Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2009 Honorees: Best Actress

Those of you who have pieced together that my Twitter account is the only reliable place to find me during this very busy summer and fall have already heard me acknowledge that I couldn't well move forward with my usual mid-year progress report of favorites without at least some quick tips of the hat to the cream of last year's movie crop. All of my End-of-Decade hoopla usurped all the time and energy I would have needed to single them out at the proper moment. But, in case you're still wondering where I wound up by year's end, I'm at last coughing up some very quick overviews.

It's cheating a little to start with Best Actress, since it's the one category where you may already know the names of my five champion causes from 2009. But nonetheless, at Twitter length, my late-arriving bouquets belong to...

ABBIE CORNISH for Bright Star, because she found a way to make Fanny potent and smart but not quite prodigious, a bit blunt around the edges but vibrant at her core;

TILLY and MAGGIE HATCHER for Beeswax, because they know every damn thing about these spunky, aching, complex but quotidian women, and they don't need Big Scenes to show it;

CATALINA SAAVEDRA for The Maid, because her ferocious agitation is sympathetic and unnerving, without any overplaying, and she still finds room for surprising vulnerability;

GABOUREY SIDIBE for Precious, because her spirit and voice are on full lockdown, but instead of fancying herself a butterfly, she plays an inchworm, slowly making her way; and

TILDA SWINTON for Julia, because she's a one-woman China syndrome, but she makes you feel the weird, graceless athleticism required to be this drunk, and this crazy.

Extremely honorable mention to Kim Ok-vin in Thirst, who bounded into a vampire-crazed moment in pop culture and acted so bold, bruised, wicked, and wronged that she felt utterly one-of-a-kind.

My next rung of contenders were quiet, tense Arta Dobroshi in Lorna's Silence, loose and insouciant Meryl Streep in It's Complicated, proud but humiliated Hiam Abbass in Lemon Tree, and two indelible teenagers: Ellen Page, who blossoms but not without paying some costs in the delectable Whip It, and the much-maligned but very affecting Kristen Stewart, who conjures a hideous self-contempt and a narcotized boredom in Adventureland while still projecting an attractive, low-frequency charisma that allows the story to work.

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Blogger Colin Low said...

Yay! Psyched that you're going ahead with this. Love the butterfly vs inchworm metaphor, which puts the finger on Sidibe's savvy approach to that role. But while Swinton is one Bright Star, I think you meant to credit her for Julia. ;)

1:02 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Andrew Rech said...

Goodness! I didn't know Tilda Swinton was in Bright Star, I knew there was something suspiciously familiar about Toots vibrant red hair =)

My ballot is nearly identical, except I would bump out the Thatchers, but they'd make my honor roll. I actually hadn't even heard of Beeswax until I saw it made your top 10 and was intrigued so I checked it out on instant Netflix. I really loved the ending, and was dying to see how that breakfast would have been like.

Anyways I would put in Cruz for Broken Embraces over them, not flashy like some of her other roles but I loved the quiet sexuality she emits and how fetishized she is, although that also is a part of Pedro's stylization of her. Her bloodied , bruised quasi-femme fatale gives it the soul the film needs, which is otherwise a bit cold. I think she kills in that surreal confrontation of her husband with the recording of her on the screen and her in the back of the room.

I know The Lovely Bones is widely spit on, and yes it has a couple of glaring flaws (Don't remind me of that random montage of Susan Sarandon taking care of business at the Salmon household) but I think Saoirse Ronan is fantastic in it - and the film really isn't as terrible as others have claimed it to be, I'd give it a B-.

She's the only performance that isn't a degree of overkill, in fact she's sublime. She completely sells that girl not yet a woman first love longing, that busy mental distraction, that complete wave of panic, that haunting scream, and the cracking inhibited rage. Not precocious at all, which is where I thought she faltered a little with Atonement. She'd be in my sixth spot, and maybe some days I'll squeak her into the 5.

Also, one last thing, I'd like to applaud you for bearing mention of Kristen Stewart for Adventureland. I've never seen Twilight, and I quite liked her in Into the Wild, so I've never had a deep disdain of her work I think she unfairly gets. It's not earth-shattering work but it's a lovely portrait of a very confused girl, not one who's bored and inconsiderate, but one who's numbed and listless.

