MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

My Oscar Ballot 2009

Ever since I was a kid, I made my own ballot of Oscar picks based on the films that I had seen. For some reason, the Academy didn’t take my choices very seriously. But what I think of when I fill out my personal ballot is that there are probably one or two that actually count that look like mine; that we can’t just discount the Academy as some kind of collusive organization that meets secretly to decide who gets nominated and who wins.

Every voter has an equal voice and when a film or an actor wins an award it is because the largest amount of people in that body of voters thought that that was the worthiest film or actor. What this illustrates is a belief I’ve long held, especially when it comes to movies: just because the most people think it’s so, that doesn’t make them right. A few years ago, the majority of the Academy felt that Crash was the best film of the year and I feel comfortable saying that I believe they’re wrong.

But I do believe there’s merit in finding out what the popular opinion is, just as I feel there’s merit in sharing with you one non-voter’s opinion. We’ll find out what the Academy liked on Thursday. And feel free to send me your ballots and maybe we can see what the MCN Academy thinks.

Best Picture
A Christmas Tale
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Paranoid Park
Revolutionary Road

I think one of the things I’ve found most surprising about this awards season has been the lack of Oscar buzz for Revolutionary Road outside the acting categories. For me, it was one of the most incisive and evocative films I saw all year, giving the brilliant actors wonderful material to work with and creating a world that feels lived in, real and sad. When you’re making a film about characters that aren’t inherently likable, it is paramount that the audience can at least relate. And when the two leads fight with one another, it is sure to hit home with anyone who has gotten into an argument with their partner and taken things too far. Closer mined similar territory — to better effect in my opinion — but Revolutionary Road is not as much about those confrontations as it is about what is building up before the steam is finally released.

I’ve written at length about all of these films because, well, they were my top five films of the year. I obviously would wish that A Christmas Tale could win Best Picture since it was my favorite film of the year, but of the movies that I actually think will be nominated, I’ll be rooting for Benjamin Button which will most likely be joined by the deserving Slumdog Millionaire (the likely winner), Frost/Nixon, Milk and the juggernaut that is The Dark Knight.

Best Director
Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In)
Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale)
David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road)
Gus Van Sant (Paranoid Park, Milk)

Almost the same as the Best Picture list, with Alfredson subbing in for Wall-E’s Andrew Stanton, for the simple reason that I think animation has so many little “directors” on each frame of film that it’s hard for me to imagine rewarding just one person. I guess Stanton probably had the original vision and passed that down to the animators, but each little finished frame has to first be presented to him before he can do anything about it. The other, probably more important, reason is that I think the Best Animated Film category rewards Stanton sufficiently as the director of that film and I think Alfredson’s unbelievable confidence and command of pace and atmosphere should be rewarded.

Ultimately, I don’t know who I would give this award to if these were the nominees. Part of me would give it to Van Sant for the two miraculous achievements he gave us this year, two films for the ages that are so different and so similar. Another part of me wants to give it to Desplechin for the thousands ideas in each scene, for the temerity it took to create a film like A Christmas Tale, for the sheer genius of the staging and the imagination it took to put it all together.

But I think that eventually I would have to settle on the great David Fincher, who has inherited Kubrick’s exacting nature but thankfully not his work schedule, putting out films at a much faster clip that the master did. There are the inevitable comparisons in the storyline between Button and Forrest Gump, but I think it’s the perfect way to show how much a director can really do and how Fincher’s film is richer, darker, and less sentimental. One of the most brilliant choices Fincher makes is in the musical choices; Gump shorthands the emotional moments by using music from the time periods it covers, while Button eschews such tactics, allowing the characters to grow naturally without pop songs to explain how they feel. The entire film is like a moving painting, a testament to Fincher’s visual acuity, but the surprise is how this “cold” filmmaker has made a love letter. Sure, it’s a love letter to death, but a love letter nonetheless.

