2010 NOFF Awards

Now that the Oscars have been handed out and the awards season is officially over and everyone’s focus has shifted to 2011, I present the 4th Annual NOFF Awards!

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BEST PICTURE

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Black Swan

Enter the Void

Everyone Else

Four Lions

Greenberg

 

 

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Life During Wartime

Monsters

Mother

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

The Social Network

And the Noffscar goes to: Mother

“One lamp – thy mother’s love – amid the stars
Shall lift its pure flame changeless, and before
The throne of God, burn through eternity –
Holy – as it was lit and lent thee here.”
~Nathaniel Parker Willis

“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.”
~Edgar Allan Poe

“A father may turn his back on his child, brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies, husbands may desert their wives, wives their husbands.  But a mother’s love endures through all.”  ~Washington Irving

“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.”  ~James Joyce

“Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.” ~ Marion C. Garretty, A Little Spoonful of Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul

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Ah, yes, mother love. Ain’t it grand? It’s universally considered to be a good thing, a healthy thing, even a holy thing. But nobody bothered telling Bong Joon-ho, who plainly sees what others willfully overlook: the twisted, sick, wicked flip side of mother love, which manifests itself when a mother’s unconditional love and protective instincts for her children are taken to the logical extreme. How far is a mother willing to go to protect her children? Watch Mother, a great, morally challenging film which forces us to confront the murkier side of mother love, and find out.

Kim Hye-ja is mother. When her mentally retarded son, Yoon, is accused of murdering a young girl, Hye-ja, convinced of his innocence, sets out to find the real killer. But when she discovers that her son killed the girl by accident, and subsequently lied about it, she resorts to extreme measures, including, ironically, murder, to keep the truth from coming out. She bludgeon’s to death a homeless man who witnessed the killing to prevent him from reporting the incident to the authorities, declaring after the deed is done, “you aren’t worth the dirt under my son’s fingernails”. Perhaps even worse, she allows another young retarded boy to take the rap in her son’s stead. That this other young boy is also mentally retarded might seem contrived, but it’s a deliberate contrivance necessary to illustrate a larger point: that the mother places more value on her own son, not because he’s objectively any better or more special, but simply because he’s her son. Yoon is saved, and the other boy is condemned, purely by virtue of an accident of birth. The other boy’s mother, if he had one, might well do the same to Yoon if she were in Hye-ja’s shoes.

I’m sure most mothers would insist they’d never go to such extremes to protect their children, but Mother is genuinely unsettling not because of how far Hye-ja is willing to go to protect Yoon, but because her actions seem perfectly plausible under the circumstances. She’s just doing, it seems, what comes naturally.

Warning: If you watch Mother you may never look at dear old mumsy in the same way ever again.

p.s. Mom – I trust you’d do the same for me under the circumstances.

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BEST DIRECTOR

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Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan

David Fincher for The Social Network

Bong Joon-ho for Mother

Gaspar Noé for Enter the Void

Edgar Wright for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

And the Noffscar goes to: Gaspar Noé

The creative process often involves combining existing ideas together in new and unusual ways. Take a little from here, a little from there, put them together and voilà! – you’ve got something entirely original. For example: apply the first-person POV camerawork of 1946’s Lady in the Lake to a far-out story involving hallucinogenic drugs, astral projection and reincarnation, and voilà! – you’ve got Enter the Void.

The story, such as it is, concerns a brother and sister, Oscar and Linda, who live together in Tokyo, where he works as a drug dealer, she as a nightclub stripper. After smoking some DMT, which triggers a long, vivid hallucination, the swirling psychedelic lightshow of which looks like a DMT junkie’s version of the ‘Beyond Infinity’ sequence from 2001, Oscar heads to a club called The Void, inside of which he’s shot to death by police in a drug raid. Thereafter, his disembodied spirit floats around trying to stay connected to his sister, with whom he shared a childhood promise, seen in hazy flashback, to stick together always. That promise is fulfilled in the trippy climax when Oscar is reincarnated as Linda’s baby.

What’s astonishing about Enter the Void, whose madly inspired storyline can be interpreted as Oscar’s wish fulfillment psychedelic fantasy at the point of death, is that Noé’s camera never deviates from Oscar’s point of view, even after he’s gunned down by police. Unhinged from the moorings of the physical world, Oscar’s spirit (re: Noé’s camera) hovers over the neon lit labyrinth of Tokyo, gliding from place to place, diving down, soaring high, entering just about every opening (and orifice) imaginable and coming out the other side – a free-floating, disembodied consciousness seeking Oneness with his beloved sister. Noé deserves the Chutzpa Award alongside his NOFFscar for sustaining his remarkable camerawork over such a long running time.

For more on this see Best Cinematography below.

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BEST ACTOR

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Ronald Bronstein in Daddy Longlegs

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine

Joaquin Phoenix in I’m Still Here

Édgar Ramírez in Carlos

And the Noffscar goes to: Ronald Bronstein

A few years ago Bronstein directed an Indie film called Frownland which featured a remarkable lead performance by unknown Dore Mann. If nothing else, the film revealed Bronstein to be a good director of actors. Daddy Longlegs proves that Bronstein is a talented actor himself. He plays a divorced NYC movie projectionist by the name of Lenny whose two young sons are in town for their yearly two-week visitation. At first Lenny’s behavior just seems amusingly eccentric, such as when he walks across a busy street on his hands to impress the kids, but it soon becomes apparent that he has no business caring for children. Among other things, Lenny argues with the kids’ school principal; takes them on an impromptu excursion upstate with a girl he laid the night before; spends a night in the clink for painting graffiti; and allows the children to go to the supermarket by themselves even after he was recently mugged on his way home from there. But his mind-bogglingly irresponsible behavior reaches a new low when he gives the boys sedatives so they won’t wake up while he pulls an all-nighter at work; even worse, he gives them an overdose and they spend the next few days unconscious!

