The 23rd Annual Biggie Awards
aka The Biggies
for achievements in film for the year 2011
MMXI (that’s 2011 in Roman numerals, noobs), it was a strange year at the movies. Very strange indeed. For the first few months of the year, I thought it might end up being the worst overall year for the number of quality films in my adult life. Though there were a couple nice surprises early on (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Adjustment Bureau), it wasn’t until April that I finally saw a movie I truly loved (Hanna). After that, we went most of the rest of spring and almost the entire summer without a truly great movie, which instead was an unending string of disappointments and bland sequels. And I mean real bland, bland by even modern Hollywood standards (I mean, even Pixar made a subpar movie this year). That includes almost all of the major summer “tentpoles”. The big Marvel Avengers tie-in comic book flicks (Thor, Captain America) were both okay, but just okay. Then there was Green Lantern, which can only be described as godawful. I’m still having nightmares over the fact that a giant cloud of diarrhea was a villain in a movie that cost more than $250 million. Michael Bay continued crushing the memory of my childhood heroes with another shitty mess of a Transformers movie (Dark of the Moon, which was only 8.2% better than that atrocity Revenge of the Fallen), while Todd Phillips followed up one of the greatest comedies ever made (The Hangover) with an offensively lazy sequel that was almost literally a carbon copy of the first. I wanted more from J.J. Abrams‘ much-hyped Super 8 (hated the creature design, hated the ending), and although I enjoyed X-Men: First Class, it didn’t hold up as well upon a second viewing recently on Blu-ray.
The only two big spring/summer movies that lived up to the hype were Fast Five (a movie I unashamedly adore, and a shocking turnaround and jolt of energy for that decade-old franchise) and the final Harry Potter film, which I kinda hoped would be good enough to earn the series its first Best Picture contender, but in the final analysis it was probably the 7th or 8th best movie of the year. It wasn’t until August of all months (usually one of the slowest months of the year for good flicks), where things started to turn around. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (which opened July 29 to be precise) took me completely by surprise, a near-perfect mix of comedy, romance and drama that featured fine filmmaking and great performances from top to bottom. And who would’ve guessed that Rise of the Planet of the Apes (as awkward a title as I can remember) would be one of the summer’s best, anchored of course by yet another piece of performance capture genius by Andy Serkis. It was one of the only big effects movies that placed character and story above spectacle, and it was a welcome relief at the end of a tedious summer.
Once we got past the warm months, things returned to form, and the fall and winter brought us several really strong films, both mainstream entertainments (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Contagion, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and prestige awards contenders (The Artist, The Descendants, Moneyball, etc.).
To my great surprise, one thing 2011 did very well consistently is comedy. I almost always wait for comedies on Netflix, but several of last year’s laughers looked interesting enough to check out on the big screen, and I have to say of all the comedies I saw, I was never really disappointed with the decision to leave the house and get some guffaws. By my count, there were 9 pretty good mainstream comedies in 2011 (in order of quality- Crazy, Stupid, Love., 50/50, Friends with Benefits, Horrible Bosses, Bridesmaids, Hall Pass, Bad Teacher, No Strings Attached, The Sitter), which is probably the most of any year since I’ve been doing this, if I tracked such things. Shit, even the Farrelly Brothers made a good comedy. Hall Pass was the first movie of theirs I’ve enjoyed in…[checking IMDb] holy shit! I haven’t really liked one of their movies since There’s Something About Mary in 1998. Good god, it’s been 13 years. I liked Bridesmaids, but didn’t find it to be the revolutionary comedy everyone else seemed to (Seriously? An Original Screenplay nomination, Oscars? Come on now.). However, I do agree that Melissa McCarthy was brilliant in it, and she gets a Supporting Actress nomination from me just as she did from almost every other awards show this year.
Those of us who were paying attention will remember 2011 as the year of Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, who appeared in a combined 13 movies. Mr. Gosling, who now has to be considered the best actor/movie star of his generation, was 3-for-3 in great, great movies; The Ides of March (yet another superb directorial effort from George Clooney), Crazy Stupid, Love. and Drive. Oh, Drive. Drive, my favorite movie of 2011 (is it the best, too? We’ll see), arrived in theaters in September without much commercial fanfare, but to much critical praise. It immediately blew me away. I couldn’t recommend this movie enough to anyone who would listen, and for reasons we’ll get into throughout these nominations, it’s one of the most uniquely fucking awesome movies I’ve seen in years. All 3 of Gosling’s movies opened in a 3-month span, and it was almost too much for me to handle. If I could have traded places with one man for the calendar year of 2011, it would have been Gosling.
