Rightwing Film Geek

My Best of the Year “Skandies” ballot

And here is what I DID vote for, with some blathering after each category. Remember, 100 points to distribute to exactly 10 films, performances, scripts, etc.; minimum of 5, maximum of 30. (Also available here; the whole 2007 Skandies site here).

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Film (and Top 10)
20 No Country for Old Men
17 Hot Fuzz
10 Atonement
10 Private Fears in Public Places
10 Into Great Silence
8 There Will Be Blood
7 Grindhouse
7 The Lives of Others
6 Gone Baby Gone
5 Joshua

The top 2 were the only films I saw all year to which eventually gave a 10 grade, and I saw all the top 8 at least twice … hence the big points gap between #2 and #3.

I’d like to think this list at least displays a very catholic taste, at the populist end of the film-snob spectrum — 7 films in English and 3 foreign (though one of the three has very little dialog, and I wouldn’t have been unhappy with none). Two of the films (#2 and #7) that have pretty much nothing “meaningful” to do with anything except having a great time, though I should add that I think all these films, with the exception of #5 and maybe #4, I’d recommend without hesitation to any intelligent adult.

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Lead male
15 Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz
15 Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
14 Sam Rockwell, Joshua
12 Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men
9 Jens Albinus, the Boss of It All
9 Ulrich Muhe, the Lives of Others
7 Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone
7 Will Smith, I Am Legend
7 Danny Boon, My Best Friend
5 Don Cheadle, Talk to Me

It might seem perverse to have the most widely-praised performance in eons in my second slot (though I wound up giving the same number of points). But comedy is much harder than tragedy to do well, a fact to which even the actor-heavy Academy is tone-deaf. In this movie, along with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, Pegg moves past Leslie Nielsen as the movies’ greatest (recent) parodic actor, managing to keeping a straight face while following with absolute conviction all the conventions of the genre being lampooned. And Pegg does so without the benefit, which Nielsen had, of playing a character who is a complete moron. Pegg’s characters are a bit unawares and self-absorbed, sure … but basically a believable person.

If Day-Lewis hadn’t been around, Rockwell would have lived the year’s most virtuoso performance, spanning a character arc that you hardly recognize is so sweeping until you realize how different he has become at the end, without ever seeming to (DDL is great of course, but you very definitely SEE him acting). And sometimes, as with the bottom two, an actor can create a great performance just from his sheer personality and presence.

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Lead female
22 Nicole Kidman, Margot at the Wedding
14 Laura Linney, the Savages
12 Ellen Page, Juno
10 Keira Knightley, Atonement
9 Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding
8 Tang Wei, Lust, Caution
8 Tammy Blanchard, Bella
7 Kate Dickie, Red Road
5 Chen Shiang-chyi, the Wayward Cloud
5 Jodie Foster, the Brave One

What did Nicole ever see in Tom? The talent gap between the two is of Wham!-like proportions. Kidman hasn’t done her career any favors in recent years, choosing to work with great directors like von Trier and Kubrick, on risky projects like FUR and BIRTH, and some of her attempts at money-spinners have fallen horribly flat — BEWITCHED, THE GOLDEN COMPASS). We filmgoers are the richer for it. She eases into Baumbach’s unselfconscious post-analytic style like a female Chris Eigemann, convincingly resisting Big Actor’s Moments because everything is always in her control. Plus, she climbs a tree.

This category is the cause of my two greatest omissions. Vera Farmiga should have been on this list for JOSHUA, but I just plum flat-out forgot about her brilliant portrayal of a post-partum victim when drawing up the shortlists. And I didn’t see BLACK BOOK until earlier this week, which featured a deserved Skandie-winning performance from Carice van Houten, who would placed definitely in my Top 5 had I seen the film before deadline.

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Supporting male
17 Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
15 Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
13 Lambert Wilson, Private Fears in Public Places
10 Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
9 Kurt Russell, Grindhouse
9 Terrence Howard, The Brave One
8 Peter O’Toole, Ratatouille
8 Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
6 Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac
5 Ving Rhames, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Ditto what I said about actor, where the most obvious choice and easy Skandie winner wound up in my second slot. Bardem is great, no question. But Holbrook did something very specific that very few actors have ever done, and that’s turn me around on a movie (I probably should have at least put Catherine Keener on my short list for WILD too) that I was mostly hating until he came along. He represents old-style authenticity, trying to warn off while meeting halfway new-style Authenticity, which had things all its own way to that point; hence my hatred. I understand that some of that is the script’s arc, and some of it his iconography and associations (though that’s a legitimate part of acting — use of who one is). But it’s also how Holbrook simply breathes and embodies the wisdom of the ages, how his voice is knowing, how the emotions coming through at just the right moments.

Two things to note on this category, about things I do self-consciously every year, to offset tendencies that lead to certain things that can too easily get overlooked.

(1) I try deliberately, though not always successfully, to reward voice performances, whether in animated movies and voiceovers. On the former front, I’ve given points to Larry the Cable Guy and Ellen Degeneres (in part no doubt because the greatest problem standup comics like these two have when they try to act — infelicity with body language — is not a problem) and to Robert Downey Jr. On the latter, I’ve rewarded John Hurt for his voiceover in DOGVILLE and probably should have done so from Andre Dussolier for AMELIE back in 2001. This year, Peter O’Toole profited, with his fruity role as critic Anton Ego getting “animation” points.

(2) I make a point of always giving at least some points to elements in films that I overall didn’t much care for overall. I didn’t like how my first year of voting (1998 … now at my Skandie history page … thanks, Mike, for retrieving it) had a ballot so heavily weighted toward a few films. Every year since, I’ve deliberately “spread the wealth,” with a particular effort (an affirmative action, one might call it) to find performances in lesser films. This year, the clear awesomeness of Ving Rhames and Philip Seymour Hoffman stirred both their mediocre films to life whenever they were on the screen

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Supporting female
20 Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
17 Sabine Azema, Private Fears in Public Places
15 Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement
9 Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
9 Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There
9 Seong Hyeon-a, Time
6 Kelly McDonald, No Country for Old Men
5 Anna Kendrick, Rocket Science
5 Amy Ryan, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
5 Kelli Garner, Lars and the Real Girl

My points to Seong Hyeon-a is the only time I think I’ve ever voted for an uncredited actor — I was sufficiently unsure that I asked Mike if that was OK. She may have had the year’s most difficult role, playing a character already having been played by a different actress in the first part of the movie. The central plot point in TIME (which is very good BTW, an Honorable Mention for the year) is the inverse of Kim Novak in VERTIGO — a woman has plastic surgery to make new again her tempestuous relationship with her boyfriend; Seong plays the woman post-surgery, meaning she has to create a different-yet-same character. She sometimes fumbles and I can see how her stylized playing could be offputting (I have no idea how it sounds in Korean).

Others: If Amy Ryan can’t play both slutty and concerned mom convincingly, without coming across as a complete nutter, GONE BABY GONE is gone. Kelly McDonald and Vanessa Redgrave really only have one scene each, but they both knock them out of the park, as the respective movie’s moral fulcrum. And Anna Kendrick was a Proustian moment for me, all the high-school girls who were good in debate were just. like. that. (getting debate “spread” delivery right is no mean feat).

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Director
18 Coen brothers, No Country for Old Men
14 Alain Resnais, Private Fears in Public Places
12 Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse
10 “Joe,” Syndromes and a Century
10 Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
8 Jafar Panahi, Offside
8 Edgar Wright, Hot Fuzz
7 Tsai Ming-liang, the Wayward Cloud
7 David Fincher, Zodiac
6 Kim Ki-duk, Time

I tend to use this category and the succeeding “Script” category as a vehicle to award points to films that just miss the Top 10 — Panahi, Tsai, Kim here and Baumbach, Von Trier and Canyon in the next category. But there was no other choice really possible at #1 … it’s been years since I’ve seen direction so lean, so self-assured, so me-assuring, so perfect in every way — the only reason this didn’t get more points was that everything else in the Top 10 was so strong. Resnais (again) made a masterpiece out of a half-forgotten play; Wright directs for camera-only comedy, rather than just rely on “sketch value”; Tsai is at his most Tsainess ever (until he miscalculates and just goes too far — literally — at the end); Tarantino at his most Tarantinian ever (and the end actually IS a great capper)

hampton.jpgScript
20 Christopher Hampton, Atonement
15 Noah Baumbach, Margot at the Wedding
15 Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz
10 Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, Gone Baby Gone
10 Diablo Canyon, Juno
8 Florian Henckel von Dommersmarck, the Lives of Others
7 Coen brothers, No Country for Old Men
5 Brad Bird, Ratatouille
5 Arnaud Cathrine and Julie Gavras, Blame It on Fidel
5 Lars von Trier, the Boss of It All

