Saturday, 9 March 2013

Encore Awards (2012 in Review): Writing

I’m still in the process of wrapping up my 2012 year-end awards. Relative normalcy shall return to the blog in about a week or two, for now I’ll make those final plaudits for the year of 2012. This time with the writing awards, and a few visual bits I didn’t get to earlier.

As usual, pictures take you to links of reviews where available.


Damsels in Distress / Whit Stillman
The mark of a good screenplay is not only its dialogue, but with Stillman’s well designed Damsels in Distress it’s so easy to keep returning to the snappy dialogue as its beacon. It is, doubtlessly, the 2012 script with the most quotable quotes. Character beats are beautifully rendered, the divisions of the script into those pithily separated scene and the unremitting air of joyfulness bursting through it all – Stillman gets key points for writing this idyllic college campus with such warmth.

Key Scene: Any of those bedroom scenes with the girls is a great indication – gifting Rose with the (should-be) legendary “playboy operator” are the things great scripts are made of.

Looper / Rian Johnson
I kept debating between this and my #6 Magic Mike and it’s not just the original roots of Johnson’s conceit that lands it here. Looper is reaching high mixing genres, and creating an action film with dark undertones and Johnson’s ability to succeed on the romantic, familial and gut-level without significant discordance is a key example of a script getting its ambition in line with its endgame.

Key Scene: For example, Cid’s tantrum opposite Sara has as much honesty and realness as Joe’s meeting with Older Joe at the café.

Moonrise Kingdom / Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola 
Why, certainly, this is quaint to the point of being potentially twee but ain’t nothing wrong with that. It recalls the silly, innocent humour which I love in Stillman that Anderson and Coppola are putting to such good use here. There’s a significant love for all the characters, a key understanding of their virtues and faults, great scene set-ups and quotable lines for all.

Key Scene: I’m very partial to that scene with Suzy and her mother in that bathroom which is greatly acted, yes, but benefits from such sharp writing.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia / Ebru Ceylan & Nuri Bilge Ceylan & Ercan Kesal 
I hesitate to call it an expressly rewarding screenplay but it is one which is constantly giving the audience much to appreciate. It’s foremost a mystery tale and the deeper you dig, the more wealth of information is there for you to unearth. It’s also constantly humorous amidst the sadness and consistently profound without being didactic.

Key Scene: The final scene with Doctor Cemal and Prosecutor Nusret is a beautifully constructed mix of mystery and humaneness that the not quite a revelation manages to work dramatically without being cloying is a credit to the writing.

Tabu / Michael Gomes and Mariana Ricardo
As a rule I don’t think a screenplay is better for being funny, but the way that this historical melodrama is markedly lilting along with a significant amount of humour does – oftentimes – make for a more thoughtful film that I suspect the alternative would be. I’m curious to re-watch for like with Ceylan and company, above, the script seems to contain multitudinous depths.

Key Scene: I’d extract any scene from that beautiful second half which uses voice-over narration to such great effect, but our first meeting with Old Aurora in the first half hour is as good as any of those.

FINALISTS: Brave for taking mother/daughter strife and pitching it to great effect; Hope Springs for using its standard set-up to create humane beings and real dramatic tension; Holy Motors for sheer daring and great execution of an original concept; Magic Mike for a nice take on the backstage work drama;

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Impossible; ParaNorman; Ruby Sparks


Anna Karenina / Tom Stoppard
Wright will get credit, and deservedly so, for the stage conceit but Stoppard deserves notice for the irreverent tone running through so many of the dialogue cues. If there’s anyone willing to take this gargantuan novel and bend it to his whim, it’s Stoppard.

Key Scene: Heavy points to Stoppard for creating significant moments with Anna and her husband which come out of the script as organic bits without pulling sympathy from either of the two parties. Also, nice on him for utilising dialogue from the novel in various scenes.

Cloud Atlas / Lana Wachowski, Tom TykwerAndy, Wachowski
They are also the directors so it’s somewhat dubious which choices are from the screenplay and which from the direction but even with that the film manages to resound so excellently because of the three’s combined decision to jump judiciously from era to era to era and it’s both the writing and direction providing the audience with connectives to find the correlations across the centuries.

Key Scene: The film’s best sequence – 1936 England – is a beautifully crafted, tragedy in its own right. Every scene of it is well written.

The Deep Blue Sea / Terence Davies
The story is mostly Hester’s but Davies in his writing manages to create a narrative of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown as something way less myopic than it sounds. It’s because every character that enters the frame is crafted with understanding that even minor roles like Mrs. Elton or Mrs. Collyer are generously written.

Key Scene: Hester’s first meeting with William post-suicide would win multitudes of awards for how beautifully it’s written and is proof of how much we need writers like Davies in contemporary cinema.

Killing Them Softly / Andrew Dominik
The writing is unfussy and even before Dominik gets to his glossy, stylised direction it’s his work on the screenplay which sets the tone for the film. That biting caustic nature to all the lines, that pronounced sharpness and all those memorable lines. It’s all work coming out from his writing.

