Top 10 Films of 2019 – Honorable Mentions

Soon I will finally reveal the list of my ten favorite films from 2019. But before I do, it’s worth mentioning a handful of others that just missed out on cracking that list.

Honorable Mentions

No. 15 – High Flying BirdHigh Flying Bird gif

High Flying Bird, director Steven Soderbergh’s second consecutive film shot on an iPhone, is a small movie with big ideas. The film, which stars Moonlight’s André Holland as professional basketball agent Ray Burke, takes place during the middle of an NBA lockout and focuses on Burke’s unique business plans to benefit his firm and his prized client Erick Scott during this tumultuous time. High Flying Bird is a scant 91 minutes in duration, but I assure you, that entire hour and a half is packed full of snappy dialogue that will suck you into the story. The movie is beautifully shot and depicts the incredibly important intersection of sports/entertainment and race/politics. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iL1K_l8Jyo.

No. 14 – Avengers: EndgameEndgame gif

Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga” and serves as the closing chapter of this particular story of the Avengers. This particular saga is the most commercially and critically successful superhero movie franchise of all time, and thus, Endgame had a massive challenge to wrap up this story in a way that satisfied fans. It went above and beyond that challenge and succeeded spectacularly. The film was complex at times and the story was intricate, but Endgame stayed true to the essence of its Marvel predecessors and provided the perfect cocktail of laughs, tears, action, and entertainment to make this final ride worth it for the audience. (In fact, the 182-minute runtime never felt like a chore for a single second.) Streaming for free for subscribers to Disney+. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcMBFSGVi1c.

No. 13 – Dolemite Is My NameDolemite gif

In Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy returns to his raunchy comedy sweet spot (his first Rated-R film since Life in 1999) in his portrayal of the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Eddie Murphy is one of the greatest comedians of all time, but from the perspective of cinema, his career has been off track since his Oscar-nominated performance in Dreamgirls. In Dolemite, Murphy has absolutely gotten his swagger back. I also loved the supporting performance by Wesley Snipes as the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin—Snipes’s hysterical depiction of Martin completed a noteworthy comeback of his own. This film is equal parts hilarious and charming, and I reveled in the core themes of hope and perseverance. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws1YIKsuTjQ.

No. 12 – JokerJoker gif

Joker serves as an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. This film has obviously been fodder for people wanting to debate the ethics of depicting gun violence and mental illness. But although I felt a bit uncomfortable during some of Arthur’s emotional outbursts and episodes, I can’t imagine watching a movie about someone struggling with mental illness and feeling anything other than a sense of uncomfortableness. Todd Phillips’s story is raw and unrestricted, and I appreciated the social and political commentary on society’s consistent rejection of those that are different, especially in light of the present times. The film is beautiful in terms of costumes, production design, musical score, and cinematography, but the single greatest strength of Joker is Phoenix’s acting performance—a true tour de force. The storyline is eerily reminiscent of two Martin Scorsese films, The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, and Phoenix channels those brilliant Robert De Niro performances in crafting his one-of-a-kind character. (The fact that De Niro plays a role in Jokeris almost poetic.) Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t433PEQGErc.

No. 11 – Apollo 11Apollo 11 gif

In a year filled with many great documentaries, my favorite was Apollo 11. The film documents the famous Apollo 11 space mission in 1969 that resulted in the first spacewalk. Some of my favorite documentaries in recent memory (such as Senna and Amy) create gripping narratives utilizing only archival footage. Apollo 11 does the same here, but it goes a step further, refusing to use even interviews—the entire story is told through glorious archival footage, much of which was previously unreleased. The whole world knows this story and how it ends, and yet, the breathtaking footage and unique storytelling devices create a mesmerizing sense of adventure and suspense. Streaming for free for subscribers to Hulu. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Co8Z8BQgWc.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Leading Actor

In today’s post, I will review the Best Leading Actor category for this year’s Oscars. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)Banderas gif

In legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Pain and Glory (nominated this year for Best International Feature), Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker battling health issues and nostalgia as he reflects upon important memories and relationships throughout his past and how they’ve shaped his present. I have not seen an immense amount of Banderas’s films, but from what I have seen, his performance in Pain and Glory is certainly his best. This movie has a lot of drama and a lot of heart, all while sprinkling in some clever humor. And although the film features some wonderful supporting performances (including Penélope Cruz as Mallo’s mother and Asier Etxeandia as his former collaborator Alberto), Pain and Glory thrives most prominently because of this stunning performance by Banderas. Whether it’s the humorous moments where Mallo is, for the first time in his life, trying heroin with Alberto, or the emotional reunion with a lover from days gone by, Banderas sinks his teeth into the role and delivers a masterful performance. It is no wonder Banderas took home the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)DiCaprio gf

