Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plucked From The Air

I'm feeling quite scatterbrained tonight- my mind is all over the place. (Did you need me to define that? No? Oh well.) I won't bore you with the details but they are an explanation for the random collection of thoughts on the recent releases you can see in the sidebar that are completely off-the-cuff. Right here, right now.

My experience of Nick Broomfield is limited to the second of his documentaries on Aileen Wuornos (I do have the first waiting to be watched) and his first fiction feature, Ghosts, which was one of 2007's more underseen and underrated efforts. Battle for Haditha, which debuted on TV just a couple of weeks after an almost non-existent cinema release over here (and was also released in the US), is again fiction, and it's yet another film about the Iraq War (once you open the gates, you apparently can't close them). I suppose this one's inherently interesting because it looks at a tragic incident between American forces and Iraqi civilians but it's from a British filmmaker's perspective. Trouble is- and I can't state this any less bluntly- it's just bad. It really is. I'm sure it's supposed to carry over the documentary aesthetic (something Ghosts achieved so well), but it all feels horribly fake. It's badly written, the characters are horribly stereotyped, the acting is shallow and forced, and Broomfield engages in some techniques, particularly near the end, that are so overwrought and cliched it's hard to believe someone actually thought this was a good idea. I mean, it's just dreadful. Utterly. D

I liked The Wrestler. I really did. But I think it suffered from the unfortunate consequences of 'hype'. Built up to be amazing... ends up slightly disappointing. Which is not to say it was in any way bad. Mickey Rourke was fantastic, easily running away with the Best Actor kudos so far, and Marisa Tomei (who I'll be writing up for StinkyLulu's blog-a-thon; did I not mention...?) and Evan Rachel Wood (yes) were really great too. I think part of my enjoyment of the film was always going to be limited because wrestling doesn't appeal to me in any way whatsoever, and especially with all the stuff they showed us (which, yes, points up the character's masochistic nature, etc.) I just couldn't understand why anyone would want to either do or watch that stuff. But it was never boring and always involving and I really liked it anyway. Even if I would rather Darren Aronofsky made more beautiful bonkers films instead of generic (because it is generic, essentially) ones like this. (Although that doesn't prevent this from being his most successful film so far.) B+

I don't really have much to say about Summer Hours other than it's very peculiar that Olivier Assayas- who I have great love for after Clean and Irma Vep- even bothered with it. The Musee D'Orsay paid towards it and it shows: the film has no clean objective other than to somehow manoeuvre itself round to getting the museum itself into the film. There's some guff about what value possessions hold- sentimental or monetary, etc.- but after the mother (Edith Scob, who's rather good) snuffs it (um, spoiler?) you're left with her selfish whining adult children and give up giving a toss. The winding plot expresses no definitive interest in any one character and yet what else does it leave you with? C

Waltz with Bashir is a strange one. I think the first thing to say is that I just don't like this style of animation- I didn't like it when Richard Linklater did it (I know that was slightly different, yes) and I don't like it now. It's cold and smooth and unexpressive. There's no texture in it, no depth. Animation can be beautiful, but this style is not for me. I won't go into the politics of the film, because god help me I don't really understand, but I will say this: ending with actual, live-action archive footage of the mourning mothers devalues everything we've just seen, because you're suggesting that what you've ostensibly been pouring truth and feeling into is all worthless because it's not real. And if you don't believe in it, why should I? C+

Thoughts on Defiance will appear next week, hopefully in the form of a photograph because I will, assuming it's acceptable, finally have something printed in the university newspaper. It only took me two and a half years...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Far Reaches

Sometimes a film gets lost in the shuffle. Shoved out at the end of last year, I wasn't even aware of Far North's existence until the trailer popped up at the university's art cinema recently. But I've been struggling over what to say about the film- indeed, whether I should say anything at all. This isn't because I haven't got anything to say- rather that I'm not sure whether I should say what I have ultimately decided to say. You see, I think my job as regards this film is encouraging you to seek it out, since you probably haven't seen it. But there are two very distinct ways I could get you to do that, each appealing to a totally different type of person. So here are two mini-reviews.

