2012 Glennies (Top 10 Films of 2012)

#11: The Five-Year Engagement

Poster for "The Five-Year Engagement"

Directed by Nicholas Stoller, written by Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel

Per usual, I’m cheating a bit with my Top 10 and placing a film in the #11 slot that simply begged to be included. What started as a simple numbering error in 2009 has become a means for me to include a film that spoke to me personally in a significant way – to split hairs between the films that are somehow, empirically “the best” (a dubious distinction) vs. simply being the ones I enjoyed or identified with the most. While this is certainly one of the more well-made romantic comedies I’ve seen (almost reaching the level of Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel‘s previous collaboration, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the film also benefited from perfect timing. As it happens, I saw it two weeks prior to my wedding, when both my future-wife and I were taking a well-deserved night off from wedding planning (and incidentally, each other’s company). Planning a wedding is a stressful affair, and as happy as you end up on the day, at a certain point you just need to take a break from it all.

And it was on this level that The Five-Year-Engagement spoke to me directly. The film sits firmly in the camp that while everyone probably has someone who can be called the love of their life, it is supremely naive to assume that the person will be 100% perfect for you. Or even close to it. What happens between Segel and Emily Blunt is solid chemistry and believable romance. But it’s not a fairy tale, even if it gets a bit silly in its pursuit of a fairytale ending. Their relationship feels incredibly true-to-life, bumps and all. While Forgetting was primarily about the allure of moving on after a bad relationship, Five-Year is about finding happiness with the closest thing to your soul mate that you can manage. As perspectives on love go, this could come off as incredibly cynical. But Segel manages to bring the same staggering amount of heart and earnestness that he’s done over and over again in his acting roles. Actor and film alike both wear their heart on their sleeve, and the result is both endearing and hilarious.

#10: The Raid: Redemption

Poster for "The Raid: Redemption"

Written and directed by Gareth Evans

Congratulations, Gareth Evans, you may have ruined me for other action films. I’m not going to summarize the plot here. See the poster above for an adequate summary. In fact, the plot bears a staggering – and apparently coincidental – similarity to this year’s Dredd, and story is hardly the film’s biggest selling point anyway. This film contains the most intense, balls-to-the-wall martial arts action I have ever seen in a theater. It is immaculately shot, intensely paced, and doesn’t lose steam for an instant.

#9: Bernie

Poster for "Bernie"

Directed by Richard Linklater, screenplay by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, based on the article by Skip Hollandsworth

Jack Black gives a bravura comedic performance as mortician’s assistant Bernie Tiede, in this true-life tale of an incident in a small-town in Texas. Because it is based on a true story, Bernie makes the bold choice to reveal very early on in the film that something dire, if not lethal, has happened to both Bernie and wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), using its most persistently hilarious storytelling device: on-camera interviews with the “townspeople”, who constantly refer to the two of them in the past tense. The film sits somewhere between The Office and Best in Show with its sense of realism. This is not the first time I’ve seen this method, but in a straight-laced drama like Frost/Nixon, the technique was a complete distraction, whereas in a dark comedy and portrait of small-town life like Bernie, it actually works rather well. The film abandons its pseudo-documentary format whenever the storytelling requires it, and yet the constant cross-cutting to supposedly real-life townspeople reveals the extent to which they are all involved in each other’s personal business. They gossip constantly about community, church, sex, money, and every combination thereof, and the resulting town feels very lived-in. When the crime finally happens, the townspeople are aghast. Bernie brilliantly portrays the cognitive dissonance that occurs when someone you like has done a bad, bad thing to someone you don’t like. The relationship between Bernie and Marjorie is wonderfully complex and twisted, and what ends up happening between them mingles somewhere between family drama, legal thriller, and hilarious dark comedy.

As of this writing, Bernie is available on Netflix streaming. Check it out today!

#8: The Cabin in the Woods

Poster for "The Cabin in the Woods"

Directed by Drew Goddard, written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon

The Cabin in the Woods might well have succeeded as a straight-laced horror film, if only because it features an ensemble of intelligent, likable, and persistently sympathetic characters (played by age-appropriate actors), which already puts it about ten steps ahead of your average backwoods slaughterfest. But Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard take it a step further, placing the entire film into an elaborate Skinner Box whose carefully controlled circumstances manage to elevate the stakes beyond the mere survival of this merry band. On the off-chance you don’t yet know the central premise of this film, I won’t spoil it for you here, but suffice to say, all is not what it seems, and the film’s puppetstrings are pulled brilliantly by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. This film exists in a wonderfully dark-comic grey zone, simultaneously reveling in the slaughter that it perpetrates while slowing down just enough to call the audience out for liking it quite so much. This is a film for horror fans who don’t mind seeing the worst parts of their beloved genre dragged to the surface for ritual slaughter. The horror standard has been driven inexorably upward by this film, and while there was at least one other solid contender this year, it has yet to be unseated.

#7: Lincoln

Poster for "Lincoln"

Directed by Steven Spielberg, screenplay by Tony Kushner, based in part on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Politics! That’s what this film delivers, and that should tell you in a word whether you’ll enjoy it or not. There is a scene in this film in which the indispensable Daniel Day-Lewis sits in a chair as President Abraham Lincoln and explains, in detail, exactly what a legal, political, and constitutional clusterbomb the Emancipation Proclamation really was. Freeing all the slaves in the rebelling Confederate states by executive order was an unprecedented act in muddy legal waters, and it is precisely these waters that the film wades into as it explores the backdoor dealings behind the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The specter of the amendment’s passage, the end of the Civil War, and Lincoln’s imminent assassination hang over the film at all times, and it is to the film’s storytelling credit that it manages to present these three events as the high-stakes historical standoff that they really were. Despite the audience knowing full-well how the political fight will be resolved, it’s clear at all times that any of these three events has the potential to derail the others. In Spielberg and Kushner’s vision of history, it could only have happened precisely the way that it did, because anything less would have been disastrous for the nation.

To serve this predestined vision of history, the film lionizes Lincoln to an almost absurd degree, and the illustrious executive is constantly interrupting scenes with quaint little anecdotes about his lawyering past that bear some oblique relevance to the present conflict. He is essentially a Christ figure, always ready with a parable or pearl of wisdom to sate the hungry masses – and ready to be sacrificed for the sins of his beloved Union. I’m at a loss to explain why this works so well. It should have been incredibly heavy-handed, but Day-Lewis’ magnificent performance keeps it grounded in the historical circumstances at all times. Lincoln was neither a flawless politician nor a flawless man, and Lincoln never tries to convince us otherwise. The film is also bolstered by a magnificent ensemble cast. I could end this description by naming at least a dozen outstanding supporting players, but I’ll just mention the strongest here: Tommy Lee Jones gives his finest performance in years as the staunch and ailing abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

#6: Looper

Poster for "Looper"

Written and directed by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson’s Looper sets up a complex (and paradoxical) time travel story in which older and younger versions of the same character (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) are out to kill each other. Well, kinda. It’s wonderfully elaborate, and it makes just enough sense to comprise the most polished entry in this genre since the Terminator franchise. It also features a brilliantly transformative performance from Gordon-Levitt, who takes his impression of Willis to a staggering degree of authenticity.

From my review:

The film sets up a clever time travel mechanic wherein Future Joe – whose mere presence is altering his own timeline – doesn’t know the outcome of every situation involving his younger self, but he does remember it once it happens. It’s an action-oriented version of Marty McFly fading away from a photograph, and the film explains it with just the right amount of technobabble and disturbing imagery, punctuated by Willis telling his younger self (and perhaps the logic centers of the audience’s brains) to kindly shut the fuck up and stop wasting time slogging through the murky waters of time travel.

This bit of hand waving makes for an extremely haunting and effective ending, as we’re left to consider the full and lasting impact of Future Joe’s presence in this timeline. Looper dares to present us with high personal stakes for both versions of its protagonist, set them in opposition to each other, then force us to consider whether the future of this despicable person should be saved.

#5: Moonrise Kingdom

Poster for "Moonrise Kingdom"

Directed by Wes Anderson, screenplay by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

From my review:

Moonrise Kingdom is a triumphant return to form for Wes Anderson (along with co-writer Roman Coppola), meticulously crafting a rich and memorable world in the fictitious island of New Penzance off the Atlantic Coast. The film takes a bit of time to find its footing, owing to the bizarrely precocious dialogue of its young, first-time leads. But as their chaste and cordial romp gets into full swing, the two actors somehow find an accord. These kids are determined to skip ahead to grownup life, bidding farewell to their erstwhile families and making a life for themselves in the wilderness. They are the embodiment of “us against the world”, even if their oppressive world is like something from the mind of Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling.

