MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

If I Had A Ballot Today

We’re just about nine months into this year and we’ve got the three months ahead of us that are usually best for “awards movies.” This has been a solid, if not exactly terrific, first nine months of the year and I thought it would be nice to honor some of the films and performances we’ve enjoyed so far. What follows is not a prediction, but an opinion of which films and actors I think deserve some accolades, although most of them will likely be supplanted in everyone’s awards charts once October starts.

So if I had a ballot today, these would be my picks in the major categories:

Best Picture
In Bruges
Miracle at St. Anna
Paranoid Park
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I wouldn’t exactly be out on a limb in saying that there is pretty much no chance any of these films to be nominated this year. Black comedy, animation, experimental and Spike Lee usually don’t appeal to Academy voters.

Paranoid Park is still my favorite film of the year; all of the films are on there because they combine poignancy, innovation and subversion so well. But Paranoid Park is just my kind of film, the one where I’m not just a passive observer but an active participant. When Gus Van Sant releases his second film of the year, Milk, in the coming months, I’m worried that this skating masterpiece will be a footnote. It is the culmination of years of experimentation for Van Sant, working out all the kinks from his previous three Bela Tarr homages to craft something that is languid, but potent. It isn’t just a film for the art-house crowd, but one that I feel most young people will be moved and energized by. It is the best film in years that deals with the teenage experience.

I’ve written about my love and admiration for all of these films in earlier columns and I’m starting to notice a cult following starting for In Bruges. People who aren’t cinephiles like you and me are starting to take notice of Martin McDonagh’s jet black film, which is something like a British Grosse Pointe Blank with a harder edge.

If these were the best five films I’d see all year, I’d say it’s been a pretty good year.

Best Director
Woody Allen – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Jonathan Demme – Rachel Getting Married
Spike Lee – Miracle at St. Anna
Tarsem – The Fall
Gus Van Sant – Paranoid Park

So, I substituted Tarsem and Jonathan Demme because they both do something incredibly difficult and incredibly different from one another. One eschews beautiful images for something harsher and familiar while the other crafts some of the most jaw-dropping pictures that I’ve ever seen. Neither one is an achievement to be taken lightly.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but by using a cinematographer other thanTak Fujimoto for the first time in forever, Jonathan Demme is able to completely alter his style. Declan Quinn is his DP this time around and their fluid camerawork aids both the story and the acting; it helps us feel close to the action, almost like we’re voyeurs watching something that we really shouldn’t. It makes us feel like part of the family at times and like we’re intruding at others. Demme creates an atmosphere of naturalism and realism that makes the tears that much sadder and the laughs that much more satisfying. The pace is deliberate, but Demme knows exactly what he’s doing; he’s made us guests at this wedding.

I just caught up with Tarsem’s The Fall recently and while it is not a perfect film, it is one of the most memorable I’ve seen this year. The storyline is something you’ve seen before or read before countless times, but it’s all in the way it is told. The film follows an injured stuntman crafting a story for a little girl as they both convalesce at a hospital. The story he crafts is entertaining, but it is those beautiful images; they are like works of art. If you were to play this film on a loop on your HD television set, it would be like you had a fluid painting on your wall. These images – of an elephant swimming through the ocean or a giant piece of fabric in the desert that is absorbing blood – are not without context and that gives them power. Film is a visual medium and Tarsem understands that and gives us one of the most intense visual experiences ever put on celluiloid.

Best Actor
Michael Angarano – Snow Angels
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Redbelt
Colin Farrell – In Bruges
Richard Jenkins – The Visitor
Gabe Nevins – Paranoid Park

It was actually really difficult to come up with the names on this list because this is one of the rare years when there were actually more interesting female performances than male ones. Notable on this list are two young actors – Nevins and Angarano – who gave performances in films that came out earlier this year. Both of them are the centers of their film but neither has a “showy” role. Their jobs in their respective films is merely to observe, react and be the glue which holds the film together. It doesn’t sound like a particularly difficult job, but it really is and both of these young actors pull it off with aplomb. Maybe it’s because they’re not ten years older than the characters they’re playing like most actors playing teens, but they both felt real and relatable. Performances like theirs are overlooked all of the time, so I felt it was only right to give their due and I hope to see them in movies for a long time to come.

Farrell gives a career-best performance in the kind of role that Robert Downey, Jr. did so well in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang: the perpetual screw-up. He’s a damaged murderer that is not only hilarious, but endearing.

Jenkins and Ejiofor are the only ones on this list that might actually have a chance at the Oscars, although their prospects look pretty slim. Both have given years of terrific performances without getting nearly enough credit. Ejiofor is someone I’ve admired since seeing him in Dirty Pretty Things and he delivers another nuanced and sturdy performance as a karate instructor in David Mamet’s Redbelt. He elevates the film with his acting.

