By Joan Ellis
2011 brought us the usual mix of good, bad, and indifferent movies that were linked, inexcusably, by interminable barren stretches. There were far too many weeks when the listings promised nothing to lure us to the multiplex. By hoarding its best efforts for December, Hollywood continued to break the movie habit for a lot of people who probably decided to go bowling instead. The good news is that this year’s Oscar nominations reflect a wide range of genuinely good performances and stories. The absence of a popular blockbuster ensures an interesting ceremony. My choices, followed by my predictions in parentheses:
Best Picture: The Artist catches old Hollywood in its disruptive transition from silence to sound with a contagious soundtrack and two perfect stars – Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. In their hands, the story unfolds in high style as Hollywood history. These two, in perfect tune with the mood and the music, simply transport the audience to another time. (Will win: The Artist)
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) who could have made an awful hash of a black and white silent movie in 2011 and instead created magic. (Michel Hazanavicius)
Best Actor: George Clooney (The Descendants). Alternating between raw emotion and considered action, Clooney captures the bewilderment that attends life’s toughest decisions. As a land-owning patriarch in Hawaii, he threads his way through the family thicket with great authenticity. (George Clooney)
Best Actress: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady). She is no less than breathtaking while showing us fragments of Margaret Thatcher’s life as they surface in her fractured memory through the lens of Alzheimer’s disease. Streep gives us the emotions rather than the events of Thatcher’s life in the intense colors of an abstract painting. A performance of pure gold. (Meryl Streep/Viola Davis)
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (Moneyball). He’s the quiet guy in the corner who has the tools in his head and on his laptop to implement the demands of his boss in this terrific baseball movie. (Christopher Plummer)
Best Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo. She plays a beautiful, smart, warm-hearted starlet who crosses the new divide into stardom; and she understands perfectly that silent movies demanded exaggerated physical expression in the absence of dialogue. (Octavia Spencer)
Best Foreign Film: A Separation. This film speaks in a universal language about marriage, family, and honor and does it in such a way that we feel we are right there in that house, that car, that courtroom. The immediacy is due partly to the absence of a villain. Without exception, everyone in this story is struggling to hold onto honor in the face of circumstance. Honor may spring from different cultural roots in Iran, but the issues are universal. With four stunning performances, this film would be a winner in any language.
And so the year produced some grand entertainment in this medium we love. But let’s still ask the big question: Can’t Hollywood do something about summer, spring and fall?