Ms. Chastain came out of literally nowhere to me. I’d heard her name mentioned a few times, but it wasn’t until I saw The Help in August that she appeared on my radar. I’m watching that movie and trying to figure out who the hell is this girl? Then I saw the credits and realized, ohhhh, this is that Jessica Chastain girl. I love The Help and I love every second of her in it. Then I saw her again just 3 weeks later in The Debt, a highly underrated film, and thought, well, they were right. I’ve since seen her in the also-underrated Take Shelter (alongside Michael Shannon‘s amazing leading performance) and finally watched Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life last week. I don’t wanna get into a Tree of Life critique here, but I feel she was severely underused in it (although she sure looked great staring at butterflies and flowers, combing her kids’ hair, etc.). So I’ve seen 4 of the 6 movies she was in in 2011, with Texas Killing Fields coming up soon on my Netflix list. It’s not often an actress gets her big break after age 30, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this beautiful and talented actress 4 times a year for the next 5 years to make up for lost time.
Michael Fassbender– excuse me, Michael F. Assbender, got to do just about everything last year, from a British costume drama (Jane Eyre) to playing the origins of the greatest comic book villain ever (Magneto in X-Men: First Class), and he turned in the ballsiest (literally and figuratively- giggity), most daring performance from anyone in 2011 in Shame, a film you really must see (I have to give Fox Searchlight a special kudos for being unafraid to release that film with an NC-17 rating). I still haven’t even seen him in A Dangerous Method, which his also supposed to be very interesting.
These are three actors I definitely don’t mind being overexposed. Forgive the pun again, Mr. Fassbender.
A couple other people who had really solid years were Emma Stone (Crazy, Stupid/The Help) and the aforementioned G. Clooney, who turned in perhaps his best acting yet in The Descendants to go along with writing, producing, directing, and having a really strong supporting role in The Ides of March. Oh, and he’s dating Stacy Keibler. Respect, bruv.
And that’s what tickled my fancy in 2011. It’s worth mentioning that one of the biggest things lacking last year were noteworthy films by many of my favorite A-list directors. Steven Spielberg turned in one of his patented double features, but I was every bit as unsatisfied with The Adventures of Tin-Tin as I predicted I would be over 2 years ago, and War Horse, while very good, simply wasn’t up to his standards when it comes to those historical dramas (in big part because they wussed it down to a PG-13). That said, in 2012 I fully expect the big boys to return to form. I hope these newbies enjoyed their time in the sun in 2011, because in 2012, among others, Spielberg (Lincoln), Peter Jackson (The Hobbit), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) are back in action, all with films that could easily dominate these nominations if they’re as good as I hope they will be. Oh yeah, one Paul Thomas Anderson also returns (there really hasn’t been a better film made since his masterpiece There Will Be Blood in 2007), and Sam Mendes is directing the next Bond movie. Drooooooooooooool…
Lastly, I’m proud of myself for sticking with my 3D boycott for the entire calendar year. Prior to seeing Hugo in 3D in late January (out of respect for Martin Scorsese because I’d heard the 3D was great- it was), I hadn’t paid that fucking 3D surcharge since Tron: Legacy in December, 2010. Hooray, me!
I rehash this every year for those unaware, but the Biggies are my answer to the Oscars. I long ago grew tired of the Academy passing over movies and people I thought KNEW should be nominated. In 1997, I started doing my own nominees every year in the same categories as the Oscars (with the exception of Foreign Language films, documentaries and short films, which I don’t see enough of every year to do their own category), and I’ve since gone back and done nominees and winners all the way back to 1989, where Glory is my first Best Picture winner. ’97 was the first year in my so-called “Modern Era”, as in it was the first year where I started seeing every big contender in theaters (which was much easier then when I saw all my movies for free as a theater employee). My awards have evolved over time, and I now do two categories (Best Ensemble Performance, Best Stuntwork) that the Oscars don’t, but should. On the other hand, unlike the Academy, I did not add a Best Animated Feature category, as I’m simply not interested in seeing all 50 of the 3D computer-animated kids movies that come out every year (if I see more than 2, that’s a lot for me- it’s usually that year’s Pixar movie, and maybe one other). They’re called the Biggies because Biggie is my longtime nickname, and it seemed to instantly make sense, since almost every awards show has to end in an “ees” pronunciation (Grammys, Tonys, Emmys, you get it).
