It’s easy to complain about the Oscars and other awards-giving bodies, so in order to give a little more bite to my bark, I present to you the First Annual Coco Awards, which are essentially a fantasy version of the Oscars in which I make all the (rightful) decisions. You already know what my favorite films of the year are, but if you’re curious to know what I think was the best Supporting Actress performance, or the best use of Visual Effects in 2014, then you’re reading the right article.
If you’ve read my Top Ten of 2014 list, you know who they are. If you haven’t, then read it now.
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
How could I not go with Anderson when he has directed what seems to be a thesis statement in all things Wes Anderson. From the structure of the script, to the pastry-like dollhouse that is the design of the titular hotel, the fanciness of its lead character, and the fact that the movie argues for both the value of Andersonian preciousness and beautiful and delicate art in general… I don’t know how he could top a movie that uses all of the traits that we associate with his filmmaking and spins them together into the most enjoyable movie of the year.
- Ava DuVernay (Selma): For elegance and (relative) subtlety. For shaking up the usual biopic structure, and presenting us not with a man, but with a story of true communal effort.
- Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin): For using hidden-camera improvisation, nightmarishly surreal images, and our association with Scarlett Johansson’s screen persona to create one of the most original experiences of the year.
- Richard Linklater (Boyhood): For embarking in one of the most exciting experiments of the decade, and doing so with enviable ease. A movie and simple and ambitious as the story its
- Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman): For making some of the boldest and most original choices of the year. Also, for the attention to detail, where what happens in the background of a shot is a story on itself.
Best Lead Actress
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
The reason why Julianne Moore hasn’t won an Oscar yet is the ease with which she can inhabit a character. It took me maybe one or two scenes and I already recognized Alice as a human being. I could already imagine how she would react in hundreds of different situations. It’s almost uncanny. The way Moore talks to Alice’s husband or kids has the weight of a whole life behind it, and what’s even more remarkable is that the essence of that relationship is still there, even when Alice has started to lose herself in her disease. It’s a tearjerker of a performance, but one that earns our tears without asking for them.
- Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night): For marching on, and bringing remarkable physicality to a movie about talking. A perfect match of classic Hollywood and neorealism styles.
- Essie Davis (The Babadook): For injecting the tired genre of horror performance with a necessary dose of exhausting commitment.
- Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin): For committing blindly to an inhuman performance, and walking the fine line between discovering and rejecting emotion.
- Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip): For having the courage to say, with a simple glance, what most actors can’t say in an entire movie.
Best lead actor
Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
The best character Wes Anderson ever created? If so, then at least half the credit must go to Fiennes, who changes the definition of “tour-de-force” with his performance as Gustave H. Impeccable comedy, and impeccable timing, as he perfectly embodies a man who refuses to lose his humanity despite the darkness that is quickly growing all around him. It’s a deeply sad performance sheltered (but not hidden) in an exterior as carefully constructed as any of Anderson’s precious creations. I compare this to a performance like Javier Bardem’s unbearable turn in Biutiful, and the fact that Gustave is so funny, endearing, and unsentimental makes it a million times more heartbreaking.
- Macon Blair (Blue Ruin): For the truth behind his eyes, which lets us know why a man as incompetent and unprepared as him would go on such a deadly mission.
- Brendan Gleeson (Calvary): For being awesome. I’m not going to lie, I’m a sucker for the mix of melancholy and dark humor on display in this masterful performance.
- Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler): For creating a different type of psychopath, for not connecting in a way we hadn’t seen before, and being as entertaining as he is horrifying.
- David Oyelowo (Selma): For portraying a man and not a hero. It might be cliche to say it, but think about it, how would you play Martin Luther King? The fact that Oyelowo turned the role into one of the year’s best performances is outstanding.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
For starters, there’s the fact that here we have an actress who dares take a role that will age her ten years in the blink of an eye. Considering the way women are treated in this world, that’s enough to commend this performance. But thankfully, that’s not everything. Working over twelve years allowed Arquette to immerse herself in this role in a way few actors ever get a chance to. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she commented how, this being a very small independent production, she often had to take on the role of mother to the children acting alongside her when they were too tired or bored to keep going. The result is a deeply authentic portrait of motherhood. Touching to the last drop.
- Mira Grosin (We are the Best!): For giving the most charismatic performance of the year, and even that might be an understatement
- Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer): For, as David Ehrlich put it in Letterboxd, not only stealing the movie, but buying it, raising the rent, pricing it out of the neighborhood, and gentrifying the area.
- Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac): For being person involved in this nightmare that understands the kind of unrestrained acting that would make Nymphomaniac a good movie.
- Mia Wasikowska (Only Lovers Left Alive): For showing a playful side we hadn’t seen before, and bringing a breath of fresh air just when the movie needed it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)
Even people who, unlike me, are not fans of Paul Thomas Anderson’s absurdist comedy Inherent Vice, will agree that Josh Brolin is nothing short of amazing in the movie. He is hilariously dry as ‘Bigfoot’, the square detective that serves as somewhat of a nemesis to Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner detective. Deadpan comedy doesn’t always work, but Brolin does wonders working with his ultra-masculine screen persona, his perfect comedic timing, and his delicious line readings. The result is the best performance of his career. “Motto panekeki!”
- Jeff Goldblum (Le-Weekend): For giving the Goldblumiest performance that Goldblum ever Goldblumed.
- Ethan Hawke (Boyhood): For seemingly “playing himself”, but really anchoring a tricky arc in human emotion, and doing what he does best: taking difficult and douchy characters and making them endearing.
- Kristofer Hivju (Force Majeure): For being, along with co-star Fanni Metelius, half of a more interesting and entertaining pair than the central couple in this otherwise repetitive movie.
- Edward Norton (Birdman): For proving to be a surprisingly generous actor, hilariously bringing out the best chemistry out of everyone he shares a scene with.
BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
No other movie really came close. First of all, props to director Ava DuVernay, casting director Aisha Coley, and whoever else was in charge of making sure we see the same extras over and over again so that by the end we can spot so many recognizable faces during the more violent passages. Also, props to DuVernay to know how to take a celebrity of Oprah Winfrey’s caliber and making her stardom an asset instead of a crutch (How dare you drop Oprah on the floor!). And, of course, props to all the amazing actors that turn the smallest scenes into pure gems in a movie that is all about the stories around MLK. I think, for example, of Henry Sanders’s heartbreaking moments at the hospital.
- Birdman. For fun. The script might end up being a mess, but these actors sure as hell have fun bouncing off each other, and thanks to the uninterrupted long take, they actually get to share the screen.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel. For a cast full of stars, all dancing to the beat of Anderson’s drum. For all the accents (or lack thereof), and for being so playful that the casting becomes the joke.
- Love is Strange. For tenderness. I didn’t respond to this movie as strongly as other people did, but the performances are masterful and the relationships real. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina make a hell of a pair.
- Two Days, One Night. For effectiveness. For understanding that despite Cotillard being the star, the movie is about her interacting with other people, and all about talking to someone face to face.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Inspired by the work of Stefan Zweig, what is so remarkable about this movie’s screenplay is that Anderson manages to make one of the most entertaining and one of the most devastating movies of the year at the same time. Someone one said to me that this movie was only “dessert”, which doesn’t make any sense when the heart of the movie carries a sorrow so deep that it pierces through the skin of the four nesting dolls that make up the movie’s structure.
- Calvary (John Michael McDonagh). For some of the best dialogue of the year, and for writing Brendan Gleeson the part of a lifetime.
- Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry). For a mercilessly funny script. For a daring character-focused structure and an even more daring use of narration.
- Selma (Paul Webb). For tasteful presentation, and because sometimes, the things that are not depicted on screen are as instrumental to a film’s success as the ones that are.
- The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom). For hidden treasures. Because beyond the hilarious improvisation, the movie is guided by theme. The past goes away, death lurks, and we might as well just laugh at it all.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAy
The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald, Wesley Oliver)
For some of the best western dialogue since Deadwood. Not quite as profane, but equally ingenious and brimming with beautiful turns of phrases. But that is only the surface, because by the end of The Homesman, one realizes that every scene is carefully constructed, and that what the characters are thinking, and what happens in the background, and what has preceded each scene is as important (if not more) than what is happening. A line of dialogue can tell a whole story in this magnificent western.
- The Double (Richard Ayoade). For a sarcastically witty screenplay that moves forward with an implacable sense of comedic dread.
- Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson). For wordiness that seems like it doesn’t mean much, but holds the necessary hints to unpack this trip of a comedy.
- Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell). For taking a literary work and truly translating to the language of cinema. I would have never guessed this was based on a book.
- We are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, Coco Moodysson). For authenticity, Coco adapts her autobiographical comics and lovingly brings the truth about being a twelve-year-old to the screen.
best animated film
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
I guess I’ll just quote myself: “the story of a tiny girl who is found by an elderly couple inside a bamboo tree becomes a feminist tragedy, in which a young girl’s will -even if she is a lunar princess- is nothing against the rigid social system that surrounds her. Delivering its message in the form of gorgeously delicate hand-painted animation, the last few minutes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya moved me in a way that very few movies ever have.”
