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[Review] – Nobody Walks

2 Nov

Title: Nobody Walks
Year: 2012
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Writers: Ry Russo-Young and Lena Dunham
Starring: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jane Levy, Justin Kirk, India Ennenga
MPAA Rating: R, sexuality, language and some drug use
Runtime: 83 min
IMDb Rating: 5.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Metacritic: 52

I had heard, from people I like and trust, that Nobody Walks, a film that won a Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance, wasn’t that good a movie, that I would most likely find it pretentious as well as too damn meandering and failing to add up to much at all. With those people, I respectfully disagree, there’s stuff that’s faulty in this movie, there’s no question about it, but it’s far from being bad, it’s a film that offers up this wonderfully compelling collection of little moments that are just brilliantly observed by writer-director Ry Russo-Young.

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Best of 2011: 20 Lead Actors

9 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the seventh and final entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Leading Actors of 2011:

20. OWEN WILSON as Gil Pender in Midnight in Paris

The lead male character in Woody Allen movies is typically a kind of alter-ego of Woody himself. Such is the case with Gil in his latest film, a rather wealthy screenwriter who can’t quite come to terms with the artistic sell-out he’s become and would much rather live a life just making pure art, being a novelist, and one living on the 1920’s, if possible. Now, Owen Wilson is obviously different than Woody, a West Coast personality and not an East Coast one like the director himself said, so the role was slight re-written to fit him better, and the stuff he does with the role is splendid, he makes Gil his own character and not just a Woody Allen impersonation like many before him have unfortunately done, keeping the Woody sensibilities but putting them into an Owen Wilson character. Midnight appeared in 6 of my 7 rankings: #14 Film, #8 Director, #6 Supporting Actor for Corey Stoll, #9 Supporting Actress for Marion Cotillard, #1 Screenplay and here.

19. PAUL GIAMATTI as Mike Flaherty in Win Win

Paul Giamatti has to be one of our finer actors working today. He’s the man that’s just perfect at playing those characters that kind of feel like losers in one way or another, the stuff he does with his body and his raspy voice adding a lot to the overall effect of his performance, how he expresses exasperation and disappointment, he’s genius. Mike Flaherty is a struggling lawyer who moonlights as the coach of a high-school wrestling team that’s not doing so well. He has worries and anxieties that are faced by many American men, things that are slightly off but that affect Mike in really poignant ways. Mr. Giammati, as always makes the ordinary feel exceptional. Win Win appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #10 mention for its screenplay.

18. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Rochester in Jane Eyre

2011 was an exceptional year for Michael Fassbender, with spectacular turns in X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame and this film right here. He’s fantastic as the iconic Mr. Rochester, a role played by giants before him, and embeds him with that dangerous kind of charm the Irish actor is so good at showing. He’s one of my five favorite working actors, someone who I put in the same league as the Day-Lewis’ of the world, just a beast of a performer who does so many good things while he’s on screen. Jane Eyre appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #15 mention for Mia Wasikowska’s lead performance.

17. DEMIÁN BICHIR as Carlos Galindo in A Better Life

Yes, Demián Bichir got an Oscar nomination over some better actors and better performances, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. He’s a stand-up guy who’s been working his way up the (racially-difficult) ladder, and the performance he gives in A Better Life is indeed really good. As Carlos Galindo he plays a Mexican immigrant, living in Los Angeles for the past six years, tending to the lawns of wealthy people only to be able to provide for his family, with a teenage son that seems about to join a local gang. It’s a really human story that’s so well acted by Mr. Bichir and that will certainly get to you.

16. DOMINIC COOPER as Uday Hussein / Latif Yahia in The Devil’s Double

Had this film been better, then we might just be calling Dominic Cooper an Oscar nominee. This film is one big coming out party for his talent, taking on the double role of both Uday Hussein, the crazy son of Saddam, and of Latif Yahia, the ordinary man forced under threat to his family to step into his shoe’s and become the double of a man wanted dead by many. The film may not be that great (I gave it a B) but the performance alone is worth checking it out for, it’s hugely entertaining, reminiscent of Pacino’s in Scarface, and how well he acts opposite himself (thanks to visual effects) is mesmerizing to watch, you won’t be blamed if you think it’s two different actors. But it’s not two guys, it’s just the one, Dominic Cooper, a name you’ll certainly be hearing more about in the future.

15. TOM HARDY as Tommy Conlon in Warrior

Speaking about actors who are poised to hit the big leagues, Tom Hardy is certainly in that discussion, and 2012 should be the year in which he achieves that status thanks to a certain third film he’s playing the villain in. It’s a riveting performance as a man who in some ways is still a child, a child who was marked by the devastating ways and habits his father exhibited as he grew up, and who’s now trapped inside the body of a huge muscular man. His performance has more to do with physical scenes and with looks than it does with dialogue, and it’s just stunning. Warrior appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #9 mention for Nick Nolte’s supporting performance.

14. ANTON YELCHIN as Jacob in Like Crazy

Like Crazy is a brilliant film, and the stuff done by its lead actors is stunning, how much evolution Anton Yelchin takes Jacob through in just an hour and a half is incredible. Improvising a lot of the dialogue alongside the gorgeous Felicity Jones, and delivering a performance that’s quiet quiet, communicating just with some looks that carry in them an exceptionally touching sincerity. Like Crazy had mentions in 4 of my rankings: #11 Film, #18 Director, #9 Actress for Felicity Jones, and here.

13. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio was denied his fourth Oscar nomination for his portrayal as the legendary J. Edgar Hoover in a film that divided its audience quite a bit (I gave it a low A-, but expected something better). However the film turned out, though, the performance by Mr. DiCaprio is undeniable, one that, I think, may actually be the best he’s given so far in his career (though the greatness of the films elevate the quality of some of his other ones). This performance is just so deep, subtle, so fully realized, displaying across his face all the mannerisms of a really complex man. Yes, the make-up may be distracting, that’s a huge obstacle for this whole film, but this performance just works like gangbusters and is what keeps your attention for over two hours.

12. JEAN DUJARDIN as George Valentin in The Artist

The one that’s supposed to barely edge out George Clooney in a couple of weeks to score himself an Oscar, the very French actor in a very silent movie that’s been charming the pants off of Hollywood for the past couple of months. He is impeccable as he plays George Valentin, a movie star of the 1920’s, everything about him adding to the character; the sleek hair, the classy mustache, the winning smile. It takes really charming and physical performers to hold a silent film together and make it as masterful as The Artist is, and Mr. Dujardin is more than up to the task, embodying both the personna of a movie star in the golden era of Hollywood, and the narcissism of man that lives for his crowd’s adoration and who may just lose that. The Artist had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #8 Film, #7 Director, #13 Leading Actress for Bérénice Bejo (yes, she’s a lead no matter what Oscar tells you), #12 Screenplay, and here.

11. RYAN GOSLING as Stephen Meyers in The Ides of March

Alongside Michael Fassbender it was probably Ryan Gosling who had the biggest 2011 for male actors. In this film he plays a really good press secretary in charge of the campaign mounted by George Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris. He’s brilliant in this role, a film that was just made for really great actors to showcase their talents, going at it with some of the best in the game, including Mr. Clooney himself, whose charm, wit and good looks Mr. Gosling seems to be a worthy successor to. The Ides of March had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #18 Film, #13 Director, twice in my Supporting Actor rankings (#20 for George Clooney and #17 for Philip Seymour Hoffman), #13 Supporting Actress for Evan Rachel Wood, #18 Screenplay, and here.

10. WOODY HARRELSON as David Douglas Brown in Rampart

This is an incredibly fearless performance on display by the awesome Woody Harrelson, one of a highly unlikable character, a monster really, a guy that can get away with the horrible stuff he does solely because of his charm and intelligence, which is why Mr. Harrelson was such a smart choice to play him. This may just be a career-best performance from him, just so raw and intense in front of the camera, and even though he doesn’t get us to like Dave, because that’s impossible with a man like this, he does manage to make him human and get us interested in the stuff going on around him and the stuff he’s beginning to realize albeit too late in life.

9. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as Adam in 50/50

The performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of a young man recently diagnosed with cancer, was central to making 50/50 succeed. The whole film walks the really fine tightrope of hilarity and really emotional stuff, and how Mr. Gordon-Levitt manages to marry the two qualities is exceptional, delivering what may be one of the two or three best performances of his career, and showing, in his scenes with Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston, that he has really great chemistry with his co-stars. 50/50 had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #19 Film, #15 Supporting Actor for Seth Rogen, #10 Supporting Actress for Anna Kendrick, #6 Screenplay, and here.

8. ASA BUTTERFIELD as Hugo Cabret in Hugo

I realize putting the fourteen year-old Asa Butterfield ahead of names like Harrelson and DiCaprio may seem too much, but such was the power Hugo had on me. And considering his is the performance at the center of it, of course I would love him as the young boy on a quest to unlock a secret of his father’s. The performance by the young Mr. Butterfield is just so incredibly soulful, he makes you invest in Hugo’s quest, and its his interactions with the rest of the talented cast that really get this movie going. Hugo had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #1 Film, #1 Director, #5 Supporting Actor for Ben Kingsley, #11 Supporting Actress for Chloë Grace Moretz, and here.

