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Yesterday, I began my annual far-fetched wishlist of films and individual achievements that, in a perfect world, I'd like to see mentioned in Tuesday's Academy Award nominations, beginning with the craft categories. Today, I move on to the major races, again picking freely from all films released Stateside in 2011 regardless of their presence on the AMPAS eligibility list, and ignoring the rigid qualifying rules in the documentary and foreign-language fields that keep so many of the year's best films out of running. Once more, the results set me up for a world of resigned disappointment next week.
When I left you yesterday, "Drive" and "Jane Eyre" were leading the field, while my two favorite films of the year "Weekend" and "Margaret," had yet to get on the scoreboard. How much will this change? What peaked only in the technicals? And is there time for a late surge from "W.E.?" Check out my picks after the jump, and weigh in with your own thoughts (and favorites) in the comments.
"Martha Marcy May Marlene"
"We Need to Talk About Kevin"
I've already explained these selections in ample detail here, and haven't much more to add -- though it's been a couple of years since I faced the likelihood of a 0% match-up with the Academy's choices. As my one selection with even a theoretical chance of cracking Tuesday's lineup, my thoughts are with "Drive," but I'm happy with my band of outsiders regardless.
Abbas Kiarostami, "Certified Copy"
Nicolas Winding Refn, "Drive"
Kelly Reichardt, "Meek's Cutoff"
Andrew Haigh, "Weekend"
Lynne Ramsay, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Next tier: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"; Kenneth Lonergan, "Margaret"; Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"; Julia Leigh, "Sleeping Beauty"; Céline Sciamma, "Tomboy"
Choosing who to cut here was difficult: even within the arthouse realm, this lineup carries a strong scent of apples and oranges. Haigh's directorial hold on his film isn't as insistent or aggressive as, say, Refn's, but the compositional and structural acuity of "Weekend" isn't simply the work of a gifted writer; Kiarostami, meanwhile, counters his eggheady script with fluid visual language and surreptitiously incisive language. Reichardt expanded her canvas stunningly, matching the scope of her imagery to her usual human preoccupations, while Ramsay showed no signs of rust after a nine-year absence, turning pop-bestseller material on its head with structural abandon and a barrage of sensory innovations.
Tom Cullen, "Weekend"
Grigoriy Dobrygin, "How I Ended This Summer"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Michael Fassbender, "Jane Eyre"
Chris New, "Weekend"
Next tier: Joel Edgerton, "Warrior"; Michael Fassbender, "Shame"; Brendan Gleeson, "The Guard"; Tom Hardy, "Warrior"; Gary Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
I swear I have nothing against American actors -- but the European guys really brought it this year. Dujardin has been primed for an Oscar nod ever since Cannes, and with good reason: his effortless star magnetism masks the performance's tricky extremes of physical comedy and heightened melodrama. Dobrygin, meanwhile, won festival gold at Berlin nearly two years ago, but his bristly, cryptically disoriented performance hasn't dulled in my memory. Fassbender could as easily have made my five for "Shame" -- indeed, the two performances aren't poles apart in their coolly sensual, watchful reserve. Finally, Cullen and New gave the year's great pas de deux performance, each man answering the other's absences with heartbreaking warmth and candid specificity.
Next tier: Emily Browning, "Sleeping Beauty"; Viola Davis, "The Help"; Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"; Mia Wasikowska, "Jane Eyre"; Kristen Wiig, "Bridesmaids"
The Osar narrative in this category has settled into one of great actresses working against mediocre films, though the names listed above prove that it hasn't been hard to find equally exciting talents rising to the demands of fittingly strong, searching material. Binoche turned a rich concept into a real character with matchless grace and humor, Colman brought piercing empathy and fragile intelligence to a woman many accomplished actresses would play merely as an open sore, and Paquin channelled all the exasperating push-pull emotional impulses of young adulthood into the performance of her career... six years ago. Meanwhile, two superb young debut actresses played characters perilously perched between identities: Héran and Olsen are at war with their own body and memory, respectively, and neither settles on an easy rationale or solution.
Best Supporting Actor
Peter Carroll, "Sleeping Beauty"
Colin Firth, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Tom Hardy, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Ezra Miller, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Chris O'Dowd, "Bridesmaids"
Next tier: Raúl Castillo, "Cold Weather"; Matt Damon, "Margaret"; Viggo Mortensen, "A Dangerous Method"; Mark Ruffalo, "Margaret"; Christoph Waltz, "Carnage"
The season's dullest category thus far needn't have been so: a disparate array of breakthrough roles and well-seasoned ensembles present several spiky alternatives to the Oscar field-fillers. Would that O'Dowd, so generously eccentric and wounded when the script could lure him into schtick, had caught even a fraction of his film's buzz, or that more Tilda Swinton acolytes had noticed how fiercely Miller reflects her, only to craftily warp that reflection, in every scene they share. Hardy and Firth, compellingly agitated and coldly careworn respectively, might have received more attention in a film less crammed with marvelous actors. Finally, I have no idea who Carroll is or where he came from, but his quietly, creepily despairing "all my bones are broken" monologue hasn't found its way out from under my skin in eight months.