- Ernest & Celestine. For doing what animation does best, using delicate sound and fanciful movement to tell one of the year’s sweetest stories.
- The Boxtrolls. For adorable grossness. It’s the least of Laika’s work, and the script could be better, but the craftsmanship is outstanding, and the nastiness of its characters admirable.
Selma (Bradford Young)
From my review: “(Bradford Young) is one of the most exciting cinematic talents to emerge in the past few years by virtue of not only knowing how to light black skin (a talent that depressingly few cinematographers seem to have), but doing it in a manner that goes beyond expressiveness and beauty into a realm of talent that makes you rethink of every other movie starring a black person that you seen in the past. The way he uses shadows, colors, hues, framing, backlighting… His serene, seemingly low-key style, which I would describe as “warm, and hazy naturalism” might not be immediately showy, but it would take a dumb eye not to notice that there is something especially thoughtful going on in this film’s visuals.”
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman). For playing with the 3:4 Academy ratio and exploiting it to its full structural potential.
- Ida (Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski). For remembering that, yes, the position of the characters in the frame can still be a crucial part of storytelling and not only a stylistic choice.
- The Immigrant (Darius Khondji). Yes, for that gorgeous final shot, but also for making the sepia tone of the past look like a concious choice again.
- Mr. Turner (Dick Pope). For proving that he can replicate a Turner painting on screen, and then only doing it when it’s absolutely necessary. We’re seeing the world that inspired his art, not the paintings themselves.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen)
It’s fitting that the most Wes Anderson-y movie yet has the most intricate design of them all. The term “doll house” has never been more appropriate to describe an Anderson movie. The Hotel itself s a confection out of Mendl’s bakery in its glory days, and a decadent memory all those years later. It is as mythical as the Belafonte, and as essential as the house on Archer Avenue. Space reaches a new level of artificiality here. When the characters move about it, they look like claymation puppets in Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s because this is the culmination of Anderson’s style. This is, more so than any other of his movies, where his obsessions prove their worth.
- The Double (David Crank): For tasteful remixing. Gilliams’ Brazil meets the mind of Franz Kafka and another type of oppressing world is created.
- The Homesman (Meredith Boswell): For details. A lot of the movie takes place outdoors, but every man-made object, from material to color, seems carefully designed and curated.
- Only Lovers Left Alive (Marco Bittner Rosner): For coolness. Because characters like these would care so muuch about every detail in their homes. And also, for the way we meet Detroit and Tangiers.
- Snowpiercer (Ondrej Nekvasil): For getting the opportunity and flexing all his muscles. It might be cliched to say it, but every train cart is a new world.
best costume design
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)
Wes Anderson’s movies are full of iconic costumes, especially when working with a master such as Canonero. This is no exception. Delightful in its simplicity, I will remember the uniforms of the Grand Budapest staff, how they differ from Gustave’s tuxedo, and the variations that we see from other concierges throughout the film. And then we have such things as Willem Dafoe’s all leather evil, Jeff Goldblum’s fur coat, and Lea Seydoux in a french maid outfit… Style and character are one in a movie about manners.
- The Double (Jacqueline Durran). For still being the best. For those little difference between the two Eisenbergs, the oversized suit, and being beyond flattering when dressing Wasikowska.
- The Homesman (Lahly Poore): For keeping up with a movie that is all about details. Her depiction of the Native Americans (called racist by some) is fascinating.
- The Immigrant (Patricia Norris): For covering Cotillard in those thick fabrics, and using sobriety and eccentricity in clothing to question our alliances to the characters.
- Inherent Vice (Mark Bridges): For having fun with the crazy seventies, but not overdoing it. It’s impeccably casual design.
BEST FILM EDITING
Under the Skin (Paul Watts)
How could I not give it to Under the Skin, a movie that, in its first moments, plays as almost pure abstraction, using images and sounds and making very little actual sense, then moves on to create a narrative out of highly improvised scenes of Scarlett Johansson interacting with clueless Scots, and ends up telling its story through a narrative that makes just the right amount of sense leaving enough room for the audience to fill in the gaps and make up the meaning of this otherworldly experience.
- Blue Ruin (Julia Bloch): For not only being tense, but almost comedic in depicting the extremely gruesome fate of its hero.
- Boyhood (Sandra Adair): For taking on the gimmick with such elegance, and for making twelve years go by in a heartbeat.
