2010 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actor

#5: Russell Brand – Aldous Snow, Get Him to the Greek

I was worried when I heard that 2008′s Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be getting a spinoff featuring supporting rockstar Aldous Snow. Brand’s performance was certainly a highlight of one of my favorite films of that year, but it was a very broad, drugged-out lothario of a character. Could the rockstar (and Brand) carry his own film?

Somehow, the answer was yes. Nicholas Stoller’s comedy is a significant departure in both tone and content from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Brand’s performance gives some surprising depth to the rockstar Aldous Snow. The film is a broad and scatological comedy with the dark undertone of Snow’s various addictions. It’s also a wild sex romp that relies heavily on Snow’s on-again, off-again one-true-love. The film’s appeal is in its sincerity, and Brand completely commits to this character, warts and all.

#4: Jeff Bridges – Rooster Cogburn, True Grit

I don’t have a lot to say about True Grit, except that it’s a brilliantly written genre exercise. It is a legitimate western as surely as the works of Ford or Leone, and Jeff Bridges’ take on the one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn feels right at home. His dialogue is slurred to the point of incomprehensibility, and his appearance is utterly unglamorous. This character is a slobbering, drunken mess, and I mean that as a compliment. I can safely say I’ll never forget this performance, and Bridges deserves every bit of the credit he’s getting for it.

#3: Ryan Reynolds – Paul Conroy, Buried

From my review: “This may be the most electrifying performance yet from Ryan Reynolds. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away before him, Reynolds has crafted a masterful one-man show, and he never lets up on the stakes. Paul is dying alone, and Reynolds deftly conveys his ratcheting hopelessness and frustration.”

It’s Ryan Reynolds kidnapped and buried in a coffin for 90 minutes. That’s the entire film. But the above description may make Buried sound a good deal more serious than it actually plays for much of its runtime. This film is lurid and hopeless, to be sure, but it is also a pulp masterpiece. Its tone and editing style is reminiscent of Hitchcock, and Reynolds plays just the right blend of realistic terror and anger while preventing the character from becoming overly bleak. One scene, in which Paul solicits help (via cell phone) from one of his wife’s loathsome friends, ends with such a pitch-perfect delivery of its final line that my entire theater erupted in laughter. This is a film whose tone lives and dies by the performance of its lead actor, and Reynolds completely pulls it off.

On a related note…

#2: James Franco – Aron Ralston, 127 Hours

Aron Ralston leads a charmed life. He’s a brilliant stuntman – completely in control, but clearly a little unbalanced. Franco had to take this reckless and cocksure character on a physically and emotionally heart-wrenching journey, without any other actors to share the burden for most of the film’s runtime. 127 Hours has a similar premise to Buried – a man gets trapped under a rock for 90 minutes – but it is a very different film in both tone and characterization. Unlike Reynolds’ character above, Ralston doesn’t have access to a cell phone, so he spends the majority of the film talking aloud to himself, or saying nothing at all. The film utilizes various storytelling devices (including one involving a handheld camera that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling), and Franco’s performance played into all of them nicely.

I’m not sure if it’s even possible to spoil this film, since its title, premise, and the fact that it’s based on a true story should be enough to tell you how it ends. But suffice to say, this film takes a brutal and unflinching look at one of the most difficult physical tests ever imposed on a human being, and somehow comes out of it with a heartwarming message about how much life is worth living. It does all of this while wrapped in an unconventional character study, and never once lets Ralston off the hook for getting himself into the situation in the first place. Insofar as this is an exercise in filming the unfilmable, Franco’s performance seems equally improbable. It carries this film, and I know of no other actor who could have pulled this off.

#1: Jesse Eisenberg – Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network

I know Mark Zuckerberg. I don’t know the man, but I recognize the character. Each viewer will likely take away a different interpretation of this performance, depending on their feelings on the real-life Zuckerberg, but this performance stands alone in a film that’s virtually impossible to separate from its real-life context. As a reflection of my time and generation, I found Eisenberg’s captivating and enigmatic portrayal to be utterly unmatched this year. For a character who seems almost defined by a lack of chemistry with the people in his life (reminiscent of Dr. House, perhaps), he also plays brilliantly alongside Andrew Garfield in the film’s most crucial relationship.

