The 10th Annual EMOs

It’s a big year – for the tenth time, I’m rolling out my annual awards for the Year in Movies gone by. On the one hand, I would like to pause and celebrate, not just the 35 films mentioned herein, but, self-indulgently, the EMOs themselves. Ten years of movies, ten years of jokes, ten years of hastily and poorly-chosen awards – Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars are a pleasure to put together and present every time, whether in the form of Facebook Note, formalwear party, dialogue between the darkest parts of my own id, Google Hangout, what have you. They started as a way to correct, in my mind, some of the wrongs done by major awards bodies – not enough love for the demi-god Michael Shannon, for instance – but a perusal over the history of the EMOs reveals that my own quirky, spur-of-the-moment choices are not necessarily more guaranteed to stand the test of time (that Best Supporting Actress for Chloe Möretz in Hugo stings). I’m glad for everyone who has indulged this nonsense with me, anyway.

But I’d also like to just get a move on, because I am as eager as everyone else to put the year 2016 firmly in the rearview mirror. In past years I’ve gone further with the EMOs in terms of offering “bonus” commentary, and framed things in terms of nominees. As I’m handing them out purely via this blog post this year, we’re going to cut to the chase in every category, with the winner immediately revealed, followed by others “receiving votes”; that is, other films or performances that I’d still like to mention that I considered. If I’ve called it out, it’s worth your time, is my general attitude. And as always, in Part II of the EMOs, every movie is a winner. At some point I might do a compendium of my favorite EMO awards from the first ten years of its existence, but it is not this day.

And, of course, a reminder that to qualify for the EMOs a film must’ve been theatrically released in the U.S. in 2016 AND I had to see it in 2016 (with the exception of the poster and trailer categories, of course). I’ll be back with a more robust Top 10 list after I’ve had some time to catch up with the end-of-year glut in January and February. And do watch for the second annual ERPs (Ethan’s Repertory Picks), also coming soon! Enjoy!


Best Action Film: Green Room

Receiving Votes:
Captain America: Civil War
Deadpool

Funniest Film: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Receiving Votes:
Deadpool
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The Nice Guys
Manchester by the Sea (no, really)
Zootopia
Hail, Caesar!

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist: sad white rich people, Nocturnal Animals

Receiving votes:
Michéle, Elle
Lee Chandler, Manchester By the Sea
Wade, Deadpool

Most Inexplicable Multi-Scene Pop Star Appearance: Shakira, Zootopia

Receiving votes:
Janelle Monáe,  Moonlight
Seal, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Horribly Painful Death Just For Making Me Watch the Trailer: Same Kind of Different As Me

Receiving votes:
Yoga Hosers
Gods of Egypt
The Wild Life
Maximum Ride

 

Best Cameo: Will Arnett/Chelsea Peretti/Eric Andre/Mike Birbiglia as the “CMZ” reporters, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Receiving votes:
Jena Malone, Nocturnal Animals
Justin Timberlake, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Frances McDormand, Hail, Caesar!
Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Christina Hendricks, The Neon Demon
Michael Shannon, Loving

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch

Receiving votes:
Jaeden Lieberher, Midnight Special
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Ashton Sanders, Moonlight
Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea
Markees Christmas, Morris from America
Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!!
Sasha Lane, American Honey
Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best Poster:
Moonlight
moonlight-poster

Receiving votes:
The Handmaiden
the-handmaiden-poster
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
lo_and_behold_reveries_of_the_connected_world
Men Go to Battle
men_go_to_battle
De Palma
de_palma
The Birth of a Nation
birth_of_a_nation
La La Land
lalalandposter
Green Room
gr_web
The Neon Demon
the-neon-demon-poster
American Honey
american-honey-poster

Best Trailer: Moonlight

Receiving votes:
The Witch
Logan
La La Land
The Handmaiden
Jackie
High-Rise
Rogue One
Get Out
American Honey

 

