Archive | February 2013

2012 lct awards: lead acting nominees

The hits keep on coming! Now that we’ve got Best Picture out of the way, it’s time to get into the acting nominees for 2012, starting with the lead performances. It was an interesting year for film – probably one of the weakest since 2005, in fact – yet a somewhat weak overall year can make for a more exciting lineup in some of these categories. Plum roles that would’ve gone easily unnoticed in years with plentiful bombast get their due. Here are my choices for Best Lead Actor and Actress.

Best Lead Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty – After becoming the queen of ubiquity in 2011, it was only fitting that Chastain would limit herself to essentially one fantastic performance in 2012. And it could very well top anything she’s done previously. As Maya, the hard-nosed, tunnel-visioned CIA operative who orchestrated the takedown of bin Laden, what she lacks in flat-out character background development, she more than makes up for in a restrained, fleshed out turn as a woman of some mystery. We don’t know anything about Maya’s upbringing, personal life or future, but scene after scene proves that less is more – she’s full of character with a simple framed face shot – we don’t need an hours-long biography to understand her.

Ann Dowd, Compliance – One of the many annual unsung performances, Dowd managed a few critical notices but couldn’t quite muster up the Oscar nod. And it’s a real shame – the character actress’s turn as Sandra, a needy and gullible fast food store manager who learns the levels of depravity she’s willing to reach, is a revelation. It takes a character actress to truly understand what it means to make the most of each scene. And placing her front and center provides a big payoff. We’re both disturbed and understanding of this woman – her transgressions are unnerving, yet she sells them in a completely believable fashion.

Rachael Harris, Natural Selection – Often relegated to goofy background roles or providing comic relief on cable countdown shows, Harris has eked out a mini-career as someone you probably recognize but could never name. And with the indie comedy Natural Selection, she, like Dowd, is placed front and center to great effect. As a barren Christian woman who seeks out her husband’s potential long-lost biological son, she’s at times endearing and heartbreaking and at others frustratingly human. She injects her signature comedy throughout the sometimes serious film, but its her instinct and ability to evoke an audience feeling makes her one of the best of the year. A completely ignored gem, to be sure.

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook – Too much too soon for the young starlet? A Best Actress Oscar can often be a curse for a young twentysomething. Yet, with a killer instinct, a great attitude and a commanding screen presence, Lawrence shows off her intense star power in Silver Linings. Her interplay with older co-star Bradley Cooper is totally believable, and her self-assured performance, most notably going toe-to-toe with heavyweight Robert de Niro is an incredible feat for a virtually untested actress. Her uneven character makes for a sometimes harrowing but mostly intriguing task, and she more than delivers on David O. Russell’s oftentimes promise of bringing out great performances in his films.

Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild – Sneaking her way into this audition despite her age turned out to be the best decision Wallis will probably ever make. The then-five-year-old understandably wowed her future director to land the lead of Hushpuppy, a girl who “lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” And the result is a stellar youth performance – hell, it’s stellar by adult standards, and the voters in the Academy obviously agreed, dubbing her one of the five best of the year. And I tend to agree – she’s completely lived-in, with nary a spot of green in sight, despite her incredibly young age. Her interplay with her equally inexperienced co-stars marks what could be an illustrious few years for the young actress.

Best Lead Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln – Call me a band wagoner, but it can’t be helped. One of the best in the biz certainly turned in one of the best of the year as Honest Abe. Injecting his own unique interpretation into the canonized character, Day-Lewis proves that not every real-life portrayal has been completely done – not even the arguably most iconic person in American history. From his killer monologues and perfected carriage, to his back-and-forths with screen wife Sally Field and a host of noted actors playing advisors, Spielberg’s latest star commands the screen without ever leaving a scene free of chill-inducing moments.

John Hawkes, The Sessions – As a long-time fan of the Minnesota native, it was no surprise that I enjoyed the one-time character actor’s continued ascent into leading man status. As a real-life man seeking out a sex surrogate to experience the act for the first time, Hawkes is relegated to his back for the entirety of the movie. But his physical limitations never hinder the performance – his take on the witty gentleman at the film’s center is kindly, realistic and nicely played. He’s not a total treacly saint – and when playing someone in an iron lung for a Hollywood film, that’s no easy feat.

Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower – As the leading star of an adaptation of my all-time favorite book, the former Percy Jackson star had big shoes to fill. And much to my surprise, he more than excelled in the spot. Playing wallflower Charlie, Lerman’s doe-eyed stares and introverted line deliveries suggest his adulthood may produce some impressive work if given the right circumstances. Outplaying his accomplished adult co-stars proves that transcending age even in a film geared toward young people is a feasible task.

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master – Boasting one of the most committed performances in recent memory, Phoenix proves that often times a little bit of real-life kook can make for an incredible and fascinating actor (for more, see the unending genius of Melissa Leo). As disturbed Freddy, Phoenix goes all out in his portrayal of a frantic, desperate and confused soul. And playing against straight man Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Phoenix’s gutsy performance sticks with you and provides a whopping amount of awardworthy clips. Not to mention the physicality of the role, from every tic and tremor to every devilish grin and spasm.

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths – As someone who admittedly didn’t warm up to Sam Rockwell initially (until his slam-dunk performance in 2010’s Conviction proved me wrong), I didn’t expect to come out of what became one of the best comedies of the year thinking he’d be best in show. Yet, combining his bombastic personality and intense acting chops, he gave one of the best comedic performances of the year. As Billy, a dementedly gleeful best bud to co-star screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell), he steals every scene with psychopathic delight, giving us full-on hilarity while making us feel just a little bad about it knowing the root of his personality. See: comedy can be a challenging genre, despite what critics may say!

100 best songs countdown: #100-96

First thing’s first – perhaps this list should be renamed to read “The 100 Favorite Songs of Luke,” as this is not meant to be a prestige list that rolls out the significant and influential tracks through the decades. In fact, there will likely be a few of those that managed to sneak on here, but truth be told, this is purely a list for fun that encompasses my musical favorites from the 20th Century and beyond. Feel free to judge my inferior tastes as much as you like. Meanwhile, I’m going to begin counting down my all-time favorites with Nos. 100 through 96…

#100: “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, from …Baby One More Time (2000) – Let’s just get the embarrassing one out of the way first. Of course, I kid – that should read “embarrassing one(s),” as I’m not afraid to admit I fall victim to a catchy pop top 40 song now and again. Though her public persona has fallen into some obscure antics in recent years, there’s no denying the panache and vigor that was brought along with that coming out of one Ms. Spears. “…Baby One More Time” is incredibly catchy, from its slam-dunk hook to its accompanying dance moves. Turns out that though she’s logged an impressive number of hit singles since, the best Britney is still the original.

#99: “People C’mon” by Delta Spirit, from Ode to Sunshine (2008) – How about an abrupt shift in tone? Well hopefully that’s what you had in mind, as indie rock band Delta Spirit follows ably in Britney’s wake. My No. 99 all-time favorite is “People C’mon,” which blends a scorching vocal with an ever-building track that I defy you to sit through without caterwauling along. The pure grift and emotion on display in these vocals is what sets the band apart from its plentiful fellows. Get as emo as you want, but if you don’t have the lyrics and the impressive vocal chops to back it up, what you got to be so emo about?

#98: “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal, from Seal II (1994) – Not a single person who was young in the ’90s doesn’t recall a slow dance to this song. Though it had somewhat dark lyrics, the success of Seal can be tracked to this awards-magnet ditty. And it’s assuredly the pinnacle of his discography (though his later single “Love’s Divine” comes the closest to meeting the greatness of “Kiss from a Rose”). The looming, husky vocals, combined with the bombast of the chorus made for a perfect 1990s R&B slow jam.

#97: “Open Your Heart” by Madonna, from True Blue (1986) – She’s reinvented herself countless times, and though her edgy 90s transformations are perhaps the most memorable, there’s something about that original pop star in the making that came out with hit after hit – and had 100 times more charisma and uniqueness than most cookie cutter young ladies of the present. “Open Your Heart” has a catchy hook and serves as a great dance anthem that transcends the often goofy tendencies of ’80s music.

#96: “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, from Sherry & 11 Others (1962) – My two favorite eras of music are the R&B/soul singers of the ’90s and the Motown and pop of the ’60s. And what screams ’60s music better than Frankie Valli and his impossibly on point falsetto? There’s definitely a silliness factor with this song, but its enduring appeal as a pop standard has made it indelible amongst its fellow 1960s boy band compadres.