Without further ado, here is the best Hollywood had to offer in 2011. According to me. (if you want to compare my nominees to what the Oscars did this year, check out their nominations and winners HERE, in case you’ve already forgotten them, which you probably have)
UPDATE: Winner in each category is in bold.
1. The Descendants (producers Jim Burke, Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne)
2. Drive (producers Marc Platt, Adam Siegel, John Palermo, Michael Litvak, Gigi Pritzker)
3. Hanna (producers Marty Adelstein, Leslie Holleran, Scott Nemes)
4. Moneyball (producers Brad Pitt, Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz)
5. Warrior (producers Gavin O’Connor, Greg O’Connor)
Quite the eclectic group, and none of these were on the top 10 of my most anticipated movies of 2011 list that I did early last year. Unfortunately, that just shows that almost every big movie I was really looking forward to disappointed, but it is what it is. I’m always happy to be surprised by a great movie I didn’t see coming. I had hoped Moneyball would be good, but didn’t expect it to be “Best Picture good”. There was no dominant film, and Moneyball‘s 8 overall nominations leads the 2011 pack. It’s the fewest “most nominations” since the films of 1999, which was more a balanced year for different reasons- there was an abundance of great films. (By the way, if you’d asked me on January 1st, 2011 what the odds were of Moneyball leading my nominations, I’d have said no better than 100-to-1.) We’ll discuss each of these nominees as this list progresses, but suffice to say, in most years, a movie like The Descendants, while always an Oscar darling, isn’t at the top of my own Best Pic choices. This freaky year, it is indeed worthy. Featuring an ensemble filled with flawless performances and a wonderful script, Alexander Payne‘s film is the rare pure “actors’ movie” to crack my Best Picture list.
There is no frontrunner here. I honestly haven’t yet decided what I think the BEST movie of 2011 was. I know Drive is my FAVORITE, but as I’ve explained ad infinitum, there’s a difference between favorite and best. Perhaps this year, the two will line up again.
1. Bennett Miller, Moneyball
2. Gavin O’Connor, Warrior
3. Alexander Payne, The Descendants
4. Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
5. Joe Wright, Hanna
Proving just how wild 2011 was, every one of these guys is a first-time Biggie directing nominee. As is almost always the case, the directors line up perfectly with the Best Picture nominees, as it is primarily a director’s vision that makes great films great. Alexander Payne’s mastery of working with actors alone was enough to earn him a nomination, but The Descendants is also his most interesting film visually. I absolutely loved Joe Wright‘s work on Atonement, a film that showed me it was only a matter of time before he ended up on this list. I think Hanna is the most Kubrick-looking movie in years, and with a few shots in the film, I was almost certain the master filmmaker had possessed Wright. Nicolas Winding Refn‘s touch is all over Drive, and I can say that without even having seen any of his other films (although that will obviously change as soon as possible). I didn’t understand the choice of Bennett Miller when it was announced he’d be directing Moneyball, but boy was I proven wrong. It’s hard to imagine anyone else directing this particular movie this well. And of course you have to love the classic American grit displayed in Warrior, due in part to the film’s ultra-low budget, but it’s a credit to Gavin O’Connor‘s skill.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. 50/50, written by Will Reiser
2. The Artist, written by Michel Hazanavicius
3. Margin Call, written by J.C. Chandor
4. Warrior, written by Gavin O’Connor & Andy Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman
5. Win Win, written by Thomas McCarthy & Joe Tiboni
I’m glad I was able to find a spot to nominate Win Win, one of the few really good movies from early in the year, and proof that Thomas McCarthy remains a filmmaker to watch. See it, I beg you. Margin Call is another film I considered for several acting nominations, and all those performances were no doubt inspired by J.C. Chandor‘s wonderful script, which turns the potential collapse of an unnamed bank during the 2008 financial crisis into a taut, tense, smart, fascinating dramatic thriller. Watching 50/50, you quickly realize a story like that could only have been written by someone who had personal experience with cancer, and Will Reiser‘s script is in fact semi-autobiographical, and deftly combines humor with intense drama. I can’t imagine how hard it was to write a silent film in 2011, but Michel Hazanavicius (try pronouncing that), a Frenchman, wrote an eloquent silent film about 1920’s Hollywood that still felt somehow modern. Finally, credit to the writers of Warrior for essentially putting two Rocky stories into one movie, without either coming across as a blatant Rocky ripoff. Not an easy feat, just a lot of strong, naturalistic writing.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. The Descendants, screenplay by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
2. Drive, screenplay by Hossein Amini
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, screenplay by Steven Zaillian
4. The Ides of March, screenplay by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
5. Moneyball, screenplay by Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
Steven Zaillian has long been the best adapter of books in Hollywood (Schindler’s List, A Civil Action, Hannibal, Gangs of New York, American Gangster), and I’m very happy to be able to double nominate him this year. Even though they worked on the script separately, it’s no surprise Moneyball is nominated with Zaillian AND Aaron Sorkin (2010 Adapted Screenplay winner) making major contributions. I haven’t read the Dragon Tattoo book, but from everything I hear and read, Zaillian made many much-needed cuts to streamline the adaptation.
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
2. Crazy, Stupid, Love.
3. The Descendants
4. The Help
5. The Ides of March
All of these are obvious choices, and Carnage may not fit in with these other big casts as a traditional ensemble, but an ensemble it certainly is. All 4 actors give sterling performances, and all 4 of them are in almost every scene, which is very difficult to make work. I strongly considered Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly separately in Best Actor and Best Actress, but I’m quite satisfied nominating them together here instead. If you haven’t seen Carnage and enjoy movies that feel and act like stage plays, you need to check this out.
1. George Clooney, The Descendants
2. Michael Fassbender, Shame
3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50
4. Tom Hardy, Warrior
5. Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been on the rise for 6 or 7 years, and I’m thrilled to give him his first (of what will hopefully be many) individual acting nomination for a bold performance that deftly navigates comedy, drama and tragedy. I could have just as easily nominated Joel Edgerton for Warrior, but as is often the case, the more showy performance wins the day. That said, I do think Tom Hardy had more to do in the film, and goes through the most change as a character. Michael Fassbender‘s fearless performance in Shame has to be seen to be believed, George Clooney delivers the very best performance of his career, and Brad Pitt continues to piss me off. You simply can’t be that good looking, that good a person and that talented all at the same time. Shit ain’t right. This race is too close to call.
1. Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
2. Viola Davis, The Help
3. Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4. Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
5. Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
That’s right, no Meryl Streep. I found The Iron Lady to be quite tedious at times, and Streep’s performance was good, but mostly an imitation, without a whole lot of depth. Unlike the Academy, I don’t give out awards just because “she hasn’t won in decades!” Speaking of Streep, who would have guessed 5 or 6 years ago that Michelle Williams of all people would become The Next Meryl Streep? Either she’s getting offered the large portion of female prestige roles, or she has truly great instincts in choosing her parts. This year, she brought Marilyn Monroe back to life, if only for a couple hours, in a mesmerizing, sympathetic performance. No small feat, to be sure. I watched the Swedish Dragon Tattoo just a week or so before watching the American version, and in my view Rooney Mara has far outdone Noomi Rapace (who was very good in her own ways) in bringing one of the most interesting female characters in years to the big screen. I can’t wait for the sequels.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
2. Albert Brooks, Drive
3. Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
5. Nick Nolte, Warrior
If you’ve seen all these movies, most of these choices are obvious. To me, nominating Albert Brooks for playing completely against type so well was a no-brainer, but obviously the Academy disagreed. But they’re dumb. He was magically diabolical in Drive, playing perhaps the most interesting character in the film. This may be the least obvious of Ryan Gosling’s 3 roles in 2011 to see get nominated, but his lead roles in Ides of March and Drive faced really stiff competition in the Best Actor field, as you can plainly see. I said it at the time in my review, but his work in C,S,L was one of the most charismatic performances I’ve ever seen. Actually, my exact words were that he was “spewing charisma”. To do drama, comedy, romance and machismo as well as he does it in this one role I thought was astounding. I guess what I’m saying is to do what he does in this film is not easy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
2. Jessica Chastain, The Help
3. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
4. Octavia Spencer, The Help
5. Vanessa Redgrave, Anonymous
Vanessa Redgrave was the last-minute addition here, as Anonymous was one of the last 2011 films I screened before finishing up my nominees. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed that film, and even more so by the quality of the performances in it, Redgrave above all others as Queen Elizabeth I. This is the second time someone playing this queen has been nominated in this category, after Judi Dench famously won Best Supporting Actress in 1998 (both with me and the Oscars) for her brief (she had 8 just minutes of screen time) but perfect performance in Shakespeare in Love. Redgrave gets to show a much more vulnerable side to royalty here, in addition to the scenes that require your typical Queen-like stateliness. I again highly recommend you check out Anonymous, a very different kind of film for director Roland Emmerich aka the Master of Disaster (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012).
