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Best Male Performances on the Year…So Far

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island

If any of you are a regular reader of this blog, and I know there are at least two of you, you know that I am a big fan of this film. You can check out my review of the film and my recap of the best films of the year so far to confirm my love for this picture. This film had a powerful emotional impact on me and part of the reason was DiCaprio’s performance as a United States marshal haunted by his traumatic past. DiCaprio has really grown as an actor through his collaborations with Martin Scorsese. I applaud him for not caving in to starring in crappy romantic comedies after the massive success of “Titanic: in 1997. He could have played it easy, but he chose to challenge himself and his works with Scorsese are really pushing him to the limits as an actor. DiCaprio’s character in the film is a World War Two veteran who is plagued by the horrors he saw in the war. You get the sense that he is hiding something, that maybe his own character isn’t even aware of. And at the end, when he’s confronted with what he’s hiding, it’s truly tragic.

2. Mark Ruffalo as Paul in The Kids Are All Right

This is without a doubt the best performance I have seen from Mark Ruffalo in some time. He first came to everyone’s attention in 2000’s “You Can Count on Me” and in this film he finally gets to shine.  In this picture he plays Paul, an older hippie type who donated sperm years ago. Years later he is shocked to discover when the children from his sperm have contacted him. Ruffalo plays Paul as a cool, yet kind of douchey guy. He wants to be kind of a father figure to his biological children, which upsets the children’s lesbian mothers. Ruffalo’s actions are never malicious, but naive. In another actors hands, this part could have been played as a real jerk. Ruffalo is able to shape Paul into a real character, flaws and all.

3. Michael Douglas as Ben Kalmen in Solitary Man

“Solitary Man” was one of the highlights I saw at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. The reason this film is such a success, is the performance of Michael Douglas. It is his certainly his best performance since 2000’s fantastic “Wonder Boys.” Douglas plays an aging womanizer whose out of control sexual appetite is slowly destroying his life. Douglas is clearly playing a version of his womanizing persona in real life. Douglas isn’t afraid to let everything hang out here, all his character’s flaws are all out there for us to see. That deserves some applause and Douglas makes this not very sympathetic figure, one we feel for, because of all his flaws.

4. John Hawkes as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone

The character of Teardrop is a mysterious, dangerous figure. He is perfectly realized by John Hawkes in the film “Winter’s Bone.” Hawkes plays the Uncle of Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly. As Lawrence searches for her missing father, Hawkes is both an obstacle and her protector in the Appalachian meth community in which they live in. Hawkes is terrific because you think you know what kind of character he is, but as the film advances, he is able to surprise you. His character is always on edge; you never know what he might to do. This is exciting to watch on-screen.

5. Jonah Hill as Cyrus in Cyrus

Jonah Hill has certainly come a long way since he burst on the screen in 2007’s “Superbad.” In that film he played an over the top, super foul-mouthed character. It would have been difficult back then to picture him playing almost the total opposite type of character in “Cyrus.” In the film, he plays the twenty-something child of Marisa Tomei’s character, who gets upset when her new boyfriend, John C. Reilly, upsets the balance in the household. The ads for this film play up the crazy antics that Hill attempts to drive Reilly away. While those antics are in the film, behind those acts is a real humanity and sadness to Hill’s character.

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Best Female Performances of the Year…So Far

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Annette Bening as Nic in The Kids Are All Right

In the film, Annette Bening plays the uptight head of her family, consisting of her two kids, and her lesbian partner, played by Julianne Moore. Bening never plays this part as one might expect. Her character is stuck up, but there is also humor and warmth in her performance. Both Bening and Moore are convincing as a couple who have been together for twenty years. There is a scene where she uncovers a terrible secret and the simple look on her face conveys all the pain and hurt she is feeling.

2. Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone

This is a breakthrough performance that showcases that Jennifer Lawrence can carry an entire film. At age 20 she is able to hold our complete attention as she plays a young teenage girl who is in search for her father. Her father has gone missing and has put up the family’s trailer up for bond. In her search for her father she navigates her way through the dark underworld of the Appalachian community in which she lives in. She puts on a front of toughness, but deep down she is still a young lady scared for herself and her famiy.

3. Jacki Weaver as Janine Cody in Animal Kingdom

In my previous post about the best films of the year so far, I already praised Jacki Weaver’s performance as the matriarch of an Australian crime family. She may come across as a sweet motherly type, but she can be really frightening. She can put the fear in you all without raising her voice or lifting her hand in violence. I had never heard of Weaver before, she spent most of her career working in Australian film, television and theatre. But now she’s a an actress who is on my map. I’ll be rooting for this performance to get some serious attention when awards season arrives.

