Saturday, December 05, 2009

Beware the ideas of Orson.

Written in the style, or at the least in the attitude, of Orson Welles.

YOU THERE! Yes, you! Don't think I can't see you, I've got eyes in the back of my head. Come and sit down. Be quiet! What I've got to say to you is much more important than whatever you've got to do. It always will be. How can I respect you if you're not fully committed to this thing? Good. That's better. Now pay attention. I'm only going to say this once.

You must see Me and Orson Welles. No, no, it's no masterpiece - I can easily admit when things aren't perfect, you know, for often it's the imperfections that make things so palatable to the human emotions. It was always going to be the way with Richard Linklater, anyway - the man's style is too loose, too free to ever let a tightly contained masterpiece out of his soul, and here that's even tempered by the rather obvious structuring of the piece. You can't blame him for that, though. He had to work with the sub-par writing he was given - the man's a director, a visionary, and it's a shame he has such amateurs around him. I'd never let such things pass, naturally.

It feels a little under-budgeted, a little too enclosed to really engage on a sensory level, but we've all had to work with money constraints, haven't we. It all works with the theme of creating a masterwork out of rag-tag bits and disasters. At least it looks good - that Dick Pope's been around for a while, always making things look stripped-back in an attractive sort of way (the best way to be, really, don't you agree?), and he never gets enough credit. Give those costumers, credit, too, especially for undermining Zac Efron's naive cockiness by putting him in dungarees (good lord) and shirts that are miles too big for him. Nice details, but they don't go unnoticed by my keen eye. Nothing ever does. (Stop fidgeting.)

Then there's that Zac Efron. Too pretty for his own good, that boy is. He usurps the whole thing, almost, just by existing. I'm not denying I'd like a thing with him on the side, really, although no one of us has got into his pants yet so I wouldn't bother trying. (Plus if you do I'll make sure you never work in this town again. SIT DOWN.) He's good, though; he cleverly uses the arrogance it's easy to see in him to deepen the character's youthful, misguided arrogance. And really, Christian McKay is so strong, so unmatched in magnificence that even Zac's face can't run away with the picture. And I've not even mentioned that Claire Danes commits her easiest, most engaging performance in several years to her part, or that the ensemble cast makes the film feel even more alive. I see a lot of myself in McKay, actually - the fearlessness, the passion, the raw magnetism. He even manages to make the obligatory "see, this guy isn't a monster really!" moments work by carving them from the exact same piece as the rest of his performance, and muddies whether this moment is really you seeing Welles' soul or merely another manipulation. Without him, the film would be severely lacking; it'd simply be called Me, and that's a ridiculous title. Who's so self-obsessed they'd see a film called Me?

WHAT DO YOU MEAN "I WOULD"? You're fired. Never show your face around here again. I don't have time for amateurs like you.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chloe, (A Lady) in the Night

Cold. Julianne Moore is cold. Not just in the physical sense - I mean, it is pretty chilly in Toronto, but she's also cold in the more figurative sense. She's cold like the smooth white surfaces of her doctor's office, like the spotless glass walls of her house, like the frosty, uncommunicative marriage she's in. A-ha! The crux of the matter. Catherine doesn't trust her husband David (Liam Neeson), what with him being the tall, handsome, smooth-talking lecturer he is, so she hires a glamourous prostitute she's noticed to test his fidelity for good. But Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) gives Catherine more than she'd planned to pay for.

A vague plot synopsis, like the one found in the film festival's literature, makes Chloe's icy erotica seem coyly alluring. A full plot synopsis might reveal the more tawdry aspects of the film, but what delight there is within Atom Egoyan's latest may well remain within the unfolding, so I'll keep as mum as I can manage. But something doesn't feel right from the start. You can film a cold place but it takes something more to make the film cold itself - and Chloe is too heavily photographed, too close to really appropriate that at all. There's no law that says a film set in Canadian winter has to send chills down the back of your spine, but what Chloe's atmosphere is instead is just a bit vulgar and melodramatic. The music is all swelling piano dramatics, the generic atmosphere a stilted, canned laughter type of place... it's a good thing we've got some nudity to spice things up, really.