Last year, all 4 of my acting winners lined up with the Oscar winners, an incredibly rare feat. What a difference a year makes. Just one year later, I didn’t even nominate 3 of the Oscars’ acting winners (Octavia Spencer being the only exception).
1. Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2. Janusz Kaminski, War Horse
3. Alwin Kuchler, Hanna
4. Wally Pfister, Moneyball
5. Guillame Schiffman, The Artist
If David Fincher’s movies (shot on the RED digital camera system since Zodiac in ’07) continue to look this good, I may eventually be convinced digital can replace film. Maybe. Two of this year’s giants, Prometheus and The Hobbit, were also shot with it, so the future might just be now. If David Fincher, Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson swear by it, who am I to argue? All that said, Steven Spielberg and longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski continue to show the power of film (War Horse features some of the most beautiful camerawork in any Spielberg film), as do the rest of these fine choices. Wally Pfister took some work in between getting nominated for Christopher Nolan movies and still got nominated for Moneyball‘s brilliant photography. I guess he’s just that good. Is there any doubt he’ll be back here again next year for The Dark Knight Rises? Not much.
BEST FILM EDITING
1. John Gilroy, Sean Albertson, Matt Chesse, Aaron Marshall, Warrior
2. Lee Haxall, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
3. Mat Newman, Drive
4. Christopher Tellefsen, Moneyball
5. Paul Tothill, Hanna
Great editing is tough to spot the first time you see a really good movie. And it should be. That’s because if the editor has done a good job, you’re too engrossed in the story to notice the craftsmanship. Of course, there are movies with flashy editing that you can’t help but notice, and I typically nominate at least one of those every year. However, this year, all of these nominees are a bit more subtle in their style, but altogether brilliant nonetheless. The true excellence of all of this work was much more clear to me the second time I watched each of these films. I don’t know that I’ve ever nominated a comedy in the editing category, but Lee Haxall did such an amazing job on Crazy, Stupid, Love. that I had to make room for him this year. There were some really clever visual tricks used to make transitions during this film…stuff you rarely see in comedies, because there’s hardly ever a reason to attempt it. In general, the filmmaking on C,S,L far exceeded what’s required in these type of movies, and I respect that directors Glenn Ficara & John Requa made the effort. I’m willing to bet Drive has the fewest cuts of any of these movies, but it’s exactly that patience from one shot to the next that made the movie so engrossing. It MADE you digest each shot by not allowing you to dismiss it with a quick cut. That choice to hold on a shot is often much more effective than rapid-fire cuts from one person to the other and back.
If you want to see a real clinic in superior editing, watch the sequence in Moneyball where the A’s go on their magical 20-game winning streak. The combination of music and cuts between current events, players of the distant past, recreations, actual game footage, scoreboards, and various reaction shots is incredible; one of the best individual extended sequences in years.
