The Journey Is The Destination

For Marshall

It is the most tempting thing to approach Stagecoach in terms of where it lands with John Ford’s career and John Wayne’s career, both of which are slightly overstated by history considering that Wayne was already trying very hard to break as a star and Ford had already been so well-established as a Hollywood filmmaker that he even had a Best Director Oscar under his belt. This IS a pair of men who collaborated on a movie that ends with the message “print the legend”, but in any case the legend has some amount of truth to it: this is, more than any other shot at stardom that Wayne took, the one that made him the face of American cinema for the next 20 years at least. And while it wouldn’t be too accurate to call this the movie where Ford came together with his own style, I am tempted to say that as John Ford’s most perfect film… it was a necessary launchpad of his legacy into further masterpieces. Indeed, why – in a chronological series where I am talking about the 7 films of Ford’s that I give five stars ratings to – this is the first movie I’m talking about.

Indeed, it would be tempting to talk about Stagecoach as a John Wayne movie but that would slightly neglect the excellent manner in which Stagecoach functions as an ensemble piece, even while it definitely favors Wayne as a screen persona (who is solely billed under Claire Trevor). In a genre like the Western that is more often than not seen as a metaphor for society and adjacent topics, Dudley Nichols’ screenplay – adapted from the short story “The Stage to Lordsburg” by Ernest Haycox – functions efficiently in that utilisation. The characters in Stagecoach are archetypes before they are flesh-and-blood, but lived in archetypes that feel real in the confines of the story from the collected performances: There’s Dallas (Trevor), an ousted prostitute from the Arizona town of Tonto, accompanied on the coach proudly by fellow disgrace Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell). As Boone is an alcoholic, he very easily takes a liking to the fretful whiskey salesman Peacock (Donald Meek), and as a Union veteran, he takes conflict with the ex-Confederate gambler Hatfield (John Carradine). Hatfield himself joins the stage at the last second-to-last second as a gentleman to accompany the Mrs. Mallory (Louise Platt) as she journeys to reunite with her cavalry hero husband and secretly carries a child in her womb. That actual last-second passenger before the stage departs from Tonto ends up being the windbag banker Gatewood (Benton Churchill), attempting to embezzle money. Driving the carriage to Lordsburg, New Mexico is the unceasingly talkative Buck (Andy Devine) while riding shotgun is Marshal Curley Wilcox (George Bancroft) in the hope that he’ll have a chance to catch the recently escaped prisoner The Ringo Kid, who seeks revenge in that same destination. Very early on the road, Curley gets his wish and catches up with Ringo as his prisoner and one final additional occupant to the coach…

This is probably the only time here where I’ll talk about Stagecoach like the John Wayne show, but Ford and cinematographer Bert Glennon (who worked together the same year on Young Mr. Lincoln) truly knew how to make the camera fall in love with Wayne’s face. And the introductory sequence of The Ringo Kid – which, as you can guess, was Wayne’s role – is the best example of this: we get an off-screen sound cue of a rifle blast (meant to get the wagon’s attention) and cut to a medium shot of Wayne before the frontier mountains, saddle in one hand and performing the dynamic action of spinning his Winchester to reload with the other as the camera zooms so fast into a close-up that it loses focus for a noticeable split second. It is a movie throughout excited to present Wayne among other things where Ringo ends up superseding Dallas as the movie’s ostensible protagonist by Ford’s fiat and an excellent example of how Ford is able to use the form to favor certain characters over others.