7. BRAD PITT as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Another person for whom 2011 was a remarkable year was Brad Pitt, and taking part in this new masterpiece by Terrence Malick is a big reason why. The film pretty much has no plot, it’s just an impressionistic viewpoint of an American family as well as a history of the Earth as seen through the evolution of said family. The Tree of Life wasn’t for everyone, that much is certainly true, but I personally really connected with it, and the emotional stuff in it was just as stunning and the visual parts, and you can thank Brad Pitt for a lot of that. The Tree of Life had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #6 Film, #3 Director, #2 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #19 Screenplay, and here.

6. MICHAEL SHANNON as Curtis LaForche in Take Shelter

Few people have better screen presence than Michael Shannon, I think. He just commands your attention, and in Take Shelter, in which he stars as a man having apocalyptic hallucinations, he gives a truly spellbinding performance that’s just so, so powerful. He’s been cast as the creepy character before, and while in Take Shelter he plays a blue-collar family man, a loving father and husband, as he starts having these visions that leave him disturbed those qualities that made him a creepy character lend themselves for him to masterfully convey those heavy emotions, his eyes showing the underlying sense of unease within him. The energy, the tension, the intensity of his performance, this is just a masterclass in acting. Take Shelter had mentions in 4 of my 7 rankings: #17 Director, #8 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #20 Screenplay, and here.

5. BRAD PITT as Billy Beane in Moneyball

That’s right, Brad Pitt gets a double mention in this ranking. And the performance he gives as the Oakland A’s GM, Billy Beane, is one of the two or three best he’s ever given. This is the perfect Brad Pitt performance in a way, as he embraces both his movie star charisma and good looks, charming us like crazy when he has to, but also showing us the thespian Brad Pitt, delivering a deep and finely nuanced performance in which he says a lot with just his eyes. This guy is entering the prime of his career, trust me on that, we’ve not seen the best of Brad Pitt yet, as amazing as his two performances of 2011 already were. Moneyball had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #7 Film, #9 Director, #4 Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill, #4 Screenplay, and here.

4. GARY OLDMAN as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The performance that finally (fiiiinally) got Gary Oldman his well overdue Oscar nomination. And boy was it deserved, Mr. Oldman puts on a clinic in acting on display in this film, showing us why he’s a master of his craft. He gives a very silent performance, his character, the lead in the film, doesn’t actually utter a single word until we’re about twenty minutes into it. But that’s part of the greatness of his portrayal of George Smiley, it’s just so brilliantly nuanced, and he does so, so much with just his eyes and his face, this is sheer perfection. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #9 Film, #10 Director, #19 Supporting Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, #8 Screenplay, and here.

3. RYAN GOSLING as Driver in Drive

Another double-mention in this ranking. This is just such a sublime performance, delivered by an actor who clearly had so much trust in his director. And much like Mr. Oldman’s performance cited above, this is such a masterful portrayal because of the silence in the performance Mr. Gosling gives of the unnamed Driver, he takes some pauses here that seem to last forever and that you just want to last longer. And when he does speak, boy do you linger on every word, not to mention that when he isn’t speaking he’s either delivering a killing stare, or actually exacting some (really brutal) violence. Drive got mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #4 Film, #2 Director, #1 Supporting Actor for Albert Brooks, #6 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #16 Screenplay, and here.

2. GEORGE CLOONEY as Matt King in The Descendants

George Clooney, an Oscar-winner already for Syriana, should get his second Academy Award this year even though it seems the #12-ranked Frenchman will prevent him from doing so. This man, at 50 years-old, just keeps getting better and better, I thought he couldn’t possibly be better than he was in 2009’s Up in the Air, and then look at what he does here in The Descendants, this is his show and he makes the most of it. He just exposes himself, emotionally naked to the camera, getting some really touching moments that will certainly get to you. He’s just a smart actor that brings a lot to his characters, and we believe Matt King when he shares his thoughts and worries, we believe him because Mr. Clooney, alongside with director Alexander Payne, makes him a tremendously human character, who just happens to have Mr. Clooney’s looks. The Descendants got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #5 Film, #6 Director, twice in my Supporting Actress rankings (#12 for Judy Greer and #3 for Shailene Woodley), #7 Screenplay, and here.

1. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Brandon Sullivan in Shame

The performance of the year; male or female, lead or supporting, no one came close to doing what Michael Fassbender, who also got two mentions in this ranking, did in Shame. This is also, the single most egregious Oscar snub in recent years, but my dismay upon that has been documented in other posts. The stuff Mr. Fassbender brings to this role is just insanely stunning to watch, baring it all, both literally and figuratively, to play the sex addict Brandon, a man who’s life is a living hell as he can’t seem to get the connection he wants from people, trying to hide his inner demons through an external quest for physical satisfaction. He plays a man in a downward spiral of addiction, and you feel his internal fears as you watch him go through his life, it’s such a bold and brave performance by one of the best actors we have working today. Shame got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #2 Film, #4 Director, #1 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #14 Screenplay, and here.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actors in leading roles. All 5 of the Oscar nominees were included in my ranking, though if I ran the Oscars only Clooney, Oldman and Pitt would remain nominees. The actual race, however, is a battle between Dujardin and Clooney, the French against the American. And even though Dujardin seems poised to win right now, let’s hope the Academy backs up its homegrown product and rewards Clooney with his second Oscar.

Best of 2011: 20 Lead Actresses

7 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the sixth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Leading Actresses of 2011:

20. SAOIRSE RONAN as Hanna in Hanna

It’s kind of baffling that Hanna was so shut out from any awards love, at the very least its amazing score from The Chemical Brothers should have gotten some recognition. Saoirse Ronan who’ll turn just eighteen in a couple of months reteamed with Joe Wright, the director who get her an Oscar nod for her work in Atonement a few years ago, for this, a very different kind of role for her and one that would prove to be quite a challenge for any actress. The fact that she’s so young and so talented only means great things for the future, she’s stunning here, going toe-to-toe alongside experienced actors like Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, and coming out on top.

19. MIRANDA JULY as Sophie in The Future

Miranda July has to be one of the most unique voices in film and literature right now. And one of the most polarizing, too, with people are loving or hating her work. I personally love everything she does, as was the case with her latest film, The Future, and the lead performance she gave in it as Sophie, one half of the duo that decides to adopt a stray kitten, Paw Paw (voiced by Ms. July), and to live the 30 days during which the kitten will live in a shelter as the last days of their lives since they believe this new small responsibility will alter their lives forever. Miranda July maybe super artsy and hipster and call her what you want, but her refreshing brand of quirky is one that I really love.

18. ANNA PAQUIN as Lisa Cohen in Margaret

When I first saw Kenneth Lonergan’s excruciatingly-delayed Margaret I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would, giving it a B. But I’ve seen it another time since and I liked it much more; I would give it a better grade now actually. But even the first time when I didn’t fully appreciate it as much as I do now, I was left impressed by the performance Anna Paquin gives as Lisa Cohen, a private school girl who will have her life turned around as she witnesses a bus accident that she may have caused by distracting the driver. She lends Lisa this sort of entitled and precocious vibe that works tremendously well.

17. KEIRA KNIGHTLEY as Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method

Viggo Mortensen appeared on my Best Supporting Actors ranking (at #16) for his performance as Sigmund Freud, and now Keira Knightley, undoubtedly one of the five or ten best actresses under thirty working today, appears here. The stuff she does with her role in this film is just sensational to watch, daring to go for director David Cronenberg to some really unlikable places in a really fierce way, in a performance that, had it not been this perfect, would’ve meant the whole film falling apart. She plays Sabina, a girl who’s quite unhinged, examined by Freud and Carl Jung, and even though there’s a lot of sexual stuff, as Sabina wants people to sexually punish and humiliate her, Ms. Knightley lets go with such abandon into her performance that you don’t think sex even though she’s gorgeous, you just think she’s mad.

16. VERA FARMIGA as Corinne in Higher Ground

Vera Farmiga is an actress I’ve loved for a very long time and who I think should be a bigger name by now. In Higher Ground, a film that she also directed, she turns in another one of her typically splendid performances, while also giving a great performance behind the camera. The stuff she can do just with her eyes, which are the kind of eyes movie stars were once made of, is magnificent, the kind of eyes that draw you in but also warn you to keep a bit of distance, conveying good-heartedness as well as a sense of mischief. This was just terrific from her.

15. MIA WASIKOWSKA as Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska has a great future ahead of her, I think we can all agree on that. And in Jane Eyre she gives a performance that’s just wise beyond her years (she was 20 when she shot this), her performances are just so insightful that you just get the feeling that you’re watching an old soul with so much depth to her. When I saw this film at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center it included a Q&A with her and director Cary Fukunaga, and just the stuff she said about her approach to the role and her process was amazing, and it proved why she gave what to me is the definitive portrayal of the iconic character so far.

14. KRISTEN WIIG as Annie Walker in Bridesmaids

All the rage about the hilarious Bridesmaids ensemble (directed by Paul Feig, my #19 Director) has been focussed on Melissa McCarthy who got a Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her performance (I ranked her at #4 in that particular ranking of mine), and rightfully so because she’s hilarious. But Kristen Wiig (who got an Oscar nod for the screenplay, which I ranked #2 in those rankings) is just as amazing in this film, the scene against Rose Byrne with the battling maid of honor speeches is a feat of comedic genius, as is her drunken ramblings at the plane. She’s the SNL MVP for a reason, this just proves she can be one on the big screen, too.

