Personal Ballot for 2017, Pt. 3: Editing, Ensemble, Foreign Film, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing – Originally completed 4/7/18

Best Film Editing

  • Atomic Blonde, Elísabet Ronaldsdottír – How is it that a film with a frame story that lets us know our heroine will make it out alive can be so compelling on a scene-by-scene basis? How is it that one film can delineate so expertly between easy and hard fights without losing track of their coherency, and while still making them as fun and vicious as they need to be? Elísabet Ronaldsdottír’s editing is a versatile and fluid asset to Atomic Blonde, working beautifully with the cinematography to bring the film together. Comic book pacing and framing are expertly realized without the stress or eagerness to recreate iconic imagery that bungles a lot of adaptations. Ronaldsdottír finds plenty of impactful images that never feel derivative or subservient to a previous source material, and she knows when the editing should be as slick and poppy and the soundtrack can be or as dangerously fast paced and serious as any fight scene. That these instincts are just as sharp in the interrogation room only makes the building paranoia amplify Atomic Blonde’s Cold War setting and themes, and that those instincts are so galvanizing throughout only makes the achievement of the editing all the more singular and enlivening.
  • Good Time, Ben Safdie and Ronald Bronstein – If Atomic Blonde’s editing is a masterclass in establishing power dynamics and fight choreography, Good Time’s own brand of kineticism reached comparable achievements in crime drama tensions and suspense. The rhythms of Nick’s interview with his therapist are nothing like those of the bank robbery or the multiple getaways that don’t pan out as well as they could, and each one is still exhilarating to behold. Downbeats and set pieces are given their own paces that allow for breathing room without relinquishes narrative thrust and a sense of foreboding as Connie’s avenues keep getting closed off. We’re allowed to watch his relationships with the folks he meets and takes advantage of develop without the emphasis on his upper hand or, conversely, when he’s making his plans up by the seat of his pants and is as unsure how he’s going to advance as the audience is. The editing is as lean, mean, and grotty as Good Time itself is and as on-edge as its lead character, knowing when to zero in on character beats and how to show those characters and their decisions to fullest effect as Connie digs his grave deeper and deeper.
  • Lady Bird, Nick Huoy – If it’s one thing for Gerwig’s screenplay to do so much heavy lifting in incredibly short scenes, and another for her performers to convey their own life-sized characters with varying degree of screen time, Nick Houy’s editing goes a long way towards realizing the economy of those contributors while heavily enhancing them. Houy knows when to cut to a reaction shot, a line reading, when to ping-pong between faces, but he also knows when to cut to group shots or simply let a scene play out in full without any cutting whatsoever (see: the graduation celebration v. the fallout with Lady Bird and Marion). Ninety minutes covers a full year with fullness and ease, with montages skating over large and small chunks of time effectively with impactful images. Still, what I like best about the editing is a frank lack of judgement in depicting its character interactions. No one’s the hero or the villain in Lady Bird’s mercurial arguments with her mother, nor are scenes with more clear-cut morals like Julie telling off Lady Bird for abandoning her or Lady Bird upbraiding Kyle for lying about being a virgin given easier slants. It’s observing lives as lived without making its characters any easier to understand or sidle up to.
  • The Ornithologist, Raphael Lefevre – It’s one thing for The Ornithologist to be as unusual as it is, but another for it to shape its narrative so fully such that we’re able to grasp individual story beats and ideas without overemphasis. Off-kilter framing and longer takes between cuts in scenes like the Chinese pilgrims discussing their journey to Fernando by the fire keep the rhythms of the film hard to pin down, forcing us to watch Fernando undergo his unorthodox journey without any guidance as to how we should be reacting to all this chaos. The arousing and unsettling jolt of seeing a phallic shadow falling over Fernando’s tent, confrontationally closer to the center of the frame than he is, is alarming in context as part of an unseen but previously heard tribe of chanting costumed men, and funny once we realize that the shadow is just an elongated nose on a mask. Raphael Lefevre’s editing allows for this multiplicity of tones in scene after scene, knowing how much or how little to editorialize on an image that accrues serious weight in context. Best of all may be the inclusion of distorted, sustained shots from literal bird’s-eye views, giving us a wholly unique perspective on Fernando that even he can’t grasp until the very end of the picture.