Best Scene: mansion detour, American Honey

Receiving votes:
diner, Moonlight
“Would that it were so simple”, Hail, Caesar!
the ending of The Lobster
“Do you think we could get lunch sometime?”, Manchester By the Sea
Churchill, Love & Friendship
the runway, The Neon Demon
“Once, I was a fucking jet engine”, Sing Street
offering a ride, Certain Women

Best Use of an Existing Song: “We Found Love,” Rihanna + Calvin Harris, American Honey

Receiving votes:
“American Honey”, Lady Antebellum, American Honey
“Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, The Dead Kennedys, Green Room
“God’s Whisper”, Raury, American Honey

Best Original Song: “I’m So Humble”, perf. The Lonely Island w/ Adam Levine, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Receiving votes:
“Drive It Like You Stole It”, perf. Sing Street, Sing Street
“Incredible Thoughts”, perf. The Lonely Island w/ Michael Bolton, Justin Timberlake, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
“Brown Shoes”, perf. Sing Street, Sing Street
“Up”, perf. Sing Street, Sing Street
“Try Everything”, perf. Shakira, Zootopia
“Milestone 2 (Skux Life)”, perf. Moniker, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best Original Score: Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Receiving votes:
David Wingo, Midnight Special
Jóhann Jóhannson, Arrival
Mark Korven, The Witch
Dario Marianelli, Kubo and the Two Strings
Cliff Martinez, The Neon Demon
Nick Cage and Warren Ellis, Hell or High Water
Clint Mansell, High-Rise

https://open.spotify.com/user/egates12/playlist/7xdVKEbVkRp6Cm0vZMTy8C

 

Best Cinematography: Robbie Ryan, American Honey

Receiving votes:
James Laxton, Moonlight
Chung Chung-hoon, The Handmaiden
Bradford Young, Arrival
Jarin Blaschke, The Witch
Christopher Blauvelt, Certain Women
Stéphane Fontaine, Elle
Giles Nuttgins, Hell or High Water
Seamus McGarvey, Nocturnal Animals
Nathasha Braier, The Neon Demon
Laurie Rose, High-Rise
Anthony Dod Mantle, Our Kind of Traitor

Best Adapted Screenplay: Whit Stillman, Love & Friendship

Receiving votes:
Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden
David Birke, Elle
Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Franck Ekinci, Benjamin Legrand, April and the Extraordinary World

Best Original Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster

Receiving votes:
Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special
Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Hail, Caesar!

Best Supporting Actor: Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!

Receiving Votes:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Laurent Lafitte, Elle
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
Gil Birmingham, Hell or High Water
Craig Robinson, Morris from America
Joel Edgerton, Midnight Special
Jack Reynor, Sing Street
Damian Lewis, Our Kind of Traitor
Patrick Stewart, Green Room

Best Supporting Actress: Jena Malone, The Neon Demon

Receiving votes:
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Kristen Stewart, Certain Women
Laura Dern, Certain Women
Léa Seydoux, The Lobster
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Rooney Mara, Kubo and the Two Strings
Kate Dickie, The Witch

Best Actor: (tie) Ben Foster and Chris Pine, Hell or High Water

Receiving votes:
(tie) Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevonte Rhodes, Moonlight
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Michael Shannon, Midnight Special
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
Josh Brolin, Hail, Caesar!
Sam Neill, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Logan Marshall-Green, The Invitation
Ralph Ineson, The Witch
Ryan Gosling, The Nice Guys
Joel Edgerton, Loving

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Receiving votes:
Kim Tae-Ri, The Handmaiden
Kim Min-hee, The Handmaiden
Amy Adams, Arrival
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch
Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Ruth Negga, Loving
Imogen Poots, Green Room
Rachel Weisz, The Lobster
Sasha Lane, American Honey

Best Acting Ensemble: Moonlight

Receiving votes:
Certain Women
Manchester By the Sea
Love & Friendship
The Lobster
Midnight Special
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Receiving votes:
Kirsten Johnson, Cameraperson
Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden
Paul Verhoeven, Elle
Andrea Arnold, American Honey
Robert Eggers, The Witch
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster
Ava DuVernay, 13th
David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women