Jenkins is a veteran character actor, giving solid performances in films like Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees, but I always remember him as the shrink in There’s Something About Mary; he returns to the office after sneaking out in the middle of a session and mumbles with crumbs spilling out of his mouth, “that’s…very interesting.” He also has some of the best lines in this year’s Step Brothers and has been doing solid work sinceHannah and Her Sisters. In The Visitor, Jenkins is in the lead role – a broken man in academia) a popular subject this year with Dennis Quaid in Smart People and Ben Kingsley in Elegy) who manages to find something worthwhile living in his apartment. It’s the kind of role that could easily become too depressing, but Jenkins is able to keep it alive even while remaining still and even. He never allows us to feel sorry for him and allows us to root for him, even when he is cantankerous. It’s a great performance.

Best Actress
Kate Beckinsale – Snow Angels
Rosemarie DeWitt – Rachel Getting Married
Rebecca Hall – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky

I think all of these actresses should have a decent shot at grabbing a nomination this year, as all of them are absolutely superb. DeWitt and Hathaway are both excellent, but one performance does not work without the other. They player sisters that are yin and yang and they both bring so much depth to the roles. As they fight each other in differing passive-aggressive ways and we try to discern who is trying harder or who is being the better sister, we find ourselves caught in the middle. And it’s a testament to both actresses that they are able to make the audience side with both of them at different times, like they are both pleading their cases.

Rebecca Hall is the sun around which everyone else orbits in Woody Allen’s latest gem. The other actors get the showier roles, but she is the one who changes the most from beginning to end. It’s almost like she’s the private detective in a mystery about life and she tries to investigate stealthily. She is able to take an ordinary role and make it something that is both a Woody Allen staple and something completely different.

Sally Hawkins and Kate Beckinsale play completely different characters. Hawkins is one that is always looking on the bright side, taking each problem life throws her way in stride, while Beckinsale plays a character that is utterly beaten down by life and the problems weigh on her like a ton of bricks. One is always smiling and the other is always frowning, but both give sterling performances that go deeper than the surface. In both cases, the tragedy and the comedy are profound.

Best Supporting Actor
Javier Bardem – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Bill Irwin – Rachel Getting Married
Ben Kingsley – The Wackness, Transsiberian
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Matteo Sciabordi – Miracle at St. Anna

I tried really hard to fight against the grain and leave Heath Ledger out, but the truth of the matter is that he turned in an excellent performance that cannot be denied. It is not his fault that his posthumous nomination has become something of a political mission for a lot of fervent fanboys and girls. He is the best thing about Christopher Nolan’s film, utterly unforgettable and you can’t take your eyes off him. While the rest of the film might be ridiculously overhyped, his performance is something that you cannot be let down by. It was incredibly ballsy to take on a role that had most recently been played so magnetically by Jack Nicholson, but Ledger doesn’t borrow a single note; he crafted something completely unique from scratch and it is great work.

Sciabordi and Irwin are two that I talked about quite a bit just a few weeks ago. Sciabordi will most likely be forgotten in a couple weeks, which is a shame. But I’m sure Irwin is someone we’ll be talking about for weeks to come. And Javier Bardem did his usual great work and we’ll all probably start taking him for granted soon.

Ben Kingsley has had an incredible year so far. In The Wackness, Transsiberian, Elegy, and War, Inc. he has given us different accents and different characters. He has become the go-to guy for any filmmaker that wants to give his film a little injection of legitimacy. Sir Ben has been so good for so long and this year, he seems to be enjoying himself more than ever and I just wanted to salute him for that.

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Elegy
Scarlett Johansson – Vicky Cristina Barcelona,
The Other Boleyn Girl
Alexandra Maria Lara – Miracle at St. Anna
Emily Mortimer – Redbelt, Transsiberian
Debra Winger – Rachel Getting Married

Mortimer is really the lead in Transsiberian, but she does excellent work in Mamet’s Redbelt as well. She is an incredibly actress whose praises aren’t sung often enough, turning in devastating performances in role after role. The incredible thing about Mortimer is her ability to take a character that seems a little light or trite and make them something meaningful, human and beautiful.

Johansson was someone who I had written off after a string of disappointments – The Nanny Diaries still haunts me – but who really returned with a vengeance this year, turning in two killer performances in two different periods. She has a flawless accent as the more humble Boleyn sister and she is hilariously off-center in her third collaboration with Woody Allen. She seems to do her best when she doesn’t have to carry a movie on her own, making her the very definition of a supporting actress; but I have a feeling we’ll see her take the next step towards carrying a movie very soon.

Alexandra Maria Lara has one scene in one location that last about six minutes, where she gives a terrifying monologue as Axis Sally, but it is one memorable scene. If Beatrice Straight can win an Oscar for five minutes of screen time, then Lara should at least get a shot.

It’s nice to see Debra Winger again, as the matriarch who haunts her daughters like a living specter. In just a few short scenes, with the smallest of gestures, she is able to give a full portrait of a woman who manages to be both resented and necessary.

And Penelope Cruz gives one of the most vibrant performances of the year in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and one of the most somber ones in Elegy. She has been on a roll lately, after terrific turns in The Good Night and Volver, showing that she has an incredible range. She has always been excellent in her Spanish-language roles, but now she is also turning into one of our best imports as well. Her first scene with Bardem and Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, when she alternates between Spanish and English but never changing her demeanor is a little masterwork.

– Noah Forrest
September 24, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon