Saturday, June 26, 2010

my Alex In Movieland awards, 2nd edition: Episode 1.

My favorites for 2009 will go down in 2 sets:
Episode 1: Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score.
Episode 2 (most important ones): Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress.

Let the Right One In was last year’s big winner. Some facts about this year:
- all the eligible films will be mentioned.
- no movie ranked higher than an 8.5/10 for me, so it was a pretty weak year, from that point of view.
- the men were far better (but more on that on Episode 2).
- lots of interesting Directing perspectives and lots to choose from. Directors were better than the films themselves.
- the screenplays were quite good.
- I don’t know much about Original Score, so it’s mostly based on impressions and feelings.
- on Episode 2 I will also add short impressions on the top performances. Here, I’ll just let the ranking do the talking. Obviously, all are my subjective choices.
- out of personal reasons I avoided seeing: The Stoning of Soraya M., The Maid, Paranormal Activities, Bruno, Me and Orson Welles and just couldn’t take all of Tetro. So they won’t be on the list.
- in case you are wondering about the cat on the right, it’s my fake trophy, I’m gonna fed-ex one to Kathryn Bigelow :P

List of eligible/seen films (60):

500 Days of Summer, Ajami, Antichrist, Avatar, Away We Go, The Blind Side, Bright Star, Broken Embraces, Bronson, Brothers, Capitalism: A Love Story, Cheri, Coco Before Chanel, Coraline, Crazy Heart, District 9, Il Divo, Duplicity, An Education, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hangover, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hurt Locker, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, In the Loop, The Informant!, Inglourious Basterds, Invictus, It’s Complicated, Julia, Julie & Julia, The Last Station, The Lovely Bones, Mary and Max, The Messenger, The Milk of Sorrow, Moon, Nine, Precious, The Princess and the Frog, A Prophet, Public Enemies, The Road, The Secret in Their Eyes, The Secret of Kells, The September Issue, Seraphine, A Serious Man, Sherlock Holmes, A Single Man, Star Trek, Summer Hours, Transformers II, Two Lovers, Up, Up in the Air, Whatever Works, The White Ribbon, Where the Wild Things Are, The Young Victoria.

And here we go:


1. Precious

2. The Hurt Locker

3. Public Enemies

4. An Education

5. (500) Days of Summer

6. Up

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox

8. Avatar

9. Ajami

10. Up in the Air

Almost there: The September Issue, In the Loop, Mary and Max, The Messenger, Cheri.
Also: Inglourious Basterds, Coraline, Summer Hours, A Prophet, Moon.


1. Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

2. Michael Mann – Public Enemies

3. Michael Haneke – The White Ribbon

4. Lee Daniels – Precious

5. Spike Jonze – Where the Wild Things Are

6. Wes Anderson – Fantastic Mr. Fox
7. James Cameron – Avatar
8. Jacques Audiard – A Prophet
9. Adam Elliot – Mary and Max
10. Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Almost there: Tom Ford – A Single Man, Duncan Jones – Moon, Mark Webb – (500) Days of Summer, Jason Reitman – Up in the Air, Lone Scherfig – An Education.


1. Mary and Max

2. Ajami

3. (500) Days of Summer

4. Up

5. A Prophet

6. The Messenger
7. Julia
8. Inglourious Basterds
9. The Hurt Locker
10. The Hangover


1. Precious

2. An Education

3. Up in the Air

4. In the Loop

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox

6. The Secret in Their Eyes
7. A Single Man
8. Where the Wild Things Are
9. Public Enemies
10. Coraline


1. Bright Star (Greig Fraser)
2. Where the Wild Things Are (Lance Acord)

3. The White Ribbon (Christian Berger)

4. Public Enemies (Dante Spinotti)

5. The Hurt Locker (Barry Ackroyd)

Almost there: The Road, A Single Man, Inglourious Basterds, A Serious Man, Cheri.


