Saturday, August 23, 2008

Victim's Gold Stars: Acting, Writing, Directing...

Yes, I realize it's the second half of August, and, yes, I realize I promised this about three months ago. But, um... better late than never, right? I had half of this post done three months ago, so apologies for the glaring differences in the writing. I just had to get this out, even if it took me a year. And I'm not the only one, anyway.

My top ten can be found here; I kind of feel as though I've extolled all of their virtues within, so no individual commentaries for them this year. But let it be known: they are all outstanding. And on with the show; no refunds, sorry.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Operatic, powerful and alarmingly ambitious, Anderson's script may edge into self-indulgence but that just makes it all the more magnificent.

Beatrix Christian, Jindabyne
Delicate and low-key work, adapting an American short story to Australian full length with wondrous confidence, crafting engaging characters bound in a truthful setting.

Tracy Letts, Bug
Intimate and direct, Letts makes the stagey atmosphere work for his writing, amping up the claustrophobia in both stage direction and dialogue. Even when what the characters spout is perversely hilarious, it never loses its horrifying edge.

John Orloff, A Mighty Heart
Expands what could have been restricted to Marianne Pearl's story and makes it about the community around her too, which gives a wider, more reflexive angle on the true horror of the real events, unafraid to abandon its big coup of a star for as long as it necessary.

James Vanderbilt, Zodiac
It is by necessity discordant and off-putting in its rhythms, for this real life case is one that cannot prescribe to cinema's usual plotting system, and Vanderbilt makes it tense and compulsive in an unfamiliar way.

Best Original Screenplay

Diablo Cody, Juno
You know all the criticisms. But how many scripts create dialogue this witty, characters this truthful and surprising, and moments this fluidly expressive?

James Gray, We Own the Night
What seems- and has in some quarters been recieved as- a routine undercover cop story proves itself otherwise, mightily impressive in how it weaves complex, fascinating characters into a story that eschews both predictability and explosions.

Todd Haynes & Oren Moverman, I'm Not There.
This may the most abstract way of getting under someone's skin that's ever been attempted, but the kaleidoscopic personality of Bob Dylan deserves nothing less. The fragmentation coheres into a greater emotional connection that a familiar plot would, and it's funny, too.

Kelly Masterson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
A hysterical Greek tragedy in a modern setting. Somehow the bigness of the dialogue, the ambitious structuring and the inherent selfishness of Masterson's characters combine to create a film you can't take your eyes off.

Christian Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Stripped down in the best way possible, Mungiu is a great contributor to the film's horrific realism, since what's not said speaks louder than what is. He crafts his characters slowly and confidently through the situations he puts them in.

Best Documentary

Deep Water
This tale of a disastrous 1968 round-the-world yacht race, in which amateur Donald Crowhurst faced isolation and diaster, is grippingly assembled and is even gracious enough to give room to the other entrants of the race, the bigger picture making for a fuller experience.

Lake of Fire
A lengthy and difficult film, but a necessary one that doesn't shy away from being graphic or opinionated about its topic of abortion. And on an aesthetic note, the black and white shooting is both a gorgeous and thoughtful choice.

No End in Sight
Direct and focused, this examination of the Bush administation's conduct in the early months of the Iraq War is superbly comprehensive and well-structured, providing an insightful narrative into a seminal period of modern history.

Best Non-English Language Film

Black Book (Zwartboek)
Lavish, sexy and exciting, Verhoeven combines his trademark vulgarity with a film that winds a personal journey into history, ending up with a surprisingly affecting film.

Dark Horse (Voksne mennesker)
Truly offbeat, this film's odd sensibilities work for it, providing hysterical moments of comic genius and a sweet love story.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 Luni, 3 Saptamâni si 2 Zile)
Devastating, opinionated without shouting about it, and moving in a strong yet quiet way, this absorbing character study is an unforgettable experience.

Lady Chatterley
More expansive, you feel, than D.H. Lawrence's tale is usually allowed to be (probably because it was adapted from a less famous version of the novel), the film is a slow-burning, earthy and very engaging piece that is period only in the costume.

Lust, Caution (Se, jie)
Ang Lee winds you up in the enigmatic webs of 1940s Shanghai, lacing every part of the film with edgy nervousness, tangled feelings and bare stylization. If the last act takes the film a little off-track, it's compensated for by a fantastic central performance and Rodrigo Prieto's precise camerawork.

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Cera, Juno
I'll love him forever for George Michael Bluth, but Cera almost matches that magestic characterization here, exuding nervous warmth, appealing eccentricity and a certain quality that makes it entirely obvious why Juno got pregnant in the first place.

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
It's hard not to well-up at Holbrook's performance here, so soft is he in his timid gruffness and wistful longing after McCandless' free life, while simultaneously projecting a heartwarming need to protect.

Tony Leung, Lust, Caution
Almost a performance from a silent movie, so enigmatic and fascinating is Leung in his smoke-hazed observations and sudden sex-filled rages. As with Tang Wei's lead, you're never quite sure where you are with his character.

James Marsden, Enchanted
A gloriously madcap comic performance; hammy, if you like, in all the best ways, nailing the cartoon spirit of the character and stamping a vivid mark on the movie.

Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn
Zahn is possibly more subdued than he's ever been, superbly crafting a performance with just a hint of his usual manic personality; the rest is filled out with sorrowful depth, a weighty resignation to his fate.

Best Supporting Actress

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There.
A freewheeling performance; happily the closest in look and feel to the public perception of Bob Dylan, Blanchett aces the adrogynous comedy of the part, while remaining emotionally resonant and dangerously edgy.