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In my Best Supporting Actor post, I waxed poetic about the glorious reunion between Tarantino and Brad Pitt following their collaboration in my favorite film of all time, Inglourious Basterds. But Once Upon a Time also marks a spectacular reunion for Tarantino and DiCaprio, who previously joined forces to bring us one of the most well-acted, but despicable villains of all time, slave owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. As much as I loved Brad Pitt here as Cliff Booth, my favorite aspect of the film (aside from the brilliance of Tarantino’s storytelling as a whole) was DiCaprio. Rick Dalton is by far the funniest character DiCaprio has ever portrayed (yes, even more so than the real-life Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street), and he delivers a performance that, in a year where Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t play the Joker, surely would be my top pick to take home the Oscar. This performance exhibits much of DiCaprio’s range, equal parts comical and earnest. The moments that will live on in my memory forever include the Basterds-esque “anyone order fried sauerkraut?” scene; the “Easy Breezy” conversation with Julia Butters’s character; yelling at the Manson hippies with a pitcher of margaritas in his hand; and most of all, that infamous trailer argument with himself on the set of Lancer.

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)Driver gif

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follows a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), as they cope with a contentious coast-to-coast divorce that involves a bitter custody dispute over their eight-year-old son. Despite the sad and depressing nature of Marriage Story as a whole, it is hard to argue with the fact that the film features two utterly tremendous performances from its leading actors. I have already discussed Johansson’s performance in my Best Leading Actress post, but with respect to Driver, his portrayal of New York-based theater director Charlie is one of the most emotionally shattering acting performances of 2019. Although the film follows both Charlie and Nicole through their separation and divorce, Marriage Story eventually homes in more distinctly on Charlie’s struggles. (The character arc of Nicole is vital to the story, but given Baumbach’s own divorce history with ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, the self-reflection through via Charlie is unsurprising.) Although the scene has been turned into a bit of a meme via Twitter, the argument between Charlie and Nicole in Charlie’s LA apartment (wherein Driver angrily proclaims “Every day I wake up and hope you’re dead”) is etched in my memory forever, and it certainly provided Driver his “Oscar moment.”

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)Phoenix gif

Joker, co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, is an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. Upon release, Joker polarized audiences for its depiction of mental illness and gun violence. But regardless of your take on the ethics of the film, Joaquin Phoenix’s staggering transformation into the famed super-villain is a sight to behold and deserves all the critical acclaim you can throw at him. One of the most obvious parts of Phoenix’s transformation is physical in nature, as he lost a significant amount of weight to give Fleck a disturbingly gaunt figure. Although impressive, the weight loss hardly compares to the haunting genius of Phoenix’s acting performance as a whole. Phoenix had massive shoes to fill with his portrayal of the future Joker, as Heath Ledger already gave the world one of the greatest performances in film history as the character in The Dark Knight (for which Ledger posthumously received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). Phoenix’s performance is incredible, but it’s also different from Ledger’s, as Phoenix only becomes the Joker during the climax of the film. As Arthur Fleck, Phoenix is chilling and terrifying, slowly creeping toward complete derangement throughout the movie. One of the major standpoint parts of Phoenix’s performances is the variety of maniacal laughs in Fleck’s repertoire—those things will haunt my ears forever. Phoenix’s embodiment of such a mentally ill character must have been taxing, both physically and emotionally, but his acceptance of the challenge provided cinematic history with one of its better performances. I expect Phoenix to take home the gold in a few days!

Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)Pryce gif

Netflix’s The Two Popes is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. With the exception of a couple of stray scenes, this film is comprised nearly entirely of one-on-one conversations between Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Although that does not seem like a recipe for an entertaining movie, I was thoroughly surprised in the result being just that. The two characters are both Catholic, and that is really where their similarities stop. Pope Benedict is staunchly conservative, while Pope Francis is more liberal and progressive. This dichotomy of ideologies makes for some very interesting conversations and debates throughout the film as the two discuss the future of the Church, and Pryce subtly, but quietly, steals the show, turning in a wonderfully inspired performance.

