It’s bandwagon jumping time, and since Hollywood is about ready to hand out its own brand of bewildering backslapping, the 19-month-old SE&L figures it too can champion its own choices for award winners. Oscar might have the hoopla, the bags of swag, and all that staggering star power, but what the newly christened SEALS have is something the Academy can never boast – artistic integrity. Granted, the gray hairs in the group sometimes get it right – can’t argue with all their choices, Crash aside – and it’s possible that these new prizes will clash with conventional thinking. But when it comes right down to it, if Blockbuster Video, MTV, and The National Rolling (Down a Hill) Association can declare their preferences for the year’s trophy-deserving best, why can’t we?
That being said, we have to set up some guidelines. First and foremost, as joking Johnny-Come-Latelys, we will avoid the already nominated Academy entries. If it has already been pointed out by Oscar, we will let the Gold One have his glory and simply move on. After all, nothing smacks more of Tinsel Town tonsils to tushy than agreeing on who they feel deserves Best of Year recognition. Secondly, we will try to mine the ENTIRE previous 12 months in film. We won’t skip over efforts from January or March just because most of the cachet pictures wind up playing between November and December. And finally, this isn’t a competition. Other choices may be mentioned, but the SEALS don’t play the nomination game. Either you’re a winner, or you’re not.
So, without further ado, lame jokes from a PC host, or an interpretive dance number based around the choices for Best Song, here are the 2008 SEALS:
Best Film – Gone Baby Gone
Clint Eastwood was called some kind of GOD for turning Dennis Lehane’s novel Mystic River into a Method over-acting melodrama. In a perfect world, Ben Affleck’s take on another of the author’s South Boston whodunits would have been equally praised. Instead, Oscar more or less forgot about it. Too bad, really. This is the kind of engrossing, energetic cinematic tour de force from both sides of the camera that restores your faith in film. Long after the Coens and PT Anderson have gathered up their aesthetic and gone home, this will be the movie audiences return to again and again. In a year of great works, this is definitely the best.
Best Director – David Fincher (Zodiac)
It’s hard enough to capture the look of the ‘70s, let alone the predominant post-peace generation malaise. Now add in the biggest unsolved murder spree in California history, and the man who made his name with the classic serial killer saga Se7en, and you’ve got several impossible cinematic mountains to climb. Drawing on his own memories of the era, Fincher maneuvered all of these potential pitfalls flawlessly. This is Helter Skelter without the Mansion Family mania, a police procedural that dares to expose the flaws in a pre-technology system. Like a symphony in three parts, this director conducted the most memorable movie going experience of the year.
Best Actor – Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)
It’s hard to play a real life individual, let alone someone with the wide-eyed idealism and neophyte naiveté of Christopher McCandless. Adding to the issue was the depressing manner in which this true story ends. Yet Hirsch, seen mostly in disposable comedies and off-title dramas, really responded to Sean Penn’s pointed writing and directing, creating a believable vagabond whose destiny seems painted in purely fatalistic colors. We root for this lonely and lost young man, but recognize how untenable his attempt really is. It makes Hirsch’s work all the more impressive.
Best Actress – Jodie Foster (The Brave One)
Thanks to a mostly illiterate critical community, Neil Jordan’s brilliant deconstruction of big city security was tagged a ‘female Death Wish. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and Foster’s electrifying performance proves that once and for all. This is the story of ethics pushed to the edge, of normal people taking the ‘concept’ of law into their own hands. While metered out unfairly, and with little consideration for the sacredness of the social order, we watch one woman melt down and rise up, phoenix like, packing heat and ready to reclaim her sanity. It marks another courageous, brilliant turn for the two time Oscar winner.
Best Supporting Actor – Paul Rudd (Knocked Up)
It’s hard to be the anchor when all around you is going gonzo, but Rudd, reserved and resplendent as the stereotypical post modern hen pecked hubby, was absolutely marvelous as Apatow’s amiable marital commentator. From the classic reaction to his wife’s constipation, to the moment his mushroomed brain discovers the variety of chairs in a Vegas suite, he stole scene after scene from a noted moment thief like star Seth Rogen. In the old days, before leading roles leapt over one category to secure a statue, this would be the celebrated performance. Sadly, it sits, unrecognized.
Best Supporting Actress – Michelle Yeoh (Sunshine)
Considering the massive scope of his movie (this is a sci-fi film about saving an entire GALAXY), Danny Boyle had his work cut out for him when it came to making the speculative stakes more personal. Luckily, he had a magnificent cast, including this Chinese icon as the starship’s resident botanist. If a single moment can sell a performance, it’s the instant that Yeoh recognizes that all the food in the interstellar garden has been destroyed. Her face, a combination of shock and sadness, literally breaks your heart. If cameo-sized stunts can earn Oscar nods (and gold), this more substantive turn should as well.
Best Script – Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Describing what this amazing action spoof does best is very difficult - deconstruct the genre, or eviscerate the stiff upper lip stereotype of the British people. More than just a collection of jokes, this is the kind of satire where levels of unexpected wit arrive in the most unusual and arcane of places. From the clipped clichés of the opening to the all out splatter fest at the end, Wright and Pegg prove they’re the heir apparent to Python level lunacy. And then make cracking good films in the process.
Best Documentary – Lake of Fire
Abortion is the ultimate non-debatable issue. No side is absolutely perfect and no position is wholly evil. While it was released in Canada in 2006, the film didn’t appear in American markets until October, 2007, making its unflinching look at the issue eligible for consideration. Always confrontational and never weak willed, Tony Kaye’s take on this material is honest, forthright, and resolute. This is not an attempt to make heroes and villains of those passionate about the topic. Instead, Lake looks at the fight as part of a broader social phenomenon, and a decidedly political one as well.
Best Animated Film – Beowulf
Forget cute cooking rats. Ignore the “Down with the Shah” darkness of one young gal’s life in Iran. And who really cares about surfing penguins. This is the real animated feat of 2007, a movie rich in atmosphere, bravado, and naked male fisticuffs. Robert Zemeckis managed to take the wheezy Nordic poem and transform it into a terrific visual feast, complete with a stellar turn by Crispin Glover as the big bad monster Grendel. For those lucky enough to see it in 3D, the amazing amount of detail in the film is more than eye-popping. Add in the increasingly realistic motion capture and you’ve got a great CGI achievement.
Best Foreign Film – The Orphanage
As with the documentary a few years back, the Academy is having to answer a lot of questions as to why certain films were not eligible for Oscar consideration. Whatever lame excuses they give, there will be none that justify the exclusion of this Gilliam-esque masterwork. Sure, it’s got a couple of plot holes, and director Juan Antonio Bayona borrows more than a little from his producer/pal Guillermo Del Toro. But in a medium desperate for a good old fashioned ghost story, this amazing movie delivers in big fat spooky handfuls. Spain submitted it. The AMPAS snubbed it. Therefore, it’s destined to be a classic.
Best Guilty Pleasure – Halloween 2007
Boy, was everyone - critics and fright fans alike - totally unfair to this revisionist remake. Partly out of respect for what John Carpenter did 30 years ago with his Hitchcock homage, but also out of an utter anti-horror bias, writer/director Rob Zombie took it on the chin and came out smarting (if only slightly - the film was a BO hit). In a year that saw another fine Hostel installment, Saw go for number four, and various upstarts try to re-envision the various monster legacies, this was the real movie macabre. It did everything right, including reconfiguring the focus away from Haddenfield and its populace, and still people panned it. Oh well, their loss.