Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Month in Review: January 2011

For the second month in a row, brought to you actually following the "one award per film" rule.

Best Film (Theaters): Blue Valentine
It's not always an easy watch (I'd venture to say that it rarely is), but Derek Cianfrance's portrait of a dying relationship benefits from superb acting from its leads and understated visual style. Gosling and Williams have such brilliant chemistry that you equally believe the moments of charm and discord. A scene where Gosling's Dean confronts Williams' Cindy at work is almost unbearably intense and raw in power, and it's just one reason that both of them deserved Oscar nominations.

Runner Up: Another Year

Best Film (Rental/DVD): Cabaret
Some aspects haven't aged well, but Bob Fosse's adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway musical has more than a few things going for it that work brilliantly. Sublimely directed, and featuring knockout performances from Liza Minelli and Joel Grey, this look at a seedy nightclub and its inhabitants takes a bold look at political upheaval, ethnic tensions, and sexuality with uncommon depth, without overdoing it.

Runner Up: The Vanishing

Best Director: Christoper Nolan - Insomnia
Proof (to me, at least) that he's a better director than writer, this remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name ranks as one of the best of Christopher Nolan's career. As is typical of Nolan films, the performances aren't the centers of attention. Rather, it's the story-telling, which Nolan does here with great skill. He doesn't go out of his way to ramp up the intensity of the story, and instead lets it build gradually through its little twists and turns. It may lack the "go go go!" intensity of, say, The Dark Knight, but Nolan more than makes up for it with restrained style and flair.

Runner Up: Bob Fosse - Cabaret

Best Male Performance: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu - The Vanishing
As one of the most outwardly normal killers ever put on screen, Donnadieu creates a frightening portrait of a man with two wildly different sides. To most, he's a mild mannered professor with a wife and two daughters. To Rex (Gene Bervoets), however, he's the man who kidnapped his girlfriend three years ago at a gas station, for reasons unknown. And as director George Sluizer and Donnadieu reveal more about the character, both his sinister and admirable sides, the character becomes more fascinating than Rex's search for his missing girlfriend. It's a disturbingly controlled performance from Donnadieu, and it fits with the film's understated tone to brilliant effect.

Runner Up: Ian McKellan - Richard III

Best Female Performance: Lesley Manville - Another Year
While I may not always be as enamored with Mike Leigh's work as many others, it's hard to deny that he tends to get excellent work out of his actors, and Another Year is no exception. Manville's Mary can be annoying, but the actress keeps her from being unbearable. You might occasionally want to slap her and tell her to get her life together, but not to the point that you want her to leave. Manville makes every scene count, and her jittery, on-the-edge delivery and body movements work wonders with the dialogue she's given (and whatever she improvised). And if there was any doubt in my mind that this was one of the great female performances of 2010 (and there have been a lot, many of which I only saw last month), the film's final shot erased it. People can talk about Christopher Nolan missing Best Director all they want, but Manville's lack of nomination is hands down the snub of the year.

Runner Up: Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Best Screenplay: Woody Allen - Hannah and Her Sisters
When Woody Allen is good, he's reeeeeeeeally good, as evidenced by his screenplay for his 1986 film. Mixing humor and drama seamlessly, Allen keeps what is essentially the story of middle class New Yorkers talking in different places for 100 minutes moving briskly without short changing any of his story threads (though one does wrap up a wee bit too tidily). It's not as strong as Manhattan or Annie Hall, but it ranks up there with the best of his work, which is saying something considering how prolific the man has been over his career (his 41st film, Midnight in Paris will open the 2011 Cannes Film Festival).

Runner Up: Dogtooth

Best Ensemble Cast: The Sting
Runner Up: Hannah and Her Sisters

Best Cinematography [TIE]: Yorick Le Saux - I am Love/Benoit Debie - Enter the Void
While the visions of their directors and the executions of the screenplays may have had their significant short comings, both Le Saux and Debie deserve credit for their thrilling photography, which easily ranks among the best of 2010. And even when both of their directors left them shooting dragged out sex scenes, both of these men created beautifully composed images. And when their directors' visions were actually under control, we were given some of the best camera work and lighting in the past few years, and maybe even the decade.

No comments: