Oscar Week: Best Actor

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

Looking through this now completed list, I think I may have underrated Michael Keaton a bit–I haven’t seen Birdman in a while, so my memory of him is only in being out-acted by Edward Norton when in actuality he’s probably pretty good. He deserves a mention here, but I really do like my list and think it a finer crop of performances than the Academy pulled together.

Top 10 Actors of 2014:

10. John Lithgow, Love is Strange

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Playing an aging man who must move out of his house due to his husband losing his job, Lithgow is sweet, semi-aware of the pain he is causing his loved ones and knowing he can do nothing about it.

9. Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie

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Without Pratt voicing lead character Emmett there is no way The Lego Movie is half as good as it was.

8. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

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It’s a very flashy role and Redmayne does a good job with it, maybe the fact that the film was lackluster or that they probably thought about Redmayne winning the Oscar every day on set prevents me from rating it higher.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

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I wrote in my short review on Letterboxd that I don’t think this character is very well written–he’s creepy, conniving, and sociopathic–and for some reason felt one-note and uninteresting, but I do think Gyllenhaal plays him really well.

6. Dan Stevens, The Guest

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Stevens brings an insurmountable amount of charm in his role as yes a guest in the household of one of his military comrades (well, maybe). As things begin to unfold and his actions escalate in troubling ways, his charisma remains so abundant I would probably invited him into my home regardless.

5. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

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Phoenix plays a stoner hippy detective, which might not usually account for a performance worthy of writing about on these types of lists, but without all the effort Phoenix puts in here I think Vice falls flat. His comic reactions to the things happening (or are they?) around him are truly inspired.

4. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Other than the lobby boy and his girl (which were both mentioned on previous lists) Fiennes was the other best part of Budapest. He is a suave oddball, very particular about his lifestyle, and strangely reverent about hotel processes. He is a lot of fun to watch.

3. Tom Hardy, Locke

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Without Hardy’s performance Locke would have been an awful movie, literally as he is the only person to ever appear on-screen throughout the movie. He contributes with the way he handles the dialogue and is able to express every stressful moment he is going through while essentially driving his car away from everything he’s ever made for himself.

2. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary

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Gleeson plays a priest who must be faithful (to his duties and to his God) despite everything in his life being moments away from coming undone. He is a pious character, able to comfort, to question, and to laugh with his parishioners. Gleason displays all of these qualities in a way that is darkly comic and sincere.

1. David Oyelowo, Selma

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Oyelowo had a lot of pressure on him to get this character right–Dr. King is among the greatest people in American history and no movie has ever really been made about him. In Selma Oyelowo contributes to a fully flushed out character, one filled with the great heroic leadership that he portrayed in his booming speeches, but also conveys his doubts, insecurities, his reactions to petty arguments. For my money it was the best performance I saw all year.

The Top Things of 2011

Looking through Pitchfork’s top everything of 2011 is usually filled with many artists, songs, and people I have never heard of and thus is not as enjoyable as other web sites end-of-the-year specials. This year however, I looked through their Guest List best of the year and discovered that quite a few artists had made a top things list (as well as many other strange and sometimes brilliant commemorations of the year). This inspired me to make my own top things of the year list, not only because it sounds fun, but also allows me to reflect on this past year (which is often longer than you’d think).

This list is filled with more shallow reflections of things I experienced rather than true life changing moments. For example, I got married this year, which is high and above anything else that happened to me, but it will not be on this list because ranking those moments in your life is like choosing which sibling you like best (no comment on that one).

In no particular order the top things of 2011:

Saturday Night Live’s “Someone Like You” skit:

One of my favorite songs of the year being parodied in a way that totally captures the zeitgeist and my personal feelings about it, count me in.

The Last Day of Major League Baseball:

I had casually been checking the scores of the Rays/Yankees, Red Sox/Orioles, and Braves/Phillies games all day to see what the MLB playoff situation would turn out like and to cheer on the Rays in their epic surge toward the playoffs. Most of the day it looked like it might be a no go for both teams trying to come back (the Rays and the Cardinals), the Rays were down 7-0 in the 8th, the Red Sox lead the Orioles 3-2 in the 9th, and the Braves were within 1 run of tying the Phillies. That’s when things went crazy… The Rays mounted a comeback in the 8th and 9th eventually tying the game and sending it into extra innings (7 runs in 2 innings with their life on the line!). Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon blew a save and the Orioles won it in the bottom of the 9th. The Braves would end up losing, finalizing the Cardinals unlikely comeback (that would lead to their eventual World Series win). In the 12th inning the Rays wrapped up a victory just minutes after the Sox had blown theirs. It was a frantic, exciting, and wonderful way to end the season and honestly something I don’t think I will ever witness again in my lifetime.