And yet though Wayne is the STAR, I maintain that this is a movie whose strengths come from the collective adoption of the ensemble storytelling. Nichols’ script has thrown several distinct personalities into a stagecoach and just let them interact with each other as the actors throw in their own personal non-verbal reactions to their interacting: the manner in which Hatfield favors Mallory but ignores Dallas when it comes to his principles on how to act before a lady, Doc’s continuous pestering of Peacock for whiskey samples to Peacock’s discontent, Buck’s endless yammering while Curley tries to maintain vigilance as the coach enters Apache country without the cavalry’s escort, Gatewood’s constant blustering to the annoyance of everyone, and so much more. This is a movie about forcing characters in spatial relation to one another and responding towards the others’ presence and seeing if the length of the ride is enough to see a change in any of them. Ford, Glennon, and editors Otho Lovering and Dorothy Spencer are excellent at keeping us aware of the spatial relation when using the frame to box the characters within the coach (mostly in sets of twos) and relying on eyelines to make it clear who is speaking to whom and TOWARDS them too, but a dinner table scene around the 1/3 mark takes full advantage of that wide open space to explore just how far of a length these characters wish to maintain between each other depending on their disrepute. It is in the moments of the stage’s stops where we are most beholden to the blocking as much as Ford and Glennon’s containment of that blocking in the frame.

It’s also the case that Ford and Glennon have no problem applying that same visual favor to the rest of the characters as they do to Wayne, given that this is also a story about the hypocrisies and gatekeeping of society. Dallas is the most sympathetically presented character – even ahead of Ringo – as we watch her being practically chased out by a hovering cluster of old women with judging eyes. Doc Boone is given no less a framing of dignity than his sober fellows. In fact, the most evidently unfavored of the Stagecoach inhabitants is Gatewood, playing as an example of the manner in which Stagecoach has a disinterest in proper society and the way it treats its outcasts. Gatewood is ostensibly the most distinguished figure there and also the most blatantly crooked and bullying. Meanwhile, Mallory and Hatfield – being the second and third most distinguished (distantly third for the gambler) – have their moments where the film looks down on their attitudes towards Dallas and Boone but also allows nuance that lends itself to the most interesting arcs for the characters.

Within the two towns where this movie starts and ends, there is nothing but dismissal for Ringo, Dallas, and Boone and the film’s shots are no less dynamic – as Ford had an eye for composition like no one else in the game – but feel less eye-catching than the actual journey that takes wide fascination with the landscape and the image of a lone coach traveling through these lands (particularly Monument Valley*, Ford’s favorite location and it is so easy to see why) and the place where Ringo and Dallas can dream of a better life together beyond the border of “civilization”. Particularly the moonlit night sequences where they stand with a fence between them as the celestial glow lands on them talking romantically, obvious in its symbolism but nevertheless striking. Personally, I find it fascinating that a director who takes care to establish Native Americans as a presence beyond white society is so eager to condemn white society as lacking any place for these characters that Stagecoach gives its heart to and if there is one wish I had, it was that Stagecoach extended that grace to its exclusively hostile depiction of the Apache people.

The only time this balance doesn’t work out is something Stagecoach gets away with because it is also the most exciting and conventionally entertaining scene: a climactic action-packed chase from the Apache warriors packed with tracking shots of fierce stampeding and several of the most mind-blowing stunts from the legendary Yakima Canutt. I imagine only someone clinically dead could not have their heart-stopped watching Canutt climb under the coach harnesses or running with the camera across this terrain trying to dodge or even feel helpless in a late beat between Mallory and Hatfield, but maybe I’m just too taken by Ford’s sense of action and adventure and character drama complimenting each other.

For Stagecoach is not Ford’s best movie in my eyes, but it gives a good argument for being my favorite Ford movie and thereby one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a good amount of so many things, all of them constructed so efficiently that you can hardly notice the time passing by you or how conventional it is at the end of it all, while many of these things are communicated with the most memorable broad strokes possible on the level of imagery, performance, and storytelling that it stands as a quintessential work of Hollywood’s most noteworthy year of filmmaking.

*Come to think of it: That’s the one “FIRST” of Stagecoach, the First Western to use Monument Valley’s iconic imagery. Look up Harry Goulding when you get a chance, as that man is responsible for the way we see the Wild West in a manner that is not appreciated enough.

