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THE 13th ANNUAL MURIEL (MUR13L) AWARDS

by Dennis Cozzalio Mar 17, 2019

Critics groups. The Film Independent Spirits Awards. The Oscars. Whew. Awards season is finally over, right? Well, yes and no. Because though they have been now fully announced, you may not have heard the results from the tallying the 13th annual Muriel Awards, and awards season is not truly over until Muriel has had her say– Muriel, being the beloved guinea pig of awards founder Paul Clark, who decided to honor his beloved pet by naming these critic-based honors after her a decade and some years ago. Thirteen years, in fact, which is why Clark has taken to calling this year’s proceeding the Mur13ls.

It’s been my honor to participate in each of those 13 years, and to become familiar with some really good writers in the process. Because yes, if we’re lucky, we who vote sometimes get to write about some of our favorite nominees and winners along the way. That’s what this Mur13ls countdown roundup is all about. What follows is a listing of each 2018 Muriels winner, with a hopefully enticing excerpt from the piece submitted by an assigned critic to accompany the listing and a link to the page where the entire essay can be found. At the Muriels site,  Our Science is Too Tight, you’ll also find stats on the runners-up for each category and listings of every movie that received a vote toward a nomination.

I’ve got two pieces in the awards this year, and we’ll get to those eventually. Right now, let’s start in the order the awards were rolled out over the past two weeks, before, during, and after the announcement of the Academy Awards. Because Oscar isn’t the only game in town. Plump and hairy to complement the gold man’s sleek, shiny design, Muriel is here to stay and getting better every year. And now the first Muriel Award goes to…

BEST DOCUMENTARY  Minding The Gap

“Even as Liu confronts the abuse that all three subjects (himself included) suffered growing up, and the ways that that abuse has carried on into the next generation, he never loses sight of the excitement and beauty of skateboarding as an outlet for the three men (and others) to escape their problems and recapture some youthful innocence and enthusiasm. That through line, along with the genuine personal relationships among the three men, allows Liu to touch on issues of race, class and gender without ever coming across as heavy-handed or preachy.” (Josh Bell)

BEST MUSIC  If Beale Street Could Talk

“Nicholas Britell’s score is crucial to the film’s emotionally wide-ranging affect, with swooning cellos and jazzy trumpets alternating with subtly foreboding electronic drones and quietly doom-laden percussion. As entrancing as it is to hear Britell’s music in context, however, it’s even more illuminating to hear it in isolation, where one can appreciate the depth of the composer’s imagination.” (Kenji Fujishima)

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE  Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

“Fisher’s Kayla reminds all of us about our needy Eighth Grade selves. Watch her attempts to join in conversations with the more popular kids. Fisher’s timing is absolutely expert in those moments. She also gives a great physical performance: slouched shoulders, that defeated walk, those averted eyes. Fisher helps the viewer experience everything Kayla feels–mostly frustration, social anxiety, fear, getting lost while surfing the web while hoping for likes, clicks, and shares (the way most people do on social media–eighth grade or not).” (Brian Wilson)

50th ANNIVERSARY AWARD  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

“Everything about it feels enormous, demanding the biggest screen available. A single edit spans millions of years, suggesting a story about the entire history of the human race, or at least a topic as broad as ‘man’s use of tools.’ Yet it ends intimately, with one man alone inside the vastness of space, of time, of his mind. Maybe.” (Vern)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #5:  Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

“It’s a juicy, hammy role, perfectly suited to about half of all British actors of a certain age, but Grant knows exactly when to go over the top and when to play it close to the vest, which points to allow Jack’s neuroses and insecurities to poke through the carefully crafted demeanor of a man who is already playing an outsize version of himself.” (Jeff McMahon)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #4:  Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

