Monday, July 23, 2012

Best of 2011 - The Performances Part 2

    And now we finish up the last four categories in this week's Best of 2011 posts.  As always, film titles that are also links will take you to my review of said film.

Best Supporting Actress
  15. Carey Mulligan
     I have a good friend who says that Carey Mulligan always looks sad.  She certainly captured damaged, fragile, and desperate as the damsel in distress to Gosling's (white? black?) knight.
  14. Amy Ryan
       Win Win
     One of the most convincing portrayals of a woman caught up in her maternal instincts against her better judgement that I have ever seen.  And funny at times.
  13. Elle Fanning
        Super 8
     Ms. Fanning is an adorable yet capable young actress and there are moments in this film where she becomes so much more.
  12. Bryce Dallas Howard
        The Help
     It took me a few hours after leaving the theater to stop hating her character enough to realize what a phenomenal job Ms. Howard had done.
  11. Yeo-jeong Yoon
         The Housemaid
     Korean character actress Yoon is fantastic as the older domestic who foolishly starts a most disastrous chain of events and spends the rest of the film trying to atone.
  10. Cate Blanchett
     I love the way Cate Blanchett commits to every role that she plays with everything she has.  I'd never seen her play a slightly psychopathic villain before, but this type of role was no different.
  9. Berenice Bejo
      The Artist
     It is refreshing to see perky played in a way that is more endearing than cloying.  She is a light in this film.
  8. Jessica Chastain
      The Help
     She would steal every scene she appears in here if she weren't in so many with co-star Spencer.
  7.  Vanessa Redgrave
     Her skill with the Shakespearean script is readily apparent and her characterization of this classic role is so...formidable.
  6. Janet McTeer
      Albert Nobbs
     She is just as believable as a man or as a woman living as a man.  These two perceptions of her vie for prominence from scene to scene to scene.
  5. Melissa McCarthy
     You have to make a very good bawdy comedy to get me laughing out loud but, dammit, she got me like a dozen times.  But then there's this very poignant scene with co-star Wiig late in the movie that really seals the deal for me.  Surprisingly well rounded performance.
  4. Sareh Bayet
      A Separation
     This young Iranian actress was the standout for me amid one of the strongest ensemble films of the year in any language.
  3. Octavia Spencer
      The Help
     One of the funniest performances by any performer in 2011, Spencer also imbued Minnie with so much humanity and dignity.  No one can begrudge her the Oscar win, but...
  2.  Jessica Chastain
       The Tree of Life
      No acting nomination has ever been given to anyone appearing in any film directed by Terence Malick, but she did so much with so little dialogue or screen time.  She was nurturing, beautiful young motherhood in archetype, but every look of worry, love, or sorrow was that of a living breathing woman.  Her voice made me feel safe, like you imagine a baby feeling safe in a womb....  I hate trying to talk about The Tree of Life. 
  1.  Carey Mulligan
     I have this friend who says that Carey Mulligan always looks sad.  Maybe she does, but in this film she plays the personification of sorrow, utterly horrible and beautiful to behold.  So much has been made by myself and many before me of her rendition of "New York, New York" and it is brilliant, but every moment of her performance as Sissy is.  I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that she is one of the most talented actresses of her generation.
     Tin Toadstool:  Barbara Hershey
     Oh, I feel guilty about giving this award to such a talented actress (but that's sort of the point).  Someone as talented as Ms. Hershey should have been able to rise above the quality of the script and give a performance that was a little less cloying and stereotypical.  I'm going to go rewatch Black Swan now and pretend that this never happened.

