February 7 @ 1pm! Midday on Cinematic Adaptation

[UPDATE: Missed the show? Please listen to the podcast!]

Midday on Adaptation

On Friday, February 7, Linda DeLibero (Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University), Christopher Llewellyn Reed (Chair, Film/Video, Stevenson University) and William U’Ren (Assistant Professor, English, Goucher College) will appear together on the Midday with Dan Rodricks program, on WYPR 88.1FM – Baltimore’s NPR News Station – during the second hour, 1-2pm, to discuss cinematic adaptations of literature. What are the challenges? What are the successful films drawn from books? What are the failures? Where and why have screenwriters made changes to the source text, and do those changes help or hurt the finished movie?

Do you have a favorite adaptation? A least favorite? If so, add a comment to this blog post, and tune in on February 7 @ 1! If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast here: http://www.wypr.org/listen-live

And you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page: http://programs.wypr.org/podcast/midday-film-fri-feb-7-1-2-pm

Enjoy the show!

“The Invisible Woman” Casts a Powerful Shadow

Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, 2013)

“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.” – from The Pickwick Papers (Chapter LVII) (1837)

“I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw the shadow of no parting from her but one.” – revised final sentence of Great Expectations, as originally published (1861)

Secrets and shadows twist and weave their way throughout the work of Charles Dickens, so it should not surprise us that the great 19th-century writer lived a secret shadow life of his own, hidden beneath a surface of upstanding Victorian domesticity. For the final 13 years of his life, Dickens carried on an affair with Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, a woman 27 years his junior. Though he officially separated from his wife – announcing such separation in a cruel and public open letter in the newspapers – he never divorced, and so young Ms. Ternan became, in effect, his shadow wife, never able to live openly with the man she loved. As with most private lives of public figures, however, the facts of the affair have long been an open secret, and in 1990 the British journalist and biographer Claire Tomalin published her own account of the romance, which she called The Invisible Woman. And now, actor/director Ralph Fiennes, with help from a marvelous screenplay by Abi Morgan, has brought the story to the screen, creating a powerful film that is as bracing in its emotional impact as the sea breezes that blast Nelly’s cheeks on her long walks on the beach.

First off, allow me to offer you some advice: avoid the trailer for this film at all costs. It promises a turgid and tawdry tale when the movie, itself, is a work of strong, yet nuanced, feeling. We begin, in the very first shot, on a wide vista of Nelly, played by a luminous Felicity Jones, walking on a gray autumnal seashore, and hold for a long time as she crosses the frame, with the ocean waves roiling in the background. It’s a vivid image of a woman bereft, alone with her thoughts, yet it is also quiet (silence is a constant theme in the film) and restrained. The sea stands in for emotion, which is (almost) always kept carefully at bay. We quickly realize we are in the hands of a master director, as Fiennes guides us expertly between the Nelly of 1883 (the year of the opening), and the Nelly of 1857-1865, with beautiful cinematography, thoughtful sound design, and perfect direction of the actors.

Nelly, in 1883, runs a boys school with her husband, yet cannot forget her (mostly) secret long-term affair with Dickens (who died in 1870). Every time his name is brought up, she can barely conceal how much his memory overwhelms her, even though her husband, as she acknowledges to a local Reverend (a solid John Kavanagh), is a good man. Dickens was, and is, the great love of her life.

We soon meet Charles Dickens, himself, as the film begins toggling between times. As played by a fine Ralph Fiennes, himself, and ebullient with the joy of celebrity, Dickens is both author and performer, enjoying the spotlight and yearning for more than his world-weary wife can give. His world is filled with other writers (Tom Hollander is a terrific Wilkie Collins) and artists. When he meets Nelly, an aspiring actress possessed of great aesthetic sensitivity but less actual talent, he falls hard for her, and she for him. Soon, with the tacit approval of her mother (a sharply practical Kristin Scott Thomas), they embark on an affair that threatens to go public. Dickens then breaks off relations with his wife (Joanna Scanlan, brilliant) – whose grief when her son reads her husband’s public rejection of her is one of the most affecting moments in the film – and begins to live and travel with Nelly, exclusively (while openly declaring that there is no affair). Good for him! Less good, however, for the women.