This film is a sweet and nostalgic chronicle of the wondrous worlds that we create in childhood, and even manages to delve into the dire consequences of growing up, without ever losing a bit of its charm.

#4: Seven Psychopaths

Poster for "Seven Psychopaths"
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh

I could summarize the plot here, as I often do, but here’s what you need to know. This is the film in which Martin McDonagh thoroughly beat Quentin Tarantino at his own game this year. Seven Psychopaths is pure, bloody-minded, un-PC, hilarious filmmaking, and manages to deconstruct and reflect upon the genre much better than a vapid bloodbath like Django Unchained could manage.

From my review:

Seven Psychopaths seizes on the fundamental truth of storytelling that no idea is completely original. You may think it came from a serendipitous muse that squirted it into your brain from the collective unconscious, but we are the inexorable products of our surroundings, our culture, and most importantly, our stories. Stories we’ve been told, stories we’ve forgotten, and stories we’ve subsequently retold and passed off as our own work. This is a bloody-minded Adaptation. Hugo without the whimsy. It is sickeningly self-aware, and could have felt like a lesser parody of either of those films if not for such a perfect ensemble cast.

#3: Life of Pi

Poster for "Life of Pi"

Directed by Ang Lee, screenplay by David Magee, based on the novel by Yann Martel

Pi Patel (played for most of the film by Suraj Sharma) is a fascinating character, but even more fascinating is how much time the film spends setting up his backstory. The first 20 minutes of Life of Pi are as much of a visual feast as the rest of the film, and yet they feature little more than a series of extended dialogue scenes as we get to know Pi and his family, and more importantly, his various thoughts on religion. Pi dabbles in a variety of faiths, and this character setup pays off marvelously when the film abruptly becomes a one-man show after the first act. Once Pi is stranded on a raft in the South Pacific with a Bengal tiger (I relish the absurdity of those words!), Life of Pi becomes a taut survival thriller, but remains a fascinating character piece. Whether emoting opposite a CGI tiger or trying to defeat the elements and survive, Sharma – who has no prior credits on IMDb – is equal to the task, demonstrating the proficiency of a much more experienced actor (specifically, Tom Hanks in Cast Away). The film tackles a variety of themes with impressive clarity, and unlike my #1 film below, Life of Pi‘s treatment of religion is essential to its appeal. While I tend to think that the film’s liberal, inclusivist take on religion is unlikely to win many converts, it still makes Pi a fascinating and sympathetic character. At times, he seems naive – likely to be disappointed by the imperfect world in which he lives. And yet, by the film’s end, the grownup Pi (played brilliantly by Irrfan Khan) seems far more savvy and wise than the average religious dilettante. The effectiveness of the film’s ending lies in its ability to be interpreted in a variety of ways, with each viewer’s individual experiences and beliefs informing their perception of it. And theists and atheists alike will certainly have a take on one of the film’s most absurdly poignant questions: Can a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker possibly be your friend?

Beyond the absurdity of the film’s premise lies an earnestness and zeal that is so often lacking in the cynical cinematic world we live in these days. Life of Pi is excited to explore the world it inhabits, and every visual detail (including some of the best 3D that I’ve seen since Avatar) bears this out.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss this film on the podcast:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #29 – “Life of Pi” (dir. Ang Lee)

#2: The Imposter

Poster for "The Imposter"

Directed by Bart Layton

I don’t dare reveal too much about The Imposter. But you will not find a more shadowy or charismatic figure this year than Frédéric Bourdin, con-artist extraordinaire, whose machinations comprise the bulk of this documentary. The film cross-cuts between interviews and impeccable reenactments (similarly to Man on Wire), and leaves you constantly wondering what’s going to happen next – or indeed, how we’re even seeing these interviews. What really happened with Bourdin and this small-town Texas family? All I can offer you is my absolute certainty that you will find it much more engaging if you don’t know the full facts in advance. Don’t Google this one. Don’t let anyone jokingly spoil it for you. Like Catfish, you’re better off seeing this magnificent documentary before its subject ends up on CNN.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss this film on the podcast:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #22 – “Safety Not Guaranteed” (dir. Colin Trevorrow), “The Imposter” (dir. Bart Layton) (SIFF)

#1: Cloud Atlas

Poster for "Cloud Atlas"

Written for the screen and directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski, based on the novel by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas has been the subject of much contention (even on our very own podcast), but dammit if any other film stuck with me as thoroughly as this one did. I saw it twice back in October, and haven’t stopped thinking of it or intermittently listening to Tom Tykwer‘s magnificent score since. You can listen to our podcast for detail on just how thoroughly this film resonated with me, but the gist is this: you don’t need to buy into the film’s relatively simple religious or metaphysical message in order to appreciate the intensely interconnected narrative that is at work here. Basically, you can take the religious aspects or leave them. The most poignant and effective connections between these characters are narrative and thematic above all else. These six parallel storylines are woven precisely in an epic that spans multiple centuries. This film’s ambition is surely to be admired, but only because it delivers so thoroughly on its promise. It’s a tour de force of editing, with editor Alexander Berner brilliantly cross-cutting and completing shots even with hundreds of years and completely different visual styles separating them. A character might begin to turn in one time period, and another character (perhaps – but not always – the same actor) will complete that turn without interruption. An escape sequence in the 22nd Century darts back and forth with a slave leaping through a ship’s sails in the 19th, and at all times, the same level of intensity is maintained, whether it is high or low from moment to moment. By the end, none of the characters (except perhaps that of Tom Hanks in the 1970s) feels shortchanged in the least. In an achievement rarely matched in parallel storytelling, every last character in the film’s sprawling and incestuous cast list is given adequate screentime to establish an emotional connection with the audience.

Even the film’s most batty choices, such as the devilish (and apparently disembodied) Hugo Weaving in the distant future only serve to amp up the stakes. The film even goes so far as to craft a language – a tricky “future-speak” that has enough respect for its audience to force them to pay close attention – even in the very first shot of the film, featuring a grizzled future-Hanks that probably made some viewers wonder if their theater’s sound system was malfunctioning.

And yes, most of the race and age makeup in this film is intolerably bad. But still I marvel that such an elaborate and visually magnificent film managed to emerge from outside of the studio system. This is by far the biggest indie film I’ve ever seen. Despite a few missteps, which I counted as minimal compared to its triumphs, I spent the entire film rapt with attention, respected as an audience member, and exhilarated by the outcome. Whether you’re looking for romance, adventure, sci-fi action, or a thoughtful message, this cinematic feast has something to offer you. While I will readily admit that Cloud Atlas is not for everyone, I look forward to defending this masterpiece for years to come.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film on the podcast:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #27 – “Cloud Atlas” (dir. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)

Honorable Mentions:

  • Argo (directed by Ben Affleck, screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on an article by Joshuah Bearman)
  • Compliance (written and directed by Craig Zobel)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (written for the screen and directed by David O. Russell, novel by Matthew Quick)
  • Killer Joe (directed by William Friedkin, screenplay by Tracy Letts based on his play)
  • Les Misérables (directed by Tom Hooper, screenplay/book/lyrics/novel by a lot of people)
  • Sound of My Voice (directed by Zal Batmanglij, written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling)
  • The Avengers (written for the screen and directed by Joss Whedon, story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon, comic book and characters by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon)
  • Fat Kid Rules the World (directed by Matthew Lillard, screenplay by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, based on the novel by K.L. Going)
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (directed by Benh Zeitlin, screenplay by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, based on a play by Lucy Alibar)
  • Promised Land (directed by Gus Van Sant, screenplay by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, story by Dave Eggers)

2011 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actor/Actress

Best Actress

#5: Michelle Williams – Marilyn Monroe, My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams in "My Week With Marilyn"
Warning: This write-up will be chock full of backhanded compliments.

With a deeply flawed script and unlikable lead character, the core performances from Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branaugh are basically the only reasons to see this film – and it is a testament to the strength of these performances that the film is actually quite worth seeing. Williams brings a complex vulnerability to the titular icon that I found simultaneously appealing and fascinating, despite not having any previous knowledge of Marilyn Monroe besides her well-known (and highly sexualized) cult of personality. The film relies pretty heavily on the unspoken understanding that Marilyn Monroe is a figure of unquestionable appeal, but Williams’ performance manages to sell this appeal to a much greater extent than the film’s script and story ever does. She presents a difficult, tortured, and uncertain actress in the thrall of a surly acting teacher and under near-instantaneous hostility with her new film’s intense and egotistical director. While her relationship with Branaugh’s character is never much more affecting or complex than a sitcom clash, her romance with Colin Clark owes all of its poignancy to Williams’ performance and chemistry with co-star Eddie Redmayne, whose uneven turn might otherwise have ruined the film.

