What a weird year for movies. I'm pretty sure I saw more films in 2011 than I have in any other 12-month period of my life, and yet it seems like I saw fewer truly good films than ever. Maybe the sheer volume made it just *seem* like there was less quality out there, but as I look over the list of the year's releases, very little stands out as material I would be excited to watch again. That's really the ultimate test. There were plenty of just 'good' movies in 2011 --- your J. Edgars, your Carnages, your Harry Potter 7.5s, etc. But, if any of these show up in a Netflix queue, I won't be rushing to load them up.
As such, the Markademy Awards are going to be a bit different this year, as I'm doing to expand a bit of category expansion to include some of the worst movies of the year. But, unlike Terrence Malick, I won't put the lousy stuff up first, I'll start with the quality. With my initial reactions to the Oscar nominations in mind, here are my predictions, preferences and public floggings (not a Fassbender-in-Shame reference) about both Oscar night and my personal selections about the best of 2011.
BEST ACTOR Actual nominees: Demian Bichir/A Better Life, George Clooney/The Descendants/Jean Dujardin/The Artist, Gary Oldman/Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brad Pitt/Moneyball
Snubbed: Leonardo DiCaprio/J. Edgar, Fellag/Monsieur Lazhar, Paul Giamatti/Win Win, Brendan Gleeson/The Guard, Michael Shannon/Take Shelter
My Ballot: DiCaprio, Dujardin, Giamatti, Pitt, Shannon
The Best Actor race looked like it would be a clash between three huge stars (Clooney, DiCaprio and Pitt) before Leo got cut out of a nomination since seemingly nobody like his movie, despite his fantastic, career-best performance. Then it seemed like Clooney had the edge on Pitt despite the fact that Pitt actually gave a performance, whereas ol' George just delivered little more than a variation on the standard Clooney persona. Heck, it wasn't even the most interesting "Clooney persona variation" of the year, as Clooney was much better in The Ides Of March.
But then, out of nowhere, emerged a consensus. Jean Dujardin has three major things working in his favour, all of which have made him the consensus choice on Oscar night. Firstly, he gave a great performance that not many actors could've pulled off, relying entirely on his face and body language throughout a silent movie. Secondly, everyone loves The Artist, so Dujardin can ride the wave. And, finally, don't underestimate the fact that Dujardin has been classing it up on the red carpet and awards circuit for months now, charming everything in his path.
Some notes on the other actors: Bichir's victory is just in getting nominated, as it puts him on the map in a big way and gives a boost to his little-seen but wide good picture. Oldman has FINALLY gotten a long overdue Oscar nomination, one that I wasn't sure he'd get given how understated and subtle his role in TTSS is (apart from one knockout scene) but needless to say, it's a long time coming. Pitt continues to add to his resume as a very underrated actor; as I put it in my review of Moneyball, he's charismatic enough that watching him not watch a ballgame was fascinating. And finally, let's all ask ourselves how in hell Michael Shannon didn't get nominated for Take Shelter. I was a hair away from giving him the win, and he didn't even make the five-man cut?!
My Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio Real Winner: Jean Dujardin
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Actual nominees: Berenice Bejo/The Artist, Jessica Chastain/The Help, Melissa McCarthy/Bridesmaids, Janet McTeer/Albert Nobbs, Octavia Spencer/The Help
Snubbed: Rose Byrne/Bridesmaids, Marion Cotillard/Midnight In Paris and Little White Lies, Elle Fanning/Super 8, Carey Mulligan/Shame, Vanessa Redgrave/Coriolanus, Amy Ryan/Win Win, J. Smith-Cameron/Margaret
My Ballot: Chastain (but for Take Shelter, not The Help), Cotillard, McCarthy, Redgrave, Ryan
Great year in the supporting actress category, as though my ballot is markedly different from the actual nominees, I can't really fault the Academy's choices. (I haven't seen Albert Nobbs yet but everyone seems to agree that McTeer was an obvious choice.) The only issue is that Octavia Spencer is going to win and, while I liked her performance, much like 'The Help' overall I just didn't think there was very much to it. Of all the actresses I named above, Spencer barely cracks a top 10, let alone a top five. My pick is the always-great Amy Ryan, who was just so damn good in the underrated 'Win Win,' a terrific little character study of a movie.
