Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The 2nd Annual Jarmo Awards

So, you may ask, what are the Jarmos? They are The Entertainment Junkie's version of all those critics' associations' awards, only these don't actually have any impact on the Oscar race (you could argue those don't either, but, you know...). You can check out last year's winners here, and this year I'm shaking things up by including runners-up in each category. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments; I'm curious to hear what you think.

Also, there is no Best Picture prize this year, because you can find that out by checking out my top 10 list.


Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
(Runner-up: Viola Davis, The Help)

A lot has been made about the fact that Lizzy is the sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the former-moppets-turned-stick-figures. But after seeing Martha Marcy May Marlene, those twiggy twins will be the last thing on your mind. Olsen has a very rare talent, embodying her Martha (or is she Marcy May?) with magnetic paranoia and uncertainty, yet does so with an otherworldly confidence, grace, and subtlety. There's a hollowness in her character's eyes - rivaled only by Rooney Mara - that makes her perfect for playing this now-empty vessel of a woman, undone by the cult she escaped; see her in interviews, and she's vivacious. The fact that this is her first film makes her work all the more incredible. Her work is too low-key to earn her an Oscar nomination, but I still cannot wait to see what she does next.


(tie) Tom Cullen and Chris New, Weekend
(Runner-up: Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

There's no way you can declare one of these men's performances to be superior to the others because they are so intertwined, so...necessary to each other that they're inseparable, not unlike the characters they play. Both men are relative newcomers, which helps make their chemistry seem even more lived-in and candid. It's that latter characteristic that makes their performances, and therefore the film, a resounding success; after all, these are two men (Cullen plays the reserved Russell, while New plays free-spirited Glen) who have only known each other for a single weekend. But that sense of authenticity makes their blossoming love a truly beautiful thing, and its hard to imagine anyone other than these two pulling that off. 


Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
(Runner-up: Melanie Laurent, Beginners)

It can be difficult for actors to embody a character, especially if that character comes from a background that the actor has never experienced. In Terrence Malick's philosophy thesis on the history of creation, Chastain has to do more than play a character, the Mother: she has to embody the concept of Grace, the force that provides the warm, elegant, joyous yang to Nature's (as embodied by Brad Pitt) cold, harsh, and remote yin. By some miracle, given how she's been exceedingly busy these past few years, Chastain does this magnificently, bringing a maternal kindness to the role while simultaneously being a philosophical premise and a living, breathing human being. Its a remarkable feat, and I can guarantee you that The Tree of Life would not be nearly as successful without her brilliant work. She'll likely be nominated for her lightweight work in The Help, but this was where she proved herself to be an actress to watch.


Christopher Plummer, Beginners
(Runner-up: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life)

Christopher Plummer has had such a long career, full of so many iconic roles, that it can be hard to believe that Beginners' Hal Fields, a elderly widow who is diagnosed with cancer just as he comes out of the closet to son Oliver (Ewan McGregor), would become one of, if not the, finest of them all. Plummer plays Hal with such vivacity and joy that even he seems to forget that he's dying at times, but he still lends profoundly affecting gravitas to the film's more somber scenes. The legend is simply, if not necessarily unexpectedly, remarkable here, the ever-present twinkle in his eye shining brighter than ever.


Adrien Brody, Midnight in Paris
(Runner-up: Cicely Tyson, The Help)

"Rhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinoceros!" That's pretty much all that needs to be said about his hilarious appearance as Salvador Dali.


Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
(Runner-up: Jessica Chastain in seemingly everything, but specifically Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, and The Help)

See: Best Actress.


(Runner-up: The Ides of March)

What a crackerjack cast Mike Mills put together for this film: Ewan McGregor gives one of the finest performances of his career, perhaps his best since winning hearts (mine included) as Christian in Moulin Rouge! ten years ago; Christopher Plummer is brilliant, as I've already written; Melanie Laurent is soulful and adorable as the quirky actress McGregor's Oliver falls for; Goran Visnjic appears as Hal's younger lover; Mary Page Keller as Oliver's late mother. And let's not forget Cosmo, playing precious mutt Arthur, who's thoughts are presented via subtitles. There's nary a false note among any of these performances, and it makes the film immensely enjoyable and personal.


Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
(Runner-up: Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

There were a significant number of director-driven (no pun intended) films this year, but none were more emphatic, more revelatory, or more remarkable that Drive. Ryan Gosling was the ostensible star, but the film easily belonged to Refn, who put together this existential actioner with remarkable precision and a knowing eye for homage to other great man-and-a-car movies. He also knows a thing or too about cool, marrying the awesome soundtrack with his slick visual style that makes you simply gawk at how amazing everything is. And this is to say nothing of his masterful use of violence, holding back before powerfully letting go. Drive is more than just a film; its Refn's love letter to '70s and '80s Hollywood cinema, and it'll just about make you fall in love with the movies all over again.


Moneyball; screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
(Runner-up: The Ides of March; screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon)

First of all, congratulations to Aaron Sorkin for being the first multiple Jarmo recipient; feel free to come collect the prize whenever you have time, I promise I'll have something slapped together by then. Michael Lewis' nonfiction book was all about how Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) used a statistical formula known as sabermetrics to build a World Series-contending baseball team out of low-budget players rather than superstars, a formula that didn't work for his A's but did for higher-profile teams such as the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Not exactly thrilling material for a movie. But in Zaillian and Sorkin's more-than-capable hands, it became the story of a man who's used to being an underdog fighting his way to respectability, even though he's playing a losing game with insurmountable odds. Through all the numbers and baseball lingo they find a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit, and the result is a film that beats with a human heart and snappy dialogue.


Martha Marcy May Marlene; written by Sean Durkin
(Runner-up: Young Adult; written by Diablo Cody)

Durkin's script for his feature film debut is a master class in restraint: if the main rule of cinema is to show, not tell, then this is the perfect example. Throughout the film, so much more is implied rather than explicitly stated, from the principles that cult leader Patrick teaches to many of the actions they do; hell, the word "cult" is never once uttered. Durkin isn't interested in the cult itself. What he wants to explore is how that experience has changed this woman, and how tenuous - but absolutely necessary - our concept of identity really is. And he does all of this quietly: no big speeches, no explicit statement of themes, just low-key storytelling. That's writing at its finest.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(Runner-up: The Help)

As I said in my top 10 list, there was no reason why there should have even been another Planet of the Apes movie, much less expect it to be any good. But wow, what a film it was, buoyed by exquisitely-staged action and a marvelous motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis as rebel-leader Caesar. Who knew?


Cowboys & Aliens
(Runner-up: J. Edgar)

I'm not foolish enough to think that Cowboys & Aliens was going to be some sort of cinematic masterpiece. But I had hopes that it would be the sort of stupid-awesome summer entertainment that its ridiculous title promised. Instead we got a self-serious film that was riddled with one Western cliche after another, aliens that were neither menacing or original, and a truly tasteless evocation of the Challenger disaster. It was stupid, all right, but it forgot to be anything close to fun. 

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