Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Best Actress Project: 2009




One of these women is not even nominated, but just shut up about it, okay? Another of these women will go home with an Oscar a week from today, on March 7. Theoretically, of course, more than one could be going home with Oscar—and if we miraculously wind up working that '68 groove and are witness to a Best Actress tie, just imagine the kiss that Bullock and Streep will be forced to exchange!

Anyway, amidst a flu, a writing deadline, the final week of an academic quarter, and my harrumphy status as a conscientious objector to this year's Oscars, this is all you're getting from me this week in terms of pre-Oscar coverage... but I tried to make it count! You were all so wonderfully voluble and spirited in your responses to yesterday's profile of the Women of 1944 that I sort of figured, why wait? These are so fun to write up, even when the fields leave a few things to be desired. (Note: Rankings slightly revised since initial posting.)

And speaking of desire: I think I have a strong idea of who will win my poll as the actress who should be copping this year's Academy Award. Still, I hope that as many readers as possible will seek out The Maid and Beeswax, the least-seen movies of those I have included on my personal ballot, despite being two really invigorating slices of funny-serious cinema, both of which give the DIY aesthetic a really great shake. Make sure to let me know, too, what I absolutely need to rent before I seal this year off. The Burning Plain and Lion's Den are already on DVD, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee bows this week, Séraphine drops later in March, and Cloud 9 will be out in April. I'm intrigued by all five, but go ahead, guide my hand.

P.S. While prepping this new addition to the Best Actress section, I noticed that I never added a poll for 2008, and though the currency of the questions has wilted, my interest in your answers has not!

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40 Comments:

Blogger Brook Brooks said...

So glad to see Swinton grab your top prize. (As if she wouldn't for that performance.)

I agree with you on these performances, Sidibe is definitely the pick of the litter and I have no idea how her buzz didn't dethrone two competent but unamazing performances by Streep and Bullock.

I -love- that you mention Bullock in Crash and Infamous, particularly the latter, which was the first indication to me that she had a knack for dramatic roles. Hell, if the fates had aligned right, her first Oscar nomination might've been for Capote, instead of a coaster for Keener.

I'm also so glad to see Abbie Cornish crack your top five. The film just got released outside of a festival here, and I'm still shocked at how non-period she is.

I would be okay with a Bullock win just because I can't begrudge that woman anything. She's so gosh-damned charming. And this is where I enter the mindset of an Academy voter. Sigh.

2:20 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Love, love, love all your write-ups. Except the one for Sidibe, and only because I'm avoiding it till Precious opens here.

An Education drove me batty, not just for all the reasons you mentioned (why can't Jenny be more complicit in what she's getting herself into? why is bigamy the last straw for her blinkeredness over David?), but also because as a prospective college student, I couldn't stand that after all the brouhaha the film doesn't have a single truthful idea about what an education entails. The dichotomy of glamour/horseraces vs Latin/stuffy spinsterism is offensively stupid, and I couldn't believe Emma Thompson wasn't given a proper chance to respond to Jenny's charges, because I'm sure the actress herself could have. For me it just felt embarrassing for all involved. I love how measured you are in your critique of Mulligan; for me the only acting gracenote left in my memory from that one screening was her inscrutable expression by the stairs upon her acceptance to Oxford.

The Meryl Streep dilemma: I'm in the camp that'd be happy with anyone but Streep winning. Heresy, I know, but I dread that it would just validate this strain of two-note joy that she's heaping into Mamma Mia and J&J, and with A Prairie Home Companion such a recent memory I know she can and does deserve to win for better. I absolutely adore your deft interpretation of the performance as an essay on her own celebrity, but I still think she did it better in It's Complicated, and I'm glad that it's so high up in your list of Honorable Mentions.

A sidenote on Julia: many critics have justly upbraided the Academy for Swinton's turn in that movie, but why can't Saul Rubinek catch a break even among many of those critics? (I know you aren't one of them.) I especially love his short riff on Julia ("faaaackyuuu"), which seemed almost improvised, even.

3:35 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Shtajner said...

Glad to see Tilda winning your prize! She was absolutely amazing!

The surprise for me is that I didn't see Mimi Kennedy among "Honorable mentions" or "Also-Rans". Did you decide to move her to supporting actress category?

Gabourey was definitely the most deserving nominee, but unfortunately the golden naked guy goes to Sandra or Meryl, who are the least deserving (I have yet to see Mirren).