1. Far North is the kind of film rambling, poetic descriptors were made for: the cracking ice over the seas we swoop over; the stadium-like mountain we camp under; the crisp, pristine snow we trudge through- all are captured through beautiful photography, contrasted with the barren sonic planes and the reserved, unnervingly quiet glances of Michelle Yeoh, who leads a minuscule cast with one of the best roles she's ever been given (at least on this side of the world). Shame for Sean Bean, then, who's really let down merely by an accent- knowing where this man has sprung from is quite important, really, and when you find out he's a Russian traveller your illusions of a lost Englishman are shattered. But never mind. There's all kinds of criss-crossing thematic threads about family, solitude, lust, nation, and just plain survival that Far North remains mystifying fascinating throughout. And another Michelle- the younger, stunning Michelle Krusiec- proves a match for her elder namesake with a wary, charismatic performance as the love triangle's third point. For a film where all three characters remain intentionally unknowable, Yeoh and Krusiec, at least, make these mysteries a transfixing felicity, right down to...

[If the above explanation is enough to make you interested, I implore you to stop reading. But if all that silent beauty and reserved glances makes you yawn, read on, and highlight, for this contains what's sort of a spoiler...]

2. Blimey if Far North doesn't have one of the most surprising, baffling, utterly lunatic endings I ever did see. Out of a story of psychological sufferings and quiet connections and rejections comes a true horror film ending, one that manages to remain integral to the interior maneuverings of the characters while simultaneously being completely bonkers. If you want to exit the cinema having been shocked, repulsed and befuddled- in a good way- this might be the film for you.

And there you go. B

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Behold, Your New King

Alright, so not really. And although I may have predicted The Reader in both Picture and Director, where it scored (not so) surprise nods, I'm certainly not happy about it. The Dark Knight may have been ridiculously overhyped and it's not as good as a lot of people would have you believe, but it's still far superior to 'that Holocaust movie' (you know that's how it's going to be described). I would pass judgment on the other nominees there- I get the impression it's hardly a stellar line-up- but in fact The Reader is the only one of the Best Pictures nominees I have so far seen. (Slumdog is tomorrow.)

I am obviously also extremely irritated by the Sally Hawkins snub. It's not as though they didn't respond to the film- Mike Leigh got a nod in Original Screenplay. Which, when you think about Mike Leigh films, is a bit silly, because they're largely improvised and surely more down to his direction and the acting. But oh well. It's just one thing we'll have to live with. Again, my viewing in this category is limited- only Jolie, who shouldn't be there, and Winslet, who I'd swap for Sally in a heartbeat. Sorry, Kate, but you've done so much better. (At least they put her in the right category, though. Fight the category fraud, AMPAS!)

In other news, pleased Dev Patel was passed over (he was always my least favourite on Skins); I totally ballsed up the Original Screenplay category but the results are certainly interesting; pleased for Melissa Leo (I'm taking in Frozen River tonight), if just because it's nice that an early-release and non-famous actress got in; taken off-guard by the double-appearance of Wanted, but not in a bad way; and totally befuddled by Original Song, both because there were only three and because the Boss was conspicuously absent.

Oh, and my percentage was 68% (69 out of 99). That's up from last year but still worse than the year before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh, Sod (it), Crap Always Reaps

Anagrams make me different. Different gets you noticed. Why won't you notice me dammit! LOVE ME!

*ahem* Yes, it's pretty obvious what these are. (Why am I taking risks? It never pays off.)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon *
The Reader *
Slumdog Millionaire *

4/5- missed: Milk

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire *
Stephen Daldry, The Reader *
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk *

4/5- missed: Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon

Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor *
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon *
Sean Penn, Milk *
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler *

4/5- missed: Brad Pitt, The Curious Case...

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married *
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Melissa Leo, Frozen River *
Meryl Streep, Doubt *
Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

(This is what's known as "wishful thinking". When Angelina gets nominated, not having been nominated last year, it will be known as "sod's law".)

3(.5)/5- missed: Jolie, Changeling; and Winslet for The Reader

Josh Brolin, Milk *
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder *
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt *
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight *
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

4/5- missed: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Amy Adams, Doubt *
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona *
Viola Davis, Doubt *
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler *
Kate Winslet, The Reader

4/5- missed: Taraji P Henson, The Curious Case...

