THE CINEMATIC UNDERDOGS OF 2010 (PART TWO)

Too many fantastic performances and films are not getting the recognition they deserve.
By Alex Nagorski

(Click here to read part one of this post)

The Kids Are All Right was a gorgeous and poignant film. This is not news. Annette Benning was incredible as one half of a lesbian couple fighting for their marriage after their two children’s biological father enters the picture and proves to be the wildly destabilizing element in the family dynamic.

Annette_bening_Julianne_moore_kids_are_all_right While Benning is receiving much deserved attention (critics predict that the battle for Battle Actress will be narrowed down to her and Portman), what about her co-star Julianne Moore? Moore was just as excellent as Benning was, and in my mind, is one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actresses. Sure, she gets a lot of work, but when it comes down to awards, Moore is seldom recognized.

Perhaps the lack of attention Moore is getting has to do with the fact that many reviewers had major problems with her character. She was criticized for sleeping with Mark Ruffalo, another underappreciated actor in this film’s terrific ensemble. Some critics charged that this turned what started out as a progressive film into a piece of everyday heteronormative Hollywood rubbish. What went over these reviewers’ heads, however, was that The Kids Are All Right is a movie where labels simply don’t exist.

Just because the two protagonists are lesbians does not mean they are limited to a certain definition of what their sexual activities entail. The Kids Are All Right is not a movie about LGBT issues so much as it is about the basic human desires to feel needed, wanted, and even loved.

(Fixating on the fact that these are two women married is in fact somewhat homophobic on the part of any reviewer who cannot see that eliminating set definitions and labels is in fact hugely progressive in terms of LGBT portrayal in cinema).
Benning and Moore’s lesbianism is not the focus – rather it is their marriage. Hence why I get so irked when people talk about this as “that lesbian movie,” because that completely misses the film’s point. Moore did a superb job with her character and thoroughly deserves to be in the running against Benning, Portman, and Winter Bone’s Jennifer Lawrence.
Blue-Valentine-Movie-Review Another gorgeous movie about the struggles of marriage is Blue Valentine. In fact, I’d argue that I have never seen a more moving film about what it means to commit to a lifetime with someone else. Originally slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating due to a few semi-graphic sex scenes, the film was ultimately released with an R rating.
However, it is not the sex that is the rawest part of Blue Valentine — rather it is the emotionally devastating performances of its two stars, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
 
(Remember that scene from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom where that one dude literally rips that other dude’s heart out? That’s how you’ll feel after you watch Gosling and Williams in this film.) 
They’re so fantastic and convincing as their characters Dean and Cindy, that you forget you’re even watching a movie — and instead feel like an intruder observing these characters’ intimate lives.
Although Gosling and Williams both received Golden Globe nods for their performances, insiders don’t predict that either one of them will receive Academy recognition since they’re up against higher profile stars and films. Between Blue Valentine and her scene-stealing role in Shutter Island, however, Williams should be a shoe-in for a nomination. If Rabbit Hole‘s Nicole “Zombie Face” Kidman gets one instead, I’ll probably pull a Marion Cottilard-in-Inception and jump off the ledge of a hotel room balcony. 
(And don’t even get me started about how Blue Valentine did not get Golden Globe recognition for Best Picture … whereas shitty movies like Burlesque, Alice In Wonderland, and The Tourist can all claim that they did. Like … WHAT?!?!?!?)
That doesn’t exhaust the list of underappreciated films in 2010.  Frozen, a movie about three friends stuck high on a chairlift after a ski resort has closed down for the week, was a nail-biting thriller that chilled me to the bone (see what I did there?).
Easy A was such a smart teen comedy that I was shocked Tina Fey didn’t write it. It joined the ranks of Heathers, Clueless, Jawbreaker and Mean Girls, all films that not only understand their niche genre, but are able to expand on it and appeal to much larger audiences. The same can be said about Dare, a Cruel Intentions-style teen dramedy that almost nobody even heard of, let alone saw. 
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World blew my mind with its mix of comedy and video game vs. comic visual effects. Cyrus and Please Give both made me laugh out loud and tugged at my charcoal heart strings.  Exit Through The Gift Shop and Catfish were trippy documentaries that made my head spin twenty times more than Inception did, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work shed new light on both a comedy icon, as well as what it means to make it in Hollywood.
(In my ideal world, the Oscars would go to Black Swan for Best Picture, Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and James Franco (127 Hours … even though he was also fabulous in Howl) for Best Actors, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) for Best Director, Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) and either Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey (Black Swan) for Best Supporting Actors, Christopher Nolan (Inception) for Best Original Screenplay, and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) for Best Adapted Screenplay (can you tell I really, really liked Black Swan?). 
We’ll have to wait until February 27th until this year’s winners are announced, but let’s hope that the Academy does not overlook certain phenomenal, gut-wrenching performances before Mo’nique formally announces the nominations tomorrow. 

And a note to everyone out there: do not stand near any mirrors if Natalie Portman gets shafted because I WILL be having my own “WHAT HAPPENED TO MY SWEET GIRL?” moment. 