4. Chole Moretz as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass

Chole Moretz steals the show from every other actor in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass.” Moretz plays a young superhero who partners with her father, played by Nicholas Cage, to fight crime. Moretz quite literally does kick-ass in the film. Hit-Girl is tough, strong, vulgar and Moretz has the personality and charisma to bring some level of believability to a character who does unbelievable things. This is a young actress who everyone should be looking for in the future.

5. Carey Mulligan as Rose in The Greatest

“The Greatest is a mess of a film. Mulligan, however, shines as a young pregnant girl who is forced to turn to her dead boyfriend’s parents for support. Last year’s “An Education” proved that Mulligan is already a great actress on the rise. Though this film may suck, she is able to rise above it and give an emotionally powerful performance as a young girl looking for her place in the world. The emotion she displays when she first meets her dead boyfriend’s father, played by Pierce Brosnan, is genuine and heartbreaking.

The Best Films of the Year…So Far

August 30, 2010 1 comment

By general consensus 2010 has not been a great year for films so far. But some films do stand out above the pitiful pack. Here are six:

1. Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s latest film had a deep personal and emotional impact on me. This is Scorsese’s deepest exercise in working with genre. He is able to use all the crafts over the years of filmmaking to put the viewer into the off kilter world of this film. Look at the way he uses editing and a cup of water to leave you wondering what the hell you just saw. I think the reason I was so taken by this film is because of the way it examines how a man deals with guilt and remorse. This is a theme that Scorsese has explored in his earlier films and in this film it is represented by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall sent to investigate the disappearance of an escape mental patient on Shutter Island. This is certainly DiCaprio’s best acting performance. He has the emotional range to go to levels I’ve never seen from him before.

2. Animal Kingdom

This Australian crime film blew me away and only got better the more I thought about it. The terrific feature film debut from writer-director David Michod follows a young seventeen man caught up in the war between his criminal band of Uncles and corrupt Australian police. The title of the film is appropriate, because this film is all about survival. The boy, played by James Frecheville, is introvert, quite, he is making up how to survive on his own. The film doesn’t glorify this criminal world, there is a real documentary feel to it, which I loved. Great performances from Ben Mendelsohn, as Frecheville’s most terrifying Uncle. The audience feels this kid’s terror when Mendelsohn is on-screen. Jacki Weaver, as the matriarch of this crime family, is also terrific. She’s not the brains behind the crime family, but rather a mother who would do ANYTHING to protect her sons. And this makes her just as scary as any of her sons.

3. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is the lone standout in the shit storm of big budget, disappointing summer tent pole film released this past summer. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man who steal information from person’s dreams. Instead of stealing an idea, he has to try plant an idea inside the mind of corporate head, in order to get back home. This is a film that I could watch over and over again. It is just pure entertainment. I remember sitting in the theatre in joy and amazement at some of the things depicted on-screen. That anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel is pure cinema. Roger Ebert sums up the film well, he says “it is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does.”

4. The Kids Are All Right

This is a great look at the struggles a relationship and a family go through. It doesn’t matter that the relationship and family is led by two women. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a couple whose children decide to find their sperm donor father, played by Mark Ruffalo. The performances all around are excellent. Bening, as the “breadmaker” of the family, is the best she has been in some time. She could have played the part as an over-the-top caricature, but she is a real person, who feels real pain when Ruffalo enters the family and almost takes her place within the family. Ruffalo also gives a great performance as the biological father. He is great at playing this cool, yet douchey guy. The film never exploits him as the “villain” in the film. Credit director Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg for crafting this excellent examination of a family.

5. Restrepo

This is a great documentary following two filmmakers as they are embedded with a platoon of soldiers in the deadly mountainous region of Afghanistan known as the Korengal Valley. We get to see the war through the soldiers’ eyes. Besides the gunfight battles, we see how dangerous and crucial communication is with the local Afghanistan people in order to win over the Valley’s residents. When a soldier is killed, you can’t help but be touched when the other soldiers are recounting the pain at losing a member of their team. The end the documentary leaves us with the thought that it might be impossible for us to ever “win” this war and was it worth the loss to get control of this Valley.

6. Cyrus

A terrific film from directors Mark & Jay Duplass, the founders of the “Mumblecore” movement. In “Cyrus” John C. Reilly falls in love with Marisa Tomei, but he doesn’t fall in love with her odd son played by Jonah Hill. This is a perfect blend of comedy and drama. There are real human moments that you would never find in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Great performances all around, especially Hill. He expertly walks that fine line between rational and irrational. His character is never a caricature, but a person who is simply afraid that he might lose his mother.