M. Carter’s Oscar nominations (and then some)

As a fledgling movie lover, a burgeoning blogger, I grew up trusting that The Academy as the ultimate and final word on what was good and award-worthy in cinema. Then, somewhere around the time I realized that my parents didn’t know everything, either, I turned a corner and headed down the “Hey, Academy People, You Might Have Petrified White Dog Turds for Brains” Hallway toward the “Wearing a Leopard-Print Wonderbra and Screaming Obscenities at Albert Finney Does Not Translate to Acting Talent” Conference Room. 

(Yes, I am still a little bitter about how the 2001 Best Actress Oscar race played out and please, let’s change the subject before I have to go back to therapy.)

Old grudges aside, the point is that sometimes The Academy gets it right. But more often than not these sorry, sad little people get it wrong. Very wrong. This is why Frank, the Pompous Film Snob himself, asked a number of us movie bloggers to come up with our own nominations for the best of the best in 2010. Find the compiled list here, and peruse my own nominations below.

Best Picture: “Winter’s Bone”; “The King’s Speech”; “Black Swan”; “Restrepo”; “Cairo Time”

Best Director: Debra Granik, “Winter’s Bone”; Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo”; Christopher Nolan, “Inception”

Best Actor: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; Michael Douglas, “Solitary Man”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; James Franco, “127 Hours”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “Shutter Island”

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Patricia Clarkson, “Cairo Time”

Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; Ken Watanabe, “Inception”

Best Supporting Actress: Rebecca Hall, “Please Give”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Dale Dickey, “Winter’s Bone”; Barbara Hershey, “Black Swan”

Best Original Screenplay: “Cairo Time”; “Black Swan”; “Inception”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Kids Are All Right”

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Winter’s Bone”; “True Grit”; “Shutter Island”; “The Social Network”; “The Town”

Best Ensemble: “Inception”; “The Social Network”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Kids Are All Right”; “The Fighter”

Best Cinematography: “Winter’s Bone”; “Black Swan”; “Inception”; “The Social Network”; “The King’s Speech”

Best Score: “Shutter Island”; “Inception”; “True Grit”; “Cairo Time”; “Black Swan”

Best Editing: “Restrepo”; “Predators”; “The King’s Speech”; “The Social Network”; “Winter’s Bone”

Lifetime Achievement Award winners: Richard Jenkins and Ron Leibman (let’s hear it for the underappreciated character actors!)

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My thought on today

Real-life movie moment

The movie: “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006); dir. by Adam McKay; starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Adams, Leslie Bibb.

The moment: After a rockin’ concert by the King of Country Western Troubadors, one M. Carter @ the Movies got a most unusual — one might even call it “mammar-able” — autography.

The correlation: Unknown Hinson’s response to my brazen request for a signature would have made Ricky Bobby proud: “Absolutely. I’d be happy to sign your chest.”

Streep delights in charming but flawed “Julie & Julia”

Not even the French can resist the formidable charms of Julia Child/Meryl Streep.

Not even the French can resist the charms of Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia."

Sing. Dance. Pyschoanalyze. Charm. Interrogate. Make like Hitler in a habit. Cook. The more I watch Meryl Streep, the more I wonder: Is there anything in the whole wide world this actress cannot do?

Short of invasive brain surgery, all signs point to a hearty “no way.”  (Still, if you gave her a copy of “Gray’s Anatomy” and a scalpel, well, who knows?) In “Julie & Julia,” Streep proves anew that she’s an actress undaunted by the prospect of playing any character — even if said character is none other than the legendary Julia Child. Streep dives cheerfully into the role, nailing the shrill rhythms of Child’s famous voice and injecting so much spirit and life into her part you can almost taste the butter in her sole meunière. The fact that she’s no dead ringer for the departed French chef — Streep, in fact, is six inches shy of Child’s 6’2″ — means absolutely nothing. Minutes in, she’ll make you believe she’s Child incarnate. Bon appétit, indeed.

Problem is, Streep is so good that her performance only magnifies one of the film’s biggest flaws — namely, director Nora Ephron’s failure to create two-dimensional husbands. In fairness, “Julie & Julia” is a movie about women, not men, and directors have pigeonholed women in these parts of decades. But Paul Child (Stanley Tucci minus his usual snark) in particular comes off like some sort of smiley angel. Perhaps this is an accurate depiction of his nature — any man who tolerated Julia Child for more than five-minute intervals had intestinal fortitude to spare — but where are the flaws, the humanity? Warts are verboten in such a heart-warmer, but they’d be a welcome addition.

Let’s get back to the good stuff, though. For much of its length “Julie & Julia” succeeds in charming viewers with the story of Julie Powell (the ever-delightful Amy Adams), a government worker who decides to make every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and write a blog about her exploits. What begins as a way to escape the strain of dealing with 9/11 victims becomes a journey toward creating something meaningful for Julie, even though she alienates her husband Eric (Chris Messina) in the process. Interspliced with this story is the real-life tale of how Julia Child, newly relocated to Paris in 1948, turned a cooking class into a career that revolutionized French cooking for American women.