Best Movie: Moonlight

Receiving Votes:
Cameraperson
The Handmaiden
Elle
The Witch
American Honey
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
13th
Hell or High Water
Certain Women
Love & Friendship
Green Room
Arrival

2016 Special Achievement (given to a film or film-adjacent contributor for a stellar year across multiple works or media that I consumed in 2016, potentially including movies, TV, theater, the internet, etc.):
Bill Camp (for Ivo Van Hove’s Broadway revival of “The Crucible”, HBO miniseries “The Night Of”, and stellar work in brief parts of both Midnight Special and Loving, though we won’t mention him in Jason Bourne)

Receiving votes:
Michael Shannon (for never having a dull moment in Midnight SpecialNocturnal Animals or even two minutes of Loving, and for generally being Michael Shannon)
Mahershala Ali (for breaking out of the “House of Cards” doldrums in dramatic style with Moonlight and “Luke Cage”)
Jena Malone (for proving in The Neon Demon and Nocturnal Animals that she desperately needs some talented director(s) to give her a Kristen Stewart-style career makeover)

The Putin the Platypus Memorial Award for Misogyny: The Neon Demon

Fan Service – The Movie! : Deadpool

Most Hot Button Political Issues Stepped Into: Zootopia

Most Hot Button Political Issues Not Stepped Into: Jason Bourne

Happiest Affront to Every John le Carré Book I’ve Ever Read: Our Kind of Traitor

Most Under-Marketed Naked Tom Hiddleston: High-Rise

Cubby Broccoli Memorial Award for Keeping a Franchise Relatively Fresh Thirteen Installments In Even Though Oh My God I Still Don’t Give a Shit About Bucky: Captain America: Civil War

Call Your Mother More: No Home Movie

Most Beautiful Mannequins That Also Happen to Be Famous Actors: Nocturnal Animals

Worst Critical Praise to Bechdel Test Ratio: Everybody Wants Some!!

Most Tilda Swintons: Hail, Caesar!

Least Work Done to Overcome the Stereotype That All Germans Are EDM DJs: Morris from America

Most Terrifying Validation of Every Single One of My Social Anxieties: The Invitation

Best Half-Hearted Impression of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang That Mostly Just Makes You Want to Watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Again: The Nice Guys

Most Inarticulate Civil Rights Heroes: Loving

Best Opening Line, And That’s Not Even a Joke, Guys:  Kubo and the Two Strings

The Nigel Tufnel Award For Going to 11: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Most Inauthentically Terrific High School Band: Sing Street

Most Inventive Piece of Alternate Reality That Isn’t As Depressing As “The Man In the High Castle”: April and the Extraordinary World

Blandest Conception of Hyper-Real Extra-Dimensional Space Gods: Midnight Special

Silliest Sam Neill: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Most Plot Holes That Have Nothing to Do with Time Science in a Time Science Movie: Arrival

Most Comfortingly Isolated Nazi Punks: Green Room

Best Redemption of a Dismissed Celebrity and No It’s Not Ryan Reynolds As Deadpool, Dammit: Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship

The Robert Altman Memorial Award for Resurrecting Rene Auberjonois: Certain Women

The Jeff Bridges Award for Being Jeff Bridges: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Most Tightly Paced Application of White Guilt: 13th

Most Authentically Terrible High School Band: Manchester by the Sea

Closest Resemblance to What Wes Anderson’s Personal Upside Down Probably Looks Like: The Lobster

Most Disturbing Rat Tail: Shia LaBeouf, American Honey

Happiest Ending: The Witch

Best Example, Possibly Ever, That the Savviest Direction Can Be Good Casting: Elle

Best Performance of Jingle Bells: The Handmaiden

Most Surprisingly Genial Time Spent in Awful, Awful Places: Cameraperson

Darkest Direction to Take Miss Moneypenny: Moonlight

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Review: Midnight Special

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

It really doesn’t take much for the media to announce that some American director has taken up the mantle of “the Next Spielberg.” We’ve seen the cycle go around a lot recently with the influx of “fresh” white men handed the keys to major Hollywood franchises: J.J. Abrams, Colin Trevorrow, Joss Whedon. Hell, even M. Night Shyamalan infamously held the belt for a while. And then there’s Jeff Nichols, who might be the only candidate actually following the same career path as the patron saint of Amblin: hovering on the edges of Hollywood and garnering a significant critical following through ambitious, low-budget genre work.

