Monday, January 19, 2009

Low Res Oscar Ballot Primer: Underrated in '08

So before the Academy Awards nominations on Thursday, I'm gonna toss up my own selections for the best of the year, movie-wise. It's gonna be scaled down from the last couple years (no full-on Rezzies, alas), but honestly it's more than I was intending to write this time last month. So here we are.

Despite the fact that I found 2008 to be a really disappointing movie year, not everything I liked is going to make it into my imaginary Oscar ballot. So here's where I'm gonna give myself the chance to shout-out a handful of also-rans that aren't getting the love elsewhere.

Underrated Lead Actor: Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon
I didn't care for much of Frost/Nixon, but almost all that I did like (besides Rebecca Hall's wardrobe) was contained in Sheen's performance, which brought actual complexity to a potentially one-dimensional man the same way Frank Langella brought pretend complexity to a potentially one-dimensional man. Frost's struggle seemed genuine, while Nixon's seemed superficial. Naturally, then, Sheen's performance is being overshadowed by Langella's impending Oscar nomination, which is a shame. Of course, Sheen will soon be seen in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, so you tell me who came out on top.

Underrated Lead Actress: Rebecca Hall in Vicky Christina Barcelona
I've gone through my feelings on Ms. Hall before. I just wanted to get on the record before she ends up the odd woman out of my Best Actress lineup.

Underrated Supporting Performances: The cast of Revolutionary Road
It sometimes seems like I viewed Revolutionary Road through the wrong end of a prism. Particularly when web pundits are composing songs of mourning to the uncharitably shunned masterpiece of '50s malaise. Whatever. I didn't hate all of it, but even the parts I liked nobody seemed to be talking about. Kate Winslet's performance seems to be both underrated and overrated at the same time (though I thought she was great), DiCaprio's fine if not nearly worthy of any kind of rave, and rather than talk about Michael Shannon's performance, I will instead mop up the large puddle of drool left in his wake. I guess I understand why people loved him -- he drinks your suburban-angst milkshake! He drinks it up! -- but I couldn't take it for one more second.

Anyway, enough bitterness, this is where I'm supposed to give props. And props I shall give, to Kathy Bates for her ability to imbue some tonally regrettable comedy with sufficient feeling; to David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn for playing their mirror couple with tremendous depth; and to Zoe Kazan for taking a nothing character wringing the absolute most out of every moment without looking like she was expending a whole lot of effort. Tremendous work from within seriously miniscule roles, but these four actors delivered with minimal fuss. Too bad the rest of the movie couldn't live up to that standard.

Underrated Director: Kelly Reichert for Wendy & Lucy
At first glance, there doesn't seem all that much to this movie. A bit of an actor's showcase for Michelle Williams, sure, but these small little indie movies where not much happens are never all that impressive for the director. But it all sticks to your bones, this movie. The directionless atmosphere and the delicate interactions with largely indifferent people all take much clearer shape the farther you get away from it. It's not by accident, and I've suddenly become very interested in everything else Reichert's done or will do.

Underrated Scene in a Bad Movie: The Happening
Look, I hated The Happening. A lot. I wrote about how much I hated The Happening. It is a terrible movie. But it's a terrible movie with a few killer opening scenes, including the below screencapped one:

...which is terrifically creepy and almost operatic. It's just another reminder that Shyamalan can be a gifted visual artist even if he is SUCH a crappy storyteller.

Underrated Worst Movie of the Year: The Life Before Her Eyes
I understand about The Love Guru. I'm with you on Speed Racer. I sympathize about Twilight. I may never stop apologizing for paying full price to see You Don't Mess with the Zohan. But in terms of sucking me in with an idea I thought was good, giving me two good-to-great actresses in Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, and no outward warning signs of impending garbage and then delivering utter crap, this one takes the cake. First of all, you can't make a Columbine movie in the wake of Elephant and differentiate youself via a painfully obvious "twist" that sucks all the wind out of the story. Second of all, the acting isn't terrible, but it doesn't come close to saving it. And third of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... . [Honorable crappy mention to Run, Fatboy, Run, which made me totally distrust Simon Pegg's judgment, maybe forever.]


J.D. said...

God, I completely agree about The Life Before Her Eyes. Both Uma and Evan were unbelievably embarrassing, and that "twist" is so fucking weak and confusing. Seriously, did ANY of it make sense?

(It felt good to hate something with such a passion, too!)

Linda said...

Never apologize for going to see "You Don't Mess With The Zohan," Joe. You and I have both gotten so much fucking mileage out of having gone to see that movie, it was almost worth it.

Plus it was like a hundred degrees outside.

David said...

I agree about the supporting cast of Rev Road. I also think Leno Olin's been forgotten as being fabulous in The Reader. Also, I do agree that Rebecca Hall was sensational in "VCB" which was one of my favorite movies of the year.

Neel Mehta said...

I guess I understand why people loved him -- he drinks your suburban-angst milkshake! He drinks it up! -- but I couldn't take it for one more second.

Oh my God, you totally nailed it. I never thought of comparing John Givings to Daniel Plainview. (And the allegorical names!) Blowing my mind, dude.