  • A Woman’s Life, Anne Klotz – In keeping with the script’s elliptical structure and the camera’s often restless observance of narrative events, the film’s editing is often jagged in how it stitches together these leaps in time, not just between but within individual scenes. Occasionally when Jeanne receives upsetting news the editing will flash backward to a happier, less troubled time, rather than showing her put up with a bullshit mea culpa from her husband and a priest asking his absolvence or pondering the cost of once again paying off the debts of a son who only writes to ask for money. Then again, Anne Klotz will sometimes insert an image of Jeanne, wrecked with worry and wrapped in a cloak on a dark night, the context of which isn’t revealed until late into the film. She’s also prone to skip over climaxes altogether, finding some of the film’s most indelible images in the fallouts of Jeanne’s husband being discovered in a bed he shouldn’t be in, and then another, and then no more. Best of all, she’s able to do all this without losing her grip on the coherence of the film while still keeping the audience off-balance, perfectly in-tandem with the experiences of a central character who seems to spend her whole life having the rug pulled out from under her. Bracing work that makes an already dense film even more challenging.

Best Ensemble

  • The Big Sick, casting dir. Gayle Keller – Pardon me in these next five write-ups as I try to straddle the line between singling out individual achievements and summarizing what the ensemble as a whole manages to pull off in service to their film. With The Big Sick, I’m most struck by how well all the actors perform the balancing act of making their characters rich sources of humor without pulling any dramatic punches or making themselves the butt of the joke more than necessary. All of the families feel unbelievably real in a way I mostly see from actors working together for years on TV can manage, not just the blood-related families but the comedians Kumail works with. The messy sprawl of the script is completely enhanced by the sharpness of the cast, all of whom find specific interpretations for their characters that manage to suggest full lives offscreen and a whole history before the film that we aren’t privy. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, painfully absent from my own ballot, exemplify this best with the way they convey such fond familiarity with each other and genuine love without skimping on the pain they’ve caused each other. Just as impressive is that Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher reach a similar precipice of feeling with such limited screen time as Kumail’s parents, finding humor while refusing to trivialize their concerns for their son. And how lovely is Kumail Nanjiani’s performance’s as himself, playing brilliantly with all the film’s actors but never more charming than his courtship with Zoe Kazan’s own capable playing? What a treat that this story was told, and what an even bigger treat that this cast told it so well.
  • BPM, casting dirs. Leila Fornier and Sarah Teper – If I’m less enamored with BPM than other folks, there’s no denying the politically charged energy of its cast is an unbelievably boon to giving this story life. And if I quibble that the film’s attention slims itself so much to only two cast members, who am I to complain with Arnaud Valois’s fresh-eyed activist and especially Nahuel Perez Biscayart’s livewire ACT-UP lieutenant, blessing 2017 cinemas with its most out-and-proud queer protagonist in a sea of great LGBT films. But I’d be remiss to push off the rest of the supporting cast, who all grace their protesters with legitimate points of view despite minimal screen time and few close-up shots. In framing and blocking the actors are usually grouped together to discuss and later enact protests and raids, even when a scene is focused on shared ideas and bristling conflict between specific individuals. The whole ensemble brings vibrancy and anger and intelligence and love to these folks, creating a community as much as they’re creating a political movement (though aren’t those things usually intertwined?). The performances of the corporate suits that ACT-UP and other activist groups are attacking and negotiating with are also given ground to stand on, pissed off by how they’re treated but neither vilified by the film nor exempt from criticism. Forgive me for not singling out actors, even as I recall the faces and roles of the various leaders of the group, the students, the highest ranked lesbian, the mother who’s more vocal than her teenaged son, though the tapestry that these folks weave together is even more impressive than any single achievement. Everybody has something to say in BPM, and through their interpreters each side is given real ground to stand on, real ideas to contribute, all aimed at the same, shared goal of moving forward.