No, but Moore and Seyfried aren't bad, exactly - a shame in a way, since this has the elements to make it a fantastically bad picture, but it settles for being merely 'not very good' - and the way events play out between them is certainly the most intriguing and interesting aspect of the film. Moore has never been afraid of exploring aspects of a woman's sexuality - despite continually swearing she'll never do it again, she insisted at the press conference - and here she nicely plays the arc of a woman fighting growing older and rediscovering the sensuality that had been buried beneath routine and disconnection. Seyfried is the bigger revelation, though, with a performance that, before the film takes a strong turn for the brainless, is intriguingly coy about who this woman is and what she wants, and more than anything proves that this is a young woman with incredible charisma. The film is, in as much as its psychological aspects end up making any sense at all, about figurative visibility - Catherine feels like she's faded with age, her husband 'doesn't see her'. More interesting is Chloe - does her profession give people licence to view her as a sexual object, or a purchase?

It's a great shame that Chloe, while certainly no masterpiece before it slides into tawdry thriller territory (an aspect not present in the French film, Nathalie..., on which the film is based, and apparently something we can blame producer Ivan Reitman for), throws these promises of psychological insight down the drain. Perhaps it was inevitable - it is, potentially, Chloe's 'performance' that keeps us intrigued, wandering as she does between frankly sexual and coyly childlike, and the stripping back of all this leads to some ludicrous overdrama. Atom Egoyan can wax for as long as he wants about how this is an adult, complex psychological drama about 'human interaction' and 'mature relationships', but the truth will out - it's an erotic thriller with remnants of French intrigue that can't help overloading on inexplicable obsessive madness, blowing all subtle humanity to the wind. Or out the window. C-

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alas, Sweet Hair

I've not mentioned it here on the blog, since I'm figuring that any readers here that aren't covered by my Twitter and Facebook friend roll are likely already readers of The Film Experience, but just in case you're not, I'm covering the London Film Festival for that most wonderful of blogs for the next couple of weeks, and you can already catch a few mini-review round-ups over there. Nathaniel is kindly allowing me to post any full-length reviews on this here blog, though, which might be just as well with the drought that's preceded them. There's also, you might notice, a continually updated list of screenings at the top of that there sidebar, so you're not missing a thing.

First off, here are my extended thoughts on the ever-cited (and ever-loved) Glenn's favourite Samson and Delilah.

Samson and Delilah has just one connection to the biblical parable with which it shares it's name - the chopping off of hair. But in Warwick Thornton's stunning film, the action is not a vengeful one, but one of grief. At different points in the film, both of the titular characters hack at their long locks with a serrated knife as a mark of a death, an act filmed each time with a painfully close intensity. Frequently the film reaches emotional spikes like these, but it's the strength of the film throughout that makes them so powerful.

Samson (Rowan MacNamara) and Delilah (Marisa Gibson) live in a half-heartedly Westernized, run-down Aboriginal town, with a phone that rings but is never answered. She cares for her grandmother (Mitjili Gibson), who makes her living painting intricate dot paintings, and Nana is all too amused by the antagonistic relationship burgeoning between her grandchild and the lonely Samson, who can't get his brother to move beyond the same repetitive tune he plays all day outside their house, and so spends his time playing in a wheelchair and sniff petrol. The early sequences of the drama are tinged with humour, but also a highly authentic feel of the place, not overemphasizing the barren existance with constant shots of it, but letting sound, image and character draw out a keenly felt depiction. Gibson and MacNamara somehow forge an entirely plausible, and certainly fascinating duo as they silently squabble, observe, intrigue each other. Thornton only occasional uses cinematic tricks, like aural identification (as Samson puts his hands over his ears) or distorted edits (as his petrol addiction worsens), to emphasize our identification with these characters, so it's to the actors immense credit that they not only carry the film but involve you so deeply in the tragic unfolding, while still being detached, volatile and unpredictable.