13. BÉRÉNICE BEJO as Peppy Miller in The Artist

Yes, she got an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress, but if you’ve seen The Artist you’ll know she’s very much a Lead performer, so I ranked her here instead. The film (which I already named my #8, as well as my #7 Director and #12 Screenplay) obviously needed tremendously gifted performers to capture our attention in a silent black-and-white film. Bérénice Bejo is an exquisitely talented physical performer with features that speak louder than words ever could, taking direction from her real-life husband she gives a superb performance in one of the most charming films of the year.

12. OLIVIA COLMAN as Hannah in Tyrannosaur

Tyrannosaur is a really brutal film, quite tough to see actually, but the stunningly great performance by Olivia Colman alone is worth the price of admission and withstanding the harshness of it all. The sadness of the whole film, the feelings it relies on in order to tell its story rely on the performance she manages to give to become the unforgiving human drama it is, to show a compelling and visceral look at rage and abuse and all the things that can come out of it. Certainly a performance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go.

11. LEILA HATAMI as Simin in A Separation

My #15 Film, #17 Screenplay and #16 Director gets a mention in this category for the performance Leila Hatami gives as Simin, one half of the couple that goes through the titular separation. Everyone in this film actually does a fantastic job, but chief amongst them is Ms. Hatami, who in scenes where here character may seem stereotypical she does a lot to uncover a tremendous amount of depth to the character. She acts out some really tense and interesting situations, and does a lot to make A Separation one of the films that stays the longest with you from all 2011.

10. ADEPERO ODUYE as Alike in Pariah

This is Adepero Oduye’s first proper performance in a feature, and the stuff she does with the role of Alike is just spellbinding in the way she so subtly and seamlessly captures every single emotion this young girl in search of an identity is going through. What I thought was awesome about this performance is that we don’t need an expository scene or dialogue to set up much of Alike’s life, she does that just with her presence, taking smart direction from Dee Rees and expressing with just her eyes every little change that’s going through in the mind of her character.

9. FELICITY JONES as Anna in Like Crazy

My #11 Film and #18 Director gets a shout-out for the lead performance by the beautiful Felicity Jones. The journey she takes us with her performance of Anna in just ninety minutes is unbelievable, delivering such an honest and raw performance that it’s amazing to watch, and showing us a star being born right in front of our eyes, an actress that’s made for great things. This is just a very intelligent performance by her, and just the stuff she does with her face and her eyes in those many close-ups, saying ten times more than words ever could with her expressions, this is true talent.

8. VIOLA DAVIS as Aibileen Clark in The Help

Her cast-mate (and Supporting Actress front-runner) Octavia Spencer got a mention at #5 in my Supporting Actresses rankings, and now Viola Davis, arguably the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar (barely getting the edge over Meryl Streep) gets a mention here. This is such a tour de force performance, the kind that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater, and Ms. Davis herself is just such a great woman (just look at her acceptance speech at the SAG’s) that you’re left speechless watching her be Aibileen. Three years ago she had one scene in Doubt, which she stole from Meryl Streep, and got a Supporting Actress nomination. Now she finally gets the role of her lifetime and she’s up against Ms. Streep, who you just know wants her to win more than she does herself.

7. MERYL STREEP as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

From one Oscar front-runner to the next. While Viola Davis seems to have the edge in the actual competition, Meryl Streep gets it in my rankings for the performance that got her to extend her own record with 17 nominations. And yes, she’s out of the Top 5, but that’s just because, as amazing as her performance was, the film it was in wasn’t great, and the context in which a performance is given matters to judge its worth. Meryl Streep is, to me as she should be to you, the greatest actress that’s ever lived. And this is a masterclass in acting, a monster performance from a living legend that just knows how to really go deep into her character, to empathize and understand the person she’s playing. The fact that she’s playing a polarizing world-known figure is a daunting task, and yet she impersonates Thatcher so brilliantly, from the voice to the mannerisms to the subtle changes she gives in her performance as she plays her through various years of her life. Yes, the film works as just a showcase for Ms. Streep’s talents and not much else, that’s true, but with talents as considerable as these you don’t really need much else.

6. CHARLIZE THERON as Mavis Gary in Young Adult

Young Adult has been well represented in my rankings (#12 Film, #15 Director, #3 Supporting Actor and #3 Screenplay) and it gets a mention here as well for Charlize Theron’s stunning performance as Mavis Gary, who’s a really unlikable lead character, which is the toughest kind to play. But she’s up to the task, to lend herself to the piercing character study of Mavis Gary we get here, delivering a really brave performance as a woman who’s still acting like a child and who can’t come to terms with the reality of her life. The film never once tries to justify Mavis’ actions, but the sincerity of Ms. Theron’s portrayal of her maybe, just maybe, may get is to somewhat sympathize with her, which is a testament to well she acted out this role.

5. TILDA SWINTON as Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin

The film has gotten mentions in my rankings before (#11 Director and #12 Supporting Actor) but it’s Tilda Swinton’s masterful performance as Eva, the mother of the teenager that’s just gone on a shooting spree, that’s by far the best thing about this whole movie. It’s her performance that makes this film compelling to watch, what grabs your attention so much in a film that had it not counted with it may have been too harsh to watch for some. This is one of the finest performances Tilda Swinton has ever given, and she never once takes the easy way out in her portrayal of Eva, delivering this tough story through her eyes and emotions, making her a distant and vulnerable character that’s not easy to pity or connect to, but telling a story that’s impossible not to be drawn into.

4. MICHELLE WILLIAMS as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh got a shout-out in my Supporting Actor rankings (at #11) but it’s the performance by Michelle Williams, who I think is the best actress under forty working today, that made this film so damn great to me. A film about a woman as iconic as Marilyn Monroe obviously depended solely on the performance by the actress playing the blonde bombshell, and in Michelle Williams it found the perfect one. Physically, it’s all there, the curves and the lips and the everything that made Marilyn, but where Ms. Williams really rocked it is in the intangibles, the vulnerability, the sweetness; she really gets us to understand Marilyn Monroe, what went on inside her head, her insecurities and how she handled her iconic status. It’s such a beautifully soulful performance by a brilliant actress.

3. KIRSTEN DUNST as Justine in Melancholia

My #16 Film, #12 Director and #14 Supporting Actress, and now my #3 Lead Actress. This is the best performance Kirsten Dunst has given in her whole career by a clear mile, and one that really should have gotten her an Oscar nomination. She’s the perfect muse for Lars von Trier, playing Justine, the woman the first half of this film is named after, who starts suffering from a severe case of depression that progresses as the film goes along; at first she’s pure magic at portraying a woman trying to hide her severely damaged state of mind, and later on she’s perfection when she gets meatier scenes to sink her teeth into as her illness worsens, being just sheer perfection at showing her pain and sadness.

2. ELIZABETH OLSEN as Martha in Martha Marcy May Marlene

On Nomination morning I was crossing my fingers to hear Elizabeth’s Olsen named called out for her masterful performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene a film that’s already featured quite a lot in my rankings (#10 Film, #14 Director, #8 Supporting Actor and #13 Screenplay). Alas, her name wasn’t called out, but we still have her performance to hold on to, one of the better debut performances I’ve seen in quite some time, making her one of the young actresses I’m most excited to see evolve. She plays three iterations of the same person, as the three names in the title correspond to three different kind of behaviors that are expected from her while she’s answering to each name; she’s brilliant as all three, making all of them believable. She’s breathtakingly gorgeous, has a wonderful screen presence and has a depth and vulnerability to her that’s hard to explain; by which I mean, she’s meant to be a star.

1. ROONEY MARA as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

My #3 Film, #5 Director and #15 Screenplay of the year gets a first place mention thanks to Rooney Mara’s Oscar-nominated turn as the insuperable Lisbeth Salander. After impressing with just a really short turn in The Social Network, David Fincher pushed for her to get this role, and look what she did with it. She brings such an incredible level to commitment to it all, and delivering an awe-inspiring performance, showing a tremendous intelligence (both her character’s and hers as an actress) while she hides the many emotional scars of Lisbeth Salander, being able to seduce you just as well as she can intimidate you. This if the best female performance of all 2011 from an actress people knew pretty much nothing about until just know, but who I’m sure will give us plenty to talk about in years to come.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actresses in leading roles. 4 of the Oscar nominees made it into my Top 20 (Glenn Close was the one that missed out), but were I to actually ran the Oscars only Mara and Williams would remain nominees. They, however, don’t really have a shot at actually winning; so let’s just sit back and enjoy the Streep vs. Davis battle, since even though their performances weren’t the very best, they were still extraordinary, and they’re two actresses who are amazing both on and off the screen, so it’ll be a deserved win no matter what happens.

Best of 2011: 20 Supporting Actors

6 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the fifth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Supporting Actors of 2011:

20. GEORGE CLOONEY as Governor Mike Morris in The Ides of March

The Ides of March has been widely represented in my rankings (18th Film, 18th Screenplay, 13th Director, 13th Supporting Actress) and now George Clooney, after also getting mentions for his film, screenplay and directing, gets a shout-out for his performance as Governor Mike Morris, the idealistic and eco-friendly candidate of the political campaign at the center of the film. Mr. Clooney’s performance is great, because he knows what to do and don’t do with the role, and he’s just great at sparring with the rest of the insanely talented ensemble this film counts with, just having so many great actors around to play with is enough to make any performance be much better.

19. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy so far has been my #9 Film, #10 Director and #8 Screenplay, and in all three of those mentions I’ve said it was probably the smartest film of all 2011. I could have really chosen some other actors from this film, like Tom Hardy or Colin Firth, but I went with Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of BBC’s Sherlock who’s headed for great things, the stuff he does here with the role of Peter Guillam, the one agent at Circus the Gary Oldman’s Smiley can trust in, is just wonderful, bringing a lot of presence and magnetism to the screen.

