Monday, February 28, 2011

King’s Speech Win Echoes Dances with Wolves

Throughout the past few weeks, several critics have been making a very drastic comparison between this year’s Best Picture race and one from years past.

Veteran Oscar handicappers said that when/if The King’s Speech bested The Social Network for Oscar’s biggest prize, it would be similar to when How Green Was My Valley, a very decent, very well-produced film, beat Citizen Kane, a very brilliant, wholly game changing film, in 1941.

Well, that’s a bit drastic.

Best Picture
It isn’t fair to say that when The King’s Speech won Best Picture yesterday evening, it beat out a film that will forever change the way most all other movies are made.  The Social Network is a great film, an ingenious one on many levels.  The King’s Speech simply catered to the majority of Oscar voters’ tastes, and it comes as no surprise that it won.

As much as I enjoyed The Social Network, with its caffeinated editing, red hot dialogue, revelatory music, fluid camera work and foreboding acting, it is not, in any way, Citizen Kane.

Instead, I believe a far more apt comparison to this year’s Best Picture race can be made to the 1990 Academy Awards, when Dances with Wolves, and its director Kevin Costner, beat Martin Scorsese and his film Goodfellas.

Again, Dances with Wolves, with its epic scope, sagging running time, and love-conquers-all mentality, was far more accessible to most voters than Scorsese’s ultra-violent, coke-infused Mafia madhouse.
But, as I posted on my Facebook wall mere seconds after Steven Spielberg announced The King’s Speech as the winner: be honest, when was the last time you actually watched Dances with Wolves?

I believe I’ve seen it all the way through one time… in high school, probably on one of those final days before winter break.  On the other end, I’ve probably seen Goodfellas 20 times (at least). 

Goodfellas is a masterpiece, one of the best films to be released in the past two decades.  Dances with Wolves is, well…who cares.

In short, I firmly believe that 20 years from now, film goers will still be quoting The Social Network, filmmakers will still be stealing from it, and Oscar watchers will still be scratching their heads going: The King’s Speech?  Really?

Best Director
I was actually genuinely surprised that Tom Hooper beat out David Fincher here.  My jaw wasn’t dropped or anything, but it just seems so grossly inadequate.  Oh well.

The Acting Awards
If you look at my previous posts, I predicted that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo would all win, so, no big shockers here.

The best speech?  That’s two fold.  Leo dropping the F-bomb was great, but Bale making fun of himself for “dropping the F-bomb too much recently” was brilliant.

Everything Else
I love the Oscars, and I will watch every minute of every show every year.  And while I appreciated that the show was a tab bit shorter this year, the whole ceremony was kind of blah.  People have been giving Ricky Gervais so much shit for his Golden Globes hosting duties, but that was a month and a half ago.  I seriously doubt that anyone will still be talking about Anne Hathaway’s giddiness (or James Franco’s perpetually baked demeanor) two weeks from now.

On to next year.  The Tree of Life, for the win.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Don’t Take My Word for It: Critics Guess Oscar Winners

I have a pretty solid track record for guessing who will land Academy Awards (just ask anyone whose gone up against me in an Oscar pool), but as I said in my earlier post, this year is tricky.

I guessed two ways: a King’s Speech sweep, or everyone else.  Seems like most critics share that same sentiment. Here is a complied list of “Who Will Win” Oscar picks from critics I respect. (For the record, I don’t respect Entertainment Weekly, but their Oscar handicapper seems to know what he’s talking about.)