Woody Allen, Vicky Christina Barcelona
Dustin Lance Black, Milk *
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky *
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Robert D. Siegel, The Wrestler

2/5- missed: Frozen River; In Bruges; Wall-E

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire *
David Hare, The Reader *
Justin Haythe, Revolutionary Road
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon *
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *

4/5- missed: Doubt

The Baader Meinhof Complex [Germany] *
The Class [France] *
Departures [Japan] *
Everlasting Moments [Sweden]
Waltz with Bashir [Israel] *

4/5- missed: Revanche [Austria]

At the Death House Door
The Betrayal *
Man on Wire *
Trouble the Water *

3/5- missed: Encounters at the End of the World; The Garden

Kung Fu Panda *
Wall-E *
Waltz with Bashir

2/3- missed: Bolt

Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire *
Chris Menges & Roger Deakins, The Reader *
Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight *
Harris Savides, Milk

4/5- missed: Tom Stern, Changeling

Donald Graham Burt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Nathan Crowley, The Dark Knight *
Bill Groom, Milk
Catherine Martin, Australia
James Murakami, Changeling *

3/5- missed: The Duchess; Revolutionary Road

Deborah Hopper, Changeling
Michael O'Connor, The Duchess *
Sandy Powell, The Other Boleyn Girl
Jacqueline West, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Albert Wolsky, Revolutionary Road *

3/5- missed: Australia; Milk

Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire *
Daniel P. Hill & Mike Hill, Frost/Nixon *
Claire Simpson, The Reader
Lee Smith, The Dark Knight *

4/5- missed: Milk

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
The Dark Knight *
The Wrestler

2/3- missed: Hellboy II

Alexandre Desplat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Danny Elfman, Milk *
Nico Muhly, The Reader
A.H. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire *
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard, The Dark Knight

3/5- missed: Defiance; Wall-E

"Down to Earth", Wall-E *
"I Thought I Lost You", Bolt
"Jaiho", Slumdog Millionaire *
"Once in a Lifetime", Cadillac Records
"The Wrestler", The Wrestler

2/3- missed: "O Saya", Slumdog

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
The Dark Knight *
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire *
Wall-E *

4/5- missed: Wanted

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight *
Iron Man *
Quantum of Solace
Wall-E *

3/5- missed: Slumdog; Wanted


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
The Dark Knight *
Iron Man *

So this means (based on predictions)... The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (12); The Dark Knight (11); Slumdog Millionaire (9); Milk (7); The Reader (7); The Wrestler (5); Doubt (4); Frost/Nixon (4); Wall-E (4); Iron Man (3); Revolutionary Road (3); Changeling (2); Happy-Go-Lucky (2); Rachel Getting Married (2); Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2); Waltz with Bashir (2)

And all with (1): Australia; Bolt; Cadillac Records; The Duchess; Frozen River; Gran Torino; Kung Fu Panda; The Other Boleyn Girl; Quantum of Solace; Tropic Thunder; The Visitor

No room at the inn for... (0): Burn After Reading; Che; Elegy; Indiana Jones; In Bruges; I've Loved You So Long; Synecdoche, New York; W.; Wendy and Lucy

Friday, January 16, 2009

Der Goldene Mann

There's been a tendency in recent German cinema- or, at least, the recent German cinema that is deigned good enough to be internationally distributed- to look back and reexamine the country's troubled past century. Obviously this primarily focuses on the Second World War- it sticks out like a sore thumb, dontchaknow?- and I can't help wondering if this is because the filmmakers are now, probably, at least two generations removed from those who were directly affected by the war. We're surely getting to the stage now where direct connections to the war in families are lost before this new generation of filmmakers was born- the war is, slowly, becoming consigned to history. And, if there's one thing we know the Academy loves, it's history.

The Reader- which, I hasten to add, is not a German film but an American-British co-production, although it heavily features many German actors- is indeed all about a generation that were not directly involved in the war. Central character Michael Berg (David Kross/Ralph Fiennes) is part of the first post-war generation- born, it would seem, during the war, but living in a time where the loss smarts so keenly on the older generation that he himself remains freewheeling and content. It's only as he grows up, having had an affair with a reticent but enigmatic older woman (Kate Winslet), that he becomes engrossed in the politics and morals of his country's past. Particularly when his former lover appears as a defendant in a War Crimes trial.