It's to Thornton's credit, meanwhile, that the film manages to be about so much, and be so insightful about these things, while retaining a disengaged air of mystery and apathy that bespeaks the character's attitudes. Moments like Delilah being beaten by those we assume are her family (and who are otherwise absent from her and her grandmother's life) leave us wondering whether this is some vestige of Aboriginal custom, or merely a similar angry violence that Samson is prey to. The film doesn't explain the Aboriginal place in modern day Australia, merely depicts it - Delilah sees her grandmother's dot paintings selling for high prices in a city art gallery, but they won't give her's a second glance. Is it about love? What exactly does Samson want from Delilah? Their relationship grows into some form of love, but does so without seemingly betraying those aspects of their characters that have defined them to us. If Samson and Delilah is a parable, it disguises it well. This is a powerful journey, a detached yet involving story about a pair you might not understand if you dissect their depiction, but gradually do on some basic human level. A-

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Disney Does To You (And Me)

I am a child of Disney. Actually, wait. Change that. I am a half-child of Disney. Call me a step-child of Disney if you want, which helps with the familiar characterization (which ironically enough is of course endorsed by Disney in Cinderella) of the step-parent (which here is Disney, keep up) as an outwardly lovely but privately absolutely evil taskmaster. Anyway, I call myself a half-child of Disney because while, like all other children in the Western world, me and my siblings were raised on Disney movies- Beauty and the Beast and Fantasia remain to this day two of my all-time favourites- but we weren't, unlike almost everyone of my age I've since encountered, raised on all of them. We may have practically worn out those videotapes of Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, but I didn't see The Lion King or Aladdin until I was sixteen (at the imploring of a schoolfriend), and I have somehow managed to live thus far without ever setting my eyes on Pinocchio.

To get more sharply to my point, the other night I finally got around to filling another gaping hole in my Disney checklist, the vaunted 1989 film The Little Mermaid. Disney, as you might expect, removes all the rough edges from Hans Christian Andersen's dark fairy tale, and changes the original spiritual ending for their traditional romantic one of prince and princess living happily ever after. Still, it's a pleasant concoction, buoyed by a fantastically ripe villain in Ursula the Sea-Witch and, of course, the bizarrely (but wonderfully) Jamaican crab Sebastian, who provides the film's highlight in the sensuous 'Kiss the Girl'. Indeed, if I'd seen all this as a child, I'd most likely have fallen head over heels in love with it, have watched it countless times, and been able to recount it all to you now- as I probably could right now with Beauty and the Beast, with which all the aforementioned things did happen. As I've just turned twenty-one, things aren't quite the same. Which makes it more apparent than ever that what these Disney films rely on, deeply, is nostalgia. The youthful mind is probably unlikely to question the idea of sixteen-year-old marrying... well, simply marrying, really, or make the eyes roll at the alarming superiority shot through in Ariel's wistful song about wanting to be human. I could probably go and pick holes in Beauty and the Beast in a similar manner, but I don't want to. If I watched it now, I wouldn't question it at all. But I can't help doing it when coming fresh to The Little Mermaid. My analytical thought processes can't resist it.

It's interesting to look at Disney now. Their traditional hand-drawn animations lost their lustre when compared to Pixar's cleverer animation and conceptualizations of the various worlds they set their stories in. They left their princess stories behind- Pocahontas is probably the last one that could fit that mold- and inspiration, as well as monetary success, tailed off. So what of this December's The Princess and the Frog, the studio's first 2D-animated theatrical release in five years? The title obviously gives away that this is indeed a return to their princess mold, and the trailer promises that it will be "in the tradition of Walt Disney's most beloved classics". I could pick holes in that (the unusually arrogant nature of the prince, which must surely be changed over the narrative; the New Orleans setting, probably ripe for more caricature than ever if they're not careful), but I'm wondering who the audience for this is. Do today's kids (I'm so old...) still grow up on Disney's "beloved classics"? Or is it their parents- some of whom, though it's frightening to think it, are my age- that will be dragging their kids along, eager for a fresh burst of childhood nostalgia? Will the "tradition" of Disney's formulas be as successful today as it was back then, or have things- technically, moralistically, socially, whateverly- changed too much? Can 2D-animation measure up to Pixar, and who are Disney hoping this will appeal to? Is this project simply chasing a ghost?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Treading Gingerly

It's perhaps fitting that when I eventually saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' final film together, The Barkleys of Broadway, it was separated from my viewings of their previous films by at least two years, since in a vague way that apes the ten-year gap there was between 1939's The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and this final pairing, which occured when Judy Garland (who had already partnered Astaire in Easter Parade) had to drop out (though she apparently showed up on set repeatedly to make things difficult for Rogers). It's somehow not really a surprise that this is one of the weakest offerings from the legendary partnership- the most magical moment comes in a retread of Shall We Dance's 'They Can't Take That Away From Me', where everyone involved seems to acknowledge that Barkleys is a film clutching hopelessly to an unreachable past. There is no new ground to tread here, simply a brief reunion of faded magic.