Next tier: Carey Mulligan, "Shame"; Jessica Chastain, "The Help"; Jessica Chastain, "Take Shelter"; Sarina Farhadi, "A Separation"; Juno Temple, "Kaboom"
Oh, Vanessa Redgrave, what happened? I can only imagine that BAFTA, Globe and SAG awards voters ejected their "Coriolanus" screeners (if indeed they ever played them) before they got to her monumental reading of Volumnia's key monologue, pleading her son for a political about-face, and thereby missed 2011's best few minutes of screen acting. Their loss... and hers, sadly. Similarly unseen by far too many: the magnificently brittle, conflicted veterans of "Margaret," in stark contrast to 6 year-old Lévana's utterly guileless, unaffected emotional intelligence. Finally, though the similarly striking Mulligan has scored some deserved notices for "Shame," I wish Beharie's knockout performance, alternately flinty and playful in its sexual queries and projections, weren't being overlooked entirely.
Best Original Screenplay
Abbas Kiarostami, "Certified Copy"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Margaret"
Sean Durkin, "Martha Marcy May May Marlene"
Julia Leigh, "Sleeping Beauty"
Andrew Haigh, "Weekend"
Next tier: "The Artist," "Cold Weather," "The Myth of the American Sleepover," "A Separation," "Tomboy"
Five exciting writer-directors, five poetic, provocative voices, five exquisitely styled investigations of difficult human truths, five works that are certain to tickle the Academy less than Woody Allen reminding us that the past is a foreign country, or a joke about a fat woman shitting into a sink. (I like "Bridesmaids," but... )
Best Adapted Screenplay
Hossein Amini, "Drive"
Moira Buffini, "Jane Eyre"
François Ozon, "Potiche"
Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Next tier: "The Arbor," "Moneyball," "Mysteries of Lisbon," "The Skin I Live In," "Tyrannosaur"
I already made a case for Buffini's dextrous reshuffle of Charlotte Brontë and Ozon's witty ironizing of a drawing-room chestnut in my First-Half FYC column, and did the same or Straughan and the late O'Connor's academic, even algebraic, distillation of John Le Carré's dense espionage thriller in our recent 'bubble contenders' list. Ramsay and Kinnear deserve the prize for radically redesigning the voice and perspective of an epistolary novel, turning a wordy source into something nearly as terse as Amini's elegant pulp-fiction sleekening.
Next tier: "Mysteries of Lisbon," "Poetry," "Potiche," "Le Quattro Volte," "13 Assassins"
Usually, there would be far more overlap between this lineup and my Best Picture picks -- but for whatever reason, I gravitated far more heavily toward English-language fare than in most years. Maybe I'm getting parochial in my old age. You'll have got the idea from other nominations that I'm high on the mall and perfectly formed childhood study "Tomboy" and "How I Ended This Summer," a teasing, landscape-as-character anti-thriller from Russia , and you hardly need to be told again how wonderful "Pina" and "A Separation" are. So can I encourage you to seek out "Johnny Mad Dog," a storming gut-punch of a war film about child soldiers in Francophone Africa? Made in 2008, the US was seemingly the last country to latch onto lit, but better late than never.
It felt like enough of a stretch to draw up just five nominees in what is a disappointingly thin category this year, so please don't ask for a second tier. "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Rango," both visually luscious appropriations of past live-action genre forms -- one with its heart in its mouth, the other with its tongue irretrievably lodged in its cheek -- are rightfully leading this race, and feel like the only truly complete options, though I do have time for the good-natured throwaway jokery and iridescent color of "Rio" and the sweet-sleepy nostalgia of "Pooh." I wish I loved the funky, stylized romance of "Chico and Rita" as much in practice as I do in theory, but exciting theory is enough this year.
Next tier: "The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975," "Hell and Back Again," "Page One: Inside the New York Times," "Tabloid," "We Were Here"
Okay, so "Le Quattro Volte," with its dramatic interludes cutting into its hands-off rural monitoring, isn't a documentary in the strictest sense, but with the list of 2011 documentaries I found as stimulating cinematically as intellectually not running too deep, I'm willing to bend the rules for something that asks interesting questions of the form. Happily, the films that did take risks took big ones: the complete reliance of jaw-dropping found material in "Senna," the reckless fusion of observation and performance in "Bombay Beach," the reckless performance, period, of "Pina," all caught in unparalleled 3D.
And there you have it: 21 categories, 46 films and presumably little overlap with whatever list of names the Academy gives us. For those who like numbers, "Drive" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" lead my ballot with seven mentions apiece, "Jane Eyre" follows with six, and "Margaret," "Weekend" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" are just behind with five each. Would that they had similar tallies awaiting them on Tuesday.
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