18. ZACHARY QUINTO as Peter Sullivan in Margin Call

After making my Screenplay rankings (at #9) Margin Call gets a nod in this ranking because its whole ensemble is just supremely talented and brings a lot to the table. Zachary Quinto, best known for his role in Heroes and as Spock in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, is Peter Sullivan here, a young analyst at a financial services firm that gets given a USB drive with data that anticipates the financial meltdown and kicks off the whole film. I think Quinto is a damn fine actor, and in a cast full of really great actors and performances, he managed to stand out because of what he brought to Peter.

17. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN as Paul Zara in The Ides of March

Another mention for one of the Ides men, and you just know that Philip Seymour Hoffman in a politically-charged film surrounded with great actors would just throw it out of the park. And that’s exactly what he does in this film, especially since the source material was a stage play, and parts of the screenplay behave like a play as well, which means you have Mr. Hoffman as Paul Zara, the veteran campaign manager for Mr. Clooney’s character, delivering some lines that sound just like monologues taken right from the stage, and you can’t ask for much more than that, this whole film is a terrific showcase for actors.

16. VIGGO MORTENSEN as Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method

Viggo Mortensen is a hugely talented actor, we know that by now, and in David Cronenberg’s latest he goes against type to play Sigmund Freud. I say it’s going against type because when we think of him as Aragorn or fighting Russian mobsters while naked in a steam room, in here he’s engaging in really intellectual conversations and puffing cigars while portraying the father of psychoanalysis. I thought this unexpected casting really paid off though, with Mortensen bringing a charm and a humor to him, looking older and more refined than what he usually looks like in film; just great.

15. SETH ROGEN as Kyle in 50/50

My 19th Film, 6th Screenplay and 10th Supporting Actress performance (Anna Kednrick). Now Seth Rogen gets in this ranking thanks to a performance by him that saw him take quite a lot from his personal life: His best friend Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer and he was with him every step of the way, he then wrote a script about his experience and Mr. Rogen stars as the character inspired by him. This is a career-best performance by Seth Rogen, the best performance he’s ever given by a clear mile, and the chemistry he has with Jonathan Gordon-Levitt is amazing, their rapport awesomely helping the film achieve the balance between funny and serious.

14. JOHN C. REILLY as Mr. Fitzgerald in Terri

John C. Reilly is one of the most incredibly versatile actors working today, and in Terri he’s working alongside Jacob Wysocki, a terrific new star, and the scenes they share with each other are a thing of awe, scenes that actually require some real communication between two characters, something easier said than done in today’s films. Mr. Reilly has nailed down this very unique brand of sad comedy in a way, and he uses that to perfection here to represent a huge range of emotion in his character.

13. ALAN RICKMAN as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

My 13th favorite film of the year, and a performance that for a while fanboys like me were trying to campaign all the way to an Oscar nomination, to finally get the most profitable film franchise of all-time an Oscar nomination outside of the technical categories. That campaign may have failed, but after seven films in which his character was just shrouded in mystery and secrecy, that veil is finally lifted in this conclusion, Snape’s real agenda revealed, and that meant we got some moments of spectacular emotion from him, and Alan Rickman just nails every last one of them, getting us teary-eyed in a film that did just that more than once for me.

12. EZRA MILLER as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin

There’s something about Ezra Miller’s performance here that is just simply chilling to watch as the demonic spawn, as the horrible son to Tilda Swinton’s Eva, as the kid that goes on to commit a horrible shooting spree at his school. What the young Mr. Miller brings to the table is terrific, getting to the deepest of layers of Kevin and just portraying this antagonistic relationship with his mother, going toe-to-toe with Ms. Swinton, that’s amazing to watch for all its intensity. This guy is headed for some really great things.

11. KENNETH BRANAGH as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn

Kenneth Branagh was pretty much born to play Sir Laurence Olivier. You get the sense that the guy had been preparing for this role his whole life, and the little details he brings to his impersonation of him show that he indeed probably spent quite a lot of time studying the acting great. It’s obviously never easy stepping into the shoes of such an icon, but Mr. Branagh manages to show the more human and vulnerable side of him, doing it in a way that’s both funny and heartbreaking, holding your attention every second he’s on screen and just going at it with the insuperable Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

10. JEREMY IRONS as John Tuld in Margin Call

The second member of the terrific Margin Call ensemble in my rankings. And it’s Jeremy Irons, a great actor who hadn’t really been this good in quite some time, he gives such an overpowering performance that just eats up whoever else is on-screen with him as he plays John Tuld, the C.E.O. of the financial firm that’s headed for the crapper. You need a guy as experienced as Mr. Irons to play a guy like him, carrying himself with a coolness under dire straits, calmly assessing what he has to do in order to survive; and he’ll do anything. Just a brilliant performance.

9. NICK NOLTE as Paddy Conlon in Warrior

The main beef people are having with Nick Nolte’s performance in Warrior, which got him an Oscar nomination, is that it’s a typical Nick Nolte performance that he could do in his sleep by this point in a career that spans nearly four decades. But, so what? It’s also an undeniably great performance, and one that, alongside his role in HBO’s new TV show, Luck, seems to be injecting new blood into that career that seemed to be slowly and quietly dying. It’s a role that he could rock, for sure, his gravelly voice adding a lot to a man who’s broken; you just know that Mr. Nolte took a lot from his own life experience to portray the guilt that consumes Paddy, battling an old alcoholic past he can’t turn to now to find solace.

8. JOHN HAWKES as Patrick in Martha Marcy May Marlene

From my #10 Film with my #14 Director and #13 Screenplay of the year, comes the supporting turn by the great John Hawkes also making a ranking of mine. After finally breaking out big with his Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, here he gives yet another chilling performance as Patrick, the leader of a cult in upstate New York. He brings a lot to this role, just his eyes give this role a magnetism it needed, because you can see how this character is someone that you could grow to love and trust, how he’d seduce you into following him and joining his cult, Mr. Hawkes is such a tremendous actor that you believe him of being, both emotionally and intellectually, able to carry of such a psychological manipulation.

7. ANDY SERKIS as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Yes, that’s right, I’m firmly in the Andy Serkis bandwagon. People were trying a lot to campaign him to an Oscar nod for his role in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with the one catch being that Mr. Serkis doesn’t actually appear in the flesh in the entire film. Instead, he gives a motion-capture performance, showing how amazing the technology he helped pioneer in The Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong can really be. And this is acting no matter what purists may say, his performance as Caesar steals the show from every human actor here, how he plays out the evolution of Caesar, from a small chimp to an ape that leads a revolution against humans, is amazing, and how convincing and moving his facial expressions and movements can be is a wonder to behold. Welcome to the future.

6. COREY STOLL as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris

Another film with mentions in all my rankings so far (#14 Film, #8 Director, #9 Supporting Actress and #1 Screenplay) and the performance by Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway is just sheer genius, it’s just an insanely memorable and effective performance from Mr. Stoll as the literary legend. Woody Allen obviously did an amazing job at bringing to life lots of legendary icons, but Hemingway stands out, speaking just like he writes and acted by Mr. Stoll with an unbelievable intensity. Just take a look at the scene in which he explains to Gil why he won’t read his manuscript and try not to be in love by this role and this performance.

5. BEN KINGSLEY as Georges Méliès in Hugo

Another film making it into all of my rankings (#1 Film, #1 Director, #11 Supporting Actress and #11 Screenplay). The performance by Ben Kingsley really should have gotten him an Oscar nomination, as Méliès he brings to life a legend of film history, now as a grumpy old man, pretty much broke, running a toy shop at a Paris train station, under the impression that all of the brilliant work he left behind to the world has been forgotten with him. This whole film is bursting through the seams with passion and love by Martin Scorsese, and the job Mr. Kingsley does is spectacular, there some scenes in which he’s just heartbreakingly good.

4. JONAH HILL as Peter Brand in Moneyball

Yes, the words “Academy Award nominee” now go before the name of Jonah Hill, and it’s actually a deserved recognition. His performance in Moneyball (my #7 Film, #9 Director and #4 Screenplay) is just outstanding, kind of groundbreaking inasmuch as that he has never done anything even remotely like this before, and he shows he really does have some dramatic chops in him as Peter Brand, the numbers guy brought in to help save the Oakland A’s. Going toe-to-toe with Brad Pitt and creating some really awesome chemistry between the two of them to make for a masterful film. I really didn’t know Mr. Hill had this in him.

3. PATTON OSWALT as Matt Freehauf in Young Adult

The only good thing about Patton Oswalt having been stupidly snubbed out of an Oscar nomination is the made-up story he started telling on Twitter about him and the other snub-ees forming a club and partying. Because honestly, he really deserved a nomination for his role in Young Adult (my #12 Film, #15 Director and #3 Screenplay) as Matt Freehauf the old classmate of Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary whom she unexpectedly strikes up a connection with. Considering our lead character is a pretty unlikable woman, the film actually depends on Mr. Oswalt quite a bit because we as an audience need some we can sympathize to and relate to, and he just nails every single frame he’s in.

2. CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER as Hal Fields in Beginners

Christopher Plummer is an absolute lock to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar unless Max von Sydow stupidly manages to deny him of his long overdue right to call himself an Academy Award winner. His work on Beginners (also appearing on my rankings as my #15 Supporting Actress and #5 Screenplay) is just a sheer joy to watch, as an old man who, after the death of his wife, comes out of the closet and decides to live the twilight of his life as an active gay man. The bond that forms between him and his son (played by Ewan McGregor) during this stage of his life is amazing, and just how carefully Mr. Plummer crafts this role is amazing, bring a lot of presence to the screen and stealing every scene he’s in with his charm and iconic voice.

1. ALBERT BROOKS as Bernie Rose in Drive

Another film that’s been in all my rankings so far (#4 Film, #2 Director, #6 Supporting Actress and #16 Screenplay), and this time it gets a #1 nod for one of the most horrible and unforgivable Oscar snubs in recent memory. He plays a role that’s unlike anything you’d imagine from him, a bad guy in a movie full of them, but he gives Bernie Rose this sense of charisma and empathy that really gets you to be enthralled by this guy who you know means no good. This is an absolutely perfect performance, I really mean that, and I’m still mad about him not getting an Oscar nod.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actors in supporting roles. 4 of the Oscar nominees made it into my rankings (Max von Sydow was the one that didn’t), but were I to ran the actual Oscars only Plummer and Hill would’ve gotten nominations. Hopefully Plummer will continue his road to the golden man with as much as ease as he’s had in the precursor awards, which should be especially easy now that he (somehow, stupidly) doesn’t have to contend against Brooks.

Best of 2011: 20 Supporting Actresses

4 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the fourth entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Supporting Actresses of 2011:

20. MICHELLE MONAGHAN as Christina Warren in Source Code

I’m giving this slot to Michelle Monaghan mostly because she’s just drop-dead gorgeous. Now, I don’t mean that in a superficial kind of way that would mean I would given an Oscar to an actress just cause she’s beautiful (though the Academy itself has used that as tie-breaker once or twice, I suspect), but in this particular performance, the fact that Michelle Monaghan is so beautiful and charming and likable adds a lot to her role. That’s because the film happens in the same spurt of 8 minutes, that happen over and over again, and she’s so great that we believe one could fall in love with her in eight minutes, and she enables us to fall in love with her warmth really easily, just a job well done.

19. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Celia Foote in The Help

Jessica Chastain used 2011 as one big coming out party for her talents, appearing in five films and having a great presence in them all, showing us why she’s one of the most in-demand actresses around. Now, people are saying that the fact that she got her Oscar nomination (probably her first of many to come) for her role in The Help was wrong since she had better performances for which to get the nod, and I would agree with that opinion, but that doesn’t mean that her work in Tate Taylor’s film isn’t great. She stars as this white-trash blonde housewife, a role that’s meant to provide some funny moments and that a lesser actress would have made seem clichéd. Ms. Chastain, on the other hand, gives an infectious kind of performance, and embeds Celia with a warmth that makes the role seem quite fresh.

18. JANET McTEER as Hubert Page in Albert Nobbs

Janet McTeer, a great actress by all means, got an Oscar nod for her role in this film. I obviously wouldn’t have actually given her one of the five nominations, but that doesn’t mean her performance isn’t great; in fact, I think hers is actually better than the one given by Glenn Close, which also got nominated in the Lead category. She gives this exuberant kind of performance as the woman posing as man who has really grown into her new identity, it’s the scenes between her and Close that are by far the best parts of an otherwise not-that-great movie.

17. JODIE WHITTAKER as Sam in Attack the Block

I think Attack the Block was one of the coolest, most pleasantly surprising films of all 2011 and I’m making it a personal mission of mine to try and get more people turned on to it so that they can experience all that the Joe Cornish film has to offer. One of those things is the lovely Jodie Whittaker, who stars as Sam, the young nurse who was being mugged by a group of teenagers while returning home after the night shift just as an alien invasion falls on the block, and she decides to stay with the group of thieves while it happens. I really want great things to happen to her in the future, she deserves the exposure.

16. ELLEN PAGE as Libby/Boltie in Super

Look, I’m a huge, huge fan of Ellen Page no matter the circumstances, so she was pretty much making this ranking no matter what. Here she plays this super crazy girl who works at a comic book shop and then becomes the sexually intimidating sidekick to a local vigilante. The performance is tremendous because she never holds back, and it’s not like she’s being her usual super hip and super cool self, but instead just goes all-out with a performance all over the place and that works for that exact reason, just being super physical and playing seriously well off Rainn Wilson.

15. MÉLANIE LAURENT as Anna in Beginners

Already having named this as my 5th favorite screenplay of the year, we now get a performance out of it making a ranking of mine. And it comes from Mélanie Laurent, the exceedingly adorable French actress who rose to prominence a couple years ago thanks to Inglourious Basterds. Her performance, like all of the ones in this film, feels just super organic and natural, and she conveys so much so well, her scenes with Ewan McGregor are amazing, their chemistry being one of the best ones seen on screen all year.

14. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG as Claire in Melancholia

My 16th favorite film of 2011, my 12th favorite directorial effort, my 13th favorite performance by any supporting actress in the year. Charlotte Gainsbourg turns in a fantastic performance as Claire, the woman after whom the second half of the film is named, a woman getting incredibly paranoiac about the planet that seems to be heading crashing straight to Earth, bringing forth the apocalypse. This film has a lot of really sensational performances, and they’re all there to service Lars von Trier’s unique and intimate vision about the end of the world, both literally and internally thanks to a severe case of depression, and Ms. Gainsbourg is terrific.

13. EVAN RACHEL WOOD as Molly Stearns in The Ides of March

The first film to have figured in all four of my rankings so far (18th Film, 18th Screenplay, 13th Director, now this). And I’ve actually heard more than a few people say that they didn’t like this role, that they didn’t like this performance, when to me it was just phenomenal. Granted, I’m a big, big fan of Evan Rachel Wood, I think she’s one of the best under-thirty actresses around, and her performance as Molly, a young intern at a political campaign, I thought was great. I thought she went head-to-head with Ryan Gosling really nicely, and that she showed a lot of depth in the role, getting a lot of emotion into a role that probably didn’t demand it all that much in the script, adding her own stuff into the already great material she had to work with.

12. JUDY GREER as Julie Speer in The Descendants

Another film with mentions in all four of my rankings thus far (5th Film, 7th Screenplay, 6th Director). Now, Judy Greer is an actress I absolutely adore and who I really do believe should be a bigger name by now. But still, she’s always doing solid work in a wide array of projects, and such is the case in The Descendants as well, even though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time as the wife of the man George Clooney’s character’s comatosed wife was having an affair with (that sounded soap opera-ish, I know). But in the time she does get, she just totally owns the screen in such a way that was just phenomenal to witness to me.

11. CHLOË GRACE MORETZ as Isabelle in Hugo

Yet another film that’s now been in all four of my rankings thus far (1st Film, 11th Screenplay, 1st Director). Chloë Moretz is one of those young actresses that you just know is headed for greatness because of how terrific she already is, and in Hugo she only continues to show that, working under the direction of the all-time greatest. The childish curiosity Moretz brings to Isabelle is fantastic to watch, and just how she plays off the young Asa Butterfield is tremendous, creating a mischievous chemistry that’s just so believable and that drives the first half of Hugo so terribly well, just coasting on the talents of its young stars.

10. ANNA KENDRICK as Katherine in 50/50

While it’s the chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen that drives 50/50, the scenes that really elevated this film for me were the ones between Ms. Kendrick and Mr. Gordon-Levitt. She plays Katherine, the therapist to Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, who was just diagnosed with cancer, and it’s great how she plays the inexperienced therapist, and how she’s not able to just look from a distance but instead gets involved with her patient. She’s perfect here, just wonderful, and the complicated feeling that develops between her and Adam are portrayed so well by Ms. Kendrick.

9. MARION COTILLARD as Adriana in Midnight in Paris

Yes, I’ll say it again, another film that’s made it in all four of my rankings (14th Film, 1st Screenplay, 8th Director). And to be honest I was having a hard time choosing between Cotillard or Alison Pill for the ninth slot, I didn’t want to put both in the list because I honestly felt that it wasn’t the performance itself that I was honoring, but instead the overall effect that the supporting female characters of Midnight in Paris had in me. I chose Ms. Cotillard’s Adriana because she’s the main one, and because it’s through Gil’s love for her that the film becomes just so endlessly and effortlessly charming, and it’s a great performance by a great actress, but yeah, this is kind of a nod to all the ladies (Cotillard, Pill, Bates, McAdams, Bruni and the rest).

8. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Samantha in Take Shelter

This film has already been on other rankings (20th Screenplay, 17th Director) and the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain is a double mention in this ranking herself now. And, boy, she’s unbelievable here, going head-to-head against the great Michael Shannon who turns in a beast of a performance himself. The film is all about Shannon and his character’s turmoil and his performance, that’s true, but he needs an actress like Chastain to ground him, to make him better, to feed off of, and she’s all that and more, perfect as the loyal wife watching her husband lose his mind.

7. ELLE FANNING as Alice Dainard in Super 8

If I’m to be perfectly honest, when I made the first draft of this ranking I didn’t include Elle Fanning because she didn’t pop in my mind. And I guess you can say that if a performance isn’t memorable it isn’t all that great, but I’m blaming this on a moment of sheer stupidity from me, because the performance the young Fanning turns in this film is absolutely marvelous. There are some scenes in this film carried by the younger actors that are really emotional and can really get you misty-eyed, and some others that are just ridiculously well acted; just you take a look again at the scene in which Elle Fanning does her audition for the film the boys are shooting and imagine making this ranking without her name on it. Exactly.

