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Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Year-End Roundtable (Part 2)



Brian:

Black Swan is a very good film, and it earns my respect for its ambition and its gumption; however, at times it doesn't hold up under the weight of its own craziness. The carnival freak show aspects are interesting to watch, but they're cheap and familiar. Also, am I the only one who saw everything that occurs during the climactic final ballet sequence coming from a mile away? Aronofsky's working with a pretty pedestrian screenplay, and he single-handedly elevates it into something quite successful, but it's far from a masterpiece in my book.

It's peppered with uneven performances. Vincent Cassel, as the ballet director, should be frightening, but he doesn't come across with the screen presence necessary for us to believe that Portman's character is going to go to such lengths to please him. I think Barbara Hershey overacts, while Mila Kunis underacts. Kunis was so charming in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Where did that charm go? She's substituted apathetic line deliveries for what used to be charisma.

Portman is excellent, but I don't think the comparison to DeNiro in Raging Bull is merited. For the first half of the movie, Portman seems to be "playing at" innocence, and there are a handful of moments when she comes across just a bit too precious as a result. By the end, though, once she embodies the Black Swan persona, she's absolutely amazing. Like Leo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman is one of those actors that's best when she's asked to do the heavy lifting on screen. When she's asked to be normal or subdued, it often takes a while for me to jump on board with her misjudged acting choices.

It really has been a great year for lead female performances as Julian and Candice mentioned. I'm guessing that the five lead acting Oscar nominees will be Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone, Natalie Portman for Black Swan and Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine. I've not yet seen Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine, but it certainly says something when a number of great lead female performances probably won't be nominated. It's been quite a year for females taking center stage.

I think Julianne Moore is great as well in The Kids Are All Right. Also, Kim Hye-Ja plays the title character in Bong Joon-Ho's haunting thriller Mother, a little seen gem of a film. Once again, Tilda Swinton gives what I hear is a tour de force performance in I Am Love, which I haven't yet seen. She was in a film from last year called Julia which is a must-see for Swinton's performance alone. The rest of Julia is pretty terrible, though. Also, it looks like Happy-Go-Lucky's Sally Hawkins won't be nominated for a buzzed about turn in Made in Dagenham. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in my book is that Carey Mulligan has pretty much no chance at all at a nomination for a career best performance in Never Let Me Go. I truly believe Mulligan is going to be the next Kate Winslet, and her turn in this underrated, off-beat science-fiction movie that looks like a Jane Austin adaptation is pitch perfect. Finally, it's worth noting the fine work done by Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I've only seen the first film, and I pretty much hated it, but Rapace is an electric presence on screen. In a weaker year, she probably would sneak in with at least a nomination.

On the other hand, I don't think it's been a great year for supporting female performances. The Fighter was a good film, but like Sean said, it was quite mainstream. In fact, I found it too familiar and formulaic. At the same time, Russell's direction and the mix of narrative styles made the final product feel messy. Both Melissa Leo and Amy Adams will probably be nominated for their work in The Fighter, and both are very good, but their roles are poorly written. The actresses do the best with what they're given. Again, I didn't buy Mila Kunis in Black Swan. She'll probably be nominated in this category as well as Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech. Hers is easily my favorite of the four. On paper, her character probably comes off like a prop or a set piece, but Carter's quirky line delivery and determined optimism elevates the material into something truly grand. That fifth spot seems pretty wide open at this moment. Barbara Hershey might get the nomination for whatever it was she was doing in Black Swan. Jacki Weaver was nominated for the Golden Globe for her work in Animal Kingdom. I haven't seen it yet, and I think the thing working against her the most is whether or not enough Academy members have seen it. At this point, I think the best bet for that fifth spot belongs to Hailee Steinfeld for her apparently scene-stealing performance in True Grit. Some question whether she'll be nominated for lead actress since that seems more apropos, but I guarantee that it won't happen because of the list of ladies I mentioned in my previous paragraph. I'm really glad that Candice mentioned Marion Cotillard in Inception because I totally forgot about her. She was amazing in that film. As a matter of fact, if I were a voting member of the Academy, she'd probably get my vote over any other supporting actress performance at this point--note that I have yet to see True Grit or Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, I don't think she has much of a chance of a nomination because she'll most likely be overlooked. She has no buzz at all, which is too bad. On the other hand, I HATED her performance in La Vie en Rose, so maybe her losing a deserved nomination for Inception will somehow balance the world once again.

