Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Jarmos! 2010

As you can tell from reading the past month of this blog, the end of the year is heavy on awards, and I'm more or less obsessed with them. So, I present to you the Jarmos, my own personal awards for what I saw and liked in film this year. The name comes from a nickname a friend of mine gave me in high school, I thought it would make a good name for these. And so, without further ado, the 2010 Jarmos go to...
If you read my top 10 list, you would know this already.
Christopher Nolan, Inception
I'm a big fan of Nolan's. I don't, like some, think he's all gimmick. He's a truly gifted director, and that became very apparent in Inception. His script was very difficult to understand at times, but Nolan made sure that the performances were fresh and didn't give away anything, with every character seeming like both a real person and a cypher. And visually, he created some of the most spectacular set pieces of the year, such as the Japanese castle, crumbling Limbo, origami Paris and zero-gravity hallway. Inception proved that Nolan is a singular talent, and I can't wait to see what he's going to do next (answer: The Dark Knight Returns, his final Batman film).
Joaquin Phoenix, I'm Still Here
It seems that everyone's forgotten, in the midst of calling I'm Still Here a "hoax," that Phoenix is giving a phenomenal, lived-in performance that had us all convinced he'd gone off the deep end. We all talk about great performances as a actor disappearing into a role to the point were we forget that the actor is, in fact, an actor and not the character he's portraying. And that's exactly what Phoenix did: he completely disappeared into the role of "Joaquin Phoenix" and delivered a performance that moved us, whether through the film itself or the tabloids. How he fares from this daring move is anyone's guess, but in an ideal world, he'd be given an Oscar and a glorious career for years to come.
(tie) Annette Bening & Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Yes, Natalie Portman was stunning in Black Swan, and I'm totally behind her when it comes down to the best performances of the year. But the one-two punch of Bening and Moore made The Kids Are All Right more than just a sitcom-y story, combining their considerable talents and incredible (and unexpected) chemistry to create one of the most believable couples on film of all time, homosexual or not. Look no further than the stunning dinner scene at Paul's (Mark Ruffalo) house: it starts simple enough, with an excellent moment where Bening's Nic sings Joni Mitchell, but when she makes a startling discovery about her partner Jules (Moore), both women say everything without actually saying a single word. That's great acting.
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
It came down to the Ruff and Christian Bale, who was terrific in The Fighter as Dickie Ecklund. But Ruffalo's achievement is that he took unrestrained masculinity and complex emotional turmoil and made it look so damn natural and easy. His performance is not at all showy, as many actors are prone to do (here's looking at you, Geoffrey Rush), but rather sublime. And he doesn't shy away from his character's flaws, expertly handling the portrayal of man who decided to donate his sperm and become father because it seemed like an easy way to make a buck. Ruffalo embodies the spirit of the easy-going, and turns in a wonderful performance from it.
Allison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Pill has long been a favorite of mine, stealing scenes in everything from In Treatment to Milk. And here, she proves she's got a wicked deadpan as Kim, Scott's ex/Sex Bob-Omb drummer. Though she only has a few scenes, she captures your attention in every one of them with her truly brilliant line-readings ("Scott, you are the salt of the Earth."), and even gives Kim a sense of depth that makes her more than just a comic device. Granted, I could have given this spot to any of the three monster moms of this year (Black Swan's Barbara Hershey, Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver, The Fighter's Melissa Leo), given that this was an incredible year for women in supporting roles (and lead roles, for that matter), but it was Pill who really delivered for me this year.
Clifton Collins Jr. and Thomas Jane, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Best part of the film, if you ask me. I would love to see the Vegan Police get their own comic book or something.
The Kids Are All Right
Between Bening and Moore as the lead couple, Ruffalo as the loosey-goosey semi-father, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutchinson as the children in search of their donor dad, and unsung hero Yaya DaCosta as Paul's lover and wake-up call, its hard to find a better class of actors than this film. Every one of them delivers a performance that is confident and gut-wrenching, humorous and stunning. It just didn't get any better than this.
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
I am not one of The Social Network's most ardent fans; I thought it was a fine but flawed film, with great performances but a lack of anything to say about how Facebook really changed us as a society (though everyone seems to be applying this to the film anyway). Still, its hard to ignore the magnificence of Sorkin's crackling script, full of fast-paced one-liners and a structure that doesn't make claims about who really invented Facebook, allowing the characters to breathe without ever having their actions truly justified. It takes nerve to present an audience a bunch of unlikable heroes and then tell us that none of them are really in the right, and Sorkin did exactly that.
Christopher Nolan, Inception
I love mind-bending sci-fi, so of course I was going to be biased towards Inception's labyrinthine script. But this really is a masterpiece of complexity, constantly threatening to implode from all the various ideas and action but manages an impressive balance of psychology, dream logic, heist plotting, and ambiguity. Nolan spent about 10 years working on this screenplay, and the final result makes every single one of those years worth the wait. This should be used as an example to all writers who get lost in their own ideas or, worse, are trying to show off how clever they think they are.
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
When it comes down to breakthroughs, there were two young girls that really stood out. Chloe Grace Moretz stole all the attention for her much-ballyhooed performances in Kick-Ass and Let Me In, but for me it was Steinfeld who really impressed. Her amazingly self-assured LEAD performance is astonishing to behold, especially considering her young age, her talented co-stars in Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper, and the fact that this is her screen debut. She proves more than adept at handling the Coen Brothers' trademark stylized dialogue, and holds the screen for most of the film. Hopefully, she'll have more chances to prove her talent in the coming years.
Animal Kingdom
Of course, this was completely off my radar at the beginning of the year, but when I heard praise for the film from people I trust, I decided to check it out for myself. And man, I'm glad I did. Animal Kingdom proved to be a taut crime thriller that not only had a brilliant cast but also focused tightly on the story rather than slipping away into gimmick or moralizing, as crime films are wont to do nowadays. The twists were truly surprising, and nothing ever felt like a cheat. In a year where a lot of films didn't live up to my expectations, its good to find a film that comes out of nowhere and blows you away.
Alice in Wonderland
On paper, this should have been great. Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are an artistic match made in heaven, and as a fan of Burton's filmography (for the most part - lets not talk about Planet of the Apes), I was excited to see what he would create for us. Instead, we got this steaming pile of crap, a dreary CGI-driven tale of rah-rah female empowerment that would make any feminist blush with embarrassment. Burton lazily goes through the motions, while Johnny Depp delivers a bizarre, schizophrenic performance as the Mad Hatter, switching accents mid-sentence and going through a plethora of mannerisms that never amount to a character. The only things saving this film is the fact that Mia Wasikowska, as Alice, comes out unscathed and Helena Bonham Carter's deliciously campy Red Queen. But somehow, this film managed to Futterwacken its way to a Best Comedy Golden Globe nod and over $300 million in the US. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
Comments are, of course, always welcome. I'm curious to know who or what you would pick in these categories.

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