Categories need not apply with this best-of-the-best assessment of the Academy Awards.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
When the first Academy Awards were handed out in 1929, there weren’t fixed categories. Warner Bros. received an Oscar for producing the first talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, and Charlie Chaplin scored honors for producing, directing, writing and starring in The Circus.
Things have changed over the years: There are now 20 categories, 2,000 parties and endless analysis. Along the way, the awards ceremony has grown diluted and lost a little bit of the excitement it once embodied. So on this page, we boil it back down. Instead of going through each category, we take a more meaningful tact, selecting the very top performances from all award groups – whether it’s a duet with a Muppet and Jason Segel or a screenplay that brings Cole Porter and Ernest Hemingway back from the dead. Here, the 10 best, period:
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Melissa McCarthy (Supporting Actress: Bridesmaids) Whether she’s delivering a line like “I’m glad he’s single because I’m going to climb that like a tree,” adopting nine golden retriever “party favors” or pouncing on a U.S. Marshal like he’s the last piece of shish kebab, McCarthy’s antics rival the late Chris Farley’s.
Midnight in Paris (Best Picture) The late great film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision.” In Midnight, Woody Allen’s vision ventures into a surreal time warp where a living artist, Gil (Owen Wilson), is given the opportunity to interact with his dead artist heroes. The film is fantasy, but it’s a fantasy everyone who creates has had, executed with aplomb. Allen also deserves credit for a superlative screenplay.
Alexander Payne (Director: The Descendants) Few talents can summon complexities of comedy and sadness with such a deft touch. There’s virtually no limit to the layers he brings out in each character, whether it’s arguably the most well-known actor in the business (George Clooney) or previously unknown kid stars (P.G. native Amara Miller).
Nick Nolte (Supporting Actor: Warrior) “Nolte is close to the ideal screen actor – believable, and with a much larger range than Steve McQueen or John Wayne,” Kael wrote. At the age of 71, Nolte’s face looks like a slab of flank steak, and as retired boxer-recovering alcoholic Paddy Conlon, in Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, every line on that hard-living face breathes character.
Meryl Streep (Actress: The Iron Lady) News flash: Streep is the best actress in the world, having racked up 17 Oscar nominations. She can even pull one from a mediocre film like Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady. In it Streep doesn’t play Margaret Thatcher, she becomes the former English prime minister, down to the tiniest nuances and neuroses. Only through her thorough believability can Thatcher’s unbelievable accomplishments find the spotlight they deserve.
Moneyball (Best Picture) Moneyball is up there with national pastime classics like The Natural and Bang the Drum Slowly. Based on a true story of the beginning of computer-generated analysis, the movie shows that baseball is something that continues to breed camaraderie and history as it did a century ago and, when done right, provides storylines that transcend sports.
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory) The final film of a trilogy that’s been 20 years in the making provides proof that art can inspire change. The film follows Jason Baldwin, Damien Wayne Echols and Jessie Miskelly from arrest – and to a jury finding them guilty of murder for the killing of three boys in Arkansas. The reasonable doubt presented in the films sparked a huge response from advocates and initiated a defense fund that finally paid off when the three were freed last year.
Gary Oldman (Actor: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) Oldman is one of the best method actors in the game. Even when he’s in a film for a minute, the guy makes a lasting impression. Unlike his balls-out performances in films like Immortal Beloved and Sid and Nancy, Oldman plays George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with masterful subtlety.
Viola Davis (Actress: The Help) “When a movie character is really working, we become that character,” critic Roger Ebert writes. Voilá, Viola: Davis feels everything her character Aibileen Clark does with a performance that’s elegantly restrained but still hits with the emotional force of a hurricane. Bret McKenzie (Original Song “Man or Muppet”: The Muppets) “Am I Muppet or am I a man?/ If I’m a man that makes me a Muppet of a man.” Bret McKenzie – one half of Flight of the Conchords – sites Harry Nilsson’s epic ballad “Without You” as one of the inspirations for the song. But what McKenzie really does with this tune is capture the original goodness of the Muppets and the infectious naiveté that many of us grew up on and fell in love with.
THE 84TH ACADEMY AWARDS airs at 4pm Sunday, Feb. 26, on ABC.