As I might have already mentioned, me and sleep didn't get along too well in 2008. Not sleeping though leaves you with a lot of time you didn't know existed. Rather than toss and turn or, I don't know, read a book, the best thing I did with all this free time I discovered was to watch more movies. I don't watch enough apparently. And with that, I had the chance to see hundreds of movies in 2008 and these, my friends, are my favorites from that year. Ladies, gentlemen, loyal Black Sheep readers, I give you the 2008 Mouton d'Or Awards ...
THE DARK KNIGHT embodies "BIG". How could I give this one to any other than the second biggest movie of all time? The best part about Christopher Nolan's benchmark superhero film is that it brought back the substance to the usually overstylized popcorn flick.
From very big to very small is essentially the trajectory that director, Darren Aronofsky took with THE WRESTLER. He tried his hand at going big and, after smashing into a wall, not only realized what he was good at but became better at it. THE WRESTLER is one of the most heartbreaking experiences I've had at the movies in some time.
When I have a bad time at the movies, I get pretty angry. That said, I saw this film with my roommate and I thought he was going to kill someone pretty much all the way through this piece of crap. HAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY is horrifically offensive but yet it plays out with this air as though it were racially responsible. It is crude, sloppy filmmaking and it is painfully unfunny. It is also the only film I have ever given an F-grade to. I enjoyed Harold & Kumar's first adventure but I would be very happy to never see them ever again. I've said it before but it bears repeating, this is a stoner movie that would be actually more horrible if watched high.
This one is very exciting for me. This is the first Mouton d'Or for Reader's Choice. These six films were the most mentioned during Black Sheep's Best of 2008 contest and Black Sheep readers have been voting on their favorite from the group for the last month. I was thrilled to see the six films that made the shortlist because I love these movies too. And IRON MAN was certainly one of the best times I had at the movies all year. Thanks for voting and good choice.
This award is named after my friend Trevor, the man who reminded how much I loved cartoons and, more importantly, showed me that animation is one of the most intricate and expansive art forms of our times. Now, while I loved the two other nominees in this category, there might as well have been only one nominee. There could only be one winner here because there is only one WALL•E. What Pixar did with this film was to bring animation out of this world. I'm sorry to be so corny but they seriously did. WALL•E wows me every time I see it and that little guy will hold a special place in my heart as one of the most endearing characters I've ever encountered.
Another Wally, another winner. Wally Pfister took THE DARK KNIGHT to unimaginable heights, literally. Watching Batman soar through the night skies has never been such a free fall and has never kept me on edge as though I were the one diving off Gotham's tallest buildings. The knight may be dark but Wally Pfister took that darkness and gave it countless shades.
Lee Smith's editing in THE DARK KNIGHT kept what could have been a long, overdrawn affair moving at a pace that never allowed for anyone to lose interest. If Pfister gave THE DARK KNIGHT depth, then Smith gave it edge.
Donald Harrison Jr and Zafer Tawil made beautiful music for RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Variations on wedding themes and practice sessions for a band became original music but this is not why they won. It was the way in which the music is incorporated into the film that most impressed me. Rachel is marrying a musician and her house is filled with his musician buddies so there is never a quiet moment to be had. Its usage is intelligent and integral to creating the realism RACHEL GETTING MARRIED needs to be enjoyed.
Nominees from left to right: Josh Brolin (MILK), Ralph Fiennes (THE DUCHESS), James Franco (MILK), Philip Seymour Hoffman (DOUBT), Heath Ledger (THE DARK KNIGHT)
No one will ever know for sure whether THE DARK KNIGHT did as well as it did because of the fascination with Heath Ledger following his death or not. The truth is, it doesn't matter in the least. While THE DARK KNIGHT stands just fine on its own, it is Ledger's haunting performance as The Joker that gives it the ferocity and urgency that have made it a contemporary classic. Ledger is The Joker, in the manner in which he licks his lips or constantly fixes his scraggly hair or instills fear into all he encounters while seeming completely unaware the entire time. You cannot look away no matter how horrifying he is to look at and you also cannot help but leave THE DARK KNIGHT with a heavy regret that you will never get to see Ledger's original genius ever again.