Snubs and Other Performances

This category was always going to be a bit crowded this year, as 2019 was packed with wonderful performances. In addition to the five nominees, though, there were a handful of other actors that turned in noteworthy performances this year that deserve some appreciation. First, despite the fact that both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci earned Best Supporting Actor nods this year, The Irishman’s lead, Robert De Niro, missed out on a nomination, despite giving us another very memorable performance as the titular Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. Second, Daniel Craig was marvelous in Rian Johnson’s whodunit Knives Out as private detective Benoit Blanc—this was by far the most fun role I’ve ever seen Craig in and he killed it. Third, Eddie Murphy was absolutely hilarious in his R-rated comedy comeback Dolemite Is My Name (his first R-rated film since Life in 1999), a film about the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy would have been a worthy nominee for the Oscar, as he received nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards.Bale gif Additionally, Christian Bale was remarkable in Ford v Ferrari as British racecar driver Ken Miles. When I first saw the trailer for Ford v Ferrari, I thought it looked like a very paint-by-number Disney-style biopic—I was wrong. The film is fast-paced, electrifying, and extraordinarily fun, and Bale carries the film gloriously across the finish line with one of my favorite performances of his storied career.

Sandler gifThe five nominees all gave very strong performances, but I really think the Academy made a mistake by not nominating Adam Sandler for his portrayal of jeweler and gambling addict Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems. (I guess Pryce would have to lose his spot to grant a nomination to Sandler.) This was one of my very favorite movies of the year, and although it’s great for so many reasons (including, but not limited to, the raw and frenetic pace masterfully crafted by the Safdie brothers, as well as the stellar supporting performances from Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Julia Fox), it is a notch better on the strength of the single greatest acting performance of Adam Sandler’s career. On paper, Howard Ratner is incredibly unlikable. Throughout the entire film, he proves to be a bit of a sleazebag who incessantly makes bad decisions at every turn. And yet, because of Sandler’s career-defining performance, it’s impossible not to root for Howard during the movie’s thrilling twists and turns. Sandler obviously has more career ahead of him, but it’s hard not to imagine this being his masterpiece—the Academy should have rewarded that.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Adam Driver

Just like his Marriage Story co-star Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver is currently getting +1400 odds to pull off an upset in the Best Leading Actor category. Please read the “Who Will Win” section below for proof as to why this upset isn’t happening, though. (Yes, I know I listed Driver as someone who “could” win, but I feel obligated to at least list the second best odds amongs the other nominees no matter what, even though the odds don’t suggest Driver will be winning on Sunday.)

Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Think what you want about Joker as a film, but it is patently undeniable that Joaquin Phoenix turned in one of the greatest acting performances of all time. He deserves this win more than ever before.

Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix is currently getting the second best odds of any nominee in any category to win an Oscar this year. (Phoenix’s -5000 odds are second only to Parasite’s odds to win Best International Feature, which currently stand at an astounding -10000.) With the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, SAG Award, and BAFTA already under his belt, I fully expect Phoenix to be the actor giving his acceptance speech in this category come Sunday night. If When he wins, it will be his first Oscar win.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 11 – Her

Her - BP

Her is a film written and directed by Spike Jonze.  This film, set in the not-so-distant future, tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a soon-to-be-divorced writer, and the relationship he develops with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice of his artificially intelligent operating system.

Spike Jonze on the set of Her.Her is by far one of the oddest concepts in any film I have ever seen, but in only a way Spike Jonze can, he makes it work in such an incredibly beautiful manner.  I wrote about Her a few months ago in my fall preview, and I was very much looking forward to seeing this because I wanted Jonze to get back to making movies that I enjoy.  In my opinion, Where the Wild Things Are (2009) was a boring movie, no matter how cool it looked on screen, and I was hoping Her would put Jonze back on my cinematic map.  And indeed, he has.  The script, Jonze’s first solo effort, was far more hilarious than I was expecting, and he made it come together on the screen through stunning colors and intricate detail.  Even though a couple of scenes drag at times, Spike Jonze has created a film that is all the while memorable, refreshingly funny, and bitterly sad, and it will be exciting to see what he has in store next.