Reportedly, Bronstein remained in character off the set, which is a testament to his total commitment to the role (though I pity the folks around him). He fully inhabits the character, revealing all of Lenny’s foibles and eccentricities without ever resorting to parody or condescension. Yet for all his fatherly shortcomings there’s also something endearing about Lenny. His childlike exuberance is infectious, and however misguided his parenting may be, his devotion to the kids is undeniable. Even giving the children sleeping pills was done with the best of intentions: he didn’t want them to wake up and not find him home (though his concern doesn’t stop him from going out with his girlfriend while the kids sleep – and periodically calling home to check if they’ve awoken!). And when they finally do wake up his evident joy at seeing them is genuinely touching. Daddy Longlegs is a fascinating character study largely because Bronstein’s marvelous debut performance makes Lenny one of the year’s truly indelible characters.

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BEST ACTRESS

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Kim Hye-ja in Mother

Jeon Do-yeon in Secret Sunshine

Birgit Minichmayr in Everyone Else

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

And the Noffscar goes to: Jeon Do-yeon

Kim Hye-ja of Mother seemed to be a shoo-in for the NOFF Award until I happened to catch Jeon Do-yeon’s towering performance in Secret Sunshine later in the year. I couldn’t understand why nobody seemed to be talking about her or the film until I learned that Do-yeon won Best Actress for her performance at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. I have no idea why the film took so long to reach U.S. shores, but now that it has Do-yeon’s staggering performance must be reckoned with.

She plays Shin-ae, a recently widowed mother of a young boy who moves to her late husband’s hometown. Not long after Shin-ae arrives tragedy strikes again: her son is kidnapped and held for ransom. Her frantic efforts to gather the ransom money are to no avail: his body is discovered a few days later. Numbed by shock, Shin-ae’s seemingly unemotional demeanor at the funeral is mistaken for heartlessness by her impassioned mother-in-law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her tightly bottled up emotions are there, all right, bubbling under the surface, primed to explode, but manifesting themselves, at first, only as physical symptoms like shortness of breath and stomach pains. In desperation she attends a bereavement support meeting, where she observes others displaying outward expressions of grief. Finally, she too lets go, releasing her long-suppressed emotions in sustained howls of despair emanating from the core of her being. Never have I seen a more genuine, agonizing expression of grief.

But Do-yeon’s performance is just getting started. Shin-ae’s experience at the meeting proves cathartic, and soon after she joins the community church, where she finds solace singing songs and preaching forgiveness. Still, there’s something disconcerting about the rapidity with which she’s seemingly moved on; one can’t help but think that her sudden religious awakening amounts to little more than a hastily erected bulwark against the painful reality. Sooner or later, one fears, something is going to knock that rickety bulwark down. Without divulging what that something is, suffice it to say that events transpire which obliterate her defenses and push her over the edge, leading her to rebel against God, religion, and the community, and, finally, to descend into complete madness.

This complex, challenging role, which is fraught with potentially melodramatic pitfalls, requires that Shin-ae be in a constant state of emotional flux, and through it all, from relative stability to frantic desperation, from mind-numbing shock to soul-wrenching grief, from self-deluded happiness to self-destructive insanity, Do-jeon remains utterly convincing, not just giving one of the best performances I saw last year, but simply one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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Vincent Cassel in Black Swan

Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank

Armie Hammer in The Social Network

John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone

Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom

And the Noffscar goes to: John Hawkes

In interviews Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik repeatedly betrayed her soft spot for Teardrop. She even talks about the shooting of an alternate ending which would have spared Teardrop his tragic destiny. Although her sentimental conception of the man did result in a discernable softening of the character originally created by novelist Daniel Woodrell, things could have been much worse if John Hawkes, who portrays the character, hadn’t insisted on keeping Teardrop’s essentially hardened nature relatively intact.

Apparently, there was some tension on the set between Granik and Hawkes, especially over her proposed hopeful ending, but thankfully Hawkes’ hard-headedness prevailed over Granik’s soft-heartedness, and Teardrop’s downbeat end is retained. Even when Granik does manage to foist unnecessarily sentimental bits of business on the character, such as when she has Teardrop bring baby chicks to Ree’s young siblings or pluck a few notes on an old banjo (moments not in the book, and to which Hawkes reportedly objected), Hawkes’ marvelous underplaying never betrays Teardrop’s fundamental nature.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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Dale Dickey in Winter’s Bone

Greta Gerwig in Greenberg

Lesley Manville in Another Year

Chloë Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass

Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer

And the Noffscar goes to: Lesley Manville

Another Year is structured around a year in the life of happily married couple Tom and Gerri, but the film really belongs to Lesley Manville’s Mary, a lonely middle-aged single woman with a history of failed relationships. The story is divided into four parts, one for every season, each one highlighted by a visit from Mary. It’s a wonder that Mary keeps turning up at Tom and Gerri’s door since their seemingly ideal relationship stands in stark relief to the naked desperation of the perennially miserable Mary. Everything Mary does seems designed to spare herself from some sad truths: she talks too much to avoid reflecting on her loneliness; drinks too much to forget how miserable she is; dresses too young to deny how old she is. She rejects the one person she’s compatible with (an equally lonely and age-appropriate friend of Tom’s), while doggedly pursuing the person she’s least likely to have a chance with (Tom and Gerri’s much younger son). Mary’s the neurotic product of a lifetime’s worth of bad decisions. In lesser hands, such a creature could easily degenerate into caricature, but Manville’s emotionally complex portrayal brings a rare depth of feeling to the role of Mary.