Roger Ebert: The King’s Speech
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone): The King’s Speech
Dave Kruger (Entertainment Weekly): The King’s Speech
Richard Corliss (Time Magazine): The King’s Speech
Tom O’Neil (Golden Derby): The King’s Speech
Me: The King’s Speech


Ebert: Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
Rolling Stone: Hooper
EW: David Fincher for The Social Network
Time: Fincher
Golden Derby: Fincher
Me: Fincher


Ebert: Colin Firth for The King’s Speech
Rolling Stone: Firth
EW: Firth
Time: Firth
Golden Derby: Firth
Me: Firth


Ebert: Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Rolling Stone: Portman
EW: Portman
Time: Portman
Golden Derby: Portman
Me: Portman


Ebert: Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech
Rolling Stone: Rush
EW: Christian Bale for The Fighter
Time: Bale
Golden Derby: Bale
Me: Bale


Ebert: Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
Rolling Stone: Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech
EW: Steinfeld
Time: Melissa Leo for The Fighter
Golden Derby: Leo
Me: Leo


Ebert: David Seidler for The King’s Speech
Rolling Stone: Seidler
EW: Seidler
Time: N/A
Golden Derby: Seidler
Me: Seidler


Ebert: Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network
Rolling Stone: Sorkin
EW: Sorkin
Time: N/A
Golden Derby: Sorkin
Me: Sorkin

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

OSCARS: Who Will Win (and, More Importantly) Who Should

It’s funny that such a competitive awards race has stemmed from one of the slowest most sporadic movie years I’m able to recall.

When the winners to the 83rd Academy Awards are announced this Sunday, we may be thrown very few surprises.  The King’s Speech, Fincher, Firth, Portman, Bale, Leo, good night.  But here’s the thing: every major category could shift to a King’s Speech sweep.  Whatever acting category is awarded first; that’s your first sign.  If Helena Bonham Carter steals Supporting Actress, expect Geoffrey Rush to take it from Christian Bale. 

You have to think like the average Oscar voter (which is to say, an elderly white guy): “If I voted for The King’s Speech here, then I may as well here, too.” In short, I think it’s either all or nothing for The King’s Speech (save Best Actor, of course).

Here’s who I think will walk away with the 13 inch, 8 pound golden boy come Sunday.  And, of course, who I think SHOULD nab said statuette. 

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone
Game changer The Social Network was the heavy early favorite, but at this point, it seems destined to lose to The King’s Speech, a glorified HBO movie with no real impressive feats (other than, of course, it’s flawless acting).

Will Win: The King’s Speech
Should Win: Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
David O. Russell- The Fighter
Tom Hooper - The King’s Speech
David Fincher - The Social Network
Joel and Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher
Same story as Picture.  David Fincher, one of the most far reaching, acclaimed auteurs working in American cinema, should in no way lose out to Hooper’s still-got-a-lot-to-learn direction for The King’s Speech. But he just might.

Will Win: Fincher
Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Inception (oh, right, sorry… Fincher, or Aronosfky)

Javier Bardem- Biutiful
Jeff Bridges- True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network
Colin Firth- The King’s Speech
James Franco- 127 Hours
Firth. A lock.
Colin Firth is this year’s lock.  No question.  Moving on.

Will Win: Firth
Should Win: Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine (oops, I meant Firth, or Bardem)

Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman- Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence- Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman- Black Swan
Michelle Williams- Blue Valentine
Can Portman pull it out?
Bening has been heavily favored to win twice (in 1990 for The Grifters and 1999 for American Beauty), but has never pulled it out.  I’m not saying she’ll take it from Portman (who delivered the best acting performance of the year, period) but it wouldn’t surprise me if she did.

Will Win: Portman
Should Win: Portman

Christian Bale- The Fighter
John Hawkes- Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner- The Town
Mark Ruffalo- The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush- The King's Speech
There better be Bale
Bale has swept most every honor out there so far, but Rush has steadily gained momentum for his strong-willed, deft performance in The King’s Speech.  Bale deserves this Oscar five times over, but, again, don’t be shocked if Rush takes the stage… again (as he did in 1996 for Shine).

Will Win: Bale (let us hope)
Should Win: Bale

Amy Adams- The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter- The King's Speech
Melissa Leo- The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit
Jacki Weaver- Animal Kingdom

Ms. Leo's got some tough competition.
This is the real curveball category.  Like Bale, Leo has nabbed nearly every pre-Oscar prize, but her name isn’t being thrown around as much as it was a month ago.  I could easily see Steinfeld, Adams, or Bonham Carter replace Leo.  Ironically, the person who deserves it the most doesn’t have a shot.