“Much like Weisz’ appearance in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, she is able to hold the states of ridiculous and serious at once, a tightrope of facial expressions, tone and restraint mixed with a precise understanding of the material and her body and camera in space: a pure artful display of cinematic acting. (As Lady Sarah), her vacillation between power and powerlessness- being in favor and out of favor– is what makes Weisz’ performance so sickeningly irresistible.” (Donna Kozloskie)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #3:  Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

“In virtually every shot, you can see the pain and anguish on his face. (To quote my friend and fellow film critic Sean Burns, Jordan hurts in this movie.) He doesn’t make Killmonger out to be just another, run-of-the-mill Marvel villain selfishly out to rule/destroy the gotdamn world. He’s a man who’s fed up with white supremacy (and the Black people who won’t do anything about it) and wants to launch a full-scale revolution so Black folk all over the world can finally have the upper hand. It’s not every day that the MCU gives us a heavy who inspired thinkpieces debating whether or not dude’s Evil Plan was actually all that evil.” (Craig D. Lindsey)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE (MALE): Steven Yeun, Burning

“It’s the yawn. The yawn says so much about Ben, the way he doesn’t appear to give much away but has just told you everything. He lets it happen and locks eyes with the camera, no guilt about it but he’s not exactly sneering. It’s just a yawn that says ‘we both know I’m gonna get away with it.’ What is it? Anything he thinks he can get from you… He’s beatific and resigned, calm and sure of himself. He even leaves clues to his crimes lying around to vex his nemesis. He doesn’t care that you know everything about him.” (Scout Tafoya)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE (FEMALE): Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

“As Sharon Rivers, Regina King lights If Beale Street Could Talk” with a maternal glow that serves as a port in the storm surrounding the lovers Fonny and Tish. Her beacon burns brightly, illuminating a path for not only her daughter but her future son-in-law as well. She is the quintessential mother, comforting and warm yet in command of a fierceness that protects her progeny like the strongest armor. Sharon’s chainmail has been forged in the fires of an unjust, unequal America; when her daughter faces similar injustices, Sharon shrewdly prepares for battle.” (Odie Henderson)

OUSTANDING BODY OF WORK: Brian Tyree Henry

“In 2018, Brian Tyree Henry had eleven credits on the IMDB, spanning film and TV with deliberate reach. If he had just had his turns in Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Widows– that would have been enough to shame most careers as far as spanning genres and personae. But to start one day hearing colleagues at work talking about how great he was in Beale Street, and then hear the same thing from a bunch of teens talking about how great he was as Miles’ dad in Into The Spider-Verse later on in the same day; that doesn’t happen often. And it’s a testament to Henry’s tireless work ethic that it is happening.” (Jason Shawhan)

25th ANNIVERSARY AWARD: Dazed and Confused

“Keeping the political landscape of the era in the margins allows Linklater to elevate the emotional landscapes and keep focus on the more quotidian problems his characters are experiencing. Like getting Aerosmith tickets, finding a new location for the party, for the senior to find freshmen to beat, or for the freshman to find ways to fight back. What elevates Dazed beyond the average teen comedy is how deeply invested it is in these mini-dramas without overestimation their importance beyond the moment. As Linklater observes in the making of documentary, for teenagers ‘the stakes are low, but it’s your life. So the stakes are actually pretty high.’” (Kevin Cecil)

BEST SCREENPLAY: Paul Schrader, First Reformed

“It all has a touch of the personal; Schrader famously escaped into the cinema from a Calvinist upbringing indistinguishable to an outsider (or, indeed, many insiders) from systematic abuse, and while so many of his most famous protagonists spend seasons in various urban hells, First Reformed sees him return to small-town America, and struggle with his demons in the gray, wintry light of day. Home, where you can’t blame being lost on being in a foreign land. Daytime, without darkness in which to hide. God shows His face when he feels like it, not when you want Him to.” (Danny Bowes)

BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE: Support the Girls

“Lisa’s struggle throughout the film is not that of a manager trying to ensure solid work from her employees but rather that of a mother trying to achieve social coherence within her work family. She’s only kidding herself, and the chaotically amusing performances of the rest of Support the Girls‘ cast drive home that delusion. Haley Lu Richardson’s perky Maci (picture King of the Hill‘s Luanne at the top of her class) is as winningly naïve as Shayna McHayle’s Danyelle is guardedly skeptical. In particular, Danyelle’s deadpan observation that she’s ‘pretty sure’ it’s illegal for Double Whammies to enforce an off-the-books max cap on how many black waitresses they’re allowed to hire is note perfect, as is James LeGros as the restaurant owner who came up with that policy, dead inside and ruling like a despot what miniscule corner of the business world he can claim as his own. Double Whammies may not be the family Lisa seeks, but Support the Girls‘ cast comes as close as any movie’s did this year.” (Eric Henderson)

TWOFER: BEST DIRECTION AND BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

“Roma is a deeply mythological film, too, that connects Cleo with some primal elemental force that bridges Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The very first shot of the movie shows the sky and an airplane reflected on water, water Cleo is using to scrub the floor of the drive. She tracks down Fermin, her child’s father, to a vast field of dirt. There’s a forest fire at the celebration the family attends with their affluent friends. The film climaxes in the surf, before it bookends everything with Cleo ascending to the rooftop of the house, like she’s the mediator between the sky and the other elements.” (Christianne Benedict)

BEST CINEMATIC BREAKTHROUGH: Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You

Sorry To Bother You spends its last third twisting itself into one odd metaphor after another about capitalism and the damage America’s classism and racism wreaks. If it starts to lose its footing in the final 20 minutes and goes from being laser-guided and consistently entertaining to gratuitously odd, it still feels far more together than superficially similar cult films like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. Alex Cox’s Repo Man became a hit among ‘80s punks for offering the same basic sensibility and politics. Here’s the equivalent for a new generation.” (Steven Erickson)

10th ANNIVERSARY AWARD: Wall-E

“This visionary animated film that may well be regarded one day as one of the greatest of all animated features, stretches the boundaries of the form, and of art in general… The film has its level of cynicism, and there’s a hopelessness that recalls A.I. Technically and in its painstaking attention to detail it may well be the most accomplished of animated films. It is an exhilarating film of great physical beauty and wonderment, yet like all great art, its heartbreak is palpable.” (Sam Juliano)

BEST EDITING: The Other Side of the Wind

“Welles and Murawski mix together 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm segments, variously shot in black-and-white and color, freely and seamlessly, in addition to switching aspect ratios between the 1.37:1 of the faux “documentary” footage of the party and the 1.85:1 of the film-within-the-film. It is an enormous credit to the skill of both editors (and the numerous other people involved) that this all registers not as simply as a cute formal device, but as a conscious configuration of the play between cinema and reality. And of course, it is a vital element in establishing the complex, almost free-jazz rhythm that the film takes on from almost its opening frames and carries through to the final shot — which, itself, is a post-production “fabrication” that, as paired with the closing lines, stands as one of the most enigmatic yet potent images in recent memory.” (Ryan Swen)

BEST CINEMATIC MOMENTS

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #5:  Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie, Leave No Trace

“Mackenzie’s considerable achievement here is to navigate viewers, with invisible technique and a depth of empathy that would be the hallmark of any far more seasoned actress, into an understanding of experience as this emerging young woman understands it, an understanding whose source can be traced directly to Mackenzie’s countenance and the way she occupies space, both in the frame and in her ever-new environment. By the time Tom declares to her father that ‘the same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me,’ the movie has fulfilled its unhurried journey toward sublimity, with myriad opportunities for its audience to appreciate the nuanced, rarified air of a soul discovering itself, asserting independence, breathing in the world.” (Dennis Cozzalio)

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #4: Toni Collette, Hereditary

