Tag Archives: Academy Awards

My Alternate Oscar Nominations

The Oscar nominations were released this morning, and as usual it was a mix of good, bad and ugly. Mostly it was a predictable list, following way too closely the media hype about certain Oscar bait movies. For me the biggest overall snubs were: No best actor nomination for Robert Redford (All is Lost); no best supporting actress nomination for Scarlett Johansson (Her); no best actress nomination for Julie Delply (Before Midnight); no big nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis.

If I had my way, this is what I would have nominated in some of the main categories:

Best PictureBefore Midnight, Her, To the Wonder, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Museum Hours, Frances Ha, 12 Years a Slave, All is Lost, Short Term 12. 

Best Director: Richard Linklater, Before Midnight; Spike Jonze, Her; Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Destin Cretton, Short Term 12. 

Best Actor: Robert Redford, All is Lost; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Joaquin Phoenix, Her; Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight; Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt.

Best Actress: Brie Larson, Short Term 12; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Barbara Sukowa, Hannah Arendt; Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha; Julie Delpy, Before Midnight.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Will Forte, Nebraska; Nathan Fillion, Much Ado About Nothing; Keith Stanfield; Short Term 12; James Gandolfini, Enough Said. 

Best Supporting Actress: Scarlett Johansson, Her; Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave; June Squibb, Nebraska; Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Leslie Mann, The Bling Ring.

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75 Best Film Performances of 2012

There were only a handful of iconic film performances in 2012, but there were a good number of excellent performances, often in smaller roles. I thought it’d be fun to make a list of the best 75 performances from films that I saw in 2012. Below are my picks. If there are other noteworthy performances that you think should be on here, let me know in the comments section!

75) Tom Holland, The Impossible
74) Tilda Swinton, Moonrise Kingdom
73) Susan Sarandon, Arbitrage
72) Jennifer Ehle, Zero Dark Thirty
71) Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
70) Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister
69) Tom Hardy, Lawless
68) Noomi Rapace, Prometheus
67) Scoot McNairy, Killing Them Softly
66) Gina Carano, Haywire
65) Bruce Willis, Looper
64) Tom Hanks, Cloud Atlas
63) Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31
62) Shirley MacLaine, Bernie
61) Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom
60) Kaya Scodelario, Wuthering Heights
59) Isabelle Huppert, Amour
58) Ray Liotta, Killing Them Softly
57) Alan Arkin, Argo
56) Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
55) Sam Riley, On the Road 
54) Daniel Craig, Skyfall
53) Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises
52) Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom
51) Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
50) Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers
49) Robert Pattinson, Cosmopolis
48) Jude Law, Anna Karenina
47) Jim Broadbent, Cloud Atlas
46) Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
45) Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises
44) Rosemarie DeWitt, My Sister’s Sister
43) Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained
42) Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust & Bone
41) Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly
40) Muhammet Uzuner, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
39) Emily Blunt, Looper
38) Greta Gerwig, Damsels in Distress
37) Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
36) Michael Caine, The Dark Knight Rises
35) Thomas Doret, The Kid With the Bike
34) Judi Dench, Skyfall
33) Garrett Hedlund, On the Road
32) Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
31) Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
30) Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
29) Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
28) Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
27) James Howson, Wuthering Heights
26) Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
25) Richard Gere, Arbitrage
24) Guy Pearce, Lawless
23) Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
22) Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
21) Sally Field, Lincoln
20) Amy Adams, The Master
19) Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
18) Denzel Washington, Flight
17) Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
16) James Gandolfini, Killing Them Softly
15) Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
14) Liam Neeson, The Grey
13) Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
12) Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
11) Javier Bardem, Skyfall
10) Cecile De France, The Kid With the Bike
9) Naomi Watts, The Impossible
8) Jack Black, Bernie
7) Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
6) Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
5) Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
4) Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
3) Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
2) Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
1) Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln

Five Films For Our Hard Times

This weekend is the Academy Awards. It’s the lavish yearly spectacle that rewards big budget costume dramas, trend films, and all things glamorous and prestigey. Meanwhile, the country languishes in economic despair, with the market at 6 year lows, jobs being slashed at record pace, and middle and lower-income families struggling to make ends meet. It’s been a rough year for the economy, and there have been several wonderful independent films that seem to have uncannily captured the economic state of things.

The following is a list of five films that came out in 2008 that the Oscars largely overlooked, but which collectively put a very evocative, human face on the struggles of the day. These films portray average people doing their best to survive. They are people without jobs, with kids to feed, facing hardship after hardship. In this way, they are films that represent the larger human struggle—to make a living and support oneself and one’s family by whatever means necessary. It’s an uphill battle; the foes are many. But the human will to survive is a strong one. These films present snapshots of what are likely very common stories in this ever-weakening economy—sometimes very bleak and sometimes curiously hopeful, but always compelling because we can so relate. They are beautiful films that I highly recommend.

Frozen River (dir. Courtney Hunt)
In her arresting directorial debut, Courtney Hunt presents us with a harrowing tale of a mother in upstate New York whose husband has left her with two kids and no money. The mother (Melissa Leo, in a deservingly Oscar-nominated role), in much need of quick cash for the new double-wide trailer she’s ordered, partners with a similarly hard-up single mother on a Mohawk reservation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the U.S. Of course, it all turns very grim, though the film is not without some glimmers of hope.

Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
This is a short, quick, devastating film about a twenty-something woman (Michelle Williams) who gradually loses everything. She is poor, alone, scared, and has only her dog Lucy to comfort her. Set in the Pacific Northwest and directed by Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy), Wendy peers in on a life of quiet despair and world-weariness that in many senses represents a broader archetype of America in 2008. It’s a wise, loving, heartbreaking film about what we must do just to survive in an increasingly cynical, menacing world.

Ballast (dir. Lance Hammer)
Ballast is a simple, life-affirming (in the true sense) film about how we pull our lives together after tragedy. It’s a very quiet (sometimes silent), organic-looking film with untrained actors and very beautiful location photography somewhere in the Mississippi Delta. The film—which follows a trio of downtrodden African Americans after a crushing death in the family—is about resurfacing, destabilizing, and regaining our balance (hence the title). It’s a film that makes no excuses for its characters and yet allows us to sympathize with their plight and root for them as they ever-so gradually find ways to survive, earn honest money, and move on with life.

Chop Shop (dir. Ramin Bahrani)
Though this film is set in New York City, in the shadow of Yankees Stadium, it feels remarkably other-worldy (Third-worldly, actually). But that’s the point. Tapping into the spirit of De Sica-style Italian neo-realism, Chop Shop, Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani puts a lens on the unseen, difficult lives of the American underclass. Focusing on children who are mostly fending for themselves in largely illegal money-making ventures, Chop Shop is a compelling film that makes familiar and humane something that is—fortunately or unfortunately—very unfamiliar and alien to most of us.

The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

In the role that will most likely win him the Academy Award for best actor, Mickey Rourke stars as an aging professional wrestler past his glory days who must find new purposes and means of living. Directed by the impressive Darren Aronofsky but mostly just a showpiece for Rourke, The Wrestler is a heartbreaking look at the loneliness, self-doubt, and cycle of self-destruction that accompanies many lives when they enter that “past-my-prime” phase. It’s also a film that could be easily read as an allegory of down-on-itself America—a fact that is comically elaborated in this parody of The Wrestler trailer.

The Class

One of the films nominated in the upcoming Academy Awards’ best foreign film category, The Class is also the first great film I’ve seen in 2009. It’s a film that compelled me from start to finish and left me feeling more curious and inquisitive about the world. Not every film does this for me.

The film—which won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival—is a slice-of-life look at one classroom in a junior high in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, a working class neighborhood on the city’s far eastern edge. This is blue collar suburban Paris, where immigrants outnumber “natives” and racial tension is thick. And yet the school and students look strikingly similar to a typical American junior high—while also markedly different.

The Class is one of those films that looks and feels like it might be a documentary; and in some senses, it is. Sure, it is “fiction” and the story somewhat scripted, but the film features real people—not actors—in their real roles as teachers, students, parents, etc. It feels like a journalistic investigation into the heart of French public education in 2008; which is pretty much what it is, fiction or otherwise.

The film is based on a book, Between the Walls, written by a real French schoolteacher about his experiences in the classroom over the course of a year. What makes The Class such an interesting adaptation is that the author of the book (François Bégaudeau) is also the star of the film, portraying a version of himself as a young, idealistic teacher trying to inspire a motley crew of variously motivated 14-year-olds. Likewise, the students in his classroom, as well as their parents, and the other teachers in the school, are all playing versions of themselves. This is a real school; These are real lives. It’s a strange blend of life lived and life portrayed. It’s sort of like The Hills meets Mad Hot Ballroom meets Frontline.

Director Laurent Cantet worked with all these amateur “actors” through a system of weekly workshops and improvisations which unfolded over the course of an entire schoolyear. This thoroughly French approach to filmmaking (can you imagine an American studio ever having the patience for a year-long shoot for an arthouse film?) probably accounts for the utterly organic, cinema verite feel of The Class. The fluid cameras feel unobtrusive; the direction invisible; anything “cinematic” comes across only in the occasional shift of focus depth or otherwise artistic shot setup.

Mainly, the film just “lets be” its subjects. The Class is unencumbered by any sort of real plot or script. Rather, it is a series of events, of conversations, of laughter and hardship and students who are alternately unruly, apathetic, and ambitious.

It’s a film that presents us with a complicated social environment: a public school classroom. It’s amazing to watch the nuance and complexity with which Cantet and his improvising subjects navigate the litany of power struggles, adolescent energy, class, race, and French national identity (it’s a French class) being negotiated on a daily basis throughout the school year. Like all teachers, Bégaudeau has his share of model students, trouble students, and downright problem students. And like all classrooms, there are various cliques, stereotypes, and neuroses (pride, fear, inadequacy) both expressed and unexpressed.

But at the end of the day, a class is just a temporary thing—a fleeting band of humanity tossed together for a time, to learn and struggle and push forward in life. Nothing of great surprise or significance happens in The Class, you might think. It’s just a year of somewhat stereotypical school. But this is the drama of life, of thoroughly contemporary life as it is fought through in 2008. And The Class reminds us that the drama of everyday life is sometimes the most miraculous kind.