(click on photos for reviews)
In some ways Aronofksy’s latest reminds me of Avatar, although I was more fond of Cameron’s piece they both are analogous in the fact that they depend on the visual elements and not so much their stories (which aren’t necessarily subpar, just not as key as the optical). Visually, Black Swan is a perfect amalgamation of all things visual and the effects here coalesce beautifully with the cinematography and editing. Sometimes Aronofsky gets the urge to go a bit too pulpy (not always serving the story), but overall it’s a visual triumph.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
As dissatisfied as I was with some major elements of the latest instalment of Harry Potter, I was impressed with the visual work. Like Black Swan, the work here underscores the reality that best visual effects is not synonymous with most visual effects and though there are a number of holes to poke in the story, visually this instalment is as thrilling as any.
Visually, it avoids the most blatant of tricks you’d expect and oftentimes the visuals end up aiding the film where the story fails (the flashbacks scenes with Mal, for example – understated, but jarring). Obviously, the more obvious moments are fine – but the ability to tone down is what makes me most impressed with the work here.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
I’d cry anarchy at the Academy’s ignoring of Scott Pilgrim vs the World in this category – but no members of the Academy are listening so I’ll refrain from indulging in yet another tirade, for the umpteenth time. Visuals are so essential to this story sometimes it seems as if the story is the visual or the visuals are the story – it’s all the same, really. It’s all impeccably interwoven, not subtle (it can’t afford to be) but fitting.
It’s evidence again of the technical work here being brilliant. The story can be impossibly obviously at times so the visuals don’t overdo. The atmosphere created is palpable and thick, it really is the sort of “visual” film that defines cinema at its most visceral and the way it so seamlessly coalesces with the photography makes me even more impressed.
FINALISTS: Agora is so intent on merging all its technical achievements (photography ties in with art direction which is established in the visuals) – the scope of the city created is almost peerless and though it doesn’t use CGI to much effect that doesn’t mean it’s any less visual; Let Me In; Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang come off as synthetic and very “magicky” – but in the realm of all that’s fantastical you sort of get that that’s necessary
SEMI-FINALIST: the visuals in Alice in Wonderland are loud and they’re obvious, but sometimes they’re not always serving the story. I don’t really grudge its Oscar nomination, though. Because, as officious as it is on occasion (oftentimes) there’s a meticulousness to its creation that’s laudable.
Agora (Xavi Giménez)
The scene that comes to mind immediately, is of course the storming of the temple. It’s absolute chaos and it’s photographed so intimately, just as Davus’ Christian epiphany is framed well. True, it’s a get a bit too obvious when the camera rises to view the world from a distance and there’s just that tinge of beautifully shots for the sake of beautiful shots – but I’ll forgive those occasional extraneous bits.
Black Swan (Matthew Libatique)
Regardless of the missteps Aronofsky may make I cannot deny the adeptness of the photography. Sometimes you get the feeling that he’s showing off on us, but the fact that he always manages to serve the story prevents me from holding any sort of grudge. In the same way that Agora and its orchestrated stampedes demand astute photography, the dance sequences require the same and we are not robbed of that tenet.
The King’s Speech (Danny Cohen)
I’m still nonplussed as to why its Oscar citation here has caused such a ruckus since it’s still the first technical achievement that jumped out at me (score, costume and art direction included). It’s all part of the entire film’s manner of being paradoxically modern and traditional – simultaneously. The photography is an essential part of its entire philosophy and though sometimes it emerges as just a little too purposeful I’m wary of calling it a fault.
Rabbit Hole (Frank G. DeMarco)
Like many contemporary films, the camerawork is largely ignored but framing is of exceptional importance here. The revelation of the accident, Howie’s seduction bolstered by Barry White, that beautiful ending – all those pay heavy dues to the cinematography which is always subtle, always understated and lets the screenplay do its job. Proof that obvious garishness is not always the key to good photography.
Shutter Island (Dante Feretti)
A bit like an obvious choice, no? Lord knows why it’s been virtually ignored. Even if DiCaprio has been playing in this register for a while, and even if the story is a bit pulpy that opening shot defines it all and it gets better from there. Sure, it’s not as subtle as the sets but – well – that’s the point. And extra points for every scene with Michelle Williams, just beautiful to watch
FINALISTS: I don’t know how many times I have (or how many more times I will) call The Ghost Writer sleek, but goddamn the photography is brilliant; Never Let Me Go is photographed so lushly – it’s even more purposeful than The King’s Speech (sometimes annoyingly so) but it’s essential for Romanek’s attempts in condensing the storyline into such a short running time; in all my appreciation for it I won’t be disingenuous enough to call Somewhere a technical marvel but photography is essential in developing that beautiful listlessness of the rich and famous; The Social Network
SEMI-FINALISTS: Animal Kingdom; Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows; True Grit; Ondine
Animal Kingdom (Luke Doolan)
One of the things I noted in my review was just how seamless everything in Animal Kingdom. There’s a gentle irony about the camerawork here, it’s so flawless that you can’t help but applaud it but in its flawlessness there’s a fluidity that might be easy to ignore – which is a shame.
The Ghost Writer (Tariq Anwar)
The editing does seem a little lustrous – but everything about The Ghost Writer seems to evoke that feeling of a sophisticated sheen. Polanski loves depending on the technical aspects and it’s the editing that is his biggest calling card in keeping the tone in The Ghost Writer that makes it such a top-notch exercise in thrills.
The Kids Are All Right (Jeffrey Werner)
I can’t say I’m surprised this one has gone unnoticed, but even more than Cholodenko’s direction and screenplay the editing in this film is a fabulous example of camerawork enhancing a film. I don’t know if it’s alacrity in trade, or just pure luck but Werner knows just when to cut to what and how to do it. He manages to capture those precise expressions just before they sour – that scene where Nic at the final dinner at Paul’s? The sort of editing that’ll never be recognised by the awards, but screw them.
Rabbit Hole (Joe Klotz)
Because Rabbit Hole depends so much on the transference of emotion and because there are only ninety minutes to play with the editing is especially important. Its montages don’t unfold as obvious cinematic tricks, and like the film there’s an easiness to it all that is – unfortunately – easy to ignore. When you think of guiding the pace of the story, and of giving emphasis, though – Klotz’s work is palpably good.
The Social Network (Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter)
It seems a bit ADD, just like its protagonist and that’s probably the point. The deposition scenes are such an obvious example of him getting a brilliant playing ground and he milks it for all it’s worth getting those precise shots, cuts that supplement Sorkin’s rapid screenplay. Sometimes his choices seem weird, but that’s because there’s SO much going on in this one, watch it multiple and you begin to realise just how seamless the scenes flow into each other.
FINALISTS: Agora; The King’s Speech; Let Me In; Scott Pilgrim vs the World
SEMI-FINALISTS: The Fighter; Somewhere
Photography, visuals, editing....what were your champions in 2010?