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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel WashingtonFlight

John

ddl2Yes, of course I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis in this category. It’s one of those instantly classic performances that will be remembered for a long time.

But it’s still not an instant choice because there are two other really good nominees in this category. Phoenix is intense as hell, squirmy and angry. Washington turns in what I’d call a classic leading man performance. There’s not much in the way of showy acting in Flight but Washington totally carries the film with charisma to spare. He really nails his character’s charming yet dickish personality.

Cooper didn’t make much of an impression on me and I think Les Miserables actively sputters when Jackman is on screen. I know it’s a stylistic choice to give the singing a ragged quality, but Jackman’s gasping and over-emoting didn’t work for me and paled in comparison to his costars that took a more conventional approach to their singing. “Maybe the director should have worked harder to make sure his cast members took similar approaches to singing,” you might say. Yes. Yes he should have.

I would have dropped Cooper and Jackman for John Hawkes’s marvelous performance in The Sessions. I suspect the real Mark O’Brien would have felt very well-represented by the portrayal. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower never really got the acclaim he deserved. Forget Cooper; Logan gives the mentally ill performance of the year! Finally, he may win in Supporting Actor, but Tommy Lee Jones really knocked my socks off in Hope Springs, pairing his trademark gruffness with a lot of vulnerability.

Jared

When I have Hugh Jackman in the cellar, you know it is a strong year for this category. I’ll probably never have a bad thing to say about Jackman (and I’m always reminded of SNL’s Best of Both Worlds sketch), I think he was a little bit let down by his director and the material here. The sing-talking was mostly distracting and a lot of the time he just didn’t seem to be in the same movie as everyone else. I think there’s a potential Les Miserables that would see me have Jackman as my favorite, but this wasn’t it.

phoenix poseIt is admittedly a little difficult to get past the sheer boredom induced by The Master. But I think Joaquin Phoenix helped create a very distinct character. I don’t know if this is going to sound insane or not, but I was most taken by a particular pose Phoenix struck throughout the movie. Hands on his waist, elbows out, almost chicken-like. It felt vaguely unnatural, but maybe since nothing else was going on in the movie, I noticed it over and over, and was impressed with how well Phoenix stuck with it (and other mannerisms) throughout the movie.

I say this as a very big fan of the guy, but doesn’t it seem like Bradley Cooper’s star power is outpacing the movies he’s starred in by a significant margin? He’s got The Hangover and its sequel, this one, and…what else? Limitless? You have to start counting He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, or, like The A-Team. Now, that’s not any sort of knock on his acting, a rewatch of Wet Hot American Summer and, say, The Midnight Meat Train will reveal a perhaps surprisingly impressive range. Anyway, to be more relevant here, this nomination is absolutely deserved. Cooper overcomes a subpar script and direction to deliver a refreshingly nuanced take on mental illness.

Flight is an underrated movie, and I think maybe as a result (along with the fact that there’s a clear front-runner in this category), Denzel Washington is getting lost in the shuffle a little bit. Which is ridiculous, because he’s Denzel. Like most actors, he’s more fun to watch when he’s playing someone who isn’t the ultimate do-gooder, and his character here is just fascinating. There’s a wide spectrum of ways of playing drunk, none of them necessarily wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to play a character going through an entire movie in an alcohol and narcotic infused haze of dependency. And Washington nails it.

ddl1I always love the stories of Daniel Day-Lewis so fully immersing himself into a character – texting like Lincoln, staying in character for the entire production and dearly hope the more ridiculous they are, the more true they are. To me, he’s a testament to what we can accomplish if we want something badly enough, including putting in the work. And for me, there’s not necessarily a value judgement there. His Lincoln is pitch perfect, of course. But when you think about what he sacrificed to prepare and stay in the character’s mindset, it is hard to say if it is was “worth” it.

At any rate, I think the world has pretty much acknowledged this race is and should be set, and everyone’s OK with that.

Should have been here: Along with Day-Lewis and Washignton, I have John Hawkes, The Sessions; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, and Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Cooper; Channing Tatum, Magic Mike; and Liam Neeson, The Grey on the outside.

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The Grouches traditionally do a series where we write up our biggest hopes, expected disappointments, and things of that ilk in the days leading up to the nominations.  For a variety of reasons we decided to just put together a single post summarizing some of our feelings.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more from us in the days leading up to the Oscars.

JOHN

I find myself somewhat disengaged this year and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the films’. I will say I haven’t found myself blown away by much this year and I haven’t uncovered much in the way of pet causes like the Richard Jenkins or In The Loop of years past. Part of that may be that I’ve seen fewer films than usual given the early nomination date. I’ll probably see Beasts of the Southern Wild or something next week and fall in love with it.

