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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Supporting Actor

Continuing my look back at the oughts, here are my favorite supporting actor performances of the 2000s. I've also managed to find clips for most of these great performances online. If you're reading on Facebook, you may want to go to the blog to see the clips.

In alphabetical order, my favorite supporting actor performances of the decade....

Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007): Prince Valiant hair and all, Bardem's Anton Chigurgh is one of the most memorable characters of the decade. An evil character you can't quite explain.
-Also quite good in a very different role in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Steve Buscemi, Ghost World (2001): As Seymour, a lonely music collector and all-around misfit who connects with a recent high school grad, Buscemi brings depth and humor to his wonderful role in a wonderful movie. It's terrible he didn't receive an Oscar nomination for this movie.

Chris Cooper, Adaptation (2002): Cooper's blue-collar orchid hunter John Laroche is completely hilarious. As you watch Charlie Kaufman's wacked-out movie, it's easy to see how Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) becomes entranced by him. Fuck Fish....

Benicio del Toro, Traffic (2000): As Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez, del Toro is the standout in a superb cast. He provides heart and soul to this interwoven drug tale.
-Also award-worthy as Jack in 21 Grams (2003)

Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children (2006):
Haley plays convicted child molester Ronnie, who sets off a string of events in the suburban mileau. He mixes just the right amount of creepiness and sympathy.

Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild (2007): Holbrook's Ron Franz, who becomes a surrogate father to Christopher McCandless, provides one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the decade. Unfortunately, I can't find it on YouTube!

Bill Irwin, Rachel Getting Married (2008): As dad Paul, the most sympathetic character of the very dysfunctional family, Irwin is constantly on target. I think it may actually be harder to play a "good" character than a bad one, and Irwin did a great job. I especially love the scene where they have the dish competition.

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008): Is there really anything else to say about this universally acclaimed performance? Ledger went to a very dark place in this performance and created an entirely iconic character that will live in cinema history. Ledger's death was an extremely sad loss for cinema-lovers.

Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds (2009): While I had some issues with Quentin Tarantino's WW2 fantasia, none of these problems had to do with Waltz's bravura, multi-lingual performance as Nazi Hans Landa. A chilling villain who will also live in cinema history.

Clive Owen, Closer (2004): Julia Roberts and Jude Law were the biggest stars in this rather nasty but highly engaging film, but Clive Owen and Natalie Portman gave the best performances, and won the Oscar nominations. Owen's doctor Larry is oh so mean in love, as are all the characters really.
-Also award-worthy as Robert in Gosford Park (2000)

Oscar did a pretty good job this decade with this category. 5 of these actors actually won supporting actor (Bardem, Ledger, del Toro, Cooper, and Waltz) and all but two (Buscemi and Irwin) were nominated.

I'm also surprised by how few of these actors have really "made it" as lead actors. The only one who managed a lead nomination was Heath Ledger, for Brokeback Mountain.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In a theater or on a plane....

As my summer break schedule has been very conducive to movie-watching, I've got lots to catch up on. Here's a couple in the theaters, and a few from international plane travel. Coming soon will be quick notes on many that I've seen on video recently!

In the Theater

The Kids Are All Right

This movie definitely aims at genres that I like, family dramas filled with moments of warmth and comedy. The cast could not be any better. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a long-married couple whose lives are turned upside down when their children seek out their sperm donor from long ago (Mark Ruffalo). First and foremost, a word on the acting. Ever since You Can Count on Me, I have loved Mark Ruffalo. I think he is possibly even better in this movie. I can't think of another actor who is as natural and relaxed at portraying a complex character as Ruffalo is. You can't help but be charmed by his gardener/restaurateur character while simultaneously while questioning some of his choices. Annette Bening is better than I have ever seen her portraying the more uptight and controlling partner in the relationship. Her facial expressions and body language tell volumes about how her character is feeling. I'll be very surprised if she doesn't get an Oscar nod for this role. And Julianne Moore can portray just about anything. Here she is the more free-spirited end of the partnership, and her character has to make a major arc in the movie.

The movie is filled with many wonderful scenes that illustrate how all five characters are feeling. Besides the three adults, the movie takes very seriously the feelings of the two teenagers as well. While I had unfortunately seen the preview a few too many times and known some of the direction of the movie, it still managed to surprise me at several moments. I only have one minor quibble with the movie-it's treatment of the Mexican gardener, which feels tone-deaf and borderline racist. Just a quick word about the movie as a "gay movie." This is, first and foremost, a movie about relationships and their problems, and two main characters happen to be a lesbian couple. It's not played for obvious laughs or shock value, it just is, and what a wonderful thing that is. If it has a message it's that families are families, and they're full of both love and problems, no matter their makeup.

