The Friendly Film Fan Names Its Best of the Year in Film in 15 Categories.
The time has come to reflect on and crown the best of the year in film, which can only be found here, on The Friendly Film Fan. Does the Academy choose the best in film by any objective measure? No. But I do. (I kid, I kid.) I do hope you all have been looking forward to this day as much as I have. Some of these races were quite close, others were wrapped up soon after they began; regardless, all nominees present are more than worthy of acclaim, though some have yet to be recognized with wins, even here. With all that said, it’s time to celebrate excellence. Here are your winners for the 6th Annual Friendly Film Fan Awards!
Best Sound Design:
The first thing one encounters when booting up Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 adaptation of Dune is not image, but sound. Sound of a voice, of a quote pertinent to the story we’re about to see in ways still not fully understood, and unlikely to be fulfilled until Part Two releases in 2023 or 2024. The sounds of Dune rumble beneath the film as the sandworms do beneath Arrakis, constantly present and beautiful, but also destructive and vengeful in their practice. The sounds of Dune could fill an entire score by themselves, and they may still be listened to by film enthusiasts for decades to come. Throat singing, bagpipes, chants, slow blades, sandworms, and all manner of ships come roaring to life with stellar mixing and editing in the sound department, so Dune is out selection for Best Sound Design.
Best Visual Effects:
Visual effects can be obvious or subtle, disclosed or hidden, graphically impressive or entirely invisible – such has been the case for many of the latter contenders with the Academy Awards. This is not the Academy Awards, but there are many times when our thinking does overlap; such is the case with Dune and its astonishing visual effects. From whole new effects systems such as sand-screens made to mimic a desert image to the creation of its signature creature, the sandworm, the effects of Dune pull the viewer into its world with an unshakable sense of clarity and awe. To bring both Caladan and Arrakis to life with such vivid imagery requires an immense level of craftsmanship unseen to this scale since Lord of the Rings, and Dune more than manages the task.
A great screenplay can be quotable, poignant, visceral, fast-paced, and intentional all at once, or it can be none of these or a combination of any of them sometimes and not others; the screenplay for Mass teeters on the knife’s edge between melodramatic and underserves, but never once makes any indication of tipping to either side of the blade on which it rests, and that is a razor thing blade. To tell a story like this between four characters talking in a room demands a script as interesting as the players in it; it demands the level of sophistication and nuance a film like Mass lives and dies on, and every word of Fran Kranz’ dialogue reinforces just how many angles conversations like it can take. If there is any screenplay more worthy of recognition in 2021, it has not yet presented itself to us.
Best Original Score:
As much as the sounds of Dune are integral to its makeup, the score of Dune is integral to its legacy. The themes of Arrakis and Caladan which mirror each other in various ways to the creation of instruments simply to capture sounds for the film, Hans Zimmer has crafted here his best musical score since The Lion King in 1994, a magnificent cacophony of sound and place so immediate one cannot hear the bagpipes, Arrakis’ vocal cry, or the beating drums and not know exactly where they are. It is without doubt the best and most rousing score of 2021.
Best Character Design (Costumes + Makeup & Hairstyling):
In creating memorable characters, both costume designers and the makeup department set out to create a distinct look that makes their character stand out whilst matching the film they inhabit, and no film brought about more distinct looks in 2021 than Disney’s Cruella, a staggering fashion saga oft told through a lens that cannot contain its ambition within four walls. Newspaper dresses and flammable disguises, Cruella not only elevates its title character’s status in the villainess world but embraces its ludicrousness by going all-out with the design of each character. In a year full of distinct looks, this one still stood amongst the best.
Best Production Design:
To realize a world on screen, especially one as well-known and held dear as those in Dune by those most passionate about its material, is a feat worthy of the highest recognition; as such, this year’s Friendly Film Fan award for Production Design goes to the team that created the ornithopters of Arrakis so vividly, filled Arrakis with painstaking detail reflective of this universe’s impossibly epic scope, and brought to life the first half of a novel previously deemed unfilmable. Dune is an achievement in Production Design unlike any before it, not concerned with recreation or reinterpretation so much as pure creation, as adaptation. Denis Villeneuve and company have built something monumental in the legacy of Dune, and if Part Two can capture the same magic, this text shall be remembered as the definitive guide to crafting excellence in the sci-fi genre post-Blade Runner.
Best Film Editing:
Combining re-created sequences of a dangerous rescue and mixing them with genuine documentary footage such that one can’t tell which is which is an astonishing achievement, but even more astonishing may be that The Rescue also uses its editing of these sequences to tell a story that builds on itself as it goes for almost its entire runtime. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi put on a masterclass for documentary filmmakers looking to find a story by not only stumbling on one in the moment, but finding one in the edit bay, one of unparalleled heroism and bravery in the face of contentious forces and impossible odds. The story of miracles has always been marked by impossibility; The Rescue’s editing makes that impossibility a tangible reality.
Dune is filled with stunning images, but cinematography isn’t only about imagery; it is about capturing the essence of a story, the essence of what look best enhances that story, and no film quite captures the essence of itself by its photography in quite the way The Power of the Dog manages to. Ari Wegner’s expert capture of the New Zealand backdrop in which the movie was filmed evokes 1925 Montana with stunning clarity, each wide telling of the story’s isolation, its distance, each close-up more meaningful than most entire dialogue sequences from other works. This was the closest race to call for these awards, but in the end, Ari Wegner’s photography simply imbues this film with a look both reminiscent and simultaneously critical of old western archetypes.