I'm always someone who's been far more interested in actresses than actors, and even if Fred Astaire is a rather brilliant man, I'm concerned about the treatment of Ginger Rogers in these movies. The plot of The Barkleys of Broadway is, rather obviously, referencing the desire Ginger had to be a 'serious actress', which one suspects is partly what lead to the break-up of their partnership at the end of 1930s. The cycle of their movies in the 1930s sees a gradual move towards more equality in the partnership, and with that more weight, more drama in the romantic plotlines. Swing Time marked the first time their love wasn't sealed with a romantic dance- 'Waltz in Swing Time' ends with Ginger spinning off and Fred gesturing sadly after her, and the reunion is instead sealed afterwards, proving Ginger can no longer be so easily won. As the partnership wound down, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle had them already married, already stable, already equal.

Ginger doubtful; Ginger convinced

The Barkleys of Broadway, though, undoes the good work that the previous film did in sending Astaire and Rogers off in a pleasant fashion. For whatever reason, Ginger seems all too happy to mock her former serious self, and finally to accept the idea that Astaire really is her "Svengali". She is the one who has to be dragged onto the stage for the estranged pairing's reunion dance at a charity event- and is visually convinced during said dance to 'They Can't Take That Away From Me', even if she still leaves afterward. It is still Ginger who must realise her mistake and come back to Astaire, back to musical comedy, and leave her own aspirations behind, by convincing herself that those no longer are her aspirations. She cannot even be an actress without her "Svengali"- who pretends to be her French director (Jacques Francois) in order to boost her confidence and perform well.

In essence, during The Barkleys of Broadway, Ginger comes to believe that she is nothing without Fred, that it is to him she owes her career. While it's true that her post-Fred career never really took off, despite winning the Oscar for Kitty Foyle in 1940, is it not a bit much to say that Fred could have stood without Ginger? Who can say if he would have become the star he did without Ginger as his partner? There's no question he was the better dancer, but would their films have been as good an escape from the Great Depression if Ginger hadn't been there as a tough cookie counterpart, a twirling dervish of a dress-wearer? Astaire stayed where he knew he could succeed. But Ginger tried. Trying to be a 'serious' actress isn't necessarily better than being a dancer or a comedienne, but she stretched her legs, she ventured into the unknown, she had a go. And it's a shame she's not more celebrated for it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Picture This

Tarsem (who formerly came with a surname, Singh) proved last year with The Fall that he holds a unique flair both for truly cinematic imagery and for storytelling that folds this into narratives that reflect on the human mind, its intricacies and dazzlingly imaginative capacity. Of course, I wouldn't have been surprised by this had I already seen his 2000 debut The Cell, but I've only just now caught up with it. Though in a completely different category from The Fall- an 18 certificate to The Fall's PG- they are in fact remarkably similar, entwining 'real' and invented, unreal worlds together to demonstrate how distorted they can become.

The Cell
is rather marvellous, in case you didn't know- haven't you been reading Nick Davis?- and I encourage you to seek it out if you haven't already (as long as you can handle such disturbing sights as a man with rings all over his back suspended painfully in mid-air, and a horse diagrammatically dissected into slices), but instead of harping on about it all, I've instead capped some tempting pictures of the sort of delights on offer. No, no horse insides- I'm not really a costume nut but Tarsem's costume designers really have the flamboyant, extravagent flair in their costuming that makes me sit up and open my mouth in astonishment. And how can you resist a film in which Jennifer Lopez (who's rather good by the way) dresses up like a nun? Sorta.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Un quartetto di emozioni

While everyone's going nuts over Star Trek (which I will be seeing, so let's just see if I can be bothered to write anything about that), last night I decided to be all weird and different and I went to see Il divo. Thankfully I refer not to Simon Cowell's pop-opera quartet, but instead to Paulo Sorrentino's lauded film about former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. However, inspired by the pop-opera quartet and my easily divisible reactions to the film, I'm crossing those caterwauling men (I wish I could use their faces in this post, but they just look like smug, self-satisfied bastards in every photo) with the Seven Dwarfs and bringing you my review in the form of four emotional subheadings. Confused? Yes, you're right! That's the first one. (DoyouseewhatIdidthere, etc.)