My Winner: Amy Ryan Real Winner: Octavia Spencer
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Actual nominees: Kenneth Branagh/My Week With Marilyn, Jonah Hill/Moneyball, Nick Nolte/Warrior, Christopher Plummer/Beginners, Max von Sydow/Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Snubbed: Paul Bettany/Margin Call, Albert Brooks/Drive, John Hawkes/Martha Marcy May Marlene, Ben Kingsley/Hugo, Jude Law/Contagion, Hunter McCracken/Tree Of Life, Viggo Mortensen/A Dangerous Method, Patton Oswalt/Young Adult, Brad Pitt/Tree Of Life, John C. Reilly/Cedar Rapids and Carnage, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Kevin Spacey/Margin Call
My Ballot: Bettany, Hawkes, Kingsley, Plummer, Reilly
Plummer has enjoyed a near-sweep of the critics' awards, is a beloved veteran, has never won an Oscar before, and he's probably the surest bet of the entire Academy Awards. While I can't say he'd be my first choice as the best supporting actor of the year, a win would make him the first Oscar winner I've seen perform live (as King Lear at Stratford in 2003) and also the first Oscar winner I've personally shook hands with (he was my convocation speaker when I graduated from UWO). Surely I can't pass up a chance to award these bits of personal trivia.
My pick, however, has made a bit of history. For the first time in Markademy Awards history, we have a back-to-back champion. John Hawkes won last year's trophy for his awesome role (and actual Academy-nominated) role in Winter's Bone, and this year, he may have even topped himself as the creepy-as-fuck cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I'll just refer to as MMMM like it's the world's scariest Crash Test Dummies song. As I said last year, Hawkes is the new Harvey Keitel, except that Keitel looks tough and tightly-wound --- the beauty of Hawkes is that he turn his natural nebbishness vicious at the drop of a hat. Hawkes is quickly rising up my list of favourite actors and he got absolutely jobbed out of a real-life nomination. You're telling me Hawkes wasn't better than Branagh's half-assed Olivier impression, or Nolte just basically playing himself? Come on.
My Winner: John Hawkes Actual Winner: Christopher Plummer
BEST ACTRESS Actual nominees: Glenn Close/Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis/The Help, Rooney Mara/The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Meryl Streep/The Iron Lady, Michelle Williams/My Week With Marilyn
Snubbed: Olivia Colman/Tyrannosaur, Vera Farminga/Higher Ground, Elizabeth Olsen/Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tilda Swinton/We Need To Talk About Kevin, Charlize Theron/Young Adult, Mia Wasikowska/Jane Eyre, Kristen Wiig/Bridesmaids
My Ballot: Olsen, Streep, Swinton, Theron, Williams
Viola Davis is going to win the Oscar and I while have no issue with her excellent performance itself, I don't think it's really a lead role. It falls into that nebulous trap that catches so many performances in ensembles, not unlike Kevin Spacey's great role in Margin Call this year, where I guess you could consider the role the first among equals, but it just didn't really have the oomph that a lead role demands. It stands out amongst the other nominees especially, as all four other women (not to mention Theron, Swinton and Olsen) were all the singular force carrying their movies. This all being said, since there is no "best in an ensemble" Oscar, Davis winning is much more preferable than when clear leads sneak into the supporting category just for the sake of winning an easier category.
As I outlined in my review of My Week With Marilyn, Williams is my pick all the way, though Theron, Swinton and the always-amazing Streep made me think about it. Streep will get another losing nomination to her record, though if she really wants to win that third Oscar, Streep should stop taking on these scripts (Iron Lady, Julie/Julia, Devil Wears Prada, etc.) where she has to single-handedly carry everything. Pick a better movie, Meryl! Save yourself the heavy lifting.
I don't have my Academy record book in front of me, but I think this is the first time when someone (Rooney Mara) has been nominated for giving an inferior performance than someone else in the same role just the YEAR PRIOR. Swedish Dragon Tattoo and U.S. Dragon Tattoo are the same movie! Fincher's version was glossier, tighter and objectively about 15% better overall, but the Swedish version had Noomi Rapace killing it as Lisbeth Salander. Hard to believe Mara beat out two past Oscar winners in Theron and Swinton, both of whom gave really strong, unique performances in really interesting movies.
My Winner: Michelle Williams Actual Winner: Viola Davis
BEST DIRECTOR Actual nominees: Woody Allen/Midnight In Paris, Michel Hazanavicius/The Artist, Terrence Malick/The Tree Of Life, Alexander Payne/The Descendants, Martin Scorsese/Hugo
Snubbed: Philippe Falardeau/Monsieur Lazhar, Asghar Farhadi/A Separation, Michel Hazanavicius/The Artist, Bennett Miller/Moneyball, Lynne Ramsay/We Need To Talk About Kevin, Jason Reitman/Young Adult, Martin Scorsese/Hugo, Steven Spielberg/Adventures of Tintin
My Ballot: Allen, Farhadi, Hazanavicius, Ramsay, Scorsese
Hazanavicius won the Director's Guild award, thus making him the heavy favourite for the Oscar win the two trophies almost always match up. BUT, if there was ever a year for them to not match up, this could be a perfect storm of factors. You have Scorsese the legend, making a movie that's basically a love letter to filmmaking itself, squaring off against the unknown Frenchman making his first high-profile project. There's a lot of love for The Artist, of course, but Hugo's long list of nominations makes it clear that there is some strong Academy sentiment for that one too.