And just one question - are you readers welcome to post their personal lists in the comments?
Here's mine:

1.Tilda Swinton in Julia
2.Arta Dobroshi in Lorna’s Silence
3.Anne Dorval in I Killed My Mother (J'ai tué ma mère)
4.Birgit Minichmayr in Everyone Else (Alle Anderen)
5.Aggeliki Papoulia in Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

Honorable mentions:
6.Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
7.Drew Barrymore in Grey Gardens (I know, it's TV, but I liked her so much!)
8.Carey Mulligan in An Education
9.Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
10.Mimi Kennedy in In the Loop
11.Sophie Marceau in Don't Look Back (Ne te Retourne Pas)

I hope you don't mind! :)

4:55 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Cal said...

No! So harsh on Sandra! I felt that she dug as deep as she could into the character since she gets very little help from Hancock. She nails Touhy's need to control every element of her life and be constantly occupied. When Michael doubts her motives towards the end the self-doubt is evident but she still retains that level of formidability. I agree with your assessment of the dinner scene, which is one of the worst scenes in the entire film, and I personally wouldn't nominate her, but I'd place her above Streep, Sidibe, and Mirren.

Mirren really was dreadful; two stars is generous. I enjoyed the cock-crowing scene (did her and Plummer have a brandy before that one?) but the rest is Wicked Queen 101. It's down there with Blanchett's Golden Age turn.

I love your write-up of Mulligan, and agree that she's sometimes badly influenced by Scherfig.

6:53 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Guy said...

I think you HAVE been rather lenient with Mirren, but then, what I've always loved about your writing is that you're as generous with your criticism as you are with your praise.

Ranking-wise, I think we match only in having Streep squarely mid-field (I'd place Mulligan and Bullock above, and Sidibe and Mirren below), but at the same time, there is scarcely a statement here that I disagree with -- except to say that I occasionally found Sidibe, as perceptive and surprisingly witty as she is in the part, occasionally guilty of appearing that little bit smarter than Precious herself. (Perhaps the same could be said for Mulligan, though Jenny's layers of affectation accommodate that problem quite well. I think I 've lost my thread here.)

Anyway, as joyous as this was to read, I think it says everything about this sad race that I'd much rather savour an extended breakdown of your personal ballot. Of the two picks we share, I'm particularly interested in your take on Cornish, since I think she's both of a piece with Campion's collection of fine bone china actresses, and atypically robust at the same time.

Having seen five of your gourmet prospects, I can't imagine any of them seriously troubling you to revise your list, though Moreau is as good as you probably imagine she is, and Lawrence sketches out a neat blueprint for a truly revelatory turn in "Winter's Bone." Fingers crossed we're talking about that this time next year.

8:14 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Guy said...

Oh, assuming you haven't seen the film, might I suggest adding Brenda Blethyn in "London River" to the gourmet prospects menu?

8:18 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Δημήτρης said...

I love that I can't find a sentence without some interesting point in it!
Lovely analysis (I'm tired of saying that. Isn't it my default reaction to your writing?)

I can't say I didn't expect you to like each nominated performance as much as you did, since I had already read your thoughts (not that elaborated of course) on them, so I want to comment on what really surprised me. You liked Kristen Stewart more than Gwyneth Paltrow? I don't think the latter was a marvel, but I also don't think Stewart was interesting at all. I don't think the fact that I used to adore Paltrow (and still like a lot) got in the way in this case. I find your reaction very interesting and confusing. Would you care to share some thoughts on that one?

I wish that choice of yours was the most confusing thing this year. Why doesn't evreyone agree with your (our) opinion on Tilda? Not even Ebert could save her. I guess the theory that when you have alreasy won, they tend to notice you more has been refuted. :(

10:46 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

@Δημήτρης: To be "fair" to the Academy (if that word even retains a modicum of sense in this scenario), it was always Swinton's Oscar win that would remain the fluke in her career, the exception to the rule that she ventures into territory too "out there" to fit neatly with the Academy's middlebrow tastes. It's not so much that she needed to wait till 2007 to be "discovered" as that she had never been in anything as Oscar-friendly as Michael Clayton, and she hasn't been since.

10:59 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Ivan said...

I'll recommend Maria Deschamps in I'm Gonna Explode (just missed it), Kirin Kiki in Still Walking, and Park Eun-Hye in Night and Day. The latter two are technically supporting but pivotal.

You should take another look at The Headless Woman sometime. Not only does everything make sense, albeit obliquely, but Onetto really grounds the movie. She communicates a lot within the narrow range of various degrees of disorientation.

11:09 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Lev Lewis said...

Ooh, "The Maid" was just released here in Toronto and you've got me excited to go check it out. No idea how I'm ever going to find "Beeswax" though.