1. Up (Michael Giacchino)

2. Public Enemies (Elliot Goldenthal)

3. The Hurt Locker (Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders)

4. Where the Wild Things Are (Carter Burwell & Karen Orzolek)

5. Coraline (Bruno Coulais)

Almost there: Moon, Cheri, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Invictus, The Secret in Their Eyes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 2009

It took forever for these final conclusions, because of me not having The Last Station. In the meantime, Irene Dunne was crowned the 1937 champ. But here we are:

Quite an interesting year, with 2 obvious favorites for me and Meryl very close-by. It feels good to give a 5 star rating after quite some time. I must mention that I did edit Sandra’s performance profile and she went from 3 stars to 2, because that’s how I feel right now. I considered I was entitled to do the change considering I didn’t post the conclusions.

#1 is quite the obvious choice, #2 was easy to pick, so was #3. There was a bit of a competition for second-to-last, and I’ve now changed it twice before posting. :) All the performances gravitate in the drama area, because I’m not buying Julie & Julia as a comedy. Meryl gets her… 16th nom and maybe it’s better she didn’t win because it brings her this huge likeability factor, as we’re all on her team for a 3rd Oscar.

Here is how I’ve appreciated them (just my opinion, no universal truth). If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

A star is born! Yes, yes, yes! The performance or maybe just her pretty expressive face brought so much joy everytime I saw An Education. It’s not the looks; it’s the talent and this fresh innocent honest way of taking over a character. Can you doubt her casting?! When did I last see a performance that felt this natural, believable and sweet? This is how a winner should feel like!

The highlight: [how can one choose?] confronting the headmistress on the subject of education.

2. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

In this case, I don’t believe a star is born! But I believed in this one magnificent performance that an inexperienced actress was privileged to deliver. The role is a one in a lifetime chance and she didn’t back down. Gaby acted from the heart and, while to me she’s not the star of the film, she definitely feels like the right person at the right time delivering the right performance. Which happens to be a great performance.

The highlight: the “Nobody loves me!” scene.

3. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Portraying Julia Child is a tricky thing: you are one step away from creating a caricature, a mess, instead of a real, relatable character. Having Meryl in the equation, it obviously equals success. I liked her performance, even though I understand the haters. What I did see was the brilliant actress taking on another challenge and succeeding yet again. She had fun and created such an emotional, warm environment.

The highlight: touching her red paper heart while listening to her husband describe their romance.

4. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

Sandra gets her Oscar for a performance with almost no Oscar moments. She would’ve deserved a big crying scene and much much better writing. But what she does do it to take a difficult character and create a believable, relatable person. I can understand this woman, I know her and that’s important. Sandra is 200% above the material.

The highlight: Big Mike never having a bed of his own.

5. Helen Mirren, The Last Station

She nails the quiet dramatic moments much more efficiently than the oh-too-often scenes of hysteria. But hard to blame her, as it’s mostly the screenplay’s fault. She fails in creating a full believable, relatable character, but still has bits of greatness, as she is the great dame after all.
The highlight: Staying by Tolstoy’s side till the very end.

We knew Sandra was gonna win from the moment The Blind Side was announced as a Best Picture nominee. Unfortunately this is, in my opinion – cause we don’t have the numbers, the 4th time in a row Meryl has to settle for the second place (after Adaptation., Devil Wears Prada, Doubt – though this one’s debatable considering Melissa Leo). Meryl deserves her 3rd Oscar, it’s an universally acknowledged statement. So, I guess Meryl was runner-up, Gaby was a close 3rd, Carey 4th and Helen with the least chance of winning.

Other Best Actress years discussed so far:

Up next: posting my favorites of 2009 next week and then finally getting to “lottery winner” 1978.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Medicine for the spirit...

Long floating on shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving into your isle

And you sang, 'Sail to me, sail to me, let me enfold you.
Here I am, here I am, waiting to hold you.'

Did I dream, you dreamed about me?
Were you here when I was flotsam?
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks

For you sing, 'Touch me not, touch me not, come back tomorrow.'
O my heart, O my heart shies from the sorrow.

