Seriously, what does The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences know? Every year, countless deserving films are released, and marginalized by year’s end when The Academy announces their nominees for The Oscars – the industry’s most prestigious superlatives.
I haven’t agreed with a Best Picture winner since 2007 when No Country For Old Men was honored among a crowded field of very deserving contenders. Now that the dust has settled on 2012 I have realized what a great year it was for movies – the best since 2007. However, The Oscars shouldn’t have the final say, that’s why I have created my own alternative awards: The Heathies.
Okay, so “winning” a Heathy won’t add any clout to a filmmaker’s Hollywood stock (let’s face it, they won’t even know or care). But darnit, making this list makes me feel better as a film fanatic. Maybe your movie opinions will be validated too.
So without further ado, let’s get to the awards!
*All films are ranked in the order of my personal preference.
This is always a difficult category to evaluate. Generally, the effectiveness of a movie lives and dies by the pace, beats, and punch of the edit. This is also a category where creativity can standout and pay off. These were the films that I felt best knew when to get in, get out, and move on with the story.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
4. Killing Them Softly
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Heathy goes to Argo for its superb ability to balance expert suspense with sharp humor in a way that completely absorbs the viewer into the proceedings. The final climactic scene best represents this by crosscutting from the tense airport escape to the Hollywood lot where action half a world away depends on whether or not a telephone call is answered. Masterful work.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Adapted screenplay is a script based on previously written material. In the case of all these movies, the writer was able to translate what was initially meant for non-cinematic mediums into pure movie magic.
1. Killing Them Softly
2. Life of Pi
3. Silver Linings Playbook
The Heathy goes to Killing Them Softly. This film was largely criticized for being heavy handed in its cynicism about the free enterprise system. But I found writer-director Andrew Dominik’s upfront pedigree to be bold and brave. He was able to turn the original novel written in 1974 into more than an allegory for economic irresponsibility – he made it a cool, blatant criticism of where we are now. “In America, you’re on your own,” is take-no-prisoners dialogue.
Best Original Screenplay
Originality is king in this field. The movies with the most clear, distinctive voices were the ones that stood out for me. They also balanced visceral entertainment with deep, philosophical meaning.
1. Django Unchained
2. The Cabin in the Woods
4. Killer Joe
5. The Master
The Heathy goes to Django Unchained. First, nobody does dialogue like Tarantino, but he has also become a master of suspense in his own right. Further, the idea of slave retribution makes perfect sense for revenge cinema. Only the writer of Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds could craft such an expert story.
As a visual storytelling medium, cinematography might be the most important category of all. This is why Terrence Malick can create masterpieces without even bothering with people. Pictures can mean more than anything. As for these selections, every shot represents exactly what the movie was about.
1. Magic Mike
2. Django Unchained
3. The Master
5. Killing Them Softly
The Heathy goes to Magic Mike. Steven Soderbergh doesn’t always come out with the best cinematography in his films since he is pulling double-duty as cameraman and director. However, there’s always a stylish result, and in this case the material matched the aesthetic so well that the slick visuals pull you right into the movie. There is electricity in each frame of Magic Mike. The way he composed each shot to tell the viewer exactly how to feel was the work of a master.
Each name on this list knew exactly what their movies were about and put themselves in the shoes of the audience to deliver experiences exclusive to cinema. Their visions perfectly accentuated the material. Perhaps my most important criteria was whether each film could have been any better if directed by someone else. For instance, Steven Spielberg did not make the list because I felt his style hindered Lincoln. That script was a much better match for a filmmaker with more subdued sensibilities like Mike Nichols or even Clint Eastwood. These ten filmmakers were irreplaceable.
1. Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
2. Steven Soderbergh – Magic Mike
3. Ang Lee – Life of Pi
4. Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master
5. Ben Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
6. Sacha Gervasi – Hitchcock
7. Andrew Dominik – Killing Them Softly
8. Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises
9. William Friedkin – Killer Joe
10. Ben Affleck – Argo
Tarantino just brought it all together. He inspired the best performances from his cast and delivered the most entertaining, yet insightful movie of the year.