Anyways, love reading all your actress writings. Now if only we could get a peek of a write-up of say, the 1963 race =) I can't stop thinking about Patricia Neal in Hud, which I saw for the first time only a few weeks ago - and went straight into my top 10 best actress wins - and was so saddened by her passing because that performance was still lingering with me when I read about that. I would love to see your thoughts on her work in that film since you have great esteem for it.

1:11 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

I get to see The Maid in a week -- finally! And Mother in a few days. I admit to some surprise that Kim Hye-ja isn't mentioned here (along with personal faves Vera in Orphan and Maria Heiskanen in Everlasting Moments, but that's just me being pushy). The lip-service for Page, who I've never liked more, and the underrated Stewart more than compensate.

2:04 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

Yay! Anything new by Nick is always appreciated. Funny you should include The Maid (which I saw at Melbourne International Film Festival a year ago) and Beeswax (which I saw at MIFF last week), which kinda just shows the horrid international distribution model right now (neither of the two have received a regular release here, and Julia only barely scraped through with a one week limited engagement at one of my local cinemas.)

My top five for the year ended up being:

Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist
Gracie Otto, Three Blind Mice
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Tilda Swinton, Julia

With my highest "honourable mentions" going to Mulligan, Gibson and Aniston. I'm glad there's a 3/5 crossover.

5:11 AM, August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

I did remember these picks, but it's lovely to have them explained at a little more length -- if I ruled the world, "Tilda Swinton is a one-woman China syndrome!" would be the quote emblazoned on the cover of my Julia DVD. I may just write it on there myself.

Props, too, for singling out Meryl Streep's best performance of 2009. For your sake, I won't link to your piece on IC -- those death threats can be a bit of a bitch.

Anyway, I'm pleased to report a 40% overlap between your ballot and the one I posted in February -- we both find room at the inn for Tilda and Abbie, where the precursors found none. You know where I stand on Sidibe, but I'm totally down with Saavedra and that inspired Hatcher sisters pick.

Actually, the overlap should really be 60% -- I look back at my ballot and am frankly baffled that Saavedra only rated an honorable mention from me, below Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jessica Haines and Carey Mulligan -- I'd easily swap Carey out for her now. Put it down to Oscar fever. Sometimes it's worth waiting six months!

5:22 AM, August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

PS. One question: I don't deny both the aptness and the convenience of naming the Hatcher sisters as a single nominee, but is that because you find them difficult to disentwine? They struck me as quite individually flavoured performances, tangy and mild at opposing moments. If I had to pick one, I suppose I might gravitate more toward Maggie, but I share your reluctance to go there.

5:31 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

I agree with the other Andrew on Saoirse, though I'm altogether too fond of The Lovely Bones for my own good. She's join Carey and the lovely Abbie and probably Robin Wright (Penn?) and Michelle Pfeiffer (I know how you loathed that too, Nick) and Julia Roberts who charms me to end in Duplicity.

I really need to see Julia, The Maid AND Beeswax.

at Glenn Gracie was leading in Three Blind Mice? I just figured everyone was supporting.

8:28 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin and @Andrew: Thanks for that early catch! The dangers of copying and pasting...

@Andrew: I didn't really respond to Cruz in Broken Embraces and struggled with Ronan in Lovely Bones: she's a charismatic presence and a serious performer, but I didn't think Jackson stopped her from a kind of on-the-nose, adolescent vehemence in too many of her scenes. Then again, it's not clear to me what he was doing on that set. Glad we agree on Stewart, though! And even if they're honorable mentions for you, I'm glad to hear some applause for those magnificent Hatchers.

@Tim: I read that you had those two titles coming up and am excited to hear your reactions. Kim will be a contender for '10, based on the U.S. release coming months later than I saw the film. I feel like Heiskanen should have been up my alley, and I know you flipped for her, but I just didn't find her very memorable or distinguished in the part.

@Glenn: I saw Julia at the Chicago Film Festival in October 2008 and Beeswax in January or February 2010 when it finally bowed in Chicago, so for me, too, these nominations cover quite a span in time, though I realize it's for different reasons than the ones you're describing. Who is "Gibson" in your runners-up?