Well, I'm as puzzled as the newborn child
I'm as riddled as the tide.
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Or should I lie with death my bride?

Hear me sing, 'Swim to me, swim to me, let me enfold you:
Here I am, here I am waiting to hold you.'

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Helen Mirren, in The Last Station
approximately 36 minutes and 13 seconds
34% of the film

The film

A historical drama that illustrates Russian author Leo Tolstoy's struggle to balance fame and wealth with his commitment to a life devoid of material things.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

I found few things attractive, I didn’t like it, mostly due to my lack of passion for some of the men in this film: McAvoy, Giamatti. Who I found wonderful was Christopher Plummer, who gives a strong performance and makes the best out of an unbalanced screenplay.

Helen Mirren as Countess Sofya Tolstaya

The race for an Oscar nomination is sometimes more interesting than the race for the prize itself. We 90% knew Bullock was winning and – true – we had this possible line-up of 5 actresses for a while, but surprises do happen. And Helen Mirren clearly made the Oscar cut based on a few votes difference and some category confusion for actresses like Melanie Laurent. This nomination is a result of Dame Helen’s great popularity, of shaky competition, of some overacting voters trap and the biopic factor. I am sure few Academy members had actually bothered with The Last Station, which makes the nom even a greater achievement.

Helen Mirren plays Sofya Tolstaya, long-time wife of legendary Russian writer and mentor Leo Tolstoy. Sofya is somewhat of a drama queen, a smart stubborn woman who’d do anything to get her way: and what she wants is to stop her husband from giving away the copyright of his books to the Russian people. She despises Chekhov, friend of Tolstoy, whom she considers a freak and a negative influence. Hers is a showy role and a second-leading one, to McAvoy’s Bulgakov.

To Mirren’s credit, she gets that limited screentime (just 36 minutes!) and acts it so that you really do consider the countess as a leading character and maybe the driving force of the film. Her presence on screen benefits the movie and it’s obvious she’s a scene stealer. She has great chemistry with Plummer, but unfortunately there isn’t enough of the two of them. More scenes could’ve brought some bonus points to her performance.

Mirren plays the countess with a very young, lively spirit. She never lacks charisma and, considering the diva status of the character, is the most colourful presence of the cast. The Countess gets involved in all kinds of silly, exaggerated situations (spying on the balcony, breaking dishes, throwing herself into the pond) meant to give a more funny, light feel to the film. This works both ways for Helen:

On one side, it’s nice to show a bit of range and it’s entertaining to see her acting to her full divaness. The film is already stiff and dull due to McAvoy and especially Giamatti, so her craziness is a breath of fresh air. However – yes, however – she sometimes gets too relaxed and confident in such scenes. It’s like she’s on the stage acting in a farce and makes the acting wider and less believable. The main fault of course falls on the unbalanced screenplay which shifts tones a bit too often.

Some might not have a problem with these lighter scenes and just generally tag them as overacting. Because Mirren does overact, but, in those funny scenes, it looked to me more like… get ready: like she was having too much fun and didn’t take the role a bit more seriously. Having fun with a character is something I almost always applaud, but this time I’m feeling the other way around.

I am missing a deeper approach to the character, as there were scenes in which Mirren, just like the screenplay, treated the character or the scene a bit superficial. It’s this lack of subtlety that stops me from caring for this character or to find it relatable and so on. I don’t care what’s gonna happen to Countess Sofya and I was almost never moved by the performance (minus that final scene, which I won’t be spoiling now).

Is it prejudice directed at this performance because I generally saw it as category filler and nobody I know really enjoyed it? It might be, I sometimes get a bit influenced. I might’ve been looking for reasons not to like it, but what I am sure of: it’s a performance that didn’t move me and I didn’t relate to it. I usually go for overacting, but this time I won’t. Am I finally seeing clear and stepping away from Helen Mirren’s real life charms or am I too harsh and just wanna be in line with all those who said this is ignorable stuff? I have no idea: .