Her 1The film succeeds because of Jonze’s fantastic script and striking set decoration, but thanks to two amazing acting performances, it is one of the better movies from 2013.  I have always been a fan of Joaquin Phoenix’s work, no matter how much of a peculiarity he is as a human being, and in his role as Theodore Twombly, he has created one of the best performances of his career, and by far one of my favorites.  His character is quiet and introverted, but it was invigorating to see his transformation as a person after falling in love with Samantha; Phoenix’s innate ability as a performer makes this character thrive in every scene.  It was also entertaining to see Joaquin Phoenix in a role that mixes equal parts of drama and comedy—I never would have thought of him as a “funny” guy, but in this film, he makes it work, and he makes it work well.

Another fantastic performance was given by Scarlett Johansson as Samantha.  And before any of you that have not yet seen the film ask, yes, Johansson is only a voice actor in this film.  Before Her, I would have been in an uproar if a voice actor were nominated for any major awards; however, even though Scarlett was not nominated, I truly believe her performance was well worth that level of critical praise.  You never see Samantha, but you feel her presence every single time she speaks, and this is all because of Johansson.  Throughout the film, there are times you forget Theodore is simply falling in love with an inanimate object because of Johansson’s fluidity.  Never has there been a better performance from Johansson, and Samantha will forever be one of the greatest artificial intelligence characters in cinematic history.

This film takes such an interesting perspective on relationships and the ways in which we operate in a world dominated by technology, and even though Theodore is falling in love with his operating system, the way it is depicted on the screen is not that unfathomable given the way technology permeates our lives.  No matter what you may think of Jonze as a filmmaker or the concept of this movie, it is well worth the watch.  Her is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

Academy Award nominations for Her:

Best Picture (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, and Vincent Landay, Producers)

Best Original Score (William Butler and Owen Pallett)

Best Original Song (The Moon Song: Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O & Spike Jonze)

Best Production Design (Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena)

Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Fall Preview 2013: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Fall Preview

Hey movie fans!  I hope everyone enjoyed the introductory post to my Fall Preview 2013 a couple days ago, which included five honorable mention films set to debut in theaters in the next few months.  Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some surefire, award-quality works of cinema, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options.

No. 10 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a film about two girls that go missing and follows a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) as they work to track both girls down.  Even Prisonersthough the trailer presents the film as a thriller following two families trying to track down their daughters, Gyllenhaal says it is much more than meets the eye: “What’s different about this story is the idea that revenge just begets more revenge and you become a prisoner of that need to seek revenge.”  The trailer initially caught my eye with its dark, menacing demeanor, and not only was I captivated with the idea in general, I was even more fascinated with Paul Dano’s role.  He has long been a fantastic character actor, and I expect nothing but a superb supporting performance in this film from the twenty-nine-year-old star.  Prisoners is set for a theatrical release on September 20, 2013.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers, End of Watch), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

No. 9 – Rush

Rush tells the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda (Daniel Brühl) was involved in a disastrous crash that nearly took his life.  The film follows his comeback and relationship with Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  I am always a sucker for a quality sports-themed movie, and I have been aware of Rush Rushfor quite some time.  Not only is the story emotional and uplifting, but the film also features two exceptional actors playing these infamous lead roles.  Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of Hemsworth’s acting abilities, highlighted in Thor, The Avengers, and The Cabin in the Woods.  I also expect big things in this film from Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance was in my favorite film of all time, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.  Lastly, the film features a supporting performance by one of my favorite actresses in cinema, Alexandra Maria Lara.  Needless to say, this movie has everything going for it, and I anticipate moviegoers everywhere to “rush” to the theater to see it (pun clearly intended).  Rush is set for a theatrical release on September 13, 2013.

Director: Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Cabin in the Woods), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Drinking Buddies), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, L’affaire Farewell)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

No. 8 – Her

Her is a film about an introverted writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is dealing with the end of a long relationship.  He decides to buy a new computer operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and through their conversations, Theodore begins to fall in love with “Samantha.”  The first time I saw this trailer, I thought, “wow, what an oddher phoenix premise.”  But the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became with the subject matter.  Half of my intrigue dealt directly with this unique plot, but the other half came from the people involved with the film.  No matter how odd he may be as a human being, Joaquin Phoenix is still one of the single most talented actors working in Hollywood, and his involvement with the film foreshadows an excess of award praise for the movie.  I am also looking to this movie to put Spike Jonze, the director, back on the cinematic map.  He has had success directing on the silver screen in the past, with movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but his 2009 live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was clearly less than spectacular in my book.  I am hoping Her revitalizes my enjoyment of Jonze’s films.  Her is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master), Amy Adams (The Master, American Hustle), Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, Don Jon)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJTU48_yghs