- Citizenfour (Mathilde Bonnfoy): For creating such a wonderfully entertaining narrative out of a priceless piece of journalism.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Barney Pilling): For understanding that there is on stopping in this clockwork of a movie. It’s an adventure and it will keep moving ’til the end.
best ORIGINAL SCORE
Under the Skin (Mica Levi)
The most original score of the year? Certainly the most hypnotic. And the one that -relatively speaking- is most essential to its film success. As a matter of fact, I can’t picture a version of Under the Skin that is scored any other way and works nearly as well as the film does. It’s almost scary how director Jonathan Glazer could find someone who could understand so well what he was going for when he came up with this eery adventure. But he did find Mica Levi, and that’s what matters.
- The Double (Andrew Hewitt): For guiding us through this indifferent world by straight up confronting us. Talk about trying to put us in the main character’s mindset…
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat): For effective twinkling. Picking on strings and “cute” Eastern European motifs, but never resting, and always moving the plot forward.
- The Guest (Steve Moore): For retro awesomeness. A kick-ass synth-fueled soundtrack that is, like the movie’s protagonist, ready to kick your butt.
- Inherent Vice (Jonny Greenwood): For retro melancholy. Trapped somewhere between the emotion of film noir and the mysticism of The Master.
best sound mixing
Under the Skin
As I said when I wrote about the score, the aural experience is essential to Under the Skin‘s success. On the one hand you have the oppressing sound of a loud motorcycle engine, or a crying baby, and on the other, you have equally oppressive, and even more unnerving silence. This is another type of audience manipulation we’re seeing, one so delicate and carefully designed that one can’t help but surrender to it.
- The Babadook: For not even using typical “jump scare” sounds to make me want to pee my pants a thousand times in a row.
- Blue Ruin: For the slow-build of its sonic atmosphere, and the realistic lack of flashiness.
- God Help the Girl:
- Snowpiercer: For turning the forward march through this train into a restless gut-punching adventure. And that scene in the dark…
best sound editing
Sometimes we forget that when you’re making a movie about a giant monster, what the monster sounds like is as important as what he looks like. Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla nails the look of the iconic reptile by sticking to the spirit of its original incarnation, but turns it up to eleven when it comes to the screeching sound of Godzilla’s roar. I am a very visual person, but I won’t forget that roar in a long time.
- The Babadook: For remixing horror movie sounds into something fresh, and for that Ba-Ba-Dook-Dook-DOOK!
- The Boxtrolls: For the grunty cuteness of the titular creatures and the Steampunk world they inhabit.
- The LEGO Movie: For sticking to its premise and incorporating the sounds of childhood play into its aural landscape.
- Snowpiercer: For using gruesome sound to make us feel every punch, gunshot, and wound.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIR
This movie is full of scars, as the poor, dirty, and wounded proletariat of the future try to violently make their way to the front of a train that is as much a vehicle as a metaphor for capitalism. The violence is graphic, and the makeup work seamless, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this win is in large part due to the movie’s transformation of Tilda Swinton into a big-toothed, evil, futuristic version of Margaret Thatcher. Actually, considering the finalists, this should have been renamed the “Tilda Swinton” category….
- The Grand Budapest Hotel turns Tilda into an octogenarian aristocrat, and does wonders with hairstyling to add personality to its colorful characters.
- Only Lovers Left Alive thinks vampires are the coolest people in the world, and actually makes them look as such. Starting by giving Tilda a majestic yak hair wig.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Under the Skin
When it comes to visual effects, like in so many technical categories, the Academy seems to think that “most” equals “best”. Big blockbusters full of explosions and CGI creations are already rewarded by grossing billions of dollars at the box office, they don’t need to get golden statues for technically proficient jobs that are not really artistically daring. Anyway, now that my rant is done, let me point out the visual effects of Under the Skin, which are not used to create photorealistic environments, as much as suggestive images that are as essential as any other artistic aspect for the film’s success.
- Godzilla: For restrictions. For using effects sparingly, and making us remember a them when CGI creations were something we looked forward to.
- Interstellar: For practicality. Christopher Nolan wanted to use as little CG as possible, the result is one of the best looking movies of the year.
- Noah: For bold ideas. Not a great movie, but I will remember that psychedelic “creation of the world” sequence, and those awesome rock giants.
- Nymphomaniac: For invisibility. I was deeply underwhelmed by Lars Von Trier’s latest, but the montage job -including the juxtaposition of its main actors’ faces on the bodies of porn performers is flawless.