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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Best Lead Performances of 2015

 And now to the lead categories. A really nice group of male performances, and an astonishingly good group of women this year. It pained me to leave several women (Brie Larson and Charlize Theron in particular) off my list. In the end, my top votes go to the youngsters, Saoirse Ronan and Michael B. Jordan.

Steve Carrell, The Big Short

As much play as The Big Short got during awards season, little of it fell onto Steve Carrell's excellent performance, which in my mind far exceeds his nominated Foxcatcher role from last year. Carrell's gift for comedy serves him well in this comedy, and his dramatic chops come through it the final scenes where he acts as the movie's flawed soul.

Tom Courtenay, 45 Years

 In this quiet but powerful marital drama, the story is mostly seen  through the eyes of Kate (Charlotte Rampling). This makes what Tom Courtney does as Geoff even more remarkable. As we watch him dealing with a painful reminder of his past, we see him a long history both with his wife and before he met her.

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Fassbender doesn't look much like Steve Jobs, so the movie doesn't try for impersonation.  This makes his role even more powerful, as Fassbender gives us all sides of a man with great vision and immense flaws. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Fassbender is our best working actor today.

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Of all the outrage of this year of #oscarssowhite, for me no snub stung as much as the exclusion of Michael B. Jordan, giving a great movie-star performance as Donnie Johnson Creed, a young man of great discipline and vision dealing with his vision. After Fruitvale Station and Creed, let's hope Hollywood learns its lesson and gives Jordan more great roles.

Jason Segal, The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour is a talky, charming, moving film about reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hanging out with reclusive writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). The usually comedic Jason Segal digs deep into the soul of Wallace, giving us his wit, his intelligence, and also his great loneliness.

My Pick: Michael B. Jordan
Second: Michael Fassbender

Runners Up: Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Caine (Youth), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCapiro (The Revenant), Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour),

Matches with Oscar: Just Fassbender.  DiCaprio and Damon made my runners-up list. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) was good but not great, and I didn't see Bryan Cranston in Trumbo.


Cate Blanchett, Carol

As the title character in Carol, Blanchett is mesmerizing. Her performance is big and stagy in the best way, since Carol is constantly performing in the movie- both in society and in her relationship with Therese. In the moments where her veneer drops, her performance becomes even more powerful.

Emily Blunt, Sicario

With her performance as a woman working hard in a man's field, Emily Blunt's performance as Kate Mercer reminded me of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs.  Blunt brings intelligence and real moral deliberation to her part as a DEA agent. She excels at both the action and the emotional moments, and it's mesmerizing to watch.

Rooney Mara, Carol

As Therese Belivet,  the second half of this love story, Rooney Mara's quiet and initially naive character is a perfect counterpoint to the sophistication and confidence of Carol.  As viewers, Mara often wordlessly takes us on a journey into what it looks like to fall into attraction, infatuation, and love.

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

A beautifully quiet and powerful performance that's a wonder to behold. Sometimes with little more than a flash of the eyes or a movement of the hand, Rampling is able to suggest a myriad of emotions. She deserves a nomination for the wordless final scene alone.

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Sometimes there's a perfect match between actor and star, and this is one of those times. Saoirse Ronan grows into her own as an actress just as her character Eilis finds herself in a new country. With great humor and great heart, Ronan gives a beautifully nuanced performance.

My Pick: Saoirse Ronan
Second: Rooney Mara

Runners Up (and a great bunch they are): Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria), Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Brie Larson (Room), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

Matches with Oscar: 3. The Academy rightly rewarded Blanchett, Ronan, and Rampling. They also rewarded Mara, but ridiculously in the Supporting character. It pains me to leave off the great Brie Larson (my 6th), and I haven't yet seen Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Best Supporting Performances

Now that I've caught up with most movies on my list from 2015, I'll be using this week (Spring Break!) for my end of year run-down.

I'll start with the Supporting performances.  Lots of good supporting performances, but M\my top votes go to the two Ex Machina actors.

Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Hedge fund manager Michael Burry is an eccentric character that requires a big actor, and Christian Bale digs his actorly teeth right into this role.  As a social recluse fully committed to meticulously figuring out the financial crisis, Bale builds a performance of tics and habits that keep us glued to his every move.

Paul Dano, Love and Mercy

The best parts of Love and Mercy, bar none, are the scenes of the young Beach Boys creating Pet Sounds and other masterpieces.  As the young Brian Wilson, Paul Dano makes Wilson's internal musical genius apparent, as well as Wilson's developing mental health issues.

Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

As Nathan, a reclusive CEO of a software company, Oscar Isaac gradually teases the viewer (and Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson), by providing information bit by bit.  He's able to be seductive and scary in equal measure, an important task in this twisty movie. After Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis, and HBO's miniseries Show Me a Hero, I'm fully convinced there's nothing Isaac can't do.

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

A rare case where Oscar justly awards a performance that's mostly quiet and subtle. British stage actor Mark Rylance gives a impressively restrained performance as Russian spy Rudolf Abel.   His wry humor and grace are a perfect counterpoint throughout all of his scenes with Tom Hanks.

Benicio del Toro, Sicario

Like the other men on this list, Allejandro Gillick is a mystery. For a long time, the movie keeps you guessing about who he is working for and why he is working for them.  In the last third, he takes over as a major character in a series of stunning scenes that upend much of our understanding.  A great performance by a great actor we haven't seen this good in a long time.

My choice: Oscar Isaac
Second: Benicio del Toro

Runners-Up: Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Nicolas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight), Stanley Tucci (Spotlight)

Matches with Oscar: Oscar also went with Rylance and Bale. I liked Tom Hardy (The Revenant) and Sylvester Stallone (Creed) quite a bit, but not enough to make my top 10. I also found Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) one of the weaker performances in a great cast.

Supporting Actress

Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Kristen Stewart (yes, the one from Twilight) gives an astonishingly good performance in Clouds of Sils Maria, fully matching the talented acting of Juliette Binoche. Stewart plays Valentine, an American assistant to a temperamental European actress. By playing every seen with integrity and depth, Stewart gives a deep and assured performance that carries us along through this movie of words, ideas, and images.

Tessa Thompson, Creed

There's no argument that Thompson is playing a stock role, that of the supportive female sidekick.  But just like Talia Shire in the original Rocky, Thompson permeates her character with a life of her own, a talented Philly native with her own dreams of greatness. One of my favorite scenes is when Creed goes to her concert and the two connect.

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

Alicia won the Supporting Actress award for her very good performance in the so-so movie The Danish Girl. In a better world, she would have won for her great performance in a great movie, Ex Machina.  Vikander plays Ava, a robot create to test theories of artificial intelligence. The movie has much up its sleeve, though, and Vikander's performance is essential to making everything work. A performance that was only better the second time I watched Ex Machina.

Rachel Weisz, Youth

Winning my "where the hell has she been?" award is Rachel Weisz in the quite good, and very underseen, Youth. Weisz plays Lena, the daughter of Michael Caine's lead character Fred. She's recovering from a recent divorce and dealing with issues of her father.  She gives an incredible monologue that's the most powerful part of the film.

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Winslet is great as Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs' work wife and conscience. Winslet's intelligence and energy is a great match for Aaron Sorkin's typically wordy dialogue, and she plays her scenes with Fassbender as verbal ping-pong matches.  Steve Jobs is t

he best Winslet (one of my favorite actresses) has been in a long time!

My Choice: Alicia Vikander
Second: Kristen Stewart

Runners-Up: Elizabeth Banks (Love and Mercy), Rose Byrne (Spy), Marion Cotillard (Macbeth), Mya Taylor (Tangerine), Julie Walters (Brooklyn)

Matches with Oscar: Oscar and I both picked Vikander for the win, although for different movies. We also both picked Winslet.  They also went with Rachel McAdams in Spotlight, a performance I found serviceable but not especially impressive, and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, which I haven't seen. As for Rooney Mara in Carol, hang on for the lead categories (where she belonged!).