6. CAREY MULLIGAN as Irene in Drive

If you’ve been reading thus far, you know what I’m going to say: another film that’s made it into all four of my rankings so far (4th Film, 2nd Director, 16th Screenplay). And if you’re a regular reader of mine you know just how much I love Carey Mulligan, she’s one of my ten favorite actresses right now, and the stuff she does in Drive is just really great. What’s great is that the film is quite quiet, relying a lot on the faces of its actors than on actual dialogue, mostly in the performance by Ryan Gosling, but also in the one by Ms. Mulligan who’s just so, so good at exuding this kind of vulnerability that adds a lot to the Irene character.

5. OCTAVIA SPENCER as Minny Jackson in The Help

Now, the Oscar statuette probably already has Spencer’s name engraved on it; she’s won every award she’s been up for pretty much, and while I wouldn’t choose her as my winner, she really does give a formidable performance as Minny in The Help, a film with two performances in this ranking. What’s so good about her performance here is that she can do all of the dramatic stuff, just really go at it and get to you in a really great way, but at the same time she has this terrific comedic touch that brought a lot to the role and the overall effect of the film.

4. MELISSA McCARTHY as Megan in Bridesmaids

From the film with my 2nd favorite screenplay and 19th favorite direction, comes my fourth favorite supporting actress performance. Melissa McCarthy is an Oscar nominee for a role that demanded her to shit on a sink; oh the times they are a-changin’. No, but seriously, McCarthy is an infinitely likable actress, she won a bloody Emmy for her work in a decidedly mediocre show probably just because she’s do damn likable. And that’s good, because when you put her charms and talents to use on a good material, you get stuff like Megan in Bridesmaids, wanting to apologize for not knowing which end her gasses came out of, asking her real-life husband if he can feel that steam heat. It’s the most raucously hilarious performance of the year, and I really liked that it was honored.

3. SHAILENE WOODLEY as Alexandra King in The Descendants

Much like The Help, The Descendants also has two entries in this ranking for me, and the fact that Shailene Woodley was snubbed from an Oscar nomination is kind of scandalous to me, especially when it went to McTeer whose performance is nowhere near as good. She plays Alexandra, the daughter of George Clooney’s Matt King, who’s mother just got into a coma, and this is just a seriously stunning breakthrough performance from her, a wonderful performance in which she really does go toe-to-toe with George Clooney in the scenes they share together. She’s the same age as me and I’m just in awe of the fireworks that went off on screen with the brilliance of her performance.

2. JESSICA CHASTAIN as Mrs. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Yes, that’s three appearances from Jessica Chastain in this ranking, this time for The Tree of Life (which I ranked as my 6th Film, 3rd Director and 19th Screenplay), and if justice was exacted, this would have been the role that had gotten her the Oscar nomination and not the one in The Help. That way, I think she might have actually had a shot to win, especially considering how much the Academy apparently loved the Terrence Malick film, and since she wouldn’t have to lose votes to her cast-mate Spencer. But anyways, this is the definitive Jessica Chastain role in a year that saw her give a number of great ones, she brings such emotion to the role that it really helped this film be as affecting as it ultimately was.

1. CAREY MULLIGAN as Sissy Sullivan in Shame

That’s right, another appearance by my adored Carey Mulligan, this time atop of the rankings, for a performance that was inexcusably snubbed by the Academy. Shame has appeared a lot in my rankings so far (2nd Film, 4th Director, 14th Screenplay) and now here, as Ms. Mulligan plays Sissy, the needy sister of Michael Fassbender’s Brandon, with whom its hinted at that she shares this dark and complex connection with from years past, a true damaged soul. Like I said talking about her role in Drive above, Ms. Mulligan is infinitely good at showing vulnerability, and how she exposes her emotions at such a raw level is just impeccable in this film, just showing a relentless need to feel rescued, to have some sort of intimacy with someone.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actresses in a supporting roles. You may realize that only 4 of the Oscar nominees are in this ranking, and that’s not because I didn’t like Bérénice Bejo’s performance in The Artist, because I did, but rather because I think of that performance as a leading one, so look for her in a coming ranking. Were I to ran the Oscars, only McCarthy, Chastain and Spencer would remain nominees, and Chastain would be one for an entirely different film.

Best of 2011: 20 Directors

4 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the third entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Directors of 2011:

20. BRAD BIRD for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

I know this is kind of a weird pick, but, for one, I really loved the latest Mission: Impossible film (it would have been the 21st pick had my Top 20 been expanded), and, secondly, I think a lot of that has to do with how Brad Bird directed it. The fact that this was his first foray into live-action, after winning two Oscar’s for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, shows the man really has the goods, and here he delivers a tremendously fast-paced action flick that’s just full of huge set pieces that are jaw-dropping and it all has just so much style. It’s all done with an action-y kind of grace, with awesome scenes that are impeccably choreographed and a great sense of humor.

19. PAUL FEIG for Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids celebrates women in comedy, written by two extremely funny gals and acted out by an ensemble full of other ones, and it was a hugely refreshing and hilarious film to watch when it came out. But, for all the female talent it has, there are two key male players off-camera that also helped make it the $290 million-grossing film it is. One of them is producer Judd Apatow, but the other is Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks and Geeks and a comedic genius on his own right. This is comedy done to perfection, equal parts raunchy and witty, and with a helluva lot of heart in it, too. After naming it my second favorite screenplay of the year this is now my second ranking in which Bridesmaids appears.

18. DRAKE DOREMUS for Like Crazy

I named this film the eleventh best of all 2011, and its director gets a shout-out in this ranking too. And he has to be here because Like Crazy is all about very raw emotions being on display all the time, and it all starts with Doremus, who based it a lot on his own real-life experience and who gave his actors, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, just a very specific outlines and terrific direction and allowed them to improvise the drama unfolding. It takes a great director to have accomplished the kind of improvisation seen on screen in this film, as natural as it all feels you just know there was a lot of care and loving that went into it. He knows how to keep still and do a lot with silence, and he knows how to guide his actors; truly a talent to watch out for.

17. JEFF NICHOLS for Take Shelter

After appearing on the final spot on my Top 20 Screenplays, Jeff Nichols also appears here for his directing duties on his spellbinding film. It’s just a wonderfully subtle piece of work by him, really knowing how to create this outstanding sense of unease to go along with the mesmerizingly great domestic drama of it all. I just loved his work in this film, how he manages to make it just creep under your skin, making you feel uncomfortable and building a sense of horror while creating a really rich psychological examination of a contemporary American family.

16. ASGHAR FARHADI for A Separation

#15 on my Best Films ranking and #17 on my Best Screenplays one, Asghar Farhadi’s phenomenal film makes yet another appearance in this one. The direction is just so neat, and right after the opening scene Farhadi starts to shape his film tremendously, showing us the heart of the modern Iranian state while also commenting on the more universal themes this film touches upon, like marriage, parenthood, class and just an overall amazing portrayal of life. The ethical and moral questions this film raises are so deftly handled by Farhadi, it’s amazing.

15. JASON REITMAN for Young Adult

#12 on my Best Films ranking and #3 on the Best Screenplays one. Another film that’s now been in all three of my rankings thus far, and I’ve always really loved what Jason Reitman does in his films, and with Juno, Up in the Air and now this one he has a streak of three perfect films going on, and is quickly becoming one of the most important American directors around. It’s kind of a more snarky and sour film than what we’re used to getting from him, and he just knows how to execute that tone perfectly, and even though the portrayal Charlize Theron gives of Mavis Gary and the depiction of her from Diablo Cody’s screenplay don’t make her out as a likable character, he gets us to laugh at her and, maybe, even if it’s just a little bit, actually sympathize.

14. SEAN DURKIN for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Another film on all three of my rankings so far, coming in at #1o on the Best Films list and #13 on the Best Screenplays one. This is actually Sean Durkin’s debut feature, and it’s a thoroughly impressive one, just how he employs the various techniques to shine a light on the state of his lead character is fantastic, using really awesomely the time-shifting narrative, going back and forth from the chronological beginning of the story to the end, he uses that to create a sense of confusion and to make us join into her paranoia and understand how the realities are just as mixed up in her mind. Just a seriously terrific debut from a guy I can’t wait to see more of.

13. GEORGE CLOONEY for The Ides of March

#18 on both my Best Films and Best Screenplays rankings, The Ides of March gets a higher slot here because of how great I thought the direction by George Clooney, who also co-stars in it, was. You just get the sense that the man, while being a terrific actor, also has the makings of a great director, clearly having picked up some stuff after working under the direction of the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh and Jason Reitman. Here he shows he’s good at telling stories of smart men in complicated situations, and he creates just a great atmosphere and a wonderful sense of intrigue, as well as a kind of old-school pacing from political films of the 70’s.

12. LARS VON TRIER for Melancholia

My 16th favorite film of the year gets a nod to its crazy director, the one that got a lifetime ban from the Cannes film festival after some comments he made after the premiere of Melancholia. As always he brings forth a really unique vision to this apocalyptic story, but seeing the end of the world not in some grand way but in a smaller scope, in a very intimate way that allowed him to get a career-best performance from Kirsten Dunst, who just shines in this film, as well as create some really striking imagery to go along with the literal end of the world as well as for the inner crumbling down of the world that the depressed character Ms. Dunst plays is going through.

