Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009: Mid-Year Favourites

I'm basically looking at everything since last year's awards season, which happens to include Synecdoche, New York over here in the UK, and not to include last year's mentions Julia and Summer Hours.

The Hurt Locker
Modern Life

Synecdoche, New York

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York)
Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell)
Lars von Trier (Antichrist)
Jan Troell (Everlasting Moments)

Runners-up: Henry Selick (Coraline), Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Cary Fukuyama (Sin Nombre), Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Raymond Depardon (Modern Life)

Russell Crowe (State of Play)
Robert Downey, Jr (The Soloist)
Denis Moschitto (Chiko)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche, New York)
Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)

Unusual riches here this year. Five terrific runners-up: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Jamie Foxx (The Soloist), Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man), Adam Sandler (Funny People), Alex MacQueen (The Hide).

Penélope Cruz (Broken Embraces)
Vera Farmiga (Orphan) (!)
Maria Heiskanen (Everlasting Moments)
Isabelle Huppert (Home)
Maya Rudolph (Away We Go)

This field is bugging me, in part because, beyond the wonderful Heiskanen, it's hard one to rave about. I keep going back and forth on whether Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank) really belongs here -- see comments -- and I think she's probably on the cusp. Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and Lina Leandersson (Let the Right One In) are commendable, but trail some way behind.

Liam Boyle (Awaydays)
Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank)
Tom Hollander (In the Loop)
Martin Starr (Adventureland)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Afterschool)

Cécile de France (Mesrine: Killer Instinct)
Holly Grainger (Awaydays)
Rebecca Griffiths (Fish Tank)
Blanca Portillo (Broken Embraces)
Lorna Raver (Drag Me to Hell)

Let the Right One In
A Serious Man
Synecdoche, New York
35 Shots of Rum

Fish Tank
The Hurt Locker
Modern Life
Sin Nombre

Production design, Coraline
Editing, sound and score, Drag Me to Hell
Editing and sound, The Hurt Locker
Visual effects and score, Moon
Sound, Let the Right One In
Score, 35 Shots of Rum


NicksFlickPicks said...

Delicious! I love it when I click over here and there's an update, but this is especially eye-opening.

Sounds like A Serious Man went over a lot better with you than a lot of the Coens' other recent stuff, which excites.

Should I be surprised that Charlotte Gainsbourg and Katie Jarvis couldn't even scrape their way to runner-up status in a Best Actress roster you don't sound wildly ecstatic about? They both put up such a fight for that Cannes bauble that I'd been hoping they might plump up the field over here (if Fish Tank even gets here).

tim r said...

I considered both -- Jarvis especially -- so I guess they're technically runners-up, but I can't get wildly excited about either performance. They're both totally effective in service of very strong directorial ideas, but I'm always more inclined to go with work that brings something individually striking to the table, aren't you? Possibly it scares you that Rudolph made it in over either of them in a film we both think is so-so, but I do think she finds more depths and colours in that role than they do, and challenges some of the script's assumptions a bit more intrepidly. As for Vera, she's just so much more committed and dexterous than Orphan even needs her to be -- I felt a fifth slot was earned.

I really liked A Serious Man, but I'm (hushed voice) not allowed to talk about it, even on my blog. Embargo mania. Then again, I think we have pretty different tastes in Coen movies -- you're a Burn After Reading man, I'm a Lebowski-ite -- so this isn't a guarantee you'll dig it. Loved Stuhlbarg. That's all I'll say.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I was actually a little disappointed with Rudolph on this score; I admire the decision to underplay but had misgivings about some opportunities she missed by holding so fast to these muted registers. But it's an interesting take on the performances, and I'll be eager to see if I wind up agreeing about Jarvis and Gainsbourg.

Just like I'll have a more interesting experience of A S****** M** knowing that you l*k*d it and S*******g so much. Not that you've seen it. Burn this.

Guy said...

Sterling list, but I must echo Nick's surprise over the Best Actress category. I especially loved the way Katie Jarvis wielded language in "Fish Tank" with such relish ... I think she's more than just a lucky find. Performance of the year for me, so far.

I thought Rudolph was the weakest link in "Away We Go," personally ... and there are a lot of weak links in that cast to contend with.

Lovely to see some recognition for the underappreciated "Awaydays," too, which would possibly sneak onto my cinematography list at this point. And "35 Rhums" would be all over the list for me, though screenplay is the most apt area to reward it.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I love the mentions for Cruz and Portillo; Cruz does wonders with a fractured and very loose arc and Portillo steals many scenes in scattered places throughout.

tim r said...

