Every year there are a few flicks that fall by the wayside once the nominations are pared down to five. So in honor of those movies and performances that didn’t quite make the tops of the year, here are the ones that just barely missed the cut:
Two things first come to mind when thinking about #48 on my list of the best films of all time – what ever happened to Michael Douglas‘ rebudding career in the mid-1990s, and when will Annette Bening finally win that elusive Oscar? The American President features an epic pairing of great thesps, the clearly underused Douglas, who’s never been better than in this movie, and the criminally under-awarded Bening, who’s not surprisingly a great female lead for this romantic comedy/drama. Buoyed by the deftly political writing of Aaron Sorkin, who took his affinity for presidential fiction all the way to the long-running NBC series The West Wing, this film is terribly witty and an endearing thinking person’s romance. Along with the powerful performances from its leads, it features fun sidekick turns from Martin Sheen as the president’s best friend, Michael J. Fox as the on-edge advisor, and always-fun-to-watch Anna Deavere Smith as the no-nonsense co-advisor Robin to Fox’s Louis.
As any reader of this blog knows, I’m a big proponent of any comedic stylings that Meryl Streep is willing to offer. In fact, I’m always the first to say that she should really do more of it (take a look at Death Becomes Her and Adaptation for more proof). And what little of the subset of comedy (animated voice acting) she’s done, I’ve been pretty satisfied with it. And here’s the first example of it that I’ve delved into here at Journalistic Skepticism – 2009’s quirky and sharply-written retro comedy Fantastic Mr. Fox. When I first heard about this adaptation, I was thrilled; Roald Dahl’s novels are so uniquely disturbing and absolutely magical at the same time, that they’re just begging for film adaptation. And much to my utter happiness, movies like Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches each had their own uniquely original aesthetics and translated rather beautifully, if completely derangedly, to the big screen.
Now onto the individual Streep performance. Surrounded by drab and strangely beautiful “set design,” the stop motion visual genius that surrounds the character of Mrs. Fox sort of steals the show. Not to mention the silly side characters (namely Jason Schwartzman‘s Ash and Wally Wolodarsky‘s Kylie) that render Streep’s den mother fairly one-dimensional. So maybe you come for the Streep goodness, but you leave remembering everything but. Now don’t get me wrong, there probably is no more soothing and sigh-inducing voice in the biz (well, except for maybe the therapist-esque vocals of Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins – I really think they missed their callings, there), and she does an admirable job with the limited material she’s given. But it’s clear that this one’s a boys show. And they do great work with it, so in this case, no harm no foul.
As for the rest of the flick, I honestly have never been the hugest fan of Wes Anderson’s work – sure, Royal Tenenbaums was nice enough, but it’s hard for me to appreciate work that is quirky for quirk’s sake alone – but I certainly think that Anderson may’ve found his calling in animated semi-kid flicks. Let him adapt as many Dahl books as he’d like (personally, I’d like to see George’s Marvellous Medicine next), because this deftly written script shone in a year when well-written and well-executed animated movies were of the norm.
Meryl’s Performance: B-
The Film: A-
And now we finally reach the last of the 2009 LCT Awards nominations, with the ever-important film categories (including the two new screenplay categories). To get a glimpse of the TV, Music, and TV Movie/Miniseries categories, click on the corresponding links. And eagerly await the announcements of the winners in just a matter of weeks!
You’d be hard pressed to find a more deserving showcase piece for two talented actors than Dead Man Walking. Telling the true story of Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) and her spiritual advising for Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a convicted killer on death row, the movie follows Prejean’s struggle to decide whether or not to stick it out with the grisly, neo-Nazi Poncelet. It’s drama at its best, with Sarandon and Penn giving the best performances of their respective careers. Penn is terrifying and yet strangely human as the cold-blooded killer, and he commands most scenes he occupies with his disturbing thoughts on society. Sarandon is believably moving as her character struggles with her faith, and her friends and family question her decision to counsel the prisoner. Along with the showpieces from the two stars, it features great supporting turns from character actresses Margo Martindale and Roberta Maxwell, as Sarandon’s fellow nun friend and Penn’s shut-in mother, respectively.