A-Z: L, M, and N


Welcome to another edition of the Flixist A-Z, counting down 2010’s potential winners and losers in anticipation of the Academy Awards. The A-Z also gives notice to those films and people left out of the running for an Oscar, but who are still worthy of our attention.

Jennifer Lawrence (L) may not have won Flixist’s Most Promising New Performer award, but her promise is noted nonetheless. L was both mesmerizing and bracingly real in the steely drama, Winter’s Bone, which accounts her character’s struggle to track down an estranged father within the forest of her own family’s criminal structure. Debra Granik’s direction and Michael McDonough’s cinematography frame young Ree Dolly’s journey through the beautifully stark terrain of a rural community in the Ozarks, but Winter’s Bone wouldn’t be one of 2010’s best without L’s breakthrough performance.

Like the negative reception frequently experienced by Mattie Ross in the Coen Bother’s True Grit, Ree’s strength and determination is resisted at every turn by a wall of patriarchal superiority that even her brutal female kin uphold. Theirs is a world removed, and the internal sense of justice is as immoral as the work it protects–a meth kingdom of sorts. L appeared to visibly swell with the courage required to tell Ree’s story and take her to her journey’s end, a brilliant conclusion conceived of by Daniel Woodrell in his novel of the same name and adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini for the screen. Courage takes on a new word as L leaps off the success of her performance, which has brought her a number of nominations, including the Academy Award for Best Actress, and sets off into the world of mainstream.

Brave enough to attach herself to a series with serious doubts surrounding it (X-Men: First Class), the highly anticipated return vehicle of a blacklisted actor (Mel Gibson; The Beaver), and a volatile director (Oliver Stone; Savages), L has already packed her schedule for the next two years. To balance out the mainstream risks are independent features Like Crazy (2011), which took home the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Truck Stop (2011), and House at the End of the Street (2012). In other words, we’re going to be seeing L’s face all over cinema screens in the near future, hopefully eradicating the knowledge that this talented and award-winning actress cut her teeth acting on The Bill Engvall Show.

Animal Kingdom was one of the most explosive and tense films I watched all year, taking the “thick as thieves” sense of family perpetrated in so many 2010 films–perhaps, most benignly in The Fighter’s Eklund/Ward brood, and gaining in intensity with The Town, and Winter’s Bone–to its peak. Before directingAnimal Kingdom, newcomer David Michod (M) had only directed a handful of short films and documentaries, but you wouldn’t know it from the overall excellence he achieved with his first full-length feature. The Australian director also has a few writing credits to his name, including 2011’s Hesher and the fantastic original screenplay for Kingdom

M’s direction and dialogue helped to draw out some of the best characters on cinema screens in 2010, namely the crime family matriarch played by Jacki Weaver, for which the film has reached the most awards attention, and Ben Mendelsohn’s terrifyingly amoral Pope, the leader and most volatile member of the pack. Like Ben Affleck’s The TownM focuses his lens on a historical trend of almost hereditary crime in a particular community, taking the real life Pettingill family as a reference point. Not evenWinter’s Bone could evoke the level of fear protagonist “J” experiences of his own family, rechristened as the Codys, who he reluctantly seeks out after his mother dies of an overdose. 

Animal Kingdom boasts of one of the most satisfying conclusions in film I’ve experienced in a while. Unlike Ben Affleck’s disillusioned bank robber with wanderlust, Doug MacRay, J cannot leave it all behind, but ends the violence at its source. All the tension that builds you up to that point is expertly wound by M, unrecognized for the most part for his direction on the awards circuit, but certainly a name to remember in the future. Had Animal Kingdom been made in Hollywood instead of Australia, this World Cinema Jury Prize winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival may have unseated one of the ten nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. However, if it had, it wouldn’t be the same film, and I think its lack of nominations is a lesser evil hopefully rectified, in part, by bringing Animal Kingdom and M to your attention.

Another director to make my list of alphabetical aces hardly needs the recognition. Though Christopher Nolan (N) doesn’t the top anyone’s list of picks for Best Director–because we’re being honest here, and David Fincher and Tom Hooper are direct contenders–he is consistently present on the shortlist and commanding just as much respect as ever. N aimed high with Inception, producing one of the most complex, yet universally enjoyed action thriller-spectulars to hit theatres in a long time, and his Batmanfilms only pale by comparison in their realist tenor. N’s breakthrough film, Memento was just as notable for, if not merely the independent answer, to the unconventional layered storytelling fantastically realized for mainstream audiences in the 2010 dreamworld epic. 

Speaking of which: besides an unabashed ability to catch audiences by the throat, N is a master of fitting epic proportion into relatively small packages. N’s Batman represents the city he protects within the folds of his cape as much as any superhero out there, but the scale of N’s Gotham deserves every -er suffix used to communicate the greater skill and darker realization with which the director paints a metropolis. Audiences perhaps thought N couldn’t create a deeper, more inspired example of good and evil than Batman and Heath Ledger’s unsettling Joker, but he does, though less obviously, in the relationship between Inception’s yin and yang, Dom Cobb and the memory of his dead wife. The brutal pain that memories dredge up becomes a genuine and interesting vehicle of suspense for the audience, and fear in the film’s characters.

And that’s exactly why N stands a better chance of taking home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay than for directing. Inception thoroughly entertained, like the best action movie should, and moved viewers by the simple human emotions on which the film’s action pivots. I was not moved by every character in the film (sorry Juno), and laugh at the premise occasionally when putting it down to human delusion and desire to have supernatural power over others, but have found that human delusion is not entirely outside of N’s purview as an artistic anthropologist. Mal is as simple a villain as she is complex: a shadow of her own delusions, and those that Cobb once held. He alone sits at the centre of the fantasy with a grip on reality and the futility and destructiveness of human desires. It isn’t the dream world N created that deserves recognition, but the human world that it destroys.