Mysterious F

1993-2020

2020 was a heavy year for virtually everybody in the world and I personally feel fortunate to have made it out of the year in the emotionally battered state that I am in, compared to what gut punches others must have stood from it. And yet it found room in its twilight hours to land one extra blow for a small circle of people whom I never met in person (and I expect few of that circle have) and most of whom I haven’t spoken to in years but were devastated all the same.

Marshall York Craig died on 18 December 2020. The manner of his death is so unexpected, tragic, and undeserved that I don’t have the energy to reiterate it. I first fell into Craig’s orbit around the beginning months of 2016 (a year where I definitely was going to need to make new movie friends if I wanted to stay interested) within a facebook film discussion group, a late inductee into a group that already mostly familiarized itself from a history talking to each on Rotten Tomatoes’ forums. He was a very outspoken man with a lot of energy to discuss movies and politics and his dog and I can only imagine the other passions he had that I was not privy to. We specifically got on via our mutual appreciation of Tim Brayton as a blogger and through there Marshall took his own personal interest round these parts in Movie Motorbreath while also messaging me practically every day for 2 years simply out of his own personal excitement and initiative.

In full transparency, our last full private conversation was not a very pleasant one – the context of which are the business of few people – and while I don’t regret the things that were said in it, I do deeply regret that it was essentially the last word between us… mostly of my own fault. Marshall, for his part, spent a whole year afterwards trying to spark further film discussion between us via messenger but I kept whatever answers I returned curt and short until he just stopped trying and even after he’d still forward Birthday messages that I expressed my appreciation for. The final notes in our interaction were chilly solely because I allowed them to be and it should not have taken Marshall’s unforeseen passing for me to have re-evaluated the manner in which I will disengage others.

And yet it is absolutely the case that Marshall was one of the earliest supporters of this silly project that is my blog Movie Motorbreath. At a pretty significant turning point for whether or not I wanted to keep writing here, Craig’s encouragement was something that kept me pretty productive at this while trying to divest myself into other areas of my life. He interacted, he engaged, he brought conversation to me on my thoughts about movies and constantly gave me constructive feedback on how I wrote. And the thing is I don’t think he’ll ever truly know the degree to which he gave me the energy to write here for 2 of my most productive years.

A few months before Marshall’s death, another distant friend of mine died in a similarly shocking and terrible manner. And while I was processing that, I fell right into a habit of watching myself chop herbs in a manner that friend had taught me to and recognized that we carry everybody who ever passed through our lives in quiet ways. I think the way I identified for Marshall was my appreciation for John Ford, which existed prior but only expanded tenfold from Marshall’s influence. Of all the film based subjects Marshall was eager to extol, John Ford was clearly the greatest: as a filmmaker, as an artist, and as a person, even in clarity of Ford’s faults. I don’t feel confident declaring his favorite filmmaker (he also had a love of Orson Welles that rivaled mine) but Ford is my best aimed guess and it’s by the unexpected manner that Marshall would pop into my private messages just to preach to me on the greatness of Ford without solicitation that Ford slowly became one of my favorite filmmakers over the past 5 years as Marshall’s lengthy diatribes paralleled my greater journey into Ford’s output.

The full filmography of Ford’s films is much too vast to tackle (with a good chunk of films totally lost or hard to find) and even if we limit a retrospective to all the movies by Ford that I full love, that would be too many for me to have such stamina for. However… a rewatch of what I consider Ford’s Greatest Hits was frankly a long time coming – I’ve had it in my mind for the past 4 years in fact, and given that they are among my favorite movies… it was definitely going to be a welcome personal comfort to perform in the wake of 2020 – but I guess if there’s any better opportunity to sit down with the highest points of possibly the Greatest American Filmmaker of All Time, it may as well be to honor an old patron of this site that had a higher appreciation of the man than I think I will ever have. For the 7 days of next week starting on Sunday, I will be posting a review of each of the 7 movies in Ford’s filmography that I consider five-star masterpieces, one of which I already reviewed but would like to revisit with a few more thoughts. These reviews will be in chronological order. And I will be doing each one in the honor and memory of Marshall and if you’ll join me… I hope that I help you see John Ford the way Marshall helped me see him.