The DGA precursor is strong enough that anyone but Haznavicius winning would be a real surprise, but it's possible that there are a lot of voters who wants to give Scorsese a second Oscar, thus getting him closer to the 3-4 he's probably deserved. This isn't to say that it would be a pity vote, as Hugo is a great movie and legitimately one of Scorsese's best.
My Winner: Martin Scorsese Actual Winner: Michel Hazanavicius
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Actual nominees: Jeff Cronenweth/The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Janusz Kaminski/War Horse, Emmanuel Lubezki/The Tree Of Life, Robert Richardson/Hugo, Guillaume Schiffman/The Artist
Needless to say, I have my issues with 'The Tree Of Life' being anywhere near the Best Picture category, but I can't deny the movie was beautifully, creatively shot. Lubezki is 0-for-4 in past Oscar nominations (he should've absolutely hands-down won in 2006 for Children Of Men) but he'll finally get off the schnide this year. What is the accepted spelling of 'schneide,' by the way?
My Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki Actual Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Actual nominees: Woody Allen/Midnight In Paris, J.C. Chandor/Margin Call, Asghar Farhadi/A Separation, Michel Hazanavicius/The Artist, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig/Bridesmaids
The general consensus seems to be that Hazanavicius will take this one down, given that he's won a number of other screenplay awards already, we're probably looking at an Artist sweep and, on the aforementioned off-chance that he loses Best Director, the pro-Scorsese voters will vote for Hazanavicius here as a make-up.
This being said, while Hazanavicius is the favourite, his lead here is far less certain than the directing category. For one, there are probably a number of stupid voters that will go, "A screenplay for a silent movie? Ha!" Good old Woody Allen has a solid shot at winning his fourth career Oscar given how generally beloved he is, plus Midnight In Paris was obviously an Academy favourite. Also, don't sleep on Farhadi for the really big upset -- A Separation was highly-regarded enough that Farhadi got a nom here in the first place, plus I suspect it came quite close to cracking the Best Picture field.
I can't believe I've spelled 'Hazanavicius' correctly this entire time
Man, "Kristen Wiig: Oscar nominee" just sounds so weird. She joins Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Joan Cusack, George Coe, Randy Quaid, Michael McKean and Robert Downey Jr. as the only SNL cast members to ever get an Oscar nod, though Wiig is the first to be nominated while still working on the show. It's also worth pointing out that none of these people actually, so Wiig will keep that streak going. And, holy shit, George Coe is the voice of Woodhouse on Archer?! That's amazing!
My Winner: Woody Allen or Asghar Farhadi Actual Winner: Michel Hazanavicius
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Actual nominees: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon/The Ides Of March…Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash/The Descendants…John Logan/Hugo….Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan/Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy…Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian/Moneyball
John Logan could hardly have done more varied work in 2011, as he wrote an original script for Rango, and also adapted Hugo and Coriolanus to the screen. He gets points for versatility alone, but he should also get an Oscar since Hugo had terrific on-the-page storytelling to go along with Scorsese's legendary visuals. Sorkin and Zaillian get a thumbs-up for actually putting a story to Moneyball, given that the book didn't actually have one. Ides Of March was nothing special, playing like a homeless man's edition of The West Wing. The TTSS duo clearly had a lot of work in adapting a dense novel into a single film but I'm not sure they quite pulled it off.
And finally, we have the Descendants, which is probably going to win. While I wasn't a fan of the movie, I would be admittedly tickled to see this screenwriting team win some Oscars. Jim Rash is, of course, the Dean on Community but I didn't actually know who Nat Faxon was until I randomly looked him up on IMDB. It's this guy! Co-star of Holiday Inn commercials! Garlan Greenbush from Party Down! Kip from Orange County!* I can't pass up the chance to see both Dean Pelton and a Beerfest alumni win Academy Awards, can I?
My Winner: John Logan Actual Winner: Faxon/Rash/Payne
* = "I'm a comparative literature major. Yeah, I want to be a writer. Fiction, poetry, screenplays, whatever, you know. Actually, I have an idea for a TV show. It's about vampires, ostensibly, you know. But underneath, it's actually about the reunification of Germany. But it's funny…"
BEST PICTURE Actual nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree Of Life, War Horse
My Ballot: I guess putting 'snubbed' before the ballot would give it all away, so here are the between 5-10 films (thanks, weird Academy rules!) I would have voted for Best Picture.
1. Midnight In Paris 2. Hugo 3. Bridesmaids 4. The Artist 5. A Separation 6. Young Adult
When I see a movie, I generally go on spoiler lockdown. I try to avoid learning anything but the very basics about a film so I don't go in with any preconceived notions or with any moments already known to me. This is more difficult with some movies than others, but in the case of Midnight In Paris, all I knew was that a) it was Woody Allen's new movie, b) it was apparently his best film in years, c) the cast included Owen Wilson, imaginary girlfriend Rachel McAdams and my favourite actress. Sold.