Best Supporting Actor
Even though these roles weren’t given the majority of screen time or attention, these actors played their parts so well that they became the most memorable aspects of their movies.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained
2. Samuel L. Jackson - Django Unchained
3. Bruce Willis – Looper
4. Matthew McConaughey – Magic Mike
5. Michael Fassbender – Prometheus
DiCaprio went to another level in Django. He was likable, yet pure evil. These kinds of roles are always what make for the best supporting performances like Heath Ledger as The Joker or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy is even better because we see a human somewhere within the demon. His treachery is often a mask for his insecurities. This is his most well rounded performance.
Best Supporting Actress
It’s strange to assess this list and notice that my favorite supporting female performances are all essentially victims in their films (except for Eva Green who made a delicious villain in Dark Shadows). I’m not sure if that’s a testament to how well they play abused, or that there’s simply a disturbing trend of victimized women roles in film. Regardless, every actress gave it her all and made a lasting impression.
1. Gina Gershon – Killer Joe
2. Juno Temple – Killer Joe
3. Eva Green – Dark Shadows
4. Dreama Walker – Compliance
5. Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
The Heathy goes to Gina Gershon as a white-trash, wicked stepmother in Killer Joe. Her performance is pitch-perfect in my opinion. It so closely edges toward B-movie cliché, but she’s essentially giving a performance within a performance. Her character is a manipulator, but ultimately not as savvy as she thinks she is. Once she finally becomes the victim, we see her genuine terror over her loss of control. It’s a very brave performance that is completely unflattering. She nailed it.
It was a very strong year for male performances, but these men created characters so believable that they could only exist within the world of the movie.
1. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
2. Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe
3. Daniel Day Lewis – Lincoln
4. Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
5. Brad Pitt – Killing Them Softly
Hoffman and Phoenix gave the best performances of the year – hands down, but their brilliance is completely contingent on their chemistry and partnership. The “processing” scene alone is a virtuoso showcase of jaw-dropping acting. They use each other to achieve the best performances of their individual careers.
Unfortunately, I feel like 2012 was an extremely weak year for female roles. 2011 was an outstanding showcase for women, but not so this time. However, there were a few standout performances from seasoned performers that embodied a lifetime of complexities.
1. Helen Mirren – Hitchcock
2. Ann Dowd – Compliance
3. Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
4. Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
5. Noomi Rapace – Prometheus
The Heathy goes to Helen Mirren for her nuanced portrayal of the woman half responsible for the Alfred Hitchock mythos, his wife, Alma Reville. Here, Mirren crafts a character that is so many things at once: self-assured, unsettled, ambitious, dutiful, underappreciated, yet stoically classy the entire time. She presents so many shades of a woman living in the shadow of her husband.
In my mind, the best movies are the ones that have something important to say, but still allow the audience to make their own opinions about what that message exactly is. The best film should also be a great ride – an exhilarating time at the movies. It must possess a strong balance of entertainment and meaning. Since 2007’s No Country For Old Men, my bests of the year have been The Dark Knight (2008), Up in the Air (2009), Black Swan (2010), and Drive (2011). This year it is:
1. Django Unchained
2. Killer Joe
3. Life of Pi
4. Killing Them Softly
5. The Master
6. Magic Mike
7. The Cabin in the Woods
9. Silver Linings Playbook
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Heathy goes to Django Unchained for reasons previously discussed. I must also make special mention of the outstanding documentary How to Survive a Plague about a fringe group’s impact on finding a solution to the AIDs epidemic. These real-life characters and their story is as dynamic as any conventional narrative. You won’t believe you are watching actual archived footage. The story is so powerful that you’d think it was crafted by the best modern dramatists. Simply amazing work.
The Worst Movies of the Year
Finally, there were a small group of movies that I hated so much, that I had to mention them in hopes of saving you from an equally miserable experience. I loathed:
1. Take This Waltz
2. Trouble With the Curve
4. The Campaign
5. The Amazing Spider-Man
See you at the 2013 Heathies!