P.S.: I’m taking the final photos for this post, I might’ve been a bit too tough on Helen; she does have good acting moments, it’s just one of her best roles.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Oh, Mrs. Tolstoy...

I've finally (!!!) got my hands on The Last Station which I might see tonight. The last movie I needed for my Best Actress 2009 and for my favorites of 2009...

So, dear 1978, you'll have to wait a bit, because there's some unfinished business.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be posting (in this order):

Helen Mirren, in The Last Station

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 2009

***my favorites for 2009*** in all main categories, and this one's a treat for me, as I've been more ambitious in watching (good) movies than in any other year. Better late than never.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The next Best Actress year...

The existance of this Youtube video in this post is not of entertainment value, but a proof that I am not cheating. :) I have installed the draw system again, because I usually play lottery and I enjoy not having to decide for myself. And I don't take doubles! :)

The eligible / available years were:
(I must remember u that 77, 80 & 92 have already been discussed)
70, 71, 73, 74, 76, 78, 81, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99

GAME: If you want to guess and not look at the video! :P I'm gonna give clues on the winner year. No cheating and from-your-own-memory only.
- A screen legend at the end of her career.
- A controversial movie star at the peak of her career.
- An established theatre goddess with an impressive movie career.

Just skip to the ending, if you open it: :)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Final conclusions - Best Actress 1937

I keep saying this after almost every Best Actress year, but it couldn’t be truer for 1937! I came into this discussion having seen 4 of the 5 films, counting a lot on Luise Rainer as my favorite and being sure that I wasn’t gonna be a fan of Garbo and Irene Dunne. After watching the films again, revisiting, comparing, I came to a very different conclusion. Seeing a film a second time, and especially after a longer period of time, makes all the difference.

I didn’t expect this ranking. So that makes it even more fun. It’s true, I kind of expected the year to be a bit stronger, however it’s not. I didn’t go madly in love with any of the performances, but my number one was still pretty obvious. Then came #2 and #3, and it was almost a coin toss: different acting styles and different mistakes made by both actresses. #4 paled a bit by comparison and #5 surprisingly just didn’t have the consistent role.

Here is how I’ve appreciated them (just my opinion, no universal truth). If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

1. Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth
Irene Dunne gave another spin to screwball comedy, just when it was about to become a fading genre. Her natural charm and comedy timing create a very likeable character and it’s so easy to notice how much fun she’s having. She loves it! And I did too! Good writing always helps and to steal the show from Cary Grant is not an easy thing to do.

The highlight: Pretending to be Jerry’s sister in pure screwball comedy style.

2. Greta Garbo, Camille
Garbo talks! And smiles, and laughs and can be so charming and pretty! Her moments of relaxing and enjoying her diva status are done with master class. Even one big drama scene is handled with care and precision, but how about those mistakes. She should’ve toned down at times, or hesitate a bit, yet it’s hard to stop her theatrical garboness even when it puts the performance on the edge of too-damn-much.
The highlight: Her joyful spirit in the first opera scenes.

King Vidor should’ve helped her more. It’s a strange case of a performance, with Barbara delivering THE two best acting scenes of this nominees group, however failing drastically in other situations. The scene on the train and the last one in the rain are impeccably heartbreaking and acted silently to perfection. But oh, boy… those trashy scenes are overplayed and wrongfully over-calculated, creating almost a caricature Barbara herself isn’t buying.
The highlight: Accidentally finding out about the embarrassment she had caused her daughter.

4. Luise Rainer, The Good Earth
It’s the type of acting the film requires. It’s not a natural, relaxed acting, but even overplayed as it is, it strangely fits the mood of the film. Her face expressions are exaggerated, but faithful to the raw emotions of the simple woman the character is. A touch of humanity here and there, but the biggest disadvantage is that the performance seems so rigid in comparison to the other women we’re talking about. Difficult casting, anyways.
The highlight: Daydreaming of days when she’d be rich and impress those who kept her as a slave.