Tom and Gerri’s goodwill towards Mary is tested when, one cold winter day, she shows up uninvited at their house. Irritated by her behavior but too kind to ask her to leave, T & G invite her to dinner with their son, his girlfriend, and Tom’s recently widowed brother (whose ear Mary talked off earlier). During dinner Mary is mostly left out of the conversation which centers on family matters. The camera slowly circles around the table from person to person, finally coming to rest on Mary, who is uncharacteristically quiet. She gives a forced, half-hearted answer when the conversation briefly turns to her, then resumes her silence when the conversation veers away again. Rather than follow the conversation, the camera holds on Mary, the soundtrack goes silent, she lowers her head, and the film fades out. Her defense mechanisms finally crumble, and she’s left with the crushing realization that she doesn’t really belong there. The sad, lost expression on Mary’s face just before the film fades out is one of the most haunting, achingly poignant images of the year.

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BEST SCREENPLAY

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Everyone Else by Maren Ade

Four Lions by Chris Morris

Greenberg by Noah Baumbach

Life During Wartime by Todd Solondz

The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin

And the Noffscar goes to: The Social Network

“Once I have an idea for how I’m gonna start, once I know what the first scene is gonna be, I write it. Because the difference between being on page five and being on page nothing is life and death to me. So, I try to write that first scene with as much power and energy as I can” – Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin’s scintillating adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction bestseller ‘The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal‘ opens with a dazzlingly written scene in which motor-mouthed Mark Zuckerberg, the nerdy computer genius credited, albeit controversially, with inventing Facebook, gets dumped. It’s easy to believe Sorkin wrote that scene, which is characterized by rapid fire dialogue akin to a 40s style screwball comedy, with as much power and energy as he could muster. From there Sorkin, working from sworn depositions fraught with contradictions, weaves together the conflicting versions of the story into a Rashomon-style investigation of “the truth”, allowing the audience to decide for themselves who’s telling the truth, who really invented Facebook, who wronged whom – a gripping approach to the material certain to make for interesting post-viewing conversation/argument.

The invention of Facebook is not a particularly compelling story in itself; it’s the controversy surrounding it which supplies the dramatic interest. Not surprisingly, Sorkin was not attracted to the project because of the Facebook phenomenon itself, but because it afforded him the opportunity to work with classical themes as old as storytelling itself: friendship, betrayal, loyalty, class, power, jealousy etc. The inherent power of these themes, and the skill with which Sorkin uses them to tell this fascinating tale, ensures that Sorkin’s Social Network will endure long after Zuckerberg’s social network has become a thing of the past.

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BEST EDITING

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Black Swan

Inception

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

And the Noffscar goes to: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

According to director Edgar Wright the editing process took an intense 10 months to complete, and the hard work put into it is evident on screen, the end result being vividly imaginative editing, both within and between scenes.

Transitions between scenes:

One of the most exciting aspects of the editing technique is the inventive way scenes flow together, such as when a character starts to say something in one location and finishes the sentence in another. Not only does this keep the story moving briskly along, it also provides a visually interesting way to deliver exposition, which is particularly important in a film with as many characters, subplots and sequences as this one. Far from being just a flashy stylistic device, this technique is absolutely integral to the film’s comic book subject matter, functioning as the visual equivalent of the reader’s eyes scanning from one frame to the next, or as Wright suggested, “like my hand turning the page for you.”

Editing within scenes:

The scene below nicely illustrates the film’s consistently playful and offbeat approach to editing. The content of the scene is completely banal: just a bunch of young people being introduced to each other at a club. Less adventurous directors would have treated the scene as mere exposition, and just cut back and forth between the characters generically. In Wright’s hands, there’s nothing generic about this scene. All 51 seconds crackle with energy, each shot vibrant and significant, and the scene develops in unpredictable and amusing ways.

Notice how humor is generated by playing with audience expectations.

Ramona is greeted by Scott as she enters the club:

           Scott: “Hey, you totally came.”

           Ramona: Yes, I did totally come.

A few seconds later Scott’s sister, Stacey, introduces herself to Ramona:

           Stacey: Please excuse my brother, he’s chronically enfeebled. I’m Stacey.

           Ramona: “Hey”

Stacey then introduces Ramona to Wallace, Scott’s gay roommate:

           Stacey: This is Wallace, his roommate.

           Wallace: “Hey”

Then she introduces Ramona to her boyfriend, Jimmy:

           Stacey: This is my boyfriend, Jimmy.

At this point we expect the established pattern to continue with Jimmy saying “Hey” to Ramona, but instead Wright cuts back to Wallace seductively saying “Hey” to Jimmy!

The scene continues with Stacey introducing Ramona to Knives:

           Stacey: “Oh, and this is Knives.

Rather than saying “Hey” to Ramona, Knives enthusiastically says “Hey” to Scott and hugs and kisses him, setting up the romantic triangle between Scott, Ramona and Knives.

Scott looks at Ramona, then back at Knives. Knives looks at Ramona. Ramona looks at Scott. Stacey looks at Scott. But then Wallace, totally unconcerned with the drama unfolding, looks at…Jimmy! (And Jimmy, surprised at being caught staring at Wallace, quickly looks away!)

Would that all directors practiced such zestful and hilariously unpredictable editing!

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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Black Swan

Enter the Void

Let Me In

The Social Network

Valhalla Rising

And the Noffscar goes to: Enter the Void

Astral projection – “An interpretation of any form of out-of-body experience (OBE) that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of traveling outside it. Astral projection denotes the astral body leaving the physical body to travel in the astral plane.”

I knew a girl who claimed she could leave her body and float around from place to place. I issued her a challenge: if she could float over to my house at some allotted hour and later describe in detail what I was doing at the time, I’d believe her. She never did. I only mention this because I do not believe in astral projection, all right? (Though it would be cool). Whatever is happening when people have out-of-body experiences can be explained, I’m sure, rationally without resorting to New Age mumbo-jumbo.

Enter the Void need not be interpreted literally as the visualization of Oscar’s astral projection. An equally valid interpretation is that the film represents Oscar’s DMT-influenced hallucinogenic fantasy at the point of his death. Either way, the scenario presented major technical challenges for Noé and his cinematographer, Benoit Debie, because the camera, which doesn’t deviate from Oscar’s point of view even after he dies, spends much of its time soaring over and above the earthbound proceedings, necessitating the use of incredibly lengthy and elaborate crane shots. The film’s extraordinary last hour is essentially one long, sustained crane shot, in which the camera stands in for the eyes of Oscar, whose gliding, swooping spirit keeps going in and out of various openings, including his own gunshot wound, seeking reentry into the world of the living, and finally finding it in his sister’s womb, where he attaches himself to a fertilizing sperm and later exits through her birth canal as the reincarnated child of his sister. Not surprisingly, I spent a good portion of the film gape-mouthed and muttering, “Whoa…cool”.

Note: Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of Noé’s acknowledged influences, Enter the Void ends with a mind-blowing sequence involving a “miraculous” rebirth.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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Alice in Wonderland by Danny Elfman

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The Ghost Writer by Alexandre Desplat

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How to Train Your Dragon by John Powell

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Let Me In by Michael Giacchino

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TRON: Legacy by Daft Punk

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And the Noffscar goes to: TRON: Legacy

Given that I concluded my recent comments on Bernard Herrmann’s score to North by Northwest by saying, “Oh, how I’d love to force all the modern day action movie composers to listen to Herrmann’s score; maybe they’d learn what real music sounds like and throw away their infernal drum machines and synthesizers”, it might seem contradictory, if not downright schizoid, to turn around a month later and award Best Score of 2010 to Daft Punk, an electronic music duo famous for their synth-and-kick drum driven house music. Surely if anyone belonged in the “should listen to Bernard Herrmann” category it is they. To my utter delight I discovered that they have. After seeing the film I read an interview with the duo in which one of them says, “we knew from the start that there was no way we were going to do this film score with two synthesizers and a drum machine,” and then he goes on to cite Herrmann as an inspiration! I would gladly take full credit for this if not for the fact that the interview took place well before I made my comment.

That I went into the screening of TRON: Legacy with low expectations and came out 90 minutes later convinced I’d just heard the year’s best score was the pleasantest surprise of the movie year. Because Daft Punk drew inspiration from the masters of the past – not just Herrmann but also Max Steiner, Vangelis and Wendy Carlos, who composed the groundbreaking electronic score to the original Tron – rather than the hacks of the present, the duo’s hybrid electronic and orchestral score has an epic power almost completely lacking in the usual formulaic electronics-plus-orchestra scores so prominent in today’s thrillers and action movies. Nobody told these novice film composers that you aren’t supposed to write bold and daring scores of towering power and originality anymore. They didn’t know any better; so they just went ahead and did it.

If TRON: Legacy had one of those dreadfully generic sounding scores I surely would have dismissed the film as a mindless lightshow encumbered with a feeble storyline. But Daft Punk’s remarkable score, an instant classic, singlehandedly transforms the film’s otherwise subpar material into something far better than it had any right to be, its  potent combo of electro razzle and orchestral dazzle adding dimension to the two dimensional characters (far more than the 3D does), energizing the tired scenario, and providing meaning to the mindless spectacle.

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BEST ART DIRECTION/SET DESIGN

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Alice in Wonderland

Black Swan

The Ghost Writer

Inception

The King’s Speech

And the Noffscar goes to: Inception

Inception is one of the rare films whose production design is absolutely intrinsic to the plot. The “architect” of the film is the person who designs the dreamscapes within the dreamer’s mind, but the daunting task of designing and constructing these dreamscapes in the real world fell on the production design team. They were the real architects of Inception. Therefore, much of the credit for the architectonic precision of the film goes to production designer Guy Dyas and his crew, whose meticulously conceived production design, most of which was, amazingly, accomplished without the aid of CGI*, brought Nolan’s trippy dreams-within-dreams vision vividly to life.

*See also Best Visual Effects below.

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BEST SOUND

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Black Swan

Enter the Void

How to Train Your Dragon

Monsters

Valhalla Rising

And the Noffscar goes to: Enter the Void

Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk had quite a year: not only did he co-write the thrilling NOFF-Award winning score to TRON: Legacy, he also created the imaginative sound design for Enter the Void. Sound is a vital element in Noé’s cinema, never more so than in Enter the Void, where it functions as the audio complement to the film’s psychedelic visuals. Together, sound and image forge a total audiovisual head trip.

