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.
At last! We’ve come to my favorite part of the year — the part in which I give out my annual “best ofs” for the past year. I’ll be revealing the nominees in a series of posts, and the winners will be posted once the official ceremony happens in a couple weeks. (Yes, this is serious, legit stuff, folks.) We’ll start with the categories in the Miniseries or TV Movie subset. Alongside the individual nominees is a history of each competitor at the LCT Awards — how many times they’ve been nominated and won, if any:
Grey Gardens (HBO) – 6 nominations
Into the Storm (HBO) – 4 nominations
Little Dorrit (PBS) – 9 nominations
Prayers for Bobby (Lifetime) – 3 nominations
Taking Chance (HBO) – 3 nominations
Best Lead Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie
Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance (1st nomination)
Kenneth Branagh, Wallander (1st nomination)
Brendan Gleeson, Into the Storm (1st nomination)
Ryan Kelley, Prayers for Bobby (1st nomination)
Matthew McFadyen, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Best Lead Actress in a Miniseries/TV Movie
Drew Barrymore, Grey Gardens (2nd nomination, 0 wins)
Claire Foy, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Jessica Lange, Grey Gardens (1st nomination)
Anna Paquin, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2nd nomination, 1 win)
Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for Bobby (6th nomination, 0 wins)
Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries/TV Movie
Tom Courtenay, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Ken Howard, Grey Gardens (1st nomination)
Eddie Marsan, Little Dorrit (2nd nomination, 0 wins)
Andy Serkis, Little Dorrit (2nd nomination, 0 wins)
Goran Visnjic, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (3rd nomination, 0 wins)
Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/TV Movie
Marcia Gay Harden, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (1st nomination)
Sue Johnston, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Janet McTeer, Into the Storm (1st nomination)
Judy Parfitt, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Jeanne Tripplehorn, Grey Gardens (1st nomination)
Best Original Score in a Miniseries/TV Movie
Howard Goodall, Into the Storm (1st nomination)
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (1st nomination)
John Lunn, Little Dorrit (1st nomination)
Rachel Portman, Grey Gardens (4th nomination, 0 wins)
Marcelo Zarvos, Taking Chance (1st nomination)
The music categories are up next, so stay tuned!
The Nominees: Barring the ultra-typical choice of Javier Bardem as both nominee and winner (which is still one of the most haunting and well-crafted characters I’ve yet seen), I stepped a little away from the ordinary in this particular category. Most of the Oscars’ choices I just didn’t understand the appeal to — Philip Seymour Hoffman was pretty one-note in Charlie Wilson’s War, Tom Wilkinson was majorly over-the-top in Michael Clayton, and Casey Affleck seemed pretty overrated for his performance in The Assassination of Jessie James. As for the rest of the crew, I opted for two forgotten performances in fairly lauded films — Dano and Sanders — and two forgotten performances whose films were just plain forgotten — Downey, Jr. and Zahn.
Revisions: I suppose the only one I’d consider nixing would probably be Zahn, though I think he gave a completely out-of-the-ordinary performance as the withering-away prisoner of war in Rescue Dawn. As for a replacement — I thoroughly enjoyed Hal Holbrook’s bit part in Into the Wild; Simon Pegg would be nothing without his other half, Nick Frost, in Hot Fuzz; and it surprises me that with the Juno awards attention that J.K. Simmons got completely overlooked.
The Nominees: Okay, folks, I’m proud of this category. Along with the Oscar-nominated turns from Cate Blanchett, the best Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, and Saoirse Ronan, the seemingly most surprisingly nuanced child performer of this decade, in Atonement, I managed to sneak in some great supporting performances in genre films that wouldn’t otherwise have gotten attention. For the action movie The Bourne Ultimatum, Joan Allen was great as the tentative yin to Matt Damon’s yang. For the romantic comedy Waitress, Adrienne Shelly was fantastic as the dorky best friend with a heart of gold. And for the children’s fantasy film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Imelda Staunton was devilishly delicious as the uber-cruel professor from hell.
Revisions: Well as opposed to committing too much to any particular group of 5 ladies, I’ll simply mention the other honorable ones that missed out on the nomination in 2007: Sigourney Weaver in The TV Set, Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, Leslie Mann in Knocked Up, Allison Janney in Juno, Evanna Lynch in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Kristen Thomson in Away from Her.