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Best Supporting Performances of 2009

January 30, 2010 2 comments

My list of the supporting performances that I loved in the year 2009.

MALE

1. Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds: There is nothing else I can say about this performance that hasn’t been said before. Waltz is brilliant as the evil, cunning Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Tarantino created a truly memorable character on the page and it’s Waltz who brings Tarantino’s vision to life on-screen. He deserves all the awards coming his way. If you haven’t seen the film, go now! The opening twenty minutes of the film showcases Waltz at his most spellbinding.

2. Christian McKay as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles: Christian McKay’s portrayal of Orson Welles is the main reason to go and seek out this picture. The film itself is average, but it’s McKay’s performance that will make this film last long in your memory. McKay is able to perfectly capture the ego, talent and brilliance of the real Orson Welles. For an example of McKay’s brilliance, look at the long tracking shot of him walking into a radio station and totally taking control.

3. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker in In the Loop: I just love watching Capaldi as the super foul-mouthed director of communications for the English prime minister. It is completely absorbing to watch him unleash blistering curse words against people. This man is always on the edge of having a blood vessel burst. The profanity flowing out of his mouth is delivered so smoothly it leaves you simultaneously shocked and bursting with laughter.

4. James Gandolfini as Carol in Where the Wild Things Are: This could be considered a controversial choice. Gandolfini is never physically seen on-screen, but that didn’t stop me from connecting with this performance. Gandolfini’s brilliant voice work completely made this tall creature a believable, unique character. His voice is full of anger, hate, joy, and it’s these emotions that connects him with film’s main character, Max. Who would have thought the Tony Soprano could so perfectly convey a sensitive side to this Wild Thing named Carol?

5. Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman in A Serious Man: The above photograph completely captures the brilliance of Fred Melamed as Sy Ableman. Even though Melamed is having sex with Larry’s wife, he couldn’t be nicer about it. He is both Larry’s antagonist and tries to be his best friend. It takes a great actor to capture the genuine sincerity and creepiness of Sy Ableman.

Honorable Mentions: Jake Gyllenhaal in Brothers, Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker, Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds.

FEMALE

1. Mo’Nique as Mary in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire: Like my number one pick for best supporting actor, Christoph Waltz, Mo’Nique is almost certain to win the Oscar for best supporting actress. She is absolutely terrifying as the worst mom ever depicted on-screen. The words she throws against her daughter are as frightening as any fists she throws. Mo’Nique is able to create a character that we have some level of pity for by the end of the film.

2. Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener in Up in the Air: Kendrick is really the heart of this film. On the surface you think her character is going to be a corporate lackey without a soul. As it turns out she does have a soul, and she is the reason for Clooney’s change in the film. Kendrick has great chemistry with Clooney and is not afraid to go head to head with him during their first confrontational meeting. It’s a great scene to watch.

3. Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds: Kruger is beautiful to watch on-screen as the German film star, turned British spy. The way the camera shoots her, only helps us believe that she really is this beautiful film star of the 1940’s. Kruger has all the charm of a movie star, but also the ruthlessness of a double agent. The scene where she meets up with Hans Landa during the movie premiere is a beauty to watch.

4. Marion Cotillard as Luisa in Nine: Cotillard is one talented actress and the best thing about the movie Nine. Cotillard is able to bring real depth and emotion to this role as a woman who has been cheated on. When she shows up on-screen, she is able to bring a sense of history to this character. This is something that none of the other actresses in Nine is able to do.

5. Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran in Up in the Air: Farmiga has always been an actress I enjoyed seeing ever since her work in 2006’s The Departed. In this role she now gets a chance to shine. She is sexy, strong and intelligent. Like Kendrick, she is able to go head to head with Clooney which creates a unique chemistry between the two. The scene where the two first meet in the hotel bar is one of the great scenes of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Catherine Keener in Where the Things Are, Olivia Williams in An Education

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Clooney, Reitman & Crew Deliver an Outstanding Film with Up in the Air

December 15, 2009 Leave a comment

Up in the Air

With this film director Jason Reitman I think cements his status as possibly one of our great future directors. With each successive film Reitman has grown as a filmmaker. I didn’t care for his debut, “Thank You For Smoking,” but I really enjoyed his follow-up “Juno.” I think “Up in the Air” is without a doubt his best film. The writing, direction, and the cast, is a step above the rest.

Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, is a man whose job is to fire people. Companies from around the country hire him to come to their company and fire their employees. He is an expert at it. Watching him fire people is like watching a fine artist at work. All this traveling requires that Bingham essentially live in the air. On the rare occasion when he returns to his apartment we see it is lonely and empty. Traveling is his life and he loves it. He has no use for an ordinary life. Along his travels he encounters two women who challenge his life. One of them is a female version of himself, Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. The other is a young employee at his company, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick, who Bingham takes on the road to show her the ropes.

2009 has been a standout year for Clooney. He was the best thing in “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” and his voice work was fantastic in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” With this film Clooney ends the year with another strong performance. He is completely charming, but doesn’t rely on it to carry the role. We get to see a real vulnerability behind all his charm and good looks. There is one great scene where we see Clooney at work. He fires J.K. Simmons with such sincerity that it had me thinking that I wouldn’t mind being fired by Clooney.

The two female leads are also strong. Vera Farmiga finally gets a chance to shine. I love the scenes between her and Clooney. When the two of them go at with the dialogue it reminded me a bit of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Anna Kendrick is completely engaging as the hot-shot newcomer who threatens Clooney’s way of life. There is a great scene where the two go at it for the first time and the cutting back and forth between the two reminds you of two boxers going at it. Kendrick puts up a tough persona, but we are able to see cracks in her hard armor.

The screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, based on the novel by Walter Kerns, is terrific. There are a number of great one liners. The dialogue and the way the actors deliver the lines is delightful to hear.

The film mirrors the real life economic downturn that is facing the country today. Reitman uses real life out of work employees in the film. When I first heard of this, I wasn’t sure how this element would be incorporated into the picture. But Reitman blends the unemployed into the film in a nice, non intrusive way.

Just when the film reaches a level of sentimentality, the film pulls the rug out of the audience and Clooney. I kind of did see this event coming just when it was about to happen. A lesser filmmaker would have possibly went for the easy way out. I really liked the ambiguity of the ending. Where does the man in the air go now? The more I thought about the film afterwards, the more in stature the film grew.

I think Roger Ebert sums it up best about Reitman during his review of this film. He “makes smart, edgy mainstream films. That’s harder than making smart, edgy indies.” Reitman is a real talent, who has a knack for balancing humor and drama to produce a fully satisfying picture.

4 Stars