According to Noé, “a maelstrom of sound begins when Oscar collapses”. That maelstrom of sound includes, 1) disorienting whirring and whishing noises, 2) an almost constant low thudding beat -the pulsating of blood in Oscar’s head; the pounding drums of nightclub music; the regular thumping of a heart – the rhythm of which matches that of the omnipresent flashing neon signs and pulsating strobe lights, amplifying the film’s hypnotic, trance-like power, and 3) the steady low frequency humming of Binaural tones, which are known to alter brainwaves and induce alternate frames of consciousness. The latter makes Gaspar Noé a rather dangerous filmmaker: he’s not just trying to fuck with your mind; he wants to tinker around in your very nervous system!

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BEST FOREIGN FILM

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Dogtooth

Everyone Else

Mother

A Prophet

Secret Sunshine

And the Noffscar goes to: Mother

See Best Picture

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BEST DOCUMENTARY

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

A Film Unfinished

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Restrepo

Sweetgrass

And the Noffscar goes to: Exit Through the Gift Shop

“I think the joke is on…I don’t know who the joke is on. I don’t even know if there is a joke.”

Banksy: “Never once during the film’s making did it occur to me that people would think either the film or Thierry was some kind of put-on. In a way, that diminishes the power of the movie. But on the other hand, it makes me look kind of smart-so I’ll take it.”

But who’s to say this comment isn’t also part of the put-on? Banksy, after all, has elevated pranksterism to high art, and Exit Through the Gift Shop just might be a prank, wrapped in a hoax, inside a practical joke.

Consider some of the incredibly loopy utterances of, ahem, “Mr. Brainwash”:

“Some people might think that I’m a rabbit because I’m running around and they think I’m not organized. But I said, wait until the end of life and you’ll see if I’m a rabbit or a turtle.”

“Like what I say, I’m playing chess. I don’t know how to play chess, but life is a chess game for me.”

“Everything that I do, somewhere, brainwashes your face.”

“Like there is a park amusement. I’m making it an art amusement – you know I change park to art.” – talking about his debut “art” show

“The only thing I wanna do in L.A. is to show that Los Angeles can have great shows. You know it’s like a revolution kind of.”

“Because I think it’s part of the popular culture – and you passed away and… I’m here. – referring to the ubiquity of the Campbell Soup spray paint cans in his show

This guy’s incoherence makes Nigel Tufnel sound like the articulate voice of reason. And the so-called art show he “puts on” looks like a spoof of a lampoon  of a parody of a graffiti artist’s worst nightmare, the pièce de résistance of which is a picture of Batman’s grandfather called…”Batpapi”.

What’s definitely not a put on, however, is that hip Los Angelinos everywhere came to the show, largely because Banksy blindly endorsed it (why would he do that after being so appalled by the ineptitude of Mr. Brainwash’s street art documentary?), and made it a smashing success. Could it be that the show was “put on” – by Banksy, for his documentary – to make a point about the crass commercialization of street art?

Banksy: “If the movie was a carefully scripted prank you can be sure I would’ve given myself some better lines. I would’ve meticulously planned my spontaneous off-the-cuff remarks.”

The thing is, though, Banksy did (seemingly) write himself some great lines:

“It was a joke, a jumble of sequences with no links, no narrative, no structure – like a crazy person with a short attention span flicking through a 900 channel cable box. It was at that point I realized that maybe Thierry wasn’t actually a filmmaker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera.” – referring to MBW’s alleged documentary on street art, ‘Life Remote Control’.

“I always used to encourage everyone I met to make art. I used to think everyone should do it.” [He then pauses for comic effect] “I don’t really do that so much anymore” (juxtaposed with a shot of MBW spray painting some trash).

“Most artists spend years perfecting their craft, finding their style, and Terry seemed to miss out on all those bits – I mean, there’s no one like Terry, even though his art looks like everyone else’s”.

“Maybe Terry was a genius all along. Maybe he got a bit lucky. Maybe it means art is a bit of a joke.”

“Warhol repeated iconic images until they became meaningless, but there was still something iconic about them. Thierry really makes them meaningless.”

I don’t know, those spontaneous off-the-cuff remarks seem to have the whiff of the meticulously planned. The same could be said of the entire film. What are the chances that the circumstances surrounding this documentary happened by sheer chance? A loony Frenchman named Thierry Guetta starts obsessively filming streets artists, dreaming of one day meeting the legendary Banksy. His dream comes true when Banksy, known for scrupulously keeping his identity secret, inexplicably allows this complete stranger full access to his life and work. Banksy then encourages Guetta to make a documentary about graffiti artists out of all his footage, but when the documentary turns out to be so mind-bogglingly awful, Banksy decides to make his own documentary. Banksy’s documentary, called Exit Through the Gift Shop, turns out to be the story of Mr. Guetta’s decidedly unlikely rise to stardom in the (street) art world as one Mr. Brainwash, a success story facilitated by Banksy’s blind endorsement. If that all happened by chance, then I guess it’s true that truth is stranger than fiction. But if it’s all a put-on, and I hope it is, the film is pure genius.