BEST ART DIRECTION
1. The Artist
3. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
4. War Horse
5. Water for Elephants
I had to find some room to recognize Water for Elephants, which wasn’t a great film overall (it was good, don’t get me wrong, and not enough people saw it), but it did have some of the best craftsmanship of the entire year. I’ve nominated it here and for Costume Design below. I really enjoyed taking in the look and feel of a traveling circus in the Depression Era, something we obviously don’t get to see a whole lot of on the big screen. It was cool seeing them building the circus tents, but especially interesting were the interiors on the train, where we get to see a whole class system, from the areas where the animals are kept to where the lower class workers live all the way up to the circus owner’s (Christoph Waltz) upper class cabin.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
1. Mark Bridges, The Artist
2. Lisy Christl, Anonymous
3. Sandy Powell, Hugo
4. Jill Taylor, My Week with Marilyn
5. Jacqueline West, Water for Elephants
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
4. The Iron Lady
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Most of this is subtler work, but all high quality and essential to their film’s credibility. Rooney Mara’s physical transformation into Lisbeth Salander is a marvel to behold, and it’s difficult to believe they’re one in the same person.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (Below each nominee is one of my favorite tracks from that film’s score. Have a listen!)
1. Ludovic Bource, The Artist
(this is the ultra catchy “Peppy and George”)
2. The Chemical Brothers (Tom Rowlands & Ed Simons), Hanna
(here is “Container Park”)
3. Mychael Danna, Moneyball
(I give you the music that accompanies the aforementioned “The Streak”)
4. Alexandre Desplat, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
(misery, death come to Hogwarts in “Courtyard Apocalypse”)
5. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(the bittersweet, brokenhearted, beautiful cue from the very end of the film, “What If We Could?”)
6. Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
(here is “Zu Viele Füchse Für Euch Hänsel”)
Yes, there are 6 nominees in this category this year. That is not a typo. As you’ll see below, my options for Original Song were extremely limited. I struggled just to get to 3 nominees there, and because there were an abundance of excellence choices once again in Original Score for 2011, I decided to make a rare exception (actually, this is the first time I’ve done it) and allow 6 nominees for Score, all of whom are worthy. Ludovic Bource (who won the Oscar in this category) traveled back in time and wrote a marvelous retro score that plays over basically the entire run time of The Artist. Even if he doesn’t win, it’s most certainly at the top of the “degree of difficulty” list this year. Alexandre Desplat, who scored no fewer than 8 films of various stylings and scope in 2011, somehow managed to rise to the occasion for the Harry Potter finale, delivering perhaps the best Potter score since John Williams‘ work on the first film 10 years ago. Unbelievable. The Chemical Brothers continue the inroads into film by big-name electronic artists started by Daft Punk‘s amazing work last year on Tron: Legacy with their perfectly crafted situational work on Hanna, including one of the most whistleable movie themes EVER in “The Devil is in the Details”:
I’m so happy for Mychael Danna (who has been doing solid work for years), for finally breaking through with a truly great score on Moneyball, earning his first Biggie nomination in the process. As much as I enjoy when my favorite composers continue doing phenomenal work, I’m always thrilled to add a new name to the club. Speaking of my favorite composers…unsurprisingly, Hans Zimmer, still in his prime, continues his dominance, nominated here for the seventh straight year. He somehow managed to make clever adjustments and additions to his already innovative work from the first Sherlock film. His power theme in that slow-motion forest action sequence is one of his best cues ever. Unfortunately, although “The Great One” John Williams scored two new Spielberg movies in 2011, neither of those scores were quite up to task on the whole, even though I do love the main theme from War Horse (which I actually thought was overscored). The man is 80 years old now, but I hold out hope he has some greatness left in him, with a huge opportunity to prove it later this year on Spielberg’s sure-to-be-excellent Lincoln.
On their second collaboration (after being nominated for The Social Network in 2010), it’s clear David Fincher and Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross are a match made in heaven. If only this collaboration had started 17 years ago. As much as I love the music in Fincher’s older films, I now can’t help but wonder what Reznor & Ross would have done with Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and Zodiac. No offense to Howard Shore, David Shire and The Dust Brothers, of course. The Dragon Tattoo score is at once moody, intense, and in the end, bittersweet. The cue at the very end of the film, “What If We Could?”, is some of Reznor’s best piano work ever, which is saying a lot. I realize I’ve been long-winded here, but this is two incredible years in a row overall for scores, and I pray to the cinema gods it continues. There are a lot of opportunities in 2012 for some transcendent movie music.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG (Each song is playable underneath its listing.)