Best Actor
Benicio Del Toro (Che)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
Sean Penn (Milk)
Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Each one of these films is so surprising in different ways. It’s not surprising that these talented actors would give such remarkable performances, but the choices they made are astonishing; not a single one of them takes the easy way out and all of them allow silence to play a large part in what they do. Like any great artists, these five men know which notes to leave out, not just which ones to elevate. But most importantly, they allow – and enable – the other actors around them to have their moments to shine.

Del Toro, Pitt, and Jenkins are all interesting to me in their respective performances because most of their films are spent with them reacting to outside influences. Del Toro, in particular, is interesting in this regard because he is the ostensible leader of the revolution, yet most of the time it seems that he reflective, passive even, when he’s with his comrades – especially in the second half of the film. When he goes to the U.N., however, he’s a firebrand, unafraid to preach his opinions as loudly as he can, but then he goes back to the jungles and fades into the bushes as long as his asthma stays in check. It’s a brilliant performance that elevates the film.

Similarly, Pitt plays a character who has this fascinating issue of aging backwards, yet he doesn’t dominate the conversations when he shares a scene with Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton, we just watch his eyes as he reacts to them. And Jenkins is wonderful at playing the quiet man that is dying inside, suddenly brought to life by having to care for people and having a passion brought into his life.

But Penn gave the performance of the year. I’m not usually a big Sean Penn fan, to be honest; I find most of his work to be over-emotive and feigned rather than organic and true. I know I’m in the minority when I say that, but I think his performances in Mystic River and I Am Sam especially prove that point; in those films, he makes nothing but easy choices, playing up the big moments when underplaying them would have been more realistic and powerful. But in Milk, I finally saw the great actor that everyone has been raving about all these years. He hits some unbelievably high notes in this film by bringing a warmth that I didn’t think he had in him; he really makes us care not only about him, but about his cause, by showing us how much love he has for people. And it’s really there, not just in the words he says, but in the way Penn genuinely smiles. That’s the most impressive part: it feels sincere and therefore it feels true.

Best Actress
Angelina Jolie (Changeling)
Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
Meryl Streep (Doubt)
Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy)
Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road)

This was the most difficult category. Usually it’s tough to find five female-centered films at all, let alone five worthy performances in those films, but this year I had a bunch of great performances I had to leave off the list! Sally Hawkins, Rebecca Hall, Anne Hathaway and a few others would have made the cut in any other year. I hope in the future to always have such an embarrassment of nuanced lead performances by talented actresses.

Picking a winner, however, is an easy choice. I’m not usually a fan of just giving someone an award based on past work, but it’s really a crime that Kate Winslet doesn’t have an Oscar. Jolie has one, Streep has two and I feel confident that they’ll get at least one more each. Michelle Williams was absolutely astounding in Wendy and Lucy and I know that she’ll be back to this party consistently throughout her career – she’s that good. Melissa Leo is excellent in Frozen River, but the truth of the matter is Kate Winslet is just better in Revolutionary Road. To give her the award for this film isn’t just to give her an award she should have won by now (I probably would given it to her for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Little Children), but you’d actually be giving it to her based on the merit of the performance.

What Winslet pulls off in Revolutionary Road is no easy task. There are moments when you’re astounded at how cruel and selfish she can be, but you also completely see her point of view, saddened by how trapped a woman could be by the circumstances of her time. Winslet’s high-energy performance is full of manic panic, her voice dropping and rising octaves sometimes in the same word. From the second Winslet shows up on screen, her body language is such that we know April Wheeler and we know that she’s unhappy. When the film reaches its shocking climax, it’s definitely a surprise, but because of Winslet’s performance we almost feel like we should have seen it coming because she’d been leaving breadcrumb clues all throughout.

Best Supporting Actor
Bill Irwin (Rachel Getting Married)
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Emile Hirsch (Milk)
John C. Reilly (The Promotion, Step Brothers)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)

The John C. Reilly thing might be a shock to some of you, but I think that comedy doesn’t get its fair shake at the Academy when it’s done right and Reilly really did it right this year. In The Promotion, he is not only hilarious as the Canadian out to win that supermarket job, but he brings a poignancy and sadness to a character that we spend the majority of the film hating. In the underrated Step Brothers, Reilly’s facial expressions provide half of the film’s laughs and with Will Ferrell doing his usual histrionics, Reilly brings a softer note with his matter-of-fact delivery. The bottom line is that Reilly just plain old made me laugh and I think he deserves some applause for that.