This Zuckerberg is hard to read, but conveys a great deal through his glowering stare, or the slightest twitch of a smile. This Zuckerberg is insightful, determined, perhaps even ingenious. And on some level, he knows the effect his actions have had. This Zuckerberg may or may not bear any resemblance to the real one, but Eisenberg’s performance and Sorkin’s script make him the most fascinating and well-realized characters of this year.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg in Greenberg
  • Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward in The Fighter
  • Michael Cera as Nick Twisp/François Dillinger in Youth in Revolt (Honorable, honorable mention: as Scott Pilgrim in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island
  • Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomqvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.

2010 Glennies Roundup

It’s that time again… 2010 is over, and it was a surprisingly great year for cinema, especially given the rocky start and franchise-laden middle. I’ve seen movies great and terrible this past year, as well as some fantastic performances.

A note on exclusions… As I round up the films I’ve seen this year, there are always a few I meant to see, but didn’t get around to it. As of this writing, I have not had a chance to see the following films. I don’t know (and in some cases, doubt) if they would have made the top 10, but naturally they are ineligible:

  • The King’s Speech – An award-fodder period drama featuring Colin Firth’s usual awesomeness and a surprisingly chipper Helena Bonham Carter (watched since)
  • Four Lions – a terrorist comedic satire, perhaps this year’s True Lies or In The Loop? (watched since)
  • A Prophet – an epic crime drama
  • The Greatest – a somber romance
  • Micmacs – Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical take on Lord of War
  • The Lottery – a documentary on charter schools (watched since)
  • Valhalla Rising – Nicolas Winding Refn’s viking romp
  • Centurion – the latest from horror director Neil Marshall, who made a turn for the sword-and-sandals (watched since)
  • Dogtooth – A disturbing Greek drama (watched since)
  • The Tillman Story – A look back at the life and representations of famed American soldier, Pat Tillman
  • Let Me In – An unnecessary, but nonetheless good-looking remake of 2008 fave, Let the Right One In from Cloverfield director Matt Reeves.
  • Nice Guy Johnny – A straight-to-iTunes release from actor/director Ed Burns.
  • Blue Valentine – A strangely controversy-fueled romantic drama.
  • The Illusionist – An French animated film from a 55-year-old Jacques Tati script? I’m intrigued.
  • Monsters – First-time director and visual effects artist Gareth Edwards takes low-budget filmmaking ambition to shocking heights. By all accounts, this film was at least gorgeous-looking, despite not being this year’s District 9.

Also, Trash Humpers.

In the ensuing year, I sought to find a new symbol for the Glennies, but the blue Egyptian hippo began invoking ancient curses, so I’ll just have to leave him be. His name is Roger, and he is the official statuette of the 2010 Glennies. Enjoy!

2010 Glennie Awards


Egyptian Blue Hippo


Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Actor
Best Actress
Top 10 Films of 2010

2009 Glennies Roundup

It’s that time again… 2009 is over, and it was a great year for cinema (if a bit less so for the box office). I’ve seen movies great and terrible this year, as well as some fantastic performances. A note on exclusions… As of this writing, I have not had a chance to see the following films. I don’t know if they would have made the top 10, but naturally they are ineligible:

  • Where the Wild Things Are (watched since)
  • An Education (watched since)
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox (watched since)
  • Precious
  • The Road
  • The Box (watched since)
  • A Serious Man (watched since)

Oh, and Hannah Montana: The Movie, of course.

I don’t have a statuette at the moment, so the symbol of the 2009 Glennies will be a blue Egyptian hippo.

