1. Carlos (Best Picture, Best Director – Olivier Assayas, Best Actor – Edgar Ramirez)
I have no idea whether or not Carlos, Olivier Assayas’ brilliant three part, five and half hour epic will even be eligible for the Oscars this year (they sometimes have weird rules). However, if it is, than it should be in the race for all the major prizes it can receive – particularly Best Picture, where nominating it would be a bold statement, Best Director, to recognize Assayas’ colossal achievement and Best Actor, for Edgar Ramirez’s complex performance and physical transformation throughout the epic. It should be in all the below the line categories as well. Carlos is a masterpiece – unlike anything else this year, and deserves to be recognized.
2. Kim Hye-Ja for Mother (Best Actress)
Still one of, if not the best, lead performances I have seen this year from an Actress. Mother was Korea’s submission at last year’s Oscars for Foreign film, but since it was not released here, and didn’t get nominated, it is eligible this year. Here work as a fiercely devoted mother, trying to make up for the sins of her past, is riveting, complex and unforgettable. Were this an American film, with say Meryl Streep in this role, an Oscar win would be all but assured. But it isn’t, and no one seems to be talking about Kim Hye-ja anymore, and that’s a shame.
3. Chloe Grace Mortez and Richard Jenkins for Let Me In (Best Actress and Supporting Actor)
It’s a pet peeve of mine that great performances in genre films hardly ever get recognized by the Academy. This year, two of the best performances come from the most unexpected place – a remake of a Swedish vampire film. As the vampire trapped in a young girl’s body, Chloe Grace Mortez gives a simply stunning performance – quiet, subtle, violent and extremely complex. She doesn’t copy the previous performance in the least, and makes the vampire a much more interesting, complete character. The same is true of Richard Jenkins in the role of her “Father”, whose monosylbalic responses are truly creepy, and the looks he gives to his “daughter” are downright disturbing – bringing forth a sexual connotation between these two that was merely hinted at in the previous incarnation. Both of these performances should at least be in the conversation.
4. Ben Mendohlson and Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress)
Perhaps I shouldn’t put Jacki Weaver here, as the studio is already trying very hard to get her in the race, and doing a fine job of it so far. But a movie as small as this needs all the support it can get, so I will once again say that Jacki Weaver is amazing in her “Mommie Dearest” role as the cold family matriarch, who loves her “boys” a little too much. But while Weaver is firmly planted in the supporting actress race, no one is talking about Ben Mendohlson truly creepy, violent turn as the Uncle who is the head of the family business. Mentally disturbed, paranoid, prone to violence, not quite understanding everything going on around him Mendohlson is every bit Weaver’s equal – and deserves attention in the supporting actor field as well. (And should the Academy add the category - Creepiest Use of a Cheesy 1980s Ballad, this would win hands down - just hearing I'm All Out of Love gives me the chills since I saw this movie).
5. Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams for Shutter Island (Best Actor and Supporting Actress)
I know I am in the minority on Shutter Island who believe that it is a great film. Yet, I have a hard time believing that no one else sees the great work done by all the actors in this film – particularly DiCaprio, who carries the film on his back with his intense, paranoid performance, and Williams who in a few short scenes shows us mental illness at its absolute worst. DiCaprio probably has a better chance for Inception, which is admittedly the better film, but I really think that his work here is far superior – one of the very best in his career. Williams on the other hand is getting great notices for Blue Valentine, but that films rating trouble could sink her – meaning that they both could have two great performances this year that go completely unrecognized.
6. Robert DeNiro for Stone (Best Actor)
I am in an even smaller minority on Stone than I am on Shutter Island. But while the film has some admitted problems, one of them is definitely not Robert DeNiro’s performance. He is a man who has buried his rage, his lust, basically all of his feelings for so long, and he is now just getting back in touch with them. Yet, instead of exploding in a Travis Bickle like orgy or violence and blood, DeNiro brilliantly implodes here – the muttered swear words under his breath, his barely surpressed rage behind his eyes. DeNiro has essentially taken the last decade off of serious acting – but in Stone the best actor of his generation is back with a vengeance – but for some reason, no one seems to have noticed.
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Best Foreign Language Film)
I know its probably strange to name the Palme D’Or winner an underdog, but the fact of the matter is that it is. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the type of art film that never gets nominated at the Oscars – hell it’s the type of art film that never wins the Palme either, which is why the Tim Burton led jury at this years Cannes Film Festival made such a daring choice. A nomination for Uncle Boonmee would be a signal that the Academy is open to more than just the typical prestige pictures – and would be a much needed boost to the foreign branch which has proven time and again that they only like the least foreign of foreign films. That is why I think Uncle Boonmee needs to be nominated – and sadly why I think it doesn’t have a chance in hell.
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Best Documentary)
After losing the Oscar for his documentary 4 Little Girls, Spike Lee joked that they were up against a Holocaust movie, and so he knew he didn’t have a shot. At the time, in the mid-1990s, he was correct. But even though the Academy has moved away from simply Holocaust docs, they have remained vested in issue oriented documentaries year in year out – last year’s nominees were about illegal immigration (Which Way Home), government whistle blowing (The Most Dangerous Man in America), the environment and animal rights (The Cove), our food system (Food Inc) and foreign politics (Burma VJ). But some of the most interesting docs – like Banksy’s art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, one of the highest grossing docs of the year, are not issue driven – but personality driven, and question things like art and artists, not serious political concerns. Exit Through the Gift Shop is certainly a high profile doc – and would stand a chance of winning if it got nominated, but it first has to go through the shortlist process – and that could derail it as the conservative members of the doc committee like their docs standard issue, talking heads about important subject matter. But this film deserves to be in competition.
9. Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go (Best Actress)
Never Let Me Go was on a lot of people’s early lists – but the film has disappointed with both critics and the box office, so most are completely writing off its chances. Personally, I loved the film, and the main reason why is because Mulligan carries the movie. She is such a wonderfully sensitive actress, perfectly attuned the film itself – downplaying the role with a wonderful subtlely that most actresses her age would not be able to handle. Even people who don’t much like the movie seem to like her, so I think she should still be in the conversation for Best Actress – but sadly, I don’t think she really is.
10. Ryan Reynolds for Buried (Best Actor)
James Franco is dominating the Best Actor conversation for his performance as the real life Aron Ralston, who literally spends most of the movie trapped between a rock and hard place, before cutting off his arm. It is a harrowing movie, and great performance by Franco, so if he ends up in the Best Actor lineup, I won’t have a problem with it. But for my money, Ryan Reynolds is even better in Buried – where the actor literally spends the entire movie inside a coffin buried in the Iraqi desert. Unlike Franco, Reynolds gets to interact with no one, other than the people on the other end of the cell phone, and we never see glimpses of his normal life. He is just trapped, and trying desperately to get out. 127 Hours seems like an Oscar sure thing, and Buried will likely be forgotten – but for me, Reynolds and the film itself, are both superior.