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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Best Performances of the "00s": Supporting Actress

Onward with my look back at the past decade. Here are my favorite Supporting Actress performances of the decade. Once again, lots of clips to go with my posts, so you may want to go over to my blog if you're reading this on Facebook.

Amy Adams, Junebug (2005)

In this family drama, one of my favorite movies of the decade, Amy Adams stole the show as Ashley, a young Southern wife and expectant mother who is obsessed with her big city relatives. Adams crafts a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait, and became a star..

Cate Blanchett, The Aviator (2004)

I seriously deliberated whether to award Blanchett for her portrait of Katharine Hepburn in Scorsese's biopic, or as one of the versions of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' sort-of biopic, I'm Not There. Blanchett is never better than when doing real-life portraits with heart (see Elizabeth, her breakout role). In The Aviator, Blanchett stole every scene she was in and was a true highlight of the film.

Patricia Clarkson, Far From Heaven (2002)

I think might vote for Clarkson as MVP of supporting actresses. She always shines without being showy, and she always puts her all into her roles, whether they be supporting or lead. In one of my favorite movies of the decade, Clarkson plays Eleanor, a loyal best friend to Cathy Whitaker until she finds out about an interracial romance.
-Clarkson was so great in many movies this decade, but particularly her supporting roles in Dogville (2003) and Pieces of April (2003) and her lead role in The Station Agent (2003). All in one year!

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Remember when we mostly knew Cruz as Tom Cruise's girlfriend. In her bilingual role as fiery artist Maria Elena, Cruz was absolutely hilarious in Woody Allen's very enjoyable European comedy-drama. Her vitriol toward Scarlett Johannson in the following clip is hilarious....
-Also tremendous (not to mention stunningly beautiful) in the Almodovar films Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009)

Viola Davis, Doubt (2008)

Davis has a very brief role, as Mrs. Miller, the mother of a boy who Sister Aloysius suspects is being abused by a priest, but man does she make the most of it. It's hard to steal a movie from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but there's no doubt (pardon the pun) that Davis does it. She even allows her nose to get snotty in the process.

Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air (2009)

As Alex, the female counterpart to Clooney's Ryan Bingham, Farmiga brings a grown-up sexiness to her role. I watched the movie a second time, and I felt that her performance even deepened knowing more about her character the whole way through. I'm hoping Hollywood finds more great roles for Farmiga, because she's a true treasure. I even wrote a blog post just on her performance.
-Also did excellent supporting work among all the boys in The Departed (2006)

Catherine Keener, Capote (2006)

As Harper Lee, best friend to eccentric author Truman Capote, Keener creates the soul of this great film and matches the masterful performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Keener can create all kinds of characters, from very good (such as here) to very mean (see Being John Malkovich)
-This indie queen was excellent in so much this decade. I particularly liked her troubled housewife in Lovely and Amazing (2001) and her surrogate mother in Into the Wild (2007).

Mo'nique, Precious (2009)

As a true mother from hell, Mo'nique puts her full heart and soul into her performance as Mary Jones, the abusive mother to a troubled teen. Many fine actresses could create a monster, but Mo'nique manages to show us flashes of humanity beneath the surface.

Meryl Streep, Adaptation (2002)

Streep, who is of course one of our greatest actresses, gives one of her top 2 or 3 performances in this movie. She's so simultaneously funny and poignant as a fictionalized version of author Susan Orlean. The scene where she gets stoned is absolutely hilarious.
-Streep was of course almost always amazing this decade. I particularly liked her forays into comedic performances, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), and Julie & Julia (2009). Looking back, who knew this master of the accent could be so damned funny.

Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)

Swinton is a strange and terrific actress, and her performance as Karen Crowder, an opposing lawyer to Clooney's Clayton, is truly unique. She truly digs into the skin of her itchy, corrupt, insecure character and makes her so much more than a typical corporate villain. Major spoiler alert if you watch the clip.
-Swinton also turned in great leading performances this decade in The Deep End (2001) and Julia (2009).

Once again, Oscar did a not bad job with their awards this decade. Four of these women won the award (Blanchett, Cruz, Mo'nique, Swinton), and all except Patricia Clarkson were nominated (and even she got a nomination for Pieces of April).

It's very interesting to see how many of these women switch between supporting and lead roles. Blanchett, Cruz, Streep, Keener, and Adams are all more than able to carry movies on their own, yet have no problems lending their support in great roles.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Toy Story 3 and Inception

Toy Story 3

So on the hottest day of a very hot DC summer, I hauled my butt to an air-conditioned movie theater, put on some 3-D glasses, and treated myself to Pixar's latest triumph.

I'm a huge fan of the Toy Story films. The subject matter, toys who come to life, are just so inherently funny and poignant at the same time. Who hasn't had feelings of guilt about toys you stopped playing with? My only question was, could the Toy Story franchise mine similar themes and still produce a great movie.

Yes, yes, and yes. Toy Story 3 was absolutely terrific. When the toys get sent to a daycare center, there are all kinds of new adventures and toys to add to the fun. The movie has a lot of fun riffing on prison movies during this section. The good thing about Pixar movies, though, is they never (or rarely) let the action sequences get in the way of the emotions and the character development (a lesson they could teach to Incpetion-see review below).

And a word about the ending. I honestly cannot remember the last movie where I cried so much. The ending of this movie is just so perfect and tender and poignant and beautiful. I'm pretty sure just about everyone in the theater was crying as well, except perhaps the children. If you haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet, see it. I'm pretty sure it's my favorite of the year thus far.

Grade: A


For the past several months, as the Incpetion buzz continued to build, I've been trying to avoid reading reviews and watching previews for Inception. I knew the general concept going in, but I left most of the movie surprise me, and I'm glad I did.

Most of you have probably seen it. It's about dreams, and people who go into dreams. Most of the movie takes place in these dreams. Figuring out the layers of dreams, particularly in the last half of the movie, gets to be a whole lot of fun. While there are probably a few aspects I missed, I also wouldn't say it as overly difficult to follow. Director Christopher Nolan came up with a very fun concept for the movie, and he shoots the many many action and dream sequences with much style. The visuals are absolutely astonishing in several moments of the film. I particularly liked the street that became a box in one of the initial dreams.

The area where the movie was lacking for me was in emotion and character development. Most of the emotion has to do with Leonardo DiCaprio's character and his feelings for his wife (Marion Cotillard). These two are both very good actors, and I think Cotillard wins for best acting of the film, but we don't get into their lives very much. And the other main characters, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page? We know next to nothing about them. It seems almost a waste to put two such likable young actors in the movie and not give them more of an emotional range. I would have liked a few more moments where the film slowed down and let the characters' personalities take center stage.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy this movie. I really really did. It was long, but I was engrossed the whole way. I also do want to see it again to luxuriate in the details that Nolan put in the script. I just don't think it lives up to his best films, Memento (one of my very favorite movies) or The Dark Knight.

Grade: B+