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BEST ANIMATED FILM

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Despicable Me

How to Train Your Dragon

The Secret of Kells

Tangled

Toy Story 3

And the Noffscar goes to: Toy Story 3

This year’s group of animated films was pretty weak compared to last year’s. AMPAS couldn’t even come up with 5 nominees. I could, but although they’re all solid enough, none rises to instant classic status like last year’s UP and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Toy Story 3 comes closest, but it took a second viewing for it to really grow on me. I still thought it had too many recycled elements (wasn’t Buzz reset to the factory settings before?), and I continue to resist the maudlin sentimentality of the ending, especially when Andy takes one last look at his toys and says, “thanks guys” – sorry, but hormone-raging 17-year old guys going off to college have only one thing on their minds, and it ain’t the childhood toys they’re leaving behind, believe me.

Anyway, I guess I’d better say something nice about the film since it won the Noffscar and all. First, it looks incredible. Nothing looks better on Blu-Ray than animation, and the film’s eye-popping attention to detail and spectacularly vivid colors fully justify the expense of my 50 inch plasma television. Though the story was a bit stale, the characters themselves remain fun to be around. The scene where they all hold hands and face almost certain death together in a fiery trash compactor is both suspenseful and touching. Best of all, though, is the appearance of a great new character: Lotso, the teddy bear (wonderfully voiced by Ned Beatty). He’s adorable-looking, but don’t be fooled – this teddy bear is rotten to the stuffing’s core. That the best villain of 2010 was a pink, ultra-cuddly, strawberry-scented teddy bear is further proof that Pixar’s imagination is second to none in the animation field.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

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“Alice’s Theme” by Danny Elfman from Alice in Wonderland

Listen

“Dear Laughing Doubters” by Sondre Lerche & Theodore Shapiro from Dinner with Schmucks

Listen

“Life During Wartime” by Marc Shaiman & Todd Solondz from Life During Wartime

Listen

“Garbage Truck” by Beck from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Listen

“Threshold” by Beck from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Listen

And the Noffscar goes to: “Alice’s Theme” from Alice in Wonderland

One of the best musical cues of the year was Danny Elfman’s “Alice’s Theme”, a lushly melodic yet faintly spooky piece whose celestial choir, lilting strings and twinkly orchestrations hark back to the kind of enchanting fantasy themes he became famous for. The best song of the year spun out of this gorgeous melody when Elfman added lyrics to it after noticing that the use of the word “Alice” would fit perfectly with the final pair of descending notes of the theme.

For some reason the song was not eligible for an Oscar (though Avril Lavigne’s unlistenable “Alice” from the same film was).  For the Academy’s edification, here’s the dictionary definition of a song: a short musical composition of words and music.

Okay, let’s see if “Alice’s Theme” fits the definition or not:

  • 1) “A short musical composition” – It’s 5 minutes long – check
  • 2) “with words” – Yep, it’s got ‘em – check
  • 3) “and music” – Yep, it’s got that too – check

Elfman got screwed twice: once when the Academy snubbed his marvelous score, and again when they evidently thought that the best song of the year wasn’t really a song.

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BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS

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Enter the Void

Inception

Monsters

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

TRON: Legacy

And the Noffscar goes to: Inception

Because Nolan is not a fan of CGI, most of the visual effects in Inception were done practically rather than digitally, meaning that the majority of what we see in the film’s dream worlds, including the rotating hotel corridor, the horizontal elevator shafts, the Escher-like staircases, and the Alberta mountain snow fortress, were constructed in the real world, not the virtual one. Nolan is one of the few major Hollywood directors today who realizes that CGI, no matter how skillfully rendered, simply cannot achieve the same degree of tangible realism that practical effects can.

As special effects supervisor Chris Corbould says, “There’s always a way to do things with computer imagery, but I don’t think it would create the same effect. With practical effects, you get the impact of it, as they’re colliding with the bed, hitting the light fittings, going across to hit the walls. You really gain the energy of it, with the actors struggling to keep their wits about them.”

For example, in order to pull off the rotating hotel hallway scene, which features Joseph Gordon-Levitt zigzagging down revolving corridors and bouncing from floor to wall to ceiling like Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding crossed with Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, a 100-foot corridor with the ability to rotate 360 degrees was constructed, along with matching vertical, horizontal and upside down sets, in order to create the illusion of constantly shifting gravity. Would that more directors followed Nolan’s lead!

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BEST SCENE

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The American:

The tragi-poetic conclusion: hit-man Clooney, dying from a gunshot wound, desperately drives to “the spot” to see his girl one more time, hitting the steering wheel in frustration because he knows how close he was to making a clean getaway.

Another Year:

The final scene/shot: the camera circles around the guests at the dinner table of Tom and Gerri’s, finally coming to rest on Lesley Manville’s Mary, who’s suddenly feeling totally out of place with this family. In a moment of crushing realization, now knowing she doesn’t really belong there, she lowers her head and the film fades out.

Blue Valentine:

From happy beginnings to miserable endings: the crosscutting scene juxtaposing the couples’ wedding vows with the death throes of their relationship powerfully shows how they lived happily ever after once before.

Watch

Daddy Longlegs:

Well-meaning but (hilariously) irresponsible Daddy administers sedatives to his kids so they won’t wake up while he pulls an all-nighter at work – but inadvertently knocks them out for days!

Dogtooth:

Despite the best efforts of the bizarrely overprotective parents to keep outside influences away from their confined children, the elder daughter manages to get her hands on a video of Flashdance, and when the children put on a show for the parents, said daughter proceeds to regale them with a Jennifer Beals-inspired dance, which is both hilarious and oddly poignant.

