2013 IN REVIEW: Special Awards

Special Awards Oscars Statuettes

Our annual “Special Awards” are given to those cinematic achievements that deserve…unique recognition. The year in goofs, faves, and highly personal takedowns is issued below (and please do share what I’ve missed).

Most Disappointing Sequel

Star Trek Khan

Star Trek Into Darkness

For a franchise reboot so invested in respectfully treading new ground – going so far as to create an alternate timeline to justify the liberties taken with a highly-canonized universe – the much anticipated follow-up to Abrams’ 2009 blockbuster is disappointingly mired in its own crude attempts at fanservice even as it fails to embody any of the spirit of the original series. Returning over and over again to hollow recreations of famous lines and scenes from The Wrath of Khan, Into Darkness never allows itself a coherent theme, sensical plot, or the necessary character development to earn the kind of emotional set pieces that made Khan so great. Not to mention the strange and unnecessary secrecy about Khan’s identity in all the film’s publicity, which didn’t improve on the fact of the character’s truly unfortunate whitewashing. Sure, some of its action sequences are fun. But the promise of a revitalized Trek that ‘09’s epic prologue seemed to indicate turns out to be an empty box wrapped up in iconic packaging: crammed with stale artifacts of the past, and yet as ideologically vacant as the vast expanse of space that the new Star Trek films seem reluctant to truly explore.

 

Best Longform Commercial

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Movies to See in October 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

eHarmony’s “intricate matching algorithm” isn’t directly responsible for the events of Walter Mitty, but their incredible customer service just might be! I’m so nostalgic for LIFE magazine, aren’t you? It’s a shame you can only find it online now. And Papa John’s is always there for us, whether we need a place to earn money as a young man or want a slice while finding our passion in Iceland. Passion is important. And passion means going places. And you know what helps you get out of your head and onto an Air Greenland plane? Products! Products like Dell computers, Kodak cameras, and Jansport backpacks. And after your flight – and your requisite airport Cinnabon (they’re like “frosted heroin”!) – you can finally start to look around you, to really inhabit the world. A world full of brands! Brands like KFC, Nabisco, Chase, American Airlines, Instagram, Facebook, and TBS. And when your life’s motto truly embraces LIFE’s motto, then you’ll be ready to take that next step. On CareerBuilder.com. In the words of a truly beloved and iconic short story, “I’m lovin’ it!”

 

Reputation Most Ruined by a 2013 Film

blackfishSeaWorld

One brand that wishes it had gotten the Walter Mitty treatment rather than the glare of the documentary’s lens is the unwilling star of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish, a fairly by-the-numbers exposé of the consequences of orca whales’ captivity. SeaWorld is scrambling (in some instances, pretty pathetically) to counteract the film’s negative press that may have already led to dwindling attendance and has caused several high-profile musicians to cancel shows at their parks. Though Blackfish is being marketed as a “psychological thriller” with Tilikum the killer whale at its center, it’s a pretty familiar story of the brutal actions of a misguided business desperate to stay afloat. We’ll see if SeaWorld survives the backlash (and its puns), though I’d venture that they’ll probably be fine. Lucky for them, consumers have a pretty short memory when it comes to stuff we like, especially when it’s as cool as getting SPLASHED BY WHALES!

 

Best Quirky Detail

Her Joaquin Phoenix

The Safety Pin in Her

So much in mainstream movies is over-explained and highly telegraphed, so I’m always delighted when a film allows some part of its design or narrative to speak for itself. Her is lush with the subtle world-building of a speculative, not-very-distant future, and it’s the small touches that sometimes make the biggest impact. Theodore Twombly’s world is full of responsive, sophisticated design that feels both natural and futuristic – the way his apartment gently illuminates as he walks into different rooms, the gestural, projected interface of his video game – yet some of his desires will still require human ingenuity and humble solutions. The safety pin which keeps Theodore’s phone propped up in his pocket, allowing Samantha a visual of his environment through the camera’s eye, is one of many un-remarked-on details that make this film so rich. And yes, a little hipster. But give me whimsy or give me death, haters.

 

Special Achievement in the Field of Directorial Ickyness

Kechiche Blue is the Warmest Color

Abdellatif Kechiche

In the grand tradition of using a position of power to treat others like shit, directors have a long and glorious history of abusing actors “in the name of art,” or simply because they’re shitty people who are bad at their jobs. Kechiche, who – in addition to reported labor violations and bullying of his crew – forced an actress to repeatedly hit her co-star on the set of Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color, as well as failed to make his actresses feel safe and respected while shooting vulnerable, un-choreographed (and in my opinion, voyeuristic and mis-informed) sex scenes, joins the ranks of such celebrated assholes as Alfred Hitchcock (attacked Tippi Hedren with birds), Henri-Georges Clouzot (drugged Brigitte Bardot for an overdose scene; she had to have her stomach pumped), and Thomas Friedkin (kept an eleven-year-old Linda Blair in a freezer all day, injured both Exorcist actresses’ backs with reckless stunts after complaints about their safety were made, slapped a priest in the face). And don’t forget Kubrick, Bertolucci, von Trier, Dreyer…the hall of scary men behind the camera is crowded with greats! But according to Kechiche, if you’re going to enjoy the benefits of fame you can’t complain about a little violence and sexual exploitation. If actress Léa Seydoux “lived such a bad experience, why did she come to Cannes, try on robes and jewelery all day?” And “How, when you are adored, when you go up on red carpet, when we receive awards, how we can speak of suffering?…The job of an actor, it’s one of a spoiled child…How indecent to talk about pain when doing one of the best jobs in the world!” Sad, that even when you have one of the world’s best jobs, you still have to work with tyrannical asshats like Kechiche. “Indecent,” indeed!

