Friday, February 20, 2015

Academy Awards Retrospective – Movies Spotlight – February 2015

I thought it might be interesting to look back at the Oscar winners from 2001’s show through last year’s, giving my thoughts, now in retrospect, of who probably is most deriving today (looking at all films, not just those nominated).

Best Picture: Gladiator
Best Director: Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
Best Actor: Russell Crowe, Gladiator
Best Actress: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
Best Supporting Actress: Maricia Gay Harden, Pollock

Looking back, 2000 was a pretty lousy year for movies. I do not have any thoughts on many of the categories because there is just no real standout work that has stood the test of time. Best Actor, however, I think probably belongs to Christian Bale for his electric and career-making performance in American Psycho (one of my ten favorite performances of the decade). Best Director now goes to Christopher Nolan for Memento, which seems like a no-brainer today. Best Picture is In the Mood for Love, arguably the best film from the decade.

Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind
Best Director: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, Training Day
Best Actress: Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball
Best Supporting Actor: Jim Broadbent, Iris
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

Best Actress Halle Berry is very good in Monster’s Ball; it is by far her best work; however, Maribel Verdu’s performance in Y Tu Mama Tambien is even better. And yet, I think Audrey Tautou takes the award today; her work is among my ten favorite performances of the decade. Her performance in Amelie is iconic and lasting. Best Actor I think belongs to Gene Hackman for his work in The Royal Tenenbaums. Best Director is far more difficult, Ridley Scott’s direction of Black Hawk Down is exceptional, but really it is a toss-up between David Lynch for Mulholland Drive and Jean-Pierre Jeunet for Amelie. The same is true for Best Film. Mulholland Drive and Amelie are just as important and relevant today. I will also add Spirited Away to the mix as well.

Best Picture: Chicago
Best Director: Roman Polanski, The Pianist
Best Actor: Adrien Brody, The Pianist
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper, Adaptation
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Three of the four acting categories are hard to dispute this year; however, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep are far better in The Hours (assuming you consider them potential Best Supporting Actress nominees, which the Academy did). Just to mix things up, I think Bill Pullman is wonderful in Igby Goes Down (is what is about a cameo’s worth of screen time worth a Best Supporting Actor Oscar?) and Robin Williams is delightfully insane in Death to Smoochy. Best Actress is hands down Nicole Kidman for The Hours, one of my favorite ten performances of the decade. Best Actor Adrien Brody is excellent in The Pianist, but I also very much enjoy Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dirty Pretty Things and Al Pacino in Insomnia. Best Director is rightfully Roman Polanski’s, but Paul Greengrass with Bloody Sunday and Danny Boyle with 28 Days Later… introduced new styles and aesthetics, changing cinema. Best Picture is a toss-up between The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (which only suffers a minor setback from being the middle of a grander narrative – it is still my favorite of the series) and The Hours, a beautifully constructed and acted film.

Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Best Director: Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster
Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

Starting with Best Supporting Actor, Remy Girard is un-matched in The Barbarian Invasions. Best Actress is Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation and Best Actor is Bill Murray also in Lost in Translation, another of my ten favorite performances of the decade.. Best Director rightfully belongs to Peter Jackson, not just for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King but really the whole trilogy. I also want to mention Kevin Costner for making the brilliant western Open Range, Gus Van Sant for the chilling and unflinching Elephant and Chan-wook Park for the jaw-dropping mystery thriller Oldboy. It is hard for me to deny The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Best Picture, because it is a monumental achievement and I do love it, but Lost in Translation transcends with its beautiful, touching and funny performances and the simplicity of its premise. It is a movie about friendship and life.

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Best Actress: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Best Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

Jamie Foxx is very good in Ray, but Christian Bale’s transformation in The Machinist is staggering and Bill Murray’s hard-luck adventurer/oceanographer Steve Zissou is funny yet emotionally complex. None of them are Best Actor, however, that alone belongs to Bruno Ganz in Downfall. Back in 2005, I agreed with Million Dollar Baby winning the awards it won. Today, I still think it is a powerful and well-told narrative, but it is not Best Picture or even Best Director. For director, I put forth Oliver Hirschbiegel for Downfall and Kar Wai Wong for 2046; and yet, honestly I think the year belongs to franchise sequels. Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 are the best crafted and most entertaining films of the year. With Spider-Man 2, Raimi constructs a perfect narrative. For Best Picture, I will also add Hotel Rwanda to the mix, but it is Spider-Man 2 all the way.

Best Picture: Crash
Best Director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney, Syriana
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor very well could be The Squid and the Whale’s Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels; although, Niels Arestrup is very good in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Val Kilmer is hilarious in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tom Hollander steals scenes in Pride & Prejudice. That said, I think Best Support Actor, for me, is Chiwetel Ejiofor in Serenity. I love Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line (and Joaquin Phoenix is wonderful as well), but Best Actress is Keira Knightely in Pride & Prejudice, another of my ten favorite performances from the decade. Best Director very well could be Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain, but I would also like to mention Jacques Audiard for The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Terrence Malick for The New World, Rian Johnson for Brick (reimagining the film noir genre, blending it with a teen film), Steven Spielberg for Munich, Joe Wright for Pride & Prejudice (with his fantastically fluid and kinetic camera), Joss Whedon for Serenity, and Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins (making me forget that Tim Burton even attempted another Batman film before, something seemingly infeasible to my late 1980s adolescent self). Best Picture is among all these films as well as Capote and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. I am torn between Batman Begins, Pride & Prejudice and Serenity – each is highly entertaining, very well-made and just as vital and relevant today. 2005 was a standout year for film.