2009 Glennie Awards


Egyptian Blue Hippo


Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Actress
Best Actor
Top 10 Films of 2009

2009 Glennies, Part 4: Best Actor

#5: Sharlto Copley – Wikus Van De Merwe, District 9


Sharlto Copley in "District 9"

I can’t remember the last time I saw a film with such a thoroughly despicable protagonist as Wikus Van De Merwe. He is vicious, self-serving, inept, and almost a complete coward. But newcomer Sharlto Copley (a producer and personal friend of director Neill Blomkamp) completely brought this character to life. Wikus begins the film as the consummate corporate stooge, showing obvious enjoyment and aptitude at his middle management job, even as he perpetrates some incredible acts of callousness and destruction in the alien ghetto known as District 9. Copley’s performance in some of these moments is downright giddy, with a thoroughly believable grin on his face as he supervises the abortion – via flamethrower – of an alien breeding shack (“It’s like popcorn!”). Copley’s character and plotline reminded me a great deal of Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, and as with that film, if the character had remained the terrible person he was at the start of the film, there would have been little for the audience to connect with. But even as District 9 loses some of its more provocative social themes and becomes more of a big, fun action film, Copley’s emotional transformation becomes as real as Wikus’ physical one. And this is especially remarkable considering that every line of Wikus’ dialogue is improvised! (source). Copley gives a masterful performance that absolutely makes this movie work, and I’m simultaneously eager and a little frightened to see what he does next.

#4: Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Tom Hansen, (500) Days of Summer


In my original review, I noticed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had once again proven his two central characteristics… He’s one of the finest young actors working today, and he hasn’t aged a day since “Third Rock from the Sun”. He was utterly charming in this film, proving as capable at reckless, romantic zeal as sullen, intractable brooding (as the story’s unconventional breakup narrative demanded). His chemistry with Zooey Deschanel was fantastic, and made this one of the most memorable romances (if not love stories) of the year.

#3: Jeremy Renner – SSgt. William James,
Anthony Mackie – Sgt. JT Sanborn,
Brian Geraghty – Spc. Owen Eldridge, The Hurt Locker


Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie in "The Hurt Locker"
Brian Geraghty in "The Hurt Locker"

I’ll admit, this is a total cheat, but as I noted in my original review, I can’t single out any of these performances in Kathryn Bigelow’s fantastic Iraq War action film, The Hurt Locker, as the superlative one. As an ensemble, however, these three work immensely well. Renner’s performance is appropriately intense (and only slightly clichéd, as the new, loose-cannon commander of the squad), but Mackie and Geraghty are just fantastic, and make for ample balance among the three. The film features Bigelow’s typically strong portrayal of male friendship in intense circumstances, when the characters aren’t sure if they want to embrace or murder each other… But thanks to these three performances, the dialogue feels authentic, and the characterization is solid. These men may be considered heroes, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re just doing what they have to do. They’re here, and they’re going to keep doing the job until they go home or get killed.

#2: George Clooney – Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air


George Clooney in "Up in the Air"

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is the story of Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a corporate road warrior who spends over 300 days a year flying around the country firing people for a living. Ryan is already a fascinating enough character just from that description, and Clooney’s performance delivers on every bit of promise the character demands. He has remarkable chemistry with both of his co-stars, and his relationships with each of them are completely what make this film work. As I noted in my original review, the film constantly tries to have it both ways with Ryan, granting him semi-omniscient voiceovers that are equal parts self-aware and self-deprecating, but shying away from taking a position on whether he truly believes in what he’s doing. But somehow, Clooney’s performance just makes it all work. He plays with this ambiguity in a way that keeps Ryan’s rhetoric as one of the film’s most important themes, but stops it from becoming didactic. And later on in the film, as the character’s transformation becomes apparent, he completely conveys (but doesn’t overplay) how emotionally shaken Ryan has been by the film’s events. This is surely one of Clooney’s finest performances, and one of the best I’ve seen this year.