 

Best Use of Pigs

upstream color

Upstream Color

“We’re not symbols. We’re pigs. Oink oink.”

 

Trendiest 2013 Film Never Made

Preview Approved for All Audiences Special Awards

The Ocean is Dark and Cold at the End of the World

Benedict Cumberbatch and Amy Adams star in this survival story that might be allegorical, or even a metaphor. In the bleak expanse of space, no one can hear you scream… that it’s time to PARTY! Two hucksters (Cumberbatch and Adams) get caught up in a world of excess and luxury after earning billions conning the federal government, only to discover they may be no match for a legendary, mysterious, and unnervingly blonde messiah of whistleblowers (Robert De Niro) returning for one last blow. But what happens when a routine trip back to the surface goes horribly wrong, and despite the best efforts of a remarkably devoted operating system (Matthew McConaughey in a critically-acclaimed turn as a female voice), there’s nothing but one’s own chutzpah to count on? From the depths of the universe to the chaos of the open sea, this film takes viewers on a sensory ride that spans years, presidents, and temperatures. “Nauseating!” says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, “- No I seriously have something… medical… going on here… 4 stars.” See the film critics are calling “audaciously not exploitative”! The Ocean is Dark and Cold at the End of the World was filmed in black and white using 50 GoPro cameras attached to unpaid interns and shot into space.   

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  • Duncan Houst

    I definitely have mixed feelings about Abdellatif Keciche, all the more so for my intense love of his film. For somebody who’s made himself pretty boisterously known in public, I don’t remotely feel his penetrating presence as much as others. For me the film exudes an intense intimacy and specificity of emotional experience that refutes the feelings of voyeurism others have felt. His reported brutality on the set validates him as at least somewhat monstrous – I don’t want to make too many assumptions about somebody I don’t know, but I’m certainly on the actress’ side – and it shows in how painfully the emotions onscreen read at times. His post-Cannes presence in the media is probably his worst misstep, smearing the people who helped make the film as effective and affecting as it is. It’s been especially tough loving “Blue Is the Warmest Color”, but less because of the usual opposing critical viewpoints and more because of the unprofessional actions of one of its principal makers.

    But love the “Best Longform Commercial”, “Best Use of Pigs” and especially “Best Quirky Detail” prizes. But man, “The Ocean Is Dark at the End of the World” was just the best! Not just a tech exercise, but a film with *REAL EMOTION*! You made a real film, Jack!

    • Hilary Kissinger

      I hear you, Duncan! For me, I just can’t enjoy ‘Blue’ not only because
      of the director’s conduct but also because of its obsession with
      ” the beauty of the female form” – Kechiche’s comments, “What I was trying to do when we were shooting these scenes was to film what I found beautiful…We spent a lot of time lighting them to ensure they would look beautiful…They had to be made aesthetically beautiful while keeping the sexual dimension.” etc certainly contribute to the feeling – which, to me, made this a film about watching women rather than being one. The dinner party conversation about the “mysticism” of the female orgasm (and how ridiculous that guy sounds while saying it) almost made me question whether the visual style was a set-up to talk about how we portray female pleasure, but the film fails to follow through on any potential critique and seems content with a sort of tired Sapphic admiration that doesn’t feel entirely authentic to me. The incredible performances really elevate the film, however, and do allow me intimacy with these characters, but I never felt like ‘Blue’ was through their eyes. I felt, instead, consumptive of their emotions and sexuality.

      And thank you! “The Ocean is Dark and Cold at the End of the World” could just change the very way we watch and talk about movies – with dramamine!

  • Justin Jagoe

    For Your Consideration in the “Worst Publicist of 2013” category: Katherine Keener’s Agent.

    Typically, she is a wonderful actress, but let’s take a careful inventory of her work in 2013: A puzzling, clearly truncated part in ‘Captain Phillips,’ a completely unremarkable voice role as cookie-cutter cave-mom in ‘The Croods’ (which I finally saw this weekend, and hated), and by far the weakest, least fleshed-out role in ‘Enough Said,’ the one big blemish on a movie I otherwise quite loved. (Though it’s most likely she took the part because of her successful working relationship with Nicole Holofcener.)

    It’s quite telling, and damning, that her most memorable performance by far (and I’m honestly not trying to be snarky here) is as Dead Grandma in ‘Bad Grandpa.’

    I love Keener, and I hope 2014 treats her a little better.

  • Best Longform Commerical… ha!
    Interesting categories.

  • MD

    Reputation Most Ruined by a Film: Blackfish. While I have yet to see the film, I only recently watched The Cove, so obviously I’m behind. However, my friend is very passionate about this subject. I agree while for the time being, with the film still fresh in people’s mind and on Twitter, people will turn away. But as a visitor of Seaworld, it would be hard to see something wrong while you’re in the Splash Zone.

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