Deborra-Lee Furness, Jindabyne
Fiercely powerful, Furness almost charges through this film, and yet her loud moments never feel gratuitous or selfish; she anchors them in an unsettled and stubborn woman who is just as conflicted as the nervy characters around her.

Jennifer Garner, Juno
Juno reserves its biggest character doozies for Mark and Garner's Vanessa, and Garner lays the foundations for the well of surprises in her initally frosty character from the off. You get the sense Vanessa is so straight-laced because she has to be, because to function otherwise would mean to face the disappointments. Garner is empathic but never sycophantic, a rich but measured performance.

Eva Mendes, We Own the Night
Mendes doesn't play this role in at all the way I expected: the boss' girl is not a gold-digging slut, or an adoring lapdog, but someone who genuinely cares about- nay, loves her man, astutely knows where his decisions might lead, and Mendes' really nails the concerned strength of her character.

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
It's difficult to say anything original about Tilda Swinton; she even managed to get Oscar on her side. So only this: Swinton's Karen is perpetually on the edge, a businesswoman who knows right from the off she's headed for disaster, a ball of combustible nerves, and Swinton is magnetic to watch doing all this.

Best Director

Andrew Dominik, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
A bit florid, maybe, but his vision is commendable, crafting a mystical epic and drawing magnetic performances from his actors while ensuring they cohere with the feel of his picture.

David Fincher, Zodiac
Not so overtly stylish as we're used to, and that's a good thing. He still brings his skill in creating nervous tension and subtly powerful moments to the film, the unusual narrative line of the picture accentuated by his focused direction.

William Friedkin, Bug
Almost gloriously theatrical; Friedkin really goes for the intimate, powerful nature of the stage, allowing the insanity of the story to infect the picture as a whole to create an unforgettably frightening experience that etches itself on the psyche.

Todd Haynes, I'm Not There
Again, as ambitious as ever, Haynes slices his six Dylans into almost incomprehensible pieces and yet ultimately makes them cohere to produce a feeling that this abstract approach is the best way to make sense of the man.

Michael Winterbottom, A Mighty Heart
An actor's director, but also highly skilled with giving the film his trademark sidearmed approach; the film rarely proceeds in the expected way, but Winterbottom ensures that it never loses its way.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Affleck is possibly this film's strongest asset- his reedy, cracked voice, shifty eyes and weak, disturbingly pained smiles work to make you sympathize with Robert Ford, but also to unnerve and unsettle, and, perhaps most brilliantly, to lead you to examine both he and Pitt's Jesse James. It's technically exact work disguized by a tremulous, rich emotional core, and one of this decade's finest performances.

Jakob Cedergren, Dark Horse
Dark Horse is odd to say the least, but Cedergren is your connecting thread between all the bizarre attempts at refereeing footbal and elephant appearances, a slightly aloof, lazy and irresponsible young graffiti artist who is by no means excluded from all the madness within; but it is Cedergren, ultimately, who keeps you as spellbound as you are, keeps you interested in the characters rather than simply what they're doing, and gives the romantic thread that wins through the pull it gathers.

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Day-Lewis is so obviously showboating, but so is Daniel Plainview, and while the film is a tad too prone to give itself over entirely to what it recognizes as such an unreachable height, it still gives this infamous performer plenty of chances to carve in deep, textured layers that are still, even far inside, tinged with that rabid narcissism. He's wrenching *in* his showboating, truthful in his macabre tone, and beautiful in his unpredictability.

Joaquin Phoenix, We Own the Night
Phoenix continues to surprise, making this familiar role his own with a layered, distant performance that means you never really figure out what the character thinks or feels all the time, making the moments of raw emotion- whether it be sweaty panic, or delirious grief- all the more powerful when they arrive unexpectedly.

Michael Shannon, Bug
Naked both literally and metaphorically, Shannon is raw and direct, his stage performance seemingly in-tact for the big screen, for this is a daring yet perfectly calebrated performance, Peter's alarming paranoia meaning Shannon has to be magnetic while also giving space to his co-star in the tin-foiled room.

Best Actress

Marina Hands, Lady Chatterley
Hands is surprising in how open and personal she makes her performance, unveiling her repressed, anxious character with gradual steps, and I don't just mean in literally shedding her clothes. It is her silent moments that prove the most memorable, the film proving to be an interior view from her own head, so intimate and close do we feel to her. The film's rhythms ebb and flow with her, Lawrence's story translated into a painful yet fulfilling filmic experience.

Ashley Judd, Bug
Judd is just as bare and effective as her experienced co-star, as the film circles to see her as its centre. Judd makes her character's psychological descent as believable as it is bizarre, her mental journey laid out for us to be horrified witnesses too. When she spouts that ripe dialogue, your laughter is tinged with nervous horror, because Judd seems to believe every word of it.

Laura Linney, Jindabyne
Claire not only becomes an outsider but starts off as one, never looking comfortable around her tight-knit community, and as she becomes increasingly disengaged, her nerviness manifests itself as torrid anger and confused disillusionment. Linney really digs into this character, quiet but powerfully so.

Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
It's been said that one of the most difficult challenges in acting is playing someone inherently honest. While the law of late 1980s Romania probably wouldn't see her that way, both the film and the audience do, but Marinca never plays her as a saint: Otilia is simply a young woman struggling with the problems of those around her, perhaps a bit too timid to stand up to those she loves but never afraid of defending those. Ultimately, her simple, quiet performance will move you deeply.

Tang Wei, Lust, Caution
Simply one of the best debut performances ever given; Wei is an astonishing screen presence, the fascination while generous to her fellow performers, and with such understanding of the role she's playing, the lines between acting and being crossing all over the place. But Wei never loses an inch of her grasp on the character, always committed, brave and balanced.

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