Confusion. It may as well be admitted immediately: I went into this film knowing nothing more about it than the couplet "Italian politics" (which is hardly a thrilling advertisement, but anyway). I didn't know who Guilio Andreotti was, I had no cognisance of the events that unfolded before me. I've never been a political person and I'm certainly not an Italian political person (hey, if I don't even care about my own country's politics, I can hardly be expected to care about Italy's). So, for much of the film, I was a bit confused as to who all these people were, what they were doing and why they were doing it. It'd all been jazzed up a bit, probably for people exactly like me, but we'll get to that in a second.

Amusement. Forgive me. But as Guilio Andreotti, Toni Servillo walked like a camp Nosferatu and looked like a cross between David Frost and Milton from Office Space. Servillo's performance isn't by any means bad, but, at least initially, Sorrentino seems all too intent on mining the caricature for laughs, positioning Andreotti's immobile face and hunched body against "hilarious" oppositions like a lost cat. I wasn't amused by the attempts to amuse me, but more the ludicrousness of it all, as well as the time I spent trying to figure out exactly who Servillo resembled. Did I get the perfect description? (Vote now!)

Annoyance. I haven't seen Gomorrah yet, but from what I've heard it fits the same mould as Il divo does- visceral, hyper camerawork, a style aping classic Martin Scorsese; basically, jazzing the dull story up by quick editing, shocking sonoral moments and camera placement that shoves half the frame up to your nose and the other half so far away you need to squint. Il divo adds to the sleek post-modern feel by sticking every character's name, rank and nickname on-screen when we meet them, these labels sliding behind objects and twisting around things and generally making themselves hard to read. You want to make politics more exciting, I get it. But to be honest, the only reason I didn't fall asleep was because you threw in a gunshot or someone yelling every so often so I was jolted out of my slumber.

Melancholy. Alright. So the film didn't work for me on an intellectual level, and that's probably my fault. And it didn't work for me on an aesthetic level, and that's definitely their fault. But there were a couple of moments that cut right through all the bullshit and genuinely moved me. Andreotti and his wife are watching television, and she reaches for his hand, which he coolly gives to her. As they sit there holding hands, staring at the TV, she turns to look at him, and here, for once, the camerawork hits the bullseye. The point-of-view shots linger over the side of his face, desperately trying to penetrate his hard outer shell, and you realise that his wife has lost him completely, no matter how hard she tries, and as she tries again to talk, to break through to him, it's a devastating moment. And then there's the secretary, crying on the bus- a singular moment of unfettered melancholy. Il divo doesn't get much right, because there's so much bullshit, both on the level of plot and of film aesthetics, but when it reveals the deep sadness at its core, it's undeniably powerful. C

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Victim's Gold Stars: Les Autres

What's this? The second (and last) of my awards posts within a week of the first? Have we entered an alternate universe?

Anyway, now these things are all done and dusted I can get back to posting very occasionally and possibly producing something people might actually be interested in reading. No, I'm not pessimistic, what makes you say that?


Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo & François Bégaudeau, The Class
Inevitably loses the trajectory of the passing months in its more selective, freewheeling approach, but maybe that's a good thing; school life becomes as homogenously existant as you remember it. There's so much wit here, but not arch or fake; there's a reason why this all feels so real, and much of it surely grew, at least, from the page.

Mark O'Rowe, Boy A
Uncompromising, really, in the harshness with which it depicts the world and the difficult re-entry of our central character back into it, but also humanizes each character with the painful truth of someone who recognises the ultimate tragic simplicity of our lifes and the inability to deal with such unfamiliar events.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In
Deliciously unpredictable, slightly impenetrable; spinning mysteries so barefaced that their unsolved nature is perversely delightful, while crafting characters that challenge the genre conventions without being ludicrously self-referential or self-aware in their difference.

Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace
An arch, savvy screenplay befitting the material; laced with ripe dialogue and absurd moments, but these work with the mood of the direction and the acting, and the moments of shock, sensuality and harsh wit only add to the sumptously uncomfortable experience.

Lorene Scafaria, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
It was inevitable, really, that I'd be caught by the youthful hipsterism or whatever label you want to slap on this film, but Nick and Norah is so effervescent, so witty, so generous in how it sets out the various characters that its easy to forgive the tiny slip-ups it makes just because it's so warm, inventive and open.


Fatih Akin, The Edge of Heaven
One of those multi-strand, coincidental narratives which isn't done with quite enough panache that you don't notice the interlocking, overlapping nature of it all, but all the same, these coincidences seem less the point than the emotional reflections they provoke. Still schematic, but makes up for it in character, unusual trajectories and knowing when to quit.

Arnaud Desplechin & Emmanuel Bourdieu, A Christmas Tale
Fat and complex, like a Russian novel. It really does seem to encompass everything, and yet it doesn't feel exhaustive or, indeed, exhausting: it barely seems to scratch the surface, in the end, shuttling characters around and off and on and in and out. And as a portrait of a family, it's disarmingly truthful and uncomfortable, but engagingly so.

Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married
Another difficult family gathering here, with an even tighter focus; Lumet, befitting the camerawork, shoots straight for the dark centre of things instead, obviously peeling back layers but never making it seem like she was holding anything back, even if she has been. Raw, slightly indulgent, but marvellous.

Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg & Judd Apatow, Pineapple Express
Now, I know what you're thinking, I don't normally go for this sort of boy's club juvenile humour stuff. But, simply put, Pineapple Express was hilarious. There's a slightly menacing morbidity here which is never removed as I expected it to be; the threat, the villains, are truly dangerous. But what's most important is that the film knows its way around jokes, lunacy and a boy's club that's actually quite sweet.

Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt, Reprise
All loopy, self-referencial and with fascinating ways of approaching things; playing with the literary theme, obviously, and as such reflects the variety of ways to write a book, while never seeming to loose the coherence of the story of the friendship at its heart.

(excluding any Best Picture citations)

Taxi to the Dark Side
Precise and detailed, superbly presented, consistently engrossing. Never afraid to follow the little threads but keeps them revelant and always returns to the intimate topic at hand. Bonus points for looking fantastic, because so often they don't deem it important.

Up the Yangtze
A story of change; never judgmental, simply observant, watching an old tradition fade as the youth try and make their own way into the world. Again, not afraid to follow tangents but keeps them impactful and doesn't overplay the emotions it could easily ladel on.

We Are Together
Heart-warming; not a documentary with a "mission" beyond exposing these kids to a wider fame than they'd already achieved. There's less objectivity and more intimate involvement, here, but you really feel connected to these kids by the end, impressed not just by what they've done but by their spirit, their feeling.

(excluding any Best Picture citations)

The Chaser (Chugyeogja)
A breathless, shocking thriller; approaches a familiar plot almost from the opposite end, subverting expectation immediately and continually surprising, but never skimping on either character or excitement.

A Christmas Tale (Un conte de Noel)
Desplechin's trademark tangential plotting, his rich characterizations, his superbly awkward human interactions, laid all across a two-and-a-half-hour mini-saga of a family's Christmastime. Impeccably acted, intimately detailed, and effortlessly engaging.

Don't Touch The Axe (Ne touchez pas la hache)
Its strict focus works surprising wonders for it; through the intimate detailing of the Duchess and her relationship with the General, we slowly become engrossed, fascinated as much by the small details as the wider canvas of French society and forbidden passions that's painted.

The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite)
Once again mining his German-Turk heritage, but taking a less direct approach than he did with previous film Head-On, Fatih Akin takes on a wider canvas this time, but keeps the style intimate and focused. Some superb performances increase the rich experience.

Love Songs (Les chansons d'amour)
My 'pet' of the year, really: not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but extraordinarily easy to love. It feels fresh and personal, the slightly twee songs given weight by the emotional (if unstable) characters singing them, played by such charismatic, beautiful people it's hard not to want to get sucked into this world and have sex with them all (hey, that's what they're doing).