#4: Rooney Mara – Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
As I mentioned on our “Ladies’ Night” podcast, I was wary about seeing Rooney Mara in this role, because the only other performance I knew her for was The Social Network, in which she is, for lack of a better description, nice and normal-looking. These were both red flags for ruthless cyberpunk heroine Lisbeth Salander, but Mara completely acquitted herself in this role. The highest praise I can give to this performance is that I didn’t once think of Noomi Rapace while watching it. Mara’s performance is both fearless and original, bringing a tender edge to a character that is subject to some rather horrific abuse and dubious sexualization over the course of the film.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film in-depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #15: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Young Adult”

#3: Bérénice Bejo – Peppy Miller, The Artist

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist"
What can I say? I’m a sucker for actresses playing actresses, and Bejo is a total charmer as up-and-coming talkie actress Peppy Miller. Her chemistry with Dujardin is impressive (even with the film’s silent format to muddy the critical waters), and I found their relationship appealing even as a long-term friendship, despite the film’s half-hearted attempts to paint it as a romance. To see these two friends deal with their competing careers amid the inexorable fall of silent cinema is the heart of this film’s appeal, and is surely the most affecting element of a film that could have been slight and insubstantial otherwise. Bejo’s performance served an essential role, challenging the obstinate artist George Valentin with both the new cinematic medium and the actress’ undeniable charisma within it.

#2: Kristen Wiig – Annie Walker, Bridesmaids

Kristen Wiig in "Bridesmaids"
My description of this performance may skew toward the non-specific (I haven’t seen seen this film since theaters), but I can say this with total certainty: Kristen Wiig is a star. Cinema is dreadfully short on believable depictions of female friendship, and Wiig manages to craft several solid (and starkly contrasting) rapports with co-stars Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy. Her “anti-chemistry” with Byrne is particularly impressive, leading to some of the most striking moments of comedic tension in the film. This is a complicated mess of a character (although not quite as much so as my #1), and surely one of Wiig’s finest creations.

#1: Charlize Theron – Mavis Gary, Young Adult

Charlize Theron in "Young Adult"
Speaking of messes, Mavis Gary is the most fascinating trainwreck of a character I saw this year (and she had some serious competition from Mel Gibson). If there is a female equivalent of a manchild, this is surely it – Gary is nothing short of a delusional and self-destructive alcoholic, and Theron managed to bring a wickedly black sense of humor to the character. Her ruthless give-and-take banter with an equally strong and sarcastic Patton Oswalt is an absolute wonder. This is a character that should be utterly unsympathetic, and yet by the end, she completely drew me in, even as the character learns very, very little from her experience.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film in-depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #15: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Young Adult”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko in Norwegian Wood
  • Atsuko Okatsuka as Atsuko in Littlerock
  • Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre

Best Actor

#5: Jean Dujardin – George Valentin, The Artist

Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
From my review:

Jean Dujardin is forced to convey a great deal of emotional nuance through Valentin’s slightest glance or gesture, and the film resorts to techniques and shots that, in any other film, would have seemed incredibly manipulative. There’s a scene late in the film when Valentin confronts a room full of his old belongings, covered in sheets. As the music swells, he dramatically rips down every sheet, revealing the vestiges of his former success, finally staring heartbroken at a prized full-body portrait of himself in a tuxedo. His tears come forth, and Ludovic Bource’s score swells to overpowering heights, just as it does in many other scenes. But somehow, the tense crescendos of music that punctuate this film manage to craft a believable emotional arc of their own, even lacking the additional tones of a wailing, tormented man’s voice. The score supplements the visible emotion and physicality of Dujardin’s performance. These scenes worked, and in this medium, they seemed entirely appropriate.

#4: Ryan Gosling – Driver, Drive

Ryan Gosling in "Drive"
It would be easy to say that Gosling is doing very little in this performance (and many people have), but this understated performance is exactly what the taciturn unnamed driver needed in this film. The driver is a vision of restrained and intense masculinity, seeing himself as equal parts valiant knight and unattached mercenary. As this veneer starts to crack over the course of the film, the stakes of the story rise palpably. This is completely Gosling’s film, and his overpowering chemistry with Carey Mulligan led to one of the most bizarre and operatic romantic beats I’ve ever seen on film.

#3: Michael Fassbender/James McAvoy – Erik Lehnsherr/Charles Xavier, X-Men: First Class

Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in "X-Men: First Class"
Each of these performances is individually strong, with Fassbender’s intense and ruthless physicality contrasting nicely with McAvoy’s poise, charm, and control. But what makes this film work is the relationship between the two – the yin and yang that is so central to both the development of Magneto as a character and the film’s powerful climactic moment. This is an intense and complex relationship – utterly unmatched on screen this year, and it owes heavily to both actors’ performances. More on their individual performances in my review.

#2: Mel Gibson – Walter Black, The Beaver

Mel Gibson in "The Beaver"
From my review:

This performance may be hard to write about, but it was even harder to watch. The beaver persona strikes a comedic note at first, but these beats seem increasingly out of place as the film descends further and further into Walter’s insanity. Whenever Walter is forced to speak in his own voice (without the jaunty British accent), Gibson conveys such intractable discomfort and crippling hopelessness with every syllable that you wonder how Walter has managed to stave off suicide thusfar. His mere existence is a punishing chore. At the beginning of the film, I wondered if I would be able to judge this film without pondering Gibson’s real-life persona. By the end, I forgot Gibson entirely and found myself nearly weeping for the increasingly pitiful creature that is Walter Black. This performance may be unpleasant to watch, but it is certainly one of Gibson’s finest.

#1: Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Adam, 50/50

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "50/50"
There is a precarious balance of tone at work in this film. Adam is a young man who has been struck with cancer, and a performance that hits too many hopeless notes would have easily driven audiences screaming from this film. Gordon-Levitt’s comedic performance is nothing short of remarkable, engaging in both credible friendly banter with co-star Seth Rogen and bringing a constant barrage of levity that the film sorely needed to avoid falling into crippling hopelessness. And yet, when the character is forced to confront the fragility of his present existence, Gordon-Levitt delivered once again. Adam’s confrontation with mortality is one of the most powerful and resonating aspects of this film, and Gordon-Levitt brought an intensity to the struggle that I haven’t seen since Andrew Garfield in Never Let Me Go. He is sympathetic, memorable, and hilarious, and to hit all of these beats in a single performance is an astounding achievement.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film in-depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #13: Jonathan Levine’s “50/50”

Honorable Mentions:

  • Super-duper-honorable mention: Michael Shannon as Curtis in Take Shelter (saw it too late to qualify)
  • Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf in Young Adult
  • Ed Helms as Tim Lippe in Cedar Rapids
  • Ewan McGregor as Oliver Fields in Beginners
  • Michael Fassbender as Brandon Sullivan in Shame

2011 Glennies, Part 1: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2011)
2011 Glennies, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor/Actress
2011 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actor/Actress

2011 Glennies, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor/Actress

Best Supporting Actor

#5: Oscar Isaac – Blue Jones, Sucker Punch

Oscar Isaac in "Sucker Punch"
Let it never be said that I hold a mean grudge… I hated virtually everything about this film, including the character of Blue Jones, but this will be one of the few awards where I enforce the nebulous distinction between “the best” and “my favorite” (David Chen posted a great discussion with IFC’s Matt Singer on this topic). Every moment of screen time with villainous burlesque magnate (or possibly psych ward attendant) Blue Jones made me physically uncomfortable. All of the male characters in this film are deplorable predators, but Isaac’s performance brought this one to life in a disturbingly memorable way. Every one of his line readings made my skin crawl, and that is certainly what the villain of such an overwhelmingly fetishistic comic farce needed. I would sooner rewatch Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones than ever revisit this performance, but it was undeniably one of the best of the year.

Honorable mention: He also gave a solid supporting turn in Drive.

#4: Albert Brooks – Bernie Rose, Drive

Albert Brooks in "Drive"
Now that’s more like it – here’s a villainous performance I would gladly revisit. Albert Brooks demonstrates an alarming vicious streak in this film, which would be brilliant even if I didn’t know him primarily as a comic actor.

