2008 NOFF Awards

Welcome to the 2nd Annual NOFF Awards! Last year’s presentation was a hastily thrown together affair, conceived, written and posted on the same day as last year’s Oscar ceremonies. This year’s presentation is better organized, more substantial and much glitzier, complete with snazzy photos, commentary on each category, and an Awards Tally wrap-up! And now without further ado I present this year’s NOFFscars:

BEST PICTURE

The Bank Job

Cloverfield

Let the Right One In

WALL•E

The Wrestler

And the Noffscar goes to: The Wrestler

Combining grainy documentary-like authenticity with dark romantic poetry, The Wrestler, which might be described as a vérité fairy-tale, works both as a naturalistic glimpse inside the brutal world of professional wrestling and as an elegiac requiem for washed-up wrestler Randy “the Ram” Robinson. Having failed in his attempt to create a new life for himself after wrestling, Randy finds himself compelled to return to the only place he knows: the ring. With an aura of tragic fatalism hovering over him, Randy enters the ring for the last time, determined to recapture his past glory, if only for one fleeting moment before departing the arena forever. Poignantly, he succeeds, climbing the ropes to salute the crowd and deliver his signature “Ram Jam” for the final time, and then leaping through the air, onto the canvas and into cinematic folklore.

BEST DIRECTOR

Thomas Alfredson for Let the Right One In

Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler

Roger Donaldson for The Bank Job

Guy Maddin for My Winnipeg

Andrew Stanton for WALL•E

And the Noffscar goes to: Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky not only kept the notoriously difficult Rourke under control, he also elicited no less than a career-best performance out of him. That alone makes him worthy of the Noffscar. But he also deserves credit for capturing Randy’s world, from the smoky strip joints to the sweaty wrestling venues, with a rare authenticity, while breathing new life into an old myth – that of the down-on-his-luck has-been seeking a triumphant comeback. In lesser hands this comingling of gritty realism and Hollywood-style myth might have clashed, but Aronofsky’s confident direction, which boldly flirts with but never succumbs to parody, skillfully balances these disparate elements, ensuring that the realism lends credibility to the myth and the myth adds emotional resonance to the realism.

BEST ACTOR

Colin Farrell in In Bruges

Andrew Garfield in Boy A

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York

Sean Penn in Milk

Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

And the Noffscar goes to: Mickey Rourke

The only comeback story better than Randy the Ram’s this year was Mickey Rourke’s. Other than Sean Penn’s brilliant turn as Harvey Milk, Rourke’s tour-de-force performance, at once intensely physical and powerfully soul-baring, had no other serious contenders in this category. Rourke takes the viewer on an emotional journey with his “broken down hunk of meat”, never stepping wrong in a complex, multi-faceted performance of body-slamming, heart-rending, tear-shedding and blood-letting power. Like the film itself, his performance is an instant classic which will be remembered long after most of the other Oscar nominees have been long forgotten.

BEST ACTRESS

Anna Faris in The House Bunny

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married

Melissa Leo in Frozen River

Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy

Kate Winslet in The Reader

And the Noffscar goes to: Anna Faris

My five nominees are a mighty troubled lot. Leo plays an impoverished single mom who resorts to smuggling illegal aliens across the border to make a better life for herself and her kids; Hathaway plays a recovering addict struggling to come to terms with her dysfunctional family (her agonizing dinner toast was probably the best-acted scene of the year); Williams plays a destitute drifter searching for her lost dog; and Winslet plays an ex-Nazi deeply ashamed of her illiteracy. All of them are deeply tortured souls, but none more so than Anna Faris as the wannabe Playboy centerfold who’s unceremoniously kicked out of the mansion by Hef himself due to her advanced age of 27 (59 in “bunny years”), leaving her on the streets, destitute and homeless mansionless. Can a woman endure a greater indignity than being rejected by Hef? Seriously, though, I’ve never considered dramatic roles inherently more award-worthy than comedic turns, and Faris is utterly delightful in this throwback “dumb blonde” performance which holds its own against the best comic performances by Marilyn Monroe, Judy Holliday, Jean Hagen and Goldie Hawn. After Smiley Face and The House Bunny, Faris must now be considered among our very best screen comediennes. But she needs an agent that can land her a movie truly worthy of her wonderful comic gifts.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Javier Bardem in Vicky Christina Barcelona

Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

John Malkovich in Burn After Reading

Eddie Marsen in Happy-Go-Lucky

And the Noffscar goes to: Heath Ledger

A short history of posthumous Oscar nominations/wins:

In its 81 year history, there have been 71 posthumous Oscar nominees, 15 of whom won statuettes. (Click here for a complete list of the posthumous Oscar nominees and winners). The first posthumous nomination, dating all the way back to the Academy’s second year, went to Jeanne Eagels for her role in 1929’s The Letter. The first person to win a posthumous Oscar was Sidney Howard for his Gone with the Wind screenplay. Only seven people have received posthumous Oscar nominations in an acting category: the aforementioned Eagels; James Dean, the first actor so nominated, actually received two, one for East of Eden in 1955, the other for Giant in 1956; Spencer Tracy for 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Peter “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take anymore” Finch for 1976’s Network; Ralph Richardson, the first to be nominated in a supporting category, for 1984’s Greystoke; Massimo Troisi for 1995’s Il Postino; and, of course, Heath Ledger for 2008’s The Dark Knight.

On February 22, 2009, Heath Ledger became the second posthumous winner in an acting category, following Finch, and the first to win in a supporting role. This is one of the rare times when the sentimental favorite is also the most deserving. It’s a great performance in which Ledger fully embraces the character’s inherent comic book villainy even as he brings an unexpected depth to the role, resulting in a performance that is at once diabolically funny and genuinely unsettling.

Needless to say, his is the first posthumous NOFF award. RIP

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona

Viola Davis in Doubt

Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married

Samantha Morton in Synecdoche, New York

Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler

And the Noffscar goes to: Penelope Cruz

About 45-minutes into Allen’s Barcelona-set romantic comedy Cruz’s hot-blooded character shows up, as if she had just wandered onto the set from one of Pedro Almodóvar’s highly-charged melodramas, and completely changes the dynamic of the film, which is precisely what a great supporting performance can do. Although she has very little screen time, Cruz makes an indelible impression, adding just the spark needed to enliven Allen’s scenario and providing a prime example of the benefits Allen’s art has accrued simply by transplanting familiar characters and situations from his NYC films to more exotic locations. In this case, what might have seemed like a typically neurotic character in a stale situation in NYC becomes, in fiery Latino Cruz’s hands, vibrant and fresh, sizzlingly sexy and very funny.

BEST SCREENPLAY

Woody Allen for Vicky Christina Barcelona

Charlie Kaufman for Synecdoche, New York

John Ajvide Lindqvist for Let the Right One In

Guy Maddin for My Winnipeg

Martin McDonagh for In Bruges

And the Noffscar goes to: Synecdoche, New York

In Kaufman’s latest head-trip, actors in the film we’re watching play actors starring in a play-within-the film, which is itself based on characters in the film and which was written by one of the film’s characters, who is, of course, based upon the man who actually wrote the film we’re watching. Got that? Synecdoche, New York is Philip Seymour Hoffmann being Caden Cotard being Charlie Kaufmann. And that’s only the half of it. Brimming with ideas, Kaufmann’s script is a truly heady brew, riffing on, among other things, the entangled relationship between art and reality, leaving us pondering whether art imitates life, life imitates art, or, more likely, both.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Encounters at the End of the World

The Fall

Let the Right One In

And the Noffscar goes to: Encounters at the End of the World

All but a few animal species, a handful of eccentrics, and visionary filmmaker’s fear to tread in the godforsaken environment of Antartica. One such filmmaker is Werner Herzog who, along with his cinematographer, Peter Zeitlinger, travelled there to capture footage of the continent’s bleak, desolate landscape, which includes, among other astonishing sights, gigantic icebergs, erupting volcanoes, gassy fumaroles and underground ice caves, and the result is a documentary of both stunning beauty and creepy mystery. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, for it is Zeitlinger’s camera which fortuitously captures the year’s most poignant image: a lone penguin mysteriously walking in the opposite direction of its colony, heading straight towards oblivion in the vast, barren interior of the continent.