Julian:

Candice, the world of film is most certainly changing from honoring stoic dramas to lauding intelligent introspection and perspectives on the world around us. I could’t agree more. Black Swan and Inception are films that both intrigue and captivate; they also make us examine our own selves. The former of these films is a definitive horror film but not in the traditional sense. It’s not scary for moments of scares but because it showcases the horrific effects of obsession, particularly with perfection.



Annette Bening was phenomenal in The Kids Are All Right, and though I have yet to see Mother and Child, I have no doubt that she’s superb there as well. Same goes for Kerry Washington, who was really good in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, though I’d argue that Anika Noni Rose delivered that film’s greatest performance. She transformed her character from cheerful and happy-go-lucky to cold and emotionally reserved. That’s not to knock the other great work in the film, though, as every actress does her fair share of exceptional work.

As for The Social Network being honored for its modernity or for its own merit, the two factors probably go hand-in-hand. It marks that odd case where a film that relates to people of all age groups comes into the awards season seeming unstoppable. I might not agree with Peter Travers saying that The Social Network “brilliantly defines the decade,” but part of the film's greatness is that it relates very much to this generation. In a world where most great films take place in other time periods or aren’t restricted by era or generation, this film thrives on being current.

I share your hatred of modern remakes, but I likewise am impressed with the Coen Brothers’ reinterpretation of True Grit. The leads are completely on point, and the writing is easily impressive.

As far as Brian’s Actress lineup is concerned, I definitely agree that those five women will be walking the Oscar red carpet. If any one of the listed ladies gets the boot, I’d assume it to be Michelle Williams, but I honestly can’t imagine who’d replace her. Could it be surprise SAG nominee Hilary Swank? Maybe that BFCA mention for Noomi Rapace means something, or perhaps the Golden Globe nomination for Halle Berry indicates her second nomination with the Academy. In any of these possible situations, though, this hypothetical last nominee probably has no shot at winning, as it’s a hotly contestant race between Annette Bening and Natalie Portman; the other three nominees will have to be content with their recognition.

While there were rare glimmers of light for supporting female roles, I have to concur that for the most part they had a pretty dull year. I loved Amy Adams in The Fighter, but I can’t say the same for the performance given by Melissa Leo. While she nailed certain scenes out of the park, it overall felt way too histrionic and hammy. In fact, I’m not so certain that “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn’t originally intended to be performed by her character Alice. I’m being facetious, of course, but that’s my unfortunate opinion of the performance.

However, I have to really disagree on Black Swan. I think that both of the supporting ladies mentioned did exceptional work. They both had to play fleshed out characters, as well as portray Nina’s psychosis-induced thoughts of their characters. It was a difficult task, and I think that both did it perfectly. I also really enjoyed Winona Ryder's flashy yet brief performance. I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet but intend to do so very soon. Helena Bonham Carter is great in everything I’ve seen her in thus far, so hopefully that doesn’t change with this highly lauded drama.

Supporting Actress in regards to Oscar is really peculiar this year. Last year we saw four of the five Golden Globe nominees go on to reap SAG bids; those same performances were in the Oscar top five. Oddly enough, the fifth nominee was Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart; she was nominated for neither a Golden Globe nor a SAG trophy.

If the same happens this year, then Amy Adams, Helena Bonham Carter, Mila Kunis, and Melissa Leo are definitely in. The big question is who that fifth nominee will be. Again, under the assumption that we’re repeating last year in an odd sense, neither Hailee Steinfeld nor Jacki Weaver will make the cut despite their supporters. That being said, we’re likely for a surprise nominee.

Candice and Brian, you both mentioned Marion Cotillard’s outstanding work in Inception. That performance is so many things at once: stern, fragile, strong-willed, heartbreaking, tough, defenseless. It’s almost incomprehensible that so much can be done in such a small role. Since the film itself likely for attention in Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay, perhaps she’ll sneak in for that fifth spot.