2012 LCT awards: best picture nominees

Sure, the Oscars have announced their nominees, but what of the LCT Awards (est. 1995), my own personal choices in the world of film, television and music? Well, to be honest, these nods were announced a few weeks ago… but via the blog, not so much! So, I give you the 2012 entrants on my best-of list, starting with the first few film categories on my roster.


Let’s start with this – a gem of the early-year festival circuit that clearly made enough of a lasting impression to land itself in position for a few Oscars. In my book, it’s one of the five best of the year, no question. From its moving father-daughter central story to its incredible performances from complete newcomers, this little experiment in filmmaking came with a huge payoff. It’s visually stunning on a maddeningly tiny budget, and though the actors weren’t SAG-sanctioned, they brought depth many card-carrying members probably wish they could.

Next up is Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien effort, The Hobbit, which has found its lion’s share of detractors with which I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there’s less source material being stretched into the same amount of screen time, but the visionary efforts are still there 10 years on – Jackson has a knack for telling a fantastical story like no other working today. And it helps that he has a very able lead in Martin Freeman to head up the cast. This first entry in a new trilogy is thrilling, delightful and pleasing to the eye. And while some felt it dragged on a bit long, I left the theater with no such feelings. A brilliant effort in many regards. Ignore what you’ve been told about it – it really is one of the five best of the year.

Speaking of divisive films, The Master was no stranger to oddly placed ill will. A harrowing glimpse at the inner workings of a charming cultish following through the eyes of a demented protagonist – what doesn’t sound like film gold in that description? Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal, and the interplay with his co-lead Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in many scenes gut-wrenching. With a slick editing technique, an artistic approach in the screenplay and triumphant performances from the lot, it’s perhaps just misunderstood – and will surely develop into a future classic. Seeing it felt like encountering a truly cinematic experience.

Sometimes there are movies that you’ve been waiting years to see. Based on a book that I cherished when reading, once I heard Perks was at last being adapted into a film, I held onto skepticism to the bitter end. I just didn’t think the casting was right, and I didn’t see how a movie would be able to capture the unique nuance within an atypical high school story. Oh, how wrong I was. Thanks to some careful work from its young stars and a faithful adaptation from the author himself (not to mention his own directing debut), The Perks of Being a Wallflower easily landed itself on the “best of” list and thankfully caught the attentions of many viewers who didn’t necessarily come of age around the time of the book’s release – the true mark of a teen fiction adaptation done right.

Can’t say I’m not diverse in my choices, I suppose. A strong central performance can do an awful lot to bolster a film’s overall estimation. And with excellent pacing and an able director, Zero Dark Thirty outdid its helmer’s predecessor by injecting a degree of tension unmatched in any of the year’s blockbuster action movies. Chastain is a revelation as the central amalgamation, Maya, and her female co-stars, large parts and small, make for commanding screen presences in what is pigeonholed as a “masculine” genre. Not to say that the men, namely Jason Clarke, don’t have a great deal of authority over the material. It’s an all-around success in what could’ve been a retread. A gamble, to be sure, but with a big payoff in the form of a masterful, suspenseful, and satisfyingly uneasy premise.

making a comeback…

Yes, promises have been made, broken, made again, broken again even more quickly… and yet, I simply can’t stay away. The film blogosphere is too wonderful and too attractive a mistress to shake. So I’m embarking once more, hopefully for a longer-term future, on Journalistic Skepticism. It’s been far too long, and I need a fix. So blogging, I have returned to you with every intention of sticking around this time… for the kids. But where did we leave off? It’s been many months since my last post, and the Oscar nominations have come and gone. So perhaps a fresh start in 2013 is just the ticket! Here’s what you may be seeing on ye olde blog if you stick around – Valerie is begging you to!

*Madly In Advance Oscar predictions for all the major 2013 races – I’m know clairvoyant, to be sure, as evidenced by my attempt last year that yielded many nominations for The Great Gatsby and Gravity… second time’s a charm?
*2013 reviews – it’s a slow start to the year, but a write-up of the McCarthy/Bateman vehicle Identity Thief is coming your way.
*Continuations of old favorites will ensue – perhaps an addition or two to the Merylfest series (see right-hand column) and some resolution to my top 100 films revamp (see left-hand column).
*And boldly going where this blog hasn’t gone before – Music; namely, an all-time top 100 songs countdown, for whatever that’s worth, entertainment-wise.