Mathieu Almaric, A Christmas Tale
The 'rogue' son; Almaric doesn't put up any difficulties towards understanding why he's an outcast, but you can also understand why his girlfriend is so fascinated, yet weary, of him. A Christmas Tale is an ensemble performance, really, and Almaric is just part of the superbly created family dynamic, but what marks him is his strange ability to be world-weary and childish all at once.

Emile Hirsch, Milk
I stand by my belief that Emile will one day be a movie star; here, he provides his best work yet by bringing joyful energy and passionate support to another ensemble. His Cleve Jones is a dedicated, individualistic character who is never given 'big' moments by the script, but his humanizing, cheerful work is all the more laudable for that.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
You're shocked, I can tell. There's really not much to add to this discussion, but Ledger's frightening, magnetic, witty, manic performance is something completely unexpected, already a timeless reconception of a famous role and certainly the performance people will remember from 2008.

Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
In part, impressive merely for the fact that it seems such a change of pace for Marsan; but that aside, Scott is a bulldog of a character, perhaps too over-egged as an emblem of the British negativity Poppy faces everyday, but that doesn't stop Marsan's work from being exciting, funny, and often slightly terrifying.

Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading
The diamond in the rough; where exactly Pitt got this from, both in the context of the film and his previous career, is a mystery, but he gets the yuppie consumerist insufferablity with such delicious irony. It's a pleasure to watch him hit the comedy mark so perfectly throughout.

(with sincere apologies to Rosemarie DeWitt, ousted at the last minute)

Hiam Abbass, The Visitor
A performance best described as tender; Abbass turns up and turns what could have been a stock figure into a heartbreaking, beautiful character, infecting the film with warmth even as she's attempting to be as frosty as possible, because there's something affecting about her innate privacy, which makes breaking through that so much more intense.

Patricia Clarkson, Elegy
Sweeps in, sharp and sexy, to provide insight and wisdom to the narrower main characters. Clarkson is always superb value, and here she also provides a wisp of sadness as her character recognises she's being cast aside; there is pain in her eyes, but strength too, and Clarkson is as magnetic and clever as always with her limited screentime.

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
An absolute whirlwind; Cruz storms in and lights up the film, making everything immediately revolve around her, and providing justification, in her rich line readings and wild, empassioned gestures, as to why it should. Film-saving, career-making, utterly delectable work.

Ari Graynor, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Just hilarious. Graynor is abandoned for much of the film yet makes those stretches almost the best of the film, spinning a new classic 'drunk' character with her speech and expressions, calibrated to maximise hilarity from something that's not too unfamiliar from your own experiences.

Rachel Regulier, The Class
The best of a superb bunch of new faces in the film, Regulier is both a magnetic presence and a generous ensemble player, working excellently with her classmates while providing a singular characterization that almost unbalances things. Keyword almost: Khoumba's confrontational, disengaged front is tempered by hints of her smarts, both street and intellectual, though Regulier, similarly smart, leaves room for ambiguity, slightly mystery.


Laurent Cantet, The Class
Coping with this class, even though I'm sure the actors were less troublesome that their screen counterparts, can't have been easy, but the seamless naturalism would reflect no troubles at all; add to that the liveliness, the freshness of the whole project and this is a superb achievement.

John Crowley, Boy A
Again, working specific wonders with the cast, drawing superbly sensitive performances; but also has a terrific sense of place, a measured, precise feeling about proceedings, and an eye for unusually acute moments.

Tom Kalin, Savage Grace
Over a decade since his last film but still sharply attuned to the specific style he wants, matching sets and acting with the dialogue to provide a stylized, rich experience. Again, a great sense of place, too, capturing various moods without needlessly expanding the camera's viewpoints.

Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Working his improvisational magic once more; Leigh's process seems a truly collaborative one, but someone has to take the reigns and he's as finely observant and tactful as ever, pulling focus onto our heroine to just the right amounts. (And we'll forgive that one slip-up with the homeless man, because nobody's perfect.)

Tarsem, The Fall
Such richness of vision, in everything from the storyline to the costumes, but never loses the heart of the piece either, and does wonders with young Catinca Untaru. Alright, so slightly indulgent, but as with the best auteurs, that just makes everything more wonderful.