11. LYNNE RAMSAY for We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay is one of the most talented female filmmakers around, and after a nine year absence (since 2002’s great Morvern Callar), she was back at it again with this film, teaming up with the great Tilda Swinton, an actress who delivers an amazing performance and in which she can rely to let tell the story and just take a more backed off kind of approach. How she employs the flashbacks to shine a light on the life of Eva before and after the school shooting committed by her own son is terrific, and how she never takes the easy way out of making Eva a pitiable character is terrific, trusting her actors to do all the heavy-lifting to make the story function, which the really succeed at under her confident direction.

10. TOMAS ALFREDSON for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Another film that’s been on all three of my rankings thus far, and in the Top 10 of all of them (#9 film, #8 screenplay, now this), and I guess I’ll say it again for this ranking: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the smartest film to have come out in 2011. And kudos must be given to Tomas Alfredson who after delivering the sublime Let The Right One In in 2008 now made the leap to English language films with this one. And boy did he succeed tremendously, masterfully crafting a film that never once underestimates its audience, giving us an intricately-plotted film and never once dumbing it down, trusting that we’re smart enough to follow them through the puzzles of the espionage world he and his cast and crew so expertly craft.

9. BENNETT MILLER for Moneyball

Another film that’s been in the Top 10 of all my rankings so far (#7 film, #4 screenplay, now this). The fact that Bennett Miller has only made two feature films is actually quite stunning when you consider the two have been Capote and now this one. He really does bring a lot to the table in this film, a film that was based on a book about baseball statistics, but that thanks to the wonderful script, amazing performances, mainly from Brad Pitt, and the skillful Mr. Miller who made this film not about the numbers but about the people crunching them, and the relationships between them which really made this film as perfect as it ultimately was.

8. WOODY ALLEN for Midnight in Paris

My fourteenth favorite film and my very favorite screenplay of the year; all of that because of Woody. I’m an unapologetic Woody Allen fan, even his lesser works do it for me, the guy just seemingly having a direct line to my sensibilities and to my funny bone. Midnight in Paris, of course, is Woody going back to doing to what he does best and to what he’s actually the best at doing in the world; this film is just so beautifully embedded in a lot of nostalgia, and is so funny and charming, and everything else that a Woody Allen film should be. The opening scene of this one is as much an homage to Paris as the opening of Manhattan was to the place where he made his best work. He’s just sheer genius.

7. MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS for The Artist

The presumed front-runner for the Oscar. And while that award should certainly go to Martin Scorsese, I guess the frenchman would also be a worthy winner. Creating a silent, black-and-white film that has captivated every person that’s watched it (and that I ranked as the #8 film and #12 screenplay). It works as an homage of the highest class to the Golden Era of Hollywood, recreating the charm of the films of the time, showing that he as a director is skillful and knowledgeable about his art to make a film like this, knowing how to thrill and move his audience and make one of the most entertaining films of the year out of a silent film.

6. ALEXANDER PAYNE for The Descendants

One of the greatest living American directors, as well as the man responsible for the screenplay of the film (which I ranked #7 in that ranking) and the film itself being my fifth favorite of the year. Here again he captures the essence of life every so masterfully, giving us his very unique human mix of emotions that take you by surprise; sometimes having you laugh at what’s happening on screen, sometimes having you cry. The balance between tragic and funny on display in The Descendants is one that only a man like Alexander Payne could have achieved, and the moments of emotional sincerity on display in this film, most of them acted out by George Clooney in a career-best performance, are a thing of beauty.

5. DAVID FINCHER for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher is probably one of my five favorite living directors, after delivering my second favorite directing effort of 2010 with the masterpiece that was The Social Network he’s at it again only a year later with my third favorite film of 2011 (and the one that had my 15th favorite screenplay of the year). Creating a two-and-a-half-hour film that’s unapologetically brutal and ever so captivating, getting an iconic performance from Rooney Mara that will grab you by the throat and never let you go. Every single frame of this film, from that insanely awesome opening sequence onwards, is sheer perfection, he’s known for asking up to a hundred takes of any one scene, but at least he has stuff to back that crazy request with when the results are going to be as masterful as they are here.

4. STEVE McQUEEN for Shame

My second favorite film of the year, and the one with my fourteenth favorite screenplay. Steve McQueen is proving to be a director with a truly unique voice. He’s such an intense kind of director, ready to deliver some truly outstanding and powerful films that will certainly leave their mark on you once you see them. Shame won’t be for everyone, I know that, but to me it was just spectacular to see how a director so vividly portrayed a state of addiction and an inner life that’s a living hell through his lead character, Brandon, that’s so masterfully acted by Michael Fassbender, who was also McQueen’s lead in Hunger, proving that theirs is one of the most exciting actor-director tandems in film right now.

3. TERRENCE MALICK for The Tree of Life

I ranked the film as the sixth best of the year, and the screenplay as the nineteenth best, but Terrence Malick as a director gets a higher positioning because this film proves why he’s such an exceptional auteur, and why his long, tedious and picky process of creation really does pay off. The Tree of Life is a true cinematic achievement in every sense of the word, even if you think some scenes are too long and how it sometimes didn’t feel all that cohesive a film you have to acknowledge that, you have to acknowledge the man made a tremendously special film that, even if the emotional and spiritual parts of it didn’t ring true to you, is still an undeniable visual feast.

2. NICOLAS WINDING REFN for Drive

#4 film, #16 screenplay, and now #2 director. Nicolas Winding Refn is a man with such a unique and incredibly awesome visual style that Drive is just a masterpiece pretty much solely because of that, and if the aforementioned director-actor tandem of McQueen-Fassbender is one that really gets me excited, so too is the one of Refn-Gosling, since the two really seem to have a lot of chemistry and trust in each other in this one. How he uses violence is just outstanding, maybe it’s too extreme for some, but it was just right for me, and as shocking as it may be, it’s not gratuitous, but used by the director to elicit reactions from his audience, and that, alongside some of the other heavily-stylized techniques he employs, are used to really add a lot to the end product.

1. MARTIN SCORSESE for Hugo

Of course Martin Scorsese was going to top this ranking for me; Hugo I have already named as the best film of 2011, and the screenplay for it I ranked eleventh in those rankings. Considering he’s my favorite director all-time, this was a no-brainer. Also considering he crafted another masterpiece, but this time did so straying far away from his comfort zone, making a film aimed at kids, in 3D no less. But this is also probably the most personal film the legend has ever made, one he did so that his young daughter Francesca could finally see a film of his, one that he did as a beautiful love letter to the art of cinema himself, one that he’s incredibly passionate about and does so much to preserve. A clear #1 for me. All 5 of the Oscar nominees are in my Top 10, but if I ran the Oscars, only two of them, Scorsese and Malick, would have actually gotten a nominated, here’s hoping Scorsese can pull of the win against Hazanavicius.

Best of 2011: 20 Screenplays

3 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. The second entry will be my Top 20 Screenplays of 2011:

20. TAKE SHELTER written by Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed the magnificent Take Shelter, and he shows such a great confidence as a filmmaker that it’s just astonishing, and this film in particular is one of those that the second it finishes you’ll be wanting to see again. And even though the performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, as well as Mr. Nichols’ direction, take a lot of credit for this film being so good, so too does its screenplay. You never once really know where this film is headed, and what’s best is that it’s created such a great sense of tension that you get a bit scared about where it’ll end up. I thought it was a brilliant script that took its time to create a slowburn effect and gradually reveal its many intricate layers.

19. THE TREE OF LIFE written by Terrence Malick

This film held the 6th spot on my Top 20 Films of 2011, and its screenplay gets a mention in this ranking as well. What’s so impressive about this screenplay is that it could easily also be released as a novel, it’s just so extremely descriptive, going into lengths about those many little details Terrence Malick is know to be a perfectionist over, describing exactly how he wanted the many breathtakingly gorgeous images in his film to look. It’s so immensely rich, full of some really fascinating ideas that demonstrate just how complex and ambitious this film was, good thing for us that they translated to perfection on screen.

18. THE IDES OF MARCH written by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the play by Beau Willimon

Another film that also cracked my Top 20 Films ranking (at 18th) and that gets that same spot in my Screenplay rankings. The script, which got an Oscar nod, shows why the film was an entertaining, dialogue-driven film. It starts off setting the stage really well, delivering great dialogue and pacing, giving us a great inside look at how political campaigns are ran. The Ides of March is a movie made for actors, certainly, with just quite a lot of character development and more than a few scenes that are all about snappy banter that the film has a hugely talented ensemble deliver. The one thing that’s a bit off and why I didn’t rank it higher is that, for the same reason and the fact that it’s based on a play, it actually feels sometimes like a piece that belongs in a stage. But still, this is a pretty damn good screenplay.

17. A SEPARATION written by Asghar Farhadi

The film that was 15th on my Film rankings gets a mention in the Screenplay one as well, thanks to a seriously powerful script that managed to snag an Oscar nomination, which is rare for a foreign language film. And it’s honestly a terrific screenplay, one that brings forth a lot of seriously powerful ethical questions to be asked by both characters and audiences alike, and that in the domestic drama that it presents it’s tremendously structured to create a really tense environment. So far all 4 of my mentions in this ranking have been written or co-written by the film’s director, which shows how great the writer-director’s visions were in 2011.