One nomination that could still possibly happen is an Original Screenplay nod for the inventive Looper, one of my favorite movies of the year. Some precursors have recognized the film, so my fingers will be firmly crossed.

Beyond that, my hopes are such long-shots that they’re not worth expending energy wishing for them:  Adapted Screenplay (or any category, really) for Bernie or a Best Actor nod for Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Finally, I’ll finish with some fairly unambitious desires. Brave moved me more than most, it seems. I think it will be fine but I hope the mild critical response and backlash about it being “lesser” Pixar doesn’t prevent it from getting its due in the Animated Feature category. And its two original songs are the best of the bunch so here’s hoping they get some recognition as well.

BRIAN

Biggest Hope:
The Fix-it Felix Version (happy): Since we’re working within reason here, its that Beasts of the Southern Wild gets a picture nomination. I’m relieved that I get to make this statement before my fellow grouches see it and hate it, because I loved it. The Katrina-inspired fable had some monumental acting performances, the score is the best I’ve heard since The Social Network (or perhaps even There Will Be Blood), and it toed the line masterfully between realism and fantasy.

The Wreck-it Ralph Version (angry): That Tom Hooper gets shut out of the director category for absolutely butchering Les Miserables. Everything about his choices ruined any chances I had of enjoying the musical and sapped all the life and emotion out of what is theoretically a good musical.

Biggest Lock:
The Channing Tatum 2012 Version (happy): Daniel Day-Lewis. He carried Lincoln from beginning to end and absolutely disappeared behind the beard and top hat.

The Taylor Kitsch 2012* Version (sad): Les Mis for best picture. See above — or just read Jared’s review in which he stole all of my good lines.

*John Carter was actually good. Don’t listen to people and go see it.

Biggest Disappointment:
The 21 Jump Street version (for a nomination): When someone from the boring and dull Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets nominated.

The Rust and Bone version (for a non-nomination): When Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson get shut out of the Best Supporting Actor category. They carry the second half of the film and kick Django into a whole other gear of awesomeness.

JARED

Usually when we are writing up these posts, at least one of us begs for the Academy to throw some curveballs our way with an out of left field prediction or two.  You won’t see that this time.  Every single category is in play this year, and there are seemingly limitless scenarios of how this thing plays out.  Maybe Lincoln steamrolls to 300 nominations.  Maybe we only get five nominees and something big gets left out.  Could Zero Dark Thirty be huge and pull down all sorts of crazy noms?  It is going to be a lot of fun watching the nominations come out regardless of whose names are called.

Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with my compatriots.  I can’t really find any films or people on the bubble who I really want to see get in.  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower‘s screenplay, I guess?  It would be great if Matthew McConaughey could get a nomination, it is just hard to get behind his role in Magic Mike when he’s so riveting in Killer Joe.  I suppose, staying in the category, it is kind of silly that De Niro seems to be on his way to nomination for a relatively pedestrian performance, I wouldn’t mind if he missed.

I really want to be rooting for Skyfall, because Bond so rarely flies this close to Oscar, I just wish the film was, you know, actually a Bond movie.  That said, a cinematography nomination would be a lot of fun, and well-deserved.  And a Bond bad guy nomination is long overdue, so I’d be in favor of Javier Bardem showing up.

And the only thing I can think of that would really make me sad is a Tom Hooper nomination, but Brian covered that.  Well, the Les Miserables best picture nomination as well, for similar reasons.

Oscar nominations on the 10th!  Yay!  I’m taking a look at the state of the race, because…uh…tradition.  This time: Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Ladies and gentlemen, your lockiest lock.  Day-Lewis has noms for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York along with wins for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood.  No one needs me to say anything more about him or his performance.

GOOD BET

  • Denzel Washington, Flight
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Sure, Denzel’s character isn’t necessarily as much a stretch for him as some would have you to believe.  That doesn’t make him any less good.  He’s got noms for Cry FreedomMalcolm X, and The Hurricane, and wins for Glory and Training Day.  If Hugh Jackman is shaky here, it is only because Les Miserables wasn’t the unanimous success some expected it to be.  And because Tom Hooper screwed over his non-Anne Hathaway actors.  Jackman has no Oscar nominations to his name.  Fun fact, though.  His Golden Globe nomination this year was his second.  Any guesses as to which film led to his first?  Obviously, it was Kate & Leopold.  Never change, Globes.

LIKELY IN

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • John Hawkes, The Sessions

I’m certainly not claiming this category is set in stone, but the above five gentlemen have hit all of the major precursors (Globes, Critics Choice, and most importantly SAG), so you’d have to bet on them.  Bradley Cooper took some Tropic Thunder advice and didn’t go full retard, which should be Oscar catnip, especially if they take to the rest of the film, as it seems like they will.  I realize this is going to make me sound (even more) like an idiot, but it is only while writing this up that I’m realizing the import of Hawkes not being able to move for his performance.  Full body movement is so vital to the other four actors mentioned above, making Hawkes’s performance that much more impressive.  With a prior nomination for Winter’s Bone, if he misses, it is because not enough people saw the film.  Or an insufficient Oscar campaign, I guess.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Still haven’t seen this one.  The Master‘s buzz has fallen faster than perhaps any other contender this year, and Phoenix missing the SAG was tough.  But Phoenix has two prior nominations (Gladiator and Walk the Line), the film has been out long enough for people to have seen it, and there are a sizable number of fervent Paul Thomas Anderson fans.

DARK HORSES

  • Richard Gere, Arbitrage
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
  • Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
  • Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained

Gere was pretty decent, and it is the type of role you would think could get him a nomination, I’m just not sure he has enough showy scenes.  Though word on the street is that there is growing support for him.  Pretty impossible to get any sort of read on Amour, and Riva has been generating more buzz than Trinignant.  But my understanding is that if you are for one, you are probably for both of them.  Sure seemed like all the stars were aligned for an Anthony Hopkins nominations.  But the movie is entirely inessential and he is content to let Hitchcock’s girth do all the acting.  I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more buzz for Jamie Foxx.  He’s quite good in the movie and has a nomination for Collateral and a win for Ray.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Channing Tatum, everything
  • Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Liam Neeson, The Grey

John’s a good man and got this up before the nominees were announced.  I’m gonna see how many categories I can get through before Oscars.  Now, I’ve seen probably more 2009 movies than I should have, but I’m still slogging my way through some, so between that and the game theory of the ballot, I reserve the right to have my best of 2009 list look a little different, though ballots are due when ballots are due.

1.  Stanley Tucci, Blind Date

A remake of the same-named Theo van Gogh film, Blind Date slipped into a few theaters rather quietly, and I have no idea how it came across my radar.  Little more than Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, and a single room, it blurs the line between film and staged play.  Revolving around a husband and a wife who set up blind dates with each other as they deal with a tragedy, the role requires tremendous range and depth, and I can’t really imagine too many actors pulling it off successfully.

2.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer

He’ll have turned 30 around next year’s Oscars, so maybe he’ll finally be old enough for some Academy love.  He’s certainly built an impressive resume.  The male lead in a romantic comedy of this sort is difficult to play, in my opinion.  It is very easy to veer off into sheer whininess, but Gordon-Levitt is eminently relatable.

3. Sharlto Copley, District 9

In traditional hands, this role is played by someone like Vin Diesel.  Which would have been interesting, sure.  But instead, one of the most unlikeliest action heroes turned in something quite memorable.

4.  Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

The movie wasn’t great, sure.  But Daniel Day-Lewis was his usual crazy impressive self.  If he had been billed as, say, Baniel Bay-Kewis, I would have had absolutely no idea that this actor was the same one who played Daniel Plainview.  His ability to morph from role to role is just staggering.

5.  Colin Firth, A Single Man

Another performance hampered by a subpar film.  It tickled me pink to see Colin Firth get a nod, because he’s been so consistently great.  Given about as much to work with as Jeff Bridges, for example, Firth creates a much more textured character, one who felt more like a real person than a caricature.

Just off the ballot: Michael Sheen (The Damned United) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan)

Oscar nominations will be announced on February 2.  We’re counting down to the big day by offering some hard-hitting analysis and incisive opinions on the toughest questions surrounding the nominees.  All of us have our favorite films and performances currently on the bubble.  And we all have spent long periods of time spewing invective at the films and performances that will keep our favorites out.  What inclusion or exclusion on Tuesday will disappoint you?

John: Out With The Old, In With The Old?

On Tuesday, Invictus is likely to end up with nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad movie and in fact has an irresistible spirit that partially overcomes some of its flaws. And Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon turn in fine performances, though they do not reach the level required for nominations in my humble opinion.

But what disappoints me is how unimaginative these nominations will be. Invictus is an epitome of Oscar bait: schlocky, a plot that superficially tackles difficult social issues, and directed by Clint Eastwood. With an expanded slate of ten Best Picture nominations, if we’re going to have mediocre nominees let’s at least make them interesting and not just the same old stuff. The sort of narrow vision that rewards films like this year after year is tiresome.