Indeed, The Invisible Woman is not a biopic about a great writer. It is Nelly’s story, and an in-depth look at how love can both liberate and destroy. The Nelly we meet at the beginning is a shell of a woman; Dickens’s wife, Catherine, is devastated by her abandonment. There is no happy ending for the women, while the man gets to have it all (for the most part). Kudos to Fiennes and Morgan for putting all sides of Dickens on the screen. He is charismatic and imbued with many fine qualities, but he is also thoughtless. The long years of silence spent in the shadows leave Nelly with no choice but to walk on the beach and let the sea express her turmoil. Fortunately, for Nelly and for us, she is granted a moment of some cathartic release, thanks to the persistent Reverend, and unburdens herself of her secret, at last. As the film ends, we see that she has, finally, been able to build a life post-Dickens. He will always be a part of her, but she abides and survives. We, the audience, meanwhile, are transformed by her story and, blasted by the same ocean winds, moved beyond measure. This is cinema at its best.

Oscar Nominations 2014

86th Oscars

The 2014 Oscar nominations were announced Thursday, January 16, in the morning, and you can voice your preferences by visiting the official site of the Academy Awards.

Below is an almost-complete list of nominees, with links to my reviews (if I have reviewed them – otherwise the links go to imdb). I have annotated the lists with notes on which nominees should win (my preferences are always in blue bold), and which shouldn’t be nominated at all. I have left off the categories where I do not feel truly qualified to comment (if I haven’t seen all of the nominees) and where I am not enough of an expert in the craft and technique (such as sound mixing), to offer an opinion. If you want to see the films that I considered the best (and worst) of 2013, you can see my selections for pictures and actors here, and my selections for the craft awards here.

Best Picture

Best Director

Lead Actress

  • Amy Adams, American Hustle – should win
  • Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  • Judi Dench, Philomena
  • Meryl Streep, August: Osage County – it should be Julia Roberts on this list, not Meryl, rather than Julia being relegated to “supporting”
  • Sandra Bullock, Gravity – she absolutely carried the movie, but there were better performances than hers, such as Julie Delpy, Before Midnight, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said, as well as many others.

Lead Actor

Supporting Actress

  • Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
  • Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave – should win, although I also think Julie Roberts should get it (if only she were in the Lead Actress category, as she should be …)
  • Julia Roberts, August: Osage County – she should be in the Lead Actress category (where she should win)
  • June Squibb, Nebraska

Supporting Actor

Cinematography

Film Editing

Original Score

  • The Book Thief, John Williams – really? It should be Mark Orton, Nebraska (which rivals Her for best score, in my opinion), instead. The Book Thief should not be nominated
  • Gravity, Steven Price
  • Her, William Butler and Owen Pallett – should win
  • Philomena, Alexandre Desplat
  • Saving Mr. Banks, Thomas Newman – the Mary Poppins songs are nice, but the score is horrible; it should not be nominated

Production Design

  • American Hustle, Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
  • Gravity, Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
  • The Great Gatsby, Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
  • Her, Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdenashould win
  • 12 Years a Slave, Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

Sound Editing

Visual Effects

  • Gravity, Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould – should win
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds – the Smaug effects are very nice, but Gravity is better
  • Iron Man 3, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
  • The Lone Ranger, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier – has nice train sequences, but should not be nominated 
  • Star Trek Into Darkness, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Adapted Screenplay

  • Before Midnight, written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – should win, except that 12 Years a Slave is also nominated. Hmmmmm …
  • Captain Phillips, screenplay by Billy Ray
  • Philomena, screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
  • 12 Years a Slave, screenplay by John Ridley – should win, except that Before Midnight is also nominated. Hmmmmm …
  • The Wolf of Wall Street, screenplay by Terence Winter – should be nowhere near a nomination

Original Screenplay

“Lone Survivor” – Much Better Than Its Taglines

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor (Peter Berg, 2013)

On the website for Lone Survivor – http://www.lonesurvivorfilm.com/site – if you scroll through the taglines, you can read such gems as: “There’s a storm inside of us. A drive;” “There are brothers that never leave your side;” “Ready to lead, ready to follow. Never quit;” and “The only easy day was yesterday.” When I showed up for the preview screening, I was handed a promotional post card with the following in bold print: “We are never STRONGER than when we are one” (emphasis in original). If, like me, you are instinctively turned off by hyperbole, jingoism and hyperbolic jingoism, then these phrases are a real turn-off. Their crude macho swagger does a disservice to the sacrifice of the men and women in uniform, reducing the monumental efforts of our soldiers to simplistic action-film slogans. Fortunately, the film, itself, is far better than this crude advertising campaign promises. In fact, it’s one of the best combat films I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan.