Grade: A-

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize last year, and it's a very worthy and original winner. The movie sort of takes a film noirish mystery and sets it in the backwoods of the Ozarks in Missouri. I absolutely loved the texture of this movie. It never felt like it was preaching about poverty, but you are so entrenched in the day-to-day struggles of these characters, you can't help but be moved. Jennifer Lawrence stars, in a great performance, as Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old who cares for a mentally ill mother, two younger siblings, and whose father is gone, and possibly dead.

The movie mostly concerns Ree's search for her father. If she can't find him, the bond agency will take her house. As she walks the backwoods of the Ozarks, we see that many are making their living from producing and dealing meth, and most people are connected to one another. One thing I loved about this movie is its absence of clear villains. There is one character who you think is terrible who ends up being a caretaker, and others who do terrible things but also play with a certain sense of fairness. Kudos to director Debra Granik who, like Kathryn Bigelow in last year's The Hurt Locker, shows that a female director can create a movie every bit as tough and hardhitting as any male director. See it now.

Grade: A-


I love John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Catherine Keener. I also think Jonah Hill can be very funny. So ever since I saw the previews for Cyrus, I was excited to see it. Unfortunately, I don't think the movie lives up to its very talented actors, who all do a great job. It's about John (Reilly), who falls in love with the beautiful and charming Molly (Tomei), who just happens to be still living with, and having an incredibly close relationship with, her odd son (Hill).

The movie starts out very strong, as we gradually begin to figure out the nuances of each of the characters. After that, the audience anxiously awaits for more hilarity and hijinks to ensue. Unfortunately, they really don't. The movie sort of meanders with along with the similar scenes. I'm not usually one to pull for mainstream movie making, but in this case Cyrus could actually use a little more over-the-top humor. The Duplass brothers, who directed a few "mumblecore" movies before this, seem almost determined to not push this funny situation too far. Not a bad movie, but nothing I really want to see again.

Grade: C+

On a plane.....

On my recent international flights to and from Peru, I was treated to my first time with a personal TV screen with several choices of movies..... Even on my overnight flight back, I managed to fit in two movies. I was inspired by my good friend (and frequent international traveller) Erik, who always makes the most of his plane trips. Here were my choices, for better or worse.....

A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth is absolutely stunning as George, a gay British professor living in 1960s Los Angeles who is mourning the loss of his partner and contemplating suicide. The movie basically runs through a tough day in his life, including his visit to his good friend and former lover Charley (the always stunning Julianne Moore). The movie is beautifully shot, beautifully acted, and filled with gorgeous music. It has obviously been made with great care by first-time director (and noted fashion designer) Tom Ford. While I enjoyed the movie, it felt a little too focused on physical beauty, to the point where it seemed to snuff out some real emotion. Perhaps that's what you get with a fashion designer director. I also had some issues with the ending, which I don't want to discuss as it is a major spoiler. Nevertheless, everyone should definitely see this for Firth's awesome performance.

Grade: B

It's Complicated (2009)

So I'd never see this movie in a theater, or probably even get it from Netflix. But it seemed like a good pick to pass a couple hours on a plane. And in many ways it was. Meryl Streep is terrific, as always, as a character torn between a rekindled affair with her somewhat slimy ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), and a sweet romance with a nerdy architect (Steve Martin). For the first hour or so, this movie moved quickly and was actually very enjoyable. And, I have to say, it's a huge improvement for director Nancy Myers over the terrible Something's Gotta Give. My biggest problem with this movie is that it kept going. Really, we do not need more than 2 hours to tell such a simple story. As a rule, I think comedies are best when they stick pretty close to the 90 minute mark. Still, I'd have to say this was a tad better than I expected.

Grade: C+

Date Night (2010)

Watching this movie reminded me of why I avoid movies when people say things like, "It wasn't that great, but it was a lot of fun ." (Or, worse yet, "cute"). I love Steve Carell and Tina Fey. 30 Rock is easily my favorite comedy on TV right now. How in God's name can Tina Fey be made so unfunny?? This movie was absolutely terrible. The concept is halfway OK in principal (suburban couple gets mistaken for someone else and has to evade some criminals), but it just gets more and more stupid as the movie progresses. It's like someone took a discarded script from 1983 and decided to put two big stars in it. Carell had a few funny moments, but absolutely nothing Tina Fey did was funny. Bring me back Liz Lemon!

