Saturday, August 29, 2009

Looking Back...

So August is over (and when the fuck did THAT happen?), which weirdly, to me, marks the halfway point of the film year. Things don't usually get rolling until after the Oscar anyway, and the years have become so backloaded with the good movies anyway that this seems like the right place to put a divider line. Thus far, it'sa ctually been a pretty good year for movies. There's been a lot of focus on the American mainstream's abandonment of quality entertainment (see what you've gone, Transformers and G.I. Joe), but just as often, audiences have been flocking to surprisingly great movies (your Star Treks, your District 9s, your Ups). So maybe it's not time to declare American culture dead. You know, again.

I'm a listmaker and a dork, so of course I'm going to present my favorites of the half-year in Academy-apporoved list form. And because I roll with the new, I've got 10 Best Pictures. I welcome the new world order! All lists are in alphabetical order.

Best Picture:
(500) Days of Summer
The Brothers Bloom
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglorious Basterds
In the Loop
Julie & Julia

This might be a good year to expand Best Picture to ten. Lots of worthy filmmaking in the first eight months that would have no way of lasting to the end of the year with a five-slot category. I would normally feel incredibly pessimistic about something as un-glamorous (and something the mainstream has steadfastly resisted) as The Hurt Locker, but the critical community really seems solidly behind it. I'd be annoyed by the "making fetch happen" nature of their enthusiasm if I didn't think the movie was (one of?) the best I've seen this year. I'd also expect Up to make the shortlist (thought it's only my second-favorite animated movie this year).

Barring anything unforseen, look for Up and District 9 to become the WALL-E and The Dark Knight of the Oscar season; and God help the internet if they end up getting snubbed. And while Inglorious Basterds won't, it'll have a place on the cooler Top 10 lists throughout December and January.

As for the movies with no shot as Oscar love, I'll happily take the well-observed Adventureland, the wry romanticism of (500) Days and the bright, hilarious Brothers Bloom over almost any of the prestige pictures barrelling down the road (more on those tomorrow...).

Best Director:
Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker
Rian Johnson - The Brothers Bloom
Sam Raimi - Drag Me to Hell
Henry Selick - Coraline
Quentin Tarantino - Inglorious Basterds

The director's hand was so apparent in these -- in the best ways. Sure hands who (with the exception of Rian Johnson, so is looking more and more like a wunderkind) know exactly where they're going even if the results include buttons and goats and Eli Roth.

Best Actor:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer
John Krasinski - Away We Go
Sharlto Copley - District 9
Michael Fassbender - Hunger
Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

To be completely honest, while I was impressed by Fassbender's performance at the time, I haven't given it (or Hunger, really) one second thought since I saw it back in March or so. I more get the hype surrounding Copley, though I think the verve of the film itself becomes the real star. But the other three -- Renner, JGL, and Krasinski (and I think in that order) -- are going to be awfully difficult to shove out of this shortlist come the end of the year. Three dynamic, charismatic performances in roles that, while strong, don't exactly give much in the way of big moments.

Best Actress:
Alycia Delmore - Humpday
Julia Roberts - Duplicity
Maya Rudolph - Away We Go
Meryl Streep - Julie & Julia
Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom

As is generally the case, it's something of a shallow pool this early in the year. That explains my inclusion of Roberts (who's quite good, but nothing you'd give her an award for) and Rudolph (whose inscrutability was intriguing but maybe not 100% successful). But Delmore managed to make us care about the one character in Humpday who wasn't talking about making same-sex porn videos, Rachel Weisz made me laugh more than anyone in any movie this year, and you may have read a bit about how wonderful Meryl Streep is in every publication in the universe. She is.

Best Supporting Actor:
Peter Capaldi - In the Loop
Jackie Earle Haley - Watchmen
Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker
Chris Messina - Away We Go / Julie & Julia
Christoph Waltz - Inglorious Basterds

The massive love for Christoph Waltz is completely justified and still so over-the-top I can already feel myself turning contrarian. Don't do this to me, culture! Anyway, I'll be the one talking up the grounded Anthony Mackie holding his volatile world together with both hands, Chris Messina becoming something of an idea second-or-third banana, Peter Capaldi's heroic rapid-fire venom, and Jackie Earle Haley emoting from behind the mask.

Best Supporting Actress:
Emily Blunt - Sunshine Cleaning
Anna Chlumsky - In the Loop
Diane Kruger - Inglorious Basterds
Melanie Laurent - Inglorious Basterds
Missi Pyle - Spring Breakdown

Nobody's going to be talking about Sunshine Cleaning or Spring Breakdown come awards season (and rightfully so), but Missi Pyle is this year's ultimate scene-stealer, and Blunt was the center of every part of Sunshine Cleaning I wish had lasted longer. I remain committed to making The Great Anna Chlumsky Comeback Story happen (right now I'm working on getting her her own TV comedy). And I'm equally committed to making sure Melanie Laurent doesn't get lost in the Basterds shuffle -- same with Diane Kruger, though to a lesser extent. Damn you, QT, for making me sing her praises!

Best Screenplay:
Adventureland (Greg Mottola)
Away We Go (Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida)
Corialine (Henry Selick)
Humpday (Lynn Shelton)
In The Loop (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche)

I always love a year when the original screenplays dominate the adapted ones, and that's the case this year. The Coraline adaptation was delightfully creepy, but otherwise we're looking at three movies that grounded big concepts (post-collegiate theme-park nostalgia, the what-kind-of-parents-will-we-be road trip, making a homemade porno with your straight best friend) and grounded them with specific, thoughtful character work. And then there's the cast of thousands that apparently contributed to the billion and one brilliant lines.

People, I am but one man. I haven't seen everything. Please help me out and post your own favorites from this half-year in the comments.


Dan Mac said...

I haven't seen as much as you have, but I'm with you on pretty much everything, except the omission of Moon. Of your Best Picture nominees, I've only seen Coraline, District 9, Hurt Locker and Up, and while I believe they all belong there, if I had to bump one to make room for Moon it would be Up.

Sam Rockwell probably deserves consideration Best Actor, too. On the one hand SPOILER acting with yourself on split screen END SPOILER seems kind of gimmicky, it can't be easy, and he really sold the hell out of it. He made me completely believe a not easy concept, and is basically the only live actor in the entire film (though, serious props to Kevin Spacey).

Up's going to be a tricky one, isn't it? It's great, but for animated films Coraline's better, by I'd argue quite a lot, and I feel like to some degree it has to compete with the Pixar standard, which it meets, and yet it's only fourth in my list of favorite Pixar films.

Douglas Racso said...

I totally agree with Laurent! I love her

jessica said...

Am I the only one who found Coraline seriously disturbing? It quite possibly ruined the enjoyment factor for me.

I'm not even going to pretend that I'm up on my movies at this point in the year, but I'm getting back in the groove. Someone remind me to Netflix Duplicity and Brothers Bloom.

Scott said...

I'd pick Coraline as the best of the year so far, followed by (500) Days and The Hurt Locker, and then The Brothers Bloom. You've listed all of my favorite performances, be they awards bait or not (Renner, JGL, Mackie, Weisz, and yes, Missi Pyle - loved her).

The only thing I'd add is that I really hope the latest Harry Potter gets serious consideration for Cinematography and Art Direction. While as a whole the film collapses in quality in the last 20-30 minutes, it looks great throughout.

In terms of what I've missed that now I want to see even more, In the Loop is at the top of that list.

Victor S said...

Where's Tilda Swinton on Best Actress?? Her performance in Julia is amazing

Joe Reid said...

Haven't seen that one yet.