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I have a confession. I’m someone who tends to struggle to follow even moderately complicated movie plots. I have a bad habit of zoning out at the exact moments when I should be paying attention. You probably know which moments I’m talking about. It’s the ones where one character spends five minutes carefully laying out detailed plot exposition to another character, and to the audience. This is usually done in really unrealistic, heavy-handed ways that grind the movie to a halt. And while I’m definitely to blame for this shortcoming (I really should just listen more closely), I also like to pass the buck to the filmmakers. Maybe if they set out their exposition in more interesting, subtle ways, I would be compelled to pay attention, no?
This is where I give Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a lot of credit. This is a complicated film. I imagine that even people more perceptive than I will struggle to follow every intricacy of the plot. However, it lays out its spiderweb of a narrative in compelling, unique ways. By switching between time periods, countries, and about a dozen different characters, things could easily get muddled. And while I wasn’t always 100% following every detail, director Tomas Alfredson did a great job of keeping things coherent and interesting.
At its core, Tinker Tailor is a who-done-it film. Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British Intelligence agent who must help his old crew figure out who among their group is actually a Soviet mole. That’s literally it. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but I’ll let you sort out the finer details on your own.
The story is complex, and it gives you a lot to think about while watching. But the film can also be enjoyed on many different levels. Most notably (to me), it’s just gorgeous to look at. Alfredson’s visual style is right up my alley, full of damp tones, and sparse cinematography. Some of his shots of the London streets are absolutely breathtaking. His style seems very well-suited to the Cold War era, and he evokes such atmosphere. The tension and paranoia is almost palpable through the camera, and that is arguably the film’s strongest suit.
Of course, you also have to talk about the performances. Gary Oldman is magnificent, as always. George Smiley is such a repressed character, and Oldman nails it. Smiley plays his cards close to his chest, yet Oldman brilliantly gives away tiny hints in his expressions and body language to let the audience in on his emotions. These hairline cracks in the facade are far more telling than any over-the-top “freak out” scene that most movie character inevitably experience. I give Oldman huge kudos for having the steely, commanding screen presence to pull of what could have been a completely bland character.
The most surprising performance for me was from Mark Strong, though. It seems like Strong has made a career out of playing villains in blockbusters like Kick-Ass and Sherlock Holmes. I’ve seen him in at least half a dozen films, and while he’s always fine, he’s never made much of an impression on me. But he is brilliant in this movie. From the first 10 seconds of his performance, I knew that this was a different Mark Strong. He plays a British intelligence agent sent on a mission to Hungary, and he shows such a range of emotions and a great amount of soulfulness. This could easily have been a throwaway character, but Strong inhabits every inch of this role. I wouldn’t have thought that Strong would suit this type of movie, but he actually gives my favourite performance in the film, and one of my favourite Supporting Actor performances of the year.
Tom Hardy is also very charismatic as Ricki Tarr, a British agent accused of betrayal. It’s nice to see his character get a personal story arc, since much of the rest of the film is centered around the characters’ professional endeavours.
That’s actually one issue that I had with the film. It would have been nice to bring a little more warmth to the story and some of the characters. Of course, this film is all about the mystery, rather than the character study, but a little back story would help it feel less dry.
However, that’s not to say that it’s a boring movie. Quite the opposite, even if the pace is a bit slow. Alfredson is an expert at building tension, and the screenplay is taught enough to prevent Tinker Tailor from dragging. This movie would be worth seeing for the performances alone, so the fact that it’s also a beautifully shot, well-constructed thriller is just a bonus.
My predictions ended up with an iffy 14/24 accuracy. Not great, but adequate, I’d say. And am I disappointed that The Social Network lost to The King’s Speech? Yes, but it seems like my favourite movie of the year is always nominated, but never wins. But now to the telecast, which I thought, for the most part, was pretty enjoyable.
- Anne Hathaway. She did a much better job hosting than I’d expected (here I was thinking that James Franco would be the one to liven things up…) Her boundless exuberance was just the remedy for a lagging, overly long ceremony (as the Oscars often are). She cheered, she sang, she poked fun at herself, and she had an endless array of gorgeous outfits.
- The opening. Inception, The Social Network, True Grit, The King’s Speech, and Black Swan all received visits from Hathaway and Franco, and the cameos from Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman were nice touches.
- The unending love for Hugh Jackman. He’s kind of become the new Jack Nicholson. He’s not nominated, he just sits there and smiles and has a good time. The presenters and winners seem happy to see him, and he becomes something of a touchstone for them to play off of.
