My Entertainment Weekly magazine praises American Gangster, Atonement, and Charlie Wilson's War as the three front runners, and the next 5 as Into the Wild, Juno, Kite Runner, No Country for Old Men, Michael Clayton, and after that a group of 5 that includes Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hairspray, Sweeny Todd, There Will be Blood, and 3:10 to Yuma. I heard Eastern Promises got great reviews, so this is the first year where I'm just starting to think the Oscar process is kind of overly random.
Films I've seen in loose order from best to worst:
3:10 to Yuma, Darjeerling Limited, Sicko, Michael Clayton, Hairspray, Eastern Promises, Transformers, Lars and the Real Girl, Bourne Ultimatum, Spiderman 3, Across the Universe, Knocked Up, Elizabeth and the Golden Age, Invasion, My Brother, Evan Almighty, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Blades of Glory, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Music and Lyrics, Superbad, Licence to Wed, Music and Lyrics, Shrek 3, Pirates 3, Nancy Drew, 1408
So, these are the best of what I've seen:
3:10 to Yuma
James Mangold, 3:10 to Yuma-So impressed with him. He's not an auteur in my eyes (no consistent style) but an impressive filmmaker, nonetheless
David Cronenberg, Eastern Promises-His story had such heart-pounding intensity to it (as in my heart was literally beating really hard and fast), even during non-violent sequences, and I just figure you gotta be an incredible director to do that
Michael Moore, Sicko-The master of non-fiction narratives
Wes Anderson, Darjeerling Limited-Even though Darjeerling Limited is ranked 2nd, and Anderson is like my favorite director, I think there were three directors who REALLY surprised me this year, while Anderson just plain delivered his high caliber work as usual.
Tony Gileroy, Michael Clayton-He cornered George Clooney and forced him into a meeting for his film, so I'm pretty impressed with his sheer ambition.
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl-Oscars usually nominate one picture in a light-hearted/character-based/comedic performance and therefore it naturally follows that performances from pictures like Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Lost in Translation, Junebug and Stranger than Fiction usually get Oscar buzz or actual Oscar nominations. This performance right up there with all of those other ones.
Virgo Mortgensen, Eastern Promises-When your character is stabbing people and fending off death, it usually ups the ante a little and therefore it can tend to get oscar baity, but this is a great and subtle performance. This is a guy who has a job that involves killing people in cold blood and you're wondering how he manages to be civil and clear of conscience while doing it, and it's not that he has kids to have to raise and be answerable to. There's a sense of decency evident in him when it comes to dealing with Naomi Watts and her uncle, and that provides the answer for who his character REALLY is.
Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma-Crowe is always an artiste. As Chris Rock says, he always appears like he's studied the character thoroughly and is deeply immersed in whatever he's playing. I think Crowe is injecting "Crowe the artist" into his role of Western outlaw, and creating a character who's supposed to be the typical villain, yet he's very passive and thoughtful about everything he's done.
Christian Bale, 3:10 to Yuma-If you thought Bale as Batman was a test of his ability to hide his English accent, wait till you see Bale in western Drawl and how well he pulls that off.
John Trovolta, Hairspray-John Trovolta wasn't as mindblowingly convincing as I thought it would be. I might have been willing to move him up a couple slots if he pulled it off, but he didn't. At the same time, though,his character had a lot of tender moments with Nikki Blonsky that I think were done well.
(Runner-Up: Adrien Brody of Darjeeling Limited or rather, was he a supporting actor? It's hard to say)
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age-Well, it's just hard to trump the supreme effort of this task. It's just one of those performances that's so intricate and nuanced that even if it wasn't 100% what you hoped for, you can appreciate the whole picture
Naiomi Watts, Eastern Promises-This woman can spin yarn into gold on practically anything. She was, in fact, one of the most protested snubs of the decade for her work in 2001's Mullholland Drive.
Evan Rachel Wood, Across the Universe-Wood's surprising second talent as a singer really stood out to me.
Nicole Kidman, Invasion-Well, it's Nicole Kidman for god's sake. Like Meryl Streep or Naiomi Watts, she's good in pretty much everything she does.
Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew-Nancy Drew is right down there with 1408 for the worst film I've seen this year, I took my younger cousins to see it, but a) the pool of female actors is getting low by the time I hit the #5 spot (even with Nikki Blonsky, Kiera Knightly and Katherine Heigel in the running) and b) even if the movie was terrible, I actually thought she was able to make lemons out of lemonade pretty well. Her character came off as spirited and plucky but also a very believable teenager who suffers from being super humanly smart. I think the tone of the film didn't fit her performance. Also, c) I already picked Kiera Knightly last year in my summer '06 awards
(Runner-Up: Kiera Knightly, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: That film put her in the forefront of the story more than the other two. It's kind of close)
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton-This might very well be the performance of the year, no contest. Wilkinson's characters are usually uninteresting heavies so this is quite a change and a good one. I'm really rooting for him.
Clive Owen, Elizabeth-If the movie could be slow and boring at times, it never was when Owen was on-screen. It wasn't a performance with any really intense moments but there was gravitas and conviction to Owen's performance.
Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma-You looked at him and saw a lot of bitterness or something hard to quantify. It was a really interesting performance, for sure
Christopher Walken, Hairspray-There's Walken the crazy guy, Walken as a villain, Walken the parody of himself (that you see on SNL), Walken as the singer and dancer (who knew?), but rarely do you ever get to see a compassionate Walken: one with heart and one that can create touching scenes.
Michael Cera, Superbad-His performance was an interesting combination of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development and a kid with a lot more confidence. He might end up having a fairly long career.
Supporting actress:Tilda Swenton, Michael Clayton-She personified corporate greed and female ambition to create such a great villainess. She was so evil, yet she seemed so familiar to anyone who's ever read testimonies by or stories about crooked CEOs in the business section of their paper.
Amara Karan, Darjeeling Limited-I think female characters who are sexually open (and could therefore be defined as slut-like) but later found to be richer underneath are particularly interesting. She also took away from a lot of Indian stereotypes.
Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl-A wonderfully awkward film in so many ways
Joan Allen, Bourne Ultimatum-It seemed like Allen took the material very seriously as if this weren't just an innocent action movie, and the movie's tone changed as a result
Tie: Michelle Pfieffer, Hairspray-A wonderfully devious performance that possibly came from channeling all that frustration of not having been cast in any movies this decade.
Vanessa Williams, My Brother-I saw this film at a film festival, that never got more than a week's circulation at most major movie chains after much pushing. It was made by Oscar-nominated shots director Tony Lovern, and it was a labor of love for him to get it through distribution. The movie similarly also loses a little in production values, but is a very emotionally compelling story. Vanessa Williams' role in this is something that you would not expect to see from a former Miss America contestant, singer, and model. The actress knew that the part was gold and either took a pay cut or did it for free, I can't remember which.
Runner-Up: Abby Cornish, Elizabeth and the Golden Age
Darjeerling Limited-On the art direction end it ranks higher. Wes Anderson is always my favorite in that department
Elizabeth and the Golden Age-An observation: I don't think that the cinematographer was aiming to show this world in as glamorous of a light as he could have. It was very realistic and abstract at the same time. Certainly the most interesting thing about the film, of course, was the art direction.
3:10 to Yuma-Westerns always give one a healthy opportunity to play with cinematography. These top 3 are all very impressive on my list.
Pirates: At World's End-That shipwreck cove was probably the best visual accomplishment of the film, along with the super army of ships.
Michael Clayton-Rather ordinary places like office buildings, the basement of a restaurant where the title character plays poker, and a New York City street were filmed in such a way as to convey a feeling of claustrophobia. Clever.
1. Hairspray-There was no weak link in this ensemble and that's what made it great
2. Michael Clayton
3. Darjeerling Limited
4. Eastern Promises
5. 3:10 to Yuma
1. Spiderman 3-Mainly because of Sandman
2. 3:10 to Yuma-A good-old fashioned Western shootout
3. Invasion-To give a loose idea on the bulk of special effects work: People's bodies decompose as alien parasites take them over.
(In this category, I was largely dissapointed with some of the big CGI-based films like transformers)