Tomorrow morning, the Oscar nominations will be announced. It is possible I will respond by swearing at my computer, television, or the bird outside my window.
It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point that my tastes rarely line up with the Oscars. I wasn’t offended last year when The King’s Speech won everything, but I was still disappointed that Black Swan was more or less shut out.
So before disappointment can set in, here are my picks for the best films & performances of 2011. Nothing is listed in any particular order, beyond the fact that they were listed in the order I thought of them. These aren’t any sort of attempt at predictions, and any resemblance between my list and reality is purely coincidental, and possibly a cause for concern.
(A brief note on some obvious omissions: I haven’t seen We Need To Talk About Kevin or My Week with Marilyn yet, and have no interest in The Iron Lady, so Best Actress is lacking. I’ll probably get around to watching Hugo, Ides of March and The Descendents eventually, though I don’t feel any rush to do so. Moneyball was merely okay, and most of Tree of Life was fairly dull. I have no interest in watching The Help, and have already watched one too many adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)
There’s no reason to have 10 nominations. I could come up with another five if you really want, but I’d have a tough time arguing passionately for any of them.
- Bridesmaids: The funniest film of the year, but also one of the most depressing ones. It’s unfortunate that the food poisoning scene may have overshadowed the cupcake scene, or Kristen Wiig’s nervous breakdown at the bridal shower, both of which showed the fantastic mixture of comedy and pathos the film showcased. (Full Review)
- Take Shelter: The first time I saw Jeff Nichols’ film about mental illness and paranoia, I wasn’t sure about the ending. The second time I saw it, I loved it without reservations. Michael Shannon gives an incredible performance, Jessica Chastain isn’t too far behind, and the entire film drips with dread and suspense.
- Meek’s Cutoff: The opposite of a guilty pleasure, director Kelly Reichardt makes you work for your gratification. One of the slowest films of the year, but also one of the tensest and most rewarding, the story of a group of settlers lost in the Oklahoma desert is beautiful and haunting. (Full Review)
- Shame: If there were an award for “Most Uncomfortable Film,” Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender would have it locked up. It’s not merely about sex addiction, but dysfunction and isolation, and it’s all painted slowly and immaculately.
- Martha Marcy May Marlene: I said last year that I respect ballsy film makers, and MMMM certainly qualifies. Sean Durkin’s first feature film is disorienting and ambiguous, and gives the audience as little resolution as possible. He built a film around Elizabeth Olsen, who hadn’t acted since she appeared in her sisters’ film when she was five, but who nonetheless turned in one of the roughest and most harrowing performances of the year.
- Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
- Michael Fassbender, Shame
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50. If I’d added another best-picture nomination, or if the film had corrected its terrible Seth Rogen / Anjelica Huston imbalance, it’d be there. As it stands, it was a pretty good film built around Gordon-Levitt’s performance. Balancing cancer and death with comedy is a tricky act, and Gordon-Levitt found the perfect mix between tragedy and humour.
- Ryan Gosling, Drive. Sort of a lifetime achievement award for Gosling, but only for 2011.
- Bill Nighy, Page Eight. This probably isn’t eligible, since it debuted on BBC, but it got a gala at TIFF11, so I’m throwing it in anyway. Nighy’s usually around the sidelines of a film, so it was nice to see him in the lead as an MI6 analyst who comes into possession of some inconvenient information and has to figure out what to do with it.
- Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
- Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids. If Woody Allen can get a nomination for Annie Hall, Wiig surely deserves one for her relationship opus.
- Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter. Michael Shannon is the star of Take Shelter, but Chastain is the sane anchor, the caring wife who wants to understand what’s wrong with her husband while still being furious with his behaviour.
- Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method. I’m still not completely sure how I felt about this performance – maybe it was over the top? – but it was brave and ferocious, and I respect that.
- Charlize Theron, Young Adult. Diablo Cody & Jason Reitman’s latest teamup felt like they came up with the character first and figured out how to build a movie around her later. Theron turned in one of the nastiest, funniest, and oddly sympathetic performances of the year.
Best Supporting Actor
- John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Operating under the assumption that he didn’t win for Winter’s Bone because he wasn’t creepy enough, Hawkes is creepy as fuck as a cult leader, while still acting charming enough to believe that people would willingly hang out with him.
- Christoph Waltz, Carnage. In a great cast, Waltz stood out as just a little bit nastier and funnier, perhaps because his behaviour was more intentional and sober.
- Viggo Mortenson, A Dangerous Method. He played Freud, and seemed to be exactly the sort of person one thinks of Freud being.
- Patton Oswalt, Young Adult. If Theron was 90% of the movie, Oswalt made up at least another 7% as the crippled nerd who acts as Theron’s foil and drinking buddy.
- Everyone, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Is this a cop-out? Almost certainly. But Tinker Tailor was the very definition of an ensemble film, and no one – not even Gary Oldman, who was the central figure but still existed largely to entice others to tell their stories – stood out as a “lead”. So take your pick of Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, or Oldman himself.
Best Supporting Actress
- Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids. Watch her dolphin monologue and tell me she doesn’t deserve to win something.
- Kate Winslet, Carnage. Because Kate Winslet being a drunk asshole is pretty awesome.
- Carey Mulligan, Shame. Because she had to share the screen with Fassbender and still looked like she belonged. Managed to tread the extremely fine line between irritating and endearing.
- Anjelica Huston, 50/50.
- Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life. Special 2011 Achievement award, and a safety in case she doesn’t win for Take Shelter.
- Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff.
- Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
- Lars von Trier, Melancholia
- Terence Malick, The Tree of Life
- Steve McQueen, Shame
Best Foreign Language Film
- The Raid, Indonesia. One of the greatest action films ever made. A video game in the flesh, in the best possible way.
- Generation P, Russia. Kind of like a Chuck Palahniuk novel adapted by Terry Gilliam.
- Miss Bala, Mexico. One of the bleakest, most depressing films I’ve ever seen, about a young girl dragged into a drug war in Mexico.
- Land of Oblivion, Ukraine/France/Russia. Also an incredibly bleak film, about the survivors of Chernobyl, but in a more relaxing, almost uplifting sort of way.
- Oslo, August 31st, Norway. Also depressing, but expected since it’s Scandinavian. A recovering drug addict attempts to return to his life, but faces many obstacles, many of which are of his own creation.