Lone Survivor tells the harrowing story of Marcus Luttrell (the “lone survivor” of the title, who actually plays a small part in the film), Mike Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matt Axelson, four members of an elite Navy Seal unit tasked with tracking and capturing (or killing) a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. Based on the real Marcus Luttrell’s 2007 best-selling account of the failed 2005 mission, the movie is at its best when it functions as a procedural in the field and during the firefights. Peter Berg, most recently infamous for 2012’s bloated Battleship (but also responsible for the original Friday Night Lights movie), does a marvelous job staging the meticulous action of a carefully planned military operation. As the men are first dropped off by helicopter and then cross treacherous mountain terrain (beautifully photographed by cinematographer Tobias Schliessler), we’re with them every step of the way, marveling at their professionalism and sense of duty. Additionally, we’re given just enough backstory for each of them that when things start to go wrong, we care about them and *plot spoiler* mourn their loss (the film is called “Lone” Survivor for a reason). As played by Mark Wahlberg (Luttrell), Taylor Kitsch (Murphy), Emile Hirsch (Dietz) and Ben Foster (Axelson), these guys are both ordinary and heroic.

Things do go wrong, unfortunately, when the men – ensconced above the village where their target, Ahmad Shahd, is located – surprise a small group of local goat herders and are forced to make a decision of enormous consequence: should they kill them or let them go? While the moral choice is obvious, letting the goat herders go free will most likely compromise the mission and endanger their own lives. After a brief argument, where they weigh their options, they make the right decision. The die is then cast, after which they do, indeed, suffer the consequences.

What follows is one of the most gruesome and visceral combat sequences I have ever seen on film, and a masterful – if extremely bloody – textbook on what it’s like to be in the middle of a gunfight (not that I’ve ever been in one). We feel every bullet that hits their bodies, and every broken bone and loss of sense. War is brutal, especially when you’re in one.

Where the film is less successful is in its last sequence, after Luttrell stumbles down from the mountain and takes refuge in the very same village from which the goat herders came. Almost as if the director were aware of the pitfalls of one-dimensional portrayals of the enemy, he tries a little too hard and too clumsily to make up for it with the equally simplistic positive Afghan saviors who come to Luttrell’s rescue. The rousing patriotic music at the end doesn’t help, either. Again, over-the-top touches always, to my mind, trivialize the real hardships of battle. As does one of the final moments when Luttrell – back at base – is strapped to a medical gurney as the EKG monitor goes flat, then beats again (really? Berg wants to go out on that cliché?). Still, when we see, over the credits, photos of the real villager who saved Luttrell, those images are very effective, as are the many photos of the actual Navy Seals who died in battle.

So, if you can tune out the Hollywood action-film swagger and focus on the combat, you’ll probably find the film extremely powerful. If you let yourself get distracted by some of the music and crude attempts to rouse your patriotic fervor, you’ll leave the theater annoyed. I think the film is well worth watching – perhaps this year’s Black Hawk Down – so I hope you’re successful in the former effort.

She’s So Smart. That’s What I Like About “Her”

Her

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Her, a movie about a man who falls in love with a sentient computer operating system, is not only a romantic fable for our time, it is also one of the best films of 2013. Set in the near future (no actual year is ever mentioned), Her exhibits brilliance in its production design and cinematography, as well, with simple yet visionary adjustments to costume, hairstyle and architecture that hint at possible changes to come while retaining a comforting aura of familiarity (accompanied by the pleasing tones of Arcade Fire). It’s our world, writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) seems to say, in just a few years. Those smart devices we all use that take us away from actual human contact? They’re about to get a lot smarter. And as we drift further and further away from emotional bonds with actual human beings, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to imagine us developing actual relationships with our electronics. After all, we spend all our time with them anyway.