Best Actress
  20. Zana Marjanovic
        In the Land of Blood and Honey
     This largely unknown Bosnian actress's powerhouse performance was the centerpiece of Ms. Jolie's directorial debut.  Heartbreaking.
  19. Emma Stone
        The Help
     She may have been overshadowed a bit by some of her more experienced co-stars, but just holding your own leading this ensemble is still quite an accomplishment.
  18. Mia Wasikowska
        Jane Eyre
     This costume drama may have gotten lost in the shuffle by the time awards season rolled around, but this talented young actress still deserves credit for taking a role that so many have played before and making it decidedly her own.
  17. Khomotso Manyaka
        Life, Above All
     Whatever my problems with the way this movie ended, this young South African actress certainly made getting there a much more compelling journey than it otherwise would have been.
  16. Elizabeth Olsen
        Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
     There are so many layers to this young actress's performance.  A calm veneer with so much underneath.
  15. Michelle Williams
        My Week With Marilyn
     I know, this is nowhere near the top five, but while Ms. Williams always does a superb job, and this is no exception, I believe that her popularity with the Academy had a lot to do with her eventual nomination,  Still, very nice work.
  14. Vera Farmiga
         Higher Ground
     It is never easy to direct yourself, especially in your directorial debut, yet Ms. Farmiga does an exceptional job of doing just that as this woman in a life long search for spiritual enlightenment.
  13. Jeong-hie Yun
     As Mija, Ms. Yun faces so many challenges and problems with such courage and heart, how could I not honor this multi-faceted and subtle performance?
  12. Adepero Oduye
     As a young black lesbian woman having to come to grips with all aspects of how the world sees her and what that means to how she sees herself, Ms. Oduye had a lot to work with and more than makes the most of it.  Outstanding.
  11. Charlize Theron
        Young Adult
     The always impressive Ms. Theron might have place higher on this list if her character Mavis weren't so thoroughly unlikeable, but there IS still plenty to like about her portrayel.
  10.  Glenn Close
         Albert Nobbs
      The material she had to work with was a little dry, but the always ingenious Glenn Close still makes the most of it, even if she is overshadowed a little by co-star McTeer.
  9. Leila Hatami
      A Separation
    If you saw one non-English language film from 2011, it should have been A Separation.  Star Hatami is a huge part of the reason why.
  8. Saoirse Ronan
     Whether refugee, ghost, assassin, or sweet little girl, I always buy into whatever this young actress does.  Best action hero performance of the year.
  7. Rooney Mara
      The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
     Followed by the best action anti-hero performance of the year.  What else can I say?  I wouldn't mess with her.
  6. Viola Davis
      The Help
     I know, I know, but if we're being honest her Oscar campaign was based more upon how rarely they get the opportunity to honor her, than upon this being the best role she's ever played.  Still, excellent work, as always.
  5. Juliette Binoche
      Certified Copy
     This French actress can portray more in silent close up than most actresses can in a whole monologue...and she does.
  4. Olivia Colman
     From quiet strength to utter desperation, this performance runs the emotional gamut without ever skipping a single beat.  Absolutely extraordinary.
  3.  Meryl Streep
       The Iron Lady
     She WAS Margaret Thatcher, and there's not a lot more to say.
  2. Tilda Swinton
      We Need To Talk About Kevin
     There is absolutely no justification for Ms. Swinton's exclusion from the Academy Awards this year.  She is ALWAYS excellent, and this may be the best work she has ever done.  Her character goes through things we cannot even imagine, but her performance allows us to.
  1.  Kirsten Dunst
     Director Von Trier's misplaced comments at Cannes may have kept this film out of awards consideration, and that is very sad, as it was one of the year's best.  The greatest tragedy, though, is that Ms. Dunst's brilliant work went unrecognized.  Well, not here.  As a woman struggling with both her own internal issues and the end of the world, she shines with tarnished light.
  Tin Toadstool:  Sara Paxton
                            The Innkeepers
     I was rooting for the ghost fifteen minutes into her performance...the second time.  The first time I tried to watch it she put me to sleep in ten.

