Sunday, February 21, 2016

Best of 2015, part 2: Acting Categories

Actors are weird. Funny, I just had this conversation today, and it's worth re-hashing--actors are weird. They flounce around and toss breakaway glass at fake walls and sometimes they pretend to bugs into their ears or something. And then we all gather around and watch and say catty things about how you can totally see the pregnancy she's hiding, the filthy trollop. And then I have to come here and write things about pretty people, and life is so hard you guys. So let's do our best to write about pretty people. It's a rough job, but someone's gotta do it. Y'know, instead of doing my *actual* job today. I too make sacrifices for my art. Which means I should probably win an Oscar next weekend (I am so sick of The Revenant's Oscar campaign. If Elizabeth Taylor could see this she'd never stop throwing up.)

Anyhow, I will attempt to wax effusive about a gaggle of interesting pretty people who made funny faces in a movie once, and we'll all be better for it. I'll link to Youtube videos when possible so as to prove that the movies I'm talking about aren't ones I made up.

Check it all out after the jump!

Best Actor
5. Abraham Attah-Beasts of No Nation
There's an entire world of gravitas thrust onto poor little Abraham Attah's shoulders, but this plucky pre-teen makes one heck of an impression in his debut performance. Running the gamut from sassy little kid to traumatized war victim to child soldier and back again, Attah never fails to sell the Conrad-esque journey into night that he's been given.
(I'd link to something, but all the videos showcasing his performance involve unpleasant sexual connotations and/or machetes to the head, so I'll just let you look for yourself if interested.)

4. Jack O'Connell-'71
When O'Connell popped up in this category last year, I said that I couldn't wait to see what he did next. Turns out I didn't have to wait too long. O'Connell's a bit of a companion to Attah in this category--both are people entirely too young forced into situations that are a bit too much to cope with. O'Connell spends most of his movie getting shot at, knifed, brutalized, and being otherwise inconvenienced, and he sells the blind panic of each moment. Keep your bear attacks and your silly raw bison liver--this is the best survival performance of the year.

3. Michael Fassbender-Steve Jobs
A zany, laser-focused banshee howl of a performance. Fassbender as Jobs is a singular, shark-like entity, casually ripping everything apart in his path as he searches for some elusive mode of perfection.

2. Matt Damon-The Martian
The number of plates Damon has to keep spinning here is incredible--he has to keep the audience's attention during long stretches in which he's the only living thing on screen, he has to sell the kind of intelligence that would keep his character alive, he has to tread the impossibly thin line between comedy and drama on which this movie giddily dances, and he has to make it look fun to farm your own poops. It's an effortlessly charismatic star turn whose difficulty shouldn't be ignored simply because he makes it look easy.

1. Michael B. Jordan-Creed
Why are we not hearing more about this performance? Not only is it a dramatic (heh) knockout, it's an unbelievable physical transformation. Considering how this movie was filmed (plenty of long takes, wide shots etc.), Jordan couldn't hop around the ring looking pretty and letting his stunt double take the hits. The guy essentially *became* a boxer, standing toe to toe with an actual heavyweight champion (who, fun fact, knocked him out during filming). It's a no-holds barred (I know, wrong sport, but heh nonetheless), physically demanding, totally committed performance.
(Here's a boxing scene so you can see him actually boxing with an actual heavyweight champion:

Honorable mention: Ian McKellen's decades-leaping, lived-in work in Mr. Holmes

Best Actress
5. Juliette Binoche-Clouds of Sils Maria
A tunneling, labyrinthine work of warped identities. The distance between Binoche's character, the character her character is playing, the women in her character's life, and Binoche herself is impossible to parse. It's a performance of near infinite layers--years and years of emotional baggage collapsing in on itself like a neutron star.

4. Nina Hoss-Phoenix
An elemental, shattering performance--it's crazy that this one is only #4, but it's been a mind-bogglingly good year for good actressing. Hoss is a frail ream of skin stretched over the chasm between now and then, a being torn between re-creating who she was and losing who she's become. The final moments of the film, in which her past and future converge on one crystal moment is lightning.
(Note: spoilers for Phoenix, but it's the only clip w/ her in it, and the best one besides:

3. Saoirse Ronan-Brooklyn
I think I could watch Saoirse Ronan's face for a million years straight and never get bored. As a new world's worth emotions flit across her features, Ronan grabs her film, re-fashions it in her own image, and tosses it back out into the night with a smile on its face.

2. Charlotte Rampling-45 Years
Rampling's entire film rests on the crescendo of her performance, and can Rampling crescendo with the best of them. It's a slow burn from beginning to end, quietly and delicately revealing each new crack and tear in a previously solid relationship as the days tick on. The final moments of the film, in which she quietly attempts to conceal her total breakdown in front of an audience are something of a miracle. Like I said when I put 45 Years itself in the #2 spot yesterday, I cannot believe that Rampling isn't taking #1. And yet...

1. Rooney Mara-Carol
To paraphrase the movie itself: what a strange girl, flung out of space. I don't think I'm overstating it when I say this performance *might* be one of my favorites, if not my favorite, of the past 5-10 years. There's such unbelievable subtlety to what Rooney Mara is doing. Just like William Carlos Williams, so much depends on the flutter of an eyelash, or the way a wrist moves, or the tiniest twitch of a smile. There's the tentative joy of self-discovery in this performance--we're watching a woman take flight, only to realize that the places she's going may be clouded with ugliness. It's really amazing work.
(note: the Academy nominated her in best supporting actress, but let's not kid ourselves--this is a two-lead movie.)
(note note: of course the majority of clips on Youtube from this movie are just her making out with Cate Blanchett, because the Internet is a terrible place. So here's a clip that showcases the quiet and subtlety:

Honorable mention: Cate Blanchett as Mara's experienced, wounded foil in Carol.

