The Not-Oscars 2011

It’s that time of year again, folks! What I like to call “movie Christmas.” And like an actual holiday, the Academy Awards often end up as more of a disappointment than anything else — any Oscars handed out to not-so-great nominated films like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Iron Lady can be chalked up to the cinematic equivalent of “ugly sweaters from grandma we’ll throw in the back of the closet and never speak of again.” But it’s really the excitement leading up to the big show and the discussions of film it creates that make it all worthwhile.

So here’s where I like to make up for the Academy’s occasional lapses in good taste by recognizing the movies and performances that are really worthy of celebration. Because what has a group of thousands of filmmakers with decades of experience in the entertainment industry got on me?

At this point in time I’ve seen exactly 100 releases from the year 2011, which tells you exactly three things: 1) I am on obsessive, crazed film fanatic; 2) I had too much free time on my hands over the past twelve months; and 3) I am almost certainly more qualified to compose this list than you are. So listen to me.

THE 2012 NOT-OSCARSshameBEST ACTOR

Michael Fassbender, Shame
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Ewan McGregor, Beginners

Michael Fassbender being snubbed by the Academy is the year’s most startling, egregious omission (and actually, 2012 had some bad ones). As a self-loathing sex addict, his performance was almost unbearably intense the whole way through, and he ran the gamut of emotions in just those 2 hours. Meanwhile, Jean Dujardin is a large part of the reason why The Artist was such a delightful trifle and Ryan Gosling really came into his own as a leading man this year, playing the stoic stunt driver in Drive. Normally a supporting player, it was nice to see Michael Shannon take on a leading man role and Ewan McGregor was a charmer in Beginners; after a long run in blah movies in the early 2000’s, with this and The Ghost Writer and I Love You Phillip Morris, he’s back.

Honorable Mentions: Chris New & Tom Cullen, Weekend

158710_behind-the-scenes-rooney-mara-in-the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattooBEST ACTRESS

Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Jeong-hie Yun, Poetry
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Anna Paquin, Margaret

I loved Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but Fincher’s film imbued the character with a little something extra and made Lisbeth a more tragic figure. The way this character was treated was far and away the best thing about the American version, and Rooney Mara totally disappeared into the role under all the piercings, tattoos, and attitude. It could easily have been a tossed-off, one-note performance instead of the one we got. Meanwhile, Jeong-hie Yun was a total delight as an absent-minded grandmother confronted with ambivalent evil in her grandson, while Mary-Kate and Ashley’s sister Elizabeth proved she’s the new Olsen to be reckoned with as a traumatized cult member. But let’s not forget Charlize Theron fearlessly playing a hard-to-like alcoholic bitch or Anna Paquin’s 6-year-old performance from the long delayed Margaret, as she plays a high school girl wrestling with her part in a stranger’s gruesome death. (Clearly, I like my women to suffer.)

Honorable Mentions: Kate Winslet & Jodie Foster, Carnage

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Albert Brooks, Drive
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love
Hunter McCracken, The Tree Of Life
Goran Visnjic, Beginners

I loved Christopher Plummer’s wonderful portrayal of a dying man who comes out of the closet in his twilight years — but he’ll probably win the Oscar, while Albert Brooks was flabbergastingly overlooked as the merciless villain of Drive. So he has the edge. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling showed a new side to his acting chops in a role that was almost self-satirizing, while Hunter McCracken gave the best in a strong year for performances by young actors (Super 8, Hugo, Attack The Block, Hanna) — though Brad Pitt was very good, too. And Plummer’s strong work unfortunately overshadows a more subtle but very surprising performance by Goran Visnjic in the same movie.

Honorable Mentions: Patton Oswalt, Young Adult; Nick Nolte, Warrior

carey-mulligan-shame-new-yorkBEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Carey Mulligan, Shame
Cate Blanchett, Hanna
Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Elena Anaya, The Skin I Live In

Shame is my favorite movie of 2011, so no surprise that two of my favorite performances come from it. Carey Mulligan matches the excellence of Michael Fassbender in every way playing his polar-opposite of a sister, who’s a little too carefree and comfortable around her big brother; how come no one’s talking about her full-frontal nude scene? Cate Blanchett was chilling as an offbeat “Big Bad Wolf” figure in Hanna, unfortunately forgotten; Jessica Chastain was in a whole slew of movies this past year, but Take Shelter was the best of them (she was equally impeccable in each). Meanwhile, Berenice Bejo was a gem in The Artist, totally evoking the qualities that made silent film actresses stars way back when, and Elena Anaya is captivating in The Skin I Live In even before you learn who she is. And once you do, you’re blown away.

