2008 Glennies, Part 6: Best Picture (Part 2 of 2)

Top 10 Films of the Year (cont.):

#5: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I could not have expected less from this movie. I was in Moscow, desperate for American cinema, and there were literally two films playing in English in the entire city… Iron Man, which I’d already seen twice, and this film. The premise looked laughable and sitcom-ish – a man goes on vacation after his girlfriend dumps him…and lo and behold, the girlfriend is staying in the same hotel! With a new guy already! Hijinks will ensue!

But this film shocked me with its brilliance. It is my second-favorite romance of all time, coming in just behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it was also one of the best comedies I saw this year. The film brilliantly conveys the post-breakup condition (particularly from the guy’s perspective), as well as every potentially awkward situation you can have with a girl… Something I could certainly identify with. Jason Segel (who also wrote the film) plays the same character he’s been playing since “Freaks and Geeks”, and makes me wonder just how well-meaning and overbearing he is in real life… He is entertaining, to be sure, but Mila Kunis’ performance (which I rave about in “Part 2: Best Supporting Actresses”) is just incredible, and is truly what elevates this film from a mere raunchy comedy.

#4: Man on Wire

This documentary tells the story of Phillippe Petit, the man who successfully (and completely illegally) strung a wire between the twin World Trade Center towers, shortly after they were built, and spent almost an hour walking on it. The film uses a combination of interviews, footage, photographs, and gripping reenactments to tell the tale. It strikes a tone very much like a heist film, as Petit forms his team and plan, and has to figure out some way to get into both towers, get hundreds of pounds of cable and equipment to the top without provoking suspicion, somehow fire the cable from one tower to the other, and spend several hours rigging it – all without getting caught before getting onto the wire, and possibly plunging to his death.

It is a breathtaking and joyous story, and Petit himself is an absolute pleasure to watch as he recounts the tale. …and if it makes a difference to you, it’s the best-reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.

#3: The Dark Knight

You either already know why, or you probably don’t care.
See this film. If you already have, see it again.

#2: Slumdog Millionaire

It’s a very strange premise… Jamal Malik, an 18-year-old kid from the slums of Mumbai competes on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, and is suspected of cheating for making it to the 10 million rupee question. As he tells his life story to the police detective interrogating him, he explains (in perfect sequential order) how the events of his life came to give him each of the answers to the questions. And as this story is told, we hear about Latika, his long separated childhood sweetheart. The rest plays out as you might expect. Will he and Latika be reunited by his appearance before a TV audience of millions? Of course. It is written. It is destiny. This is a beautiful, uplifting fairy tale that is all about the journey, rather than the destination.

And since it’s done in the Bollywood style… You just know the destination will include a rousing dance number. This film is City of God by way of Mumbai, with just a hint of Disney princess. It is a beautiful, well-acted, and unforgettable film.

#1: The Wrestler

Everything I had to say about Mickey Rourke (“Part 4: Best Actor”) and Marisa Tomei (“Part 2: Best Supporting Actress”) could go into explaining this film’s brilliance. Darren Aronofsky, director of such disturbing or perplexing films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, allegedly approached Mickey Rourke and told him, “I can resurrect your career, but you have to do exactly as I say.”

Rourke allegedly said that on any other day, he might’ve punched Aronofsky out on the spot, but he was feeling particularly receptive. It is a good thing for this film that he was, because I don’t know who else could possibly have played this role convincingly.

And yet, this film may be what really launches Aronofsky’s career from semi-obscurity. This is easily the most accessible of his films. Every grainy, documentary-style frame of this film feels real, as we see Randy “The Ram” Robinson (real name: Robin Ramzinski) try to sort out the shambles of his life, including his fading pro wrestling career, his friendship with the stripper Cassidy (Tomei), and the relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). Every last moment of his performance is genuine and heartbreaking. The film ends as you might expect, and yet the final frame is ambiguous as to the Ram’s fate. Does he die, in the pursuit of what he loves, or does he live, to continue his perpetually tenuous grasp on the important things in his life?

Regardless of the outcome, the Ram is a tragic character, flagellating himself for his own sadism and our entertainment. And Rourke pulls it off in a huge way.

This is a film that will stay with you. It is a sad film that feels joyous as you watch it.