1. “The Living Proof”, written by Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason, Damon Thomas
performed by Mary J. Blige, The Help
2. “The Keeper”, written & performed by Chris Cornell, Machine Gun Preacher
3. “Gathering Stories”, written by Jónsi & Cameron Crowe
performed by Jónsi, We Bought A Zoo
Jónsi is nominated for the second year in a row, after winning in 2010 for his incredible track “Sticks and Stones” from How to Train Your Dragon. Chris Cornell is nominated for the second time, after winning in 2006 for his Bond theme “You Know My Name” on Casino Royale. And sadly, these were the only 3 original songs this year that I felt were even above average, let alone excellent. 2011 may have been the weakest year ever for this category, and I wasn’t about to add 2 mediocre songs just to get to 5, thus the additional nominee for Original Score.
There were quite a few films this year that had great soundtracks, but sadly they were all comprised of pre-existing tracks. After seeing Drive, I was praying that “Nightcall”, “Under Your Spell”, or “A Real Hero” were original works, but alas they were all songs from their artists’ previous albums. That sucks. “Nightcall” in particular I thought was the single best-used song in a movie in 2011, and “A Real Hero” would probably be #2. I wish either of the two songs by The National in Warrior had been written for the movie. Nope. The same goes for Linkin Park‘s “Iridescent” from TF3 and “The Show” from Moneyball, performed beautifully by young actress Kerris Dorsey. Better luck in 2012, songwriters…for the love of god.
1. Fast Five
2. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
3. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
4. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
One advantage to skyrocketing blockbuster budgets is that they can afford to do bigger, more elaborate, more impressive (if not more absurd) stunts, and 4 of these nominees are proof positive of that. On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, Warrior (which no doubt cost less in total than some of Transformers‘ individual scenes) gets nominated for the realism of its fight sequences, which directly enhanced the drama of the film. This is the very definition of drama through action, doing and not saying. The other 4 nominees’ stunt sequences are all enhanced by CGI, but not reliant upon it. It’s good to see practical effects win the day, particularly in Fast Five, which featured the best stunts and action sequences in that decade-long franchise’s history. Nothing more need be said about my respect for Tom Cruise, who continues doing his own stunts (yes, that was actually him running around and hanging off the tallest building on Earth in Dubai) and powering the Mission: Impossible franchise forward.
Goddamn this looks fun to be around:
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
1. Battle Los Angeles
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
and the movie might have sucked, but this is awesome:
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
5. War Horse
BEST SOUND EDITING
1. Fast Five
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
3. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
4. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
5. War Horse
Career Achievement/Honorary Awards
-An honorary award is being given to each of the primary contributors to the recently completed Harry Potter franchise, in recognition of the consistent quality of work over 8 films and 10 years. There are zero bad movies in this series, a remarkable achievement.
Filmmakers: Chris Columbus (director), David Yates (director), David Heyman (producer), Steve Kloves (screenwriter), Stuart Craig (production designer) (Craig was a terrific production designer before these films, but worked on no other films during the decade Potter was in theaters), John Williams (composer), Tim Burke (visual effects supervisor), John Richardson (special effects supervisor), Jany Temime (costume designer), Mark Day (editor), Greg Powell (stunt coordinator)
Cast Members: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), James Phelps (Fred Weasley), Oliver Phelps (George Weasley), Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan), Julie Walters (Molly Weasley), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Jason Isaacs (Luciius Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Warwick Davis (Griphook/Filius Flitwick)
I thought this was cool…
2012 Biggies Motion Picture Hall of Fame Inductees
Steve Buscemi (John Cazale Actors Wing)
Roger Deakins (Freddie Young Cinematographers Wing)
James Horner (Bernard Herrmann Composers Wing)
Michael Semanick (Orson Welles Craftsmanship Wing)
THE STUDIO OF THE YEAR
2011 Recipient: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Classics (notable films included Moneyball, The Ides of March, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Anonymous, Battle Los Angeles, Friends with Benefits, Bad Teacher, Take Shelter, Attack the Block) (I’ve been giving out this award since 2000, and this is Sony/Columbia’s first ever Studio of the Year award. It was close this year, but well-earned.)
