Sunday, February 15, 2015

Best of 2014, part 2: Acting categories

Ugh, you guys, I am so awkward when I have to praise acting. I don't know why. But I just get flustered and start tossing out adverbs willy-nilly and suddenly I'm chaining hyperbolic descriptions together like I'm trying to get a Mortal Kombat combo breaker. Since I've got approximately four hundred thousand billion things I need to be doing (that's a rough estimate), I'm going to try brevity again, and I think it could work in my favor this time. Rather than flopping around like a wordy fish at a typewriter, we'll get in, get out, and still get me out in time to go grade homework.

Today (he says, like he didn't just post something earlier this morning), we're going to pal around with some good performances (as you may have guessed from my mini-rant up there). So let's get to it! I'll include youtube videos when I can--just so you can get a little taste of what I'm blathering on about.

Best Actor
5. Dan Stevens-The Guest
Dan Steven's charismatic psychopath in The Guest is essentially perfect, establishing the whole film's tongue-in-cheek air without once making it seem like he's winking at the camera. Bonus points for those multiple, hilarious angsty scares when he's alone.
Warning--this scene is a little violent. That being said, "hey, what the fuck, David?" is probably the funniest line of the year.

4. Jack O'Connell-Starred Up
I legitimately cannot wait to see how far O'Connell goes in his career, after the one-two punch of this and Unbroken, with '71 still coming up. He plays this shifty little convict like a bear that you have to tame--he's an animal, but if you're careful enough you might get to cuddle him later.

3. Jake Gyllenhall-Nightcrawler
Speaking of animals, Gyllenhaal's character in Nightcrawler is hardly even recognizable as human. He's slimy, insistent, soulless--he'll parrot catchphrases and act charismatic, and it almost works until you have a look at his dead little eyes.

2. Michael Keaton-Birdman
File this under 'things I never knew possible.' Michael Keaton--a performer I've never really warmed up to--completely tossed my image of him out the window with this totally committed, effortlessly comedic, surprisingly deft star performance. The whole film hinges on Keaton--if he messes up for even a second, the whole film derails. But he doesn't, and the film is much better for it.

1. Ralph Fiennes-The Grand Budapest Hotel
Really, just the best and funniest work of the year. Fiennes is so light on his feet, shooting his mouth off like a chain-gun but never losing the air of a consummate gentleman.

Honorable mention: David Oyelowo-Selma. Sure, I could go on about mimicry and inhabiting the spirit of a modern legend and all that, but it's more impressive that Oyelowo isn't just doing those things. He makes a real man first--flawed, a little rough around the edges, but real--and forces the audience to reconsider what they know.
(This scene made it on my 'best scenes of the year' list, and I only just found it, so have at.)

Best Actress
5. Reese Witherspoon-Wild
It says something about how great a year for women in film this was that Witherspoon only comes in fifth. She totally subverts her normal star persona, going gritty, low-key, and honest. It's terrifically moving work.

4. Scarlett Johannson-Under the Skin
Scarlett Johannson continues to remind us why she's famous--there was a scary period between Lost in Translation and The Avengers in which she seemed to do nothing but slum it--but for the past few years she's knocked it out of the park. And Under the Skin continues this trend; she's scary and inhuman, until she's not. The transformation is seamless and unsettling.
(This isn't the best clip, but it's about all I could find that wasn't a big spoiler.)

3. Essie Davis-The Babadook
People never get their due for acting in horror movies, but why not? It's demanding, exhausting work that requires you to scream, contort, and push yourself to the edge. Davis does all that and more, tracing one grieving woman's realistic descent into madness.
(Or check this one out, if you don't mind being linked to a scarier scene: ) 

2. Marion Cotillard-Two Days, One Night
If you're a big fan of hard-hitting Belgian realism, chances are you're already over the moon about this performance. If you're not, then take this as a prompting to go check out Cotillard's performance (which should still be in theaters). She's luminous (like I said yesterday), and elevates her entire film. I *almost* gave her first place here, but...
(Note: this is the only scene I could find on here w/ subtitles, so...)