Will Win: Leo (I suppose)
Should Win: Weaver

Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech

David Seidler
The Kids Are All Right was the buzz-heavy favorite, but as I’ve said, The King’s Speech could, and probably will, swoop in for the steal.

Will Win: David Seidler for The King’s Speech
Should Win: Christopher Nolan for Inception

127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone
Aaron Sorkin
The other lock of the night should justly go to Aaron Sorkin for his brilliant, mile-a-minute Social Network prose.  Sorkin’s screenplay reminded people that screenwriting is indeed an art form.

Will Win: Sorkin
Should Win: Sorkin

-- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross had better walk away with Best Original Score for their Social Network music; a movie score unlike any every heard.

-- Give it to Roger Deakins for his True Grit cinematography.  Deakins’ work wasn’t the best in his category this year (that would be Matthew Libatique for Black Swan) but the dude has been nominated nine damn times and never won.  Well deserved.

-- I’d love to see Banksy wave his proverbial middle finger around as Exit Through the Gift Shop wins documentary, and Alejandro González Iñárritu gracefully accept Best Foreign Language Film for Biutiful.  Although, I doubt either will happen.

The Oscars are Sunday Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the ‘80s

1. "Wake up! Wake up, wake up, wake up, up you wake, up you wake, up you wake, up you wake! This is Mr. Senor Love Daddy, your voice of choice, the world's only 12-hour strongman on the air, here on We Love Radio, 108 FM, the last on your dial but first in your hearts.  And that's the truth, Ruth."

2. "I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being."

3. "It's a sunny, woodsy day in Lumberton, so get those chainsaws out.”

4. This force of nature:

5. This force of nature:

6. This force of nature:

7. The use of “Adagio for Strings" in Elephant Man

8. The use of “Adagio for Strings" in Platoon

9. Robert De Niro playing Jake La Motta playing Marlon Brando playing Terry Mallow

10. John William’s score for E.T.

11. The start of this great collaboration (the ending... not so great):

12. The American crime genre is forever altered with the release of Thief, Michael Mann’s first film

13. The 105-minute long conversation Wally has with Andre

14. Watching Klaus Kinski orchestrate the dragging a giant ship across a mountain

15. Watching Werner Herzog direct Klaus Kinksi orchestrate the dragging a giant ship across a mountain

16. Paul Newman playing pinball.  The man is acting… with his shoulders.

17. “I’m the boss I’m the boss I’m the boss I’m the boss.”

18. The birth of independent cinema:

19. Rupert Pupkin laughing with Jerry Langford

20. The 188 seamless minutes that make up the flawless Fanny and Alexander

21. Spinal Tap’s inability to harmonize in front of Elvis’ grave

22. A scrawny black kid from Brooklyn makes She’s Gotta Have It, singlehandedly giving birth to contemporary African American independent cinema

23. Willem Dafoe smiling at Tom Berenger across a dense forest

24. At 75 years old, a master proves he’s at the top of his game:

25. One thing is clear at the start of the 1989 Oscars: Tom Cruise is going to win Best Actor for his balls-out, remarkable performance in Born of the Fourth of July.  Jodie Foster opens the envelope and reads the winner.  Daniel Day-Lewis glides on stage to accept his award.  Screen acting is forever changed.

26. “I’m not bad.  I’m just drawn that way.”

27. Matt Dillon casually hitting a security guard in the face with a crowbar

28. From “the next James Dean” to complete obscurity within eight years:

29. Dustin Hoffman counting toothpicks

30. “My name is… John…Merrick.”

31. The fact that Another Woman is the best, most underappreciated, film of Woody Allen’s prolific career

32. Rob Epstein releases The Times of Harvey Milk. The documentary genre becomes an exercise in emotion.

33. Errol Morris releases The Thin Blue Line.  The documentary genre gets a man off death row.

34. Michael Moore releases Roger & Me.  The documentary genre becomes cool.

35. "I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen."

36. Mookie throwing a metal trashcan through Sal’s window

37. The fact that, no matter how hard I try to found faults with it, Field of Dreams is simply a damn fine film

38. David Mamet releases his first film, House of Games, screenwriting is finally considered an art form.

39. Albert Brooks sweating his ass off on live television

40. Character acting is never the same:

41. Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi

42. “I’ll be back.”

43. “Now I have a machine go.  HO-HO-HO”

44. “Get away from her you bitch!”

45. “DO YOU WANNA?! Do you wanna jump?  All right then asshole, let’s do it, let’s jump.”

46. “Get to da chopper!”

47. The horrifying scene in which Meryl Streep, as Sophie, makes her choice

48. The fact that one dude made all of these great (occasionally classic) films:

49. Dean Stockwell singing “In Dreams” into a small spotlight

50. Jeremy Irons as Beverly Mantle

51. Jeremy Irons as Elliot Mantle

52. The guests of a posh dinner party randomly singing “Day-O”

53. The brazenly bizarre brashness of Brazil

54. “Did you fuck my wife?”

55. Timothy Hutton in Ordinary People.  An utterly flawless performance.

56."Let's daaaaaaaaance!"

57. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

58. Kubrick’s tracking shots in The Shining

59. …and Full Metal Jacket

60. "Do you have a problem with that?!"

61. That little piece of skin that dangles from Jack’s face in An American Werewolf in London

62. “You’re crazy!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You’re a nerd!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You’re an idiot!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”

63. The misleading opening scene of Blow Out

64. Al Pacino shoving his face into a giant pile of cocaine

65. Using Reese's Pieces to befriend an alien

66. Jeff Spicoli

67. Full Metal Jacket’s terrifying use of tube socks and bars of soap

68. The Big Chill hits theatres, movie soundtracks are forever altered

69. "Wolfman's got nards."

70. Ed Harris trying to revive Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss

71. “Give my daughter the shot.  Give my daughter the shot! GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!”

72. The ghost of an old woman reading in the basement of the New York Public Library

73. The peep show scene with Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas

74. It is because of this performance that I will always like Michael Keaton:

75. Willem Dafoe getting off the cross

76. Ferris lip synching “Twist and Shout”

77. Jeff Goldblum teleporting with a common housefly

78. Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern trying to outrun a train

79. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

80. The Union Station shootout in The Untouchables

81. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

82. Tom Hanks playing "Chopsticks" with his feet

83. Kevin Kline eating a live gold fish

84. The fact that The Vanishing never goes where you expect it to (seriously, see this movie)

85. “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

86. The single tear that rolls down Denzel’s face

87. “I’ll make it.”

88. The discovery of Luke’s father

89. Jason Patric turning into a lost boy

90. Robert De Niro alone with a concrete wall

91. Rutger Hauer’s pronunciation of the word “father” in Blade Runner

92. “This is my rifle. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my rifle and myself are defenders of my country, we are the masters of our enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but peace. Amen.”


94. Harrison Ford punching a guy out in Witness

95. Glenn Close’s cooking habits in Fatal Attraction

96. The perfect villain:

97. Tom Cruise sliding across the living room floor

98. “We did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days.”

99. “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

100. “I’ll… be… right… here.”

101. “I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost. For the first time in a long time, I felt at peace.”

Answer Key

1. Do the Right Thing
2. Stand By Me
3. Blue Velvet
4. Blue Velvet
5. Full Metal Jacket
6. The Shining
9. Raging Bull
13. My Dinner With Andre
14. Fitzcarraldo
15. Burden of Dreams
16. The Verdict
17. Raging Bull
19. The King of Comedy
21. This is Spinal Tap
23. Platoon
24. Ran
25. My Left Foot
26. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
27. Drugstore Cowboy
28. From top left: 9 ½ Weeks, Body Heat, Rumble Fish, Diner
29. Rain Man
30. Elephant Man
35. Say Anything…
36. Do the Right Thing
39. Broadcast News
40. Sid and Nancy
42. The Terminator
43. Die Hard
44. Aliens
45. Lethal Weapon
46. Predators
47. Sophie’s Choice
49. Blue Velvet
50. Dead Ringers
51. Dead Ringers
52. Beetlejuice
54. Raging Bull
56. Footloose
57. When Harry Met Sally…
60. The Karate Kid
62. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
64. Scarface
65. E.T.
66. Fast Times and Ridgemont High
69. Monster Squad
71. Terms of Endearment
72. Ghostbusters
74. Beetlejuice
75. The Last Temptation of Christ
76. Ferris Buller’s Day Off
77. The Fly
78. Stand By Me
79. Dirty Dancing
81. Wall Street
82. Big
83. A Fish Called Wanda
85. Batman
86. Glory
87. Hoosiers
88. The Empire Strikes Back
89. The Lost Boys
90. Raging Bull
92. Full Metal Jacket
93. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
96. The Little Mermaid
97. Risky Business
98. Platoon
99. Back to the Future
100. E.T.
101. Another Woman

Click here for 101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the ‘90s

Click here for 101 Cinematic Reasons Why I Love the 2000s

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ebert Predicts Supporting Actor Upsets

As part of his annual $100,000 Outguess Ebert contest, Roger Ebert today solidified his predictions on who and what will take home Oscars on Feb. 27.

Some of his choices are destined to be reflected by Oscar voters, but others, namely the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, are real curveballs.  I don't agree with his Supporting Actor choice, but he could be right on for Supporting Actress.

The following is a list of Ebert’s Oscar predications in major categories.  For more information, click here.

Best PictureThe King’s Speech
Best Director: Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
Best Actor: Colin Firth in The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech
Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler for The King’s Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network
Best Foreign Language FilmIncendies
Best DocumentaryInside Job
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins for True Grit (finally, the dude’s been nominated nine times)

For more of my Oscar coverage, click here.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

There are a couple of ways to play this.  If I was an admitted Bieber-phobe, this review could turn into a legitimate Bieber bash, ripping apart the tween sensation’s new after-school special of a film titled Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

“My vocal cords are so sore!  I have to cancel shows!  I don’t get any alone time with my friends!  I’m afraid of missing out on my youth!” 

The cynic in me could very easily respond to those Bieber grumbles with an eye roll and an F-U.  Losing your youth?  Boo-whoo.  I, along with the majority of most any living, sane person, would trade your fortune for my childhood any day.  Don’t like seeing your friends?  Don’t do 87 shows a year.  Stay at home.  Shave your head.  I don’t give a shit.

So there’s that side.  The other, more pleasant side of this argument comes from the screaming mouths of Justin Bieber’s millions upon millions of fans.  Those stricken with self-proclaimed “Bieber Fever” will rush to his new film by the masses, and they’ll enjoy every single overlong second of it.  They’ll cry when he gets sad, they’ll swoon when he shows his bare chest, they’ll sing along to his poppy songs, and on and on.

Me?  I’m somewhere in the middle.  No, I do not, nor will I ever, enjoy the sound of Bieber’s music.  But he’s not exactly trying to reach my demographic.  What I do have, however is respect for this self-made 17-year-old boy wonder.  (It’s a slight sliver of respect, but I’m trying here, okay?)

I respect the fact that an 8-year-old with no musical ancestry in his blood turned kitchen beats into enormously popular songs.  All kids bang on pots in pans on the kitchen floor when they’re young.  The difference here is, this particular kid became one of the most recognizable faces in the world. 

Another thing I learned from the movie and admittedly admire is that Bieber (or “Beebs” as I like to call him) wasn’t afraid to throw himself out there when trying to make a name for himself.  I respect that a 13-year-old kid would waltz right up to Usher and tell him that he’s going to be the next big thing.  Or be utterly unphased when meeting the bosses of huge record labels.  Is he cocky and sometimes arrogant?  For sure.  But can you show me a 16-year-old who isn’t a little full of himself?

In short, I think Beebs has a good business ethic and a decent head on his shoulders.  No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to download his album (legally or otherwise) but it does mean that, for now, Beebs has one less critic to worry about.

And that, I’m afraid to say, is the only remotely good part about the film; the fact that it gives you a little insight into who this kid really is.  From a film critic’s purely objective perspective, there isn’t anything special about Never Say Never.  The 3-D effects, should you opt to pay more, are nonsexist save some title credits and digitalized confetti.

At 105 minutes, the movie runs entirely too long, and those dragged to it by their girlfriends or daughters will have to fight to stay awake, let alone remain interested.

But like Sarah Palin chanting “Drill Baby Drill,” the Beebs’ fanbase will explode in teenage ecstasy during the film’s many production numbers, including an encore of “Baby.”

One gapping element missing from the film: realism.  I understand that everyone around Bieber needs to project an image of being an eternal optimist, but honestly, they cannot all seriously believe that Bieber has a full lifetime of show business ahead of him.  He’s got five maybe 10 years before fans move on.  It’d be good for him to realize that now; it’ll sting a lot less in the long run. D+

The Roommate

Nothing game changing here: an absurdly good looking young woman leaves her small town to attend college in the big city.  Her new seemingly loyal roommate soon turns batshit insane for no apparent reason, stalking her life, getting rid of whatever is separating them, then, of course, ultimately trying to kill her. 

Party-girl dormmate getting too clingy?  Off you go.  Pervert teacher getting too touchy feely?  Blackmail!  Innocent kitty cat creating a wedge?  Audios! Ex boyfriend occupying too much of her time?  Slice!

Same old song.

I honestly have no idea what someone would get out of a flick like The Roommate.  Teenagers propelled it to the number one movie last week because it is PG-13, stars people they know, and looks somewhat scary.  But did they enjoy it?  I simply don’t understand how one could.  

Broadening my mind as much humanly possible, I can tell you that the film isn’t at all frightening, its dialogue is laugh-out-loud ridiculous and its climactic scene is anything but.

Movies like this forgo a lot of things.  Character development, an engrossing narrative, and plot analysis to name a few.  And the reason is simple: because the targeted demographic, by and large, doesn’t give a shit about those things.  But why do you go to a horror film?  To be scared, right?  So if the movie isn’t scary (at all), doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

One slight, miniscule, feeble, ever-so-slender notion of redemption: lead actress Minka Kelly as the stalked roommate.  Kelly, best known as a cheerleader in the Friday Night Lights TV show and the everything-little-thing’s-gonna-be-all-right bow tie to (500) Days of Summer, has genuine star quality.  In The Roommate, she projects the girl next door vibe pretty well, and manages to talk and carry herself in restrained ways that seem unfitting to the film’s over-the-top execution.

In short, I’m looking forward to what Kelly does as an actress.  I’ll give her another shot.  The Roommate?  No way, strictly dead on arrival.  D-

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top 10 Rarely Seen Oscar-winning Performances

I was just walking out the door to see The Roomate when I came to my senses and realized that my time would be much better spent assembling this list.

Everyone has seen The Dark Knight, and everyone appreciates Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in it.  So rather than list several great performances from movies you’ve already seen multiple times, here are a few knockout performances from movies that you’ve probably never seen.  I’m reaching on a few (seriously, if you’ve never seen The Deer Hunter, do yourself a favor), but for the most part, these 10 Oscar-winning performances have been ignored or flat out forgotten by the general public.

Presented chronologically, here are 10 Oscar-justified performances that have stuck with me.

1945, Best Actor – Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend
I’m fascinated by the depiction of drug addiction and alcoholism in movies.  So to say Ray Milland’s performance in The Lost Weekend is the best portrayal of alcoholism I’ve ever seen, is a grand compliment.  Milliand personifies desperation in a way that makes nearly every other film performance about drug dependency pale in comparison.  Director Billy Wilder had the balls to make a movie about such a taboo subject when no one else would, and Milliand went for broke to “get there.” The result is utterly flawless.

1946, Best Supporting Actor – Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives
Only twice has the Academy given Oscars to non professional actors. Before Haing S. Ngor landed an Oscar for The Killing Fields, Russell broke our hearts in The Best Years of Our Lives.  It isn’t often that you get to say the best scene of a movie is watching someone change into pajamas before bed.  But when that person has hooks for hands, the result of a depilating war injury, you can’t help but stare in awe. Russell, who did indeed lose both of his hands fighting in World War II, delivers a remarkable performance of tenderness and restraint.  Have tissues ready.