#3: Ben Kingsley – Papa Georges, Hugo

Ben Kingsley in "Hugo"
There is a solid ensemble cast at work in Hugo, but Ben Kingsley certainly does the heavy lifting. Insofar as this film is primarily about the burden of a forgotten artist, Kingsley manages to elevate even the more cookie-cutter moments surrounding the revelation of his true identity. From my review:

Kingsley’s performance is marvelous, delivering just the right blend of sadness and intrigue. This is a bitter and ancient soul, but his bitterness is richly layered enough to suggest that it is the product of having lived too much rather than too little. This is a man who had everything and lost it; not a man who regrets what he failed to achieve.

#2: Kenneth Branagh – Sir Laurence Olivier, My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh in "My Week With Marilyn"
This is basically an actor’s dream role, getting to simultaneously ham it up as a beloved cinematic mainstay, and portray him in his prime as a director. If I were a bit more cynical, I might think that Branagh was exorcising some of his own directorial frustration into this performance, but watching him butt heads with Michelle Williams is entertaining regardless of its source. While Olivier’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe is actually one of the less developed aspects of the film, Branagh plays up Olivier’s confrontationalism and dismay to brilliant comedic effect.

#1: Christopher Plummer – Hal Fields, Beginners

Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Beginners failed to crack my Top 10 for one simple reason… It wasn’t primarily about Hal Fields. Writer/director Mike Mills based this film loosely on the story of his own father coming out as gay following the death of his wife, and just a few years before his own death, and Plummer’s performance succeeds because he treats a genuinely fascinating character with an overwhelming degree of affection. His chemistry with Ewan McGregor (who plays his son, the Mike Mills surrogate) is stellar, and helps to elevate the less interesting material that McGregor has to work with. Even as the film gets just a little bit bogged down in its own quirkiness, Plummer remains the heart of it, portraying an old man who is exploring his new life with all the fervor and enthusiasm of a much younger man. His portrayal feels entirely authentic, and derives all of its comic effect from the character’s inherent sweetness and earnestness.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ryan Gosling as Jacob Palmer in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
  • Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Paul Bettany as a trio of ruthless financiers in Margin Call
  • Seth Rogen as Kyle in 50/50
  • Michael Parks as Abin Cooper in Red State
  • Colin Farrell as Jerry in Fright Night

Best Supporting Actress

#5: Emma Stone – Hannah, Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. was a surprisingly enjoyable film, taking a fairly conventional romantic comedy premise and amping it up with a masterful sense of humor and charm. And one of the biggest charmers was surely Emma Stone, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic actresses (she also had an amusing minor role in Friends With Benefits this year). She plays nicely with co-star Ryan Gosling (who just barely missed out on my list above) both in terms of chemistry and comedic timing, and manages to shine despite her limited screentime.

#4: Chloë Grace Moretz – Isabelle, Hugo

Chloë Grace Moretz in "Hugo"
“Don’t you like books?!”

Chloe Moretz’s reading of this line clinched this as one of my favorite performances of the year. Moretz brought such a sense of joy and adventure to the character that she managed to set herself apart from similarly bookish heroines (such as Hermione Granger) without crossing the well-trod line of irritation that such characters often stumble into. She is, to a large extent, the heart of this film, lighting up the screen with enthusiasm in her every scene, and making an excellent foil for Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley’s more somber and subdued roles.

#3: Jodie Foster – Meredith Black, The Beaver

Jodie Foster in "The Beaver"
This film didn’t work as a whole for me, but if there’s one thing that both Foster and co-star Mel Gibson demonstrate, it’s that they understand depression and self-destruction. And this understanding comes through despite the film’s darkly comedic (and frankly absurd) premise of a man talking exclusively through a Cockney-voiced beaver puppet. Gibson’s performance is agonizing to behold, but is made doubly so by how credibly Foster plays his steadfast and equally tormented spouse. Meredith clearly still cares for Walter, even as he makes it harder and harder for her to interact with him in any meaningful way – a theme that plays out marvelously in the restaurant scene pictured above, which was a tour de force for Foster in both acting and direction.

#2: Rose Byrne – Helen Harris, Bridesmaids

This was a film chock full of memorable and fully realized characters, but none quite so effective as Rose Byrne’s villainous would-be maid-of-honor, Helen Harris. Byrne plays up the various conflicts between Helen’s wealth, insecurity, and inherently scheming nature, leading to one of the film’s most memorable confrontations in which (I’ll be vague here) she offers Kristen Wiig a friendly snack. It’s all smiles, and yet both actresses play up the tension brilliantly – a dynamic that persists throughout the film. This villain is the antithesis of Oscar Isaac above – an absolute delight in every scene, and a performance I will happily revisit.

#1: Marion Cotillard – Adriana, Midnight in Paris

Marion Cotillard in "Midnight in Paris"
I had to excise the word “irresistible” from my description of Emma Stone above, lest I squander it in advance of my favorite performance of the year. Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, and without being too specific, let’s just say she has an active social life, chock full of fascinating suitors. Cotillard could have played this character simply as an object of desire, but her charm and vivaciousness are merely the initial layer of a delightfully rich characterization. While this allure nearly puts her out of the league of Owen Wilson’s “Aw shucks” demeanor, as the film goes on, the two characters complement each other nicely, and Adriana’s various interests play well into the film’s exploration of the dangers of nostalgia. While the film itself is a love letter to Paris, Cotillard’s performance seems to encapsulate all of the romance and intrigue that the city itself has to offer. And both the city and the lady are irresistible.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Anne Heche as Joan Ostrowski-Fox in Cedar Rapids
  • Maya Rudolph as Lillian in Bridesmaids
  • Carey Mulligan as Irene in Drive
  • Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns in The Ides of March
  • Anna Kendrick as Katherine in 50/50

2011 Glennies, Part 1: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2011)
2011 Glennies, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor/Actress
2011 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actor/Actress

2011 Glennies, Part 1: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2011)

#11: The Big, Dumb, Occasionally Smart Action Movie

I know I’m cheating a bit here, but I must say – this was a solid year for the action blockbuster. Fast Five, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were all impressive contenders (the latter just barely missing out on this list). Even after Michael Bay descended into robotic madness, directors Justin Lin, Rupert Wyatt, and illustrious Pixar veteran Brad Bird have come along to challenge his throne as actioneer-in-chief. While these are very different films (with highly variable calibers of acting and character work), what they have in common is a sense of pace and coherence that was unmatched in action cinema this year, and deserves to be recognized for the talented filmmaking that it represents.

#10: X-Men: First Class

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn, story by Bryan Singer and Sheldon Turner

Rewatching this film in the past week, I was reminded of a few things. First, Henry Jackman‘s musical score is distractingly bad at times, and bothered me even more on repeat viewing. When the X-Men swept over the final naval showdown in their supersonic jet, and the guitars, choir, and drums swelled to an absurdly bombastic theme, I felt more like I was watching a 80s laser rock opera than a 60s Cold War reimagining. But I didn’t mention that in my original review, because there was just so much else to love about this film. Michael Fassbender‘s performance and physicality as Erik Lehnsherr (“Magneto”) is nothing short of magnificent, and James McAvoy gives a fascinating rendition of the sage and reliable Charles Xavier as a young man. Indeed, nearly every one of the myriad of characters in this film feels well cast and written, with each of the young mutants getting their own small piece of the story to carry. Lucas Till (“Havok”) and Edi Gathegi (“Darwin”) both have particularly effective screen presence in their small roles.

But the biggest triumph of this film is how much every piece of the action is motivated by plot and character. Every major development in this film, from the villain’s inevitable undoing to the final epic showdown, has multiple, fascinating dimensions affected by the complex relationships between Xavier, Erik, Raven (“Mystique”), Sebastian Shaw, and others. While the finale didn’t feel completely earned, it did so many things well that it is still one of the finest scenes of the year.

#9: Hot Coffee

Directed by Susan Saladoff

Susan Saladoff is a trial lawyer-turned-filmmaker, and Hot Coffee is a documentary that not only argues against “tort reform”, but questions the very definition of the phrase. I’ll admit, the mere premise of this film both intrigued me and put me on guard. I already knew that the infamous “McDonald’s Hot Coffee” case (of an elderly woman who spilled coffee on her lap and received millions in damages) is more complex than the majority of the public believes, despite its continuing status as the poster child for frivolous litigation. The most important details – that the coffee was served at a temperature that would cause instant second-degree burns if consumed immediately, as well as the fact that Mrs. Liebeck suffered third-degree burns to her pelvic region (resulting in skin grafts and multiple surgeries) – are equally obscure pieces of trivia.