Best Stunt Ensemble:
Stunts take a lot of work, but it is often the teams one doesn’t see on screen that make them happen in such fluid motion, and nowhere is fluid motion more precise, refined, or necessary that in Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi. As a martial arts master, the title character’s hand-to-hand combat sequences needed to reflect his fighting style to unparalleled degrees, and certainly to degrees the MCU had not reached since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It would seem they pulled it off, not once or twice, but three times in the same film, and all of this is done with grace, precision, passion. Each fight feels visceral, creative, full of energy. For any action film to have these qualities is good; for Shang-Chi to have them in such style is worthy of an award.
Best Supporting Actress:
Though several are worthy, no star shone quite as bright or quite as immediately as Ariana DeBose, playing Anita in West Side Story. The young Hamilton breakout not only embodies every quality that made fans of the material fall in love with Anita in the first place – her sass, her charm, her range of emotion – but also imbues the character with her own sense of place, of life, of rhythm which Rita Moreno (though she is wonderful) did not quite have in the 1961 film. Everything that makes Anita work in West Side Story is not only present, but enhanced by the performance of Ariana DeBose, and we will be there cheering on our own Best Supporting Actress winner come Oscar night.
Best Supporting Actor:
C’mon C’mon, much like The Worst Person in the World, is also about finding one’s place, figuring out one’s life as it begins to build itself around you; this time, however, it’s a child’s life as he is taken by his uncle so that his mother can take care of his estranged father. Woody Noman’s performance is an astonishing feat, not only for a British actor flawlessly perfecting an American dialect, but also of relatability. Norman understands Mike Mills’ wonderful script by imbuing it with a sense of curiosity, of the drive to learn and grow right from the jump. The film never treats him as anything or anyone but a deeply intelligent human being with childlike curiosities and childlike habits, as Norman turns from philosophizing to desperately needing a bathroom within the space of ten minutes of screentime. And through it all, he never once loses the viewer. This will be remembered by those who witnessed its greatness as one of the best child performances in any movie ever made, and the Best Supporting Actor performance of 2021.
Have you ever wondered whether your life was even in your control or just in the space you allowed it to be for the moment? Are you nearing what you feel may be the end of your adjustment period in life, unsure of who you’re meant to be or to be with, or what you’re meant to do? Renate Reinsve’s Julie in The Worst Person in the World, as she verges on turning 30, embodies every characteristic of a young woman attempting to figure herself out at an age when that time has passed for those around her. For those unsure, for those still searching, for all who wander and are indeed lost, Reinsve’s performance is not simply a brilliant showcase of unwavering commitment to character and talent to match the wonderful script, it is a call to embrace the unknowing. There is simply not a better Lead Actress performance to be found in 2021.
The Best Actor candidates this year all turned in remarkable work, from a career-best resurgence in dramatic tenderness to an undeniable and charismatic toxin to ambitious kings and tennis coaches. But none stuck out so much as a repressed rancher unable to reckon with what happened to him or how he might happen to others underserving of such villainy. Or is it villainy at all? Benedict Cumberbatch digs deep into The Power of the Dog, and comes out on a level few actors ever achieve. Vile, full of loathing, and eerily apathetic to the natural cruelty which he doles to others, Phil Burbank is imbued with a haunting pathos by Cumberbatch’s unwavering gaze, often steely but never fully resolved. It is for these reasons we award him Best Actor of 2021.
Direction is often about placing one’s fingerprints on something or removing them entirely. But this year, directing was about finding a measure of balance between those two ideals. Jane Campion’s work on The Power of the Dog is very much marked by her fingerprints, but they don’t overwhelm the film such that this is all one can see. To bring storytelling this complex to life, a steady hand needs to guide each part into its place without being too overbearing or too apathetic. Campion’s direction here embodies that balance by pulling phenomenal performances out of great actors, stunning imagery from her DP, and an acute sense of letting it all rest just so. There are fewer examples one will find of a director doing their job perfectly or near-perfectly than Jane Campion this year.
Best Picture is so much more than just “what was the best movie of its year?” In fact, it’s so much more than whatever our favorite movie of the year was, even if we wouldn’t say our personal favorites were the best based on craft or storytelling. Sometimes Best Picture is about an achievement that tells us not where we’ve been, but where we could go next. That is why Flee has won The Friendly Film Fan Award for Best Picture of the Year. Flee is what is possible when the stories that matter most are paired with the only way they can be told, where storytelling meets a brand new frontier rising up to it at just the right time in just the right way. It is what the future of Hollywood looks like: diverse stories told in a myriad of different ways that touch our hearts, consume our minds, and remind us of some of the deepest truths of humanity – resilience, courage, and an intimate sense of vulnerability from those who have the most need to guard themselves. A story like this, told in this way, comes along once in 20 lifetimes, and 20 years from now people will look back on this titanic achievement in animation not as a relic, but as an essential text. Flee is what movies are made for.
And those are your winners for the 6th Annual Friendly Film Fan Awards! We hope you all are satisfied with our winner selections (even in the closer races), as we aspire every year to represent the very best in what movies have to offer in our awards shows. Come back and be a part of it all next year too, if you like. See you then!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.