5. Janet Gaynor, A Star Is Born
Her lack of charisma or something else I can’t put the finger on stops the character from becoming that sweet girl we would relate to and root for. She does what the screenplay asks, but even so, the role could’ve been much more with better casting. She doesn’t have a bad scene, but even her best look fairly warm compared to the great talent of her co-star.
The highlight: The ending: seeing Norman’s prints on the sidewalk, Mrs. Norman Maine.

The Academy’s choice was surprising, giving Luise Rainer the first back-to-back acting wins in history. Had I lived in 1937, I would’ve surely bet on Garbo and she probably was the runner-up for the win, Stanwyck 3rd, Irene Dunne 4th and Janet Gaynor with the least chance of winning.

Other Best Actress years discussed so far:


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Greta Garbo, in Camille
approximately 76 minutes and 21 seconds
74.2% of the film

The film

A Parisian courtesan must choose between the young man who loves her and the baron who wants her, even as her own health begins to fail.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It has the lack of naturalism of most of Garbo’s films, as it creates that special universe of beauty and gentleness and romance, you know what I mean. And it also has the look of a silent film, except for some great shots here and there. I never took it too seriously, but it was an ok, pleasant very old-fashioned (big plus to some) experience.

Greta Garbo as Marguerite Gautier

Everybody seems to love and praise this performance and consider it to be Greta’s best and an alltime classic. I even received an almost-hate-message when I posted my words on Camille on the other blog, because of my lack of enthusiasm. I stay detached from such praise and passion, but get I caught up in my own subjectivity baggage. I am not an admirer of Garbo as an actress. I LOVE the movie star she was, her mysterious persona, but a bit less her technique on screen.

Greta plays Marguerite Gautier, a beautiful, kind-hearted but careless French courtesan who falls for a very different, noble young man, but in the end she has to sacrifice it all for his well-being. It’s a very glamorous role, even when she has to play sick and it fits Garbo well, even though it’s the kind of role that would allow many different points of views. It’s a high-class look at this ancient subject matter.

I’m sure many recall her best in this, because she gets to wear all those pretty dresses, and to her own credit she does it wonderfully. She looks good and her aristocratic way of being serves the character well. There are moments in the film when she really shines; really shines and those scenes help create a character so likeable for a couple of seconds or minutes. I don’t like Marguerite, but when Garbo smiles or flirts, I get caught up in a scene and she does it great.

Her most delightful scenes are when she’s having fun: the theatre scene, the happy moments in the countryside, the flirting after the party. These are moments of greatness when Garbo lets loose and plays around, you can even feel it on her face, the expressions of bad girl or pure joy come to life in a perfect manner.

Even her theatricality works, in the scenes where she plays the spoiled side of Marguerite. She acts well with some unreadable lines, but unfortunately doesn’t always control her garboness. Though the scene with Barrymore is done mostly well, impeccable towards the end, it’s the more dramatic side of her acting where I went disappointed.

I can blame the script sometimes, but then again: it often feels like she forgets this is not a silent film, so it would’ve worked so much better for her, had she toned down the over-dramatic face expressions and all that staginess that she sometimes brought to a scene. I know: it’s Greta Garbo (!) and this is her thing, but it often wasn’t on my taste. The tears were in place, but I lacked a certain natural feeling that would’ve had me more connected to that certain scene (most of the ones shared with Robert Taylor and obviously the final one).

I know it’s a question of preference and inclination to a certain style of acting, but I would hardly call this performance an alltime best. That being said, I enjoyed Garbo’s performance a lot (really!) in those chill, flirty scenes. She gave too much, when a bit less would’ve done more, especially with the passion of the line readings. This Garbo theatrical overacting is hard to explain and different from other types, so you must see it to believe it. A glorious unbalanced performance: , I guess.

Tomorrow or on Sunday I’ll post my conclusions for 1937. Let’s digest Garbo first. :)