I expected all of this to be brought forth in this film. What I did not expect was to see a graphic photo of Liebeck’s injuries. This is a film whose opening salvo is strong, and it continues unrelentingly on a single premise: the state of American civil litigation is broken, and many tort reform measures, both current and proposed, exist solely to prevent American consumers from seeing justice when they are wronged by corporations. The film examines a variety of these tactics, including caps on damages, campaigning for business-friendly judges, as well as some of the less than savory tactics used to end opposing judiciary careers. In the last act, the film examines the increasing prevalence of binding arbitration clauses (if you have a cell phone contract, you’ve agreed to one!), by way of a woman who was forced to arbitrate her case against KBR/Halliburton using binding arbitration – a case that included charges of gangrape and unlawful imprisonment.

Needless to say, this is complex, emotionally-charged material, the effectiveness of which will depend a great deal on your individual politics. I remained guarded throughout, as these felt like the tactics of a Michael Moore film, albeit much less emotionally manipulative and fast and easy with the facts. This film has a provocative perspective to offer, but gives you plenty of room to decide how much you agree with it. It is a rare film that comes along and upends your worldview in a lasting way, but Hot Coffee might be one such film.

#8: Attack the Block

Written and directed by Joe Cornish

This film, which depicted an alien invasion fended off by a gang of thuggish London street kids, was an unrelenting delight with an immaculate sense of pace. From the opening scene, in which the gang robs an innocent woman at knife-point, these kids, as well as their leader Moses (John Boyega) are far from sympathetic, but go through an impressive and believable transformation over the course of the film. These kids may be the products of apathetic parenting, ineffectual law enforcement, and urban decay – but the movie makes it clear that they’re exactly the ones you’d want in your corner during an alien invasion. And despite the self-indulgent and anti-social behavior they exhibit at the beginning of the film, the overwhelming theme is this: actions have consequences. And what’s more, that message felt completely earned by the film’s end.

Head for Boyega’s IMDb page, and you will see just a single TV credit preceding this film. But damned if I wasn’t utterly riveted by his every line of dialogue. Even if he weren’t a newcomer, Boyega would be the standout performance in this film. He brings the brooding action screen presence of a much older and more seasoned actor, lending additional weight to all the action and chaos that ensues. This is an absolutely starmaking performance, and I look forward to whatever he does next (even if it’s an HBO boxing drama).

#7: Contagion

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, screenplay by Scott Z. Burns

First, a rare shout-out to the marketing department… This was one of the most riveting and effective trailers I saw this year (the cheesy tagline notwithstanding). Soderbergh delivered a sprawling epic with a global scale that seems disturbingly plausible as you watch it. The all-star cast seems to have been chosen in order to facilitate an audience connection despite the relatively short screentimes of each character (“You like Gwyneth Paltrow, right? Well you won’t believe what happens to her face in the first act!”), but a few of them (Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne in particular) present fascinating characters in their own right.

But this film wasn’t really about a single character or storyline. It was about the viral spread of information and fear at a pace that dwarfed that of the actual infection. Jude Law‘s role as a sensationalist blogger, easily the film’s sloppiest character choice, was nonetheless a fascinating (and mostly credible) peek into the kind of hysteria that would ensue with such a deadly pandemic. When I saw this film, I saw our very own world and civilization pushed to the brink of self-destruction, and I found it far more frightening than succumbing to a deadly illness. This is a film that sticks with you, even when you go right back to touching doorknobs and bar pretzels the next day.

#6: Drive

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, screenplay by Hossein Amini, novel by James Sallist

Ryan Gosling may have only a couple dozen lines of dialogue in this film, but it’s still one of his finest lead performances. He plays the unnamed “Driver”, a movie stunt performer who moonlights as a criminal for hire driving getaway vehicles. This is The Transporter as a brooding drama, prone to a surprising amount of emotional heft and some unexpectedly graphic violence. This film is a slow burn, and it’s not for everyone, but I was completely enthralled by it. It boasts one of the strongest casts I saw this year, featuring deft supporting work from Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaacs, and Bryan Cranston, as well as an outstanding dramatic performance comic mainstay Albert Brooks as an utterly vicious villain.

Drive is one beautifully constructed sequence after another, from its initial 10-minute vehicular chess match with the LAPD, to an elevator scene featuring one of the most operatic and bizarre romantic moments ever put to screen.

#5: The Artist

Direction, scenario, and dialogue by Michel Hazanavicius

The Weinsteins have spoken… This is 2011’s big awards contender. But screw it, I am completely on board with this silent, black-and-white film made this year in Hollywood. Michel Hazanavicius‘ silent storytelling works not only because it demonstrates the effectiveness and charm of the medium, but because it tells a story that seemingly could only have been told this way – the demise of silent film. We – the audience – know that the career of dashing silent performer George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is doomed, and yet his struggle to stay true to his art seems both foolish and noble in equal measure.

From my review

The Artist crafts a complex character’s journey without overly relying on title cards, and conveying a great deal of story via background set design – a technique that has remained effective to this day. In the present day, we have no choice but to regard silent film as an anachronistic technical limitation. But in its day, it was the engine that propelled innovative storytelling, and Hazanavicius clearly understands how it succeeded. This film could have been a baseless technical exercise, but with this execution, it’s nothing short of a modern classic.

#4: Littlerock

Written/directed by Mike Ott

This film offers a groundbreaking depiction of cultural interaction, by way of a pair of Japanese adult siblings stranded in a rural California town. The sister, Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) speaks no English, and the brother, Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) speaks a little bit – but whenever they’re split apart, we don’t get a single subtitle for their lines of Japanese dialogue. But this is not an inaccessible piece of indie cinema – it’s an uproarious comedy about how people interact at the most basic level, even when they don’t share the same language. It also features one of the most fascinating self-deluded characters of the year, Cory Lawler (Cory Zacharia), whose interactions with Atsuko make up the bulk of the film. The dialogue and interactions felt completely naturalistic, and demonstrated a great deal of talent on the part of the Japanese actors – fluent English speakers in real life – who were quite convincing in their inability to understand the specifics of what the Americans were saying to them.

Zacharia also gives an outstanding performance, although I have to mention – one of the actors present at the Q&A said that Zacharia is very much like his fictitious counterpart in real life, much like Jason Mewes in the films of Kevin Smith. Zacharia’s characterization is actually quite similar to that of Mewes, but his naïveté definitely sets him apart.

Listen to me, Daniel, and my fiancée Megan (who is fluent in Japanese!) discuss the film in depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #11: “Littlerock” (SIFF review)

As an aside:
This film stands quite well on its own (or it wouldn’t have made my Top 10), but Cory Lawler is nonetheless a character I wouldn’t mind revisiting. And now it appears I’ll get my chance… In a recent episode of The Tobolowsky Files, storyteller and character actor Stephen Tobolowsky confirmed that Mike Ott is shooting a sequel/spinoff to this film, in which (according to the film’s IMDb page) Tobolowsky seems to play Cory’s father. Both Cory and Atsuko reappear, although one dubious note, which I’ll try not to read too much into, is that “Atsuko” is now “Anna”.

#3: Young Adult

Directed by Jason Reitman, screenplay by Diablo Cody

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) and Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), former high school classmates who reunite when Gary returns to her tiny, franchise-laden Minnesota town determined to break up the happy marriage of her ex-boyfriend, are as bizarre and unlikely a pairing as I’ve ever seen this year. Former popular kids who couldn’t get on with their lives are amusing narrative punching bags, but they seldom transcend their status as stock characters. Mavis Gary is certainly the most richly layered version of this character I’ve seen, equal parts alcoholic and Diet Coke fiend, determined to keep reliving the glory days, even via her profession – ghostwriter of trashy teen fiction. Theron’s performance is brave and effective, keeping the character utterly unsympathetic for most of the film’s runtime, and yet inspiring sympathy when she has to. Oswalt’s performance is remarkable – every bit the awkward former nerd (who paid a serious price for his lack of popularity), but much more self-aware, hiding behind a fortress of adept sarcasm and other tidbits of verbal sparring. To watch these two thoroughly damaged people butt up against each other (to their own mutually increasing frustration) is remarkable and hilarious. And what’s more (in typical Jason Reitman vein), this is not a story about damaged people growing and changing and getting on with their lives – quite the opposite, in fact. Several late scenes are immaculately constructed – equal parts devastating and hilarious (and one featuring an outstanding supporting turn from Collette Wolfe).