Best Actor
  20. Brendan Gleeson
        The Guard
     This Irish buddy cop movie left little to recommend BEYOND Mr. Gleeson's performance, but he is worth recommending.
  19. Peyman Moadi
        A Separation
     This Iranian actor was overshadowed a bit by his female co-stars, but this excellent film would still never have triumphed as it did without his excellent work.
  18. Brad Pitt
     Yes, Brad was very good and believable in this role, but in all honesty it didn't give him a huge range of emotions to work with and was not particularly challenging.  Still, very good.
  17. George Pistereanu
        If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle
     As debut performances go, it doesn't get much better than what this young Romanian actor does in this otherwise decent prison drama.
  16. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
     Some day Mr. Gordon-Levitt will reap awards glory and his dromedic (yes, it's a word NOW) portrayal of a young man fighting cancer is an excellent stepping stone in that direction.
  15. Hunter McKraken
        The Tree of Life
     As the symbol of both innocent childhood and growing up, this young actor's debut was quite astonishing.  More about simple little slices of life than big dramatic moments, but utterly believable.
  14. Ralph Fiennes
     As I've stated before, directing oneself in a directing debut is both courageous and difficult even when the script is not in Middle English verse.  Mr. Fiennes makes it look easy.
  13. Antonio Banderes
        The Skin I Live In
     This wacky, out there little horror/drama would never have worked without Banderes's compelling, slightly over the top central performance.  If you have never seen the man perform in his native language, you have no idea what he is really capable of.
  12. Damien Bechir
        A Better Life
     Only one of the Academy's nominees this year actually made my top five, but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate how good they were.  Mr. Bechir's performance in this film was highly touching and EXTREMELY well done.
  11. Gary Oldman
        Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     Very subtle work here, which actually makes it even more impressive how interesting he manages to make the character of Smiley.
  10. Michael Parks
        Red State
     Equal parts hilarious, charismatic, and scary.  An absolutely brilliant performance in one of the year's most underrated films.
  9. Peter Mullan
     Upstaged by co-star Colman?  Maybe a little, but almost the entire film hinges on these two roles, and the film is amazing.  So is Mullan.
  8. Tom Cullen
     Cullen is so natural and believable in this role.  He really takes you inside his head with him in a way that creeps up on you stealthily.
  7. Jean Dujardin
      The Artist
     I'm always impressed when an actor can convey just as much in their moments of silence as they do when speaking.  Here, those moments were the whole performance and the silence was mostly golden, indeed.
  6. Woody Harrelson
     Who would have ever thought when he was on Cheers that Woody would grow up to be one of our most versatile and capable film stars.  He is always outstanding, and this conflicted, dirty cop may be his best role yet.
  5. Ryan Gosling
     Remember what I said about Jean Dujardin's ability to convey so much in silence.  Well, Gosling conveys more in silence than everyone else in this film while they are speaking.  When he does speak, it carries even more weight for its scarcity.  It is also worth noting how difficult it is to create a character who is equal parts sympathetic and scary.
  4. George Clooney
      The Descendants
     It is no exaggeration to say that this is probably Clooney's finest performance yet.  Funny, poignant, conflicted, angry, sad...a whole spectrum of demands on his abilities.  He meets every one.  Out of the nominated actors at this year's Oscars, I feel that his performance was probably the most deserving.
  3. Matthias Schoenaerts
     This Belgian actor gives perhaps the most intensive study ever of the true meaning of masculinity and how society's perceptions of such affect the men within it.  Haunting.
  2. Michael Fassbender
     If Carey Mulligan was sadness personified in Shame, then what was co-star Fassbender?  Desperation?  Helplessness?  Futility?  Shame?  How about perfection?
  1. Michael Shannon
      Take Shelter
     Have you ever really worried that you were losing your mind, because I have, and its the kind of feeling that is almost impossible to express to someone unless they've been through it.  Somehow, Shannon does it.  He really does.
     Tin Toadstool:  Brian White
                               The Heart Specialist
     Muggiest, most predictable performance by anyone of any gender, maybe of the decade.

Best Acting Ensemble
     A truly great acting ensemble is not just about a lot of good individual performances.  It is about how the actors work together to make a cohesive whole that truly is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Which is very different from Best Picture.  I'm not giving any commentary on these.  If you've seen the films, read over the list of actors and I think you will understand why each of these made the list.  If you haven't seen them, shame on you, go do so.  All fifteen of these are well worth your time.
  15. Ides of March
       Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei
  14. Red State
     Michael Parks, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Angaro, Nicholas Braun, Ronnie Connell, Kyle Gallner
  13. Midnight in Paris
     Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Corey Stoll, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody
  12. The Housemaid
     Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lee, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Woo Seo, Ji-Young Park, Seo-Hyeon Ahn
  11. The Artist
     Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
     Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter, Kelly MacDonald, Ciaran Hinds, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Miriam Margolyes, Gemma Jones, David Thewliss, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman
  9. The Skin I Live In
     Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes, Roberto Alamo
  8. Crazy, Stupid, Love
     Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marissa Tomei, Kevin Bacon
  7. A Separation
     Peyman Moedi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayet, Sarina Farhadi
  6. Margin Call
    Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
     Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Ciaran Hinds, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch
  4. Drive
     Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Al Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman
  3. Bridesmaids
     Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolf, Rose Byrne, Chris O'Dowd
  2. The Descendants
     George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer
  1.  The Help
  Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson

     And that completes the Froggies for performances for 2011.  Join me back here next Saturday as we continue the Best of 2011 series with writing, directing, and Best Picture Awards.

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