The other three performances in your actress line-up that I have seen are all magnificent and would easily appear on my own ballot. One issue:

Why not more love for Arta Dobroshi? I was sure she would crack your ballot.

11:32 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brook: I agree that Bullock is sort of un-begrudgeable (?). We seem to be in uncanny agreement a lot of the time, and here again, even down to Infamous. Lovely!

@Colin: Again, so much to agree with. An Education whiffs so badly on its ultimate stance toward formal education that it's hard to even know where to start (except insofar as you've summed it up very handily!). Rubinek towers over as much of the Supporting Actor field, for me, as Swinton does over the lead actresses, especially if we move Waltz to lead (which I'd be inclined to do), that I can't figure out why all the Julia ardor that finally caught on hasn't led to more citations of his work. And I think you know we're pretty simpatico on Streep's recent run; I think after Doubt I just need reassurance that her broad, sporting approach to all these comedies isn't messing with her reflexes for more complex dramas.

@Shtajner: You're more than welcome to post your own list, of course, and I'm glad you have such a fantastic one to share. I'll finally have a shot at seeing Dogtooth in Chicago in March, and I'm very excited about it. As for Mimi Kennedy, I relented to pressure that I was being a doofus for putting her in lead, even though this was my strong hunch after watching In the Loop. I suspect I might regret it after re-watching the movie, but in the Supporting race, I'd put her in front of Mo'Nique... so yes, I still think she's amazing.

@Cal: You're right, I should have made a bit more of Sandra's constant bits of kind of throwing herself on the world, sifting around the papers on her kitchen counter and all of that. But sometimes, if Mirren's doing Wicked Queen 101, wasn't this a little bit Control Freak 101? To me, it's somewhat instructive that post-Erin Brockovich, journalists and audiences were as fascinated to learn more about the real EB as they were to gush over the reborn Julia Roberts. In this case, I haven't heard a single person express any real interest in Leigh Anne Tuohy - it's all Sandra - and I can't help thinking it's because it's chummy and helpful as a star performance and it lubricates a tremendously dodgy film, but it doesn't really exert any imaginative grip as a characterization. But you might well disagree.

11:39 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: I forgot that London River swung an eligibility this year even though it never appeared to open anywhere, so yes I'll definitely add that. Can't wait, actually. As for Mirren, she at least establishes hope at a few moments that her balls-out approach to this character might actually save the movie, partially by hauling the whole hidebound thing into a totally different genre (re: our discussion last night of Doubt!), and I couldn't quite slap with one star after at least bothering to try. But it was tempting.

I'm eager to write up my faves, too. We'll see when it happens!

@Δημήτρης: I knew someone would clock that Stewart mention. Even if it just comes down to casting her in a part where her mannerisms and her seemingly uncrackable depression really resonated, I really thought she was terrific in Adventureland. There was a bit more light and spontaneity to her than I'm used to, and she actually managed to relate to someone (the equally if not more wonderful Jesse Eisenberg) through the prism of her dejectedness, rather than just sulking within it. I haven't seen a lot of depressed, angry, confused teenagers on screen that reminded me so closely of people I remember from high school, and she wasn't hitting exactly the same note from scene to scene, so it was obvious she was putting some work into it. I liked Paltrow, but the whole outline of the film seemed to constrain her into a kind of Crazy Shiksa Goddess bit that she definitely made much more palatable but still didn't quite sell me on the character. But I ought to have another look at Two Lovers. It's been almost 18 months, and it's always bothered me that I was so unmoved by it after loving his previous two films, and then it emerged as a big rallying cause among U.S. bloggers, many of whom couldn't be bothered with the earlier ones. Either our Gray tastes are different or I really missed something.

@Colin: Absolutely. I never expected to even see Tilda in the room, and given the look on her face throughout the season, right through to her acceptance speech, she clearly didn't, either.

@Ivan: There's no question I'll go back to Headless Woman, but it just bugged me that the movie and in some ways the performance just felt so deliberate and orchestrated, despite using all of Martel's astonishing gifts for framing, depth, sound, etc., that usually give her movies such an inimitably exploratory, off-kilter approach to what's happening. The idea in Headless Woman just didn't seem complicated enough to stand up to Martel's formal approach, and Onetto just seemed sphinxlike to me, in a less than entrancing way. But I'm such a devotee of the other Martels that I'll certainly have another look, and it's not as though I disliked it. Thanks for the other recs, too.

@Lev: Glad to be in substantial accord with you, too. I thought Dobroshi was quite wonderful in Lorna, and she furnished more modulations than I was frankly expecting into Lorna's scripted role. She's most quiet, but you can still tell just where she is in her mind, most of the time. That said, I usually find that much of the work of characterization in the Dardennes' films comes from the way they frame, light, and edit, and a lot of the mystique that Lorna achieves in the movie is their accomplishment as much as Dobroshi's... and everyone, actress and filmmakers, seems just a bit less confident after the story takes its final turn, into the woods. But that's just a reason why she wasn't in the final five. To be my second runner-up means I really, really liked her a lot!

11:56 AM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Δημήτρης said...

As much as I like agreeing with people, I love it that although your explanation makes total sense, I still don't agree. Her expressions never made me believe she created a real character whereas Eisenberg's, for me, did.

And, as a Streep fan, I felt really embarrassed when I realized I mentioned Paltrow and not Meryl in Julie and Julia. But to be honest, I felt for Paltrow's character more than Julia. (Not the interesting one :p)

1:00 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Hey, I'm all for disagreement! And it's entirely possible that I was overvaluing Stewart in that film, but I was really impressed.

1:15 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

Delicious write-ups, but I have to disagree on Mirren. I'll admit that I went in with a bit of a bias, because I just have never jived to her as an actress (or even less as an interviewee or personality, though I try to leave that at the door) but I seriously do not understand where the praise is coming from. She does have a few moments of pathos or humour, but she also appears to be playing eight different Countesses and the switching between all these different registers felt clunky and amateur. It could've been a tour-de-force, but it just didn't feel cohesive to me - I found her as baffling as the surrounding film. Really, serious question; why does The Last Station exit?

Wholly agree on your appraisals of both Mulligan and Sidibe and am longing for either of them to win, although it seems like a distinct impossibility at this stage. (Now THERE'S a tie I'd like to see!)

1:37 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

There's no doubt in my mind that Sidibe creates the most complete and memorable character of the five: she impressed me even more second time round. With Mulligan I see the performance first (which is lovely, and promises all sorts) but the character second, if you get my drift. This can't help but hamper my enthusiasm. It ties into your point about Scherfig's love of gazing at her in close-up: it's like Carey is being egged on to strut her stuff in this catchy, clip-friendly way rather than honestly feeling her way through the part, and it's odd how makeshift the inner life of Jenny comes to seem as a result. I rate Streep about the same as you (mainly because it's such a limited fix of Streep) and Bullock maybe a fraction more, if only because the decisions about who exactly she's playing seem to rest wholly with her, and she makes some dexterous snap calls which aren't always the ones you're expecting. Either way, it's middling work for both of them, which is why I can't really get fired up about which should win, and end up plumping for the first-timer just because. You already know what I think about Mirren, but even as I was ducking away from a lot of those hysterics, I was totally convinced we'd be seeing her on this list. It's shoo-in bad acting. I almost respect that.

Lower down, I'm glad to see you liked Stewart, who seemed to really grow up for (and even during) Adventureland. And having just caught up with Coco Before Chanel this lazy afternoon, I see where you're coming from on Tautou: yeah, the movie isn't much, but I've actually never liked her more in anything. I certainly wasn't expecting something so severe and sad from the gamine embodiment of all things perkily French. It's pretty good work.

3:36 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

since these comment threads are almost always love fests and since you know i love you muchly in real life (which is --shocker -- better than virtual life) allow me to be less lovey for once.

a) I am HORRIFIED that you liked Kristen Stewart in Adventureland. and more than so many people, too. I need more allies in my fight against her globally dominant "i'm glumly depressed" acting style. I mean, Jennifer Aniston did this in THE GOOD GIRL and only snookered a small portion of critics. You don't have to be boring when you play depression (see: Gabby Sidibe and numerous Julianne Moore and Juliette Binoche performances) and you don't always have to play plain ol garden variety depression because sometimes it isn't completely right for what's happening with your character.

I'm of the mind that she's one of the most limited actresses out there and that's even having seen what i think is her best performance (The Runaways) which is still not as thrilling as someone playing Joan Jett has every right to be.

someone wring out this silver screen wet blanket!

b) I though we were sympatico on Kim Ok-Bin and now i see her slid out of your list? what happened? rewatch?

c) i've noticed a few times this year in your write ups (something I don't recall having seen before) that you are requiring every movie to justify its existence. I'm not sure I can jive with this particular angle since this eliminates probably 80% of movies from existence. shouldn't we just be judging what the movie is doing and not whether it's our kind of thing or if it was just made for oscars or money or whatnot. This bothered me with NINE (which isn't even a great movie) with the "staggering inattention to why anyone shoudl care"... um I cared greatly. even if they stumbled frequently. It's a genre that needs serious work not just musical/comedies. That's reason enough for its existence. And now with The Last Station which is, whatever its flaws, an interesting story. I didn't know half of this stuff... however goosed its been for scenery chewing.

d) MWAH. now returning to love fest. AMAZING WRITEUPS!

4:24 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Guy said...

"I mean, Jennifer Aniston did this in THE GOOD GIRL and only snookered a small portion of critics."

Ouch! I was thoroughly snookered.

I do like your point about playing depression, Nathaniel, but I also think it can be a more or less interesting state depending on the emotional/intellectual resources of the character. I'm neither as keen on Stewart in "Adventureland" as Nick, nor as down on her in general as you, but I did actually BELIEVE her in that part -- she is a little wan, yes, but she's also playing someone who's still shaping herself, almost acting out moods rather than genuinely falling into them.

That's what I got, anyway.

5:42 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Catherine: I know I've been a grouch all season, and I think there are readers who (understandably) think I'm relishing this position. I don't, and if anything, I'm starting to wonder whether the bump up to two stars for Mirren and in certain respects for Bullock, too (who both started with one), reflects that I'm really TRYING to see positive value in things at the tail end of a long season in which so many movies have seemed so relentlessly uninspiring. I really hated The Last Station, and I'm surprised that I felt kind of unable to take Mirren completely to task, if only for the fact that she seemed to be trying to breathe some life into it, as schizoid and over-the-top as it sometimes was. I can't really refute your argument here beyond things I've already said -- I guess I would add that I totally bought her passive-aggressive manipulation of McAvoy at the end, which convinced me as a proof of an abiding but outwardly dislikable love for her husband that really exceeded any sense of principles or of keeping her word. But on another day, or in another year, I might have had more energy left to be even more deeply skeptical.

@Tim: Tautou really was surprisingly and impressively dry in Coco, wasn't she? Glad to hear you liked her, and Stewart, too -- a preference that apparently must be staunchly defended! You've seen The Blind Side more recently than I have, so I'm fully prepared to believe that Sandra is making more "snap calls" and scene-level recuperations than I'm remembering at this point, but I just can't honestly pretend that I remember many of them. A lot of it just felt so compartmentalized: the one scene in bed of worrying that Michael is downstairs robbing them blind, but really zero sense of that kind of compunction either beforehand or shortly after, etc. And sometimes I just think she's outdone by the script. Whatever she may have tried to invest in the question of whether the Tuohys really were trying to recruit him for Ole Miss, the movie is so terrified of any ambiguity on this score that she's almost prevented from digging into that subtext of possible, ulterior motivations.

6:27 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

I think earlier said if Tilda didn't win, you'd be "floored," and I totally agree. She's made easily the year's greatest achievement to acting. And I'll defend you on Kristin Stewart in "Adventureland," who had this quality about her that really helped that movie along. The Academy, though, has total shame for no mention at all of Tilda. Too difficult, as you said, of a movie/performance.

Helen Mirren was over-acting, totally, but I still think she should win. I mean, man she had a presence. But hey, I'm just some sort of amateur fool. Streep was good, and so was Sidibe. Mulligan I thought was okay, and Bullock was decent. Not the best field. Two stars, I would agree.

Binoche I don't remember in Summer Hours, which as a whole I didn't like, so eh. But that was me being an impatient guy. After seeing "Police, Adjective," I think I now have the patience to go through "Hours" again and appreciate it. But I didn't think it had it; it seemed tired, sentimental, and cliche, a feeble knockoff of "A Christmas Tale."

6:38 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

Let me add a tack on: see "Tokyo Sonata." I'm very curious to see what you think. One of my favorite movies from this past year. It's unavailable on DVD as of yet, but try to see it. Also, "Sita Sings the Blues" (which the director is streaming here: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/)

I'm curious to whether you'll take to these.

6:51 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Nathaniel: Whoo! But you're right, we probably don't take each other to task often enough. At least people will know we don't always agree.

a) In my Mo'Nique voice: I knew you'd be horrified, baby. And I knew you didn't care for the movie, and absolutely, there's more than one way to play sullen and depressed, but I don't think that should discount the possibility of a straight take on "sullen and depressed." And I'm not even sure that's what this always was: I liked that even amidst her own funk, this character found ways of looking cock-eyed and kind of perplexed at Eisenberg's hang-ups and immaturity, and I bought the ways in which they got closer to each other. But I also believed her as truly angry about her father's remarriage and not completely sure that was okay to be so mad about, and really grossed out with herself for keeping the thing going with the Reynolds character... it worked for me. I haven't gone near the Twilight films, so maybe I'm less trigger-sensitive about mannerisms, but this felt like a whole person, and I did see some modulation there.

b) You know how you're always saying that just because it's not in your Top 5, 10, whatever doesn't mean you didn't love it? Ditto, girl! I've been crazy about Kim since I saw Thirst in the theater this summer. She was all set to be in the Top 5, but then "what happened" was Beeswax, which didn't play Chicago until February and revolves around two gorgeously natural, prickly, complex, underplayed performances by Maggie and Tilly Hatcher that demanded inclusion. Either Kim or Sidibe or Cornish had to go. I didn't have time to rewatch the movies, so I might regret it later, but Kim turned out to be 6th. But it ain't no big thing. I think she's sensational in that part. That's part of why I was one of your readers who'd been urging you to watch it!


My answers are too long, and now I'm having to break this into sections...

7:00 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

c) Partly I guess I'm focusing on this question because movies cost millions of dollars, and in the middle of a huge recession where everyone worries about money, I want to know why we're spending it on the things we spend it on. It's too easy to only hold that standard up to the Transformers type stuff that cost a jillion dollars, for no real reason. It also has to do with the collapse of any directorial point of view in a lot of Hollywood product, even the stuff that's sold as prestige. Why tell the story of The Last Station if you're going to keep chopping off branches? - don't get too into the McAvoy/Condon thing. Don't spend too much time alone with the Tolstoys except for the pandery sex scene. Raise the whole issue of these idealistic devotees only to push them out of the whole movie, except for Giamatti, who's just insufferable. Let McAvoy show us how charming and sweet and conflicted he's prepared to be, before locking him into a plot device that either will bring Mirren and Plummer back together, or won't. I mean, what about this story do these filmmakers actually want to tell? I didn't know any of it, either, but I'm more frustrated being handed an interesting premise and then having all of its edges or its logic rubbed off than just not knowing. As for Nine, I'm totally intrigued for ambitious or non-melody-driven musicals getting a workout, but the movie Nine starts with several musical odes in a row to the seductive power of a character who no one (actor, writer, director) has given any personality, much less any appeal, and then we're supposed to worry about his creative anguish while he drives around in his little sports car avoiding responsibilities and toying with a bunch of women and then whining to his (dead) mama. I mean, really. And then Rob Marshall can't even be bothered to think of a different staging idea than he brought to the completely different universe of his last movie musical? If he can't even think of any particular urgency behind this project... This may still sound very obnoxious, but I admit I get concerned during lots of movies. I'm really not impossible. I see what The Blind Side wants to say and who it wants to serve, even though I think it badly bungles. Same with Invictus. I think Inglourious Basterds is just contemptible in a lot of ways, but its ambitions are pretty sky-high in certain respects. I can see why it exists, even though I kind of wish it didn't. But Nine? The Last Station? I think it's at least a fair question to ask, even if none of us agree about the worst offenders on this point. Movies are too expensive, and too many interesting ones don't get made, and they're sold to us so relentlessly once they're finished, especially this time of year, that we shouldn't just accept that they're all worth it, should we?

d) MWAH right back at you. It's actually kind of fun disagreeing!

7:01 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: I knew you were a big fan on Aniston's perf, and of the film as a whole. I found her a bit overrated - partly because so many reviews took the easy tack of "I knew she could do comedy, but I didn't know she could act!" - and partly because some of her technical choices seemed a bit too transparent (arms down at all times, etc.) - but I think she's pretty good in it. I really liked her scenes with Reilly; it was his one performance I really liked in '02, even though he got praised for all the other ones.

@Nick: I agree that Mirren's definitely got "presence" to burn! It's how well and to what ends she marshals that "presence" that concerns me. One thing this lot has in common is that all five actresses, say what you will about them, really hold the screen in one way or another (or, at least, they do for me).

I'm definitely eager to see Tokyo Sonata and keep looking out for its arrival on DVD. Looks like it's due in May?

7:07 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Cal said...

I could see the control freak at the beginning. The refusal to glance at anyone or anything for longer than five seconds, the sense that she's constantly thinking about the next (acting?) move. I was initially very skeptical but it seemed to me as if the script continually tries to push her into a mould. I don't want to keep up with the Brockovich comparisons (very generous) but, while it strikes me as a great film with a wonderful star turn, Julia Roberts is handed an arc that's so much more easier to guage. She may nail it (and even add to it) but I feel like she has so much more support and competence behind her. While Bullock doesn't completely conquer the mediocrity she at least disspells it for periods, and makes Touhy feel enough of an independent and crucially insecure presence when the film is incessantly trying to palm her off as a part-willing ambassador. I saw her Charlie Rose interview and she seemed to confirm every thought that I had about the character and the battle that she had with it.