The Times the Oscars Got It 100% Right in the 2010s

Awards season is upon us, even as slow as it is (and as paltry and weak as the contenders look to be) this year. So I find it tough to get as excited as I used to be with this time of the filmgoing year, but I am usually quite a fan of the season and the Academy Awards like a pleb. It is no less an opportunity to perform ones tastes, gamify the conversation, and make predictions and observations on how the filmgoing atmosphere has been (the latter probably adds to my lack of anticipation for the Oscars). I mean, just as much a perk to experiencing a work of art is the ability to have it rattle around in conversation with others and if the Oscars are not at all a conversation (which they aren’t), they are at least a launch-pad to that conversation whether in favor or disfavor of the results.

So, as something of an off-shoot to my massive 2010s lists project (and there may be a couple more in the future), I had it in my mind to pick the 22 times in the 2010s that I felt the Oscars and I truly aligned. And by “Got It Right” in the headline, I mean Got. It. Right. The Academy somehow picked the exact same choice as me for the best of the year, not that it was a win that I was very happy to see it or even that they picked my favorite of the nominees. They picked my number one pick in the category for the whole year.

Aaron Sorkin winning Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network (83rd Academy Awards, 2011)

The past year’s Oscarbait The Trial of the Chicago 7 has illustrated to us many of the worst flaws with Sorkin as a writer (as well as as a director) and a lot of those flaws were already visible before that stood as his worst work. But The Social Network hasn’t lost one bit of its freshness, its rhythm, its sense of humor and Sorkin transmitting his sense of character language over to personalities while still avoid the sense that Joss Whedon trap of giving everybody a one-size-fits-all voice is a miracle in itself before we take a step back and watch it form into one of the decade’s best character studies. I’m too fond of certain seasons of The West Wing to call it his best work, but it did pop up as a possibility in my mind.

Gore Verbinski winning Best Animated Feature for Rango (84th Academy Awards, 2012)

It’s always a good time when Disney loses this category to an underdog (there’s going to be another Best Animated Feature win later in this post for an EVEN better movie!) but Rango‘s gung-ho revolving door of genre types, Roger Deakins-involved photorealistic landscapes, and idiosyncratic animated animal designs that refuse to be even a little bit cuddly makes it so obviously a more challenging animated film than anything else of that year (or that Disney has made since Lilo & Stitch) that this win had me leaping for joy.

Mark Coulier & J. Roy Helland winning Best Makeup for The Iron Lady (84th Academy Awards, 2012)

Y’all think Meryl Streep has girl power? Do you think she has girl power while playing the decrepit version of a woman who sent paramilitary death squads into Northern Ireland? Listen, there are so many areas in which I really fucking hate this movie. But the one place where they earned every bit of acclaim they deserved was that makeup, which I regret I could not find a decent clip of (though perhaps the best examples of Coulier and Helland’s craft may have turned out to be spoilers, but who cares about biopic spoilers?). Suffice it to say that a phenomenal job is shown having Thatcher’s body grow more and more wrinkled and cracked as the years of the longest run as Prime Minister pass by. It’s probably responsible for more transformation within the performance than Streep herself, if I can be bold.

Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan de Boer, & Donald R. Elliott winning Best Visual Effects for Life of Pi (85th Academy Awards, 2013)

First of all, what a fucking disrespectful disaster of an Oscar moment (especially with that joke at the beginning about skipping past their deserved respect). How dare the Academy cut off the VFX artist’s speeches because they’re trying to appeal to an industry that needs them? The VFX industry is very famously one that is the most exploited by Hollywood for nearly no pay where studios that put their passion into this labor of love end up closing down because of high demands and low pay (especially given that the studio in question Rhythm & Hues shut down shortly after). The fact that the Oscar win clip, like the telecast, infamously cuts to black in the middle of the speech still pisses me the fuck off.