Watch

 

 

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Enter the Void:

I enthusiastically posted a YouTube link to the psychedelic opening credit sequence of Enter the Void on my Facebook page on February 14, 2010 – long before Quentin Tarantino declared it “one of the greatest in cinema history”.

Watch

Enter the Void:

Do you want to know what a DMT trip is like? Click on the link and find out.

Watch

Fish Tank:

The farewell dance between the combative mother and daughter is deeply moving because there’s so much unspoken emotion going on under the surface of that pas de deux – it’s an act of contrition, an expression of forgiveness and, perhaps, a last goodbye.

Watch

Four Lions:

After two bumbling would-be Islamic terrorists flunk out of their terrorist training camp in Pakistan, they try to redeem themselves by firing a rocket launcher at an American drone. As usual, things go terribly awry: the powerful recoil of the weapon propels the bumbler to the ground like a rag doll and the misdirected rocket blows up a terrorist camp (killing sheikh Osama Bin Laden we later learn!) instead of the drone. The bumblers then must run for their lives from a hail of bombs coming from the terrorist camp they just accidently blew up!

Watch

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale:

I’m not ashamed to admit it: the scene where Joan Allen sees poor old Hachi still waiting for Gere to show up at the train station 10 years after the man’s death ripped my heart out and stomped on it until it turned to mush.

Watch

 

 

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Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows:

This is a very weak entry in the series, but it does contain one memorable scene: The Story of the Three Brothers – a self-contained segment, beautifully narrated by Emma Watson, which uses striking Lotte Reiniger-like silhouette animation to recount the tale of the deathly hollows.

Watch

How to Train Your Dragon:

Hiccup touches Toothless: Not since Puff and Jackie Paper have a boy and his dragon bonded so memorably. If mortal enemies like a Viking and a fire-breathing dragon can befriend one another, maybe there’s hope for all of us in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours.

Inception:

The really cool rotating, gravity-shifting hotel hallway fight.

Kick-Ass:

Without Hit Girl Kick-Ass would kick considerably less ass: watch the pint-sized vigilante dispatch a gang of thugs with her lethal crime-fighting skills.

Watch

Let Me In:

All Richard Jenkins wanted to do was procure some blood for his vampire, but even the best laid plans of vampire servants can go awry. Reeves said his inspiration for the botched murder/car crash scene was the bungled murder attempt on Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder, and you can definitely see the influence of The Master in the way Reeves builds suspense here. I particularly like the way he insists on keeping the camera’s focus on Jenkins hiding in the backseat so that we see and hear everything from his perspective.

Watch

 

 

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Let Me In:

The death of Elias Koteas: with the help of composer Michael Giacchino, whose creepy music builds relentlessly to an unbearably nerve-racking crescendo, Reeves pulls off another great suspense scene.

Life During Wartime:

Pedophile Bill, recently released from prison, visits his son Billy at college to make sure he hasn’t turned out like him, and to say his goodbyes. Anyone who likes Happiness should find this scene powerfully moving.

Monsters:

A flash of lightning illuminates a monster approaching the film’s hiding couple, Samantha and Andrew. Then something unexpected happens: instead of attacking the people the monster meets up with another of its kind, and they touch tentacles in some form of communication before going their separate ways (to battle the attacking human army) – similar to the way the human couple is separated by the army moments later. It’s a surprising, oddly moving moment which calls into question just who the “monsters” of the title really are.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World:

Scott Pilgrim vs. a militant vegan: the bass guitar showdown.

Watch

The Social Network:

Following the dazzlingly written and acted opening scene in which motor-mouthed Zuckerberg gets dumped (a scene which itself was a finalist), the intoxicated, vindictative nerdy little computer genius invents Facemash.com

Watch

And the Noffscar goes to: The death of Elias Koteas from Let Me In

Let the Right One In was number 2 on my 2008 top ten list, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I heard it was being remade. To my utter surprise and delight, Let Me In turned out to be nothing less than one of the best remakes ever made. Do not listen to those myopic critics who glibly dismiss it as a slavish rehash of the original. It is nothing of the sort.

Directed by talented genre specialist Matt Reeves, whose underrated Cloverfield placed just under Let the Right One In on that same 2008 list, Let Me In boasts two of the best-directed scenes of the year, one being the notorious “car crash” scene, which has no comparable scene in the original, the other being the killing of Elias Koteas’s character, which does. If I choose the latter over the former as the best scene of the year it is because Reeves finds imaginative ways to improve upon the corresponding scene in the original.

In bare outline the scenes are identical: a man enters the apartment of the vampire and gets killed. But the onscreen differences between them are legion. The original scene lasts about 5 minutes. The scene in Let Me In lasts about 8. Reeves uses those additional 3 minutes to ratchet up the suspense to a level the original never approaches. In the original the man doesn’t realize anyone else is in the apartment. Koteas does, but he doesn’t know where, which puts him (and us) on edge from the beginning. A key difference here is Reeves’ use of music. The original scene doesn’t have any to speak of, except for the banal use of a stinger chord when the vampire jumps out. Reeves, on the other hand, builds the entire scene around Michael Giacchino’s marvelously creepy music, which keeps stopping and starting unsettlingly as the scene develops. But once Koteas realizes that the vampire is behind the closed bathroom door, MG’s music turns unrelentingly intense. Reeves devotes a full minute of screen time to Koteas slowly advancing toward that door while the music steadily intensifies, and it’s the most electrifying 60 seconds of the film year. As Koteas gets closer and closer, the slow ominous percussion hits get louder and louder, the menacing Herrmannesque strings get scarier and scarier and the frantic violins get faster and faster, until the scene reaches an unbearably nerve-racking crescendo.