Grade: D

The Young Victoria (2009)

Emily Blunt was lovely and wonderful in this opulent costume drama as the title character, and the love story between her and Prince Albert was very nicely portrayed. I always enjoy tales of royal intrigue, even if the intrigue in this story wasn't particularly earth-shattering. Nevertheless, this movie was a lot of fun to watch. I don't think it will stick with me for a long time, but I really enjoyed watching it.

Grade: B

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top 50 of the "00s" Wrap-Up

Top 50 Recap

So here's a full recap of my favorite 50 movies of the "00s." Immediately, a few stats about my list...

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Mulholland Drive
3. Far From Heaven
4. Talk to Her
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
6. Lost in Translation
7. Rachel Getting Married
8. Memento
9. Junebug
10. No Country for Old Men
11. Y Tu Mama Tambien
12. You Can Count on Me
13. Before Sunset
14. Gosford Park
15. A Serious Man
16. The Hurt Locker
17. Into the Wild
18. Wall-E
19. The White Ribbon
20. Up in the Air
21. Capote
22. Requiem for a Dream
23. Traffic
24. About Schmidt
25. The Lives of Others
26. The Class
27. Cache
28. Ghost World
29. City of God
30. Atonement
31. The Departed
32. Milk
33. Wonder Boys
34. American Splendor
35. Best in Show
36. Mystic River
37. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
38. Monsoon Wedding
39. 25th Hour
40. Once
41. Little Children
42. Pan's Labryinth
43. Ratatouille
44. The Royal Tenenbaums
45. Goodbye Solo
46. Little Miss Sunshine
47. In the Bedroom
48. The Constant Gardener
49. Wendy and Lucy
50. Crash

Here's where my list broke down my year:
6 Movies- 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007
5 Movies-2005, 2006, 2008, 2009
4 Movies-2003
2 Movies-2004

So, overall, it looks like the beginning of the decade was strongest, then a couple weaker years, then some pretty good years to end out the decade. Sounds about right as I look back on the decade.

By Language/Country:
Mostly "American" Movies: 35
Mostly British Movies: 4
Foreign Language Movies:11

I judged this fairly arbitrarily. Not by director, but by most of the actors and the general feel of the movie. For example, Altman is most certainly an American director but Gosford Park takes place in England and contains almost all British actors. This decade is really the first when I've seen a wide range of foreign films, and there have been some great ones. I'm almost surprised they didn't account for more than 11 on my list.

Directors who show up twice on the list:
The Coen Brothers- No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man
Michael Haneke- The White Ribbon and Cache
Fernando Meirelles- City of God and The Constant Gardener
Todd Field- Little Children and In the Bedroom

I was quite surprised that these were the only 4 who showed up more than once on my list. Todd Field is especially impressive. He's only made 2 films and they're both on my list. Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, and Pedro Almodovar all had strong decades, but they each only had 1 movie that cracked my top 50.

Actors who show up more than once:
Bob Balaban- Best in Show, Capote, Ghost World, Gosford Park
Don Cheadle- Crash, Traffic
Jennifer Connelly- Little Children, Requiem for a Dream
Hope Davis- About Schmidt, American Splendor,
Michael Douglas- Traffic, Wonder Boys
Vera Farmiga- The Departed, Up in the Air
Philip Seymour Hoffman- 25th Hour, Capote
Scarlett Johansson- Ghost World, Lost in Translation
Catherine Keener- Capote, Into the Wild
Laura Linney- Mystic River, You Can Count on Me
Kelly MacDonald- Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men
Bill Murray- Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums
Jack Nicholson- About Schmidt, The Departed
Sean Penn- Milk, Mystic River
Mark Ruffalo- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, You Can Count on Me
Tom Wilkinson- In the Bedroom, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Kate Winslet- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children

Who would have guessed that Bob Balaban would be my most honored actor? I certainly wouldn't have as he is not the star of any of his four movies. A dog therapist in Best in Show, a New Yorker editor in Capote, a befuddled father in Ghost World, and an American movie producer in Gosford Park. All small roles played with great strength. I guess it shows you what a hardworking character actor can do. Wait to go, Bob. If you don't recognize the name, I bet you recognize the face from Christopher Guest movies and many many other roles.

I'm probably missing a few. I was surprised by both who did and didn't show up on the list. I guess some of my favorite actors-Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington- give excellent performances without showing up in my very favorites. I was also impressed by the strengths of the casts of Eternal Sunshine and Mystic River. Both movies had 3 actors who showed up on my list.

Coming Up Next: Top performances of the "00s", along with an overview of Oscar's choices.