Now if I can take a moment to get off my soapbox and admire the work before us: Richard Parker! What an absolutely amazing creation of a character simply out of the visuals and if Life of Pi didn’t represent the bleeding edge of effects work in 2012, it would still earn that trophy based on the weight and presence and personality of that tiger. But of course, it wouldn’t be an Ang Lee movie if it wasn’t playing with the new toys of the cinema.

Cate Blanchett winning Best Actress for Blue Jasmine (86th Academy Awards, 2014)

A performance for which I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said before: Blanchett stealing the entire movie from right under Woody Allen’s nose, which is not a tall order given how limp his directing has been over the past 9 years and how she’s been the best actor alive since… forever? But he did give her a role that is like a glove for all the cold and brittle presence that Blanchett brings at her best and just stepped back for her to fire on all cylinders with this one.

John Ridley winning Best Adapted Screenplay for 12 Years a Slave (86th Academy Awards, 2014)

Steve McQueen is evidently not happy that Ridley won that award, but that is besides me. The fact is that the script at the center of their fight was a masterpiece of containing an overwhelming real-life experience into something truly fractured and exhausting with the weight such a sum of time would bring with it, turning what could have just remained a straightforward message biopic into experiential misery. And that’s on top of how Ridley found a way to map within the episodic structure Solomon’s anti-character arc as we watch him get more and more set on survival whatever he has to cut out of his soul to get it.

Skip Livesey, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, & Chris Munro winning Best Sound Mixing for Gravity (86th Academy Awards, 2014)

Speaking of a movie that is wholly experience based released in 2013, Gravity owes that accomplishment to so many of its elements. Among those elements is the way the sound – even in the vaccuum of space – is arranged to give us that sense of transporting within the hollow abyss.

Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, & Neil Corbould winning Best Visual Effects for Gravity (86th Academy Awards, 2014)

I realized I already used “bleeding edge” when discussing Life of Pi‘s Visual Effects win up above, but we may as well face the fact that a lot of these some more of these wins are going to be about reaching the pinnacle that visual effects were capable of at the end of the year. And this team is responsible for translating all of Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki*’s cinematic vocabulary into a fully CGI 3D world. You can’t sit into a world like the sound makes us do without that world being built and these four names are the men who built the world of Gravity.

Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock winning Best Production Design for The Grand Budapest Hotel (87th Academy Awards, 2015)

At the risk of giving away the spoilers, this and the next two entries are all going to be The Grand Budapest Hotel and that makes it possible that I will just repeat myself when describing the winning elements but I’ll try to avoid it. This is without a doubt the fussiest film out of the fussiest filmmaker alive and the artificial look of it all is a big part of what I love about it (and I expect what holds some viewers at a distance). Can you possibly blame me with the way that wide establishing shot of the ground has that funicular as a moving piece or the manner that the titular hotel has such a wonderfully cake-like look? And that’s without bringing in the element of decay so that this ostensibly wacky place slowly dies before our eyes so that even as a hazy dream, it feels real in a very sad way.

Milena Canonero winning Best Costume Design for The Grand Budapest Hotel (87th Academy Awards, 2015)

And then there’s the way this world is inhabited by purple figures (or even pink and white in the prison sequences) matching Stockhausen and Pinnock’s own fussy indulgence, where the blackest black is applied to the villains as color coding and in the end they allow a link between these weirdly human characters to the cartoon world they’re sucked into.

Alexandre Desplat winning Best Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel (87th Academy Awards, 2015)

And then a cartoon movie absolutely needs a cartoon score and Desplat’s zany music box arrangement of tempos for the characters’ movements through this world is not just the perfect fit for what kind of experience The Grand Budapest Hotel is going for, it’s also my favorite work of his entire career thus far. Plus this win was actually the biggest surprise of the night for me, probably the biggest surprise of this entire list and goshdarn it when the Oscars pull the rug out from under me like that, it is phenomenal to watch.