16. DRIVE written by Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis

The script for Drive, my fourth favorite film of the year, is great as it is, but what actually elevates it to a category of greatness is what director Nicolas Winding Refn does with it, he kind of strips it down, leaving pretty much just the naked essence of it for us to see. What we then get is a pretty quiet film, in which the imagery says more than words ever could, but in which the words that are actually used just phenomenal. Not to mention that, by not having long explanatory scenes or huge displays of dialogue, the film actually manages to get in quite a lot of plot into its 100 minute running time, which was tremendously well done.

15. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO written by Steve Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson

My #3 film of the year had a script by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (he won for Schindler’s List), who had the tough task to not only adapt a hugely popular book that was in everyone’s hands not that long ago, but also one that had already been successfully adapted into a great film just a bit over a year ago. Thankfully, the fact that this was being made for big bucks, by a studio, to be consumed by a wider audience, didn’t mean the screenplay was like a sanitized version of the novel, this was as gritty as you could imagine, and the tough scenes are tremendously brought to life by director David Fincher and a hugely talented cast.

14. SHAME written by Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan

Shame is my second favorite film of the year, and Michael Fassbender said that he read the script over 300 times in order to really get immersed in his character, so you can be sure the script dealt a lot with its characters. Written by director Steve McQueen with Abi Morgan the script is much more straightforward narratively than Mr. McQueen’s previous film, which was the excellent Hunger, and much more plot-driven too. Which is good, but still, it’s a tough script to get through because of its very graphic nature and harsh look at addiction, but just how perfectly it delves into the day-to-day routine of Brandon, the lead character, and the inner hell he goes through because of his sex addiction, is incredible.

13. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE written by Sean Durkin

Yet another film written by its director, and another script from a film that was in my personal Top 20 (it landed at number 10). The script is sensationally well-structured, the back-and-forth technique it uses to go between the memories of Martha about her time in a cult to the present day is impeccable done, because it gets to the point in which, much like the character herself does, the line between past and present gets a bit blurry, which helps us get to feel her mental state. The film had great performances and direction, but a lot of it came from the script too, that scene in which John Hawkes’ character sings a song at the cult’s ceremony is incredible in how much narrative momentum it achieves. Just an impeccable debut, both writing and directing-wise, from Sean Durkin.

12. THE ARTIST written by Michel Hazanavicius

Yes, it’s a screenplay for a silent film, with title cards to indicate dialogue, with actors moving their lips even though nothing is coming out of them. And yet it’s so magical and enchanting and fresh and unique and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before; it’s a screenplay that pays homage to a great era of Hollywood by creating some really memorable scenarios and characters that don’t really need words to come alive and for us to connect with them. Michel Hazanavicius also directed the film, so he knew exactly what he wanted to get; and boy did he get it, I ranked the film as the 8th best of 2011.

11. HUGO written by John Logan, based on the book by Brian Selznick

Yes this was my favorite film of the year and the screenplay for it doesn’t even crack the Top 10. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all, and it deservedly got an Oscar nod for John Logan, but it just wasn’t as masterful as the film itself. Still, how it managed to get George Méliés’ story within the frame of Hugo’s actually made this a much more emotional film than if it had been a straightforward biopic of Méliés. I loved this, I loved how great a love letter to cinema it was and how great an innocent a kids movie it was at the same time.

10. WIN WIN written by Thomas McCarthy, story by Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni

Win Win is a beautiful little film, one that just makes you want to experience it again after you finish it, and it all comes from the fact that Tom McCarthy is the kind of writer-director that is genius at portraying real people and real emotions. The tone throughout the entire film is so firmly grounded in its screenplay, one that tells a story that’s actually quite easy for you to read and guess where it’s going next, which is good because it enables you to get a glimpse at all the perfectly nuanced aspects of the film. Funny, low-key and, most importantly, terrifically honest, Win Win is a brilliant example of screenwriting.

9. MARGIN CALL written by J.C. Chandor

One of the biggest and most welcome surprises on Nomination morning was to sound of J.C. Chandor’s name being called out when they nominated this screenplay, his debut feature as both a writer and director. It’s the first script that actually knows how to tackle the subject of our most recent economic depression, a script about the power of money and greedy men. It starts off tremendously strong and follows through with a huge array of characters and situations that are really tightly written by a guy that certainly knows a lot about the stuff he’s writing about. Subject matter aside, this is a script done by a writer who knows that good characters in high stakes situations are exactly what makes for good drama, and he gave us the timeliest and most high stake situation of recent times. Just a job really well done.

8. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré

I’ve said that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may just have been the smartest film of all 2011, it has a lot of moving pieces and it works like a puzzle full of paranoia, just so intricately plotted. The fact that the script got an Oscar nomination is just really well deserved, because balancing all the facts and events and characters is not easy at all, and you’ll have to pay close attention while you see the film to really get it, but it successfully manages to balance it all out, just a seriously fantastic adaptation of a classic of espionage literature. And yes, Gary Oldman as Smiley is the shit.

7. THE DESCENDANTS written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Alexander Payne already has an Oscar for writing Sideways, a hugely deserved one, and he may be getting another one soon for the adaptation of the Kaui Hart Hemmings novel he did alongside Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, which became the fifth best film I saw all of last year. What’s so amazing about how this script works is that it takes all the time it needs to slowly, and beautifully, unfold. From the very get-go there’s something about these characters that feels incredibly human, and when the people, the places and the emotions on-screen feel real it’s just incredibly easy to lose yourself in them. How the screenplay manages to so perfectly mix comedy and drama is truly outstanding, achieving a balance that makes every laugh and every tear feel earned.

6. 50/50 written by Will Reiser

I think this script is terrific; I think the tone it achieves, the structure of it, the characters it crafts, everything I thought was just sensationally achieved. Will Reiser of course wrote this basing it on his own experience with cancer, and I guess it takes a person who has actually gone through something like to be able to achieve this mix between the funny and the serious, to walk such a fine tightrope and come out so successfully. This was just a seriously smart screenplay that never once went for the sort of clichés you might think fitting for this kind of story, it never once wanted to leave you crying, and it’s because of that, because it wasn’t manipulating, that it earns your tears, just as greatly as it earns your laughs.

5. BEGINNERS written by Mike Mills

I saw Beginners for the first time back in June, and I’ve seen it I think three extra times since then, and every single one of those times I feel like it’s this extremely awesome kind of surprise. Even though I’ve seen it before and know exactly what’s coming next, it manages to surprise me, it manages to put a smile on my face. And that all starts with the impressive script by Mike Mills, who makes even familiar moments feel truly fresh, and he achieves that because every feeling on screen from his characters, every exchange, feels spectacularly honest. From the great structure, going from the past to the present, to the great voiceover, to the subtitled musings of the adorable Jack Russell terrier, Beginners is a treat. And if you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to experience it.

4. MONEYBALL written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, with story by Stan Chervin, based on the book by Michael Lewis

In 2010 Aaron Sorkin adapted a book about Facebook into the masterpiece that was The Social Network and rightfully won an Oscar for his work, it was by far the best script of that year. Now he had the task to yet again adapt a book that would seem unadaptable, one about baseball statistics, collaborating on a screenplay by Steve Zaillian (who also wrote the #15 on this list), and penning out one that would result in the film that I named the seventh best of last year. The screenplay is just so tightly-written, and it’s typical Sorkin, where people just really intelligently talk really fast and about fascinating stuff. I love the fact that films this smart are being made, ones that rely just on solid words and actors being pitch-perfect at delivering them.

3. YOUNG ADULT written by Diablo Cody

Diablo Cody wrote one of my favorite screenplays of the past decade with the one she did for Juno, the name of this blog “artfully bedraggled” even comes from a description she makes at the beginning of it, so you can say that I’m a bit of sucker for her style of writing. Though I still prefer Juno to this one, I do believe that this may be her most mature effort to date, a story that’s really funny, but that’s also considerably dark and more than a little bit messed up. Mavis Gary is an unlikable character and Cody never once feels compelled to make us sympathetic towards her, but instead never once lets her off the hook, and crafts a really piercing character study. This woman is one of my favorite screenwriters right now, I now she has her detractors, and so be it, I just think she has a knack for this, and this new effort of hers shows she’s moving forward in all the right directions.

2. BRIDESMAIDS written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo

In a year when The Hangover Part II was expected by everyone to be the most hilarious film in the world, a week before it I got to see Bridesmaids, which was being seen by some as the female equivalent to it. Well, we know how The Hangover Part II turned out, and we know how it was Bridesmaids that had everyone roaring with laughter. With a script by SNL MVP Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, which got them an Oscar nod, this was just an expert mix of hilarious raunchy comedy, one that was actually done the right way, with a lot of heart at the same time, a film that at its heart is all about friendship. I loved this film from beginning to end, and even though the cast had a lot to do with it, it would have been nowhere as great without this screenplay.

1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS written by Woody Allen

My favorite screenplay of the year belongs to my 14th favorite film of the year. It’s the one that saw the return of Woody Allen, writing a film reminiscent of his classic films from decades ago, and one that will, if there’s any justice in this world, earn him his fourth Oscar (his third for writing). Woody Allen is the kind of writer-director that you don’t want to see experimenting and veering off in different directions, because he’s already the best at what he does, and he’s been the best at what he does for four decades now, and Midnight in Paris shows that he’s not slowing down, even though his detractors of late had been suggesting as much. Out of my Top 20 Screenplays, 13 are originals and 7 are adapted. But the real interesting thing, I thought, was that 12 out of the 20 were either written or co-written by the film’s director, showing how great the writer-director vision is nowadays. And my Top 20 included all 10 of the Oscar nominees.