by Kris Kristensen[This post originally appeared on the 20/20 Awards site.]
The 20/20 Awards uses the advantage of time and perspective to annually re-evaluate the Oscars from 20 years prior. Utilizing the benefit of hindsight, a voting body of film industry professionals from around the world carefully elects either new or previous nominees, and hosts a live awards ceremony, designed to both honor and offer new perspective with fresh commentary on the impact of this body of work on cinema itself, and its influence on our culture.
STORY: A detective on the eve of his retirement gets sucked in to one last case with his scrappy, young replacement. Together they must find a twisted serial killer who chooses his victims based on the seven deadly sins.
I really like this film a great deal, but I wish that I loved it. That said, it’s still one of the top films of the year, and is worth considering for best picture. A moody and twisted police drama, that is elevated above the run of the mill story that it could have been.
Best Director – David Fincher
It’s Fincher’s direction that makes this film a standout. As mentioned above, it’s his hand that guides this film from what could have been a very ordinary cop movie to something much more fun and exciting to watch. The mood and the tone of the piece is what makes this film memorable, and Fincher uses every trick in the book to keep the killer on screen while hiding his identity until the end of act two, by using silhouettes, shallow focus, reflections, costume and framing.
Best Actor – Morgan Freeman / Brad Pitt
This film really has dueling leads, where Freeman functions as our narrator, but Pitt is really the character of change. Regardless, both deliver strong performances. Yes, Freeman is the wise older detective who’s been around, but at least he’s not playing God in this film, and Pitt’s youth and good looks have him winning ever dick swinging contest in the film, up until the very end, when it’s that same energy that is ultimately his undoing. Both worth a second look.
Best Supporting Actor – See Best Actor
One could almost place either of the above performances in here, which is probably why I don’t love this film as much as I want to.
Best Supporting Actress – Gwyneth Paltrow
Paltrow has a small throwaway role in this film as Pitt’s wife, but I love what she does with it. The scene where she has coffee with Freeman and tells him about her pregnancy has lasted with me for 20 years, the way that she breakdown at the end of it. Completely genuine and real, maybe not enough to draw attention away from meatier roles out there, but it has stuck with me, just as much the twisted psychology of the serial killer character John Doe, and the amazing opening credit sequence.
Best Original Screenplay – Andrew Kevin Walker
The concept of John Doe alone is practically worth a nomination; a serial killer who kills based on the 7 deadly sins, ultimately including himself and manipulating someone else to fulfill unwillingly the sin of wraith. It’s pretty brilliant as far as killers go. I think John Doe would have been ranked up with Hannibal Lecter in film lore, had Hopkins played him. All of that said, I still feel like the script is lacking something deeper for Pitt’s character… ultimately I keep asking why is this his story, and I feel like I have to reverse engineer my answers. Again, without Fincher at the helm, I’m not sure we’d still be talking about this film today.
Best Song* – CLOSER :: Nine Inch Nails / THE HEARTS FILTHY LESSON :: David Bowie
CLOSER used in conjunction with the opening credits sets the entire tone of this film. Likewise, THE HEARTS FILTHY LESSON playing over the end credits summarizes the story rather well.
Best Score – Howard Shore
Not an in your face score, but it does the job well. Similar in tone to his earlier work in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, yet completely original and unobtrusive.
Best Editing – Richard Francis-Bruce
Editing is always tough to evaluate as it should be invisible, so what I’ll say here is that the pace is fast, it’s lean, but never in your face. There’s tension when there needs to be, so it works.
Best Art Direction – Arthur Max
This is a film that you can reach out and touch, and if you did, you would immediately want to wash your hands. Excellent work by Max. Not the type of pageantry from period pieces that tend to win you nominations, but this film is tactile and that’s certainly worth another look.
Best Cinematography – Darius Khondji
SE7EN basically rises and falls on the look of it, and in addition to the great art direction by Arthur Max, the other tone setter here is Khondji. Beautiful and haunting to look at, like an organism under the microscope. Ugly and visceral, but you can’t turn away.
Best Costume Design – Michael Kaplan
Like the art direction, this is not the typical costumes that will win you recognition, but Kaplan does a great job with all the characters, particularly Brad Pitt’s young detective. His shirts seem one or two sizes too large, he looks like a young teen wearing his dad’s shirt to the prom. Another nice touch is the leather jacket that Pitt wears, it’s a skin, and he’s a raw nerve as compared to Freeman’s methodical counterpart. Subtle, but nice work.
Best Makeup & Best Visual Effects
I’ve lumped these two categories together, because I’m not sure when the victims in this film are make up, and when they’re a special effect, but either way they’re top notch. Like the art direction and costume, these aren’t in your face CGI and aliens kind of work, this is crime scene, nasty, realistic makeup/fx, the type of work that could easily be overlooked since it appears grisly and real.
*The 20/20 Awards vote for BEST USE OF SONG, not Best Original Song.
Kris is a Seattle based filmmaker, and the cofounder and president of the 20/20 awards. His filmmaking philosophy is “when in doubt, steal from JAWS.”