MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

If I Had a Ballot

I have to be honest; I really haven’t been following the Oscars as closely as I usually do. I’m not sure why that is, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s because of two big factors: 1) 2009 was one of the worst years for movies in recent history and 2) there are ten nominees for Best Picture this year.

When I first heard that the nomination field for Best Picture would now include ten films, my initial reaction was “I don’t care.” It turns out, however, that it’s really made a big impact on me. With the possible nominees doubled, it makes Tuesday morning a lot less exciting.

Truthfully, I’m a lot more anxious to see the season premiere of Lost than the announcement of the Oscars. I don’t see any reason to wake up early on Tuesday to catch the nominations live because any movie that I could imagine being on the final list will probably be there. There is very little drama to this Oscar season, especially since no matter who gets nominated, it’s a two horse-race: Avatar versus The Hurt Locker. If anything, this should be the year the field was narrowed to three nominees.

But, as always, I did feel moved to make my own ballot of what should be nominated this year in the major categories. Again, this is not what I predict will happen on Tuesday morning, but what I believe should happen – and never would happen in a million years.

Best Picture

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
In the Loop
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
A Serious Man
Two Lovers
The White Ribbon

This is the same as my top ten list. You can read my reasons for why these films are worthy right here.

I think three of these movies have a chance at a nomination on Tuesday (The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man), but the rest don’t have any real shot. The White Ribbon, perhaps, could sneak in there but will probably find most of its love in the foreign film category.

So that’s six movies that I find worthy, but will probably be shunned, even in a field of ten. So with ten nominees, we’re not likely to see more worthy films nominated, but even less. Films like The Blind Side and District 9 and Invictus and Star Trek are being bandied about as possible nominees. I mean, really? How does the inclusion of these films do anything but weaken the Oscar brand? Is the Academy trying to get “cool points” with the kids? Kids aren’t watching the damn show anyway. You really think that just because District 9 and Star Trek are going to be nominated that your average teenager is going to sit through a three-and-a-half hour show hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin? If you believe that, I’ve got a great talk show at 10pm on NBC to sell you…

If I were picking the winner here, then I think it should be Inglourious Basterds, which to me is far and away the best film I’ve seen this year. Although, I’d be just as happy to see The Hurt Locker walk away with it.

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Francis Ford Coppola (Tetro)
Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon)
Lukas Moodysson (Mammoth)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)

The word I would use to describe each of these filmmakers and their work this past year: control. Each one of these films is tightly constructed and each movement of the camera and every piece of blocking is so carefully and thoughtfully put together with an eye towards exaggerating whatever it is we’re supposed to be feeling. It is skillful manipulation using every cinematic trick in the book.

For Bigelow and Tarantino, that skill is used in the service of making us feel suspense mostly, although Tarantino is clearly interested in adding levity to the proceedings. For Haneke, he’s making us feel unease. For Moodysson, it’s compassion and pity. And for Coppola, it’s all of the above really.

As great as Tarantino’s film is, I think the more difficult directing job falls to Bigelow and Coppola. Bigelow had less resources and makes a film that looks just as expensive and is equally thrilling. I walked out of The Hurt Locker saying that it was the most suspenseful film I’d seen since Clouzot’s The Wages of Fears (and of course, Clouzot was referenced on a marquee in Inglourious Basterds).

But Coppola didn’t have great resources either and he made a film that doesn’t fit into any specific genre. It’s a coming of age film, sure, but not a conventional one. The tone changes swiftly at times, but it never feels jarring or out of place. The great thing about Tetro is that it’s a volatile film, one with so many emotions bubbling and churning underneath the surface, but we feel like it could explode at any time, just like a bomb in Bigelow’s film but without having the luxury of an actual explosion.

Then Moodysson and Haneke are so great too and their films wouldn’t work nearly as well if you replaced them with any other director. Both of their films are uniquely them and are reminders of why we love them. I would probably give the nod to Bigelow, just barely. But what she accomplishes is really one hell of a feat.

Best Actor

Matt Damon (The Informant!)
Alden Ehrenreich (Tetro)
Joaquin Phoenix (Two Lovers)
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)
Seth Rogen (Observe and Report)

Okay, I know which one you’re looking at and wondering if I’m kidding. And no, I’m not kidding, Seth Rogen gave a terrific performance in Observe and Report. We’ve seen more and more portrayals of bi-polar disorder in television and movies as it becomes a more prevalent disease in our country. Knowing more than a few people afflicted with this illness, I can safely say that however exaggerated it is, Rogen’s performance is one of the most accurate depictions I’ve seen. Sure, most people with this disorder don’t go to the extremes that Rogen does in this film, but it’s actually kind of plausible if their case is severe enough.