- James Franco’s grandma.
- Kirk Dougals’ epic presentation for Best Supporting Actress.
- Justin Timberlake’s riff on Kirk Douglas’ epic presentation.
- Zachary Levi performing “I See the Light” from Tangled. Mandy Moore sounded great, too, but for someone who is not primarily a singer (I didn’t even know he could sing before Tangled), Levi came off as a total pro.
- “That’s gross” – Cate Blanchett
- Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s presentation for Best Visual Effects. Can they just get married already?
- No clapping during the “In Memoriam” segment. Good call.
- Sandra Bullock’s presentation to the Best Actor nominees. It was the perfect balance of wit and respect.
- The auto-tuned “Year of the movie musical” segment that they created. The Twilight one was kind of amusing, but the others were lazy and tedious.
- The framing of certain categories with clips from classic movies. It felt a bit forced and random to me, and seemed to unnecessarily lengthen the telecast.
- Melissa Leo’s speech. Sorry, but I didn’t find it charming. It was kind of annoying and fake, in my opinion. She rambled, and the f-bomb wasn’t interesting.
- Kind of: James Franco. He had some pretty funny moments (the white unitard, the Marilyn Monroe getup), but he generally seemed out of step with the rest of the ceremony. I don’t think that he was as terrible as some people are saying, but perhaps not the ideal host.
- The finale. I feel like a heartless bitch, but dragging all those 5th graders up on stage just seemed like the most contrived, obvious finish the show could have gone for.
- This is kind of a random note, but I would have liked to see a broader scope in terms of the films that they celebrated. Not even in terms of the winners, but just which films got shown/mentioned throughout the broadcast. There were two lengthy montages for the Best Picture nominees, but scarcely a glimpse of any other 2010 films. I get that the show is about the nominees and winners, but the Oscars should also be about celebrating the film industry in general. What about non-winners like The Town, Tron: Legacy, Shutter Island, Easy A, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kick-Ass, and Jack-Ass 3-D? They all found devoted fanbases and helped make 2010 the year that it was in film.
- Colin Firth (Best Actor, The King’s Speech). Always a class act. The wry humour was wonderful, and I love that he’s sang the praises of Tom Ford all season.
- Natalie Portman (Best Actress, Black Swan). I liked that she thanked the behind-the-scenes people on set, as well as the people that helped her get where she is.
- Lee Unkrich (Best Animated Picture, Toy Story 3). He gave a gracious, inspiring, economical, and eloquent speech.
- Luke Matheny (Best Live Action Short Film, God of Love). Matheny probably never thought that his NYU school project would win an Oscar, and his surprise and exuberance was refreshingly sincere. It’s nice to see a “regular” person outside of the big Hollywood machine get recognition.
Best Red Carpet Fashion:
The Hollywood Reporter’s “Roundtable” video series has been going for a few years now, but I must admit that this is the only segment that I’ve ever watched. It probably has something to do with the names involved in this roundtable – Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Colin Firth, Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Duvall (who seems a bit like the odd man out, to be honest) – that got me to watch the entire hour’s discussion. And it was pretty interesting. You can click here to watch the whole thing.
It’s nice to see actors discussing the craft in a somewhat more natural way. Yes, it is still a contrived setting and there are “moderators” controlling the discussion. But the desperate need for talk show anecdotes is largely gone. At times, it veers into navel-gazing contemplation about the art of acting, but I’d say that the video is well worth watching, if not only for a few choice moments. Highlights (though I recommend watching the video for yourself):
- Ryan Gosling’s discussion of Derek Cianfrance’s approach to making Blue Valentine. Coming from a history of documentary film, Cianfrance apparently never did more than one take of a scene (and the actors had no rehearsal time). And an entire night of filming was devoted to capturing whatever Gosling and Michelle Williams improvised while wandering the city. Because of the film’s tight budget, Cianfrance had to give up having lights for the entire film in order to have the resources to film from sunset to sunrise on this one night. As Gosling puts it, “He knew where to spend his money in the hopes of grabbing those moments.”
- Gosling’s explanation of why he pulled out of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Gosling gained sixty pounds for the role, but a lack of communication between actor and filmmaker made for an unpleasant surprise when he showed up on set weighing 210 pounds. But as Gosling says, the weight issue was only a small indicator of the vastly different visions that he and Jackson had for the film and the character. And having seen The Lovely Bones, I think I’d probably prefer Gosling’s version.
