Monday, May 24, 2010

2009 Diva Cup Awards: The Actors

Best Actor

Matt Damon
The Informant!
Part of the joy of The Informant! is the fact that Damon plays this clueless buffoon without any sense of superiority. He doesn't hate the character and doesn't want the audience to either. He can't help the lies he tells and doesn't understand why people are so aghast. In his mind, he honestly believes he's a hero and standing up for the little man in his takedown of the company he works for. The character is clueless, but Damon is not and delivers laugh after laugh, especially with those nonsensical voiceovers, portraying this very confused man.

Colin Firth
A Single Man
As the hollowed-out core of director Tom Ford's beautiful valentine to a recently departed lover, Firth has the hard task of being emotionally dead while also remaining a vessel interesting enough to base an entire film around. Usually you can only be one thing or the other, but Firth (with the help of Ford's directorial gaze) manages to find the beauty and intrigue in melancholia and suffering. The repression of early 60's America has forced Firth to stay silent about his pain and you can see it slowly eating away at him until his insides are rotting. It's an unexpectedly moving performance Firth and hopefully a sign of great things to come from him.

Ben Foster
The Messenger
I've been quietly waiting for Ben Foster to make his next big move after his impressive supporting work in 3:10 to Yuma, and, with The Messenger, he proved yet again that he's an actor to watch. He has no big Oscar moments, nor does he call needless attention to himself as a performer. His performance here is the very definition of "lived-in." Foster walks on a tightrope throughout most of the film, his rawness either threatening to explode outwards or implode in on himself. His performance here is nothing short of miraculous and makes a grand case for more work for him in the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
(500) Days of Summer
This isn't an acting exercise for Gordon-Levitt--come on, this is the kid who did Mysterious Skin a few years back--so much as it is a way for him to explore his star persona and charisma in an atypical project. He's an absolute joy to watch on screen, whether he's falling in love in Ikea, singing a musical number after getting some or trying to move on with his life after losing "the one." JGL makes it all look so easy and effortless, which is often times the hardest thing for an actor to do.

Sam Rockwell
Moon
Poor Sam Rockwell. The man is always game, but it rarely seems like the projects he's involved with have the ability to match him quality-wise. Moon is another one of these films, although I suppose I'm in the minority when I admit I'm not a huge fan. Rockwell, though, has never been better than here as a pair of cloned astronauts trapped in a lunar space station. Playing twins is the perfect way to "prove" how good of an actor you are as they often allow you to play two completely different people in the same film. Moon, however, is more in line something like Dead Ringers based upon the fact that it's not interested in exploring the difference between the two characters. Rockwell is interested in exploring the interaction between them and the ways they can fuck around with each other, building up suspense where the film doesn't. He propels the film forward and keeps you interested long after the film has stopped giving a damn about the central "mystery" (and I do use that term loosely). Rockwell isn't reinventing the wheel here, but he does have a good time making his own.

And the Diva Cup Goes to: Ben Foster, The Messenger

Best Actress

Drew Barrymore
Grey Gardens
While everyone else was talking about a different rom-com queen's star turn which nabbed a certain someone a deserved, if not especially revelatory, Oscar, Drew Barrymore was stuck on the sidelines all seasons, relegated to the less glamorous TV movie categories at all the award shows. Yes, Grey Gardens is in fact a TV movie, but when you have a performance like this that makes you reevaluate the performer's entire career, I think bending the rules is justified. Barrymore has a lot working against her with this character, most notably that infamous Little Edie accent which could trip up even the most gifted vocal imitators, yet she never looks like she is having a difficult time with it. In fact, she seems to be having fun in taking a risk like this, relishing every moment to show us something we haven't seen before. What remains most memorable about Barrymore's performance is the vitality and vivaciousness of her Little Edie and how she plays the character's "strangeness" as endearing quirks; her Little Edie is not someone to be pitied. Bullock may have the Oscar, but Barrymore was the one who truly wowed.

Beyoncé
Obsessed
A bit of a left field pick, I must admit, but just go with me on this. Normally, we judge acting by how well an actor or actress "inhabits" a character, how deep they dig within themselves to become the character they are portraying; actors such as Cate Blanchett have earned many accolades and fans for doing this over the years. Sometimes, however, a film doesn't require this level of cerebral thought. Sometimes, all an actor needs to do is simply be alive in the film and willing to do whatever it takes to make the film successful. A film such as Obsessed, a lame Fatal Attraction rip-off, needs all the help it could get and thankfully, Beyoncé was there to lend a hand. She knew the film was in trouble as soon as read the script and new it was up to her to spice it up. She doesn't portray a character so much as she's a walking, hulking presence throughout most of the film. Beyoncé doesn't approach the role in an actorly way and, frankly, that was the smartest thing she could have done. Any attempt at making this story look like serious drama would have made the film look even more ridiculous. B crafts her own unique spin in the role by using her in-bred diva and natural proclivity towards camp aesthetic. If this is Razzie-worthy acting, well, I'd like to see another actress tackle this role and come out shining like Beyoncé.