I would definitely keep Barbara Hershey on the radar as well. Despite her lack of love with precursor groups, she’s a well-known veteran in a film that Oscar voters will definitely be watching. Furthermore, she has something of an overdue narrative and inhabits the psycho-mother role that Oscar voters love so much, or is that quota restricted to Melissa Leo this year? Though I have my doubts about both, Hailee Steinfeld and Jacki Weaver aren’t out of it either.

Now heading into far less likely territory, could Chloe Moretz shock us with a nomination for Kick-Ass? It sounds crazy – I even think I’m delusional – but she’s picked up several critics citations. In a race with one very wide open slot, I wouldn't count her out just yet. However, Juliette Lewis's work in Conviction is probably more likely to get in. It’s a small role, but she completely nails it out of the park and took the somewhat crucial Boston Society of Film Critics honor for it. Oscar voters who didn’t pay too much mind to the Tony Goldwyn courtroom drama might give it a look-see thanks to Swank’s out-of-nowhere SAG bid and be blown away by Lewis’s small yet pivotal role. But will that be enough to get her in for her second Oscar derby?



Candice:

I have yet to see Conviction but she is an extraordinary actress who is one that I can say is not overrated. She's just that good. I wouldn't mind seeing her in the lead actress category.

Man, how I wish Juliette Lewis will score another nod this year. Yes, her performances can be quite predictable for me. But predictably good! But Chloe from Kick-Ass (for the record, that's twice we're mentioning that horrid film Brian, if you're keeping score )? I thought the film was ridiculous, overhyped, overdone, and stale. See I think one of the things that makes a stand alone fantastic performance is that you literally cannot see anyone else playing the role. But I could hand pick at least 15 kids that would be as good if not better than Moretz. Sorry, Julian, I can't get behind you on that one.

We touched on For Colored Girls, the disastrously adapted film version of Ntozake Shange's 1975 play. Though the adapting needed some work, you cannot deny the terrific performances of all the cast--with standouts from Kimberly Elise, Anika Noni Rose, and Michael Ely. None of the aforementioned will probably me nominated. But as Brian mentioned, sometimes the films aren't so great but the performances are breathtaking. This is one of those cases. My wish list would include at least those woman in supporting actress nominees. This would of course take the focus off the perhaps Weaver and Steinfeld.

As for your thoughts on Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. I know Oscar loves recognizing Adams's work, but this may be a year that they could give i a rest. I thought this was a stark departure from her signature mousy performances (my favorite being in Doubt), but I didn't think this was a very strong performance at all. I actually thought her performance was a bit hammy, and Leo's was more believable to me. Was Leo over the top? Sure, but wasn't her character supposed to be?

Rapace was good in the "The Girl Who" films. But where is the buzz? Same goes for Hawkins and Hye-Ja. I found I Am Love a little drab from what I saw, but maybe it picks up later? Mulligan is an enigma to me. I generally don't see what other people see in her performances, but I have yet to see Never Let Me Go.

As for your thoughts on Black Swan, Brian, I will agree with you on one thing: I did kind of see the ending coming. But I think if you know anything about "Swan Lake," you might have guessed that as well, right? But I have to disagree about a few other things: I didn't think the performances were uneven at all. I though they were thorough through, thorough as they could be given the story. I know folks have been raving about Kunis, Cassel, and Hershey but I have to say I don't see it, especially Cassel and Kunis.I feel this is another time when awards are recognizing people's personal best, and not the actual best. This is the best I've seen Kunis act, but that's not saying much. I saw her in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I really don't get what folks loved abou the movie or her performance. As for Cassel, Cassel is always solid to me but never extraordinary. Hershey though I think gives a terrific performance, but like Julian said, one that is predictable, and one that I'll add is a mere prop in Portman's controlled world.

I'm not sure whether I'd agree with comparing her performance to DeNiro's in Raging Bull either, but I thought it was erratic when it needed to be an straight-lined when it needed to be as well.

