Obviously, I have no conceivable influence over the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But on this, the last day of 2007, I wanted to point out what I think were some of the highest achievements of the year, that aren’t getting any attention from the critics’ groups, or otherwise won’t ever make it to the Oscar nomination stage:
Sarah Polley’s Away from Her is a painfully beautiful character piece of absolute gentleness and subtlety, and if there’s one thing that Oscar hates, it’s subtlety. But for my money, there was no film that moved me more than this all year. What can I say, I like movies that make me cry, and nothing did that better.
Brad Bird proved with The Iron Giant and The Incredibles that there’s nobody better at telling stories in animation today, but with Ratatouille he established himself as one of the best filmmakers, period. The film is a simply sublime achievement in acting, visual composition, pacing and mise en scène, and those things don’t all come together without a strong hand on the wheel. But oh wait, it’s a cartoon! So OBVIOUSLY he’s not a real director!
Honeydripper was only slightly better than most of John Sayles’s anemic late output, but Danny Glover, in the lead role, gave an incandescent performance – I dare say the best of his career. He’s one of those completely reliable actors whose career choices (a little Lethal Weapon here, a little Angels in the Outfield there) are exactly what don’t bring home the awards, but no matter how bad the script, he’s almost always reliable, and when he’s on fire like he is here, it’s impossible to look away when he’s onscreen.
Maybe it’s not fair to name Tilda Swinton here, since she’s got a better than fair chance at getting a supporting nod for Michael Clayton, but that was just her doing what she does. Whereas in Stephanie Daley, she brought an unendurable level of existential pain as a woman unable to deal with the sad things in the world. Watching her in this film is lacerating, but it’s the good kind of lacerating. If there is such a thing.
Best Supporting Actor
Stealing the show in Zodiac was no easy feat, especially with Robert Downey, Jr. in high-intensity mode, but these many months later, Mark Ruffalo still sticks in my mind as Inspector David Toschi, the closest that long, grim epic has to a moral center. Watching him deflate as the case drags on and on is perhaps the most pitiable part of a movie full of human weakness.
Best Supporting Actress
Every actor is at their best when they get to play a purely Ee-vil villain. Especially British actors. And there’s no British actor at once so great and yet so unsung as Imelda Staunton. QED her performance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as the pink and vicious Dolores Umbridge, must be the best acting of the year. At any rate, it’s a performance we’ll still remember thirty years down the road. Name one frontrunner who can say the same.
Best Original Screenplay
Somehow, most of the people who loved the hell out of The Squid and the Whale decided that Margot at the Wedding was just too damn mean. Whatever. While it’s surely a lesser work, I for one thought that Noah Baumbach’s script was just about perfect: heightened dialogue wrapped around human behavior that lay just on the ride side of believable, and the moderately sentimental ending managed to feel earned, not pat.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Everything any biopic has ever done wrong, Matt Greenhalgh’s script for Control got right (and it’s his feature debut, no less). In a more perfect world, this film would be on the shortlist for half a dozen awards, but the almost bland way that the narrative presents the tortured genius of Ian Curtis is at the center of very nearly everything that the film gets right.
John Toll is one of the few working cinematographers with two Oscar wins to his name, so it’s hard to feel too bad for him, but Seraphim Falls, the first of the year’s surprisingly large slate of westerns, has some of the most exciting outdoor photography of the year, particularly in its mindblowing opening 15 minutes. You could put together a pretty damn great list of cinematography nominees without ever leaving that genre (Deakins, Elswit, Papamichael and Deakins again), but Toll’s work has significantly less chance of getting mentioned anywhere outside of this blog post than a very tiny snowball on a very hot day in Hell.
I am dead serious when I claim that the No Reservations score is the best thing Philip Glass has done for a movie since Powaqqatsi. Partly it’s just the incredible weirdness of it: hearing the usual bubbly tropes of a rom-com score mixed with the unmistakable minimalist repetitions of Mr. “Music in Twelve Parts” himself. But partly- actually, I take that back, the weirdness is justification enough.
Thanks to the worst shortlist in years, you could pretty easily put together a better list of five than the Academy will end up with, if you only used ineligible films, but I think it’s worth reiterating that the absence of The King of Kong tends to suck all the legitimacy out of the category.