And that is what elevates Jody Hill’s film above the norm; the fact that all of the humor and all of the darkness is grounded in something that is kind of plausible. And Rogen does an excellent job of selling the material, making us believe it and making us – gulp – root for him to succeed. Because of Rogen’s acting job, we get caught up in the mania. It’s really quite an accomplishment and one that will get ignored because of the genre it operates in.

Having said that, there is no way that Rogen or anybody else on this list could possibly compete with Jeremy Renner, who gives the best performance of the year bar none. Renner has shown flashes of brilliance before in films like North Country and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip (kidding), but in The Hurt Locker he is just a force of nature. He’s magnetic and powerful and when he is on the screen, we cannot keep our eyes off him. The way he moves, the way he never blinks, the quickness with which he rifles through the parts of a bomb with a flashlight stick out of his mouth, the single-minded focus he has while on the job…all of it is contrasted with his tenderness when talking with the kid that sells DVDs or the good-natured ribbing he shares with his teammates. Here we have a guy who epitomizes two ideas spoken about in Full Metal Jacket: 1) he’s got the thousand-yard state and 2) the duality of man.

I couldn’t stop thinking, as I was watching The Hurt Locker a second time, about what Joker says in Full Metal Jacket when a superior officer asks him why he would have “Born to Kill” written on his helmet along with a peace symbol. And Joker says, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir. The Jungian thing.” Jeremy Renner as William James is the embodiment of that “Jungian thing.” He’s a “wild man” as a superior officer tells him, but he also cares deeply about his men; it’s just that he can’t help himself when he gets in the moment. He sees a problem and he wants to solve it. He’s a maniac, but he’s a hero and those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I am in awe of Jeremy Renner’s performance in The Hurt Locker. If anyone else wins this year, it would be a travesty.

(P.S. I love love love Jeff Bridges always and forever, he’s one of my very favorite actors and he gives a fine performance in Crazy Heart, but he shouldn’t win this year. He should have won for Fearless or The Big Lebowski, but just because he was robbed before doesn’t mean he should be given a “make-up” Oscar this year. He will give great, worthy performances in the future, but you cannot right a past wrong, you just have to let it go.)

(P.P.S. If Matt Damon gets nominated, which he should be because he deserves it, it will only be his second acting nomination and the first since Good Will Hunting. Think about that. He’s one of the best young actors we have and he’s only been nominated once, thirteen years ago, and not even for one of his five best performances. Good job, Academy!)

Best Actress

Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist)
Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience)
Gabourey Sidibe (Precious)
Michelle Williams (Mammoth)
Robin Wright (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee)

Firstly, the winner should be Robin Wright, end of story. She gave the most layered, complicated and convincing performance by a woman this year. Of course, she won’t even get nominated by the geniuses at the Academy, who probably didn’t even see her movie. Secondly, Michelle Williams has to be one of the top five best working actresses today; she is always choosing interesting material and is consistently doing the unexpected in her roles, allowing herself to be reserved and subtle. If either of these two women is attached to star in a film, I know that because of their performances alone, the movies will be worth watching.

Sidibe gives a really great performance in an overrated film. She is quiet and believable despite some of the unbelievable aspects of the story; she grounds the film in something approaching reality and she makes us feel compassion. I find her performance to be more varied and interesting than Mo’Nique’s.

Charlotte Gainsbourg gives one of the most complicated and brave performances of the year in Antichrist and she should really get some love for what she was willing to do. She not only lays herself bare physically, but emotionally as well. The repetition in her screams and her quiet march towards a psychotic break provide some kind of emotional truth in a surreal film. She is the physical manifestation of a psychological idea: depression. And she makes us feel it.

I’m sure some people will think it’s ridiculous or deliberately controversial for me to put Sasha Grey on my ballot because she’s – gasp! – an adult film star. I’ve only seen a little bit of her adult work for, ahem, research purposes, but I can safely say that her “performances” in those films are nothing like her performance in Soderbergh’s film. She makes The Girlfriend Experience worth watching, not just because she is familiar with sex, but because she doesn’t over-emote. She seems utterly in control of her situation until she’s not and then we see her break down a little. It’s a quietly strong piece of work. Now, whether that has to do with working with a master like Soderbergh or because she’s truly a good actress…we’ll see if she makes another “legit” film.