  • Get Out, casting dir. Terri Taylor – Surely we all knew Jordan Peele’s versatility as an actor going into Get Out, but who knew he could coordinate such a dissimilar ensemble to yield such hypnotic and gut-churning results? Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris is observant and self-aware, savvy to these white people’s blaring dogwhistles without being sure what their ultimate intentions are. That we see everything he does but don’t yell at him for not trying to leave sooner is a much a tribute to Kaluuya’s playing as it is to Peele’s plotting. I’ve already sung my praises for Allison Williams, but how about a round of applause to everyone else in the Armitage family, finding their own combination of liberal geniality, unaware racism, and outright menace, and having the smarts to know when to flaunt those traits for maximum impact. The party guests contribute their own confrontationally unwelcome air, as do Marcus Henderson’s gardener and especially Betty Gabriel’s maid. Lil Rel Howery’s funny-then-scared best friend provides a welcome antidote to cut through the menace, even as he gets closer to the truth than he expects. No cast member seems to be projecting the same tone as anyone else, yet each one not only works brilliantly with the whole but contributes something spooky and singular to this outraged horror story.
  • Lady Bird, casting dirs. Heidi Griffiths, Allison Jones, Toni Staniewicz, Jordan Thaler – Where Get Out’s cast plays their roles in furious broad strokes, I think of Lady Bird’s ensemble reaching the same kind of heights through watercoloring their parts. Also like Get Out, the synchronicity of Lady Bird’s cast feels beautifully informed by the kind of great performances that their writer/director has been so lauded for giving in the past, full of attentive detail so that characters we hang out with far less than others feel as fleshed-out and alive as the folks whose story this actually is. The whole cast capably leaps over the gaps in time the script hops over, coordinating with the film’s lightness of tone to create rich interior lives for their characters. Stephen McKinley Henderson’s soulsick priest and Lois Smith’s plucky, attentive nun stand as maybe my favorite example this year of actors delivering full characters from very little material, while Beanie Feldstein gifts Lady Bird (and Lady Bird) with an earnestly sweet friend with a surprisingly sad core. Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet play two very differently incorrect boyfriends of Lady Bird’s, one sweet and one pretentious. Jordan Rodrigues and Marielle Scott find real layers to their argumentative big brother and quiet girlfriend archetypes, and if Laurie Metcalf got her bouquet in the last installment and Saoirse’s is on the way, why not throw my last mention towards Tracy Lett’s subdued but wholly sympathetic father/husband, who could use some love. And a job. From top to bottom, the folks of Lady Bird feel like people you could meet on the street.
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), casting dirs. Douglas Aibels and Francine Maisler – Nobody in the Meyerowitz family has been in it as long as everybody else. They’re all aware of the role they think they have with their father, the domineering patriarch sculpted by Dustin Hoffman that sits at the film’s center, as well as the role they’re perceived to have with him and with each other by their relatives, two things that sometimes but never totally intersect. It’s a tribute to Noah Baumbach that he wrote such specific characters for his cast to play while still leaving them room to shape such mannered and neurotic personalities, but it’s an even bigger tribute to said cast for making those characters stand up so hilariously and so sadly on the screen. The various artistic pursuits in and out of the family, thwarted and thriving, past and present, are treated as far more serious endeavors and more wrapped up in the personalities of the characters than most films about artists care to talk about. The whole family is navigating how to nurse the chips on their shoulders, how to mend them, and occasionally how to hurl them at each other with pinpoint accuracy. Elizabeth Marvel’s grace and ballast in an abbreviated role stands out in part because she, out of everyone else, seems to have the shortest distance to cross between who she is and how she’s perceived, but the more openly wounded and equally funny hurdles that Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller cross as her siblings are just as poignant, to stay nothing of Emma Thompson’s fruity but insightful wife, Grace Van Patten’s artistically risque daughter, and cameos gracing the edges of the film from Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, and Sigourney Weaver.