1962, Best Supporting Actress – Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker
Playing Helen Keller is tricky.  Hold too much back and you’re underplaying.  Give too much and you’re overacting.  Not only does Duke avoid that delicate line of exaggeration, she set the standard for actors portraying characters trapped with incurable afflictions (mental health or otherwise). Duke started playing Keller on stage when she was just 13 years old, and Arthur Penn made a very wise choice in casting her in his film version.  Duke’s performance is so dedicated that at times it feels too uncomfortable to watch.  Which, given the role, is a remark of high praise.

1966, Best Actress – Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Elizabeth Taylor was an actress of tremendous range.  But never was she more fascinating (and utterly horrifying) than as the boozy, belligerent Martha in Mike Nichols’ first, and best, film.  Taylor, widely considered one of the most beautiful people in the world in her heyday, became unrecognizable for the role, gaining 30 pounds of flab and stripping herself of all vanity.  It’s a relentless, exhausting, balls-out performance; one of the best in film history.

1969, Best Supporting Actor – Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
A film about a 1930s marathon dance contest doesn’t sound all too interesting.  But Young deserves partial credit for making They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Sidney Pollock’s best-directed film.  As Rocky, the master of ceremonies for the never ending, flat-out cruel dance contest, Young achieves a perfect balance of amicable charm and sinister desire. Rocky’s job is simple: the show must go on.  And on.  And on.  His playful manipulation of the contestants remains the most memorable part of this overlooked work of art.

1973, Best Actor – Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger
There’s nothing inherently flashy about Lemmon’s performance as a desperate businessman in Save the Tiger. It’s completely internal, played mostly with subtle expressions.  I won’t go as far as to say that it’s Lemmon’s best role (that would be Days of Wine and Roses), but it’s completely unforgettable.  Let me put it this way: Lemmon’s competition at the 1973 Oscars had the names Brando, Nicholson, Pacino and Redford.  Enough said.

1978, Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter 
Here’s a bold statement for you: Christopher Walken’s performance in The Deer Hunter is the most heartbreaking acting performance I’ve ever seen.   The first time I saw this film, I didn’t like it at all.  When I went back to it a few years later, I rediscovered a flawless masterpiece.  I have considered The Deer Hunter to be one of my top five films of all time for many years.  That ranking can be credited to many things, including Walken’s performance.  Acting roles like this are why the Oscars exist.

1989, Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered an awful truth: most people my age haven’t seen a Daniel Day-Lewis film that came out before Gangs of New York.  What they’re missing is a slew of perfect performances, none better than My Left Foot.  In the film, Day-Lewis plays real-life Christy Brown, who, despite being born with cerebral palsy, became a renowned author and painter, crafting works of art using only his left foot.  What’s best about Day-Lewis’s performance is his lack of empathy; he plays Brown as bitter, meek and incapable of receiving special treatment. 

1995, Best Supporting Actress – Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite
Woody Allen films are similar in many ways: jazzy music, rambling dialogue, ensemble casts.  What they never are, however, is crude.  Enter Mira Sorvino as a clueless but caring floozy struggling to break into the adult film world.  The greatest part about how Sorvino plays her character is her unapologetic lack of dignity: she is who she is, naysayers be damned.  Every line she utters is more sexually shocking that the one before, resulting in an audacious exercise in the limits of comedy.

1998, Best Supporting Actor – James Coburn in Affliction
“I’ve been doing this for almost half my life… and I guess I finally got one right,” James Coburn humbly said during his acceptance speech.  It’s strange watching Coburn’s articulate, well-mannered Oscar speech for a performance of pure vile and rage.  As a violent, hopeless alcoholic, Coburn achieves something during his first moment in Affliction that most actors spend hours trying to encapsulate: immediate fear.  You never know what he’s going to do, or how bad he’s going to do it.  It’s an unflinching performance; the standout of Paul Schrader’s otherwise overlooked film.