha had one hell of an uphill battle. It entered theaters on the cusp of an overwhelming, and overwhelmingly tedious, conversation our culture has ignited around the so-called “Millenial” generation’s collective sense of entitlement. (An aside: the generation that brought Falling Down to existence is never again allowed to bellyache about Millenials having entitlement issues.) How could Frances Ha successfully tell the story of a quirky, creative-type Brooklynite finding her post-collegiate identity without coming off as smarmy, smug or unbearably twee? Certainly, some grouches will say it didn’t succeed, but our staffers recognized the eponymous Frances as a deftly-written, endearingly misguided character with relatable ambitions and even more relatable follies. The script’s tone is rock-solid: it’s critical of Frances, yet lovingly so.
Richard Linklater’s script for his third Before Movie, which he largely collaborated on with his now-iconic pair of leading actors, had challenges of its own to overcome. Before Midnight largely spotlights big, existential conversations, just like its predecessors, and the conversations between Céline and Jesse are as vibrant as ever. Yet after two installments chronicling a life-defining relationship as a mostly quixotic tapestry, it’s only necessary that wrinkles and loose threads should finally begin to show. These conversations are more intimate, more fixated on minutiae, and more eager to embrace full-on interpersonal dissonance (certainly more than the series’ first installment). This trio of writers/collaborators could have rehashed a tried-and-true formula, and few fans would have complained. But they instead progressed this couple to where they ought to be at this stage in their lives. For it, the movie’s more unpleasant. Yet it’s no less wondrous.
1 – Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha | Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, Before Midnight (TIE) – WINNERS!!!!
3 – Spike Jonze, Her
4 – Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine | Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines | Asghar Farhadi, The Past (TIE)
Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley sets up two distinct challenges for himself in his 12 Years a Slave script. First, he aims to evoke the exhausting, day-by-day brutality of forced labor on the Antebellum Plantation. Next, he hopes to place his narrative into a larger prism of some kind, one that fully acknowledges that day-by-day brutality as emblematic of a chapter in American history that most moral people would just as soon forget, but absolutely mustn’t. The act of shifting the quotidian into such a modernized moral context can often make for didactic writing, yet 12 Years a Slave is never didactic. Ridley’s script maintains the focus on Solomon Northup’s journey, a character whose own history of privileged life prior to his enslavement gives the movie all the context it needs. That’s not to say exactly that Northup holds our hand through the narrative – the movie’s violence is too unflinching to do that – but his on-page character shows us the larger picture through his own day-by-day act of survival.
1 – John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave – WINNER!!!!
2 – Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix, Blue is the Warmest Color
3 – Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills
4 – Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
5 – Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Supporting Actor
WINNER: Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Our winner in this category by a solid margin, it would be easy to ascribe bias in our decision to make this first-time actor our top pick. (Abdi hails from the Twin Cities, where two of our voting staffers hail from.) Abdi earns recognition for his work on Captain Phillips, though, for a much purer reason: he just gives a fantastic performance. He fully delivers on the pathos of his character Muse, a desperate Somali pirate quickly stuck mid-heist with nothing but a series of bad choices at his disposal. The effective delivery of that desperation is crucial to the movie’s success; without that clear understanding of what it would mean to Muse should he fail collect the ransom on his prisoner, Captain Phillips’ political undercurrent would be lost. Seeing as the movie urges you to root for Phillips’ survival (they cast Tom Hanks in the lead, for god’s sake), the burden is on Abdi to scrap together at least a morsel of empathy. Abdi successfully carries that burden, and he helps transform Captain Phillips into something far more satisfying than a jingoistic fable of American Exceptionalism.
1 – Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips – WINNER!!!!
2 – Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
3 – James Gandolfini, Enough Said | Matthew McConaughey, Mud (TIE)
5 – Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines
Best Supporting Actress
The perpetually tormented slave whom Solomon Northup befriends partway through 12 Years a Slave, Patsey may just be the most heartbreaking character portrayed on screen this past year. As suggested by the movie’s very title, Northup’s tenure of servitude has a time-stamp attached; the expectation that our protagonist will walk off the plantation someday is never forgotten. For young Patsey, however, we know that history would not emancipate her for yet another twelve years. Possibly. Even then, who knows if she would even survive another day serving the Epps family? Nyong’o uses her face in truly inspired ways to express her character’s torment; the way Patsey smiles when she begs Solomon to take her life – the one moment in her agonized life of true hopefulness – is chilling and devastating. 12 Years invests you in Solomon’s not-entirely-hopeless journey. But Nyong’o reminds you that, for most in her position, hope was a luxury.