Nominees from left to right: Penelope Cruz (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), Rosemarie DeWitt (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), Taraji P. Henson (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON), Marisa Tomei (THE WRESTLER), Kate Winslet (THE READER)
This winner is decidedly lower key than the last but she eliminated the very fierce competition with the same agrression as The Joker would have. Rosemarie DeWitt totally blew me away in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Everyone was all over Anne Hathaway but as the title character, DeWitt is not only subtle and understated but simultaneously broken and hopeful. When she fights back, you do not want to be on the receiving end but when she reaches out to hold you, she is the first person you would want to get close to. I cannot wait for more from her.
Nominees from left to right: Benicio del Toro (CHE), Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR), Frank Langella (FROST/NIXON), Sean Penn (MILK), Mickey Rourke (THE WRESTLER)
Of all the Mouton d'Or categories to decide on, this was the hardest. I am not ordinarily taken in by the plight of the male actor on screen. It is usually easier to get sucked into the higher drama of the female performance, but these five actors did exceptionally fine jobs and all are deserving of the win. There can be only one and Sean Penn is that one because his performance in MILK is entirely devoid of ego. I am not his biggest fan but Penn wore Harvey Milk's shoes as though they had been on his feet all along. His compassion and enthusiasm is infectious and Penn's performance is nothing short of transformed.
Nominees from left to right: Anne Hathaway (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), Angelina Jolie (CHANGELING), Meryl Streep (DOUBT), Michelle Williams (WENDY AND LUCY), Kate Winslet (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD)
I am still sad that Kate Winslet will not be able to score her first Oscar for her smack in the face of a performance in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. She is hard on the outside and soft on the inside in THE READER but she is the complete opposite here. Her beauty, composure and style cannot hide her character's deep, unfulfilled sadness despite the grand effort. Winslet is consistently incredible to watch but her wasted suburban promise is so hollowing and disheartening that it raises the film itself and every one in it to her own particular level of excellence.
This is the second Mouton d'Or award for Peter Morgan. He won the Original Screenplay award a couple of years back for THE QUEEN and he takes the adapted category this year for his sharp and insightful work on FROST/NIXON. He took his own screenplay and expanded its world to an international level while keeping all the play's themes of redemption and public approval in tact. Morgan is a master of inversion, taking his audience behind the scenes to worlds they only know from the outside and as usual, he avoids sensation and sticks to substance.
The word "original" is what led me to my winner in this catgeory. Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon's WALL•E is the product of pure imagination. Not only did they envision a world where human waste has driven us from our corporate run planet but they managed to do so through one of the biggest corporations around. And instead of being preachy about the effects of humanity's lethargy, they decided to remind us what we are losing sight of underneath all this useless garbage, love. WALL•E is one of the most endearing love stories I have seen in years. The fact that it is told with little to no dialogue and that it is a love between robots is only a further testament to its beauty.
I was very disappointed that RACHEL GETTING MARRIED did not garner more recognition this award season. I believe it to be Jonathan Demme's finest work and a strikingly original piece that teeters between as many emotions as one would expect to find in the mind of an addict. With Demme at the helm, you felt as though you were actually at Rachel's wedding. The family felt so close, so real. The tension in the house was just as palpable as the love at the wedding itself. Demme's documentary approach to the film required realism and he made damn sure it was there the whole time. It was certainly the most fun I've had at a wedding in a very long time.
There you have it, this year's big Mouton d'Or winner. MILK for Best Picture! Of the five nominees, it is the only film that I felt was flawless. Dustin Lance Black's script is moving and meaningful. Harris Savides' cinematography is perfectly styled to fit the times. Danny Elfman's score is his most dynamic work ever. And the cast ... what a fantastic cast! It's reverence is like a swift punch to the gut, the kind that leaves you short for breath. Gus Van Sant has made his most sensitive and accomplished film to date and there is plenty to cry about over this spilled MILK. Not only is it a beautiful film but it is tribute to acceptance and humanity that is just as relevant now as it was when Harvey Milk was alive.
That's it folks, another year closed. Here's to you and to the year ahead. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again soon.