In addition to being more dramatically potent than the original, the scene also invites a more complex emotional response for a couple of reasons.  In the original we barely know the man who enters the apartment, and so his brutal death affects us viscerally but not emotionally. Koteas, on the other hand, is a major character in the film, a cop investigating the recent spate of murders, and a likeable guy to boot, and so we don’t want to see him get killed. His death is genuinely sad and tragic, whereas his counterpart’s demise just seems grisly. Reeves also emphasizes the fact that this is a pivotal moment in the young boy’s inevitable evolution from relatively normal kid to vampire lover/assistant. In the original scene, the boy, although clearly upset, simply closes the door and walks away as the man’s lifeblood is sucked out of him. In Let Me In the boy seems torn between helping Koteas, who reaches his hand out to the boy, or allowing the vampire to finish the kill. The boy extends his hand, and for a moment we can’t tell whether he will grasp Koteas’s hand or close the door. In the end he closes the door on Koteas and the innocent young boy he once was. His fate is now sealed.

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NOFFSCAR AWARDS TALLIES
43 films represented from 18 categories out of the 142 eligible films seen

3 Wins
Enter the Void

2 Wins
Inception
Mother

1 Win
Alice in Wonderland
Another Year
Daddy Longlegs
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Let Me In
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Secret Sunshine
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
TRON: Legacy
Winter’s Bone

8 Nominations
Black Swan
The Social Network

7 Nominations
Enter the Void
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

4 Nominations
Everyone Else
Inception
Let Me In
Life During Wartime
Monsters
Mother

3 Nominations
Alice in Wonderland
Another Year
Blue Valentine
Four Lions
The Ghost Writer
Greenberg
How to Train Your Dragon

2 Nominations
Daddy Longlegs
Dogtooth
Fish Tank
Kick-Ass
Secret Sunshine
Toy Story 3
TRON: Legacy
Valhalla Rising
Winter’s Bone

1 Nomination
The American
Animal Kingdom
Carlos
Despicable Me
Dinner with Schmucks
Exit Through the Gift Shop
A Film Unfinished
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
I’m Still Here
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
The King’s Speech
A Prophet
Restrepo
The Secret of Kells
Sweetgrass
Tangled

9 Responses to “2010 NOFF Awards”

  1. Mathew,

    I want to see “Mother”! You asked if I would go as far as the mother in the film. I would lay down my life for you but I do not think I could do what that mother did.

    Mom

  2. I fear that many of your nominees have not been released in Spain yet. Bong is a safe choice, all his movies are fantastic, and I am glad to see recognition for Secret Sunshine, undoubtedly Lee’s best film, and John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone.
    A couple of recommendations praised by Spanish critics: City of Life and Death & Vincere.
    Very good comments and analysis!

  3. Thanks, Mom. I will take you up on that when the time comes : )

  4. Thanks, Angel. I did see Vincere. Great performance by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, who just missed the cut. According to the IMDB, City of Life and Death will be released in the States this May, so I’ll definitely be checking it out, and who knows, it could turn up in the 2011 NOFF Awards.

    Mat

  5. I was a little surprised Enter the Void didn’t snag best picture, although I’ve only seen half of the nominees. Best Director was probably a more fitting category. I’m glad to see John Hawkes with the well-deserved Best Supporting win. He has a regular part in the comedy series Eastbound and Down as the easy-going, nice guy suburban family man brother of Kenny Powers but I didn’t recognize him in Winter’s Bone until much later, which says alot about the depth of his performance. Or maybe it was just the beard. Seriously though, I haven’t encountered many characters that I’ve felt afraid of and sympathetic to at the same time. I’m glad he was opposed to a softer portrayal of Teardrop. Adding a happy, redemptive ending for him would have been completely irresponsible.

    I’ll be back with more later

  6. Hey Anthony. I had some problems with Winter’s Bone, but Hawkes wasn’t one of them. There’s not a false note in his performance. He’s also supposed to be good in the HBO series Deadwood, which I haven’t seen.

    Enter the Void was my second choice.

    Mat

  7. I am enjoying your NOFF award presentations. What a fantastic job!

    I was listening to all of the best scores. The one that stands out for me is the score for “Let Me In” – the music is so hauntingly suspenseful. It makes one feel that something bad is about to happen. “The Ghost Writer” is similar to “Let Me In”, in that it is eerie. “Alice In Wonderland” and “How To Train Your Dragon” was light and adventurous. “Tron” reminded me of Star Wars type music.

    I still have to check out more and will add comments as I continue to look at more of your work.

    GREAT JOB!

  8. Thanks, Barbara. I’m glad you like Michael Giaccchino’s score to Let Me In. You might recall that last year he won just about every award, including the Noffscar, for his lovely, melodic score to Up. Then he turns around the following year and composes the creepiest score I’ve heard in ages. Talk about range! I can’t wait to hear what this guy does next.

    His music figures prominently in my choice of the best scene of the year (see above). The cue heard is called “Dread on Arrival”, the best part of which goes from 2:45 to 3:45. In the film it plays when Elias Koteas, realizing the vampire is behind a closed door, starts slowly moving toward the door – and his death. Check out that extraordinary minute of Giacchino music here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQS86gUxzQQ&feature=related

  9. Good Work!
    Haven’t had the chance to see Mother yet but my girl has been asking me to find something good so I’ll have to do what she says and hope it is good too!
    Thanks