Saturday, February 16, 2013

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Top Ten: Moonrise Kingdom

This year for the Hollmann Awards, we're counting down my Top Ten of the Year -- one entry per day, coupled with two categories -- leading up the naming of Best Picture of the Year.

#8. Moonrise Kingdom
dir: Wes Anderson
wr: Wes Anderson/Roman Coppola
cin: Robert D. Yeoman

Moonrise Kingdom, like many of the films on this list, came with a lot on its shoulders. In this case, it wasn't festival hype or a franchise anniversary, but merely the fact that every new film by a respected auteur is met with baited breath, apologists and schadenfreude enthusiasts. Wes Anderson is especially prone to these, I feel, because his films come prepackaged with an upfront artifice that can come off as "twee", if not a way of holding real emotions and conflicts at arm's length. It's understandable to fear that the lost-in-time aesthetic utilized so beautifully in The Royal Tenenbaums would wear thin eventually.

And yet, Moonrise Kingdom may be the best film he's ever made. This time around, the retro designs and stylized miniatures add further depth to the story of a summer romance between an orphaned boy scout (Jared Gilman) and a lonely local girl (Kara Hayward). They're in that bizarre stage of pre-adolescence where they're having these feelings and puttering around with the physical aspect, yet still maintaining a degree of innocence and naivete that leads to fish-hook earrings and packing late library books as survival supplies. Anderson wisely guides the child actors into very serious performances, never overplaying the kid aspects, but treating them as mini-adults -- which, of course, all kids think they are. They are confident even when caught.

The adults, meanwhile, look around helplessly, from the childlike scout master (Edward Norton) to the kindly but sad police captain. Bruce Willis is Captain Sharp, and to see John McClane suddenly meek and sensitive is a welcome and successful surprise -- but then Willis is best when he's subdued (see also Death Becomes Her, The Sixth Sense, Looper). He happens to be having an affair with the runaway girl's mother (played quietly by Frances McDormand), but it mostly seems to consist of them guiltily smoking together in secret. With their own heartache and distractions, it's no wonder they have trouble keeping the kids around.

What I love about Anderson's style in this film is how it emphasizes these emotions, the loneliness and guilt and all. Certainly this is not unfamiliar terrain for him -- both The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic also use colorful trappings as the characters' distraction/escape from their own helplessness. But with Moonrise Kingdom, we actually get to see it being built, in the beachside sequence where the runaways make their Utopia. They bring with them all the hallmarks of an Anderson film -- the tent, the French New Wave music, eyeshadow -- and build a paradise where they can escape the misery of the outside world.

And really, that's what makes the end so bittersweet. Even though things are improving, there was a moment there when the world really was just the two of them. This is the summer they grew up, and next year is going to be different, but they'll always that memory of their own Shangri-La...their Moonrise Kingdom.

Moonrise Kingdom is nominated for three Hollmann Awards, including Best Art Direction. But we won't be focusing on that award at all today. No, let's focus on the other categories instead.


5. The Paperboy
Caroline Eselin

Absolutely fetishistic in its bright, tacky palette for Charlotte Bless and form fitting shorts and polo for hunky yet innocent Jack Jansen. Points also for Hilary van Wetter's garish street clothes and Yardley Acheman's smart and unsuitable suits.

4. Cloud Atlas
Kym Barrett/Pierre-Yves Gayraud

The clothes practically are the story. Whether it's James D'Arcy's rich boy vest, Doona Bae's pre-assigned white skirt, Jim Broadbent's dorky bow tie, the sartorial choices immediately convey character and tone. Best example: the distant future: bones and feathers for Hugh Grant, crocheted rags for Tom Hanks, spotless white for Halle Berry.

3. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Louise Stjernsward

Damn straight I'm going to nominate someone for their work on Judi Dench alone. I could pretend that I love the colorful, bosom-accentuating shirts on Celia Imrie, or the old-fashioned go at suavity on Ronald Pickup, or Dev Patel's white outfit, but this is all about Judi decked in flattering, comfortable garments that speak to her character's growing comfort and sense of belonging. That lavender get-up? Never has the Dench been more radiant.

2. Anna Karenina
Jacqueline Durran 

I know Keira Knightley is a great muse for Joe Wright, but surely she is also the muse for Jacqueline Durran. This is twice now that the designer has clothed Knightley in an instantly-iconic gown, this time the black dress separating her from the other women at Kitty's ball when she meets Count Vronsky. Who looks great in his tight whites, by the way. And God how I love Alexei Karenin's overcoat and fur hat of sadness.

1. Moonrise Kingdom
Kasia Walicka Maimone

Everyone gets a pre-approved uniform to wear throughout, the easier to identify themselves so they can latch on to some semblance of stability. Tilda Swinton's hideous blue uniform is a favorite, but I confess to being a fan of Bruce Willis's quaint island cop. The kids' costumes, of course, can be seen on your best friend's roommate's Facebook album from Halloween.


5. ParaNorman
Chris Butler
Possesses a genuine love for the horror films that influenced it, and not afraid to throw some of that darker shit in there. Surely must be one of the few films to contain both toilet humor and child executions. Manages a surprising, tearjerking finale with subtle admonishments towards scapegoating and prejudice.

4. Hope Springs
Vanessa Taylor
Evenly-balanced relationship flick that refuses to titter at the idea of senior sex, instead treating its protagonists with dignity and respect. It laughs with them, so that even the comedy resulting from something embarrassing is sure to be an amusing story told between them down the road. Recognizes faults without condemnation.

3. Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman
Dry vivisection of university life and the gender politics within. Gets the need for college-educated people to play smarter and significant-er than they really are. Even moments of on-the-nose frankness leave room for gentle subtext.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson/Roman Coppola
Warm, lovely affection for its characters, coupled with the shadow of impending heartbreak, adulthood. Unexpectedly sad, with a bittersweet yearning of bottled lightning. Nails the self-seriousness of pre-adolescents.

1. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino
Call it a spaghetti western, or a Southern if you must, but despite the references, this may be Tarantino's least mannered screenplay. No chapters, no time jumps, just a straight-forward revenge narrative with a quiet protagonist biding his time. Exploitation is the only way to handle the era, and Tarantino illuminates the sexual humiliation and inhuman cruelty in slavery. Subtle arcs throughout.

Moonrise Kingdom wins one, loses another. It has another shot in Art Direction and Supporting Actor, further on...

Previously: #9. Skyfall
#10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

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