Honorable Mentions:

Dear Zachary
Burn After Reading
Iron Man
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Hamlet 2
Tropic Thunder

2008 Glennies, Part 5: Best Picture (Part 1 of 2)

Top 10 Films of the Year:

#11: In Bruges

I’d call this one an honorable mention, but I’ve just got too much to say about it. This film was advertised as a dark comedy/action film, but it ended up being so much more… Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play a pair of hitmen who head for Bruges (in Belgium) to lie low after a hit that goes terribly wrong… The film plays simultaneously like a fairy tale and a brooding drama, as the two men struggle to cope with the terrible thing that they’ve done (which is saying something, for men in their line of work). The film is hilarious and memorable, and Ralph Fiennes, who unfortunately got no love in my Best Supporting Actor list, gave a brilliant performance as the frustrated boss man.

#10: WALL-E

This film provoked an uproar when it came out… Some people were saying it was the most didactic environmentalist wankfest since Captain Planet, others were decrying its economics, and still others were questioning the love story and calling the titular robot a date-rapist. As amusing as all of this is, it must be said that the first half hour of this film, in which there is almost no dialogue, is one of the finest pieces of animation and storytelling I have ever seen. Whatever the film has to say, it is an admirable accomplishment, and tells a delightful robot love story.

#9: Kung Fu Panda

Jack Black plays a panda who knows kung fu.

Jack Black…plays a panda…who knows kung fu. This movie looked terrrrrrrrrrrible when I first saw the ads, but I cannot tell you how much fun I had watching this film. From Dreamworks Animation, this film proved conclusively that Pixar has a monopoly on neither brilliant animation nor brilliant storytelling. You would think that a fight scene between a bear and a tiger and…a snake?…couldn’t possibly be compelling, but the action of this film is brilliantly “filmed” and choreographed. The film works equally well as an action film as it does as a comedy, and greatly exceeded my expectations.

#8: Milk

Critics were heaping praise on this movie from the moment it came out (93% on Rotten Tomatoes), and I suspected, even as I was watching it, that the film’s pro-gay rights message appealed to their left-wing sensibilities, and as such, they were overlooking some of the film’s flaws. After seeing the film, I still believe this is true to some degree, but this film deserves a great deal of the praise it’s been getting. Sean Penn gives a remarkable performance (see “Part 4: Best Actor”), as do supporting actors James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and Diego Luna. If you have any interest in political and crowd tactics, this movie will enthrall you as it did me. They choreograph a march to city hall, carefully time disconnecting overhead cables from streetcars so they will block traffic on cross-streets, and send Milk to rush to city hall in a car so he can step out on the front steps and “calm everyone down” once they arrive. This was one particularly compelling scene of political theatre, and this film adeptly depicts a great deal of it. The film has its weak points, particularly when it comes to depicting Milk’s love life, but the performances more than made up for it.

It also doesn’t bury the lead with regard to Milk’s eventual assassination (it is announced in the first 30 seconds of the film), and yet the tone of the film manages to remain hopeful and cheery to the very end. Gus Van Sant has transcended the usual conventions of a biopic, and the resulting film is well worth checking out.

#7: Doubt

If you want a film that deals with priests molesting altar boys… Look elsewhere. This film, based on John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer prize-winning play of the same name, is all about the nature of certainty, faith, and doubt. It is driven entirely by the four central performances (who are the only characters in the play) – a stern and unforgiving Mother Superior (Meryl Streep), a young, upbeat, and impressionable nun (Amy Adams), a progressive, but suspicious priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a concerned, but shocking mother (Viola Davis). The film’s roots as a play are evident here; the scenes are long (sometimes 15-20 minutes), and driven entirely by dialogue. It is when Shanley attempts to add film conventions (such as flashbacks) that the film feels weakest, but this thankfully happens only once or twice. There are so many memorable scenes between these characters, and the film’s final showdown, while not perfect, is memorable and impeccably acted. And the ending, which is far from definitive, worked well for me.

#6: Let the Right One In

This film, from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, is a brilliantly ominous coming-of-age film about a 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a frequent target of bullies at school, who finds solace in a budding romance with the girl next door – who just happens to be a vampire. The film takes thorough advantage of the bleak and snowy Swedish winter locale, utilizing every possible shade of gloomy white you can imagine, albeit speckled with blood. The relationship between the two kids works amazingly well, owing significantly to Lina Leandersson’s performance as the seemingly 12-year-old vampire girl Eli. The bullying subplot culminates what may be one of the most tense and brilliantly shot horror sequences I’ve ever seen, making very creative use of an underwater camera. The film is creepy, intense, and haunting. See it before they remake it with Americans.