Best Picture: The Departed
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Best Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

2006 mostly comes down to two films: The Prestige and Children of Men, but let us dig a little deeper. Best Support Actor, for me, is Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (just utter brilliance and joy). Best Actress is Carice van Houten for her tour de force performance in Black Book. Best Actor easily could be Francois Cluzet in Tell No One or Ulriche Muhe in The Lives of Others, but Christian Bale is phenomenal in The Prestige, another of my ten favorite performances of the decade. Martin Scorsese was due to win a Best Director Oscar, and cinema fans were happy to see him win, but there were some move deserving directors: Paul Verhoeven for Black Book, Paul Greengrass for United 93, J.J. Abrams for Mission: Impossible III (I know you are shocked by this, but he made the best action film of the decade with MI3; it is just wholly entertaining), Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck for The Lives of Others, and Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth. The award, however, belongs to either Alfonso Cuaron for Children of Men (its aesthetic and technical degree of difficulty) or Christopher Nolan for The Prestige (its masterful construction). I tend to favor Nolan, as I favor The Prestige for Best Picture. I also want to throw in the genuine, sad and heartfelt musical Once, just to mention it. It is a great film.

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men
Best Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

2007 was also a very good year for film. I agree with most of Oscar winners. Tilda Swinton is very good in Michael Clayton (a film that has not remained vital in any regard), but Saoirse Ronan is extraordinary in Atonement; she is 2007’s Best Supporting Actress. Javier Barden is Best Supporting Actor, no question, but Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War probably would have all won in different years. There is also no denying Daniel Day-Lewis Best Actor, but Brad Pitt is sensational in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (probably the best performance of his career, and the performance that won me over; he has since become one of my favorite actors), as is Richard Jenkins in The Visitor. I concur with the Coen Brothers being Best Director and No Country for Old Men being Best Picture, but I also love Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (I know you have not seen it, but if you love westerns, you must), Joe Wright’s Atonement, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz and Best Supporting Actor Heath Ledger (giving maybe the performance of the decade, and one of my ten favorite) are both very deserving (although, you can make cases for Taraji P. Henson and Tilda Swinton in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, both of whom are also very good). Best Actress Kate Winslet is better in Revolutionary Road and should have won for that film; I also very much enjoy Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Cate Blanchett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Sean Penn is great in Milk (it is my favorite performance of his), but I also want to nominate Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (perfectly conveying the humor and sadness – it is the decade’s best romantic comedy), Leonard DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road, Tom Hardy in Bronson, Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt, Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and my pick for Best Actor Michael Fassbender in Hunger. Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight, David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Tomas Alfredson for Let the Right One In are all good choices for Best Director, but Steve McQueen does something exceptional with Hunger. It is mesmerizing, haunting and unforgettable. WALL-E deserves to be mentioned along with these others, as one of the few animated films to really make an impact as one of the year’s very best movies. Yet, Best Picture comes down to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Dark Knight – two grand epics. I pick The Dark Knight.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Best Supporting Actress: Mo’Nique, Precious

This year’s Oscars has a lot of wrongs. Starting with Best Supporting Actress, my pick is Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, but in close proximity are Rosamund Pike in An Education and Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds. Christoph Waltz is Best Supporting Actor, unquestionably, but there were some other great supporting performances by men in 2009: Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, Tom Hollander and Peter Capaldi in In the Loop (hysterically funny), Niels Arestrup in A Prophet, and Christian Bale in Public Enemies. The Blind Side being nominated for Best Picture is laughable (almost as laughable as Crash winning in 2006) and Sandra Bullock’s performance boarders on caricature, but I guess everyone decided it was her year, good performances be damned. My pick for Best Actress is Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds, followed closely be Carey Mulligan in An Education, Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank and Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria. Jeff Bridges is good in Crazy Heart, but Colin Firth in A Single Man, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Sharlto Copley in District 9, Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, and my pick for Best Actor Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man all give more interesting and dynamic performances. Best Director could be Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up, Michael Mann for Public Enemies, Juan Jose Campanella for The Secret in Their Eyes, Jacques Audiard for A Prophet, Armando Iannucci for In the Loop, or Cary Fukunaga for Sin Nombre, but my pick is Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, which also my pick for Best Picture.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter

I think all the performances that won are very deserving. I just want to mention some other great performances from the year not nominated: for Best Supporting Actress Rooney Mara in The Social Network; she makes a tiny amount of screen time resonate throughout the whole narrative. Keira Knightley is also excellent in Never Let Me Go, playing off type. For Best Supporting Actor Andrew Garfield is brilliant in both The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, having a breakthrough year. Matt Damon and Barry Pepper (in a tiny role) are great in True Grit. Ben Mendelsohn (who has become one of our best working character actors) is electric and terrifying in Animal Kingdom. And, Tom Hardy is just a treat to watch in Inception. For Best Actress Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful in True Grit, as is Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go. And for Best Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio is very good in Inception, a deseptively difficult performance. Best Director is unquestionably Christopher Nolan (did the Academy not see Inception?). Incendies, Never Let Me Go, True Grit and The Social Network are all top-notch, and could have won Best Picture if not for Inception, a breathtaking feat of directorial skill, narrative construction and realization. In a time dominated by series and series, Inception is a grand and original blockbuster.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michel, Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

The 2012 Oscars were dominated by nostalgia, but in retrospect they got most everything wrong. Best Supporting Actress Octavia Spencer is deserving, but it is a shame that Carey Mulligan did not get nominated for Drive or Shame, Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life, Elle Fanning for Super 8, Anna Kendrick for 50/50, Keira Knightley for A Dangerous Method, and Shailene Woodley for The Descendents (who probably gave the best performance of the bunch). Best Supporting Actor Christopher Plummer is also deserving, but I also really enjoy Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre, Omar Sy in The Intouchables, Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin, Albert Brooks in Drive, Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life, Corey Stoll in Midnight in Paris, and Jonah Hill in Moneyball. And then things go wrong. Best Actress is Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed by other excellent performances by Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Felicity Jones in Like Crazy. Best Actor is Michael Fassbender in Shame, followed by other excellent performances by Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt in Moneyball, Tom Hardy in Warrior, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, and Francois Cluzet in The Intouchables. Best Director is David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (making an even better version of what was already a great Swedish film and book). Steve McQueen’s work on Shame is also striking. A few others worthy of mentioning: Cary Fukunaga for Jane Eyre, Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive, Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, and J.J. Abrams for Super 8. There were quite a few great films in 2011, like the blockbusters Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which actually lived up to the hype, and surpassed it) and Super 8, fun dramedies like 50/50 and Midnight in Paris, and profound dramas like Shame and Jane Eyre. The Best Picture of the year, however, is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (revisit it and you will see its brilliance).

Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hawthaway, Les Miserables

I agree with the acting categories. Anne Hathaway is also fabulous as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, which would have been my favorite Best Supporting Actress performance of the year if not for her work in Les Miserables (it is the only thing worth watching the very tedious movie for). Kelly Reilly is excellent in Flight, but did not get a nomination. Christoph Waltz winning Best Supporting Actor is probably right, but it was a strong year. These standout performance were not even nominated: Javier Bardem in Skyfall, Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained, Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises (his Bane is one of my favorite superhero film villains, up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki), Michael Fassbender in Prometheus (the best part of the film, along with its aesthetics), and Ben Mendelsohn in Killing Them Softly. Jennifer Lawrence is undeniably charming and engaging in Silver Linings Playbook winning Best Actress, but I think Marion Cotillard’s performance in Rust and Bone is just as good (maybe even better). Other great performances not nominated include: Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina (a visual whirlwind, but grounded by her strong work), Alicia Vikander in A Royal Affair and Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha. Daniel Day-Lewis is probably our best working actor presently, he utterly becomes his characters. He deserved to win Best Actor for Lincoln, but here are some exceptional performances not nominated: Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Brad Pitt in Killing Them Softly, and Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is remarkable. He took 3-D, an improperly used technology, and used it to produce an incredible film experience. And yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial feats on Zero Dark Thirty are just about as impressive. In terms of blockbuster filmmaking, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is uneven, but he knocked the third act out of the park, creating the year’s most entertaining film, while Christopher Nolan ends his Dark Knight Trilogy with another astoundingly good film in The Dark Knight Rises. Rian Johnson also exhibits flourishes of sheer brilliance in the montages of Looper. And, Paul Thomas Anderson gets pitch perfect performances across the board in The Master. Best Director is a toss-up. If I have to pick though, I tend to lean towards Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty is just so enthralling). Best Picture comes down to The Master, Life of Pi, The Dark Knight Rises, and Zero Dark Thirty. Argo is a good thriller, but nowhere near the level of these films. I love Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and so my pick is The Dark Knight Rises, but if you were to take that out of the running I would go with Zero Dark Thirty.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jered Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

We have finally come to the end. I will make this one quick. I agree with Lupita Nyong’o as Best Supporting Actress. I question if anyone will care about Dallas Buyers Club in five year, or if anyone even cares about it now. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave is Best Supporting Actor. I agree with Cate Blanchett as Best Actress. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave is Best Actor. Initially I did agree that Alfonso Cuaron deserved to win Best Director for the technical challenges of Gravity, but now I feel differently. The film does not really hold up to multiple viewings and Steve McQueen’s directorial work on 12 Years a Slave is much more profound and interesting. I think Spike Jonze for Her and Marin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street are also more deserving, but McQueen is my pick today. I agree with 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture.

Enjoy the 2015 Academy Awards on Sunday.

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