Bill Irwin was the one person in Rachel Getting Married that I thought would be getting non-stop awards buzz after I saw it in September. But when the film came out, it seemed that his joyous performance was ignored, which is a real shame because he accomplishes so much with a little material. He is playing the eternal optimist, which naturally doesn’t appeal to the Academy that loves to reward “dark” characters, but he’s also playing someone with darkness in his past. The hurt that Irwin’s character feels is alluded to a few times, enough so that we can sense his happiness is a façade and his smile is his protection from being hurt. Irwin is able to convey the feeling that if he stops smiling for even a moment, he’ll just break down.

But the winner for me would have to be Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s true, of course, that Hoffman is given a wonderful character that gets to deliver booming sermons and have raucous arguments with Meryl Streep, but Hoffman is such a fantastic actor that he plays it so perfectly. There is never a moment when Hoffman goes too far or yells too loudly, but he also doesn’t underplay it either. What he does so damn well, though, is make the audience feel the title; he makes us doubt him. And the way he does it is not really through the words he chooses or the way he says them, it’s the way his face looks when he doesn’t say anything at all; it’s the way in which Hoffman’s face literally gets red when something potentially shameful arises or the way we can see his teeth clench inside his jaw. Hoffman’s performance is such a marvel because he says everything we need to hear without saying a single thing.

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Toni Collette (The Black Balloon)
Anne Consigny (A Christmas Tale)
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)

Okay, so you’ve heard plenty about three of these candidates, so let’s focus on the two you haven’t heard a lot about.

Toni Collette is simply one of the best actresses we’ve got, consistently taking ordinary roles and imbuing them with something incredible and offbeat. I’m talking about her performances in The Sixth Sense, About a Boy, In Her Shoes, Little Miss Sunshine or Towelhead. In so many of those films, she’s playing the “mom” character or the “sister” or whatever. But what she does is make them real, alive, believable; simply put, she does what an actor should do and that is bring characters to life. She’s almost too good at this because without intending to, she steals every movie she’s in. The Black Balloon is no exception. It’s a small Australian film where she plays the mother of two kids: one is severely autistic and the other is well-adjusted. The way that Collette reacts to the outbursts of both her children is so well-done, so believably real that it makes the whole film soar to a place that transcends the “disabled kid” genre, especially because Collette never lets us feel sorry for anyone in the film because her character sure doesn’t. She is at once heartwarming and commanding, loving but firm; in other words, she makes us believe that she is the actual mother of these children. No small feat.

The person that I would give this award to in a heartbeat is Anne Consigny as the eldest Vuillard child in A Christmas Tale. Mathieu Amalric is fantastic as always as the middle child that Consigny’s character has inexplicably banished from the family, but it is the mystery of Consigny’s performance that is the key to the whole film. Her character Elizabeth is so callous to her younger brother that it stings and she is so overprotective of her son that it has driven him mad. But why does she act in this way? We see her go to therapy where a Hollywood film would explain away all of Elizabeth’s doings, but it doesn’t help us glean any further knowledge.

But Consigny leaves hints for us to ponder, like the way she smiles at her brother despite her supposed hatred of him or the way she never raises her voice despite her anger. Consigny plays it so that Elizabeth is constantly even-keeled, forever speaking in the same hushed tones and never allowing herself to feel…anything really. Ah, but when her brother is around, he is able to coax her into raising her voice a smidge. It is a dynamic performance because despite what I have been able to learn about it from the first three viewings, I still am not sure I have quite grasped the entirety of her character and I don’t think I ever will. But I’m excited to continue revisiting the film to better understand Consigny’s character.

– Noah Forrest
January 21, 2009

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

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily 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