I'm actually not that fiercely devoted to her performance (probably a high three stars... not even four, for me) but there's a lot I'm mulling over about the performance. I guess that's the difference between my feelings for her and Streep. Me and another guy broke down in laughter at the onion scene (I was in tears... appropriate) but there's so much structure to the film and her performance that I was very put off. I wish that people hadn't gone Ga-Ga for Mirren in '06 because her Prada turn is legendary.

8:37 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Cal, @Catherine, @Many Others: You make very persuasive cases. And I am not superhumanly impervious, so after thinking about your arguments, doing some YouTubing amid snack breaks, and revisiting why I had already gone back and forth about placements before publishing this feature, I've swapped Sandra and Helen in their 4th- and 5th- place standings. I love when the comments give me this much to think about, and I'm sure I probably am being a wee bit tough on Sandra and a wee bit reluctant to rip the lid off another "WHY is EVERYTHING so AWFUL!" rant re: The Last Station and everything associated with it.

I know you weren't trying to "win," but you do, you do win!

10:22 PM, February 28, 2010  
Blogger Brook Brooks said...

I'm gonna chime in again with a comment aimed at waaay earlier in the thread, but I am totally on Mimi Kennedy's team. I've seen the movie way too many times, and every time, when she chokes up on: "You have no basis for saying that!" gets me just as much as anything in Mo'Nique's performance. It's a key turning point for the film as well, the first time you get a feeling that all this stupidity translates to something very serious in somebody's world.

And let's not forget the demon queen.

12:15 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

If you want a movie to close 2009 with may I suggest Three Blind Mice? Gracie Otto gives one of the loosest, funnest, breath-of-fresh-air-iest(?), liveliest and downright charming performances I've seen in a very long time. So beautifully real and natural. Plus, the movie was my #1 of 2009...

7:39 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

BTW, I think Aniston is excellent in Management. Strange movie, but she's very good. Granted, I'm an Aniston fan, but she can be so good at playing the woman who has such sadness within her, but who carries on anyway. If that makes sense.

7:46 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brook: I really need to see the movie again, pronto, but I'm so glad that you're also so enamored of her work. I recognize that top-scoring anyone but Mo'Nique seems like a willful gesture this year, but Kennedy is just so superlative.

@Glenn: Your tireless efforts to spread the word on Aussie cinema do not go unnoticed! I saw that Three Blind Mice finally got a DVD release here this past Tuesday, although it remains to be seen whether my local stores are having anything to do with it. Stay posted.

9:05 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

Man, the Countess is going to be pissed when she find out what we've gotten Tolstoy/Nick to do with her inheritance. Everybody, guard your crockery!

10:13 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Lev Lewis said...

I find your ability to write so much about performances totally ridiculous. You describe why performances do or don't work with such detail and nuance and length. It feels like you've seen every film you mention at least a dozen times. Freaks me out.

10:18 AM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger buff said...

As a tasty gourmet krumpet for best actress, my Brenda, always give a bouquet " full of flavor" performance in any role, even that of Bobby Darin's sister who is really his Mom in an otherwise downbeat autopic, Beyond the Sea.

Dame Helen, to me, over the last 30 years, has been an actress who both tantalizes and mesmerizes me in everything and anything she does.

Two very fine actresses whose performaces are always appealing to watch, in a artichoke kind of way, each layer as delicious as the next.

Mega hairy muscle hugs of thanks for sharing your knowledge and love of the movies with all of us.

12:15 PM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Catherine: Hysterical. You really got me with that one!

@Lev: Very, very sweet - but, you know, the grass is always greener. I sincerely wish I could train myself to write less. The site would have so many more reviews!

@Buff: I skipped Beyond the Sea out of incipient Spacey-phobia, but at some point I'll probably catch up with it, and this rec for Blethyn (who I didn't even realize was in the movie) is a great lure. Did you see London River by any chance? Thanks for those cyber-hugs.

12:33 PM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger NoNo said...

I noticed that many people keep saying that this is a week year for lead performances but I think that they are mistaking it with a weak field. Sidibe and Mulligan are better than at least 3 of the nominees last year and Streep this year is better than Streep last year. I think the prescence of Winslet and her two performances along with two close calls (Kristen Scott Thomas and Sally Hawkins) are confusing people!

It does bother me that people compare Bullock to Roberts despite the similarities. I think the more apt comparison would be to Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line. They both have given better performances in the past that isn't quite the Academy's cup of tea. However, they're likeable and so they'll win for their more shallow work that's more the Academy's thing.