2008 Glennies, Part 4: Best Actor

Top 5 Lead Actors:

#5: Clint Eastwood – Walt Kowalski, Gran Torino

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

#4: Brendan Gleeson – Ken, In Bruges

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

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

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

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

#2: Sean Penn – Harvey Milk, Milk

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

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


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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

2008 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actress

Top 5 Lead Actresses:

#5: Frances McDormand – Linda Litzke, Burn After Reading

A fun and fluffy performance in a fun and fluffy movie. This film has no grand statement to make (the last scene all but confirms this), but the actors and filmmakers clearly had a great time making it. Litzke may turn over-the-top and cartoonish about halfway through the film, but McDormand completely sells it.

#4: Rebecca Hall – Vicky, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Rebecca Hall first got on my radar from a delightful British comedy called Starter for 10, and this film is her strongest performance yet. It never fails to impress me when an actor manages to emote convincingly and fake an accent. Vicky, the down-to-earth American girl, is, by a slim margin, the more sympathetic character, and she could not have been given a more nuanced, emotional performance.

#3: Lina Leandersson – Eli, Let the Right One In

Boy meets girl, girl turns out to be a vampire. This Swedish pre-adolescent romance and coming-of-age tale was easily one of the best and most effectively creepy films of 2008, and Leandersson’s understated performance is the strongest of the film. If you have any desire whatsoever to see a vampire film this year, stay far, far away from Twilight, and see this film instead.

#2: Cate Blanchett – Daisy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I hate to digress, but it must be said… Cate Blanchett is just gorgeous in this film. And the sheer range of ages that they manage to convincingly make her convey is a testament to the makeup and digital artists that made this film happen. That said, Daisy is far more than a mere technical feat… She is the emotional center of this film, and despite Brad Pitt’s genuinely good turn as a hollowly written character, it is Blanchett that makes the film’s central romance seem believable. Daisy is a breathtaking testament to life in an otherwise bleak and lifeless film.

#1: Meryl Streep – Sister Aloysius, Doubt

I once heard someone call Meryl Streep “the female Al Pacino”, who had made her recent career through over-the-top roles in films like The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia!, and Adaptation. This film has proven that Streep still knows how to give a brilliant performance of a more realistic character. The four central performances are essential to this film’s effectiveness, and Streep’s is easily the strongest. She never wavers in her certainty of Father Flynn’s guilt, and her unforgettable scene with Viola Davis adeptly conveys this (see Part 2: Best Supporting Actresses). The final confrontation between the two leads is well worth the wait, and Streep’s pained delivery of the final line of the film will leave you haunted as you wonder what you really believe about what has taken place.

Honorable Mentions:

Jess Weixler – Teeth (yes, really)

2008 Glennies, Part 2: Best Supporting Actress

Top 5 Supporting Actresses:

#5: Taraji P. Henson – Queenie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Oh, Ben Button, you hapless, eponymous bastard, what a curse you have, to be constantly surrounded by more interesting and better-acted characters than you. Your adoptive mother is among the best of these, providing a secondary emotional center for your otherwise cold and lifeless biography.

#4: Mila Kunis – Rachel Jansen, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I’m surprised to be putting Mila Kunis on a best actress list, being that I only knew her previously as “that hot, dumb girl from That ’70s Show“. Jason Segel’s script casts Rachel as his version of the perfect rebound girl. The wrong spin on this character could have turned Rachel into the random front-desk hottie (a role that anyone could’ve believed Mila Kunis in), but her performance completely elevates this character. She is likeable, down-to-earth, far from perfect (she nearly provokes a fistfight with her ex), but completely sympathetic. It is Kunis’ performance that sells this relationship, and the strained emotional bond that develops between her and Segel’s character is what elevates this film from merely one of the best comedies of the year to also one of the best romances of the year.

#3: Marisa Tomei – Cassidy, The Wrestler

Could Cassidy be called a “stripper with a heart of gold”? Not exactly… But she does make a fascinating counterpoint to Mickey Rourke’s aging pro wrestler. Much as Randy “The Ram” Robinson pretends to put on a show of violence, Cassidy pretends to put on a show of sex. They made their living in the pretense of our most primal interests, and now they’re getting too old… It’s no surprise that they seem to forge a bond. But how much of this bond is just Cassidy’s smile and work ethic? Hard to say, but the ambiguity is there, and Tomei completely sells it. As Randy wonders if there’s anything real in his life, Tomei does a fine job of never definitively answering that question.