BEST FILM EDITING

Cloverfield

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Milk

My Winnipeg

And the Noffscar goes to: Cloverfield

In this era of rapid-fire cutting, it was refreshing to watch a Hollywood action movie which employed a healthy amount of long takes, even if this style was, admittedly, dictated by the film’s video diary format. According to film scholar David Bordwell, Cloverfield is comprised of about 180 shots, lasting roughly 24 seconds on average, compared to the 2-5 seconds per shot average of the typical modern Hollywood action movie. Because I am so fed up with watching action scenes reduced to a chaotic blur by frenzied editing (the most egregious example of which this year was Quantum of Solace), I am awarding the NOFFscar to Cloverfield for bucking the trend and staging sequences in a way that allows one to actually discern what is happening on screen (except, of course, when the jittery Handicam reduces matters to a chaotic blur!).

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Cloverfield by Michael Giacchino (closing credits overture)

listen

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by Alexandre Desplat

listen

 

The Dark Knight by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard

listen

Speed Racer by Michael Giacchino

listen

WALL•E by Thomas Newman

listen

And the Noffscar goes to: WALL•E

Nominating Cloverfield might seem a bit perverse considering that it doesn’t even feature a score during the film proper. Nevertheless, Michael Giacchino’ s “Roar”, heard only during the final credits, is a wonderful homage to Akira Ifukube’s classic score for the original Godzilla. Still, I can’t justify awarding Best Score to Cloverfield strictly on the basis of that single composition, no matter how impressive it may be. So instead my choice is for Thomas Newman’s fine score for WALL•E, the highlight of which is “Define Dancing”, a lovely composition, both lilting and “futuristic”, which accompanies WALL•E and EVE’s delightful interstellar pas de deux. Fred and Ginger would approve. That the most sweetly romantic sequence in a film this year was between two amorous androids is a testament not just to the director and his talented animators but also to Newman’s memorable score.

BEST ART DIRECTION

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

The Fall

Milk

Synecdoche, New York

And the Noffscar goes to: Synecdoche, New York

The sets in Synecdoche, New York prove that art direction can be more than merely decorative; art direction/set design can also imaginatively complement the film’s very meaning, as is the case here. Rarely has art direction better reflected a film’s theme: The impressive replica of NYC, a city within a city built by Cotard/Hoffman/Kauffman/Stockhausen for the play within the movie, perfectly mirrors the film’s art-imitating -life-imitating-art theme.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS

Cloverfield

The Dark Knight

Iron Man

Let the Right One In

WALL•E

And the Noffscar goes to: Cloverfield

Cloverfield was, predictably, completely snubbed by the Academy, but it should have at least received a nod for its unusually effective sound design. Imaginatively compensating for its lack of a music score, the film employs an array of viscerally penetrating sound effects – the earthshaking, theater-rattling footsteps of the monster; the eerie groaning and cracking of tottering skyscrapers and toppling bridges; the supersonic roaring of overhead bomber jets – which create an intensely thrilling you-are-there immediacy and a palpable sense of authenticity.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