Diablo Cody has certainly matured as a screenwriter since Juno, and this latest collaboration with Reitman is another fascinating dark comedy character piece. These characters still have a bit of the quirk and banter we’ve come to expect from her screenwriting, but they feel much more grounded in reality. Dark, hilarious reality.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film in-depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #15: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, “Young Adult”

#2: 50/50

Directed by Jonathan Levine, screenplay by Will Reiser

There’s nothing funny about a young man getting cancer. But screenwriter Will Reiser‘s semi-autobiographical tale of getting cancer at a young age not only tackles this serious material with an incredible degree of levity, but feels authentic and intensely personal in the process.

Shortly after Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has received his diagnosis, a random coworker gives him an emphatic hug at a party, tearfully announcing, “I’m gonna miss you!” At his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen)’s insistence, he walks up to a girl at a bar and attempts to pick her up by announcing that he has cancer, shortly after shaving his head with Kyle’s electric “body-groomer”.

So many of the scenes in this film felt as if they could only have been taken from real life, not only because fiction wouldn’t dare tread on such ground, but because fiction rarely has the slightest idea of what dying is actually like. As I write this, I’m a healthy young man (my penchant for whiskey and kielbasa notwithstanding), so I can’t say whether this superlative film got it right. But I can say this… I saw myself in Adam, and his plight feels genuine and heartbreaking. Gordon-Levitt gives a remarkable performance here, and his chemistry with Rogen is pitch-perfect. I found myself laughing throughout this film, and tearful at several points – and I never once felt like the film had manipulated me into either reaction.

Take some notes, Patch Adams. This is how it’s done.

Listen to me and Daniel discuss the film in depth:
FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #13: Jonathan Levine’s “50/50″

#1: Hugo

Directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by John Logan, book by Brian Selznick

This has definitely been a year of fascination with the techniques of prototypical filmmaking, between this film, The Artist, and My Week With Marilyn. And yet, this film stands apart not just as a celebration of the magic of cinema, but as an argument for the preservation of any creative endeavor. This film is gorgeous and utterly immersive, rich with memorable characters to bring you along for the ride.

From my review:

Hugo strives to be both a children’s adventure film and a poignant drama about the burden of a forgotten artist, and it largely succeeds as both. What’s more, for any auteurists out there, it certainly feels like a personal project for Martin Scorsese, whose marvelous body of work is fortunate enough to exist in a century with both the technology and inclination to preserve it. No one quite knows how their creative efforts might be remembered in future generations, but this film deftly argues that such efforts ought to be remembered and cherished. What truly makes this is a great family film is not just the zany and inoffensive hijinks that it shares with so many other blockbusters, but also this message, subtly woven throughout a story that is quite worth telling.

Honorable Mentions:

  • War Horse (directed by Steven Spielberg, screenplay by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, book by Michael Morpurgo)
  • Bridesmaids (directed by Paul Fieg, screenplay by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo)
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (directed by Brad Bird, screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, TV series by Bruce Geller)
  • Shame (directed by Steve McQueen, screenplay by Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan)
  • Beginners (written and directed by Mike Mills)
  • I Saw the Devil (directed by Jee-woon Kim, written by Hoon-jung Park)
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Steven Zaillian, novel by Stieg Larsson)
  • Midnight in Paris (written and directed by Woody Allen)
  • Kosmos (written and directed by Reha Erdem)
  • Jane Eyre (directed by Cary Fukunaga, screenplay by Moira Buffini, novel by Charlotte Brontë)
  • Double-honorable mention: Certified Copy (written and directed by Abbas Kiarostami – just saw it last night, too late to be eligible for this list!)

2011 Glennies, Part 1: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2011)
2011 Glennies, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor/Actress
2011 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actor/Actress

2010 Glennies, Part 5: Best Picture (Top 10 Films of 2010)

#11: Splice

Directed by Vincenzo Natali, screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor

There are films I enjoyed more than Splice this year, but it earns a place on this list for the sheer audacity of its premise and execution. Vincenzo Natali’s shocking portrayal of the creation and upbringing of a human-animal hybrid strikes a tone that falls somewhere between Gattaca and Jurassic Park, raising the former’s complex bioethical questions while striving for the latter’s excitement amid the uncontrollable chaos of the natural world. While it never quite reaches the heights of either of these films, I can safely say that it is one of the most unforgettable and shocking films I’ve ever seen. It boasts a trio of mostly strong performances, including a disturbing and utterly fearless performance from French model/actress Delphine Chanéac as the adult creature.

#10: Inception

Written/directed by Christopher Nolan

In 2008, when I named Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight my #3 film of the year, I simply (and lazily) wrote, “You either already know why, or you probably don’t care. See this film. If you already have, see it again.”

Nolan’s latest film, Inception, seems to provoke the opposite reaction on both counts. Its fans and detractors alike have written volumes on the subject, and most casual viewers are compelled to see it again if only to make sense of the entire mind-bending spectacle. I can’t praise the film quite as dismissively as I did The Dark Knight, but while Inception is not a perfect film, it is certainly one of the most complex visual and technical spectacles ever put to screen, and for that much alone, it must be recognized. While the film’s action descends into slightly shallower video-game territory by the end, it still manages to offer one of the finest deconstructions of reality and consciousness since The Matrix.

#9: Never Let Me Go

Directed by Mark Romanek, screenplay by Alex Garland, novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

The appeal of this film is difficult to describe without spoiling its intriguing alternate-reality premise and fantastic worldbuilding, but this is a film that succeeds masterfully at building an atmosphere that makes the audience care deeply about its characters. The film was not without its hiccups – the resolution of the love triangle seemed almost deliberately anti-cathartic – but the performances of the core cast (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield) are more than enough to make up for any of the film’s relational shortcomings.

Adam Kimmel’s cinematography makes every frame of this film look gorgeous, even with an utterly bleak color pallette (à la Children of Men), and Rachel Portman’s atmospheric score struck just the right balance to resonate with the film’s emotional beats without overwhelming them. I was not prepared for how this film would affect me, not sure exactly how to feel when it was over, and still haunted by it several days later.

#8: Winter’s Bone

Directed by Debra Granik, screenplay by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, novel by Daniel Woodrell

“You’ve always scared me,” says Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough-as-nails 17-year-old girl who searches desperately for her meth-cooking, bail-jumping father in the Missouri Ozarks.

“That’s because you’re smart,” retorts Teardrop, in a stunningly intimidating performance from John Hawkes. Apart from a pair of brilliant performances (and an impressive supporting cast), this film’s success is in its simple, high-stakes premise – an unlikely detective story in a masterfully realized Southern Goth environment. What’s more, this is a film that keeps the audience fearing for its characters at every turn – a surprisingly rare achievement for modern cinema.

(Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” – A masterful dose of guns, guts, and gloom)

#7: The Fighter

Directed by David O. Russell, screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson, add’l story by Keith Dorrington

This is a crowd-pleaser, plain and simple. A formulaic film can still be an effective one, and I can offer no better evidence than The Fighter. While Mark Wahlberg’s performance as boxer “Irish” Micky Ward is perfectly solid for the subject matter, the real star of this film is Christian Bale, who gives his best performance in years as the boxer’s crackhead brother, Dicky Eklund. This is a film I can safely recommend to anyone (even, surprisingly, those who don’t care about boxing).

(FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #7: David O’Russell’s “The Fighter”)

#6: How to Train Your Dragon

From Dreamworks Animation, directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, screenplay by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, and Chris Sanders, novel by Cressida Cowell

This is, hands down, the most impressive and immersive 3D animation experience that I’ve had in theaters since Avatar, and its dragon flight sequences were even more impressive than the latter film. This 3D managed to not only convey a well-defined sense of scale and distance, but also the sheer speed at which its characters were ripping through the air. As a silent, but nonetheless fully realized character, Toothless the Dragon far surpasses Stitch (DeBlois and Sanders’ last such creation) – the character falls somewhere between pet and trusted companion, but the facial animation and voice work manage to convey an impressive degree of personality.

While the film still falls prey to some of Dreamworks’ usual casting largesse (did Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse really need to be in this movie?), the core cast – Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, and Craig Ferguson – all give impressive voice work. And finally… John Powell’s score is easily one of my favorites of all time.

#5: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Directed by Banksy

Banksy is a force of nature, and I mean that in a good way. This is one of the most informative, engaging, and hilarious documentaries I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Right from its masterful opening credits sequence, it managed to immediately rope me into the heretofore unknown world of street art – a world in which I had absolutely no interest prior to this film.

Regardless of the veracity of the film’s premise and events, it raises some very real questions about the nature of art and its relationship to commerce, and explores them through both the wry wit of Bansky and the bizarre life and outlook of subject Thierry Guetta, a fascinating character unto himself. If you have a Netflix streaming subscription, you can watch this film right now.