James Franco, Pineapple Express
The lovable stoner; Franco mines so much comedy from what might have been a stale stereotype, spinning endless riffs with his vocals, expressions, gestures... Franco finally 'arrived' last year, and on the basis of this clever, charismatic turn, it's not hard to see why.

Andrew Garfield, Boy A
An astonishing breakthrough; Garfield is painfully raw as the imprisoned boy who is released back into society as a man. The secret weight on his character's shoulders never far from his or our mind, Garfield's sympathetic, unmawkish performance reveals the sheer difficulty of simply being a human.

Ben Kingsley, Elegy
I have never been a fan of (Sir) Ben Kingsley, so I was taken aback to find his performance in Elegy as affecting as it was. It's all part of the film's real 'adult' (in the emotional rather than explicit sense) that his character is so complex, so intellectual yet basely sexual, and Kingsley navigates these contradictions very adeptly.

Sean Penn, Milk
Possibly the most exciting performance Penn's ever given. By turns playful and sober, romantic and focused, sensual and political, it's never not a biopic performance but it doesn't feel like an imitation, it feels like an essence has been captured, and then set free. The thrilling centre of the film.

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
The performance is a bridge between actor and character, but that doesn't diminish the raw power of the performance, the commitment to the possibly-familiar story arc, the humour he brings to the film as well as the tears.


Anna Faris, The House Bunny
And Miss Faris continues to outshine her material (which isn't actually that bad here but anyway...). The script does, admittedly, give the film to her on a silver platter, but that doesn't stop her comic timing, her clever characterization, her perfect vocalizations, her inspired expressions... Yeah. She's brilliantly funny, basically.

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Using her movie star charisma to the good of the character; Kym's focus-pulling dramatics make Hathaway's status a sore character point, and she embraces it all, shining harsh lights on Kym's multitude of failings while providing witty moments and emotional asides. Hard to watch, sometimes, but truthful in that pain, and delightful out of it.

Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
Works, across the arc of the film, on turning the audience fully around; initially ingratiating, Hawkins does not compromise Poppy's relentlessly cheerful attitude whatsoever, but shades it with reasoning, hidden moments of a darker complexion, and completely turns you around to how you percieve her- without changing in the slightest.

Julianne Moore, Savage Grace
Moore has been lost in the mainstream for long enough for it to be evident that she needs the freedom, the looser boundaries, the adventure of smaller, more independent filmmaking to really grasp a character. And grasp she does; Barbara is a fierce, vibrant woman, and Moore bites down on her prentiousness, her frailties, her distorted perceptions to fashion a performance that is frighteningly magnetic.

Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy
The quiet, unassuming centre of the film, Williams does nothing flashy with the part, instead letting us grow accustomed to her with time, letting our involvement rest on both virtue and fault, quietly carving a subtle, affecting performance that rests within the quiet beauty of the film.

(see the full top ten)

Boy A
A difficult subject handled with delicacy, subtlety and humanism; answers are not to be found within, simply the moving story of society's failings, both in the cause of the tragedy and the difficulty of Jack's reintroduction. Low-key but devastatingly effective.

The Class
Surely familiar to anyone who's ever attended a public school; I, for one, recognised the genial arguments and the bitter, difficult debates, the difficulty of positioning yourself between your own intellectual progression and how others percieve you. The Class gets all the little details right, and is so deftly executed, so unassumingly witty and poignant, that it really is an unexpected masterwork.

The Fall
An astonishing piece of work; such glorious imagination, rendered on-screen so with such aplomb, such a stunning sense of style. A singular piece of work, yet one that is eminently connectable, appealing as it does to both the audience's childhoods and their adult perceptions of a world gone wrong.

The difficulties of a friendship, the difficulties of writing, the difficulties of adulthood; life is difficult all over, really, but rarely has that difficulty been rendered so exactly and through such insightful, clever cinematic techniques.

Trouble the Water
An exemplary documentary; the large part of the film is dominated by Kimberley Rivers' astonishing home video footage of Hurricane Katrina, which would probably be worthy enough in itself, but directors Carl Dean and Tia Lessin not only manage this footage, they track Rivers and her family after the hurricane, providing an intimate portrait of the results of the devastation, while also widening out to larger issues that Rivers, intentionally or not, raises. A striking, moving, engrossing watch.