Moneyball – 8 Nominations [Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound]
Warrior – 7 Nominations [Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Stuntwork]
The Artist – 6 Nominations [Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score]
Drive – 6 Nominations [Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Sound]
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – 6 Nominations [Adapted Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography, Makeup, Original Score, Sound]
The Descendants – 5 Nominations [Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance, Actor]
Hanna – 5 Nominations [Picture, Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – 5 Nominations [Original Score, Makeup, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing]
The Help – 4 Nominations [Actress, Supporting Actress x2, Original Song]
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – 4 Nominations [Art Direction, Stuntwork, Original Score, Sound Editing]
War Horse – 4 Nominations [Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Sound Editing]
Crazy, Stupid, Love. – 3 Nominations [Ensemble Performance, Supporting Actor, Film Editing]
Hugo – 3 Nominations [Art Direction, Costume Design, Visual Effects]
The Ides of March – 3 Nominations [Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance, Supporting Actor]
My Week with Marilyn – 3 Nominations [Actress, Supporting Actor, Costume Design]
5 more films had 2 nominations each
George Clooney – 4 Nominations [Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance x2, Actor]
Ryan Gosling – 3 Nominations [Ensembler Performance x2, Supporting Actor]
Gavin O’Connor – 3 Nominations [Picture, Director, Original Screenplay]
Alexander Payne – 3 Nominations [Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay]
Brad Pitt – 2 Nominations [Picture, Actor]
Steven Zaillian – 2 Nominations [Adapted Screenplay x2]
Jessica Chastain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Octavia Spencer were each double-nominated with their casts in Ensemble Performance in addition to their individual nominations
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT FILMS NOMINATED: 34 (compared to 31 in 2010 and the Oscars’ 32 different films in the same categories)
This Year’s Strongest Categories: Ensemble Performance, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Original Score, Stuntwork, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing
This Year’s Weakest Categories: Picture, Original Song
NOTABLE OMISSIONS (films and people that narrowly missed the cut)
BEST PICTURE- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, The Ides of March
BEST DIRECTOR- George Clooney (The Ides of March), David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE- Margin Call, My Week with Marilyn, Warrior, Win Win
BEST ACTOR- Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Joel Edgerton (Warrior), Paul Giamatti (Win Win), Mel Gibson (The Beaver), Ryan Gosling (Drive), Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March), John C. Reilly (Carnage), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Christoph Waltz (Carnage)
BEST ACTRESS- Jodie Foster (Carnage), Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Kate Winslet (Carnage)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR- George Clooney (The Ides of March), Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II), Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March), Ben Kingsley (Hugo), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Kevin Spacey (Margin Call)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS- Jodie Foster (The Beaver), Anjelica Huston (50/50), Julianne Moore (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY- Carnage (Yazmina Reza & Roman Polanski), The Help (Tate Taylor)
BEST FILM EDITING – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall)
and last, but not least…
BIGGIE’S TOP 10 OF 2011
10 HONORABLE MENTIONS (in A-B-C order): ANONYMOUS, CARNAGE, CONTAGION, THE DESCENDANTS, FAST FIVE, FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, THE HELP, MARGIN CALL, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, WAR HORSE
(Note: My Top 10 is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the 10 best. As always, there is a difference between favorite and best. If I could put a gun to your head and force you to watch a marathon of movies from 2011, these are the ones that I’d make you watch.)
If you made it this far, thank you very much for your attention. I put a lot of work into my awards every year, and putting this post together probably took at least 24 combined hours of work, between writing it, gathering and uploading all the photos, finding the videos, uploading the music, etc. etc. I very much appreciate it when people recognize my passion for movies by checking out these entire Biggie Awards posts. I try to keep it entertaining and educational from start to finish, so even if you disagree with me, you’re laughing, learning something, or just sharing in the love of movies. Of course, artistry should never be a competition by naming winners and losers, but I also believe it’s important to recognize and shine a light on the people who did the most impressive work each year, in all aspects of a film’s production. This is the biggest blog entry I do each year (this edition is running right around 6,800 words), and the one I take the most pride in getting right. I welcome your opinions and comments on the best 2011 had to offer. May 2012 be even better. Much better…