(Note: Carey Mulligan is another one who gives a good performance in an overrated film (An Education). She is very winning and charismatic in a role that is rather one-note. We can’t help but like her and whether that’s a testament to her skills as an actress or just a great smile…we’ll find out when we see her next few films.)

Best Supporting Actor

Peter Capaldi (In the Loop)
Vincent Gallo (Tetro)
James Gandolfini (In the Loop)
Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

I really wanted to find a way to give a nomination to Brad Pitt for Inglourious Basterds, but I just couldn’t find room for him. But make no mistake, the engine that is that film does not run without Pitt as Aldo “The Apache” Raine. He is crucial to the movie. I also wish I could find room for Michael Fassbender, who might just be the next Daniel Day-Lewis, able to transform himself from film to film. Hunger to Inglourious Basterds to Fish Tank, I’d like to see another actor try that out.

But I digress.

This is clearly Waltz’s Oscar to lose. He does so many weird things in his performance as Hans Landa; the way he giggles when he’s negotiating with Aldo at the end of the film; the Cheshire cat smile when he tells Shoshanna to wait for the cream on her strudel; the way his face transforms when he tells the dairy farmer to point out where the family is hiding under the floorboards; the way he kisses the lipstick mark left on the napkin by Bridget Von Hammersmark. It’s an eccentric role filled with a lot of these types of eccentricities that Waltz brings to the table. Everything he does is exaggerated, but not to the point where it feels out of place. It’s the perfect over-the-top villain for one of the most perfect over-the-top films. I would say he should be the automatic winner…

…if it weren’t for Peter Capaldi’s hilarious and masterfully vulgar performance as Malcolm Tucker in In the Loop. Find me another actor who can find the poetry in a line of dialogue like this: “Within your ‘purview’? Where do you think you are, some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!”

I’m sorry, but that’s an impossible line to say let alone make it sing. Capaldi’s slimy character is so perfectly constructed and it’s because of the way Capaldi uses the tone of his voice like an instrument. It’s a performance that makes me smile just to think of it. When he and Gandolfini square off and throw profanities at each other like grenades, it’s one of my favorite scenes of the year.

I’d probably still give the award to Waltz, but Capaldi is really close. And he should be nominated at least. If we can throw a nomination to Robert Downey, Jr. for a one-note performance in Tropic Thunder, then I think we can give one to the much worthier Capaldi.

(Side note: Anthony Mackie and Vincent Gallo are integral to their respective films. Without their performances, the leads would be lost. They do exactly what a supporting performance should do: support.)

Best Supporting Actress

Penelope Cruz (Broken Embraces)
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds)
Vinessa Shaw (Two Lovers)
Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia)

This is a tough award for me to pick a winner. I think Kendrick is the only one who has a shot at getting nominated in this category (Streep will probably be nominated in the Best Actress category, but let’s face it, she was not the lead role in that film) and the winner will most likely be Mo’Nique, who was fine. I admired her performance the first time I saw it, but on a second glance, it’s really a completely monotonous portrayal except for her last scene, which she’s great in. I don’t think it’s Mo’Nique’s fault either, I just think the way it’s written doesn’t give her much of an opportunity to do anything other than what she does.

I think I would probably give the award to Cruz, for her second straight win in this category. Her performance in Broken Embraces is almost like three performances in one because she runs the entire gamut of emotions and is pretending to be a different person depending on who she’s with and whether or not the camera is running. We understand almost instantly why these two men would fight over her and obsess over her. Cruz imbues the role with sincerity and heart and she’s unbelievable.

She barely beats out Shaw for me, who on the second and third viewing grows stronger in my estimation. I loved Two Lovers the first time I saw it, but it’s a much more complicated film than even I gave it credit for. Gwyneth Paltrow is great as the firecracker character thatJoaquin Phoenix pines for, but Shaw has the more difficult role. She has to represent security and fragility masked in strength. She has to seem like the more “boring” option for Phoenix, but Shaw is far from boring. It seems to me that these still waters run deep, she just doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve like Paltrow and Phoenix is too self-absorbed to notice. Shaw is truly a revelation in the film and it wasn’t apparent on the first viewing just how good she was.

Noah Forrest
February 1, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-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