@Guy: I totally agree that the Hatchers give completely distinct performances in Beeswax, and I am allowing myself a convenience by nominating them together. I like that the Tonys, for example, occasionally entitle themselves to joint nominations when pairs of performances seem unusually reciprocal, and I'm seizing my occasion. I was really caught up in Tilly's work in the beginning, but Maggie really sneaks up on you, especially as she starts hinting that there's a downside of evasiveness and directionlessness in being that cute, funky Zooey type.

@Andrew: Still haven't seen Pippa Lee, which is too bad. But you're right, Roberts is a dish in Duplicity; she wouldn't be too far down from where I cut off my runners-up list, and neither would Mulligan.

8:59 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i'm excited to read the rest and see you CAN use brevity when you want to. You're always suggesting that you can't ;)

these are choice descriptions and i love the list though i'm sad it makes me the only person who included Kim Ok-vin.

10:18 AM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I do love the irony, though, that you had so many commenters urging you to see her performance and her movie for months, and then your list winds up being one of the only ones where she finally showed up! I hated to leave her out, but it was down to her and Cornish, so either way, someone who deserved wider acclaim than she got was going down.

10:25 AM, August 11, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYC Kim Hye-ja in Mother. Such subtlety. I'm not sure if Soledad Villamil from The Secret in their Eyes or Noomi Rapace for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even though I hated the latter movie. Then Abbie and Charlotte.

I'm also not sure if Julia made it to Canada.

10:37 AM, August 11, 2010  
Anonymous MRRIPLEY said...


12:00 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

I'm curious to see how your Best Actor list lines up. I'm guessing it includes Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Sharlto Copley in District 9, Ben Foster in The Messenger, Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, and...let's see, I remember you not responding to thought Christoph Waltz was a lead in Inglourious Basterds, right?

12:30 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great list! My own looks like this:

1. Gabourey Sidibe
2. Tilda Swinton
3. Abbie Cornish
4. Melanie Laurent
5. Ellen Page

With apologies too Kim Ok-Vin. But I loved Whip It so much, and thought Page was aces.

12:47 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@OkinawaAssault: Again, Kim will be a contender in '10, since that's when Mother bowed commercially in the U.S., and these Honorees are conceived along that calendar. I admire the subtleties in her work, but only insofar as they're fused with everything that's erratic, purposely overstated, and coming-undone about it.

@MrRipley: WHOA THERE, TIGER! Hit the Shift Key like that and you'll break it, or put out somebody's eye! I totally concede that her contemporary playing is probably the biggest obstacle in Cornish's performance for folks who don't cotton to it. From my perspective, Bright Star's whole aesthetic, typically of Campion, entails a fruitful cross-pollination of "period" and "contemporary" effects. Beyond just fitting her performance into that concept, Cornish becomes one of the engines by which Bright Star hits this fascinating mark. But I certainly don't dispute that the film and the performance have their lapses, some of which involve a few wobbles as they attempt to walk this tightrope.

@Robert: They'll be coming up soon, but I will say this: the Best Actor field had by far the most work that I had trouble leaving out. At least twice as many memorable turns as there were from leading women in '09, and though a lot of people feel that it's always this way, I often don't -- as you know!

@Steve-O: Laurent holds her own extremely well in the "whipped cream" scene, but otherwise I got really impatient with her performance. She didn't strike me as doing a lot, and yet that in itself did not become interesting as it does with defter under-players. So, that's why she's not here. But it's exciting to be in such sympathy with your list in other respects.

1:17 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Not much to add, I'm afraid. I'm just predictably happy for your sharing your thoughts.

Maybe just one thing: I really liked Kim Ok-vin, but isn't it weird to put her among the other ones? Not that I really object. I just mean that that kind of acting is very different. Maybe it's just me but I think they all acted like they were doing self-parody. I'm exaggerating, but, being unfamiliar with Korean cinema, I don't really get that kind of acting yet. Still, I enjoyed both her and the movie. The music too and it felt like the most obviously universal element to me.

I hope I don't sound racist. I'm fine with eastern coultures finding us (Americans, Europeans etc) hard to get at first.