“The obvious and easy thing would’ve been to push Annie’s brittleness, to intimate darkness and fragility as Annie shares her various traumas. Collette is smarter than that, playing the moment as pragmatic and, though she’s reluctant to open up, clear-eyed about her own baggage. There are many horror stories about broken people who are preyed upon by monsters; what sets Collette’s Annie apart is that she’s a flawed but self-aware person who tries, even before all hell breaks loose, to take care of herself. And she’s no less doomed because of it.” (Andrew Bemis)

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE COUNTDOWN #3:  Olivia Colman, The Favourite

“Towards the end of the film, she gorges herself on blue cake, takes a short break to puke, and then continues stuffing the cake in her mouth, sitting wide legged on the floor. It’s a repulsive, darkly funny tableau. Yet even in that moment, Colman doesn’t allow viewers to forget that it’s a real, complex person sitting there. And that not knowing whether or not to laugh is kind of the point.” (Hedwig van Riel)

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE (FEMALE): Regina Hall, Support the Girls

“Everybody knows a Lisa. You may have never worked in a ‘breasturant’ like Double Whammies but you probably worked with a Lisa. Familiarity helps with such a character but what makes Regina Hall as Lisa the glue in Support The Girls, and how her acting differentiates from her previous role in Girls Trip where she was also the lead and the glue of that ensemble, is that she is being crushed under the weight of modern capitalism and caught in her middle management position.” (Caden Mark Gardner)

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE (MALE):  Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Hawke shows Toller as empowered by the past and traditions of his church and faith. Reverend Toller and First Reformed Church are both imperfect, weakened vessels through Schrader’s film, but Hawke enlivens both in his performance, by becoming a man with purpose.” (Caden Mark Gardner)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #10:  Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)

“Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess took place at a programming convention; Results was a romcom about personal trainers; and here’s another oddball comedy, this one set at a Hooters-inspired sports bar. As in those earlier films, Bujalski’s jokes play with the codes and quirks of his chosen milieu. The waitresses have to tease their clientele, but can’t get too overt. ‘There is an art to this,’ says Lisa, the harried manager, to a new hire. She’s having a bad day at work, juggling duty and compassion; most of the film spans from her morning commute to the end of her shift. (Not all of it, though, as the jam-packed screenplay has some structural surprises in store.)” (Alice Stoehr)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #9: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

“Lee arranged for this film to be released on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tragic Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a counter protester, Heather Heyer, was killed. The movie ends as a tribute to Heyer, and we’re left with the horrifying thought that this shit is still happening with the flames being fanned by the asshole in the highest office in the land.” (Daniel Cook Johnson)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #8: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)

“In The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, death doesn’t just hang in the air, it’s something so close it takes on a tactile quality. It’s so inevitable that even the one victory the film allows isn’t so much because the character won his prize, but because he skirted death (for now). We’re all sharing a stagecoach ride to the end, and we all have a story about how we got there. Exploring this truth through the eyes of Buster Scruggs’ eclectic characters, the Coen Brothers present something that’s as thrilling, resonant, and meaningful as anything they’ve ever done.” (James Frazier)

 

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #7: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

“I could talk all day about what makes The Other Side of the Wind such a major and vital piece of work, and one that proves that, even thirty-plus years after his death, Orson Welles still has plenty to teach all filmmakers who care to pay attention. But there’s nothing I could say that the film itself couldn’t say twice as well as I ever could. I’ll just say that, with all the garbage that the world had to offer in the year 2018, it also gave us a brand-spanking-new Orson Welles movie. And that, like the fella said, ain’t nothin’.” (Paul Clark)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #6: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

“If this is indeed his rumination on what makes a family, you couldn’t make a much stronger argument for the Shibata family being a loving aspirational goal – a bulwark of security and support guarding against the shit and horror of the real world. But everyone has something to hide, and one aspect that ultimately makes Shoplifters feel so emotionally draining is the way Kore-eda, under the surface, was weaponizing that warmth.” (Steven Carlson)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #5:  Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

