Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Encore Awards (2012 in Review): Openings

So, 2012…

As usual, I’m like the white rabbit with the habitual lateness. From all different directions all the film lovers seem ready to be rid of 2012 cinema, but potentially annoying Oscar season and all I’m not ready to turn my back on the last year in film as yet. The best things about year-end citations is remembering the moments that thrilled you most, and through the disappointments and the surprises 2012 had a lot of things to love.

So, I’m officially beginning my personal and sometimes weird Encore Awards taking a look back at the year in film, trudging through about 30 or so traditional (read Oscar-y) and untraditional categories. Hopefully, I’m finished before March.

As usual I get started with the openings.

The image to the right is one of the most evocative film openings of the nineties. Old Mrs. Wilcox makes her way through the garden of the eponymous Howards End. Right there Ivory gives us tone and mood which the rest of the film makes good on. This year, there were fourteen openings which would have made Ivory proud. The top 9 were so good I had much difficulty settling on a ballot, but eventually I managed to settle on five.

(Click on the images for reviews…where available.)


Anna Karenina: directed by Joe Wright with Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly MacDonald, Matthew Macfadyen
My favourite thing about Anna Karenina is the way Wright ensures that the best moments of the film emanate from the confluence of all aspects of cinema. When the curtain rises it’s the production design (Dolly’s room!), the costumes (Anna getting dressed), the sound (Stiva wincing at the barber), the music, the photography, the actors all uniting to make Stoppard’s sly conceit of the accelerated version of the tale work. Despite the single character title the story has always been more about its ensemble and how they work so the sly movements between the household of brother and sister work especially well.

The Deep Blue Sea directed by Terence Davies with Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Ann Mitchell
“I think because this time…I really want to die.” It’s the part of Hester’s suicide letter we reach when the title of the film appears swimming in the murky blueness of the screen. The music rises and we cut to Hester’s street and the feeling of overwhelming sadness which begins to grow and continues for the entire ten minute opening (and the whole film, really) is stark. Davies' almost montage like chronicle of the beginning of the love affair between Freddie and Hester is gorgeously photographed as we head into that dizzying ten minutes to the point that it seems unreal (the limbs joined in passion). Is this real, are these projections of Hester? So when the doctor delivers that snap to wake us up – Davies’ point is clear, the end is over.

Killing Them Softly: directed by Andrew Dominik with Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins
Yes, Killing Them Softly wears its metaphors palpably on its sleeves, but the movie is no worse off for it. That’s part of its beauty. Sometimes blatancy works. The juxtaposition of Obama’s speech, then, with the illaudable Frankie’s walk down the streets amidst the swarming garbage is a stroke of something great. More than a defense of the crookish ways of our characters I find that Dominik is telling us that it doesn’t matter how things could be – this how they are. Notice how the sound cuts off (so abruptly) at key points in Obama’s audio? It leaves us with a dissonant presentation as the hopeful words of the speech are cut off mid syllable as the ominous title of the film affairs in blocks – KILLING THEM SOFTLY. I’ll bet.

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson with Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand
Suzy, and by extension Wes Anderson, is obsessed with her books in Moonrise Kingdom. One of my favourite continuous motifs is the way her book titles comment on the situation and it makes sense that the film’s opening is something so especially quaint and almost bookish. The overhead of the boy as the music play, the decidedly picturesque shots of the room like something out a painting and then the swelling of the orchestra as Suzy opens her novel “Shelly and the Secret Universe” and we cut from Suzy reading to the outside of the house as the title appears – almost as if to suggest, the following story is from the vantage point of a child. And it sort of is. Beautifully so.

Oslo, August 31st: directed by Joachim Trier with Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner
“You can’t go home again.” It’s one of those especially profound literary quotes and it means so many things when put to different pieces. Consider Oslo. This is Anders story, but Oslo is the key to it. It’s that ineffable way that a home city can have such an effect on us after years. Later in the film as Anders traverses Oslo there’s the sense of him trying to regain what’s lost and those seemingly random impressions of the city filtered through to us at the opening are important not much for the people saying them (we only hear their voices) but to suggest the point the film’s end says more emphatically – life will go in Oslo because every day new memories are being formed. Sad when we consider Anders…but then not, maybe, so much.

FINALISTS: Cloud Atlas, like many films in 2012, has been about stories being told and Cloud Atlas manages it better than most. The palpable “story” nature of the many tales does not make their humaneness less nuanced but in a subtle type of defamiliarisation recalls its literary roots AND endorses the adaptation’s cinematic-ness; Holy Motors opens just as ambiguously as the rest of the film continues – but, it’s completely disarming. The man waking from his dream, the key which is a finer, the faceless audience, the projected images, all so very beguiling; Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is unsettling and moody right from that first shot, that image of the clouded window is such a perfect encapsulation of the film’s interest in excise the truth from the prevarication shrouding it; Rust and Bone’s opening of a father and a son is the perfect example of how Audiard counteracts the melodrama of his script and with his direction steps back and allows the audience to observe from a distance – still intrigued, but not *forced* to feel; Tabu’s opening immediately shows its love for humour amidst the unsettling, from the droll narrator to the evocative images of the plantation. Also, gorgeous.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Argo; The Paperboy; The Turin Horse

Now, your turn. Favourite 2012 openings. Go.


Squasher88 said...

Anna Karenina is a great choice for this category. What a rush!

ruth said...

Great post Andrew! Haven't seen some of these but a movie opening is quite crucial as some people say, we know whether we like a movie or not in the first 10 minutes. I so want to see Deep Blue Sea!!

Alex Withrow said...

Great list here. Man, Killing Them Softly set its tone so perfectly. I was like, "What. The hell. Is going on here?"

Loved that.

My favorites... definitely Rust and Bone, for the reasons you mentioned. And also Magic Mike, as random as that may seem. Old boy McConaughey mixing it up better than ever. Perfect.

Sati. said...

Killing them Softly was a great opening. My favorite is probably The Hobbit, the prologue was the best part of the movie.

Colin Biggs said...

Dominik set the tone immediately. The best of quite a few November/December films.