Best Foreign Film

  • A Ciambra, Italy, dir. Jonas Carpignano – One of two films on the list that manages that very European trick of making a horse seem like a mystical element in life of a lower class character in unfavorable circumstances. A Ciambra is something of a vicious story, dramatizing the process by which a Romani criminal family tries and fails to keep one of its youngest members from following in their footsteps, even as he idolizes an older brother who can’t stop coming in contact with the police. No one is able to keep their own lives in place enough to stop young Pio, though they earnestly mean to until his success winds up forcing them to rely on him. In actuality, the story is centered around the boy allowing himself to be shoved into adulthood faster than he has any right to be, shaped with such force and muscularity that it doesn’t matter how little the kid actor at the center is contributing to the film. Brief flourishes into unreality, be they completely unreal by way of a dead relative guiding a horse into a dark alley or disturbing actualities like a bunch of K-thru-6 aged kids swapping a cigarette, give A Ciambra the feeling of a fable as Pio navigates new criminal communities. Failing upwards as much as he genuinely succeeds, it’s a compelling coming of age story that I’ll be happy to keep talking about in 2018.
  • Félicité, Senegal, dir. Alain Gomis – There isn’t a single 2017 film I’ve had a harder time being able to articulate my praise for than Félicité, even after being hypnotized by it twice now. I think this has something to do with the fact that Félicité is such a shape-shifting movie within itself, constantly altering its stakes while flirting with different generic conventions and taking its trajectory into genuinely unpredictable places. It has the capacities at different points to be a maternal melodrama, a thriller, a romance, a medical recovery story, a bleak tragedy, but Gomis synthesizes these elements into a wholly unique tone while still incorporating scenes of cabaret performances in a back alley and a church choir drenched in blue light. Traversing through Senegal across class barriers and neighborhoods, the story follows three very specific characters realized by three revelatory and skillful performers at the center of the film’s action. Each one is the center of Félicité’s narrative at one point or another, yet Alain Gomis keeps his characters somewhat opaque without turning them into placeholders for certain kinds of characters through which the film can impart unto us some grand idea. But the occasionally unreadability of a character or their response to a situation doesn’t mean the film isn’t constantly asking is audience to think about what we’re seeing, to investigate their own reactions even as Félicité herself remains willfully tough to read. The depth with which Félicité examines its own ideas about itself as it constantly changes what those ideas are has been one of the most enduring pleasures of this year.
  • Last Men in Aleppo, Syria/Denmark, dir. Feras Fayyad – As a college student whose primary news sources are through digital platforms, and whose sources seem more interested in topics other than the Syrian Civil War when America’s involvement isn’t at stake, I wasn’t initially sure I walked into Last Men in Aleppowith all the context I might have. Thankfully, the film takes a little time to spell out the progress of the war before plunging us into the POVs of the White Helmets. From there, the politics and contents of Last Men in Aleppo are almost brutally simple. Geopolitical complexities and motivations behind the war are only mentioned in a prologue card, as the men on the ground spend their time trying to survive through the hellish war zones. How this happened matters, certainly, but now the only thing these men can do is try to stay alive and help others do the same. The efforts of the men onscreen are galvanizing, though to save myself from fully repeating the Documentary write-up for this film I’ll use these last lines to celebrate the fact that Feras Fayyad and his team went on the ground to capture these acts at all. It’s hard not to think about the effort they must have undergone to get this footage, just as it’s hard not to think about essentially everything going on in Last Men in Aleppo, and though the ultimate honors surely belong to the White Helmets themselves, it’d be unfair to overlook the comparable risk and danger that filmmaker and crew experienced in order to make their movie.
  • Nocturama, France, dir. Bertrand Bonello – Caveat: I realized after writing this that the release date doesn’t qualify Nocturama for this category, but I really like it more that my also-rans, and I already wrote the damn thing, so here goes. If it’s bold to make a film like Paradise Now that utilizes conventional storytelling techniques and gimmicks to suggest the terrorist brothers at the film’s center are actually people, I’d say it’s a good step above that to do what Nocturama does and abstract the motivations and ideologies of the central squad of hot, racially diverse, college brochure cover ready twentysomethings who blow up a little bit of Paris and kill a guy or two before hiding out in an empty shopping mall for the night. Slip ups and confessions of anxiety leaves us unsure that anyone will actually survive the night, to say nothing of the convoluted logic behind staying in the mall to begin with. We watch these characters luxuriate in one of the most entertainingly capitalist venues they possibly could’ve chosen, something that may read as ironic if any one economic or political stratum these characters professed felt more palpably ingrained in them. But from setting up their dominos to playing around an empty funhouse in the fallout, director Bertrand Bonello plays with how sympathetic we should feel for these characters, their motivations not just for this attack but for even forming a group between such dissimilar personalities in the first place – though they’re all unified by a similar ache of dissatisfaction. Auteurist gambits don’t always serve the piece, but they mostly do, and Bonello winds up creating a gutsy, politically ambitious artwork – whatever year it belongs to, that more than qualifies it for recognition.