Taraji P. Henson
Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself
From my review of the film and Henson's performance: "The film and April's progression as a character often takes the expected path--let's just say that the ending doesn't exactly need a spoiler warning--but Taraji P. Henson plays every scene like it's all brand new. It is often astonishing watching her doing something countless other actresses before her have done and make it really come alive for us in the audience. Her entrance alone, fro-ed out, sashaying to the rhythm of Aretha Franklin's 'Rock Steady' and propelling herself into the opening frames of the film like an unstoppable force of nature, speaks volumes about the direction Henson is taking with this character. She's going to be fierce, loud, in your face and if you don't like it, well you can suck it...It's at this point that Henson recites this beautifully gin-soaked monologue about her own past with sexual abuse. She goes on about how men can't be trusted, especially ones that like to be around children. Then, the monologue takes a sharp turn as she starts aiming her dagger of hatred and suspicion toward the hot Latino who, at this point, has been the sole source of support for the children since their grandmother vanished. She questions his motives for spending so much time with them before, loudly, outright accusing him of molesting the children. April has been so damaged and jaded by all of the men in her life she becomes suspicious of anyone gets close to her; eventually they're just going to turn on her, so why bother? Henson does this monologue and scene a world of justice, sharply navigating the turnabout from one subject to another and making it all go together coherently."

Maya Rudolph
Away We Go
We all know and love Maya Rudolph as the sketch comedian who once made SNL a can't-miss show every week. In Away We Go, however, Rudolph is forced to challenge herself as one-half of a couple hoping to find themselves and the perfect place to raise their child. She nails the comedy bits perfectly, using a dry wit to match Mendes' subdued handling of the material. What's even more surprising is the fact that she's even more interesting during the emotional sections of the movie. Rudolph doesn't do a whole lot, but her warm face betrays a lot of the confusion and deep soul-searching she is forced to do in reevaluating her life. The final scene, when Rudolph and her on-screen husband John Krasinski finally choose their new home, works all because of her. By the end, she has become the heart and soul of the film, and seeing her so happy in her decision is the perfect reward for watching the film.

Tilda Swinton
Julia
Wow. How does one go about describing this performance in mere words? Even something as simple as "Drunken whore helps deranged neighbor kidnap her own child, gets in over her head, takes kid to Mexico only to have him kidnapped by someone else, starts to care for the kid but not in the pussy way you would expect in a Hollywood film" sounds nutty beyond belief. I suppose that's inescapable since Julia oscillates like an out of control ceiling fan on the verge of collapsing. Swinton obviously relishes this unpredictably and rises to the challenge of shouldering the film so it doesn't collapse around her. What's even more unpredictable are Swinton's acting choices as this normally cerebral actress opens up more than I've ever seen in my admittedly limited exposure to her work. You can almost feel the sweat dripping from her pores when things start (and continue) to go wrong. And her outward reactions to the characters surrounding her are priceless, especially the moment when her neighbor who launches the kidnapping plan goes completely off the deep end and Swinton shoots her this look like "Bitch, what the fuck are you doing?" The entire two and a half hour runtime is filled with moments like this that enrich both Swinton's monumental performance and the film as a whole. Swinton is a living legend and it's good to see her continue to challenge herself when many other actresses in her position have all but abandoned their indie spirit.

And the Diva Cup Goes to: Tilda Swinton, Julia

Best Supporting Actor

Adam Brody
Jennifer's Body
A gleefully underrated star turn by the one and only Seth Cohen in a film no one seemed to pay much attention to after savagely tearing it apart upon release. That's such a shame since Brody is obviously having a ball playing the villainous, opportunistic lead singer of an indie rock band willing to sell someone else's soul for fame and fortune. Just like Ellen Page, Brody is a perfect match for Diablo Cody's gloriously overwritten dialogue. In the wrong hands, her vernacular could sound forced and unconvincing, but Brody kills the one-liners he is given; I was literally cracking up at every line during his big scene with Megan Fox. He invented the dorkalicious persona that Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg now use as their stock-in-trade, so why isn't he being used up to his full potential?

Peter Capaldi
In the Loop
Capaldi's performance in the political satire In the Loop can basically be summarized as a symphony of cuss words. While it's true that there is no other actor on the planet who swears as well as he does (see also his hilarious work on Skins as Sid's father), he also uses the profanity as a device for understanding the character and his importance in the film. His character is the loudest in the film and his cursing is the way he gets his message across. It doesn't matter what he is saying--as long as he's the loudest, he'll always get his way. And he does, scarily, by the end of the film.

Woody Harrelson
The Messenger
I suppose it's the reason he got a much deserved Oscar nomination, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that breakdown scene at the very end of the film was what completely convinced me of Harrelson's worth here. Seeing that tiny crack in his foundation only proved how well Harrelson had set up the character's (and our) belief that everything was really okay.