Stephen Daldry's third film- following British ballet fairy-tale Billy Elliot and the elaborate, confounding The Hours- clearly wants to dig deep into the moral maze that is the war and the spectral shadows it cast, but, to twist a phrase, it's all talk and the wrong kind of action. For a film that is fraught early-on with nudity and intimate sexual happenings, The Reader is remarkably cold- even these scenes are presented with almost clinical precision, not the nervous anticipation that should surely be accompanying young Michael's first sexual encounters (for the film is undeniably aligned with him- Winslet's Hanna remains a distant mystery). Expecting these films to solve the moral dilemmas is surely ridiculous- if we could, then such crimes would become thinkable, the one thing they are surely not- but The Reader offers up stultifying classroom discussions and expects them to be readily applied to its simplistic offerings up in the courtroom. I've heard it said, predictably enough, that The Reader isn't about the Holocaust, and while it is obviously a personal story of being forever haunted by a lost love and a betrayal, to negate the aspects that refracting that story through such a damaging period such as the war is basically insulting. Any deftness the film manages vanishes completely towards the end, as Hanna is miraculously excused from her wrongdoing with an ill-concieved (or at least ill-portrayed) plot point, and Fiennes' older Michael connects past and future in a painfully rendered moment with his daughter (Hannah Herzsprung). The Reader feels distant and cool about something that surely deserves so much more life and passionate inspection. C

Likely bound for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination in just under a week is The Baader Meinhof Complex, which, despite no explicit statements to highlight this, is the story of a group of people whose paths in life are born from the collective guilt The Reader so bluntly explores. Mostly students- with the glaring exception of the Meinhof of the title, Ulrike (The Lives of Others' Martina Gedeck)- the Red Army Faction protest and bomb against the political forces they see as fascism, particularly the support of the American war in Vietnam. Parents are, with the exception on an early scene that mirrors the moment Michael has with his family in The Reader, neither mentioned or seen, but their spectre is hanging over the new generation: these are people who either feel guilty for what their parents did, or else still harbour anger against those who did things to their parents.

The film, though, has within itself various generations- as the founders flounder in prison, a second generation rises. By the time we get deep into this second lot's activities, it feels like an entire film has passed just with our following the now-enprisoned originals. While the obvious effect of our emphasized unfamiliarity with this new generation of militants is to telegraph the idea that this is a neverending, spiralling circle that will spin further and further away from the very point of the faction's point, it is inescapability deadly for a film to spend at least an hour (time lost all meaning, I'm afraid to say) with a bunch of people we don't know and therefore can't care about. Of course, we never cared all that much about the founding members themselves, and when they prove themselves to be even more distancing and fragmented as they crumble within prison walls, the problem doubles, because the film decides to abandon the philosophizing and politics (excepting occasional check-ins with Bruno Ganz, saddled, as in The Reader, with telling us Everything We Need To Know) and hang its forward thrust on the tragic unwinding of their lives. This split is, again, between words and actions: too consumed with explosions and naughty sexual inserts and flashes of documentary footage in its first half, the film then expects us to care when it switches to talk about the increasingly muddled political angle of the group, and worse, their personal struggles. At the point of one tragic event, I suddenly got the feeling that the film was only progressing in this manner because history told it to: it had lost any interest in itself. And an audience can hardly expect to care about a film that's given up on itself halfway through. C

The Baader Meinhof Complex isn't likely to win the Oscar, even if it is nominated- Waltz with Bashir is, you feel, too strong for that- but another film mining Germany history proved to be last year's victor (albeit in the conspicuous absence of both Persepolis and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). The Counterfeiters is actually an Austrian production, and that factoid certainly helps account for the strangely nostalgic attitude the film holds towards what it's depicting. That isn't as bad it might be- although set in a concentration camp towards the end of WWII, this is a camp, as the prisoners note, with soft beds and blankets, a light and polished canteen, and a row of shining ceramic sinks. Why would prisoners get such cushy treatment, you ask? Well, these are prisoners with skills- skills, that is, of counterfeiting. Money, passports- it's what Himmler wants and it's what Himmler will get.