#4: Animal Kingdom

Written/directed by David Michôd

This Australian gangster film is a slow burn, but a complete pleasure, and boasts a cast of strong performances (including Jacki Weaver as the most stunningly creepy and effective villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker). Daniel and I couldn’t stop raving about this film – hear more below.

(FilmWonk Podcast – David Michôd’s “Animal Kingdom”)

#3: Mother

Directed and story by Bong Joon-ho, screenplay by Park Eun-kyo and Bong Joon-ho

In the past few years, Korean cinema has excelled in producing films that defy categorization, at least in Western terms of genre. At its core, Mother is about a relationship between a mother (Kim Hye-Ja) and her mentally disabled adult son (Won Bin), with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. I’ve already raved at length about Kim’s masterful performance, but I must also praise the film for its effectiveness and innovation. This film had me from the very beginning, and I was happy to come along for the ride, even as I had no idea where it was going.

#2: The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, book by Ben Mezrich

I know Mark Zuckerberg. Every time I start to write about this film, I keep coming back to this simple sentence. Certainly, I can’t be sure I’ve seen an accurate rendition of his life based on the events of this film. As I subsequently read both Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” and David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect”, I slowly began to get a picture of the man through wildly divergent (and self-serving) accounts of his life, and I was forced to the same conclusion I had when the film ended.

The film’s accuracy with regard to Mark Zuckerberg is irrelevant. We all know Mark Zuckerberg, or at least recognize the character. This film proffers an astounding look at a period of substantial change to society and internet culture, and it does so by crafting one of the most fascinating characters in cinema history and running him through the paces of age-old themes – friendship, desire, and betrayal. As expected with a David Fincher film, The Social Network is technically perfect filmmaking, and brings Sorkin’s rapid-fire script and dialogue to stunning life while showing remarkable restraint with many of Fincher’s typical visual flourishes (although there was still the obligatory “camera passes through balcony rails” shot).

This is a film that everyone will take away something from, even if it’s completely different from person to person. And for a film about the disputed origins of a website, it manages to be completely engaging from start to finish. I’ve said plenty about the performances, but I have to also mention Trent Reznor’s score, which builds a intense and ominous atmosphere from the film’s first scene.

#1: Toy Story 3

From Disney/Pixar, directed by Lee Unkrich, screenplay by Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton , and Lee Unkrich

From my 10/10 review:
In the 15 years since the first Toy Story, Pixar’s animation has progressed immeasurably, but time and again, they have proven that their greatest strength is their understanding of character and story. Pixar has crafted an absolutely gorgeous film here, but it is not about plastic toys – the soulless, lifeless, disposable pleasures of youth. It is a film about life, love, friendship, and loss; hope, despair, and finding one’s purpose. It is funny, exciting, surprisingly poignant, and easily Pixar’s finest film. I’m a little wary of giving this film a perfect score, since I may well have handicapped myself by revisiting the first two films immediately beforehand. This might better be considered a rating for the entire trilogy, and not just its brilliant send-off – but I can’t help it. I’ve seen this movie twice and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle, screenplay by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, book by Aron Ralston)
  • Kick-Ass (directed by Matthew Vaughn, screenplay by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, comic by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright, screenplay by Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall, graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley)
  • Buried (directed by Rodrigo Cortés, written by Chris Sparling)
  • True Grit (directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, novel by Charles Portis)
  • Catfish (documentary, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)
  • Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky, screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, and John J. McLaughlin)
  • Shutter Island (directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, novel by Dennis Lehane)
  • The Town (directed by Ben Affleck, screenplay by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, and Aaron Stockard, novel by Chuck Hogan)
  • Restrepo (documentary, directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger)
  • Greenberg (written/directed by Noah Baumbach, story by Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh)
  • Get Him to the Greek (written/directed by Nicholas Stoller, characters by Jason Segel)

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.

2010 Glennies, Part 4: Best Actress

#5: Annette Bening – Nic, The Kids Are All Right

This film didn’t quite do it for me, and reminded me that I sometimes have to catch myself from thinking that the best performances of the year will invariably fall within the best films. But while Lisa Cholodenko’s sex comedy/family drama was not without its flaws (particularly in the second half), Annette Bening’s performance as the conservative “patriarch” of this surprisingly* conventional family was immaculate. She completely sold her ever-changing reactions to the introduction of her kids’ birth-father (Mark Ruffalo), treating him first like a looming threat to her primacy, then laughing and drinking wine with him and the family. This is a completely authentic character, and Bening’s delivery of dramatic outbursts and comedic barbs alike was spot-on. Her chemistry with Julianne Moore felt mostly believable – it had a kind of comfort and ease, just like an old married couple.

She also completely nails the best two lines in the film, which I won’t spoil here.

*By the standards of quirky indie film, that is.

#4: Carey Mulligan – Kathy, Never Let Me Go

I’ve seen Carey Mulligan play cheerful, but I’ve seen her play somber much more frequently. While I may eventually reach a point of wanting to see a wider range from this actress, I found every dour moment of her screentime in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go to be completely compelling. This film relied heavily on tone, and Mulligan’s performance and chemistry with her fellow leads (Keira Knightley in particular) helped maintain the film’s bleak and somber atmosphere without ever letting the audience lose emotional touch with the characters. These are wretched and pitiable creatures, and it is Mulligan’s heart and compassion that keeps the audience caring for them right to the end.

#3: Hailee Steinfeld – Mattie Ross, True Grit

An early scene in True Grit features Mattie Ross in hardball negotiations with a stable owner over her late father’s horses. Her unrelenting performance amid rapid-fire dialogue in this scene would have been enough to get 13-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld a supporting nod from me, but the Academy be damned – this is unquestionably a lead performance. Steinfeld is in every scene of True Grit, and the film could not have succeeded without such a mature and charismatic take on this character. Mattie Ross is articulate, intimidating, and a bit of a gadfly, and has to keep up with powerful characters three times her age without ever overstaying her welcome with the audience. It’s a tall order, but Steinfeld completely pulls it off. Her rapport with Jeff Bridges was admirable, treading some fascinating ground between road-trip comedy and an intense father-daughter bond. This film is a delight, and it owes much of its appeal to Steinfeld.

#2: Natalie Portman – Nina Sayers, Black Swan

The effectiveness of Nina Sayers is in both her initial state- the pure and fragile “sweet girl”- and her incredible mental and physical transformation. Natalie Portman not only sold both aspects of the character, but fearlessly committed to all the pain and revulsion – bordering on body horror – that she must experience. Portman’s chemistry and frightful interactions with her fellow players (Barbara Hershey in particular) become increasingly fascinating as Nina descends into full-blown schizophrenic madness. Along with Aronofsky’s direction, this was a performance that would make or break the film, occasionally even compensating for deficits in the screenwriting.

“I’M the Swan Queen!” screams Nina as she embarks on the film’s final performance. And indeed she is. Embodying both the white and black swans, Portman’s performance is complete and unmatched.

#1: Kim Hye-ja – Mother, Mother

It is a rare movie tagline that so adequately captures the tone of a film. For Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother, it was this: “She’ll stop at nothing.” Simple and straight to the point. Kim Hye-ja, an actress primarily from Korean television, gives a tour de force performance as the unnamed titular matriarch. Every one of her character beats rang completely true, from her constant worry about her mentally disabled adult son (Won Bin) to her utter desperation to clear his name for murder. She goes to some alarming lengths as the film goes on, and Kim’s performance completely sold each one of her increasingly heartbreaking decisions. The gorgeous opening scene features Kim breaking into an uneasy dance in the middle of the field, with a very pained expression in her face and body language. The full meaning of this scene becomes apparent later in the film, but from the outset, it is clear that Kim Hye-Ja can convey a great deal of emotion in completely unspoken terms. This is a character that the audience wants the best for at all times, no matter what she becomes.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jennifer Lawrence as Ree in Winter’s Bone
  • Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Emma Stone as Olive Pendergast in Easy A
  • Marisa Tomei as Molly in Cyrus
  • Julianne Moore as Jules in The Kids Are All Right (Honorable, honorable mention: as Catherine Stewart in Chloe)

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.