Mark Ruffalo
The Brothers Bloom
Ruffalo, right from his big breakthrough in You Can Count On Me, has always had this roguish sort of charm about him. He's never exactly a bad guy, yet he always gives the impression that there's a little naughtiness just underneath the surface. As a con man trying to lure his brother into doing one last con, Ruffalo gets to explore this facet of his personality. He takes obvious pleasure in constructing this game for both his brother and their target, but it's almost as if the reasons he does this don't even register with him anymore. He's so lost in his own little fantasy con world he can't quite assimilate with real people in the real world anymore.

Christoph Waltz
Inglourious Basterds
Everything one could possibly say about Waltz and his Oscar-winning performance in Inglourious Basterds has been said. The role of a charming psychopath killer is not exactly new, but Waltz makes it feel completely fresh. He's a sadistic son of a bitch who toys with people emotions, yet he can be a regular Cary Grant, chatting you up with a friendly grin on his face and completely charming the pants off you. You never know which Waltz you're going to get and the surprise is half the fun. That's a bingo.

And the Diva Cup Goes to: Adam Brody, Jennifer's Body

Best Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt
Sunshine Cleaning
When Emily Blunt earned mad critical love for her work in The Devil Wears Prada, I must admit I was a little surprised. Not that she's bad by any means, it's just that she isn't given very much to do in the film. She says a couple of bitchy lines, gets a few guffaws and that's it; there's no meat for Blunt to really sink her teeth into. With Sunshine Cleaning, Blunt is given an opportunity to mine the dark, edgy side of her personality. She's given ample opportunity to be funny as the loser sister who can't seem to get her act together, but she also excels in the film's darker moments. A typical monologue about the death of her mother becomes in her hands an uncomfortable, blabbering breakdown worthy of Ronee Blakley in Nashville. Vivid work from a young woman with huge potential.

Rinko Kikuchi
The Brothers Bloom
The character Kikuchi plays in The Brothers Bloom, Bang Bang, is nothing more than a plot device, an easy joke to get certain scenes moving. Kikuchi, her second time playing a mute character after her Oscar-nominated work in Babel, rises above the shallowness of the role to make something interesting out of it. Taking from silent films, Japanese anime and action blockbusters as her inspiration, she creates her own unique spin on the "munitions expert" every film of this sort needs. Much like Beyoncé, she's vivid and alive in every scene she's in. Kikuchi doesn't let the handicaps of the role carry her--she works to remain a constant pleasure whenever she pops up.

Mo'Nique
Precious
With a character as dominant and tyrannical as Mary Jones, an actress wouldn't really have to push themselves to earn acclaim. And, at first, it appeared like Mo'Nique would fall into this trap as Lee Daniels kowtowed to the role and Mo'Nique unquestionable presence as an actress. Then, suddenly, something clicked and Daniels seemed to be pushing her to do more than just be intimidating. Mo'Nique's Mary became unpredictable, almost unreadable, an altogether more frightening creature than her already horrific traits suggest. Her complete emotional meltdown at the end of the film is the final nail in the coffin for Mo'Nique's immersion in the role. Instead of focusing on the pity her monologue could elicit, she highlights Mary's ignorance to further show just how lucky Precious is for getting out of that situation. With a bunch of smart choices, Mo'Nique more than lived up to the hype her performance here generated.

Samantha Morton
The Messenger
The appeal of Samantha Morton is often lost on me. She's pleasant enough to watch, but I'd hardly seek out a film just because she was in it. So the fact that her characteristically subdued and lived-in performance in The Messenger worked so well for me this go-around was a pleasant surprise. Morton works immaculately, often almost unrecognizably, within the confines of The Messenger's iceberg of emotions--90% of the emotion is buried underneath the surface. She's a wizard at using just her face to portray a wide variety of emotions, and it's often the haunting contortions of her face that stick out the most when I think back on this movie. How she was passed over for an Oscar nom in favor of Penélope Cruz slutting it up in Nine will remain a complete mystery.

Olivia Williams
An Education
From my post for the 2009 Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon: "Williams' Miss Stubbs, with her hair pulled straight back into a too-tight ponytail and thick, horn-rimmed glasses, is presented as the traditional, straight-laced British teacher we have seen in films for decades. She's not supposed to care about her students, their feelings or their personal lives outside of class; her job is to teach and that's that. At first, Miss Stubbs seems to follow that archetype quite well, but as the film progresses, we see her shed that image layer by layer. Miss Stubbs constantly struggles with the idea of seeing her students as actual people and has to resist interjecting herself in their situations...Williams says so much about her character while not doing much. Her face stays stoic throughout the entire scene, yet her eyes betray a deeply resonant sense of sorrow and pity when Jenny shoots her and her profession down in an angry response to Miss Stubbs's plea. But she isn't sad that Jenny has insulted her, or at least not completely. What really upsets her is that she hasn't gotten through to Jenny, her desperate pleas have fallen on deaf ears...She doesn't have a typical 'Oscar scene' to lean on or what you would call a fully-explored character arc, yet she still gives probably the most realized and complete performance in the entire film."

And the Diva Cup Goes to: Olivia Williams, An Education