Margaret Sixel winning Best Film Editing for Mad Max: Fury Road (88th Academy Awards, 2016)

I think I’ve been clear round these parts that Sixel’s work on Mad Max: Fury Road is my single favorite piece of work in all the movies I’ve seen from the 2010s so y’all can’t possibly hold it against me for wanting to high five the Oscars for recognizing the highest piece of the form. One of a kind action-editing that is able to accomplish clarity and frenzy all the way and between this and Jennifer Lame’s work on Tenet and Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir’s work on Atomic Blonde bringing their own individual sense of momentum and impact… maybe women are just better action movie directors than men?

Mark Mangini & David White winning Best Sound Editing for Mad Max: Fury Road (88th Academy Awards, 2016)

Glad as I am to see all the Fury Road technical sweep of that year’s ceremony (as well as how most of the recipients looked like Fury Road characters including Jenny Beaven’s awesome fucking outfit when she won Costume Design), none of them were really my pick for THE best of the year outside of Sixel and this accomplishment in Fury Road putting that fucking fury in every gunshot, melee blow, crash, and engine roar. Even the crack of that tree falling in the clip I selected has that phenomenal violent edge that reminds us of the perils these characters are in for.

Casey Affleck winning Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea (89th Academy Awards, 2017)

In which we learn that “getting it right” does not necessarily mean “Getting It Right” for there is nothing right about a man who abused his power in an industry as Affleck did still making movies or being celebrated on a night with everybody applauding him and being handed an award by Brie Larson (and the Academy damn well knew it, hence why they had to arrange the following year for Affleck to not present an award to Frances McDormand of all fucking people). Luckily, I have zero pull as an influence unlike the Oscars (anybody who gives my opinion any value should reconsider where they are in life) and thereby can admit without fear of rewarding Affleck on such a scale that… yes, it was in fact the Best Lead Performance by a Male Actor that I had seen all year (and possibly even the year before and after).

It’s so heavy, the way that Affleck’s visible sorrow is lugged around and around the entire movie so that it’s clear that Lee’s on existence is a great pain to him and since he can’t even be bothered to look for the exit anymore, he may as well just move through life with the minimum effort possible. A portrayal of depression and guilt that speaks to me in ways that I did not expect to be spoken to and yet Affleck is not even the best performance of the film (he’s not even the best performance in the clip I used) let alone of the entire year…

Viola Davis winning Best Supporting Actress for Fences (89th Academy Awards, 2017)

The one performance I wanted to be Mulligan in Manchester by the Sea, which together with Davis in Fences make for a pair of top ten performances of the 2010s. Davis, though, the game was already set in here favor with material she had spent long years being intimate with and thereby allowing her revisit Rose’s continuous reserves of quiet frustration in her domesticity before letting it all explode in a climax you can’t even resent for being so showy in it acting. It’s deeply grounded, emotionally exhausting, and impressively modulated as film acting rather than theatrical acting. Between this and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, it’s very evident that giving Davis August Wilson material means you have to step the fuck back because she owns the show.

Viola also happens to have my favorite Oscar speech and dress out of this whole list, for those who care about these sort of things as much as I do.

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, & Dan Lemmon winning Best Visual Effects for The Jungle Book (89th Academy Awards, 2017)

Hey, Disney money gets you that Disney resources. It is evident that The Lion King remake was able to enhance all the technical accomplishments that The Jungle Book remake pulled but The Jungle Book accomplishes not looking like the horror show the later movie was because it allows color to be an element of its photorealistic environments and because somehow it is less concerned with having its animals function a anything but animals. Talking animals, still, but less Lovecraftian in their mouth movements than The Lion King. Plus the full-constructed CGI world has at least one on-camera human presence as reference for the designers and feels more immersive as an experience than anything Disney made since TRON: Legacy (especially in 3D).