By going in with no idea of the movie's premise, I found it endlessly delightful once it was revealed what exactly was happening to Owen Wilson's character. It probably also helped that I've actually seen surprisingly few Woody Allen movies, so I didn't feel MIP was derivative of, say, The Purple Rose Of Cairo (also, not seeing Crimes & Misdemeanors might have aided my enjoyment of Match Point a few years back). The point is, if Allen is starting to repeat himself in his old age, I'm too ignorant to notice. Huzzah! It's a very fun movie with the usual great ensemble work found in an Allen cast; Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen and Cotillard are all great, and Wilson does a very strong job in the "Woody Allen's avatar" lead role. It's a tougher role than it seems --- to use a few recent examples, Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Kenneth Branagh and Larry David all couldn't do it. That's right, not even acting chameleon Larry David!
While I loved Midnight In Paris, I should add that I didn't capital-L Love it. Perhaps it's fitting that one of the least-memorable film years has delivered something of a lesser Markademy Award Best Picture. Honestly, watching the film back in May, I figured I'd remember it at year's end, but was somewhat surprised that not one movie could top MIP from the #1 position. I think my feelings were duplicated on a macro scale by this year's Oscar field, as The Artist (while a strong movie and a worthy winner) seems to be everyone's default vote though there isn't any true passion behind this sentiment. Artist has loads of admirers but few lovers, which would have left it falling short in almost any other year besides the scattershot 2011.
My Winner: Midnight In Paris Actual Winner: The Artist
HONOURABLE MENTION I'm going to take a page from Roger Ebert's book and expand my list to a top 25, simply to cite a few more honourable mentions. This is another side effect of the "weird year for movies" things, since while none of these films were quite all the way there, I still feel compelled to mention them since there was so much good about them.
7. Jane Eyre 8. Bill Cunningham New York 9. We Need To Talk About Kevin 10. The Muppets 11. Win Win 12. Attack The Block 13. Monsieur Lazhar 14. Captain America 15. Crazy Stupid Love 16. Hanna 17. The Adventures of Tintin 18. Margin Call 19. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes 20. Contagion 21. Moneyball 22. Martha Marcy May Marlene 23. The Skin I Live In 24. Into The Abyss 25. Margaret
Special note: The Trip was easily one of my favourite film-going experiences of the year and it would've easily been in the top 10…..buuuut, it's not really a "film." The Trip was a six-episode BBC television series that was edited into a 90-minute movie for North America. With this in mind, I have to hesitantly leave it out of my rankings but for god's sake people, go see The Trip.
CRAPTOWN! So after talking about the best, let's take a slight detour into the 10 worst movies I saw in 2011. I could go into specific reasons why each of these were garbage, but I'd rather not remember these films for any longer than necessary. Also, as a side note, yikes, rough year for Danny McBride and Olivia Wilde.
10. The Tree Of Life 9. Scream 4 8. The Future 7. Green Lantern 6. 30 Minutes Or Less 5. Your Highness 4. The Green Hornet 3. In Time 2. The Rum Diary 1. Cowboys & Aliens
FAVOURITE SCENES OF THE YEAR Perhaps this category is especially appropriate in a year that had so many flawed movies that contained little moments of brilliance. And yeah, I pretty much had to include The Trip in this category, no question about it.
20. The "Pictures In My Head" song and sequence (The Muppets) 19. Wolverine's cameo (X-Men: First Class) 18. Valentine and Peppy meet on the stairs (The Artist) 17. Holmes and Moriarty's "duelling figuring things out" scene at Reichenbach Falls (Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows) 16. Annie tries to get Rhodes' attention and get pulled over (Bridesmaids) 15. Thor tries to obtain a horse (Thor) 14. Gonzo is totally prepared to blow up his factory (The Muppets) 13. The scene after the house is broken into (Martha Marcy May Marlene) 12. How the virus was first transmitted (Contagion) 11. Colin's day with Marilyn (My Week With Marilyn) 10. Alice's monologue during shooting (Super 8) 9. The scene when everyone meets each other (Crazy Stupid Love) 8. Scaling the Dubai tower (Mission Impossible 4) 7. Curtis loses it at the community dinner (Take Shelter) 6. The chase scene through Bagghar (Adventures of Tintin) 5. The reveal of the big plot twist (The Skin I Live In)….no, I can't possibly be any more specific, but it's a real mind-fuck 4. "Gentlemen, to bed!" (The Trip) 3. Smiley's monologue about his old contact (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)….also known as "the scene that clinched Gary Oldman the Oscar nomination" 2. The duelling Michael Caine impressions (The Trip) 1. Georges Melies' flashback about his career and life (Hugo)