Here is what I would do if any let me vote on anything, including a category that I still don’t believe doesn’t actually exist. Enjoy.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Tom Hardy, Locke
Scott Haze, Child of God
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
In Locke, Hardy acts alone. Last year, I gave Robert Redford a nomination for this award saying that All is Lost was a tribute to his stardom and his immense talent and charisma, that he proved his greatness because he was able to hold the frame for every bit of a film by himself and keep it interesting. But that’s Robert Redford. He’s a legend, we know how great he is. Tom Hardy accomplished the same feat, perhaps better, and his legend is still being written. He morphs into Ivan Locke,not only manipulating his accent but being shockingly effective as a physical performer considering he is sitting still for most of the film. Locke doesn’t work without a great star turn, and Hardy made it work. Keaton was as expressive and powerful as can be asked for in Birdman, same with Haze in Child of God, who told me that like an athlete he is proud of the performance because “I felt like I left everything on the field.” Gyllenhaal was delightfully terrifying in Nightcrawler a very powerful film in which he creates a new incarnation of the antihero. And Redmayne, well, ole Eddie brought tears to the eyes of the man he played. Hawking said “at times it felt like I was watching myself,” and I can’t think of a higher honor for an actor. A note on Hardy, if this was for a year’s body of work, he’d still win, and could easily have made two appearances on this shortlist with The Drop.
Best Performance Actress in a Leading Role:
Jessica Chastain, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Essie Davis, The Babadook
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Slowly solidifying her case as the best actress working today, Marion Cotillard took a mediocre movie and made it a powerful emotional experience. In Two Days, One Night, she plays desperate perfectly — not too out of control, not to relaxed either. The writing for her character is limited and often bound in cliche, but her expressive performance as a fighting-for-her-livelihood mother makes the moral components of the film that much more difficult to swallow. Again, if this award was for a full year’s body of work, the female honor might to go this winner, as Cotillard impressed in her first leading English-language role in The Immigrant. But that honor might have been stolen by Jessica Chastain for her work not only as the eponymous Eleanor Rigby, but in Interstellar and A Most Violent Year (keep reading). Rigby was the ultimate role for her acting stigma of soft, girlish charm presented maturely. In Wild, Witherspoon commands the film was the grace she has come to perfect of the years. That same chin-out spunk we’ve seen for decades is on display as the real-life Cheryl Strayed, but this time it seems less ironic than deserved. Davis and Slate took inventive genre films — supernatural horror, romantic comedy — and gave them star-making performances. Davis is deliciously over-the-top as the horrified single mother in The Babadook, and Slate is bouncy and brilliant as the knocked-up comedian in Obvious Child.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Oscar Isaac, The Two Faces of January
Edward Norton, Birdman
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Yes, the guy from the Farmers’ Insurance commercials and Sam Mendes’s J. Jonah Jameson gave the most extreme and most finely tuned performance of the year as the, frankly, terrifying leader of an elite student jazz orchestra. Doesn’t sound like an award-friendly role to you? Exactly. In Whiplash, a Sundance darling, he absolutely cut loose and was as good as the somewhat two-dimensional role could have asked for, matching co-star Miles Teller’s soft-spoken confidence with off-the-walls crazy. Norton was big and expressive as well, and could easily have won this award for his wild yet charismatic turn in Birdman. Isaac was on the top of his game in what is already a fascinating career in the exquisite sunny noir mystery The Two Faces of January. Brolin was strangely hilarious in Paul Thomas Anderson’s cavernous neo noir, playing both straight-edged cop (his hair is cut to a flat top, meeting at a perfect 90 degrees in the back, which tells you something about the character) and pot eating (you read that right) lunatic. Hawke’s performance in Boyhood was sublime and powerful. He may have undergone the twelve year transformation better than parallel co-star Arquette, but, well, keep reading.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Laura Dern, Wild
Naomi Watts, Birdman
The twelve-year tale of a single mother is as much Patricia Arquette’s magnum opus as it is director Richard Linklater’s. She has mentioned repeatedly that she wanted to take on the role as a single mom herself, and to honor her own mother. But most telling about what this character meant to her is her comments on the film experience itself, that she never wanted it to end and never wanted to let anyone see it. It was an extremely private and personal experience for her, and the performance reflects that by feeling as unmistakably real as any actor has ever made a character. The other four in this category was wonderfully expressive, all stealing scenes from other fantastic actors, but all pale in comparison to Arquette this year.