You can kind of see why The Counterfeiters attracted Oscar attention- it's professionally, slightly too slickly done, deals with a dark historical time without really dealing with it and it balances the drama with a touch of humour and that rather odd dash of nostalgic I mentioned (note the bluesy harmonica music. A weirdly incongruous decision.). Thing is, it's a perfectly pleasant film, but despite finishing as a bizarre cross between Schindler's List and Ocean's Eleven, it doesn't leave you with much to say about it. Like The Reader, you feel as though it should treat such a delicate subject with a bit more... well, delicacy. Moral debates exist through the central character (Karl Markovics) and his clash with Burger (August Diehl), the latter of whom continually sabotages the countfeiting line's efforts to succeed, but they feel gratuitous and ring hollow. Sure, it's an extraordinary story, but overload something with cliches and it'll quickly become rote. C

These films- not, as noted, all German productions- all display a strange, and dispiriting tendency- they have the impetus to delve head on into Germany's complex, difficult past, but peter out remarkably quickly, either because they are unsure about what they want to be saying, or simply because they have nothing left to say. Here's hoping that future films mining Germany's past century have the courage to tackle them with the passion and sustaining introspection that it necessitates.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Golden Globe Predictions

Because I did it last year, I'm doing it again. I am nothing if not consistent. (Those predictions exist in a world where I didn't know what Mad Men was. That is not a world I care to revisit. It starts again soon! Joy!) If I have any kind of favouritism going on, I'll inform you of it, but as is usually the case, I've hardly seen any of these things because distributors are evil.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
Slumdog Millionaire
Is it wrong to hate this without having seen it? Because I do. I really, really do. I'll see it, though, if only so my hatred can actually be rational.
I WAS: correct.

Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical
In Bruges
Well, they liked it enough to nominate it...
I WAS: wrong. Vicky Cristina Barcelona wins, as pronounced by Borat (ugh). This isn't going well for me.

Best Actor - Drama
Sean Penn, Milk
I WAS: wrong. But Mickey Rourke is awesome so I'm not complaining (besides, I've seen neither).

Best Actress - Drama
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Well, they already told us this one. (That was a joke.)
I WAS: wrong. Kate again! How extraordinary. I feel better about this because I haven't seen it and so can't be down that she's won for sub-par (relatively speaking) work.

Best Actor - Comedy/Musical
Javier Bardem, Vicky Christina Barcelona
God knows I don't know.
I WAS: wrong. Colin Farrell wins, which is fine but he does go on.

Best Actress - Comedy/Musical
Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
If this doesn't happen someone's going down.
I WAS: right! All is now suddenly beautiful and magical.

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
I WAS: correct, but who wasn't? They'd probably have killed Demi Moore if she'd said any other name.

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Doubt
Because I love her.
I WAS: wrong. Kate won. I should be happy, but somehow I'm not.

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Vomit time.
I WAS: unfortunately correct.

Best Screenplay
Eric Roth & Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Because predicting Slumdog again would actually make me smash my computer. And I love my computer.
I WAS: rgilghfizdbrshwrongfuehgftewnhgfewgft

Best Original Song
"The Wrestler", The Wrestler
The Boss!!!
I WAS: correct.

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
I WAS: wrong. Slumdog rides on.

Best Animated Film
I WAS: need I even say it?

Best Foreign Language Film
Waltz With Bashir
I WAS: correct.

Best TV Series - Drama
Mad Men
Because it's just so brilliant, and apparently that hasn't changed. What could possibly compare?
I WAS: correct!

Best TV Series - Comedy/Musical
30 Rock
I don't watch any of these shows.
I WAS: correct.

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
I WAS: wrong. Why didn't I predict John Adams here too?

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Paul Giamatti, John Adams
I WAS: correct. Drunk much?

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Laura Linney, John Adams
I wanted to watch this. But it was always on at ridiculously inconvenient hours. DVD?
I WAS: correct. Go Laura! Is she ever anything but utterly divine?

Best Actor in a Television Series - Musical/Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
I WAS: correct. Nice speech.

Best Actress in a Television Series - Musical/Comedy
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
I'd love to say Christina Applegate, because she is super in Samantha Who?, but surely this is in the bag for Tina?
I WAS: correct, obviously.

Best Actor in a Television Series - Drama
John Hamm, Mad Men
YES. I think all this year's awards should be given to him.
I WAS: wrong. Gabriel Byrne? Really?

Best Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
I don't know. I'd be shocked but utterly delighted if they gave it to January Jones.
I WAS: wrong. Anna Paquin wins for that vampire thing.