Originally published on Crazytown Blog

THE CINEMATIC UNDERDOGS OF 2010 (PART ONE)

Too many fantastic performances are not getting the recognition they deserve.
By Alex Nagorski

2010 wasn’t a great year for Hollwyood. I will never understand how dreadful films like Skyline, Little Fockers, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or I Love You Philip Morris were even financed. I’ll also never understand how Paul Rudd, who is usually so funny, lost all of his humor this year between shit-tastic movies like Dinner For Schmucks and How Do You Know.

But I guess not everything was terrible. Where there were ten terrible movies, there was one great one. And while many of these good films are receiving a ton of Oscar Buzz, a lot of fantastic performances and movies have somehow slipped under the cracks of the award circuit.

Let’s start with Black Swan. Yes, Natalie Portman was amazing (I’ll spare you the overused and cheesy clichés about her dancing her way into our hearts). Ever since I watched her unleash a little bat-shit craziness in Cold Mountain and inspire all the lyrics to Panic! At The Disco’s first album whilst gyrating wearing a pink wig on a stripper pole in Closer, whether or not she is a mega-talent has not been a question to me.

When I walked out of Black Swan, the first thing I did was turn to my boyfriend and vow that if Natalie didn’t win best actress at the Academy Awards this year, I’d boycott the ceremony from here on out.

Then again, I said that every year Kate Winslet didn’t win and still hosted Oscar parties every February (#reasonsyouknowyou’regay). But I digress.

While Natalie was inarguably the star of the film, it would be a travesty to let her co-stars go unrecognized. I’m glad Mila Kunis is getting the attention she deserves because she had that whole bohemian, laid back, eats-burgers-instead-of-grapefruit, frenemy thing down pat, but um, hello, what about the two other pivotal characters of the movie? 

Barbara Hershey and Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN_1 Although nobody stands a chance against The Fighter’s Christian Bale in the Best Supporting Actor  category, Vincent Cassel was fantastic as the I-know-you’re-kind-of-a-creep-but-you-can-touch-me-anyway head of the ballet company. And how about Barbara Hershey as Natalie’s obsessive and overbearing mother?

(Note to Aronofsky: please make a spin-off film about this character)

Bitch made Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest look like she deserved the parent-of-the-year award. Hershey’s display of resentment and jealousy of her daughter—followed by her flash of genuine pride–earns a nod to compete against Mila, that really tall fetus from True Grit, and the ladies of The Fighter.

And while we’re on the topic, let’s talk about The Fighter. Christian Bale did some crack and pulled another The Machinist-type body transformation. I get it. It’s called method acting. He was as incredible as Mark Wahlberg’s burnt-out, junkie brother/trainer as his voice in the Batman films is creepily deep.

And Melissa Leo, kudos to you. You made me hate your character so much, which according to my cinematically-challenged best friend who I watched the movie with, means that you “were really good.” No arguing that.

But what about the star of the movie? Marky Mark was excellent as the man trying to step out of his sibling’s shadow and make a name for himself (cue Ashlee Simpson’s “Shadow”). Mickey Ward is the most delicate and complex character that Wahlberg has ever played (think of him as the opposite of his character in the deliciously campy 90’s hit Fear). Never has he been as convincing as he is as the gentle giant within the bulky Tommy Hilfiger underwear model exterior.

My other dilemma with The Fighter comes in the form of Amy Adams. Don’t get me wrong girl: I thought you were great. But were you really good enough to be getting all this Golden Globe/Academy Award attention?

I understand that this is probably the first role you’ve played since Tara’s sister on Buffy that your audience didn’t think that you were going to go home and cuddle with stuffed unicorns on fluffy pink sheets spread on top of your bed of rainbows after the camera stopped rolling. But I’m not sure that necessarily means you deserve an Oscar.

Town_blake Personally, I was more impressed with Blake Lively as Ben Affleck’s ex-girlfriend and baby mama in The Town. The  fact that Lively is not getting any award attention whatsoever is clearly because everyone is afraid of  giving an acting award to the star of Gossip Girl. After watching twenty minutes of one episode of that show, I completely understand that.

Unfortunately, I do think that television stars frequently get unfairly shafted on the silver screen due to the work they do on the small screen … or the 42 inch HD flat-screen. Whatever.

Remember back in 2002 when Jennifer Aniston was still on Friends? Of course you do. But do you also remember the dark little indie drama she made that year, The Good Girl? Probably not. Aniston was fantastic as a depressed, unsatisfied, blue-collar housewife. It was impossible not to feel for her or to root for her affair with Jake Gyllenhaal’s character to give her new, positive experiences. It was a truly heart-wrenching and beautiful film that showcased Aniston’s fantastic dramatic abilities, but nobody even considered an award due to her status as one of the world’s biggest sitcom stars at the time.

Or if this example dates too far back for you, anyone who saw this year’s Rabbit Hole will tell you that Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh, although in a small role, nailed the part of the pothead in Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman’s support group and who ultimately becomes Eckhart’s temptress into potential adultery. But wait, Oh is also on a cheesy primetime television show, so her name won’t even be on the waiting list of the awards ballot.
 

So to Lively and Oh, just know that at least one person recognized your work this year.

Originally published on Crazytown Blog
Part two coming 01/24/11