I know we're swooning over the femme fatales this year, but what about the men? Do you think they just have it in the bag? I know it's usually stiff competition in their categories that may already be a lock, but I would just like to add Anthony Mackie to my wish list. Unlike his forgotten role in last year's The Hurt Locker, he pulls in a tour de force, riveting performance in the under-appreciated Night Catches Us, a screenplay beautifully written by Tanya Hamilton. Any other wild cards you guys would like to include? I know Bale, Firth, Eisenberg are considered locks, but who would you throw out? Who would you add?



Sean:

Annette Bening floored me in The Kids Are All Right. That scene at dinner when she sings along with Joni Mitchell is heartbreaking and few actresses could have given that moment such power. For that, I am giving Bening an edge of Natalie Portman for my Best Actress of the year award. As for my comparison between Portman in Black Swan and De Niro in Raging Bull, I am talking the physical toll of the roll as much as the power of the performance. Both Portman and De Niro risked their health to play those roles, De Niro in the boxing scenes and when he put on 100 pounds for the retired, lounge act Jake La Motta late in the film. Portman, who was already of a slight build before Black Swan, lost 20 pounds, broke ribs and a toe while making the film all the while speaking in a voice that was foreign to her and playing heavy mental anguish. Portman's physicality in the role, the toll she took on herself is, to me, very reminiscent of De Niro in Raging Bull. But, I welcome the differing opinions.

Conviction failed to move me. I am a huge Hilary Swank fan and yet I found her to be miscast here. She is playing a beat that Tony Goldwyn is not directing; she's playing drama and he's playing melodrama. Swank is going for something raw and Goldwyn is making a crossover melodrama to appeal to the housewife set. The makers of Conviction want the credibility of an indie drama and the box office office of a Sandra Bullock drama and to get that they watered down the darker, less commercial elements. Unfortunately, they didn't tell Hilary Swank who kept playing that darker, more serious indie beat. This is the third year in a row that people have tried to explain to me the brilliance of Sam Rockwell and I still don't see it. I think Rockwell is solid but his work in Choke, Moon and Conviction has not blown me away. Conviction is just too middle of the road for me.
The topic of Supporting Actresses was raised and the biggest disappointment of the awards season for me has been the lack of buzz for Greta Gerwig in Greenberg. Not only is she adorable as Florence but she manages to take Roger Greenberg, this irredeemable bastard and make him seem human. She is the rare actress in a Noah Baumbach movie who doesn't play the Noah Baumbach game of nihilistic, angry self interest. She's sweet and odd and she see's something in Roger that no one else could see without her. When it comes to Supporting Actresses it's Greta Gerwig, Mia Wasikowska for The Kids Are All Right, Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, Amy Adams for The Fighter and I think Jackie Weaver is more of a lock than you might think. The screener for Animal Kingdom was one of the first to arrive, weeks before other movies started going out to voters. That jump got the film more eyeballs than expected and that may be why her buzz has been hot for a while.

I am going to take up for Vincent Cassell in Black Swan, I think there is more to that performance than he gets credit for. It's tempting to write off the character as just this libidinous, power mad a-hole but what he's doing with Nina is not merely about him wanting to sleep with her. He senses that this angst she carries, the frightened little girl inside her is holding back an extraordinary talent. His challenges are not for his gain but to bring something out of her. That something is unfortunately a massive psychosis but that wasn't his intent. I honestly believe that Thomas's true passion was the ballet and getting the best possible performance on the stage. His methods were shocking but effective and Cassel made me believe that there was something more to this guy than what was in his pants.

Back to Supporting Actress for a moment, there is one highly controversial but intriguing notion of a nominee, Rooney Mara for The Social Network. Her Erica Albright is the beating heart of The Social Network. Her challenge Mark Zuckerberg is the challenge to everyone who has placed far too much importance into the world of social networking, the challenge to connect in reality, physically, in person with a fellow human being. Mark from the first moment is a failure at connecting with other people and even after he has connected with more than a million people online he still can't connect with a real person and that coda, Mark desperately refreshing his Facebook page hoping she will be his friend online, so amazingly sad. Each of Rooney Mara's scenes, and there are just a couple of them, nails the real theme of The Social Network, the failure to really connect with another person and the over-reliance on the social network as a stand in for real life.

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