Winter! when a cinephile’s thoughts turn to the many, many, many, many awards that are given out between Thanksgiving and the Oscars. Like I did last year, I’d like to toss some much-deserved praise to some folks who for one reason or another aren’t getting any kind of traction with either the critics’ groups, or the various distributors of shiny engraved objects. These aren’t necessarily my picks for the best in the various fields, just some people who, in my perfect world, wouldn’t have been totally forgotten as the year wound to a close.
Oh, sure, Sally Hawkins is on her way to being the least-likely-to-win Oscar nominee, but what about the rest of the film? Mike Leigh – one of our best filmmakers, I’d say – hasn’t made anything this marvelous in over a decade, with nothing but perfect performances, not a single wasted scene or line of dialogue, and one of the most original, uplifting messages we’ve seen in the movies in a long time. It’s this damned idea that we all got that only depressing art can be important and serious, that’s what it is. Show people how beautiful it is to be happy, and you’re lucky for a fucking Golden Globe nomination.
Tarsem Singh, The Fall
Do you know how he filmed that freaking thing? Seriously, do you know? He filmed it over four years by grabbing a shot here and there in between making commercials and the like in 18 different countries. And, he convinced an entire film crew that the leading man was paraplegic, just so that his six-year-old leading actress would give a more naturalistic performance, and let her unscripted ramblings drive the story. And he managed to make the resulting mish-mash of footage sensible, within the limits of a surrealistic fairy tale. And, it’s probably the most beautiful movie I’ve seen all decade. Basically, Tarsem Singh is a crazy-ass talented mofo, and I want to be him when I grow up.
Mathieu Amalric, A Christmas Tale
An actor in desperate need of more respect in America (the number of Quantum of Solace-related conversations I was part of that featured the phrase “the Diving Bell and Butterfly guy” made me want to slit my wrists), Amalric is always at his best with director Arnaud Desplechin, and in their fourth teaming, he gave what I’d happily call the best performance of his career – starting with his trademark slimy nervousness and steadily adding measures of vulnerability, resentment, humor, and even a tiny nugget of power-tripping, en route to standing out as perhaps the best-realized member of a decidedly strong ensemble. That he’s able to make a wholly awful person seem decent and even appealing (it helps that most of the other characters are even worse) speaks volumes to the actor’s skill – because let’s face it, just standing still, Amalric himself seems neither decent nor appealing.
Anna Faris, The House Bunny
Look, anybody can be bubbly and charming and funny when they have a great script. You throw Rosalind from As You Like It at some actress, and if she’s bright and witty and delightful, that doesn’t mean she’s good – she’d have to be a fucking awful performer not to be charming in that role. But give an actress a shitty script based on a shitty concept, not a single gag in sight, and she makes the character sweet and likable anyway, and when there’s a riff on Marilyn Monroe, you find yourself thinking, “yes, this Ms. Faris does in fact remind me of Marilyn Monroe”? That is some serious acting, my friends, and just because Faris is still waiting for a screenplay that doesn’t suck tar, that doesn’t mean she’s not a fantastic comedienne.
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
-“I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.”
-“Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”
-“I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.”
Jeremy Lasky (camera) and Danielle Feinberg (lighting), WALL-E
Stick with me here. There’s nothing about what the director of photography does in a movie that these two failed to do in making WALL-E: he made decisions about focus, she made decisions about lighting design, and they had their lackeys make it so. Which isn’t any different from what any other cinematographer does – if it really, really mattered that there was a physical camera involved, they’d give out the awards to the ACs and camera operators. Which they don’t. Anyway, WALL-E had undoubtedly the year’s most sophisticated use of focal depth and lighting to augment and deepen the film’s narrative impact. So what if they used a computer? I’d rather show this film to incoming film students than, say, Doubt.
Best Foreign Film
Let the Right One In
You know what I hate? With the fiery intensity of a thousand white-hot suns? The mirror universe rules for eligibility that the Academy set up for this category.