Dec 15, 2008

2008 in review: Part 2: The Awards

Just to be clear about this, these aren’t predictions, I’m useless at them so IF I attempt them it certainly won’t be this far out. These, then, are my own personal picks for 2008’s finest cinematic achievements.

Best Picture
See 2008 in review Part 3... soon

Best Actor
Mathieu Amalric: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
John Cusack: Grace is Gone
Ricardo Darin: XXY
Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood
Ryan Gosling: Lars and the Real Girl

WINNER: John Cusack
Cusack’s performance as a father who can’t bring himself to tell his daughters that their mother has been killed while serving in the Iraq war is something of a revelation. He’s always a welcome and charming presence on screen, but since Say Anything Cusack has, in the main, played variations on Lloyd Dobler. Here he’s stripped of that suave persona, playing a man who finds it difficult to say anything, let alone the right thing. He doesn’t look like himself either, hidden behind NHS specs and a cheap haircut, Cusack disappears into this fine performance.

Best Actress
Pauline Acquart: Water Lilies
Mahrai Anderson: The Daisy Chain
Ines Efron: XXY
Polina Filonenko: Everybody Dies But Me
Kristin Scott Thomas: I've Loved You So Long

WINNER: Pauline Acquart [Centre] / Ines Efron
An outstanding category, in which I could easily have gone for a five-way tie. It’s an interesting list this year; only one performance in English and only one by an actress past her 25th birthday. The winners gave probably my two favourite performances of the year, full stop.

Ines Efron, a 23-year-old Argentinean actress, definitely had the tougher role, as Alex, the confused 15-year-old hermaphrodite at the centre of XXY. Efron gives a quiet and subtle performance that hinges as much on what’s behind her eyes as on anything else.

15-year-old Acqart, similarly, doesn’t have any big ACTING moments in Water Lilies; instead her most indelible moments come in silence and are powered by her physical performance. Waiting for the girl she’s got a crush on; the frustration when she pulls away just before a kiss; the final, cathartic, kiss. These are some of the most memorable moments 2008 has thrown up at the cinema for me.

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Arnold: Gardens of the Night
Javier Bardem: No Country For Old Men
Josh Brolin: No Country For Old Men
Tommy Lee Jones: No Country For Old Men
Martin Piroyansky: XXY

WINNER: Tommy Lee Jones
There were only ever two open slots in this category, and the winner has cycled between No Country For Old Men’s three representatives. On any given day I could argue for any of them, but right now it’s the underrated contribution of Tommy Lee Jones that really makes the film for me. It’s the most layered character, and Jones plays it to the hilt, with just enough dry wit to leaven the growing pessimism with which Ed Tom Bell seems to view the world.

A shout is also due Tom Arnold, because who knew he could be such a staggeringly creepy, evil bastard as he is in Gardens of the Night, that’s the most surprising performance of 2008.

Best Supporting Actress
Adele Haenel: Water Lilies
Emily Mortimer: Lars and the Real Girl / Redbelt
Shelan O’Keefe: Grace is Gone
Ryan Simpkins: Gardens of the Night
Elsa Zylberstein: I've Loved You So Long

WINNER: Emily Mortimer
Young actresses seem to be the story of the year, as another three are represented here, but there was only ever likely to be one winner here, and Emily Mortimer only solidified her position with a second outstanding supporting turn late in the year. She’s completely different in the two parts. Lars and the Real Girl has her as a young woman expecting her first child, who finds herself helping care for her brother in law when he suffers a breakdown of sorts. Mortimer imbues Karin with such basic innate goodness that you immediately warm to her, and believe her otherwise implausible actions. In David Mamet’s Redbelt, Mortimer plays a lawyer, hard nosed in her professional world but terrified outside of it, she has too little screentime, but impresses with every frame she’s in.

Best Ensemble Cast
Female Agents
Grace is Gone
Lars and the Real Girl:
No Country For Old Men

WINNER: Lars and the Real Girl [Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson]
This is not just an excellent cast, all working at their best. Lars takes this because of the way that every performance gels as part of the whole. If any one person had got the tone wrong - a bit too whimsical, a little too judgmental of Lars - the whole thing could have become risible. The fact that it doesn't is thanks to sensitive direction from Craig Gillespie, and to the perfectly judged performances of the talented cast.

Best Director
Alexanrde Bustillo / Julien Maury: Inside
Joel and Ethan Coen: No Country For Old Men
Craig Gillespie: Lars and the Real Girl
Lucia Puenzo: XXY
Julian Schnabel: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

WINNER: Julian Schnabel
Up against any other competition the Coens would walk this, but Julian Schnabel made a film that looks like no other I’ve ever seen, particularly in its stunning opening half-hour, shot entirely from the point of view of Jean Dominique Bauby's one working eye.

Best Original Screenplay
Kelly Masterson: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Shane Meadows: Somers Town
Nancy Oliver: Lars and the Real Girl
Celine Sciamma: Water Lilies
James C. Strouse: Grace is Gone

WINNER: Kelly Masterson
Playwright Masterson’s first screenplay is surely one of the great screenwriting debuts. A noirish thriller about the aftermath of a heist gone wrong isn’t exactly the most original thing in the world, but it crackles with outstanding dialogue all the way through, and the structure, drip feeding you information over a fractured timeline, is brilliant too.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Paul Thomas Anderson: There Will Be Blood
Joel and Ethan Coen: No Country for Old Men
Ronald Harwood: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Lucia Puenzo: XXY

WINNER: Joel and Ethan Coen
The dialogue may be minimal, but every single word of it is both important and beautifully written. Apparently extremely faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s novel the Coens still manage to wrestle the book into film form without appearing to lose any story points or character information.

Most Welcome Return
Karen Allen: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Okay so the movie was largely awful, but what movie geek didn’t cheer when Marion Ravenwood appeared on our screens again? Allen is the heart and soul of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and, sadly, almost the only reason to see it. In the spark that was rekindled between her and Harrison Ford, and of course that nuclear powered smile, deployed three times in the movie with military precision, lay a great insight into why it’s such a shame that Allen (lovely as ever at 57) doesn’t often act these days.

Most Underrated Film
Five Across The Eyes
Made for about 50p, with two retail standard digital cameras, and set almost entirely in a car, this doesn’t sound promising. Critical reception, both professional and amateur, would seem to bear this out, being almost entirely rancid. Accept the technical limitations though and Five Across the Eyes is one of the most intense movies you’ll have seen in a long time. It takes perhaps 20 minutes to get up to speed and then it’s simply an assault, pummeling you with shock after shock. It’s a film for the strong stomached horror lover, but one that has been woefully underseen and underrated.

Most Overrated Film
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s rapturously received film is probably eligible for some sort of all time award in this category. To offer credit where it’s due The Dark Knight contains one truly awesome set piece, and a great performance from Gary Oldman. Otherwise. There’s a sidelined Batman (a supporting character in his own movie), a woefully underwritten Maggie Gyllenhaal, a screenplay that beats you over the head with its metaphor, a thick slice of ham in Heath Ledger’s lip smacking interpretation of the Joker and a hugely stretched running time. The final half hour is some of the most superfluous cinema seen in 2008, and the two preceding hours are seldom more engaging.

Best Movie Poster
Funny Games US 
Savage Grace
Zack and Miri Make a Porno

WINNER: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Funnier than any joke in the movie, a smart, scathing response to the MPAA’s rejection of the original poster and still amusing however many times you see it.

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