Best Original Score:
Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything
Son Lux, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Jozef von Wissem, Only Lovers Left Alive
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
I walked out of The Theory of Life and the first thing I said to describe the near-ineffable sensation it left me with was this: That was lovely. Vocally opposed to run-of-the-mill biopics about inspirational 20th-century figures, and really bored of them, I loved The Theory of Everything because it transcended that. It became far less about selling books about Stephen Hawking than about using a real scenario to make the audience feel something. That’s where Johannson’s score comes in. To make a movie about a crippled genius, Hawking, relatable for a healthy idiot, Me, it had to pack an emotional punch beyond simply showing his illness. The Eleanor Rigby score did something similar, making the grief of the story, which images can only try to capture, come off the screen. Only Lovers Left Alive had one of the most original scores I have ever heard, dancing in between classic sci-fi tropes and the garage rock that the protagonist might have written. All three are great, if unconventional, romances, all helped by the music. Gone Girl and Interstellar are genre films that needed steady motifs in the composition to push us through equally cavernous stories, both doing so memorably with simplicity and grace.
Best Non-Performed Soundtracking to a Film:
Linda Cohen, Inherent Vice
Meghan Currier, The Skeleton Twins
Susan Jacobs, Wild
Dave Jordan, Guardians of the Galaxy
Randall Poster, Boyhood
Guardians is here because of how well the protagonist’s playlist finds the delicate balance that makes it seem unmistakably like it matches every scene in the movie, but it does so loosely enough to make it a believable accident. Wild is because of how cleverly the soundtrack is cut to reflect the psychology of isolation, how one thinks when they are simply alone in the woods. The Skeleton Twins gets in despite being one of my least favorite movies of the year because it provided one of the most memorable musically motivated scenes of the year, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig lip-synching a duet of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship. Inherent Vice comes in a close second for how gracefully it employs the pop music of its period, like Neil Young rolling along to a powerful romance scene. Boyhood wins for a similar reason, with the addition of luck and sheer intelligence. It takes songs from the time it was made and edited, which are spread out over twelve years, and based those choices on the ways pop music truly sounded in that time. In the grand scheme, it doesn’t cover that much time, only a bit over a decade, but the change in pop music is still apparent in the soundtrack, from “Yellow” to “Get Lucky.”
Best Art Design of Production and Sets:
Marco Bittner Rosser, Only Lovers Left Alive
David Crank, Inherent Vice
John P. Goldsmith, A Most Violent Year
Dennis Grassner, Into the Woods
Kevin Kavannaugh, Nightcrawler
A live action movie that looks more like an actual fairy-tale world than any animated film perhaps since Sleeping Beauty (1955), Into the Woods was simply magical, and I’m not just saying that. In a time in history when we are involved in wars at home and abroad, when prejudice and insecurity haunt people whereever they go and the movies have taken it upon themselves to reflect that, Into the Woods was an escape everyone needs. Because of its production design, it isn’t only a metaphorical escape, but a literal descent into another world, one with more color and charm than anywhere on Earth. A Most Violent Year was powerful for the opposite reason, that it dragged you mercilessly into the real underground of New York in the 1980s. Nightcrawler was also notable for its realism. It brought its cameras to dozens of real spots in greater L.A., bringing the eeriness of the movie right to the doorsteps of the entertainment and television industry perpetrators. Only Lovers Left Alive was exhaustively detailed, creating mixed worlds of the undead and a modern hipster. Inherent Vice was just awesome, colorful and in-your-face, but in the best way possible.
Best Film Editing:
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Tom Cross, Whiplash
Jennifer Lilly, The One I Love
Simon Njoo, The Babadook
Christopher Tellefsen, The Drop
Walking out of Whiplash, I was ready to run through a brick wall. That is the power of its editing. The story, while exquisitely told, is limited emotionally as a flat-out critique of the Participation-Trophy generation, but its editing makes it feel like a thrill ride and dumps you on the other side completely intoxicated by its every moment. “I wanted to make an editor’s showcase,” said director Damien Chazelle. He succeeded. It is way faster and more exciting than a movie about a teenage jazz drummer has any right to be. In The One I Love, the story exists wholly in its editing. Seriously, you could have the dialogue and performances remain completely the same, or watch on set or put it on the theater, and it would be lame and nonsensical. Instead it was a super fun sci-fi thing experience that compares itself to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and The Twilight Zone. The bottom two — The Babadook and The Drop — are masterpieces of their genre who show the audience exactly as much as need be seen, no more and no less, until their respectively electric third acts. Boyhood is special, and in my mind this is a tie. Edited bit by bit over twelve years, yet maintaining a constant pace and flavor throughout, Adair’s work on Boyhood is every bit as masterful as Cross’s.