The Muppets

This trailer lead the way for what would become a discovery of just how awesome the Muppets are:

After seeing this and watching the original film, I became obsessed with all things Muppets. I still blast various Muppet soundtracks at least once a week.

In December drinking horchata…

I made it a goal of mine to live out the lyrics to the Vampire Weekend song “Horchata”, this is the result:

Look to see more songs lived out this year.

Jessica Chastain as the best mother/wife figure ever

For those who have seen The Tree of Life or Take Shelter (or The Help or Coriolanus or The Debt) you will recognize Chastain. This year was her year and she has collected several awards to prove it. My specific focus is the way she owns the loving, understanding, and wise mother/wife figure in the two aforementioned films. Those two performances were two of the most touching performances I saw all year and really ever. Look for her in the future.

John Cochran

Not only was this nerdy Harvard lawyer the star of the latest Survivor season, but he also made the move that was the highlight not only of Survivor: South Pacific but of the past 3 seasons. On the outside of his tribe, Cochran barely survived until the merge, where his tribe tried to use him as a mole to get knowledge from their competitors. Knowing that the vote would be split 6-6, each tribe looked for a weak point in the other. Cochran tried his best to work as a spy, but Coach, Sophie and company saw right through him leading to one of the best scenes in Survivor history with Coach calling out detail by detail Cochran’s plan, then appealing to his emotional side in order to get him to flip. It was absolutely brilliant on Coach’s part and lead to the biggest blindside since Tyson in Heroes vs. Villains all ending with Jim calling Cochran a “coward” and Brandon putting his arm around him like a bodyguard would in order to protect him from his tribe’s wrath. Survivor at its finest.

The end of FNL

What is probably my favorite show of all time came to end this year and while this is not a good thing in any way, the way that they ended it was absolutely beautiful and perfect. I won’t say much other than go and watch it (all 5 seasons are on Netflix Instant), it is worth your time.

Tacos in Mexico

This year I can say I definitely became a bit of a food geek. I’ve always loved to eat food, but this year really saw the culmination of that as I began to try to make certain things and even researched what is known to be the best food in the world. One food highlight of this year is when I was in Mexico with my church. One of the pastors cooked us tacos at the taco stand he owned. He had meat grilling kebab style wrapped around a pineapple. At one point he cut off some pineapple and grilled the meat in the pineapple juices. This lead to what just might be the best taco I’ve ever eaten. Delicious.

Fantasy Football

I had never played fantasy football until this year and I totally fell in love with it. I researched who I should “sell high and buy low”, who was supposed to play well against who, and listened to podcasts on the subject. While I finished at .500, I would say that I did fairly decent for my first time. I am a shoo in for years to come, and come Spring, look out fantasy baseball!

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt played in two things that I watched this year. The first is a television show where he plays the dumb, loud, and innocent Andy Dweyer (Parks and Recreation). Usually dumb, loud, and innocent is not my forte (I’m looking at you Jack Black or Adam Sandler), but Pratt makes it work so well, that he and the writers of P&R have created one of my favorite characters ever. He makes me laugh the most out of everyone in a cast that includes some hilarious people. The other is a film where he plays a soft spoken, unsure, washed out baseball player (Moneyball). In Moneyball, he plays Scott Hatteberg a major league catcher whose career is basically over due to injury issues with his arm. He is given a second chance to play again when Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) decides he wants him to move to first base. The scene where Beane visits Hatteberg may just be my favorite scene of the film (which is a very fine film). Pratt plays Hatteberg with so much heart, that your insides burst with desire for him to succeed once again at baseball. I look forward to seeing any and everything that Chris Pratt does in the future, and I hope that more people give him the opportunity to act beyond his Andy Dweyer character, because he’s certainly got the talent to do so.

The Toy Story 3D ride at Disney’s California Adventure

This ride really does represent all the potential that 3D has outside of film and television.     It is similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disneyland where you aim at targets with a gun in order to get points, but with this you watch your rockets get flown at a screen in 3D. It is an interactive experience that is worth the 45 minute wait and really is awe inspiring on many different levels. The graphics are great, the 3D is great, the game itself is fun for anyone, and the ride production all work in order to make it one of the best attractions in the park. Check it out next time you’re there.

That wraps up the year end list making! Look for my film awards sometime in February around the Oscars. And have a great year!