- Jesse Eisenberg’s hyper-self-consciousness. Insecurities fly fast and furious here, and that’s why I find Eisenberg such an unrelentingly fascinating character. He talks about doing 50 takes for a scene on The Social Network, and feeling like 48 of those takes were “terrible and mortifying”. He also talks about the filming of Adventureland, and how he would keep track of which takes and specific lines he thought he delivered well, and request that only those takes be used in the movie (the other roundtable actors get a kick out of that one).
- Robert Duvall’s incredulousness over David Fincher’s perfectionism and penchant for endless takes.
- The discussion of doing “bad movies”. Franco talks about his early work, and how doing movies that he hated eventually led to him pursuing other interests and “viewing movies in a different way”. Eisenberg also talks about one instance where he struggled with deciding whether or not to take an early role that he had no interest in.
- Is it just me, or does Mark Ruffalo seem like the friendliest dude ever? He definitely came across the warmest, adding little jokes and encouragement (and possibly patting Colin Firth’s knee at one point near the end?). He also seemed to take himself the least seriously of the group, which I respect.
As for the Oscar chances of this group (since awards season is the impetus for these videos), I think all of them have a decent shot. I still don’t think that Franco, Eisenberg, and Gosling can all squeeze into the Best Actor category. They’re just too young. But with Jesse Eisenberg’s Best Actor win from the National Board of Review earlier this afternoon, it looks like he could be a major contender. And with Franco as a virtual lock, I fear Gosling might be left out in the cold. Firth and Duvall will also both likely be nominated for Best Actor. The only supporting player involved here is Ruffalo, and I hope that he can still find a spot in his category.
Here’s a wrap-up to my Favourite Performances of the Decade series. I may edit the five posts occasionally if I see a performance that’s deserving of a spot, but I want to keep my list to 25.
Colin Firth – A Single Man (2009)
In Tom Ford’s visually lush debut film, Firth plays George, a man reeling from the sudden death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). Firth takes this difficult role on with all of the class and poise that you would expect from the charming Brit. Yet there’s also a profoundly moving undercurrent to his portrayal of a man who’s trying to desperately keep his facade intact while contemplating suicide. Firth’s performance may be subdued, but it’s the nuances in his body language and inflections that give away the deep sense of grief that George is experiencing. For me, it was the best performance of 2009.
Carey Mulligan – An Education (2009)
Audrey Hepburn comparisons ran rampant around the release of 2009′s An Education, but I think that it’s best to let Mulligan’s vivacious performance speak for itself. As a confident young woman who finds that she doesn’t know herself nearly as well as she thought, Mulligan is charming, witty, intelligent, and vulnerable all at once, and she hits the perfect emotion for every scene. Her Jenny is a joy to watch, and your eye is drawn to Mulligan during every moment that she is on screen. It’s rare to find this magnetic of a performance from such a relatively unknown young actor.
Keira Knightley – Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Keira Knightley has cemented her status as the queen of the period piece (think Atonement, Silk, The Duchess, King Arthur), but her most vibrant performance to date comes in Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. As heroine Elizabeth Bennett, Knightley brings a refreshing sense of modernity to the feisty role.
Peter Sarsgaard – Shattered Glass (2003)
Though usually relegated to supporting roles, Peter Sarsgaard (on the right side of the above photo) has proven himself to be one of the most diverse working actors. The character of Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass is a departure from some of the more troubled characters that Sarsgaard has taken on, but he thrives as the driven hard-ass of a newspaper editor, too. He takes what could have been a forgettable supporting role and turns it into a surprisingly gripping tour de force performance. From Chuck’s low-key moments in the newsroom to his inevitable explosions as the film unravels, Sarsgaard is perfect.
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married (2008)
With a showy role in a modest film, Hathaway is both harrowing and hilarious as Kym, a recovering drug addict visiting home for her sister’s wedding. I’d had my doubts about Hathaway’s acting abilities, but this unforgettable performance instantly remedied that.
This list is clearly skewed young, but here are ten actors (plus a few honourable mentions and rising stars) that I love watching onscreen. Feel free to discuss my choices or share you own lists in the comments!