But whether it’s recency bias at work or I’ve just gotten bored to tears of Spielberg’s schtick, I find the comparison extremely unflattering to Nichols. In a very short amount of time (“Midnight Special,” his latest feature, is only his fourth film following “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud”), Nichols has displayed a thematic and narrative complexity far beyond much of Spielberg’s work, which tends to allow exquisite craft and rousing entertainment outpace the simplistic moralism of his ideas. There are certainly exceptions to this – “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for one, from which “Midnight Special”, not coincidentally, draws more than a little inspiration. But Nichols has a confidence in the archetypical nature of his characters and stories that Spielberg has never had – and it allows the writer/director to go to places both more enigmatic and more fine-grained.

Let’s back up (and stop ragging, for no special reason other than I felt like it, on Spielberg). What is “Midnight Special?” You may very well ask, especially given that title will essentially never come into play in the film (at least, until a haunting cover of the American traditional of the same title plays over the end credits). It is many things – a sci-fi thriller, a cross-country road chase, a “True Detective”-season-1-esque vision of a spiritually corrupted American South, a family story of reunion and redemption. None of these, however, is particularly obvious from the start; except perhaps that bit about the South, shown here with the same kind of familiarity and affection for America’s heartland that Nichols brought to all his previous features (especially “Mud,” with its clear echoes of Mark Twain). From the moment Roy (Michael Shannon), Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) emerge from a seedy state route motel and jump into an unpainted custom muscle car, Nichols’ vision of time and place is uncannily specific and evocative, even as what is actually going on remains paradoxically, almost infuriatingly unexplained.

The story emerges in elliptical bits and pieces: Roy has kidnapped Alton, his 8-year-old son, in an apparent escape from the Branch-Davidian type cult in which they were both raised. The cult (led, because of course it is, by Sam Shepard, doing wonderfully Sam Shepard-y things) is hot on Roy’s trail, but so is the federal government, led by a pack of FBI agents and an antsy NSA agent (Adam Driver) who exudes the self-assurance of someone five minutes away from realizing they’re in over their head. But Alton seems an oddly willing kidnap “victim”, not to mention just plain odd: he constantly wears a pair of bright blue swimming goggles, is unable to step foot in sunlight, and too often for comfort stares fixedly into the night sky, quite obviously seeing something that we are not (it doesn’t help that he’s played by Lieberher, who was exceptional on the past season of “Masters of Sex” and looks like Stephen King designed a child from scratch). And why do the federal intelligence agencies have such a pressing concern for this case?

Answering all the questions raised by this scenario would spoil some of the surprise, but, as Nichols’ purposefully cryptic method implies, is also beyond the point. As in “Take Shelter,” which tantalizingly refused to acknowledge whether the apocalyptic visions witnessed by Michael Shannon were prophecy or insanity, “Midnight Special” takes its genre outlining and paranoid atmosphere as fertile ground for metaphor. The oblique details of Roy and Jaeden’s journey allows us to see through to the familiar building blocks of their relationship: a father just trying to protect his son, a child trying to make sense of the world around him. There are dark forces at work in America: banal religious extremism, intrusive government surveillance, external threats with motivations beyond our understanding. But Nichols finds optimism in the stability of family (Kirsten Dunst does good work in a too-brief turn as Alton’s birth mother), friendship (Joel Edgerton’s fiercely loyal Lucas) and empathy (Adam Driver’s NSA agent, too inquisitive and compassionate to ever be a true threat to Alton).

A final compliment must also be paid to David Wingo’s wonderful score, a pulsing, ethereal work that sets the tone for the film perfectly. Listening to it again as I write this, it vividly suggests to me that half hour or so before a summer storm – clouds gathering, brewing, and you know the rain is about to break but just not when. “Midnight Special” holds you in that moment for almost two hours, and whether, when it all finally breaks (not with a thunderclap, but more a rolling wave), you find the ending satisfying will likely be entirely up to you.

Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars

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Review: April and the Extraordinary World

april-and-tew01

When I was around 10 years old, I fell in love with Hergé’s Tintin books. They contained such an effortless and innocent* sense of adventure, propelled by a core of simple, charming characters and a globe-trotting spirit that certainly appealed to a middle-school Geography Bee champion. There’s just something about a plucky, ingenious young hero foiling cartoonishly dastardly plots with their talking pet sidekick that puts a smile on my face.

Thus, the big, dumb grin I sported for pretty much the entire runtime of “April and the Extraordinary World,” an out-of-nowhere animated charmer that combines the escapist pleasures of “serial” romps like the Indiana Jones movies with the inventive, alternate-universe visual flair of Miyazaki. The Tintin comparison is an inevitable one – the drawing style, adapted (as is the narrative) from the graphic novels and comics of Jacques Tardi, even looks much the same as Hergé’s – but “April and the Extraordinary World” also has its own distinct flavor, a steampunk/early sci-fi/apocalyptic vibe that owes as much to “Metropolis” and Jules Verne and Conan Doyle’s The Lost World” as it does to a certain intrepid Belgian reporter. Should they ever re-attempt to adapt Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” for the screen, please, may it be tackled by a team like this.

To describe the setup of the story is somewhat a chore: imagine Napoleon III died, not as a deposed exile, but in a freak scientific accident while attempting to develop a super-solider serum (yes, something not unlike our dear Captain Rogers’ juju juice). Imagine further, in the wake of that accident, that the world’s leading scientists and inventors all began to mysteriously disappear, snatched up by a mysterious, roaming, all-seeing cloud. Einstein, Edison, Fermi, Marconi, Curie, on and on – without our greatest minds, the world stagnates under primitive 19th-century technology. France, under a revitalized imperial regime, is forced to scrabble for a share of the world’s dwindling resources. In the middle of all of this, a young girl named April is distraught when her parents, chemists secretly working on the same serum project that did in old Napoleon, are taken by that threatening, straight-out-of-a-Roald-Dahl-nightmare cloud.

These things are all related, and there are yet many more puzzle pieces and characters to keep track of as April grows and pursues the truth underneath her topsy-turvy life (indeed, the French title of the film more literally, and more aptly, translates to “April and the Twisted World”). The writers deal nimbly with a massive amount of exposition, fleetly bounding on to the next scene and the next setpiece before the weight of this expansive world can ever come crashing down. Yet the film also never feels rushed – despite leaps of years, even decades, between some sections early on, “April and the Extraordinary World” finds time to linger just the right amount of time on a particularly gorgeous image (the twin Eiffel Towers of Paris that house a transcontinental cable-car station, for instance) or a clever bit of dialogue. Have I mentioned that, somehow, amid all the international intrigue I laid out above, this movie finds time for April to read “Puss in Boots” out loud to her talking cat named Darwin? “I’d have a few things about cats to tell Msr. Perrault,” Darwin sniffs, and I am not sure how else I can convince you to see this film.

But if that isn’t enough, “April and the Extraordinary World” is also a welcome newcomer in the burgeoning recent sub-genre of science-positive entertainment (kicked off, I might argue, by “Interstellar,” and finding its platonic ideal in “The Martian”). April is not just a bland, brave everyman protagonist; she is fiercely, explicitly smart, and put in a position to go on her pulse-pounding, high-stakes adventure for that very reason. The film recognizes both the risk and reward in that, just as it sees the danger humanity so often creates for itself by pushing society forward for short-term gain at long-term expense. But ultimately, progress is the long-term gain – resources will run dry, but as long as the urge remains to advance, to push the boundaries, to dash out into the unknown…we might be OK.

Now playing in limited release – to be expanded wider starting April 8. Watch for it!

Verdict: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars

*I know, I know, I didn’t discover “Tintin in the Congo” until a while later, and the um, less-than-savory villainization of Asians, Native Americans, Jews, etc. didn’t register at that age. The moon ones are still OK, right?

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