Honorable mention #2: this year, was totes bonkers as far as leading ladies were concerned. My first draft of this list had 23 women on it, and whittling it down was an exercise in gut-wrenching futility. So shout-outs to Brie Larson in Room, Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, Cate Blanchett in Truth, Blythe Danner in I'll See You in My Dreams, and any number of fantastically talented performers.

Best Supporting Actor
5. Emory Cohen-Brooklyn
A surprise entry on my list--I didn't know he was going to be here until after I'd written all the other entries, but he fits. It's an adorable, charming performance that underlines what supporting should mean--without him, neither the movie nor Saoirse Ronan's lead turn would be able to vibe in the way they do, and that's something special.
(the clip I picked for Saoirse Ronan is actually the one that made me decide to stick him in here, so just go watch that one again and smile at his goofiness.)

4. Idris Elba-Beasts of No Nation
An ugly combination of charisma, predatory kindness, and dead-eyed insanity. Elba never tries to humanize his ruthless Commander--and yet it happens anyhow, in the most perverse and uncomfortable ways.
(Note: this clip has a character who walks around naked, so NSFW:

3. Richard Jenkins-Bone Tomahawk
A breath of kindness and humanity in a movie that desperately needs a touch of Xanax. Jenkins takes the bumbling fool archetype and transforms him into the slow-on-the-uptake heart around which the movie revolves.

2. Sam Elliott-Grandma
A one-scene wonder--Sam Elliott has a small part in this movie (of which I'm not the biggest fan) and nevertheless decides to take the whole damn thing for himself. In his 10-ish minutes, he fashions an entire movie-within-the-movie, evoking decades of history and bitterness, letting it out in languid, carefully timed little bursts of aggression before retreating behind a smile and a bushy mustache.
(no clip)

1. Nicholas Hoult-Mad Max: Fury Road
 Hoult may take the prize for most unexpected turn of the year--what among any of his early work signalled he was capable of this kind of manic intensity? It may have been Charlize Theron to walk away with most of the acting kudos but Hoult gets most of the film's heavy lifting. He has to go from wild-eyed child soldier to broken exile to lovesick little warboy to reformed hero in the space of two hours--and he has to sell most of these things with actions rather than words. It's a totally bonkers performance--totally committed, totally convincing, and totally capable of selling what is admittedly the film's most sudden change of character. Hoult's moved up on my radar, and I hope to see him retaining this newly discovered talent in the future.

Honorable mention: Jason Statham's profoundly stupid braggadocio and self-confidence in Spy.

Best Supporting Actress
5. Miranda Hart-Spy
An unsung role (which will be a recurring theme in this category...) from a relatively unknown (in the states) actress--and she nails it. Even though her co-stars are firing on all cylinders in much showier parts, Hart uses the standard 'supportive friend' role to steal scenes away with her dead-pan can-do attitude.

4. Kate Winslet-Steve Jobs
I never realize how much I miss Kate Winslet on screen until I'm seeing a movie with her, and then I remember I want to be just like her when I grow up. She's the perfect foil for Fassbender's Steve Jobs, providing an exasperated calm center of a storm in a whirling dervish of a movie.

3. Mickey O'Hagan-Tangerine
A completely underrated wallflower of a part that had me more involved than anything else in a completely absorbing movie. Mickey O'Hagan's ditzy hooker with dreams is simultaneously hilarious and a little heartbreaking. One minute she's giving the barn-burning "I know a lot about the music industry, I myself sing" line, and the next minute she's pretending not to care that she got banned from her own motel room. It's gorgeously modulated stuff, and it makes me sad that no one's talked about her at all.
(seriously, the only video of her even on Youtube is an Italian one about her being in a dress. Just watch this movie on Netflix. It's absolutely worth your time. Skip to 55:46 for a preview, watch the bus scene, and just revel in everyone on screen.)

2. Rose Byrne-Spy
So Rose Byrne is pretty obviously the funniest person working in the movies these days, right? Seeing Byrne vamp around as an unholy fashion model/supervillain hybrid provided one of the purest shots of joy I had all year. She's like a foul-mouthed racehorse with Asperger's, and it's delightful.

1. Kristen Stewart-Clouds of Sils Maria
Come at me, world! Kristen Stewart kicks ass, and I don't care who knows it. Her tetchy, snaking chemistry with her co-star Juliette Binoche infers years and years of late nights, thankless demands, and voices unheard. Watching her navigate the dense and thorny waters of a script that refuses to give anyone anything is a revelation. In case you think I'm being silly--it's worth noting that Stewart became the first American actress to win the French equivalent of an Oscar for her performance in this movie. She's the real deal, and I'm excited to see where she goes next.

Honorable mention: Joan Allen's effortlessly warm presence in Room.

That's it for today (tonight?)! Tomorrow, time and sanity permitting, I'll keep rolling on with directing and screenplays. Until then, let's all digest the fact that I just gave theoretical oscars to Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart. And I liked it. I liked it!!

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