Plus the Freeman/Damon nomination combo will likely put the kibosh on Damon’s chances to be nominated for a much better performance in The Informant!, the performance of the year in fact. Freeman will slip into the fourth or fifth spot for Actor, denying Damon, while Damon’s own popularity in Supporting Actor for Invictus will erode his support for Lead. These perennial safety nominations are usually worth an eye-roll but now they’re actively undermining my own preferences! Gah!

Brian: Give Him The Idol, Or He’ll Throw You The Whip

Like John, and its pretty scary to write those words, I saw a lot to enjoy in An Education, and a few things to nitpick on (too long, etc..), but my adoration of the film begins with Alfred Molina as Carey Mulligan’s father. His bombast was great comic relief and his scene later trying to comfort Mulligan is one of the best in the movie. Viewed in the modern context, his views on the roles of a wife/daughter were abhorrent enough that you couldn’t even see why his wife would have married him, but it is to Molina’s credit that they were played of as buffonery instead of malicious disrespect. While I hope (and deep down think) that he will get recognized for the role, I’m going for the reverse jinx here and saying that he will be ignored. And if the Academy had any cojones, they would take a page from the American Latino Media Awards and nominate him for his role in Pink Panther 2 as well.

One other predicted disappointment I’ll make note of: Both Star Trek and District 9 fail to get nominated, clearing the way for Avatar to lock up the nerd/blockbuster-loving/visual-effects vote and coasting to a Best Picture nod, which would disappoint everyone this side of John (which is everyone). With those two in the mix, the outlook for a Hurt Locker or even an Up in the Air win becomes much more likely (albeit less than I’d like.)

Jared: Would Like To Make It Perfectly Clear That He Has Nothing Against Mr. Eastwood And Means No Disrespect.  About Anything.  Ever.

I’ve got a few gripes here, so I figure I’ll lay them all out and maybe I’ll get lucky and one will hit, like last year (with The Reader).  In the Best Picture race, the one film that really is going to cheese me off is Invictus, exactly the opposite of the type of film the expansion is supposed to help, I think.  Did anyone love this movie?  If you want to like it, that’s fine, whatever.  But just like Frost/Nixon, this film will be largely forgotten a year from now.  Heck, I’d wager the movie is largely forgotten right now.  It is just stunning to me that anyone who has seen at least a dozen movies this year could count the film as one of the year’s best.  If a film like The Messenger gets in, I’ll be sad, but at least I can understand how it inspires reverence.  With Invictus, I think people are confusing an inspiring story with a well-told one.

For Best Actor, I’m increasingly realizing I’m alone here, but I think Daniel Day-Lewis is getting lost in shuffle, thanks to the mediocrity that is Nine.  Well, and we also probably take him for granted at this point, since he keeps turning in larger than life performances over and over again.  Putting the movie aside, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as director Guido Contini as he balances all the women in his life with putting together a new movie.  Any success the film has may well be directly attributed to him.  (Well, OK, Judi Dench is pretty cool, and Penelope Cruz’s dance didn’t hurt.)  The transformation Day-Lewis undergoes from role to role is just staggering.

Finally, if you want to have a debate over how much “acting” goes into mimicking someone famous, that’s fine.  But if you want Morgan Freeman and Meryl Streep to get nods, you have to want Christian McKay to get one as well, for playing the titular character in Me and Orson Welles (that would be Orson, not Me).  It really is as simple as that, for me.  His Welles is a whirlwind of a character, dominating his screen time, as any Welles should.  And he left an impression every much as vivid as Freeman or Streep, if not moreso.

Adam: The Academy Should Be Full Of Basterds

This is actually a pretty easy category for me. My favorite film of the year was Inglourious Basterds and it will also easily cause the biggest disappointment for me. While last year’s snub of Dark Knight for Best Picture and the little love for In Bruges caused me anguish, this year I believe my front-runner will get the nominations it deserves. Unfortunately, this triumph will be bittersweet and tempered by the fact that it will not win for Picture, Director, or Writing (I hope, at this point, that Waltz is a lock for Supporting Actor – not sure if I will be able to continue to watch the Oscars if he doesn’t). While my love for all things Tarantino biases my opinion, I don’t think it can be denied that he writes one hell’va script. To the point that even Jason Reitman gave him props at the Golden Globes saying he was still waiting for Tarantino’s name to be called instead of his own. Since I won’t be able to be unbiased, I’ll leave my ranting there and forgo the reasons Picture and Director should go to him as well.

Needless to say, the lack of a win in these categories will definitely be the biggest disappointment for me this year.

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