Well, Oscar has come and gone, and with his naked goldenness, another movie season is setting into the snarky sunset. It was a weird year, one were no single title dominated. In fact, both the competing awards shows and the Academy seemed ready to rewrite history as one acknowledged winners that the other could be bothered to even nominate, and visa versa. With Argo walking away with the top honors, in spite of such equally impressive works as The Master and Holy Motors, one can argue that the voting membership is still locked in safe, commercial mode. Even the snubs seem set up to send a particular message, one that tempts fate by suggesting that even the most rock solid lock of a pick - in this case, Ben Affleck as director - is far from a given.
That’s why, a few years ago, we invented the SE&L Awards. It was our way of looking at the end of the awards season and not want to scream at the various injustices. Indeed, it seems like each and every time a group gets together and doles out the accolades, something or someone that made the year tolerable gets kicked to the curb. With the SE&LS, we can settle those differences and divvy up the prizes in a far more fair fashion. The rules here are simple - we do not acknowledge those already picked out by their peers for AMPAS recognition. They got their piece of paper - others deserve their mention. Secondly, we don’t pigeonhole a performance or production. If a foreign film was the Best of 2013, we will celebrate it- even if we later go back and pick another international entry in its own category.
Finally, like all critical determinations, this is personal. While we’d like the think the Oscars are as clued in as we are, the truth remains a far more individualized ideal. So, without further ado, here are our selections for 2013’s SE&L Awards:
Cloud AtlasBest Film
If ambition were accolades, this experiment in long form, intertwining narrative would be Citizen Kane and Vertigo combined. A brilliant, difficult, intriguing and often inspired look at how life (and individual lives) are connected throughout the ages argues for a brilliance behind the lens that is almost impossible to deny - and yet the Academy completely overlooked this box office disappointment, apparently believing that something ahead of its time needs to find said appropriate era before it earns any acknowledgement. Argo may have the trophies and the current cultural cache. Decades from now, this will be the fascinating film that endures.
The Wachowskis with Tom TykwerBest Directors - Cloud Atlas
Part of the reason that Cloud Atlas confounds expectations is the oddball collaboration between the makers of The Matrix and the man mostly responsible for the resplendent Run Lola Run. Meshed seamlessly together, the result is a vision so big, so expansive and all encompassing that it’s almost as if God him (or her)self made the movie. In its genre jumping design, we get everything from wacky comedy to concerning future shock, with stops in many different ideas along the way. Those who questioned the connections between the individual stories clearly didn’t get what the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer were up to. The clues are all present. It’s up to you, the viewer, to discover the delightful links.
Denis LavantBest Actor - Holy Motors
Daniel Day-Lewis made history by snagging his third Oscar for Best Actor, but oddly enough, it was only for playing one character - Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. In Leos Carax’s crazy quilt of an artform homage, actor Denis Lavant essays more than half a dozen personas - and each one is pitch perfect within the filmmaker’s fascination cinematic deconstruction. While some may have a hard time deciphering what the film is about (the short answer? The masks we wear as humans), the effect of watching Lavant switch from personality to personality is worth the prices of admission alone - and deserving of as much praise and polished metal as Mr. My Left Foot.
Jennifer WestfeldtBest Actress - Friends with Kids
This is a bit of a cheat. We are awarding Ms. Westfeldt this honor for more than just her insightful work as an atypical Romantic Comedy lead. As the writer and director of this Woody Allen level entertainment, the actress announces herself as a new force in independent filmmaking. Calling in a few favors - including work from partner Jon Hamm and friends Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph - she crafts a corker that draws legitimate chuckles from the everyday travails of people wanting to (or not wanting to) parent. Heck, for making Megan Fox more than watchable here, Westfeldt deserves a dozen Oscars. He own work exemplifies what is lacking in the rest of the love/laugh genre.