Best Supporting Actor for Television
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
HOW HAS THIS MAN NOT WON THIS AWARD ALREADY? IF THEY GIVE IT TO JEREMY BLOODY PIVEN AGAIN I WILL BUY A PLANE TICKET TO L.A. AND PUNCH EACH MEMBER OF THE HFPA MYSELF. (Oh, I'm sorry. It appears Caps Lock got stuck. Sorry, HFPA. And besides, it's actually the Emmys I should be punching.)
I WAS: wrong. Blasphemy! Tom Wilkinson for... oh, it's John Adams again.

Best Supporting Actress for Television
Dianne Wiest, In Treatment
Sadly, she'll now always remind me of Family Guy because that's the first time I actually heard her name spoken and realized I'd been saying it wrong.
I WAS: wrong. Laura Dern.

And we'll be back here on Monday to see just how wrong I was.

FILM: 7/14 (50%)
TV: 6/11 (55%)

Basically, I'm really quite rubbish at this predicting lark.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon, Class of 2008: Emmanuelle Devos in A Christmas Tale

I always have a problem with deciding whom to write on for StinkyLulu's most prominent of blog-a-thons, the Supporting Actress Blog-A-Thon, mainly because most of the "big" (read: Oscar) movies have yet to arrive on these shores and contenders are usually plucked from them. So who to choose? After seeing The Reader yesterday I briefly considered Lena Olin, but I decided I just didn't love that performance enough; and the National Society of Film Critics' pick of Hanna Schygulla in The Edge of Heaven reminded me of just how great she, and indeed the film, were. (And let's not forget Hallam Foe's Claire Forlani, who I almost wrote about last year too...) But there's always been one actress in the forefront of my mind for this honour.

I first came across Emmanuelle Devos in Arnaud Desplechin's superb Kings and Queen a few years ago, and it's with Desplechin she reunited this year for the role I have chosen to highlight...

Faunia in A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noël)

Faunia is not actually a member of the family who reunite for Noël; she is the lover of eldest son Henri (Mathieu Almaric), who is somewhat of a black sheep and has actually been banished from his sister Elizabeth's (Anne Consigny) life. Faunia is somewhat reluctant to accompany Henri- whom she hasn't exactly been with for very long- to his family Christmas (particularly since she's Jewish), but accompany she does, and her somewhat looser attitude to life helps skew the family just that extra bit.

The entire cast of A Christmas Tale is terrific- it's a true ensemble piece- but Devos, intentionally, stands apart from the pack. The part seems to rely in part on Devos' natural charisma- the screen seems to get jolted, just a little, everytime she appears on screen. Faunia isn't, outwardly, bothered by the company forced upon her- you imagine she is acting how she would act anywhere else, not caring what the family think of her. Nevertheless, all this could make Faunia a cold, unattractive character, but Devos takes the material she is given and shades it beautifully. Observing the family, Devos gives just a hint of wistfulness- the idea that somewhere inside her is a wish for more closeness that she grants herself. The interaction with Henri, once they reach the family home, is surprisingly limited, lending evidence to the idea that this is not a relationship based on anything much at all. She treats his wilful impulses with an impassive role of the eyes. Faunia leaves on Christmas Eve, leaving Henri with just a kiss on the cheek.

Devos' most prominent scene- and, indeed, the one that got her this post- comes when Faunia goes shopping and walks around an art gallery with the family's matriarch, Junon (Catherine Deneuve). [IndieWire helpfully provides a tidbit of this scene.] The pair discuss Junon's family- and toss off things like "I always wondered what he [Henri- her son!] was like in bed"- with almost disinterested flippancy as they try on dresses and examine paintings. But it's in the art gallery where Devos shines- you see, all at once, her outsider status, her unrivalled comprehension of the complicated family, and her hidden wistfulness for something more. Faunia never says that Henri and she have no future, but Devos knows she knows it, knows that although she may want closeness, this is not the family she'll develop it with. As an outsider- the only true one, since the other siblings are married with children- Faunia is the only one who can reflect objectively on how the family functions, in traditionally dysfunctive fashion. Devos plays the part with subtlety, but also demonstrates a thrilling charisma- which, when up against French legend Deneuve, is quite a feat, and makes one wonder why she's isn't more beloved than she is.