Yves Belanger, Wild
Jeff Cronenweth, Gone Girl
Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
This movie is everything wild and exciting about movies without the cheese of, well, of what it makes fun of. Composed of a series of neatly tied long takes (no, morons on my twitter feed, it is not one shot, for the last time), Birdman comes to life. Because of its lack of traditional editing technique, it is impossible to look away from; Lubezki makes the very most of that attention. Mr. Turner brilliantly does something quite simple and covered to death, but something quite special no matter how often we talk about it: It looks like a Turner painting, it really does. Gone Girl and Wild capture the energies of their films perfectly. In the former, it is a grey-ish, watercolor pallet and a series of voyeuristic shots match the chilling mystery of the plot. The latter employs highly romantic and wonderous lighting and framing that make the film strike the emotional cord that Strayed’s story deserves. Ida, a masterpiece of contemporary European art cinema, contains minimalist performances and writing that is highly present. It’s cinematography is revealing and powerful, and cut into stills it is just as beautiful.
Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Gia Coppola, Palo Alto
Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild
This is a dark horse, I know. Palo Alto is a charming mini-masterwork that is intricately edited, intelligently paced and contains great performances by a vast ensemble of otherwise okay actors. Perhaps the finest compliment possible to give a film is this, which is true of Palo Alto: It is a worthy installment in the Coppola family catalog. Its details are its director’s touch, and what make it such an amazing movie. An example of one of those details. It is a film about the limbo of late-adolescence, the period high school students undergo. After her first rendezvous with an older man, Emma Roberts’s April is shown riding in a car. Her hand and hair are out the window, taken by the wind, and we the viewers feel as free as she does. But in the car she is sitting in the back seat, being driven around like a child. It is an understated and under-appreciated work that I predict will have serious staying power and become a film people turn to, nostalgically, for years to come. The same can be said of Boyhood, the much better movie of course, and the achievement of ambition and scale it needed cannot be ignored. It is a beautiful moving portrait of time. Wild‘s Vallee drew great performances from his stars, and created a movie that is as much about a feeling as it is about a story. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Only Lovers Left Alive — I’m just now realizing that two vampire movies made this small list in this category — are atmospheric and alive. They make classic styles feel extremely modern while finding balance in their respective genre-crossing ambitions.
Best Original Screenplay:
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive
Justin Lader, The One I Love
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Gillian Robespierre, Obvious Child
Here is the honorary award for Linklater’s vision, his ambition and his tenacity. He created the all-american story, or at least the beginning of one version of it, and then saw where it went. Try this. Write a story by writing one chapter over the course of a couple of days, once a year for more than a decade and see if it comes out as crisply and uniformly as Boyhood. Then compare whether it is as charming, entertaining and sentimental as Boyhood. The odds are pretty low. I think the screenplay for this once-in-a-generation masterpiece is being criminally overlooked, a mistake I refuse to be a part of. The others in this category are fantastic as well, but comparatively ordinary. Anderson’s ultimate Anderson-movie was wild but contained, funny but human, making it a hell of a ride. Only Lovers Left Alive was perhaps the most believable a supernatural film has been, creating from the world of fantasy scenarios and conversations that seem to perfectly fit into the world as we know it. The One I Love made me write in my notes, “this is the strangest, most awesome thing ever,” so there’s that. Obvious Child was hilarious, and it is a shame that just being hilarious isn’t given enough credit — then consider that it is more than just comedy and you get one of the best screenplays of the year.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Dante Harper, Edge of Tomorrow
James Lapine, Into the Woods
Dennis Lehane, The Drop
Three of these nominees are self-adaptations. Gillian Flynn penned the uber best seller Gone Girl before David Fincher was a glint in her eye. The film transcends the novel as a twisted study of suburbia, boredom and what they do to people. It’s characters alone are incredibly colorful, its action is just icing on the cake. James Lapine was part of the team behind the original Broadway run of Into the Woods, then making minor changes to bring to the screen a story that is clever and impossible not to enjoy. Dennis Lehane’s short story Animal Rescue gave way to his first screenplay — though many wonderful movies, like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, have been adapted from his novels and he served in the writers’ room on The Wire — with The Drop. It is a crime thriller that approaches Eastwood’s 2003 adaptation for its tonality and elegant mystery. Then there’s the team-written and repeatedly edited (listed above is the first writer to provide a film treatment, though his work served more as a guideline than anything else) Edge of Tomorrow, a smart and human sci-fi blockbuster that has a surprising amount of wit and morality. Then, in a league unto itself, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Based on the landmark of contemporary literature by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is funny, scary, mystifying, and on point both regarding its period setting and its psychological approach drawn from Pynchon’s narration. The way Anderson went about adapting a novel that many considered unfilmable is very smart, making the least likely and therefore most effective of narrators, and creating what might be the first cavernous candy-colored neo-noir.
Tomorrow, I will rank and explain the films of 2013 I most admired, and there you can find my Best Picture and runners-up.