@Guy and Nick: On reflection and a further viewing the other day, I'm inclined to think I'm probably wrong to leave out Jarvis -- I do think she's pretty great in the movie, and I agree with you about how she spits out those insults. She got a fair bit of praise in my Telegraph review. Still, I'm in a similar bind to the one I felt with Kate Dickie in Red Road, and a lot of very good perfs in Dardenne films, to name her obvious precursors. It feels like such trained, eyes-front acting, and I totally respect it, and wouldn't necessarily want it any other way -- but, for whatever reason, it's just not the type of performance that makes it onto my lists of favourites very often. Maybe it should, but it just kind of doesn't. If I were to make a criticism, I don't think she makes the scenes with the horse and Treadaway work too well -- she just seems to be going along with the the script's woollier tangents there almost grudgingly, rather than working to make them convince -- but then those are particularly tough asks. Fassbender and the wonderful (and hardly less natural) Griffiths both raise her game, which is part of the reason I've listed them. Anyway. Performance of the year? I still can't quite go there -- there's just more happening in Best Actor right now -- but it's certainly good enough for a mention, so I'll restore her to rightful runner-up status, where she should ideally have been in the first place. (I basically forgot all about her in my eagerness to bitch about the field, which is still, let's be honest, fairly weak with or without her.)

For form's sake, to compare a break-out newcomer in an equally demanding role who would have easily made it into my five, look no further than Natalie Press in My Summer of Love -- I instantly wanted to see her in other roles too, whereas my slight problem with Katie is that I have a hunch she might BE Mia and nothing BUT Mia. Is it not slightly one of those "only time will tell" performances?

Now I just need someone to sway me toward Gainsbourg! Another tricky perf to assess, since we're meant to feel alienated from her so much of the time, and her job is not to let us in...

Guy, I'd be curious to know why you disliked Rudolph so much in Away We Go -- the "worst of a bad bunch" diss sounds pretty damning. I thought she did most of that film's heavy lifting with real grace and poise, and a certain weariness that impressed me. Gyllenhaal was a near-miss for me in supporting -- I love her timing in the pram scenes -- but the script could barely disguise its contempt for "LN" (from the name on down), which rather hampers her best efforts.

Guy said...

Just realized I never responded to your last query with regard to Rudolph:

I see now that "worst of a bad bunch" sounds overly harsh on the entire cast, given that most or all of them are fine actors working with (or rather against) ludicrously written characters (I cringe sympathetically for Maggie Gyllenhaal whenever I so much as think of LN lately).

But I thought Rudolph made the least effort to fight the script's judgmental complacency: seemingly as convinced as Eggers and Vida are of Verona's (that name ... ugh) untempered goodness, she sort of chooses to just glow her way through the film without asking any questions or adding any notes beyond occasional physical agitation.

As I write this, I realize this is probably more the fault of the film's entire architecture than Rudolph herself, but with Krasinski, I at least saw occasional inward glances acknowledging how spoiled and irritating his character is -- even if Burt is generally cool with that.

Anyway, an unnecessarily long reply to dedicate to such a throwaway work, but the more I think about the film, the more I hate it!

tim r said...

I quite agree it sours in the memory, and I'd probably grade it lower now. (Those ghastly "comedy of the year!" TV trailers aren't helping.) But Rudolph grows, for me. I thought she made Verona frequently bored with herself (as anyone might be!) and tired about having to be so enlightened and sensitive all the time -- which was exactly the muting effect or touch of self-doubt the film needed more of. Still, I remain hopeful that better performances will budge her off my list in the coming months -- and Katie still hovers.

NicksFlickPicks said...

The red lights started flashing in my living room that I've engineered to signal Comment activity on this blog. Yay!

About Rudolph: it's boring that I'm intervening, because I'm somewhere between the two of you. My favorite moment of the performance was the way she underplays her reaction of combined gratitude and obstinacy when Krasinski reveals that he Gets It that she doesn't want to get married because her parents wouldn't be there. I liked that moment in both perfs and the script, but then I was a bit befuddled that Rudolph didn't use that tiny crack against her stubborn reserve to put a little bit more into the homecoming and porch-squatting scenes that end the film. That whole final beat reminded me a bit (not necessarily fairly, and not, I promise, because of racial phenotypes!) of Billy Bob and Halle on the porch at the end of Monster's Ball, which Berry underplays really well. Either because Berry's withholding of overt emotion of that moment feels more camera-rewarding to me, or because it's a more refreshing change from the elaborate extremes of her preceding scenes, I just don't think Rudolph's downplaying at the end of Away We Go works nearly as well.

tim r said...

Red lights? Really? I'm such a loafer on here it doesn't sound like a very cost-effective use of circuitry...

I should really put myself through Monster's Ball again, because my memory of the whole thing (and Halle especially) is just so crudely stroppy and impatient... but I'll grant you that no one is really at their best in Away We Go's closing moments. I can't refute Guy's point either that Maya could have put up a bit more of a fight here and there against the script's beatific idea of Verona. With that in mind, though, I have to give her credit for creating the one character I actually believed in, cared about, and wanted to watch, and think she generally made the right decision to rein it back amid all the competitive scene-work from everyone else. All the stuff about her parents resonated memorably, from the sister scenes onwards, without being shoved down our throats. It was a pretty good performance, which I still don't like as much as any one of my Best Actor picks. Such is 2009. Fortuitously, just this morning I got to see Hilda Peter raising the bar a little...