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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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Top 10 Films of 2009

December 30, 2009 2 comments

2009 was a very good year for film. I’ve seen over 60 films released this year, so you can trust me when I say that this year has been very good. I did find it somewhat difficult to narrow my list down to just the top ten. This list could have easily turned into a top 20 list. My 1 through 4 picks I had no trouble deciding. My 5 through 10 picks could almost be interchangeable. Here is the list of the top 10 films of 2009 counting down from number 10 to number 1.

10. Sugar

This is a small independent film from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the paired who directed “Half Nelson.” The two have crafted a great immigrant story with this film. The story centers on a young Dominican baseball player, Miguel Santos, aka Sugar, who makes it to the Minor Leagues in America. Baseball is everything for Sugar, if he makes it big he can support his family back home. We see what the pressure to succeed does to the man. The story is simple and does not go for over the top melodramatic moments. The filmmakers do a great job of showing us the despair, loneliness that a new immigrant in this country goes through. By the end we are left with a level of sadness and hopefulness for this character’s future.

9. Avatar

One of the best cinematic experiences I had at the movies this year. After seeing the film in IMAX 3D you are left with the feeling that you have experienced a truly special cinematic moment. I like what Roger Ebert said about the film’s director James Cameron, “there is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it 300 million, wisely.” Using today’s modern technology, Cameron is able to fully engulf the audience into the beautiful, realistic alien world of Pandora. Cameron has returned amazement to the movies.

8. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I was surprised at how much humor, warmth and hopefulness I found in this picture about a young African-American teenage girl, who is illiterate, pregnant, and abused emotionally and sexually by her mother. The film features a great performance from the title character Precious played by Gabourey Sidibe. Mo’Nique is also terrific as the worst mother ever put on-screen. The film never ventures into the over the top melodrama. It’s able to properly balance the despair and hopefulness that Precious experiences throughout the picture. The scenes involving Precious and her fellow students in a classroom are some of the film’s standout moments. Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher do a remarkable job of putting us into the reality of the story.

7. Up in the Air

The impressive third feature film from director Jason Reitman stars George Clooney as a termination specialist who lives off not having any deep human connections. Things change when he meets two women, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Both deliver strong performances that are up to par with Clooney’s. Clooney and Farmiga have great chemistry together. Their dialogue scenes remind you of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Clooney is delivering some of his best work here. He shows you that firing people is a art. Reitman has a real handle on how to balance drama and comedy. It’s not easy to pigeon hole this film into a specific genre. I would recommend this film to anybody, film fan or not.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of my flat-out favorite films of the year. The film is tremendous fun to watch from beginning to end. This is defiantly Wes Anderon’s best picture since “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The voice cast is one of the best ever assembled for an animated film. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl, George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, a chicken raider whose antics gets his entire animal community in a war with up tight British farmers. The stop-motion animation is a great fit for Anderson’s style. I found it really beautiful to look at. The stop-motion animation brings these characters to life better than CG ever could. This is a funny, charming film that can appeal to both kids and adults.

5. Goodbye Solo

A beautiful, truly moving picture from director Ramin Bahrani. The film tells the story of a friendship developed between a African cab driver named Solo and one his clients, an old white guy named William. William pays Solo 1,000 dollars to drive him to the top of mountain in 10 days. The film does not follow the plot of a typical Hollywood movie. This is a character piece where we get to learn and care about these characters. It never betrays its story by going for over the top melodramatic moments. There is a moment that these two characters share that is one of the great moments in film I saw this year. The moment consists of just Solo and William staring at each other, no words are spoken. This moment of silence is able to convey their feelings better than any dialogue could . This is a small independent film that people should rush out to see.

4. A Serious Man

The Coen Brother’s return to their home of Minnesota for this film. Set in the late 1960’s, the film follows the worst couple of weeks that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has ever experienced. Stuhlbarg gives one of the best performances of the year as the family man who is just trying to live an ordinary life. The key to Stuhlbarg’s performance is that he doesn’t play Larry as a loser, he plays him as a decent man who is going through the worst events in his life. This is a very, very black comedy. The film confirms that the Coen’s are master storytellers. It’s amazing what reactions they are able to convey with just one single shot. Fine supporting work from Fred Melamed as Sy Albeman, the man who is seeing Larry’s wife. He’s not what the audience or Larry expects. The Goy’s teeth sequence is one the funniest sequences I saw at the movies this year.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

A beautiful look at childhood from director Spike Jonze. Based on the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the story centers on a young child named Max (Max Records) who after running away from home arrives on an island full of creatures called the Wild Things. Max is not a pleasant child protagonist but I found myself relating to him. There is one scene in the beginning of the film where Max, in a rage, destroys something and then immediately regrets it. I’ve done exactly the same thing as a child. When the story arrives on the island there really is no plot. What Jonze is able to do is create a mood. He shows us that childhood is fun, but also scary. Great use of practical effects and CG to create the Wild Things. The voice talent of the Wild Things, led by James Gandolfini, is terrific because each actor is able to make each creature a unique personality. The first twenty minutes and the last five minutes of the film are just plain perfect.

2. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has directed the best action film of the year. This is also the best film about the Iraq War because it puts us on the ground with the soldiers who are fighting the war. The film is a series of expertly crafted set pieces about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Jeremy Renner is terrific as the lead bomb defusal expert. Watching him dismantle a bomb is like watching a great artist create a painting. There is also strong work from the two other members of Renner’s team, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. Excellent camerawork from the cinematographer Barry Ackroy. The film uses the handheld camera technique in a way that never makes the audience feel dizzy or nauseating. What Bigelow is able to do with handheld camera is put the viewer on the ground with the dangerous situations that these soldiers are going through. We always know where the soldiers are, where the potential threats are. The film has you on the edge of your seat.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s World War Two epic is the best film of 2009. It’s also the most joyous time I had at the movies. I saw this film 3 times in the theatre and I grew to love the film each time I saw it. I admire the sheer audacity of Tarantino to open the film with a twenty-minute dialogue sequence. What Tarantino does with these long dialogue scenes is build suspense. The film is divided into five chapters and each chapter in the film is like a mini movie. All five of the chapters build up and combine into one spectacular final sequence. Christoph Waltz as the Nazi Colonel Hans Landa delivers one of the best performances of the year. Waltz is smart and charming, which makes him even more terrifying. Tarantino has assembled a great ensemble cast. Standouts for me include Michael Fassbender as a British Lieutenant and Melanie Laurent as a Jewish survivor out for revenge. Leave it to Tarantino to make a World War Two movie without a single battle sequence and a climax in a movie theatre. In the end cinema saves the world, as it should be.

Rounding out my list to the top 25: 11) Public Enemies 12) An Education 13) Up  14) In The Loop 15) Moon 16) The Cove 17) Humpday 18)District 9 19)Adventureland 20) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 21)Capitalism: A Love Story 22) Duplicity 23) The Hangover 24) A Single Man 25) Anvil! The Story of Anvil