Now that I think about it, I don't remember having any issues with the performances in Lust, Caution. But that wasn't a vampyre movie nor a Korean one.

And I just realized I said Korean, as if South Korea and North Korea are the same thing. I hope I haven't offended people in various ways with one light-hearted post.

My random thoughts are over :p

7:17 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

Sad about the brutal Maria slapdown. I remember her all the time! And I think there's a lovely modesty to her work in that -- it lights up the movie. Still, it would be pretty dull if we always saw eye to eye.

@Nat -- I included Kim too. She's a couple of notches better than Abbie in my book:

7:46 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I'm a devotee of Kim Ok-vin, and think that she's just as good as Cornish is. I might rank her higher because I was surprised that she was as good as she was; it's the best turn in a Park Chan-wook and she carries that film through it's shakiest bits and makes it better during it's great bits.

8:15 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...


I certainly appreciate the criticisms of Laurent's performance. To be honest, on my first viewing of Inglourious Basterds, I was underwhelmed in nearly all respects (except for Waltz's work, obviously, although even there I break from the pack and consider Jim Broadbent's work in Harry Potter 6 to be the best performance by a supporting actor in 2009).

On my second viewing, I was hooked. Not sure what happened after the first time, but I ultimately found the entire thing completely electrifying. Including Laurent.

So who knows what will happen the next time I decide to watch it.

Reading the rest of the comments, though, I have to amend my earlier post and agree with Tim R. If Laurent falls out, Vera Farmiga's Orphan performance would sneak in ahead of Kim Ok-Vin's work.

Also, I'd amend that earlier post to at least say "apologies to", rather than "apologies too".

Farmiga's become such a fast favorite that I'm instantly put in mind of my Julianne Moore hysteria in the 90s, when I felt like I would have nominated her simply for showing up to work. (I'd say she deserved nominations in '94, '95, '97, '98, '99 (x2)--not to mention in '02, '08, '09, and (probably) '10)

I think Farmiga should have scored nods in '05, '06, '08, '09 (certainly for Up in the Air, and possibly for Orphan).

It's like for each decade there's one actress that I fall unreasonably in love with. Looking forward to the next one!

9:16 PM, August 11, 2010  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Nick, "Gibson" = Marisa Gibson in Samson & Delilah. The scene as she watched Samson dance is what did it.

Andrew, she could be lead, she could be supporting. I went with lead because I felt her impact so much more than anyone else.

3:49 AM, August 12, 2010  
Blogger Shtajner said...

My favourites are:

1. Tilda Swinton in Julia (of course!!!)
2. Arta Dobroshi in Lorna’s Silence
3. Birgit Minichmayr in Everyone Else
4. Aggeliki Papoulia in Dogtooth
5. Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
6. Drew Barrymore in Grey Gardens (I know, it's a TV work, but she was so spectacular and way much better than ever and I think she will never top this one, so I had to include her)

Honourable mentions:

Anne Dorval in I Killed My Mother
Carey Mulligan in An Education
Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
Vera Farmiga in Orphan
Sophie Marceau in Don't Look Back
Ellen Page in Whip It!
Maria Onetto in Headless Woman
Kim Ok-Vin in Thirst
Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer
Mirjana Karanovic in Here & There

I still have to see The Maid, Coco Before Chanel and Adventureland (and I am sooo curious about Kristen Stewart's work!!!), but I'm under the impression that I will love Katalina Saavedra and Audrey Tautou.

7:25 AM, August 13, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

My field:
Tilda Swinton had the year's best lead performance in "Julia"
Kyoko Koizumi aids the film's transcendence and is touching and integral as the mother in "Tokyo Sonata"
Helen Mirren was the best of the nominees in my opinion in "The Last Station"
Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw played good counterparts in "Two Lovers"

I would rank them:
Shaw/Gabby Sidibe, who's interchangeable with Shaw and an honorable mention because of your defense and what I thought earlier of her, as a "good debut."

I agree with Andrew, my extremely honorable mention would be to Penelope Cruz in "Broken Embraces." She was, as a friend said, "luminious." She could interchange with Paltrow possibly.

9:00 AM, August 15, 2010  

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