Ephron relies on finesse and the interspliced plot method to connect the lives of Julie, a New Yorker dealing with 21st-century problems, and Julia, experiencing fine cuisine in post-World War II Paris. Julie and Julia never met in real life, so this reality demands such creative cinematic contortions from Ephron. The splicing works well enough to be convincing but not so well that we feel as though Julie and Julia share a real connection. Here, suspension of disbelief is a necessity, not a luxury.

The truth? For food cinematography (oh, Bœuf bourguignon, how marvelous thou art) and lead performances as touching as these, I’ll play along. Since this is a foodie film, special attention gets paid to the dishes. There are beauty shots aplenty of everything from sole meunière to pastries to cakes, the kind that almost communicate the life in the dishes as much as the flavor, and there’s a shot of Streep at work in the kitchen that feels like visual poetry, all feeling.

Which takes us back to Adams and Streep. Adams gets short-changed a bit here as Julie, whose story is affecting but not nearly as intriguing as that of the unconventional Julia Child. Ever the intuitive actress, though, Adams manages to squeeze more raw feeling from her part than a weaker actress could, letting us see how Julie’s project is a way to give her life meaning. We can’t help but cheer her on. It’s Streep, however, who commands our attention by creating a woman of intelligence, fearlessness and great passion. Child understood that to enjoy food was to embrace life. This, in the end, might be the force that makes “Julie & Julia” such a treat for the senses.

Grade: B-

Perfect for every part (part deux)

DISCLAIMER: Pay no attention to the voices in your head that may have told you this was going to be a definitive — or even vaguely highbrow — list of actresses who seem right for every role. These voices, which may have some really good ideas sometimes, will steer you wrong here in a blog where the author ranks both “Young Frankenstein” and “Apocalypse Now” in the Greatest Movies Ever Made category.

Yeesh. Glad we got that out of the way. Now I’ll forge ahead to part two of my list, a tribute to the actresses who seem to make every character their own. Frances McDormand, of course, is our starter — and not just because Ebert said so. She’s a Coen brothers staple (she’s, uh, married to Joel), but she’s had an outstanding career outside Coenland that includes Oscar nods for drama parts (“North Country,” “Mississippi Burning”) and coming-of-age tales (“Almost Famous”). Whatever she does, she does well, and that makes her seem like a great new discovery every time I see her.

And the remaining nine actresses are:

  • Amy Adams — Amy, Amy, Amy. My love for Amy dates back to “Junebug,” when she proved a bubbly chatterbox could have depth. Then again, she gives depth to all her distinctive characters, from the serious bit parts (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) to fairy tale musicals (“Enchanted”) to smart-dumb comedies (“Talladega Nights”). She just can’t keep her darn light hidden.
  • Penélope Cruz — When Almodovar introduced Cruz in “Todo Sobre Mi Madre,” the world fell in love, and so did I. Inevitably she got thrust into numerous romantic comedies, but then she dared to go off the grid, take serious roles (i.e., “Elegy”) and, in “Blow” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” shred the notion that she was just some Spanish Sandra Bullock. 
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal — There’s just something about Gyllenhaal. It’s not that she oozes sexuality (she does) or that she’s possessed of a strange otherworldly kind of beauty (she is). No, I think it’s that she’s willing to get naked, physically and emotionally, to find her characters. From mainstream parts (“World Trade Center,” “Dark Knight”) to the really bold stuff (“Secretary,” “Sherrybaby”), she goes all in every time.
  • Milla Jovovich — I’ll catch hell for including a supermodel here, and I know it. So Jovovich started off as a hot action starlet and not an Oscar contender — what of it? She’s got real acting chops (she lit up the screen in “Dummy” and “You Stupid Man”) and she’s not afraid to take on parts that are fun and funny and action-oriented. Laugh if you must, but Milla’s more than a pretty face.
  • Queen Latifah — Enter controversial choice No. 2. You may be tempted to think I chose her to fill some sort of racial quota. As if. Dana Owens ended up here because she deserves to be. Here is an actress who has spent too long making terrible movies bearable (“Bringing Down the House”) and too long playing sidekicks (“Stranger Than Fiction”). Give her a lead in something like “Last Holiday,” “Chicago” or “Set It Off” and she’ll surprise you. She’s got versatility, and it’s about time Hollywood gave her more opportunities to show it.
  • Laura Linney — Linney’s the best actress who will never win an Oscar. Why? She’s too good at being plain people, and plain people rarely get gold statues. Still, that hardly means this versatile actress plays one character over and over. She does something a little different every time, sometimes stepping out of the indie box (“Breach,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). She’s one to watch.
  • Kate Winslet — Kate Winslet’s the silver screen equivalent of a extreme athlete. She’s totally unafraid to take chances, consistently picking parts that involve emotional or physical nudity. As a result, she’s done erotica, fantasy (“Heavenly Creatures,” her big break), literary adaptations (the best was “Little Children”) and everything in-between. She’s just astounding, pure and simple.
  • Renee Zellwegger — This cherubic Texan has picked some doozies in her career (re: “New in Town”), but she always rises above the most derivative scripts. Bonus: She’s fearless in the face of the unknown, be it musicals or Civil War-era fare, and she attacks every part with enthusiasm. There’s a lot to be said for enthusiasm when it’s backed by real talent.

As always, bloggers, I await your suggestions…