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.

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2010 Glennies Roundup

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

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

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

Also, Trash Humpers.

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

2010 Glennie Awards


Egyptian Blue Hippo


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

2009 Glennies Roundup

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

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

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

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

2009 Glennie Awards


Egyptian Blue Hippo


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

2009 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actress

#5: Mélanie Laurent – Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds

Mélanie Laurent in "Inglourious Basterds"

Mélanie Laurent’s character were scarcely even mentioned in the American marketing for this film, so I was quite surprised when her subplot became the most compelling one in the film. Following the deaths of her family at the hands of the SS, Shosanna bides her time incognito as the owner of a Parisian cinema, and plots revenge. As I mentioned in my original review, Shosanna is a familiar character, seemingly drawn from the same well as The Bride from Kill Bill, but Laurent ably makes this character her own, combining a quietly sorrowful demeanor with an unflinching vendetta.

Shosanna is also part of an entirely one-sided “romantic” subplot with a German soldier (Daniel Bruhl)… While his advances aren’t terribly entertaining, her constant rebuffing is occasionally comedic, but mostly downright chilling (“I suggest you try Vichy”). There is also a remarkable scene between Laurent and Christoph Waltz, in which they sit in a Parisian restaurant and eat strudel. As Shosanna faces the SS Colonel, she manages to rein in her terror until he steps out, at which point she immediately starts hyperventilating. Laurent’s performance is ruthless – like so many others in this film – but also quite vulnerable. She brings just the right balance to keep Shosanna sympathetic, even as she commits atrocities on par with the very people she wants to kill. It is a fantastic performance to round out an almost entirely strong cast (I’m lookin at you, Eli Roth), and is certainly one of the most memorable this year.

#4: Zoë Saldaña – Neytiri, Avatar


Zoë Saldaña performance capture in "Avatar"

Zoë Saldaña in "Avatar"This is a performance I really have to take James Cameron’s word on. The various forays into CG characters over the past decade have definitely started to blur the line between animation and live-action, but they were still mostly in the realm of bodily motion capture, with complex facial expressions significantly enhanced in post-production by teams of skilled animators. But while Andy Serkis’ performances as Gollum in Lord of the Rings were not eligible for an acting Oscar, they were a leap forward from the likes of Jar Jar Binks, and Avatar is certainly the next such leap. According to Cameron, the characters in this film were created using performance capture techniques that recorded every nuance of the actor’s performance. Every tic of a facial muscle…every movement of the eyes… They were all made by the real actors. If this is really the case, it is entirely possible that future performances in this vein will be eligible for acting awards. And I would certainly hand one out to Zoë Saldaña.

Neytiri, the Na’vi princess, is just about the only sympathetic (or fully realized) character in this film, and Saldaña plays her with an some surprisingly animalistic ferocity (even baring her teeth and hissing a few times). While the visual spectacle of this film was enough to ensure that I was rapt with attention, it was with Saldaña’s character that I made the greatest emotional connection. She is almost certainly responsible for how well the romance played on-screen, and in light of the complex production process, achieving any believable chemistry could not have been an easy feat.

#3: Anna Kendrick – Natalie Keener, Up in the Air

Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air"

From my original review:

Natalie is a fascinating character – the consummate young career gal, ruthless and cynical, but with a very human side, full of all the self-imposed deadlines and anxiety about her future that all twenty-somethings tend to have. Anna Kendrick, who I’d only seen previously in a small and ineffectual role in the Twilight films, gives a masterful performance as Natalie, and is surely one of the actresses I’ll be watching for in the future.

This is a performance that grew on me each time I saw the film. The interplay between Natalie and her colleague Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is simply fantastic. Kendrick plays the character with both a fierce determination and a striking vulnerability, utterly immune to Ryan’s charms (and soundly mocking him for his rhetoric). As their road trip of job terminations goes on, it all becomes more and more personal for Natalie, and Kendrick’s performance completely brings this transformation to life.

#2: Charlotte Gainsbourg – She, Antichrist

Still for Lars von Trier's "Antichrist".

This is a haunting performance in a strange and thoroughly disturbing film. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the unnamed wife of a couple grieving alone in the woods. Through this unsettling and bewildering performance, Gainsbourg effectively conveys how broken and terrified this character has become. The interplay with her husband (Willem Dafoe) effectively illustrates the disjointed and counterproductive state of their present relationship. Gainsbourg’s performance is utterly fearless, and she maintains it even as her character becomes a paragon of the film’s unrelenting misogyny (“A woman crying is a woman scheming…”). Frankly, I would have a hard time recommending this film to anyone, but if I did, it would be solely because of this performance, which is one of the most effective and frightening I’ve ever seen.

#1: Zooey Deschanel – Summer Finn, (500) Days of Summer

Zooey Deschanel in "500 Days of Summer"

From my original review:

Zooey Deschanel…steals this film. To put it bluntly, this is a character that the audience could easily have ended up despising. And while the character of Summer is mostly well-written, the characterization and non-linear progression of the story demand a great deal from Deschanel. And it is her performance that just manages to make the character sympathetic.

As Tom reflects on his relationship, many of his scenes with Summer are cast in a different light through subsequent flashbacks. On the second run through, the film’s editing calls attention to the slightest glance of the eyes, or twinge of the cheek muscles, or the most minor apathetic tone of voice… In each of these microexpressions, Deschanel’s performance is masterfully subtle. And throughout the film, she brings all the mystery, likeability, and sensuality that the character demands, but couples it with a subtle undertone of cold, mature pragmatism. She manages to force the audience through nearly the same process as Tom, despite our advantages of an outside perspective and sardonic narrator to keep us objective..

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ellen Page as Bliss Cavender in Whip It
  • Rachel Weisz as Penelope in The Brothers Bloom
  • Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther in Orphan
  • Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Click here to see the rest of the 2009 Glennies.

2008 Glennies, Part 3: Best Actress

Top 5 Lead Actresses:

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


mcdormand
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


hall
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


leandersson
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


blanchett
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


streep
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)