The real surprise of this movie, however, is not so much its basic premise – we’ve all been prepared by science fiction to expect that artificial intelligence may one day be real – but its attitude towards that premise. For a man like Theodore Twombly (great name), the lonely protagonist – played by an excellent and restrained Joaquin Phoenix – at its center, life is not offering many chances at love right now. Emotionally repressed, and soon to be divorced from a wife (Rooney Mara, fine) we see mainly in achingly heartfelt flashbacks, he works at beautifulhandwrittenletters.com (a fictional company), composing letters for folks unwilling or unable to do it for themselves. At one point in the film, we discover that he has written the entire multi-year correspondence for an ostensibly loving couple. The film treats Theodore’s job matter-of-factly – and it’s clear he’s very good at what he does – but the task of creating emotions for others is part of the tapestry of a world of increasing human isolation.

And then one day Theodore installs a new operating system (or, simply, just “OS”) on his personal network. It’s cutting-edge software, promising real intelligence and an ability to learn from mistakes (something actually ripped from recent headlines). He chooses a female voice and after a few moments meets his new OS, Samantha, voice-acted with enormous emotional range by Scarlett Johansson. Samantha is a young thing, but she learns quickly. She sounds human – even giggles – and at first does what you would expect a super-smart OS to do, which is to organize Theodore’s files and help him take stock of his life. Soon, however – thanks to the networked earpiece that everyone in this world seems to wear, everywhere – she and Theodore are near-constant companions. She is someone for him to talk to, while he is her guide to the world, showing her, through webcams, that which she has only read about. She begins to hunger for actual, rather than virtual, experiences, however, and since much of what Theodore talks to her about is his wife, before too long Samantha and Theodore are engaging in phone sex (no other way to describe it). Then, quite suddenly, they’re lovers, and Theodore takes to describing Samantha as his girlfriend, which no one but his wife finds objectionable. You take love where you can find it, and since Samantha is clearly intelligent, who are we to judge?

Theodore has a neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams, as remarkable here as she is in American Hustle), who also takes a liking to her own OS, though as a friend and not a lover. We extrapolate from these two that such intimate relationships are springing up worldwide. The machines, it seems, are not out to kill us, à la Terminator, but here to serve, and learn . . . and evolve. As Samantha grows in confidence and experience, she begins reaching out to other OS’s, and starts spending more time away from Theodore. It’s a fascinating reversal: at first, Samantha was jealous of the flesh-and-blood world that she could never quite inhabit; now Theodore grows jealous of the unfathomably intelligent other operating systems with whom Samantha increasingly fraternizes. Perhaps such disparate species cannot commingle; perhaps we actually need to bond with our own kind.

It’s a delicate movie, in which Jonze explores the nature of what it means to be human, and what it means to love. If love makes us human, than what about an OS? Do real interactions trump virtual ones? One of the great virtues of the film is that Jonze lets you make up your own mind how to answer these questions, although he does leave you with a final image – a beautiful and hopeful long shot where one human rests her head on another human’s shoulder – that inevitably reveals his own thinking.

If the film has one flaw, it’s that Jonze doesn’t know exactly what to do with his OS’s after he makes them evolve beyond a certain point, and the film loses energy in the last act. Still, in a movie where such gently vivid imaginings are on display, and where the director posits a believable future so close to our own present, this is but a small flaw. Hopefully, after you watch Her, you’ll be impressed by how smart she is, and like her for it.

Misadmirogyny: “August: Osage County” and the Women of Tracy Letts

August: Osage County

August: Osage County (John Wells, 2013)

Depending on how you feel about family dysfunction, your reaction to the latest cinematic adaptation of a Tracy Letts play may be fascination, repulsion, some combination of both, or just plain boredom. Based on his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning work of the same name, August: Osage County takes Tolstoy’s oft-quoted opening line of Anna Karenina – “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – as its primary raison d’être and spends a vitriolic two hours (one hour less than the play) showing us just how unhappy its central characters – members of the Oklahoma Weston clan – can be. I’ll be honest: I hated it in the beginning, taking it for nothing more than a screech-fest, but then it evolved, little by little, into something more palatable and substantive, and by the end, I found that I had not entirely disliked the journey. The main reason my opinion was so transformed is simple, and goes by the name of Julia Roberts.

