The first half of 2011 has been about as unremarkable as any first half of a year in recent memory. Aside from The Tree of Life, almost no films with any buzz around them have been released. Of the 52 movies that I have seen thus far, only 18 have actually garnered a 3-star rating or higher. Only two films would have even been in consideration for my top 10 last year. At this time in 2010, there were already about 7 or 8 movies that were held up to that standard. So, simply doing my top 5 of the year would be somewhat pathetic, so I will run down my major category lineups for the first half as well. Here is how January-June has shaken down so far:
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
5. I Saw the Devil
4. Everything Must Go
3. Barney’s Version
2. The Adjustment Bureau
This group of nominees is somewhat admirable. I Saw the Devil was not a great film, but the screenplay is definitely what made it most appealing. The other four are definitely achievements in screenplay, and I would not be too upset if any of them wind up being close to my top 5 by year’s end.
Possible year-end nominees: Tyrannosaur
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
4. Source Code
3. The Tree of Life
2. Midnight in Paris
1. Cedar Rapids
This is an odd group so far. Rubber is about the weirdest movie of the year, yet with its brilliantly deranged screenplay and commentary on voyeuristic movie elements, it certainly should rank with the best screenplays. Source Code and The Tree of Life are mentioned mainly for their artistic handling of their original stories. The two comedies at the top are basically even with some considerable distance between them and the others listed.
Possible year-end nominees: Cedar Rapids, Midnight in Paris
5. Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
4. J.J. Abrams – Super 8
3. Duncan Jones – Source Code
2. Paddy Considine - Tyrannosaur
1. Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life
This director lineup is made up of some rather big names. Woody Allen has only twice been in my Best Director lineup, and he has almost no shot at remaining there this year. J.J. Abrams and Duncan Jones have become strong sci-fi directors, and their beautiful direction is recognized here. The top two are the two best films of the year, Considine making his directorial debut and Malick making his fifth film over the past 38 years. Malick may not be dethroned of this title. His vision and style are beyond breathtaking.
Possible year-end nominees: Terrence Malick, Paddy Considine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
5. Elle Fanning – Super 8
4. Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life
3. Anne Heche – Cedar Rapids
2. Rosamund Pike – Barney’s Version
1. Lisa Kudrow – The Other Woman
This is an odd group of nominees so far. Elle Fanning was superb in her scene-stealing part in Super 8. She will be an Oscar nominee in no time. Jessica Chastain is going to have a huge year, and she started off very strong with her work in Malick’s film. Anne Heche gave her best performance since Donnie Brasco. Rosamund Pike was subtle and brilliant in Barney’s Version opposite Paul Giamatti. Finally, Lisa Kudrow, who has been nominated by me once in the past (The Opposite of Sex), gives potentially her best dramatic work ever in what was a decent film. The acting is what made the film worth watching, and no one was better than her antagonistic character.
Possible year-end nominees: NONE
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
5. Hunter McCracken – The Tree of Life
4. Tommy Lee Jones – The Company Men
3. Eddie Marsan – Tyrannosaur
2. John C. Reilly – Cedar Rapids
1. Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life
This is probably the strongest of the current acting lineups. Hunter McCracken was astonishing in The Tree of Life as the young version of Sean Penn. I don’t normally nominate children, but he was impossible to ignore. Tommy Lee Jones was the main highlight of The Company Men’s amazing cast. Eddie Marsan was great as usual, playing a character that is impossible to like or even empathize with. John C. Reilly stole every one of his scenes. Finally, Brad Pitt’s calm, powerful performance dominates this category and is a virtual lock for my year-end list as well as an eventual Oscar nomination.
Possible year-end nominees: Brad Pitt, John C. Reilly
BEST LEADING ACTRESS
5. Janet McTeer – Cat Run
4. Amber Heard – The Ward
3. Rashida Jones – Monogamy
2. Natalie Portman – The Other Woman
1. Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur
This is a raggedy bunch of nominees. Janet McTeer was crazy in her old-lady assassin role in that grindhouse film of sorts. Amber Heard was good in The Ward and Drive Angry 3D, but neither is really award-worthy work. Rashida Jones is quite good in everything, and her work in the tiny budget Monogamy is the best of her blossoming career. Natalie Portman was strong as always in The Other Woman, but also very good in No Strings Attached. Olivia Colman was astonishing in Tyrannosaur, completely falling into her character. For an actress known more for comedy, she really can disappear into a character and show emotions seemingly effortlessly.
Possible year-end nominees: Olivia Colman
BEST LEADING ACTOR
5. Owen Wilson – Midnight in Paris
4. Will Ferrell – Everything Must Go
3. Ed Helms – Cedar Rapids
2. Peter Mullan – Tyrannosaur
1. Paul Giamatti – Barney’s Version
The three comedians in this category is not a normal thing for me. I have never nominated any of them for an award in an acting category. Owen Wilson somehow avoids the usual Woody Allen quirks and creates a real character. Will Ferrell shows once again that he has great dramatic talent when he wants to show it. El Helms is hilarious in his wonderfully quirky performance. Peter Mullan is hauntingly good in Tyrannosaur. Paul Giamatti, who won the Golden Globe last year, is hilarious, heartbreaking, and always amazing in his part. He has become perhaps the best character actor in the business, especially for these types of parts.
Possible year-end nominees: Paul Giamatti, Peter Mullan
4. Midnight in Paris
3. Cedar Rapids
2. The Tree of Life
These are honestly my only 3.5-star and 4-star films I have seen this year (out of 52 overall). Rubber is on there because basically, I have not had more fun watching and deciphering a movie this year. I realize that it is not exactly art, but it really is hilarious and thrilling to watch. A movie about a serial-killing tire can only go so far, but this movie made it into something mildly fascinating. Midnight in Paris was the best Woody Allen film in at least 6 years in most critics’ views, but for me, it is his best since Bullets Over Broadway in 1994. I loved the Paris nightlife and shameless name-dropping. The script was beautifully put together, and the little cameos make the movie even more glorious. Cedar Rapids was one of the best darker comedies I have seen in quite some time. Ed Helms and company get lost in their roles, and it now ranks with some of my favorite workplace comedies. The Tree of Life is a movie experience that seems overwhelming at first, but only upon reflection later can the viewer really appreciate what they saw. Perhaps this is how it gets booed at Cannes, then wins the Palm D’or. Finally, Tyrannosaur (actually not released yet; screened at the Seattle International Film Festival) is the best movie I have seen in 2011. It is a brutal movie to watch. The characters do everything to push the audience away, but for some reason, we cannot stop watching. It is as intense of an experience as I have had at the theater this year, and it is a movie that I will not forget. It features the most powerful acting of any movie in the last year, and the ending will haunt you. See this movie whenever it gets a theatrical run. It is well worth it.
Possible year-end nominees: Tyrannosaur, The Tree of Life
So, there you have it. Have you seen any other great movies, performances, or screenplays that I may have neglected? Let me know.