Tom CruiseBest Supporting Actor - Rock of Ages
When we saw him shake his Scientology-styled moneymaker as fallen rock idol Stacey Jaxx, we were convinced that, crappy movie aside, Cruise would be sauntering up the steps to receive his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was a feeling we maintained through most of the Award Season restructuring. So imagine our surprise when he wasn’t even NOMINATED for his work as the aging musician getting back in touch with his tunes. He even sang his own songs - and that apparently earned Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman a trip to the red carpet. Whatever the reason, Cruise is dynamite as Jaxx, a perfect combination of chutzpah and haggard that reminds us that nothing is harder on a human than a life in service of sex, drugs, and…you know the rest.
With so many narrative nuances to pay attention to, Rian Johnson’s slick sci-fi thriller demands a solid human center to keep things grounded. Enter Ms. Blunt, who’s very good at keeping the ephemeral real and the uncertain calm. Handed the task to managing the emotional and physical mayhem between Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she adds a core of identifiable decency to what is already a story spanning decades and ideas. We root for her rural mother, fear when it looks like she will be sacrificed in the name of the future…and then cheer when the fascinating finale unfolds.
Josh Trank & Max LandisBest Script - Chronicle
The superhero genre has either one of two faces - the serious dramatic underpinnings of a Christopher Nolan-esque walk through the world of comic book good vs. evil…and everything else. So trying to turn a group of high school archetypes into the next generation of heroes and villains required an incredibly deft hand both from a premise and a personality standpoint. Enter this masterpiece of a script, which stumbles upon the seemingly lost notion of making its soon to be larger than life individuals actual human beings with problems. By the time we get to the building busting finale, characters careening through the sky like supermen on crack, we’re beyond invested. We’ve discovered a new movie mythology and can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Room 237Best Documentary
For some, Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s classic novel The Shining is one of the greatest horror films of all time. For others, it’s an adaptation that doesn’t work…except perhaps in the deepest recesses of the late eccentric filmmaker’s meticulously appointed headspace. Now imagine a film that takes on the various interpretations - thoughtful and outlandish - over the true meaning behind the movie. Everything is covered, from fright film revisionism to The Holocaust (no…seriously) with the end result being one of the oddest offerings ever to see a legitimate cinematic release. Like watching a two hour discussion among graduate students, the analysis may be dense, but the route to arriving at such conclusions speaks to the cinephile in all of us.
The Suicide ShopBest Animated Feature
With Wreck-It Ralph and ParaNorman getting Oscar love, it was hard to find an animated effort which warranted our added attention. Then we stumbled across this bizarre French film, the allegorical tale of a dystopian death shop in a future shock France where everyone suffers from depression, and the unusual family who runs it. Dark and dour, their lives are suddenly changed when the son is born - and he couldn’t be happier. The rest of the film centers on their attempts to break the boy of his joyful spirit. With added subtext involving climate change and basic morality, this is one of the more unusual cartoons ever made. Even the style suggests an evolution for the artform, the pen and ink as fluid as it is static.
Holy MotorsBest Foreign Film
We could go on and on about Leos Carax’s film, from umpteen attempts to decipher its many narrative mysteries to just plain marveling at the directing skill involved. The best part? It’s also entertaining as Hell, a honorable hodgepodge of competing ideas and approaches that seem to effortless mesh into one amazing examination of life and living within the confines of others expectations and needs. Perhaps the most amazing thing is how each segment works on its own. We tear up over a father saying goodbye to his daughter, and then laugh when a band of accordion players prance around a deserted warehouse. Then ‘80s chanteuse Kylie Minogue shows up to sing us into a sense of cinematic bliss. How the Academy missed this one is beyond us. It’s one of 2012’s very best.
The Cabin in the WoodsBest Guilty Pleasure
How do you argue with a movie that uses, as its main premise, the notion of evil-hungry monster gods who require humans to set-up scare situations to serve their wicked wants? No boo and these angry giants promise nothing short of Biblical Armageddon. And you thought Joss Whedon and partner Drew Goddard were going to offer up a standard slasher in the sticks scenario, right? With an ending that will make any horror fan panic with cross-referential glee, copyright be somewhat damned, the result is one of the best reasons for going to the movies - to see something you wouldn’t normally see, and to be pleasantly surprised in the process. We definitely were.