No. 7 – Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a film that follows an ex-convict (Christian Bale) as he seeks revenge on a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) that he suspects has something to do with the disappearance of his missing brother (Casey Affleck).  Obviously, with a couple of the out of the furnaceheavy hitters of Hollywood in this film, specifically the always-remarkable Christian Bale, it will definitely be one to look out for come Oscar season; however, I am most eager for the film because of the director, Scott Cooper.  Cooper has only directed a single feature film before Out of the Furnace: the 2009 drama Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges the Academy Award for Best Actor.  I immediately fell in love with Crazy Heart after seeing it for the first time, and I have been eagerly awaiting Cooper’s next film for four years.  Luckily, he has come back strong with a motion picture that is already receiving a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I cannot wait to see how his second go-round pans out.  Out of the Furnace is set for a wide theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, American Hustle), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Now You See Me)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClzRVlMhU2E

No. 6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about an anti-social musician (Oscar Isaac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to salvage any success in his personal and professional lives.  The24-inside-llewyn-davis newest Coen Brothers film does not quite look like any other that they have created before, but my devotion to their work is unrelenting, and I believe this film will captivate not only myself, but also all movie fans alike.  For Mumford & Sons fans, this movie will be right up your alley—Marcus Mumford and Academy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett produced the folk-style music incorporated throughout the film.  Some gifted young performers appear in the film in addition to Isaac, including Mr. “Suit and Tie” himself, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan, one of the most popular and talented young actresses in the business today (not to mention she’s Marcus Mumford’s wife).  The film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, winning the second-most prestigious award available, the Grand Prix, and it was met with rave reviews—based on 23 critics reviews, the film has already garnered a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  With this film, expect the same amazing product the Coen Brothers have been handing out for many years, including just the precise balance of emotion and their classic satirical humor.  Inside Llewyn Davis is set for a theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit)

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive, The Bourne Legacy), Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo, Flight), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Country Strong), Justin Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, Runner, Runner)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl8DidbbTQM

Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 14 – The Master

The Master

The Master is a film written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.  The movie follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran that returns home and struggles to establish a steady life outside of the military.  He eventually meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a philosophical movement, and Dodd, along with his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), accept Freddie into their group to help spread the word of “The Cause.”  Over time, however, the issues Freddie has with alcohol dependency and adapting to a post-war society create significant difficulties for the Dodd family’s advancement of “The Cause,” and Lancaster and Peggy attempt to use the ways of their teachings to help Freddie fix himself to become a disciple for their movement.

I have been a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s films over the years, specifically Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2007), so it was a given that I was going to go see this film in theaters shortly after its release during the summer.  Considering it took five years for Anderson to release his follow-up to There Will Be Blood, one of the most amazing movies of our time, I knew it was sure to be well thought out and intricately fascinating.  After the viewing the film, I instantly thought that Anderson had created a movie that was sure to receive some assortment of award nominations, but the over-complication of the plot made it something I, along with most viewers leaving the theater that day, was utterly confused by.

Given that the plot centers on the teachings of a post-war cult, it is no wonder that the film seemed rather disconnected and uninviting.  The beginning of the film started out strong—it truly seemed like P.T. Anderson’s latest film was going to be gloriously masterful, pun intended.  However, as the storyline fully came into focus, it only proceeded to drag on with exaggerated repetition.  Anderson created some downright complex characters, but by the end of the film, I did not feel like they had grown very much—it was like they all ended up right back where they began.

With all that being said, The Master is still a solid film.  In my opinion, the film is wholly carried by three stellar acting performances from the main characters.  In Phoenix’s first feature film since his fake retirement from acting a few years ago, he reminds us all why he has always been heralded as one of the best actors of his generation.  Philip Seymour Hoffman also turns in a fantastic performance in his role as the leader of the cult.  However, the brightest display of sheer acting ability came from Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd.  While she seems like an innocent and docile wife, the film, coupled with Adams’ amazing performance, reveals Peggy to be much more of a woman that pulls the strings from afar—I would argue that her character is the actual “master” that the title of the film implies.  If this film does not sound like it’s for you, at least give it a shot just to take in an astounding representation of acting by a stellar ensemble.  The Master is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.

Academy Award nominations for The Master:

Actor in a Leading Role (Joaquin Phoenix)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Actress in a Supporting Role (Amy Adams)

The Master trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ1O1vb9AUU