  • Western, Germany/Austria/Bulgaria, dir. Valeska Grisebach – The other film in this category I’ll be delighted to gush about for the next twelve months, and the other one that makes its horses such a fascinating part of the narrative. If I’m not as familiar with the titular genre and the tropes that come with it as I should be, I can still sit in awe of what Valeska Grisebach has so ingeniously crafted. Shot so as to feel both intimate with its characters yet distanced at appropriate moments, Western provides a tremendous treatise on notions of community and communication, premised on a new recruit at a German construction company moving a little too easily between the crew and the small Bulgarian village that hired them for anyone’s comfort. Well, some of the Bulgarians like him, and not all the Germans care as ardently, but the effect of this mysterious loner, claiming to be a former legionnaire, is immediately felt in both parties. We also see the less successful interactions, particularly involving the site manager of the crew, but how differently are they ultimately? What does this new recruit want out of a village that seems to go out of its way to view him as an outsider, even as barriers of language prove to be one of the less powerful obstacles between the two groups fully understanding each other? Western doesn’t answer any of these questions neatly, if at all, and if it doesn’t necessarily end the way you’d expect it to, its refusal to couch to narrative expectations at all points is one of its many glorious achievements.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Atomic Blonde, Jonas Jannson & co. – ‪Modulates expertly between vicious and cartoony effects in the fight scenes without toning down the impact. Even if a fight is so easy for Lorraine that one cop lets out a Wilhelm Scream as he’s dragged across the floor while she flies out a window to the tune of George Michael’s “Father Figure”, the song floating in and out of the diegesis, the sound team always makes sure that the sound of those poor sops getting the shit beaten out of them still hurts. The brutality of the combat scenes still carries when Lorraine faces genuine challengers, like the imposing blond man in the movie theater and the abandoned hotel. Grunts of pain, gasping breaths, and hoarse battle cries are just as loud as the gunfire and smashed objects without getting lost in or superceding the violence (my favorite noise: Lorraine smashing a keyboard against said blond Russian). It also has a lot of fun with its soundtrack, energizing fights and slicking montages with era-appropriate jams that solidify the setting while amping it to pop art.
  • Blade Runner 2049, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth & co. – I’m already wondering if I’ll regret not giving this slot to The Lost City of Z right off the bat, and in fact I think both mixes share a lot of the same, admirable qualities in how they serve their films while standing out on their own. Is it simply that Blade Runner 2049 is willing to be louder in its modulations than Zdoes, given the latter film’s interest in introspection and other, less worldly bents? But that’s reductive to the aims and success of both films, not just Blade Runner’s own heady ambitions but the fact that its high volume is just as necessary to its film as Z’sdifferently impactful soundscape. If Blade Runner 2049’s score is less of an achievement on its own than Z’s, it’s used just as capably and with a little more flexibility: guiding mood and intention of less emotive and less knowable characters. Even if the pace of the film is slower than I’d like it to be, the sound mix greatly contributes to an atmospheric sense of meaning behind these actions, conjuring a grandiosity that none of the characters seem all that interested in embodying.
  • Get Out, Trevor Gates & co. – ‪Nothing distinguishes a great, well-constructed horror film like having a killer sound design. It helps when you have a fantastic score to work off like the aggressive, moody, versatile one Michael Abels has composed, but it helps even more to know how to modulate that score, when to let it simmer under a scene and when to let it overwhelm one. It also matters how well you deploy it, briefly spiking scenes so that Georgina is essentially a jump scare as she flits about the house until her conversation with Chris. Scrapping teaspoons are augmented by the yawning void of the Sunken Place and the muffled voices of those dictating his fate as he’s falling into it. Individual noises like the sounds of phone cameras clicking and acts of violence – not just the bloody march out, but the deer too – are strategically and effectively augmented, and it helps when the cast performs their line readings so melodically that a change in pitch and tone alters the mood of a whole scene. Look to the hypnosis sequence for proof of how economically Get Outmanipulates all of the above elements; its sound design is expertly crafted, to frightening and powerful effect.
  • mother!, Paula Fairfield and Simon Poudrette – It’s one thing for mother! to have so much control and conviction behind its individual diegetic elements (see: my Sound Editing write up a few entries down). It’s another feat altogether for mother! to have so many of those individual elements overlapping each other at the same time, and keeping them from becoming a cacophony of sound that nullifies itself rather than creating an overwhelming sense of chaos. And mother! pulls off the latter achievement quite stunningly in the second half, as the house becomes overrun with sycophants bent on ripping it apart and remaking it in the image of their great poet. The horde is powerfully realized on a sonic level, lone voices mixing together and making up a gigantic, oppressive force. After such compelling trailers I’m hoping for some way to hear the score that the late Jóhann Jóhannsson wrote for the film, but I agree with the decision to remove it. mother!’s soundscape is violent and insinuating, keeping one foot somewhere in how these events would actually sound, and another in the heightened reality that the film actually exists in, and completely articulate in handling individual noises and building them towards a larger, incomprehensible and flesh-scurrying scream.
  • Phantom Thread, David Acord, John Migley, Andrew Sissions & co. – On rewatch of Phantom Thread, the sound of it impressed me as much as the lush cinematography and lead performances. The daily hustle and bustle about the House of Woodcock is astutely put together, with small details are made plausible and noticeable without drawing too much attention to any one element. It’s chaotic and busy the way the day for someone with a chaotic and busy schedule is, though there are plenty of moments for tranquility. The scratching of Reynolds’ pen on his workbook is almost soothing, though of course the best part of Phantom Toast’s sonic routine is Alma disrupting it by preparing her breakfast at a comedically high volume. The impossible muteness with which she eats her breakfast later, and the increase in volume on her honeymoon are one of the earliest glimpses we get into how Alma will test Reynolds, though none are funnier than this. Also more impressive on rewatch: Jonny Greenwood’s lush, romantic but not Romantic score, integrated more fully into its scenes than I remembered instead of just laying on top of them, carrying mood fully while letting the actors and Anderson do their own psychologizing. Even in scenes with their own bands playing in the diegesis, like Barbara Rose’s wedding and the New Year’s Eve party, the film’s sonic elements are as fittingly interwoven as one of Reynolds’ dresses, as sumptuous for the ears as Phantom Thread is for the eyes.

Best Sound Editing

  • Blade Runner 2049, Mark Mangini, Theo Green & co. – Like the production design, the sound editing of Blade Runner 2049 is appropriately mundane in realizing a version of the future even more dilapidated than the original. New and old machines have the same functional efficiency and lack of pizzazz, though this doesn’t double back on itself into sonic bleakness. This is a pretty technologically advanced world after all, even if the people living through it have seen some shit getting to it. There’s simply no sheen to the soundscape or the machinery making those noises – we’re far removed from the vibrant whooshes and explosions of Star Wars – instead listening to something much grottier and worn down. Buzzes and hums sound wholly their own, winding up with their own specificity through the sheer effort the sound team has gone to to mute their film of any obvious dazzle.