CJ7

The Class 

Gamorra

JCVD

Let the Right One In

And the Noffscar goes to: Let the Right One In

Take heed, Hollywood. This is how you make a horror movie. Eschewing the non-stop parade of gore and CGI effects of the typical modern Hollywood horror movie, Let the Right One In opts instead for a slow burn atmosphere of mounting dread (the desolate, wintry location adds to the film’s creepiness) with an emphasis on story and characterization, while still managing to pull off several memorably horrific sequences, notably the climactic “pool scene” (if you’ve seen the film no more needs to be said). The result is one of the best horror films in years, a stunning re-imagining of the vampire flick as, among other things, a surprisingly sweet romance/coming-of-age tale – and also, given that one character happens to be immortal, a poignant coming-of-agelessness tale.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Bigger Stronger Faster*

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Encounters at the End of the World

My Winnipeg

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

And the Noffscar goes to: Bigger Stronger Faster*

The Academy is notorious for snubbing excellent documentaries, and this year was no exception. Admittedly, Guy Maddin’s wonderfully offbeat My Winnipeg is hardly a documentary in the traditional sense (Maddin himself calls it a “docu-fantasia”), but how could the Academy overlook Marina Zenovich’s fascinating Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Kurt Kuenne’s heartfelt Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son from His Father, and especially, Chris Bell’s excellent Bigger Stronger Faster*? Bigger Stronger Faster* begins as an intimate look at bodybuilder Bell’s (and his brothers’) personal experience with steroid use, but progressively widens its scope, ultimately becoming a fascinating, penetrating examination of American culture’s obsession with, among other things, body image, looks, youth and the desire be #1, all of which leads athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs, actors (and everyday people) to undergo extensive plastic surgery, musicians to take beta blockers to calm their nerves before auditions, golfers, including Tiger Woods, to receive laser eye surgery and even porn actors to shoot themselves with Viagra. Everyone, it seems, is looking for an edge over their competition, and steroid use, Bell persuasively argues, is merely one of the many by-products of the pressure to be “the best.” The film could just as well be titled: Bigger Stronger Faster Prettier Younger Better*.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS EDITING

Cloverfield

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

And the Noffscar goes to: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I had problems with others parts of the film, but certainly not with its astonishing, groundbreaking special effects, which seamlessly turn Brad Pitt from a shrunken old geezer into a younger version of himself bearing an uncanny resemblance to his appearance in early roles. The faultless digital ageing effects are, quite simply, the stuff of genuine movie magic, and I look forward to watching the dvd’s special features to find out how they accomplished that.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE/SHORT

CJ7

Presto

WALL•E

And the Noffscar goes to: WALL•E

WALL•E is easily one of the best animated films of recent years, and one scene in particular convinces me of its greatness. When WALL•E’s endearing personality – his “WALL•E-ness” – momentarily disappears, leaving only an empty hunk of metal, indistinguishable from all the other robots, you realize how much emotion you have invested in these animated characters. The “WALL•E-ness” is gone from the machine, and we share EVE’s mournful sense of loss and her urgent desire to bring the WALL•E we love back. And when the spark returns to his eyes and the familiar WALL-E speaks again it is cause for rejoicing. That we care so much about an animated robot is a testament to the talented folks at Pixar.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“Dracula’s Lament” by Jason Segel from Forgetting Sarah Marshall

listen to the dulcet tones of Segel

“Little Person” by Jon Brion from Synecdoche, New York

listen

“The Wrestler” by Bruce Springsteen from The Wrestler

listen

And the Noffscar goes to: “The Wrestler”

The omission of this song has to be one of the most egregious snubs in Oscar history. What were the voters thinking? It’s a great song whose moving melody, evocative lyrics (“have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat? If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me”) and blues-inflected singing style is perfectly in tune with the film’s melancholic, elegiac tone. What more could you ask of a film song?