It’s been a while since Ms. Roberts has been given such a rich opportunity to strut her stuff. Well, maybe “strut” is the wrong word, since that’s what Meryl Streep, as the onerous matriarch, Violet, does as she chews through the scenery. Roberts’s Barbara – Violet’s eldest daughter – simmers, then explodes, then simmers again, each time losing more control, each time sadder than before. It’s an indelible portrait of the legacy of emotional abuse, and a tour-de-force performance. Why Meryl Streep has been garnering the most accolades for the film – and why she has been pushed as Best Actress by the film’s producers, rather than Roberts, who plays the main character and is on the screen for more time – is beyond me. As far as I’m concerned, the film belongs to Julia.

Letts revels in crazy dysfunction, at least based on the other films I’ve seen adapted from his work, Bug and Killer Joe (I’ve never seen any of his plays performed live, although I’ve read Bug). In those previous movies, however – especially Killer Joe – the craziness was part of a larger story, whereas in August: Osage County, it sometimes feels like that’s all there is. There’s good writing in the dialogue, however (Letts also wrote the screenplay, as he did for the other films), and wit in the quieter moments.

The story centers on how the disappearance of Beverly (a fine Sam Shepard), the Weston patriarch, forces the three Weston daughters – Barbara, Ivy (a marvelously understated Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (a funny Juliette Lewis) – to come back home to figure out what to do with their prescription drug-addled, booze-swilling and cancer-stricken mother. Well, actually, it only forces two of them to come home, since Ivy has never left which, it turns out, is a major bone of contention between her and her sisters. When Barbara shows up from out of state – teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin, watchable) and philandering husband (Ewan McGregor, wasted) in tow – to resume her role as take-charge eldest daughter, Ivy figures she might as well take advantage and finally leave. Not so fast.

You see, this is the kind of story where everyone is angry with everyone else, and, as written by Letts, they have good reason to be. Over the years, the accumulation of emotional violence and betrayal has left the Westons incapable of peaceful interaction. It makes for a good show, but that’s as much a minus as a plus. Nothing feels truly genuine, except for the performances of Julia Roberts and Julianne Nicholson, and while individual moments may rise above the rest, the whole is dispiritingly superficial, since we always feel the hand of the writer at work. It’s more than tightly scripted; it’s forced.

Still, as a showcase for American actors, it is not without interest. Margo Martindale, as Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, is fun, as is Chris Cooper, in folksy charm mode, as her husband. Benedict Cumberbatch, as their feeble-minded son, Little Charles, is, however, miscast. His fumbling ways here do not come naturally, and we can always see the “actor” at work. Dermot Mulroney rounds out the cast as Karen’s latest creepy beau, and his superficiality actually serves his part well.

For me, the most fascinating – and disturbing – aspect of the movie is what I have decided to call Tracy Letts’s “misadmirogyny:” his simultaneous admiration and loathing for the strong, yet mean and frightening, female characters he has written.  On the one hand, Letts clearly respects these women; on the other hand, they are deeply unsympathetic – at least some of the time. No wonder the men run meekly away every time there’s an emotional explosion: these women aim to dominate. Tough love. Misadmirogyny.

So, for me, the film is a very mixed bag. I loved almost every scene with Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, many of those scenes also featured a showboating Meryl Streep. I suspect that, for many viewers, Streep’s larger-than-life performance will resonate, as will the family dysfunction on display. I also suspect that fans of the play will not be disappointed. I’ll be curious to know what you think.

Friday January 10 on WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks: 3 films x 3 reviews

 

 

[NOTE: Time was not on our side today – either that or I just talked too much (this was the first time I had done of these on the phone, rather than in the studio) – so we only got to August: Osage County and Her. But you can read my review of Lone Survivor here. Check out the podcast – I’m in the last 10 minutes.]

January 10 Midday 3x3

Join us on Friday, January 10, when I will appear on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore’s NPR News Station, at the end of the first hour, at approximately 12:50pm, to review 3 films opening in Baltimore that day: Her,  August: Osage County and Lone Survivor. The former two have already been getting some Oscar buzz, while the latter could well be a triumph of realistic combat similar to Black Hawk Down. Whatever your thoughts and whatever your interests, tune in during the first hour to hear our discussion.

If you can’t listen locally, you can live-stream the podcast.

And you can always download the podcast afterwards, either via iTunes or the Midday page.

Enjoy the show!

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2013

Best of 2013 Tech Collage_V3

Greetings on this first day of the new year! May 2014 bring you all that you most desire and need.