Neither of them dug past the exterior to really get into the character although at certain times their are glimpses. They also both suffer from the material not giving them much to work with in the first place.

I know some people don't like Robert's win but I don't think anyone can deny that it's an impressive performance and I think years from now people will be even more favorable of it. However, I can see people thinking "Did she really need an Oscar?" for both Bullock and Witherspoon.

5:16 PM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@NoNo: How delicious to be able to say this: I agree with literally every word of what you wrote here. And it's such a thoughtful, generous comment to boot. Thanks!

8:26 PM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

A fantastic read as ever, and I even agree with you on more points than usual: everything you said about Sidibe and Mulligan; most of what you said about Mirren; and about Swinton, Saavedra and Sidibe belonging on any legitimate ballot. I haven't seen Bullock (I can't justify buying a cinema ticket for that thing), so I can't agree or disagree.

But. There is one point where I disagree vehemently. In fact, disagreement doesn't cover it. It's more like you are putting my grasp over the order of the universe in question.

How to explain. Imagine this scenario: You pop in a DVD - the cover tells you to expect a fine bit of froth about the grandma everybody wants to have cooking for them. And sure enough, the movie begins, there's a kitchen, a grinning grandma. But the movie takes a sudden turn and plunges into a gruesomely detailed record of said grinning grandma performing a colonscopy without anaesthetic. You are astounded, mortified, irretrievably battered. You go online to seek advice on how other people found ways - if any people at all managed - to recuperate from this experience. But every other person in the world insists that all they could see is a fine bit of froth about the grandma everybody wants to have cooking for them.

There are bad yet acclaimed performances, which I know are bad, but the acclaim is sort of explicable: so when Kate Winslet creates a huggable Nazi, and I go 'You serious?' but the world goes 'How huggable!' - that's fine, that I can compute.

But when I see Meryl Streep playing Robin Williams playing Julia Child, and I go 'AAAGH!!!!', but the world goes 'the film, and Streep's performance, are lush vessels of positive feeling' - the brain cannot compute. That is not computable.

I understand, of course, that Meryl Streep can take a dump on camera and get an Oscar nomination faster than Helen Mirren can. And I've accepted that. But surely the people who would seek out and appreciate and even spell Catalina Saavedra will lose patience with this woman when they spot her fidgeting purely to make sure you don't for a moment glance away at the extras. Or when she portrays half-suppressed impatience kabuki-style so that small children outside the cinema are compelled to turn and look while the poor actors standing barely ten inches away from her are forced to pretend they can't notice anything unusual. Or when she's halfway through hurling out her tonsils while capping off her 24th sentence in a row with "what are we to DEW-OOO!!"

I swear, I'm only half-kidding. I mean, with someone like Daniel Day Plainview, you can approach that performance and ponder "when is too much really too much?" and conclude, "well, at least not when it's so transifixing and cathartic". But with DJEW-LYAH Child - every time she popped up on screen, I was downright craving the bite-sized ennui endured by Amy Adams and her repressed haircut.

I accept that art is subjective etc. But I tried to look at Djew-lyah in the same way that I would look at a sheep's colon whereby I am objectively able to ascertain that what is before me truly is a sheep's colon - whether it is a fine, moist one or otherwise. But in the case of Djew-lyah, I look and I look, and I can't track down a vantage point from which I can perceive an actor's representation of a character. Only a brutal endurance test.

All of this in the end is a very long way of saying: I promise to look by without dismay at Meryl Streep winning her 3rd Oscar (because, you know, god forbid that with Stanwyck and Ullmann earning zero, the star of Mamma Mia! should receive anything less than three). But straight after that I demand that she disappear far far away only to return a very very long time from now, having shed all the goosey grande-dameness and once again re-assumed the recognisable, palatable form of a human being.

11:51 PM, March 01, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

@Goran: I'm still laughing. Thank you!

12:02 AM, March 02, 2010  
Blogger Bryan said...

I have a question for you, Nick:

How many Oscar voters were so fed up with Streep and Bullock's "decided" frontrunner status that they voted for someone else? Additionally, how many voters were equally fed up last year, and ditched the Winslet-Streep showdown by voting for, say, Hathaway instead?

Another way of thinking about it is this: how many voters do you think have voted for someone else in similar years when there are two actors/actresses who are so clearly labeled the "ones to beat"?

Do voters have a mind of their own? Does the fact that the nominees are whittled down for them piss them off?

ps- I'm kind of hoping for a Sidibe upset, in case you couldn't tell :)

12:23 AM, March 02, 2010  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:39 AM, March 05, 2010  

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