Zama is the personification of complex as it is both dreary & beautiful. I’m not usually one for hyperbolic statements, but this is one of the best films I’ve seen in years.” (Marcus Pinn)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #4: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)

“In her 2015 Dissolve interview with film critic Tasha Robinson, Debra Granik, commenting on her documentary Stray Dog (2014) about a Vietnam veteran, notes the richness of the things she wished her documentary had time to cover: ‘There could have have been a whole film that could have gone much more in-depth on therapeutic discussion, on what it takes to manage PTSD, or to face ghosts, and figure out how to live the next chapter of your life.’ Leave No Trace, Granik’s third feature-length narrative film, is, perhaps, a beautiful expression of that other film that Stray Dog did not have the space to be… The entire film is a quiet one; Granik gives her actors very little dialogue, but frames them, with beautiful work from DP Michael McDonough, in such a way that their faces and bodies communicate the emotion, the things that cannot be said but only deeply felt. Granik trusts the images to do the talking and allows room for the eloquence of silence. An unassuming but assured answer to the frantic editing and frenetic images that so often fill our cinema screens, Granik offers us space to breathe and feel, to learn to love our characters and feel with them their complicated emotions.” (Melissa Tamminga)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #3: If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

“Perhaps the biggest injustice of last week’s Oscar telecast wasn’t that Green Book, a movie where a walking Italian stereotype teaches an African-American gent how to eat fried chicken, won Best Picture over BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther, movies directed by African-American filmmakers that handled race and racism in a far more insightful, challenging, entertaining manner. (Don’t get me wrong — seeing Driving Miss Daisy 2.0 win was still fucked up.) It was that If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest from writer/director Barry Jenkins, wasn’t even in the running.” (Craig D. Lindsey)

BEST PICTURE COUNTDOWN #2: Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

“There’s a clear intention behind the use of the space inside the frame in Roma. Most of the time the characters are relegated to the background, so we get the time to fully explore the surroundings, trying to capture any period detail (or fault in it), expanding upon the ambience, helped through the impeccable sound design (which puts the camera as a physical entity where the ears capture sound as much as a person in that position is able to). This isn’t because the period detail or the sets are more important than what’s happening to the characters that inhabit them, but because those objects and sounds inform of the choices they end up making. It speaks of their social, racial and gender positions inside society. But it’s not an explicit dig by Cuarón to make these apparent or obvious, as he just decides to make a portrait of the normalcy of that moment.”

BEST PICURE COUNTDOWN #1: First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

“Among (Schrader’s) often brutal oeuvre I think he’s finally made a film which could be accurately described as exquisite, without betraying any of the rage and paranoia and unsettled psychological terrain that has earmarked both his finest and even his most flawed work. That word ‘exquisite’ should in no way imply preciousness, as if anyone describing Schrader’s work could ever make room for that adjective. First Reformed is a tormented consideration of faith (and the lack thereof), the difficult possibility of transcendence, and the seemingly even more difficult act of holding ostensibly opposed impulses of hope and despair in balance without completely losing one’s shit. Which, of course, makes it a perfect piece with Schrader’s long-expressed vision and a perfect movie for our particular moment.” (Dennis Cozzalio)

About Dennis Cozzalio

DENNIS BIO PIC

Dennis Cozzalio has been writing his all-purpose, agenda-free film criticism blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule since 2004. Cozzalio studied film at the University of Oregon in the late ‘70s and currently resides in Glendale, California where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He spends his (precious little) free time writing, cooking and trying to reconcile himself to a new reality weighted more toward catching up on movies at home, where distractions abide, and less in the overpriced, chatter-infested environs of 21st-century cinemas. His favorite movies include Nashville, The Lady Eve, Once Upon a Time in the West, Fellini Roma, His Girl Friday, Dressed to Kill, Amarcord and 1941, and he thinks Barbara Stanwyck can do no wrong.