Yeah … that British literary bias, but Hampton really did do a brilliant job, worthy of the important playwright he himself is, paring down to the essence of what looked like an unfilmable novel and getting the blueprint for how a very literary conceit, post-modern discourses, work as drama (here is Tasha Robinson with a brilliant piece at the Onion AV Club on the film and the novel). Diablo Canyon was fine on the quotable lines department, but she just got outdone by Noah Baumbach who apparently can exude hyperliterate passive-aggressive oneupmanship by the yard and shrink-wrap it to order.

Let me make a shout-out here for BLAME IT ON FIDEL, which is like a French arthouse version of Absolutely Fabulous — 60s radical parents and a young girl, Anna, who rebels too — by wanting a normal apolitical childhood. The scene where she unwittingly explains the inherent natural basis of property to some anarchists was priceless. About a willful child in sort of the same way ATONEMENT is, but under much different circumstances and she doesn’t take it anywhere near what Briony does. It isn’t a great movie (7 grade) because it never really goes for the jugular like I wanted to against the sort of people whom it’s taking the piss out of — professional revolutionaries/”activists,” though since it’s to some extent about Gavras’s own childhood, some diplomacy is humanly understandable. But it takes more than enough piss for me to enjoy.

Scene

These are the scenes in question for 8 of my 10 picks, the ones I’ve able to find. I gave 10 points to all 10 scenes, so the order doesn’t mean anything. It’s just alphabetical by the films’ titles.

10 At the Father’s house, Bella (couldn’t find … in fact, I can’t find ANY clips for Bella)

10 Ship’s Mast, Grindhouse (courtesy of Mike)

10 “Miss Baltimore Crab,” Hairspray (although doomed by this to have no shot at being more than the second-greatest Michelle Pfeiffer musical number)

10 City of Women, Half Moon (this clip has only Spanish subtitles, but they’re basic setup, saying thousands of women have been exiled to this town, and they play in one voice)

10 Han River attack, The Host (courtesy of Mike … dubbing isn’t too distracting)

10 The body won’t stay dead, Lust, Caution (couldn’t find)

10 Coin toss with “Friendo”, No Country for Old Men (courtesy of Mike)

10 Trip to the ladies room, Offside (courtesy of Mike … no subtitles, but he sets up the scene here)

10 “What did the sun say to Erich Honecker?” the Lives of Others

10 Umbrella dance, the Wayward Cloud (nobody else voted for this one??? … how)

February 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

4 Comments »

  1. Sigh … I should’ve voted for “Umbrella Dance”. Trouble is, 27 months after I watched it, I barely remember any of CLOUD’s musical numbers. (R2 DVD *finally* came out last week.)

    Just wondering: have you read “Atonement”? In other words, is Hampton’s 20-pointer for adaptation, or just general excellence?

    Comment by Theo | February 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’s 9 parts excellence to 1 part knowledge of the difficulty that I know the novel holds without having read it. My specific knowledge of ATONEMENT the novel comes second-hand, especially from the Tasha Robinson piece I linked to (which frankly doesn’t make MacEwen’s novel sound that appealing to me and quotes enough of it for me to make that judgement). I also know, from other post-modern “multiple levels of discourse/multiple-narrator novels,” the general problems this type of novel poses. I apologize if I came across as falsely claiming to have read ATONEMENT at the time of voting.

    Comment by vjmorton | February 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] VJ Morton has one of the most interesting¬†Best of 2007 lists I’ve¬†seen, and a thoughtful trip through the¬†acting categories too. Bonus! Actual scenes from great films!¬† […]

    Pingback by The Browser: Dobson and the election. Another Top Ten List. O’Connor. | March 13, 2013 | Reply

  4. […] VJ Morton has one of the most interesting¬†Best of 2007 lists I’ve¬†seen, and a thoughtful trip through the¬†acting categories too. Bonus! Actual scenes from great films!¬† […]

    Pingback by The Browser: Dobson and the election. Another Top Ten List. O'Connor. | Looking Closer with Jeffrey Overstreet | August 16, 2015 | Reply


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