  • Dunkirk, Richard King, Alex Gibson & co. – I remember initially quibbling that the film privileges so much attention to the machines and bullets that the natural environment, particularly the ocean itself, felt like an afterthought. My two–part rejoinder to myself is 1) No, hun, they remembered the waves. It’s pretty detailed in the Mark Rylance boat section, to say nothing of Fionn Whitehead on that windy beach. Don’t forget about all that wreckage sinking into the sea either, which brings me to 2) Buddy, of course the artillery is going to be loud as hell. They’re trying not to die! It’s all warfare! Gunfire and ships and soaring rubble explode with equal force. Tom Hardy nyooms and soars across the sky with Jack Lowden shooting down enemy fighters, the buzz of their Spitfires flying to Dunkirk becoming more crucial as the soldiers and the Rylance character distinguish between the sounds of incoming enemy and ally planes, preparing themselves accordingly. The groaning of blasted-out ships practically collapsing on themselves as they’re swallowed by the ocean is as indelible as Zimmer’s score, and if I still don’t believe that the sound mixers couldn’t have made their combined barrage as powerful while also letting character dialogue be, like, hearable, the graphic impact of so much destruction is a pretty incredible achievement.
  • The Lost City of Z, Robert Hein & co. – From the buzzing of machinery to the buzzing of insects, the crackle of gunfire to the crackle of hearths, The Lost City of Z sound design does its best work keeping track of the teeming environment that Percy sets out to navigate, be it South American jungles or English guild houses and military parties. Even as the film’s (and Percy’s) obsessions grow from physical locations to the ache in one’s soul that would lead him to those places, the sound team pays careful attention to the atmospheric hums of wherever Percy is exploring as well as more specific triggers that keep him and his story rooted in the real world. Attention deserves to be paid to the sounds of Percy and his party traversing around the jungle, as well as the stifled rooms of English autocrats, but I’ll take this space to single out the briefly inhabited but utterly convincing space of the World War I bunker that our explorers end up at. Gunfire and gas bombs, stomping boots and men’s chatter, are all artfully realized. The exemplary detail given to this ultimately small segment of the film is exemplary of the attention paid across the rest of the film.
  • mother!, Jill Purdy & co. – Writing this post before going to the Sound Mixing lineup, I had a tough time recognizing if mother!belongs to one or both categories. It obviously wound up in both, but Sound Editing at the very least was an easy, easy decision. And what sound it has. Given how much of the film is not just from the Lawrence character’s perspective but squarely told following her through her house, I appreciated the Coen-like effort of the sound crew with realizing the house itself. They find the right volume for the sound to be pitched slightly higher than reality, yet the attention to so many details grounds the plot even as it shits up to hell. Plodding footsteps and scraping pots help convey this rustic environment, while the bizarre twinkle of that stardust powder Mother puts in her water is as unsettling as the sounds of her stirring that ugly paint, thunking it on the wall and spreading it out is profoundly depressing. The sound team also keeps the chaos of the second half deeply controlled, refusing to key up every effect so high as to make the soundscape muddle itself out. Favorite individual effects: Him angrily capping his pen before seeing who this unexpected guest is, the hideous crack of a failed Simba-ing, Mother in the boiler room at the end.
  • Nocturama, Robert Keilbar & co. – It’s the little things that make a movie work, that make its environment feel a little more plausible and helps the whole thing click. I loved the way Nocturama’s sound fills whatever room the characters are in, manipulated the songs blasting in empty, cavernous malls and tiny, secretive rooms, and how their volumes changed depending on where you were in relation to the source of the music rather than just laying the song score over the film in post and not integrating into the setting at all. Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” blaring over silent news footage of the terrorist’s destruction on the TV while the perpetrators gawk at the footage is a startling juxtaposition, almost as impactful as a character’s lip-synced drag performance to Shirley Bassey’s cover of “My Way” towards the end of the film, which plays like a haunted epitaph for him and everyone else in the mall. The boom of exploding cars and buildings, the crinkle of fire licking a gold statue of Joan of Arc, the coldness of bullets gunning down unsuspecting dignitaries and surrendering college students all carry their own force. This use of sound to choreograph the mall’s geography and convey the blunt impact of terrorist and police weaponry never matters more than in the vicious finale, as we must gauge when and where characters are killed as the ending loops back on itself from different perspectives, as the music and the gunfire get louder or quieter, closer or farther.
Other 2017 Ballots

2017 (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4) |

Other Ballots

| 2020 | 2019 | 2018 |

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