Key Scene: Any of the scenes between the Driver and Cogan depend as much on the charm and affability of Pitt and Jenkins as it does on the whip smart writing.

Oslo, August 31st / Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Like Davies above, it’s stunning how this overwhelmingly tragic tale is not written to be an expressly downer of a film. This character gets its strongest beats from knowing just how to write Anders, but Trier and Vogt get extra points for other scenes (the interview, the party, the café) where the material becomes a profound observation on human behaviour

Key Scene: Anders first meeting with his friend outside of the rehab benefits from Trier’s meticulousness in writing.

FINALISTS: Argo for being uncluttered even with so much going and developing with significance ease despite the tension; Bachelorette for not losing the warmth of the friendship beneath its barnacles; Les Misérables for an ace musical adaptation and some slight but well working scene movements; The Perks of Being a Wallflower for incredibly warmth and charm in its tender tale; Rust and Bone for moving portraits of two thorny people

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: 21 Jump Street; Frankenweenie; Killer Joe; Lincoln; The Sessions

Last year I introduced a character award for writing. It is somewhat deciding where good writing ends and good acting begins, but writing great characters is not something all great screenplays have and not all great characters come from the best screenplays (or lead to the finest performances of the year).



Anna from Anna Karenina

As written it’s a nuanced, prickly, sympathetic but still problematic portrayal of a sometimes erratic but always daring woman. The screenplay impressively never condescends to make Anna into a conventional heroine nor does not deign to castigate her either.

played by Keira Knightley

adapted by Tom Stoppard

Hester from The Deep Blue Sea

A great character for any writer, but Davies adaptation of Hester to the screen is especial in either regard. It’s one of the most touchingly written characters of the year so that at the end of reading there’s a sense of having learned everything essential about this woman. Not a small feat considering how short it is.

played by Rachel Weisz

adapted by Terence Davies

Anders from Oslo, August 31st

Similarly short like The Deep Blue Sea, this creation of a man apart is deep and profound and suggests a character of significance that should endure for years to come. The writing of Anders is most significant for how natural and with ceremony his feelings in this final day are written.

played Anders Lie

written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt 

Charlotte from The Paperboy

The writing of this character is significant both for what is revealed and what is not. For example, Charlotte’s obvious psychological issues (bordering on a death-wish) are only hinted at but suggest so much. If the film occasionally feels lop-sided when Kidman is onscreen it’s not just the performance, it’s obvious Daniels enjoyed writing the character.

played by Nicole Kidman

adapted by Lee Daniels

Patrick from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s not (just) a case of appreciating such a gay character written with such nuance. One reason that Miller manages to evoke that feeling of familiarity at seeing that cool high-school friend you idolised is because of the specific ways Patrick’s appeal is written with such relish.

played by Ezra Miller

adapted by Stephen Chbosky

FINALISTS: I wish I had space for Regan from Bachelorette, one of the best written portrayals of a thorny woman ; Cavendish from Cloud Atlas is an outrageous creation and very, very fun; Ali from Rust and Bone is a tender examination of a rough man

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Karenin from Anna Karenina; Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Pat from Silver Linings Playbook



Violet from Damsels in Distress

It deserves to endure as not just one of the better acted turns of 2012 but one of the best written roles. Off-kilter Violet is funny and fun, but her obvious issues are not brushed off, and though made humorous are not mocked but treated with unusual kindliness. Also, quotable.

played by Greta Gerwig

written by Whit Stillman

Kay from Hope Springs

I’d argue it’s the best written character Streep has played since Clarissa Woolf. Kay’s foibles, her nervousness, her worry are finely acted by Steep but they’re coming first from a perceptive script that might seem standard but is not.

played by Meryl Streep

written by Vanessa Taylor

Freddie from The Master

Debated with this one since it’s accurate to point out that Freddie undergoes no true emotional journey through the run of the film but even if the character borders on something of a cipher it’s a alluringly written cipher/

played by Joaquin Phoenix

written by Paul Thomas Anderson

Calvin from Ruby Sparks

More than Ruby, Kazan’s creation of this occasional jerk/neurotic writer with significant emotional issues is something which really makes me interested to see her future work. Calvin’s arrogance is nicely combated by his insecurities/

played by Paul Dano

written by Zoe Kazan

Older Aurora from Tabu

She’s the glue keeping the first half not just interesting but eclectic. The first scene with her is one of my favourite written monologues and as little, discordant, bits of her character are revealed the writing is always on-point. Also, humorous.

played by Laura Soveral

written by Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo

FINALISTS: Georges from Amour; Arnold from Hope Springs; Older Aurora from Tabu

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Lucas from The Impossible; Cobb from The Master; Sam and Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom; Dodge from Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

So, stop and try to remember 2012 (a whole three months ago). Which writers made you most appreciative of the cinema?

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