Thursday, 2 February 2012

Encore Awards (2011 in Review): Openings

*taps mic*

Yup, I’ve finally decided that it’s time for me to get cracking on recapping the last cinematic year. I’ve see 90 films of 2011 (although, I’m still to publish reviews for at least dozen) and though I’ve not seen some key films I’d have liked to before, enough is enough. Unlike the Academy and every major award body, I give you my nominees and winners in one fell swoop. So, like last year, I’ll be revealing the winners, nominees and finalists in a slew of categories (traditional and non-traditional) over the next, I don't three weeks or so.
For now, I’ll begin with…the beginnings. Opening scenes…
Openings are important. I’m not the type of person who decides if I’ll continue watching a film based on its beginning, and I think sometimes beginning are given too much emphasis so some films end up starting off excellently and losing their drive (not a pun). Still, even though I feel a bit comme-ci, comme-ça about 2011 in film, as I get around to recapping the year I realise that the individual categories offered some excellent work done. And, for example, it was a real tough job narrowing down the contenders for best opening. You can see my ballot for last year here and the image of my winner to the right

I ended up with a list of 12 potential contenders, and this is how I ranked them across three tiers. The gold indications the winner, the silver indicates a runner up. Of the five nominees, click on the links of the pictures for reviews where available.

The Artist directed by Michel Hazanavicius with Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Penelope Anne Miller
It matters not if you’re firmly in the love camp, the hate camp (damn you backlash, eh whatever) or worriedly stuck in the middling “like” camp – as I am – I think we’d all agree that Jean Dujardin is the finest thing about it. Beginning with the movie within the movie is a nice touch, but the very fact that George is just as stolid and unremitting as his on-screen persona (“I won’t talk) is particularly tickling. It suggests a fall from grace I’d be eager to observe, and even the film doesn’t quite make good on said promises, how could I blame the absolutely enchanting opening for that?
Hanna directed by Joe Wright with Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Olivia Williams, Tim Beckmann
The entire film is made up of a series of moments and it doesn’t quite coalesce to something perfect, but it’s damned well entertaining and good. The opening, for example, expresses all the goodness in the film: Ronan in firm control of her dubious character, the music excellently use, the camerawork brilliantly functioning and a precise focus on the story – regardless of how basic it is, and Joe Wright all the while firmly in control of his film. Sheer entertainment.
A Separation directed by Asghar Farhadi with Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi
Farhadi does not want us to have any chance of easing our way out of the moral quandary the characters are experiencing. So, from the opening he makes us part of the 2experience. Nader and Simin are looking straight ahead as if we are the ones who must decide whether or not their situation is grounds form a divorce. Curiously, A Separation has two “openings” because this first actual scene is preceded by the photocopying of passports  over the credits which Tim (Antagony and Ecstasy) in his excellent review points out is such a fine way of establishing the legal issues and bureaucracy which bound the film.

Take Shelter directed Jeff Nichols with Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Tova Stewart, Katy Mixon
A number of films this year were true horror spectacles in the most mundane of ways. Take Shelter was one of the finest. It’s astonishing how the simple act of a downpour becomes a foreboding occurrence, but it is and it does: the discoloured liquid, the use of an awesome sound-mixing team, and Michael Shannon’s confused expression all making for an immediate feeling of distinct unease. And, we haven’t even been given any specificity or perspective and we’re already on edge. That’s sort of brilliant, no?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy directed by Tomas Alfredson with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong
It’s the longest opening of the set, but in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy there’s a significant amount of information to mire through. Considering all the things at work, the opening is manages to be shorter than it could have been. Two people we don’t know meet, one we realise is off on spying duties, cover his blown, he’s shot, the other man is expelled from a group. Everything falls into place so quickly, and with so much immediacy setting the audience up for the experience ahead. If you can’t follow those first five minutes, you should leave. This is one for those ready to think.

FINALISTS (nomination worthy, all): Contagion, it;d be easy for something like this to feel very gimmicky and from the opening Soderbergh roots it all in a fearsome realness; Drive, is another extended opening scene but it sets the pace (not a pun) for a simultaneously pulsating but still oddly laid-back series of exciting sequences; Jane Eyre, I'm finding it difficult to pinpoint why I didn't like this more - it's technically quite good, and the decision to begin it all in media res is rather inspired (and the cinematography!)

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Ides of March; Insidious; Melancholia; Midnight in Paris
So, we're on our way with my year in recap. Which openings impressed you most?

1 comment:

Luke said...

A Separation is a great choice. That was probably its strongest scene. Of yours, though, I think The Artist had the most lasting effect on me. Drive, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and even African Cats would probably be strong candidates amongst my favorites.