1. Robert Downey Jr.
Essential Filmography: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Tropic Thunder (2008), Chaplin (1992), Zodiac (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Wonderboys (2000)
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Essential Filmography: Capote (2005), Magnolia (1999), Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Underappreciated Work: Almost Famous (2000)
3. Daniel Day-Lewis
Essential Filmography: There Will Be Blood (2007), My Left Foot (1989), Gangs of New York (2002)
Underappreciated Work: The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
4. Ryan Gosling
Essential Filmography: Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), The Believer (2001)
Underappreciated Work: The United States of Leland (2003)
5. Casey Affleck
Essential Filmography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Underappreciated Work: Lonesome Jim (2006)
6. Leonardo DiCaprio
Essential Filmography: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1992), The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2002), Titanic (1997)
Underappreciated Work: Romeo + Juliet (1996)
7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Essential Filmography: Mysterious Skin (2004), 500 Days of Summer (2009), Brick (2006)
Underappreciated Work: The Lookout (2007)
8. Ethan Hawke
Essential Filmography: Before Sunrise (1995), Dead Poets Society (1989), Training Day (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Reality Bites (1995)
9. Joaquin Phoenix
Essential Filmography: Walk the Line (2005), Gladiator (2000), Two Lovers (2009)
Underappreciated Work: Signs (2002)
10. Colin Firth
Essential Filmography: A Single Man (2009), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Underappreciated Work: Girl With a Pearl Earring(2003)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking)
Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon)
Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)
Benicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire)
Edward Norton (The Score)
Guy Pearce (Memento)
Sam Rockwell (Snow Angels)
5 Promising Newcomers
Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk)
Ben Whishaw (Bright Star)
Sam Riley (Control)
Michael Angarano (Snow Angels)
Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma)
Often considered the precursor to the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes announced their nominees at the crack of dawn this morning. I made some predictions for the major film categories beforehand, and I was surprised to see that my predictions were 100% correct for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and Best Supporting Actress. I haven’t seen many of the big Oscar contenders yet (like, basically, I’ve only seen Julie & Julia), but I’ve been following this awards season fairly closely. I might post some predictions for Globe winners, or Oscar nominees later on.
Here are some quick reactions to the nominations.
- I was thrilled to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt nominated for (500) Days of Summer, and for the film to be nominated in the Best Musical/Comedy category. It’s my favourite film of the year so far, and I’m glad that people haven’t forgotten about it in the deluge of big Oscar movies.
- The biggest surprise, for me, in the film categories was probably Tobey Maguire’s nomination for Brothers. I’m sure he’s good in it, but I’ve heard very little talk of awards for his performance. The iffy critical reviews didn’t seem to help his chances, either. I would have expected to see Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker (who I had predicted), Viggo Mortensen for The Road, or Johnny Depp for Public Enemies in the fifth spot of the category (Clooney, Firth, Bridges, and Freeman were obvious nominees) long before Maguire. But I like when the awards shows keep things interesting with some surprise nominees.
- Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, and Meryl Streep got double nominations (and in Streep’s case, it was two nominations in the same category!) And even though I’d been expecting it, I’m really confused as to why Bullock got nominated for The Proposal (I haven’t seen The Blind Side, so I can’t judge the validity of that nomination). She was fine in it, but I thought that category had so many other stronger contenders. I would have rather seen Amy Adams (for Sunshine Cleaning, or even Julie & Julia), Zooey Deschanel (though she was the weaker of the duo in 500 Days of Summer, she was still good in it), or Maya Rudolph (Away We Go) nominated instead.
- Though I haven’t seen their performances yet, I’m still glad to see these actors nominated, just because I like them J: Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Homes), Daniel Day-Lewis (Nine), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria – wasn’t expecting that one!), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Julianne Moore (A Single Man)
- I don’t follow the Television awards too closely, but I was really happy to see Glee nominated for Best Comedy, and to see Lea Michelle, Matthew Morrison, and Jane Lynch all nominated! Pretty good for a show in its first season.
- When did it become a rule that Julia Roberts has to be nominated for a Globe for every film that she makes?
- I think that the Best Picture – Musical or Comedy category is a lot of fun. I like Julie and Julia, really liked The Hangover, and loved (500) Days of Summer. I have no idea who’s going to win this category, since early reviews of It’s Complicated and Nine seem a bit mixed.
- Could this be the year that a woman finally wins Best Director at the Oscars? I think Kathryn Bigelow has a good shot for The Hurt Locker. I’m sure she’ll get nominated, but she’ll have tough competition in Jason Reitman, James Cameron (who also happens to be her ex-husband), and even Clint Eastwood. It should be an interesting race.
To read the full list of Golden Globe nominees, click here.