Saturday, January 17, 2009

Six Great Performances Worth Considering

There are many different awards and prizes handed out leading up to the Oscars in February. When you look over these winners it starts to become repetitive, almost as if all the year-end award circuits try to "predict" the Oscar nominees and winners rather then thinking outside the box and spreading the love for a variety of films.

I saw over 160 films from 2008 and I can honestly say many of them have award potential in some form or another, but when you see the winners during the award season it is as if there were only 5-10 films made every year, and nearly all of them in December.

Why this is I do not understand, but as an alternative to the group thinking I present six performances worth considering as the Oscar nominations get announced this Thursday. Here are six great performances that will be overlooked during the award season but for my money are easily among the best I've seen this year…

Best Leading Actor - Redbelt

Under the skillful direction of writer-director David Mamet, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of the very best performances of the year, as Mike Terry, an honorable martial arts instructor whose financial problems force him against his will to fight in a hyped-up TV match. There are no big "Oscar" moments, Ejiofor simply provides a truth to this role that transcends external performance.

Best Leading Actress - Wendy and Lucy

Michelle Williams is nothing short of superb as a vulnerable woman caught in the devastating realities of poverty in American society. To see Williams and her joy, hope, sadness, fears, and uncertainty effortlessly converge without sentiment in the final moments is truly a masterful performance in a beautiful and heartbreaking film!

Best Leading Actress - The Last Mistress or Boarding Gate

Under the direction of Catherine Breillat in The Last Mistress, Asia Argento was given the freedom to let out her fierce intensity with a dazzlingly wicked performance. With Boarding Gate, Argento found the perfect collaborator in Olivier Assayas who allows her to carry the film. Both performances define Argento strengths as a commanding screen presence, shaping the rhythm and intensity of the films.

Best Leading Actress - Elegy

Penelope Cruz is still overdue the Oscar from her performance in Volver and she may very likely take home the award this year for Best Supporting Actress in Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona. However, her lead performance in Elegy is far superior, instead relying on complex depth rather then the symbolic character she plays in Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Best Leading Actor - Hamlet 2

Always one of the great comedian actors in British cinema, Steve Coogan really shines in a rare American lead role. The film is kind of silly but completely enthralling because of Coogan's lively performance which carries the entire film. Sadly comedy is not regarded as serious award-worthy but there few better performances this year then Coogan's.

Best Supporting Actress - Elegy

Patricia Clarkson has long been overdue her respects among the great actresses of contemporary American film. Playing a small supporting role in Elegy, Clarkson is memorable and moving in that she makes her character authentically alive with feelings of pain and betrayal.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Films of 2008 (part 2)

Earlier this week I posted a film-by-film summary of the entire Year in Films. Now I’d like to individualize the year in films with my Best of 2008. This will include the usual award categories (Best Director, Best Original Score, etc) as well as some fun alternate categories (such as Best Ensemble Cast, Best Fight, Best Sex Scene, Best Performance by a Dog, among many others).

Please take the time to look it over and feel free to share any comments, questions or recommendations you may have!


Monday, January 5, 2009

The Films of 2008

Looking over the year of films several trends seem to surface. One of the most prominent (though offered in different forms) was the theme of globalization and its potentially disastrous effects on contemporary society (as in Wall-E or 24 City), nature (The Unforeseen), business (Boarding Gate), economics (Slumdog Millionaire), or even the family (Summer Hours).

One other trend I noticed looking over the year in films was re-imagining. Some films re-imagined genres (Let the Right One In, Pineapple Express, Boarding Gate), others re-imagined films (Flight of the Red Balloon, Love Songs) and some filmmakers re-imagined other filmmakers (Rachel Getting Married) while some did so while also re-imagining themselves (Summer Hours, Tokyo Sonata, Happy-Go-Lucky, Gran Torino, Go Go Tales).

It was an especially great year for female performances (notably Anne Hathaway, Sally Hawkins, Asia Argento, Penelope Cruz, Riko Narumi, Kristen Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Juliette Binoche, Keira Knightley, Meryl Streep, Rosemary DeWitt, etc) and we saw two great “swan-song” performances by legendary actors of separate generations (Clint Eastwood and Heath Ledger).

2008 may not have had as many great or “masterpiece” films as recent years, but there were plenty to enjoy, and I don’t know if I’ve seen a better French film this decade then Olivier Assayas’ perfect Summer Hours, my favorite film of 2008.

Of course we also saw the refreshing return of Jonathan Demme’s hopeful humanity (Rachel Getting Married), a poetic and touching vampire love story (Let the Right One In), a Zen-like high school film (How To Become Myself), an unforgettable character living life “in the moment” (Sally Hawkins’ Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky), a meditative journey through America via trains (RR), an irresistible sci-fi love story with robots (Wall-E), a screwball comedy in a strip club (Go Go Tales), another film from the worlds greatest living master (Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon), more fierce intensity from Asia Argento (in The Last Mistress, Boarding Gate and Go Go Tales), an imaginative celebration of togetherness and creativity (Be Kind Rewind), among many other wonderful joys from another great year in films!!