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, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor

#5: Jonah Hill – Cyrus, Cyrus

In this film from Jay and Mark DuPlass, most of the film’s dialogue was improvised by the actors, and I can only imagine what kind of direction the brothers gave to Jonah Hill as the title character. Creepier… Wider eyes… Like you’re boring into my soul with a searing fireplace poker… This film presents an utterly bizarre, almost marriage-like relationship between Cyrus and his mother (Marisa Tomei), and an instant antagonism for her budding romantic interest, played surprisingly straight by John C. Reilly. All three actors boast a fantastic chemistry, but it’s Jonah Hill’s performance that is easily the most memorable and comedically disturbing.

#4: Armie Hammer – Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, The Social Network

I don’t generally give credit to an actor simply because of the likely-difficult circumstances of production (I’m sure Sam Worthington’s Avatar shoot was no picnic), but Armie Hammer managed to navigate the movie-magic vagaries of playing composited crew-rowing twins while simultaneously imbuing each of them with a distinct and memorable personality. The level of sympathy for these characters will likely depend on your feelings on the Facebook/Harvard Connection litigation (ongoing as of this writing), but Hammer’s take on the brothers Winklevi never waivers from portraying them as consummate and forthright “gentlemen of Harvard”. Even as they seem determined to bring down the ostensible antihero of the tale, they never quite seem like true villains – they are honest, self-conscious, and perhaps a little naive. Hammer manages to convey all of the dimensionality and noticeably distinct personalities amid Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire dialogue, turning in two of the most memorable performances in an equally impressive cast.

#3: Andrew Garfield – Eduardo Saverin, The Social Network

Minor spoilers for the film, and to a lesser extent, real life, will follow.
The effectiveness of The Social Network hinged on a great many things, but easily the most important aspect of the film is the erstwhile friendship of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin. Without Zuckerberg, there’s no Facebook. Without the relationship with Saverin, there’s no movie. Garfield and Eisenberg had a great comedic chemistry (a scene in which Saverin explains to Zuckerberg his treatment of a pet chicken is easily one of the funniest in the film), but Garfield also played the character with such earnestness and emotionality that this relationship and its inevitable dissolution were utterly captivating to behold. What happens to Saverin is business, to be sure, but the film manages to also sell it as a significant personal betrayal. While this owes a great deal to Sorkin’s writing, it is Garfield’s heartbreaking final scenes that make it succeed so masterfully.

While Garfield is receiving this award for The Social Network, I was also impressed by his turn in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go. I can’t imagine what sort of Spider-Man he’ll be, but I’m a lot more interested in finding out after such a remarkable year of introductory performances.

#2: John Hawkes – Teardrop, Winter’s Bone

While Jacki Weaver may have played my favorite villain this year, it is John Hawkes who beats her out for the most terrifying screen presence. Given his unassuming and light comedic performance in 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, and his thoroughly likeable run on HBO’s Deadwood, I was completely blown away by Hawkes’ transformation into the heroine’s wiry meth-addict uncle. From my original review:

His physique was more or less unchanged (except for a slightly graying beard), but his demeanor was something new and thoroughly intimidating. Every word Teardrop says seems to carry a simmering threat of violence, and although the character actually perpetrates very little, Hawkes brings a fiery intensity that makes him downright terrifying to watch.

He and Jennifer Lawrence match each other’s grit quite nicely, and their unlikely alliance was crucial to the film’s effectiveness.

#1: Christian Bale – Dicky Eklund, The Fighter

As I noted in the podcast review, Christian Bale has mostly approached his last few years’ worth of roles in a gruff and humorless fashion, and the resulting performances have not been too impressive. The moment Dicky Eklund steps into frame in the film’s opening street scene, I forgot all of that. This character is such a firecracker. As Eklund saunters down the streets of Lowell, Mass. greeting every inhabitant he comes across, Bale utterly oozes with charisma. His physical and verbal commitment to this character is unparalleled in this cast or any other film this year.

This is the self-destructive crackhead you’d love to be friends with. At the outset, he’s wiry, twitchy and completely high in every scene, but just a load of fun to be around. He plays the most dysfunctional member of a severely dysfunctional family, and yet every one of his early scenes is an absolute pleasure. Minor spoiler, revealed in the trailer: When the character detoxes in the second half of the film, Bale manages to make the personality change believable, and yet still keeps the character completely engaging even without hopping uncontrollably as he did in the first half. This is the best Bale performance in several years, and easily boasted enough screentime to rightfully be considered for Best Actor. But the Academy has spoken

Honorable Mentions:

  • Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker in The Social Network
  • Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris in I Love You, Phillip Morris
  • Jeremy Renner as James Coughlin in The Town
  • Matt Damon as LaBoeuf in True Grit
  • Mark Ruffalo as Paul in The Kids Are All Right

Click here to see the rest of the 2010 Glennies.

2010 Glennies, Part 1: Best Supporting Actress

#5: Keira Knightley – Ruth, Never Let Me Go

Still from "Never Let Me Go"
Spoiler warning: In order to discuss this performance, I must reveal the premise of this film, which some might consider a spoiler.
Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go was an absolutely haunting experience. The alternate-world tale of three friends who grow up to be harvested for their organs, this film doesn’t feel overtly like science fiction, but instead relies on a triumvirate of strong performances to convey the somber and limited lives these three must experience. Keira Knightley gives easily her strongest performance in years, conveying every bit of the jealousy, longing, and regret that this tragic character demanded. While the film’s love triangle was one of its weakest aspects, Ruth’s relationship with Kathy (Carey Mulligan) worked masterfully, and owes just much to Knightley’s supporting turn as to Mulligan’s strong lead.

#4: Delphine Chanéac – Dren, Splice

Still from "Splice"

Dren, the human-animal hybrid from Splice, certainly owes some of its effectiveness to makeup and visual effects, but I must nonetheless applaud this utterly fearless portrayal from French model/actress Delphine Chanéac. This creature must convey a huge range of emotions and instincts through expressions, tics, and growls, often during some pretty harrowing and horrific sequences. Like the residents of the uncanny valley, Dren seems irrevocably human, and yet even when her animal parts aren’t visible, she just seems…wrong. Chanéac lends just the right amount of humanity and intelligence while never failing to remind the audience, whether through a jerk of the head or a high-pitched whine, that this character is not and cannot be human. As a bioethical thought experiment, this film’s ideas are effective. With this performance, the film approaches disturbing near-realism.

#3: Chloë Grace Moretz – Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass

Still from "Kick-Ass"

As I said in the second FilmWonk podcast, I found Chloe Moretz’s performance as the psychopathic superheroine Hit-Girl to be downright unsettling. Not when she was hopping down a hallway dispatching gangsters with the same eerie speed and dexterity as Prequel Yoda, but when she was having sweet father-daughter moments with an utterly ridiculous Nicolas Cage. Through no fault or will of her own, Hit-Girl has been saddled with an upbringing not unlike that of a Rwandan child soldier, and the cringe-inducing warmth of these family scenes lends nicely to the film’s pitch-black satirical tone. Hopefully, Moretz won’t get saddled with the child-actor typecasting curse, as this is the second film in which she’s played a wildly unrealistic child prodigy. Physically and emotionally, this performance is nothing short of mind-boggling in its scope and commitment to the role, and firmly cements her as one of the finest young actresses working today.

#2: Amy Adams – Charlene Fleming, The Fighter

Still from "The Fighter"

Oh, what to say about Amy Adams? This is a fantastic performance in a mostly impressive filmography, made even more so by what a radical departure it is from her usual “sweet girl” persona. Charlene is, and I mean this with the utmost respect, a tough bitch. Her strong, confident demeanor proved a fascinating counterpoint to Mark Wahlberg’s understated performance of an overshadowed character, and the chemistry between the two was undeniable. But even outside the romance, Charlene is a fascinating character, and Adams gives just the right balance of confidence and vulnerability to what could have been a very one-note love interest.

#1: Jacki Weaver – Janine Cody, Animal Kingdom

Still from "Animal Kingdom"

Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker have I seen such an delightfully creepy villain as this. Jacki Weaver’s appearance as the Aussie gangster matriarch Janine Cody quite deliberately evokes a lioness dutifully guarding her cubs, but at the same time, Weaver’s intensity muddles the metaphor a bit as she seems poised to devour any family member that gets in her way. This performance is utterly magnificent, from her every little interaction with her sons and grandson to her dismissive taunts to law enforcement (“but I’m not afraid of you, sweetie!”). As I said in the podcast, this film is a slow burn, but it’s Weaver, the standout in a cast of strong performances, that makes this film such a compelling watch.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Dale Dickey as Merab in Winter’s Bone
  • Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey in The Town
  • Michelle Williams as Dolores in Shutter Island
  • Mia Wasikowska as Joni in The Kids Are All Right
  • Rooney Mara as Erica Albright in The Social Network

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