#1: Sam Rockwell – Sam Bell/Sam Bell, Moon



In my original review of Duncan Jones’ Moon, I called it a film for people who love big ideas. The film’s “big reveal” comes in the first 15 minutes, as Sam Bell (Rockwell), the solitary worker of a lunar mining base, wanders outside to investigate a crashed lunar rover, and finds an unconscious clone of himself behind the wheel. As the film begins to explore its deeper sci-fi themes, Rockwell imbues each of the Sam Bells with a distinct, but related personality. They both play to familiar territory for Rockwell – unshaven and slightly unhinged, but even as the film skips over the expected tropes of its genre (at no point does one clone chase the other around with a knife), Rockwell’s performance creates a compelling dynamic between the two. The only other character in the film is GERTY, the artificially intelligent base computer, which can only communicate its emotions via on-screen emoticons and the mellifluous voice of Kevin Spacey. But while the relationship between Sam and the computer is one of the most fascinating aspects of Moon, it is Rockwell that carries the weight of the film. Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away before him, this is Rockwell’s one-man show, and he acquits himself masterfully in the role.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt in Observe and Report
  • Mark Ruffalo and Adrian Brody as Stephen and Bloom in The Brothers Bloom
  • Clive Owen as Joe Warr in The Boys Are Back
  • Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan in Adventureland
  • Robin Williams as Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad

Click here to see the rest of the 2009 Glennies.

2008 Glennies, Part 4: Best Actor

Top 5 Lead Actors:


#5: Clint Eastwood – Walt Kowalski, Gran Torino


eastwood
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eastwood3
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This is an odd film, and I have a feeling it will be a polarizing one. Eastwood is not only the strongest performance in this film; he is the only good performance. He uses racial slurs in about 50% of his dialogue. The story is minimal, and some scenes are even more heavy-handed about race than Crash. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and it owes entirely to Eastwood’s acting and direction. The film looks gorgeous, and Eastwood is a delight in it. If this really is the end of his acting career, it’s a fine performance to go out on, even if it’s not the greatest film. Oh, and get off his lawn.

#4: Brendan Gleeson – Ken, In Bruges


gleeson
Gleeson (left) is best known for playing Mad-Eye Moody in the last two Harry Potter flicks, but he gives an amazing performance in this film. Gleeson’s joyous and somber performance makes this character greatly sympathetic, despite having done some truly horrific things. His performance helps the film strike the perfect balance between brooding melodrama and dark comedy. If I felt like cheating the list slightly, I would tie Gleeson with Colin Farrell as Ray. It must be said that Farrell is most on form when he’s playing an Irish douchebag, perhaps because it’s not such a stretch for him… Regardless, these two work immensely well together, and truly make the film worth seeing.

#3: Frank Langella – Richard Nixon, Frost/Nixon


langella
Lisa can attest to my initial reaction to the Frost/Nixon trailer… “My god, what is that? It doesn’t look…or sound…like Nixon. That doesn’t even look or sound human.”

Langella’s performance was pretty jarring when I first saw it, but ten minutes into this film, he had me. He was Nixon, plain and simple. Intelligent, corrupt, sweaty, and (just maybe) vulnerable. He paints a portrait of a shrewd politician who flagrantly abused his power, and didn’t consider until the very end that perhaps he did something wrong. It is sympathetic and enthralling to watch. The pseudo-documentary style of this film really holds it back, but it is Langella’s magnificent performance that gives the film even a slight chance of greatness.

#2: Sean Penn – Harvey Milk, Milk


penn
Sean Penn is one dark, brooding motherf*cker. That he could pull off such a carefree, joyous performance is nothing short of astonishing. Penn brings the man to life on-screen, doing a fine job of delivering the film’s hopeful (albeit very didactic) message.

#1: Mickey Rourke – Randy “The Ram” Robinson, The Wrestler


rourke

“And now…I’m an old, broken down piece of meat. And I’m alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just…don’t want you to hate me.”


Mickey Rourke, who showed immense promise as an actor, then destroyed himself with drugs, prize-fighting, and bad plastic surgery, was probably the only person who could pull this role off. There are so many deeply affecting scenes in this movie, and the film’s success owes entirely to Rourke’s performance. He adeptly conveys the tragedy of this character, and there is not a single scene that feels forced or dishonest. He is genuine and heartbreaking.

Honorable Mentions:


Samuel L. Jackson – Abel Turner, Lakeview Terrace
Dev Patel – Jamal Malik, Slumdog Millionaire
Jason Segel – Peter Bretter, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Steve Coogan – Dana Marschz, Hamlet 2