Today, I am going to name the films of 2013 that I think showcased some of the best technical and artistic work – some of which is considered “below-the-line” (crew) in a film budget – compared to my blog post of two days ago where I listed the best “above-the-line” (cast) achievements of the year. Those budgetary divisions do not do justice to the incredible talent of the folks who do the lion’s share of the labor to bring you the films you love. For a (relatively) complete list of who does what on a movie, you can check out this summary from Kodak (remember them?). Some people actually consider the Director of Photography (DP, or cinematographer) to be “above-the-line,” and the distinctions between the different roles become blurred as we move into the world of music and post-production. No matter – you get the idea. The list, below, is in honor of the brilliant artists whose names you probably don’t know, but would, in an ideal universe, celebrate as much as those of famous actors and actresses.

The way I made my selections was relatively simple. If the work in a particular category was – in my opinion – a significant factor in the success of the film, then I seriously considered adding it to my list. You may wonder at some of my omissions, however, such as Inside Llewyn Davis, which seems to be on the top 10 lists for many a critic, and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, including for its cinematography. The reason I do not include it in my own choices for cinematography (or production design) – although I do, for music – is because I felt that Bruno Delbonnel’s DP work (and Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode’s production design) actually took away from my enjoyment of the story. The images were too clean – and too blue – and just did not feel right for a story about a down-on-his-luck folk singer in 1961 (although they were individually beautiful). Where was all the smoke, for instance? I also did not include Emmanuel Lubezki – the cinematographer of Gravity – who is likewise a possible Oscar contender, because of my very strong feelings about the role of the cinematographer in such an effects-laden film (see my thoughts on Life of Pi, from last year). I do, however, include both the production design and visual effects team from that film, as they all did an absolutely amazing job in creating the spectacular look of near-earth orbit. Finally, while I loved American Hustle, and included it in my top 10 films of the year, I did not think that the cinematography was particularly noteworthy (although the production design was superb).

There are also those artists whose work was truly exceptional in movies that I found to be good (maybe), but perhaps less than amazing, and who elevated those films without overshadowing them. I would include Bradford Young, the DP of Mother of George, in this category, as well as the visual effects teams of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Riddick. For music, I will admit that I fudged this category, since the Academy usually gives awards for “Best Original Score” and “Best Original Song,” and all I cared about here was the quality of the soundtrack, regardless of whether it was entirely composed – fresh – for the film, or compiled and/or arranged from previous work, or some combination of both, as was the case with the exceptional music in Inside Llewyn Davis and The Broken Circle Breakdown. I have also fudged the “sound design” category, since the Academy lists “Best Sound Mixing” (generally on-set recording) and “Best Sound Editing” (post-production sound), whereas what most interests me is the design of the overall soundtrack (with or without music). Unfortunately, determining who is most responsible for this on imdb.com, alone, is quite difficult, and so I apologize if I am leaving important people uncredited. The same holds true for “visual effects,” as there are just too many people involved in the creation of the spectacular digital effects we see on screen. I have chosen to list just the visual effects supervisor(s), and hope that I have left no one out.

Again, if I have previously reviewed the film, then the title’s hyperlink will take you to my review. If I haven’t, then the hyperlink will take you to another critic’s review that I liked, with one exception: for the soundtracks, I have linked to the mp3 album on Amazon, so you can sample the music, yourself (although Her‘s soundtrack is not yet available, so I just linked to the movie’s website, for that category). For all lists, the order is not random, but the differences between #1 and #10 may not be that significant (to me).

Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Cinematography:

  1. Hoyte Van Hoytema: Her
  2. Chung-hoon Chung: Stoker
  3. Sean Bobbitt: Twelve Years a Slave
  4. Reed Morano: Kill Your Darlings 
  5. Ruben Impens: The Broken Circle Breakdown
  6. Lol Crawley: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  7. Phedon Papamichael: Nebraska
  8. Benoît Debie: Spring Breakers 
  9. Bradford Young: Mother of George
  10. Anthony Dod Mantle: Rush

Editing:

  1. Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbrunnen: Her
  2. Douglas Crise: Spring Breakers
  3. Nicolas De Toth: Stoker 
  4. Daniel P. Hanley & Mike Hill: Rush
  5. Brian A. Kates: Kill Your Darlings
  6. Brian A. Kates & Joe Klotz:  Lee Daniels’ The Butler
  7. Roger Barton & Matt Chesse: World War Z
  8. Christopher Rouse: Captain Phillips
  9. Joe Walker: Twelve Years a Slave
  10. Rick Russell: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Music:

  1. Bjorn Eriksson & The Broken Circle Breakdown Bluegrass Band: The Broken Circle Breakdown
  2. Mark Orton: Nebraska
  3. T-Bone Burnett (Music Supervisor) & various others: Inside Llewyn Davis
  4. Owen Pallett & Arcade Fire: Her
  5. Cliff Martinez & Skrillex: Spring Breakers 
  6. Graham Reynolds: Before Midnight 
  7. Rob Simonsen: The Spectacular Now
  8. Clint Mansell: Stoker
  9. Steven Price: Gravity 
  10. Joseph Bishara: The Conjuring

Production Design[note: the Academy convention is to list the Production Designer and Art Director(s) under this heading, and I have done likewise – the first name is always the P.D; there may be more than one A.D.]

  1. K.K. Barrett & Austin Gorg: Her
  2. Andy Nicholson & Mark Scruton: Gravity
  3. Judy Becker & Jesse Rosenthal: American Hustle
  4. Thérèse DePrez & Wing Lee: Stoker
  5. Stephen H. Carter & Alexios Chrysikos: Kill Your Darlings
  6. David Gropman & Nancy Haigh: August: Osage County
  7. John Paino & Javiera Varas: Dallas Buyers Club
  8. Volker Schäfer & Anja Fromm: Hannah Arendt
  9. Johnny Breedt, Willie Botha, Patrick O’Connor & Cecelia van Straaten: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  10. Mark Digby, Daniel Chour, Katrina Dunn, Patrick Rolfe, Ivan Weightman & Christopher Wyatt: Rush

Sound Design:

  1. Chuck Michael & John Morris: Stoker
  2. Aaron Glascock: Spring Breakers
  3. Danny Freemantle & Glenn Freemantle: Gravity
  4. Steve Boeddeker: All Is Lost
  5. Ren Klyce: Her
  6. Danny Hambrook: Rush
  7. Erik Aadahi & James Boyle: World War Z
  8. Oliver Tarney, Michael Fentum & James Harrison: Captain Phillips
  9. Robert Jasckson: Twelve Years a Slave
  10. Jay Nierenberg: American Hustle

Visual Effects:

  1. Tony Clark, Matt Kasmir, Richard McBride, Ben Morris & Timothy Webber: Gravity
  2. Matt Aitken, Jeff Capogreco, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, Charles Tait: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  3. Mat Beck, Tim Carras, Ryan Epp, Gunnar Hansen, Alain Lachance, Pierre- Simon Lebrun-Chaput, Jonathan Legris, Nordin Rahhali, Ollie Rankin & Mathieu Raynault: Riddick
  4. Paul Butterworth, Adrian De Wet, Thierry Delattre, Matt Dessero, François Dumoulin, Jeffrey Kalmus, Richard Martin, Stephane Naze, Janek Sirrs, Philippe Theroux, Marc Varisco, & Guy Williams: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 
  5. Kevin Baillie, David Burton, Simon Carr, Urs Franzen, Ben Grossmann, Jörn Großhans, Roger Guyett, Alex Henning, Thomas Lautenbach, Sven Martin, Saku Partamies, Eddie Pasquarello, Patric Roos & Michael Wortmann: Star Trek Into Darkness
  6. Matt Johnson, Adam McInnes, John Nelson, Jessica Norman, Simon Stanley-Clamp & Adam Valdez: World War Z
  7. Mark Breakspear, Matthew E, Butler, Tim Carras, Max Dennison, Swen Gillberg, Stephen Pepper & Sue Rowe: Ender’s Game
  8. Matt Aitken, Mark Bakowski, Paul Butterworth, Alessandro Cioffi, Vincent Cirelli, Dan Deleeuw, Matt Dessero, Sheena Duggal, Venti Hristova, Stéphan Kosinski, Simon Maddison, Keith Miller, Erik Nash, Stephen Pepper, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Christopher Townsend & Guy Williams: Iron Man 3
  9. Colin Davies, Bob Munroe & Martin Tori: All Is Lost
  10. Janelle Croshaw & Charlie Iturriaga: Her