Mark Bridges winning Best Costume Design for Phantom Thread (90th Academy Awards, 2018)

I should not have to explain why Phantom Thread of all movies deserved Best Costume Design. If the movie works on any level for the viewer, it’s because of the wonderful arrangements of all that fabric and just how erotic it can be to watch, arrange, and create that fabric. If the costumes were on any level than less than the best ever, then I’d have to concede Phantom Thread‘s weakness but I love it so evidently…

Richard King & Alex Gibson winning Best Sound Editing for Dunkirk (90th Academy Awards, 2018)

If I may dare to shock y’all, I deeply believe the sound does more to sharpen the structure of this movie than Lee Smith’s film editing. It’s specifically because of the way the sounds are filtered in terms of how they echo in relation to the ocean water that I think we are able to effortlessly shift between the three perspectives with no trouble and I think that added dimension to the fact that war movies always demand great sound to work is how I end up loving Dunkirk as a movie probably more than I should.

Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord, & Christopher Miller winning Best Animated Feature for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (91st Academy Awards, 2019)

It’s the best superhero and comic book movie ever made and I would have been very upset to have seen it walk away empty handed. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the sort of creative storytelling and animation that we need more of if Hollywood’s gonna keep taking our money, the sort of movie that makes one feel truly like they can fly.

Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Cinematography for Roma (91st Academy Awards, 2019)

The center of a credit-based controversy back in Mexico that for some reason did not catch the slightest wind up in the States for some weird reason** and thereby giving me a bit of pause in congratulating Cuarón for winning this without Galo Olivares up on stage with his own trophy. Regardless of whoever is responsible for one of the most beautiful films of the 2010s, the fact is that Roma IS one of the most beautiful films of the 2010s and it is entirely worthwhile to appreciate its sense of care and awareness regarding the multiple shades of gray so that calling it a black and white movie seems like missing the real treat of it all and taking all the right lessons from Cuarón’s career long collaboration with camera movements and long takes. The result is something that has the sense of a dreamy panorama and while I’m often tempted to break open my Criterion blu-ray of this movie eventually, nothing can beat actually seeing it in the big screen when it was first released (except maybe seeing it in 70mm, please help me see it in 70mm in the future).

Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, & J.D. Schwalm winning Best Visual Effects for First Man (91st Academy Awards, 2019)

Hey, I guess between this and Gravity, I just really love space movies. We’ve continuously watched movies throughout this decade crafting a tangible world beyond the atmosphere (since we can include Interstellar, The Martian, and Ad Astra) and I wonder if the story of a man sinking himself more and more to his mission for the sake of burying his grief doesn’t feel the most appropriate area for that. Plus there’s only more scrutiny that the visuals could receive when shot in 70mm and First Man totally deserves it.

Matthew A. Cherry & Karen Rupert Tolivar winning Best Animated Short Film for Hair Love (92nd Academy Awards, 2020)

I am not generally someone who gets too into the short films largely because my sample of them is so small that I feel even less confident in my declarations than the other obviously subjective claims of me knowing the Best Editing of 2015 or the Best Performance of 2016 or what have you. More often, it’s because my pick in this category almost never wins and that I have chosen Hair Love‘s win amongst the rest of this list is specifically because it’s an instance where my favorite film not only in the animated category but out of all of the shorts nominated and that I have seen in 2019 got the gold. The makers of this film have put out a short of such effortless short-form storytelling and simple designs with a stress on the texture (all the better to communicate that central hair as a presence). Implies that Sony Pictures Animation may have learned every single right lesson from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

*While Lubezki was not my favorite of the three years he won (Gravity and Birdman are close though and he WAS my favorite of 2011 with The Tree of Life), it was still absolutely phenomenal to see him get three Oscars in a row after a whole decade in the 2000s of not getting his due.
**Especially weird given the history of credit-based controversies attached to the wins of Dalton Trumbo, Natalie Portman, and John Ridley and the nominations of Linda Blair.