BEST SCENES

Rockwell failing to follow the instructions of his fantasy rape partner in Choke

Marlena’s death in Cloverfield

The Joker’s pencil trick from The Dark Knight

The deranged penguin walking toward its demise in Encounters at the End of the World

The knuckleheaded would-be/wannabe gangsters firing their stolen weapons on a beach in their speedos from Gamorra

 

 

Rite-of-passage mafia style: young boys wearing bullet proof vests prove their “manhood” by taking a bullet from close range in Gamorra

Jean Claude Van Damme’s emotional monologue from JCVD

Severed arms and decapitated heads by the pool in Let the Right One In

Girl ravenously licks her boyfriend’s blood off the floor in Let the Right One In

The “man on ledge” from My Winnipeg

 

 

Stoner James Franco in a high speed car chase with his foot sticking out the front windshield in The Pineapple Express

Kim’s agonizing dinner toast in Rachel Getting Married

Stephen Rea trying to extricate himself from the jagged windshield in Stuck

Robert Downey Jr.’s “never go full retard” speech in Tropic Thunder

Juan’s proposition of Vicky and Christina in Vicky Christina Barcelona

 

 

The interstellar space dance between WALL•E and EVE in WALL•E

WALL•E’s “WALL•E ness” disappearing/ reappearing in WALL•E

Ram having fun at the deli counter in The Wrestler

The barbed wire/staple-gun fight from The Wrestler

Ram’s wrestling swan song in The Wrestler

And the Noffscar goes to: The Wrestler – Ram’s wrestling swan song

If there’s one scene from 2008 that will stand the test of time, this is surely it. With a shattering finale worthy of Greek tragedy, Randy “The Ram” Johnson achieves genuine mythic grandeur and secures his place in cinematic folklore. The scene is not available on Youtube, but you can see snippets of it in the trailer here.

NOFFSCAR AWARDS TALLIES
38 films represented from 18 categories out of the 91 films I saw from 2008

5 Wins
The Wrestler

2 Wins
Cloverfield
WALL•E
Synecdoche, New York

1 Win
Bigger Stronger Faster
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Encounters at the End of the World
The House Bunny
Let the Right One In
Vicky Christina Barcelona

8 Nominations
The Dark Knight
Let the Right One In
The Wrestler

7 Nominations
WALL•E

6 Nominations
Cloverfield

5 Nominations
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
My Winnipeg
Synecdoche, New York

4 Nominations
Vicky Christina Barcelona

3 Nominations
Encounters at the End of the World
Gamorra
Milk
Rachel Getting Married

2 Nominations
The Bank Job
CJ7
The Fall
In Bruges
JCVD
Tropic Thunder

1 Nomination
Boy A
Bigger Stronger Faster
Burn After Reading
Choke
The Class
Dear Zachary: A Letter From a Son to His Father
Doubt
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Frozen River
Happy-Go-Lucky
The House Bunny
Iron Man
The Pineapple Express
Presto
Speed Racer
The Reader
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Stuck
Wendy and Lucy

Thank you for attending this year’s NOFF Awards. Until next year…

5 Responses to “2008 NOFF Awards”

  1. Your presentation of the NOFF awards is very professional. It was well done. I agree with the picks ( movie, stars and such, ) of those I had seen. Good work–will be anxiously waiting for next years NOFF awards.

  2. Since I haven’t seen the movie, I will reserve judgment on the performance of Anna Faris. It’s hard to believe her performance was better than the other four nominees. I would have chosen Viola Davis as the winner for best supporting actress. Otherwise, good choices!

  3. Thanks, Hummer

    Julie: I understand your reservations about Faris. The movie itself is silly, to be sure, but Faris is wonderful. Her comic timing is immaculate; her vocalizations and facial expressions hilarious; her pratfalls executed to perfection. In short, she’s got all the makings of a gifted comedienne.

    I wouldn’t put up too much of an argument about Viola Davis. She was amazing – even if the scene itself was a bit theatrical.

    Thanks for the comments. Don’t be a stranger!

  4. What is next??? Have you reviewed any new movies?

  5. Hummer,

    I just created a new page at the top of my site entitled “Top Ten Performances”. It’s a companion piece to my “Top Ten Films” page and it features my favorite performances – male and female; lead and supporting – from the silent era to 2008. Check it out!