#2: Viola Davis – Mrs. Miller, Doubt

I almost didn’t include Davis in my list, because she only appears in one 10-minute scene of the film. But in those 10 minutes talking with Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) about her son, she manages to make you believe something truly shocking. Her reaction to the Sister’s suspicions is so far removed from what you would expect, your jaw will hit the floor. And the scene gets even more unnerving as she starts to convince you that she might just have a point. All of the subtext of the film’s central conflict comes out in this brilliantly written scene, and it owes entirely to Davis’ performance.

#1: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Like I said, there’s something incredible about a well-written and well-acted psychopath. No description that I give can do this performance justice. Just see the film, and do your best to take nothing seriously. It’s laughable and fun and you’ll be unsure by the end whether it was comedy or tragedy.

Honorable Mentions:

Tilda Swinton – Elizabeth Abbott, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amy Adams – Sister James, Doubt
Gwyneth Paltrow – Pepper Potts, Iron Man

2008 Glennies, Part 1: Best Supporting Actor

After realizing just how many new movies I saw this year (despite being out of the country for 3 months), I decided to do my own movie awards, in the form of Top lists, starting with the Top 5 supporting performances, male and female.
And as for the “Glennies”… Yes, I know it’s horrific. You’ve got Becca to thank for that 🙂

Top 5 Supporting Actors:

#5: Robert Downey, Jr. – Kirk Lazarus, Tropic Thunder

If there is one actor who has proven his versatility and talent this year, it is Robert Downey, Jr. It is a testament to both Downey’s performance and the writing of the character that he managed to dodge all controversy regarding his blackface-sporting method actor persona (in favor of Ben Stiller’s use of the word “retarded”). Despite being perhaps the most absurdly over-the-top character in the film, his performance actually grounds the film from some of the absurdities of the other actors. In a film that I entered with high expectations (a rarity for me when I’m walking into a comedy), Downey’s performance was easily the most memorable.

#4: James Franco – Scott Smith, Milk

His Spiderman years notwithstanding, James Franco has consistently turned in good work, and his performance in Gus Van Sant’s biopic is one of the best in a film filled with strong performances. While the film only does a minimal job establishing his relationship with Harvey Milk (they meet completely randomly on a staircase), it is Franco’s performance that makes you believe it. As the film goes on, Franco provides a subdued counterpoint to Diego Luna’s performance as the unstable rebound love interest, and proves himself an essential figure in both Milk’s life and the events depicted.

#3: Aaron Eckhart – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight

Somehow, Eckhart’s performance was lost in the torrent of praise for the acting in this film, and yet his scenes were among the most affecting for me. At the risk of sounding redundant… I believe in Harvey Dent. Because that is what is required of the audience for this character. You first have to believe in his goodness and incorruptibility. Then you have to see that goodness shatter, and realize the sheer tragedy of this character as he screams at Batman and Jim Gordon about how cruel the world is, and why he must do something terrible. I believe in Harvey Dent, and the final scene of Eckhart’s portrayal is heartwrenching for me every time.

#2: Heath Ledger – The Joker, The Dark Knight

What can I say about this performance that hasn’t already been said? There is just something incredible about a well-written and well-acted psychopath. It’s why we loved Javier Bardem in 2007, and it’s why we loved Heath Ledger in 2008. It is his performance that makes the Joker seem real – plausible and terrifying.

#1: Philip Seymour Hoffman – Father Brendan Flynn, Doubt

For a film that I shrugged off as “the sodomy movie” when I first saw the trailer, it ended up being so much more, owing entirely to the strong performances of its four central characters. Whether giving a rousing sermon, arguing vehemently with the headmistress, or sharing minor interactions with his students, it is Hoffman that makes this character both suspicious and sympathetic. The film thrives in the ambiguity surrounding this character, and Hoffman completely pulls it off.

Honorable Mentions:

Russell Brand – Aldous Snow, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Anil Kapoor – Prem Kumar, Slumdog Millionaire
Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Augie Farks, Role Models
John Malkovich – Osborne Cox, Burn After Reading
Shaun Toub – Dr. Yinsen, Iron Man Continue reading