1. Rosamund Pike-Gone Girl
What can I say? Amazing Amy has a hold on me. Although the film begins with her disappearance, Pike's character hangs like a cloud over the film, dominating its every impulse. She cycles between creepy and sympathetic like a perfectly coiffed Terminator. All that would be fine in and of itself, but what really sells this performance is how outright funny it is. Little eyebrow cocks, glacially cold stares--this girl gets it.
(also not a great clip, but see above, re: avoiding spoilers)

Honorable mention: It seriously kills me not to include Pei-Pei Cheng's gorgeous, expressive work in Lilting. Seriously--see that movie. Really, this year was such a great year for leading women on screen. So I'm going to give shout-outs to Jenny Slate in Obvious Child and Julianne Moore in Still Alice, because I can, and because they'd absolutely have been in my top 5 in a different year.

Best Supporting Actor
5. Patrick D'Assumcao-Stranger by the Lake
It can't be easy playing the tubby, self-conscious guy in a movie about a bunch of perfectly muscled, well-tanned characters at a nude beach, but D'Assumcao does it, and just happens to steal the show in the process. He's a little sad and a little sympathetic, bringing a desperately needed voice of reason to the whole proceedings.
(no clip--who'd have thunk that an unrated little french movie wouldn't have a ton of clips on youtube?)

4. Chris Pine-Into the Woods
I'm as surprised as any of you, but when you're in a movie with Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick, and you're the MVP, I've got to recognize it. And so it goes with Chris Pine, displaying hitherto unimaginable comedic skills and a silky smooth singing voice.

3. Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher
Ruffalo is pitch-perfect in this, daintily tiptoeing down a slippery slope from being the rational character to becoming the one most willing to sell out for money. It's absorbing, immersive work that reminds us that just because an actor can make it *look* easy doesn't mean that it actually is.

2. J.K. Simmons-Whiplash
Sure, you can argue it's a one-note performance (which I'm not sure I'd do), but if it is, Simmons sure plays one hell of a note. As a sadistic band director, Simmons knows just how much to play any given moment, vacillating between wild-eyed anger and sleazy manipulation. His energy drives the whole film--and given that the film moves like an out-of-control freight train, that's saying a lot.

1. Edward Norton-Birdman
It's a blast to see Edward Norton having fun with his notorious hard-to-work-with reputation by playing a notoriously hard-to-work-with actor. It's a performance of staggering vanity--which is perfect for the movie. He's hilarious, grimy asshole who reveals hidden little patches of vulnerability whenever he needs to get his way.

Honorable mention: Ethan Hawke's low-key, quietly moving work in Boyhood.

Best Supporting Actress
5. Emma Stone-Birdman
Glad Emma Stone finally got the nomination that's been coming to her since Easy A. In Birdman she shows off all her best qualities again--sassiness, comedic timing, the ability to turn dramatic on a dime, and eyes the size of dinner plates.

4. Uma Thurman-Nymphomaniac
Lars Von Trier's latest isn't much of a success, so it's a breath of fresh air when Uma romps onto the scene, chewing the scenery, eyes bugging out wildly, and invigorates the whole thing for a glorious 10 minutes. She's just crazy enough to make the already ludicrous film lurch to life.

3. Patricia Arquette-Boyhood
It's no small thing to age twelve years in the span of one performance, but Patricia Arquette manages it with grace, dignity, and heart. She brings understanding to a complicated, potentially difficult-to-like woman, shading her with all the right neuroses and warmth to make us love her in spite of ourselves.

2. Jillian Bell-22 Jump Street
Althought 22 may not hit the heights that the first installment did, Jillian Bell's performance is a thing of zany, dead-eyed genius. She rails off one-liner after one-liner, her face barely changing amid the barrage of painfully funny insults. I'd have no problem if this woman (and/or this character) showed up in every movie from now on.

1. Agata Kulesza-Ida
Playing the cynical foil to the titular nun, Kulesza is the rough, jaded heart that pushes blood through Ida's chilly veins. She's a mess of contradictions--simultaneously tough and brittle, happy and sad, full of life and ready to die. It's messy, ininhibited work that aims high and effortlessly reaches that goal.

Well that's that! I'd like to say that the next installment for tomorrow, but given Mondays and Tuesdays are my busiest days, I can't make any promises. So we'll continue either tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on how much work I can force myself through.

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