Honorable Mentions: Helen McCrory, Hugo; Hayden Panettiere, Scream 4

weekend-bed-chris-newBEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Weekend, Andrew Haigh
Beginners, Mike Mills
Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols
Attack The Block, Joe Cornish
Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami

Weekend‘s dialogue is so fresh and natural, it feels unscripted. But it couldn’t be improv, because the information we get from these characters is too detailed, too keenly placed. It’s masterful. Beyond that, Beginners skillfully weaves two parallel stories with a very rare case of excellent voice-over narration, Take Shelter is a riveting take on the thin line between mental instability and the apocalyptic dread we all face, Attack The Block is one of the year’s best premises, executed flawlessly, and Certified Copy is a bold intellectual brain-teaser. (Fun fact: all of these writers directed the movie, too.)

Ryan-gosling-drive-movie-mask-rubberBEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Drive, Hossein Amini
The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodovar & Augustin Almodovar
Fright Night, Marti Noxon
Jane Eyre, Moira Buffini
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Steve Zaillian

The Academy and I have zero movies in common as far as our favorite screenplays go this year. The adapted list is fairly weak, I think — I had to stretch to find more than a few. (I could easily have come up with another five originals, though.) Though short on dialogue from its hero, Drive is a riveting ride all the way through, while The Skin I Live In is a chilly thriller that raises all kinds of complicated moral questions. Buffy writer Marti Noxon delivered that show’s trademark humor and horror in the fantastically fun Fright Night, while Jane Eyre was about the best Jane Eyre adaptation you could ever hope for. And while I wish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo solved more of the book’s structural problems, Zaillian made some excellent enhancements to the story in the expository scene with the villain and also breathed new life into the familiar character of Lisbeth Salander.

shame-michael-fassbender-ass-naked-nude-carey-mulliganBEST DIRECTOR

Shame, Steve McQueen
Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn
Hanna, Joe Wright
Poetry, Chang-dong Lee
The Tree Of Life, Terrence Malick

Not surprisingly, these hew pretty close to my list of the year’s best movies for the most part, with one exception. This year I tended to reward movies either as “writing movies” or “direction & performance” movies, while few seemed equally strong on both fronts. These are the directors who brought style and urgency to what, on the page, might not have amounted much in the hands of a lesser director. Aside from the more subtle Poetry, these are pretty flashy movies with filmmaking that makes you take notice and leaves you breathless. The Tree Of Life may not have quite made it into my Top 10, but I am still quite impressed with the scope Malick took on and his unparalleled visuals.

tree-of-life-dinosaurBEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Tree Of Life
Drive
Shame
Hanna
Melancholia

Seriously, The Tree Of Life is more like a piece of art than a movie. It’s so beautiful I want to hang it on my wall and have it silently playing 24/7.

a-separationBEST ENSEMBLE

A Separation
Bridesmaids
Margaret
Attack The Block
Like Crazy

*

And now for the new categories, stolen from MTV, Filmspotting, and some I created specifically for these awards!

BEST OPENING SCENE
Drive

BEST FINAL SCENE
Poetry

BEST OPENING & FINAL SCENES WITH A LACKING MIDDLE
Melancholia

BEST DATE MOVIE
The Artist

WORST DATE MOVIE
Contagion

BEST BREAKUP MOVIE
Like Crazy

BEST VILLAINS
Cate Blanchett & Tom Hollander, Hanna

BEST ANIMAL
Cat, The Future
Dog, The Artist
Dog, Beginners
Horse, War Horse
Hamster, Carnage

BEST KISS
Ryan Gosling & Carey Mulligan, Drive

BEST FUCK
Michael Fassbender & Everyone, Shame

BEST KILL
Christina Hendricks, Drive

BEST DRIVING
Ryan Gosling, Drive

WORST DRIVING
Mark Ruffalo, Margaret

MOST UNJUSTLY DELETED SCENES
Scream 4

BEST DOUBLE FEATURE
The Tree Of Life & Kaboom
Another Earth & Melancholia
Attack The Block & Super 8
Shame & Young Adult
Take Shelter & Bellflower

LONGEST MOVIE THAT’S NOT THAT LONG
Tuesday, After Christmas

BEST TWIST
The Skin I Live In
Certified Copy
A Separation

GAYEST MOVIE
Dirty Girl

STRAIGHTEST MOVIE (tie)
Moneyball & Warrior

MOST BI-CURIOUS MOVIE
Shame

MOST SEXUALLY AMBIGUOUS MOVIE
Heartbeats

BEST “WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS” MOVIE
Jane Eyre

BEST BAD MOVIE
Trespass

WORST “GOOD” MOVIE
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

MOST OVERRATED (tie)
The Descendants & Melancholia

*

That’s it for 2012! You can find my picks for “Best Picture” here and last year’s Not-Oscars “Not-Oscars 2011″.”>here.

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