1 – Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave – WINNER!!!!
2 – Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
3 – Kristin Scott Thomas, Only God Forgives
4 – Pauline Burlet, The Past
5 – Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Though it won our Best Foreign Film award, the consensus among staffers for Blue is the Warmest Color is not universal. Only three of the five staffers put the film on our personal top ten lists (I’ll let you suss out who), and those who didn’t had major issues with it. One thing that is universal, however, is our enthusiasm for Exarchopuolos’ work on the movie. In a strong year for female lead performances, Exarchopuolos was the top pick on the initial ballot for every single voter. The winner for this category was all but decided even before final ballots were sent out. If you’ve seen Blue, you’d fully understand why; Exarchopuolos approaches her character Adèle like somebody forcing a brush through a matted tuft of her own tangled hair, yanking until the threads become unknotted, but painfully plucking vital strands from her head in the process. The knot never quite comes out, yet the pain of those plucked strands still lingers. It is the year’s rawest, most profoundly uncomfortable performance. And even if Blue wouldn’t make your own top ten, Adèle makes the movie well worth the three hours it asks of you.
1 – Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color – WINNER!!!!
2 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
3 – Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha | Julie Delpy, Before Midnight (TIE)
5 – Bérénice Bejo, The Past
In lauding the screenplay earlier in this post and in awarding its ensemble earlier today, I noted how critically the success of 12 Years a Slave depends on predicating every acting and storytelling choice around Solomon Northup. Perhaps necessarily, this means the entire movie would be doomed to fail had the performance interpreting Northup been miscast or mis-performed. That’s a heavy burden for a movie with so prescribed a sense of cultural importance. While I personally might never have thought to cast Chiwetel Ejiofor (though I do admire his work), I now cannot think of an actor I would prefer to take on that burden. The story fixates on his character virtually the entire time, and the actor never falters in projecting the brutalizing, the agony and the utter frustration over losing the life from which he’s been torn. It’s an emotionally driven, remarkably physical performance.
Most remarkable, though, is how decidedly un-showy a performance Ejiofor actually delivers. A lesser actor might see such a prestigious movie as the opportunity to act his butt off (and audiences might even welcome that), yet Ejiofor respects the material, and he respects the story being told. His presence is commanding, yet unfalteringly measured.
1 – Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave – WINNER!!!!
2 – Joaquin Phoenix, Her
3 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
4 – Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station | Robert Redford, All is Lost (TIE)
12 Years dissenters have taken umbrage in the past, perhaps not unfairly, about the tendency of Steve McQueen’s eye to excessively aestheticize the toil, tumult and downright ugliness of whatever subject his film is covering. (Most often, it involves anguish experienced by the body.) Personally, I see value in such an approach, provided there is a disciplined quality to it all. It’s no coincidence that McQueen’s third directorial endeavor is at once his most disciplined vision of bodily anguish, and by far his most successful. 12 Years a Slave is unbearable in the cruelty it depicts, yet it also knows when to hold back. McQueen knows the line between horrifying the viewers and alienating them. He knows, when depicting a man strung up on a noose, balancing for dear life on his tip-toes, that a nicely framed long-shot will get the job done, and that fixating on that man’s suffering face would have been too participatory in the agony being inflicted upon him. McQueen’s discipline serves the movie beautifully, all the way through to that complete stunner of a final scene.
1 – Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave – WINNER!!!!
2 – Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
3 – Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color
4 – Joshua Oppenheimer & Christine Cynn, The Act of Killing
5 – Michael Franco, After Lucia
That is Part 3 of the Fifth Annual Film Misery Awards! You can read Part 1 here, and you can read Part 2 here. Part 4, our Joint Top Ten List, will be posted on Sunday. Please give your thoughts below!
HOW WE VOTED: Every Staff Writer of Film Misery was given the opportunity to make a ranked selection of up to five choices in every available category. Every film received an assigned value of points based on how high each choice was ranked – higher-ranked movies received more points. Submission results were then aggregated to form a Shortlist of highest-ranked Nominees. Film Misery Staffers were then asked to rank the nominees in order of preference (again, with more points going to the higher-ranked films). Submitted rankings from staffers were used to aggregate the final results – those results being the ranked Nominees you see listed above.