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A-Z: we’re almost there!

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This alphabetical array is drawing to a close. You will have to forgive me for leaving some letters out that just don’t have an appropriate entry for the year. That being said, I think I could offer some index terms in their place. 

One Hundred and Twenty-Seven Hours (O), better known as 127 Hours, was another hit in Danny Boyle’s long list of varied film credits. Boyle has lended his lens to the subjects of drug addiction (Trainspotting), travel nightmares (The Beach), fast zombies (28 Days Later), family-friendly fun (Millions), the end of days (Sunshine), and an against-the-odds love story (Slumdog Millionaire), never recycling a story or theme, but always bringing the same sense of controlled chaos to the screen. O sounded like a story that would resist cinematic adaptation, and even come off boring — 120 minutes of one guy and a rock does not a movie make — but with Boyle doing the making, were we really surprised when in turned out to be a thrilling, well-paced study of human survival and the need of others?

O is the story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, a man who learned the ‘no man is an island’ adage the hard way, as his memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place recounts. Halston headed off alone on a mountain-climbing trip in Utah’s canyon country without a word to his parents or friends, fell into a crevice where a boulder pinioned his arm and held him captive for five days. As audiences of O experienced first hand, Ralston famously cut of his arm to free himself and amazingly lived to tell the tale. O was a one-man vehicle for James Franco to prove anyone who doubted his acting abilities wrong, though the delirium and self-torture Ralston experienced as he faced his death offered Franco a chance to let those curious traits of his come to the fore. Boyle’s direction and Franco’s acting brought audiences an unbelievable story that Ralston experienced in utter isolation, and had the most powerful message of all of the Academy’s Best Picture nominees…kind of like Saw — blood included — but with a lot more substance.

It doesn’t seem there’s much more I can say about Natalie Portman (P) that hasn’t already been said. We’ve gushed about her beauty and brains in our Some Like it Hot feature. We’ve even given her the Flixist Award for Best Actress for 2010, so you know she’s well-liked around here. Just as I said when I announced our winner, P simply doesn’t have much competition in the category in which she’s been awarded the trophy at numerous festivals and will be again come Sunday at the Academy Awards. She is joined by some great actresses in the category who gave each their own poignant portrayals, but each seem a cakewalk compared to P’s physically and psychologically challenging role in Black Swan. I’m pretty sure she’d have everyone beat in the Best Actor category as well, given the chance.

My own history with P goes back to Luc Besson’s Leon, but that track record was mired some with a rash of dramedic credits — Anywhere But Here, Where the Heart Is, and Garden State. Don’t get me wrong, I actually watched Where the Heart Is a handful of times as it appealed to my teenage heart, and I KNOW Garden State is the be-all and end-all of indie fare, but these films were not evidence of P’s award-studded future. Not until P started a campaign to destroy the nice girl image those films created did she seem to radiate that Oscar potential, starting with her be-thonged performance as Alice in Mike Nichol’s Closer. I don’t know that she was ever successful in eradicating that image, since she can’t help but be a personified sweetheart candy, but her onscreen retaliation gained fire power with a shaved head (V for Vendetta) and full frontal (Hotel Chevalier). Finally, Black Swan is the perfect culmination of those two sides of P, proving she can be both good and bad, and turn in a powerhouse performance worthy of an Oscar.

P was a no-brainer, but I have little to offer in the way of a pick for Q. However, 2010 was a strong year for queer themesin film, a trend definitely deserving of our notice. As the industry continues to open its mind (though it also represents one of the largest metaphorical closets for gay performers), more and more evenhanded representations of homosexuality will be produced, creating an important source of identification for gay youths, especially, and promoting understanding in mainstream culture.

The following noteworthy films from 2010 can be filed under the index term queer themes:

The Kids are Alright

Black Swan

I Am Love

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Without a doubt, Rs have taken over the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Oscar nominations — Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Geoffrey Rush — but sadly, none of them will overtake Christian Bale’s performance in The Fighter. Even if Bale is the sure thing, we can at least play with the idea of a Runner-up. 

R candidate #1 is Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo’s breakthrough was 2000’s You Can Count on Me, after which he spent the next decade making an almost equal amount of good films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Zodiac, Shutter Island) and bad (13 Going on 30, Just Like Heaven, Rumour Has It…). Personally, I don’t know who decided Ruffalo was a good candidate for the male love interest in rom-coms, but they keep putting him in them. While I fully congratulate Ruffalo for putting some distance between him and this oft-shady, but very recent trend, I believe it is that very persona that won him his now Academy Award nominated role as Paul in The Kids are Alright. The film offered a fresh take on the contemporary American family and provided all around lightness where so many Best Picture nominees offered darkness–even Toy Story had its moments–but Ruffalo was hardly the strongest element of the film. An Oscar may be in Ruffalo’s future, but his nomination this year is a token that I can’t take seriously. Runner-up, he is not.

Next, we have R candidate #2, Jeremy Renner, an Academy Award nominee for Best Actor just one year ago (The Hurt locker) and now nominated again for his supporting role in The Town. Renner’s career has been a slow build since kicking things off with National Lampoon’s Senior Trip in 1995, back when he sported shudder-worthy floppy hair. His hair has, thankfully, gotten shorter, and his list of respectable credits, longer. Renner graduated from small roles in S.W.A.T. and Lords of Dogtown to meatier roles in 28 Weeks Later and That Movie Where Casey Affleck Shoots Brad Pitt. It is these roles that led to his breakthrough work in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and his equally impressive work in The Town. Pound for pound, the intensity of Renner’s James Coughlin puts his performance ahead of all the other R nominees. 

Then again, there is also Geoffrey Rush, R candidate #3, to consider. Now, he’s not as scary as Renner, but he certainly can be (Quills, anyone?), and he has the longest filmography. This doesn’t entitle anyone to an Oscar, or even runner-up status, but Rush is never merely a supporting character in a film. The King’s Speech required him to be a secondary lead of sorts to Best Actor shoe-in, Colin Firth. What surprises us about Rush’s performance–light compared to his previous performances, including his Academy Award winning turn in Shine–is his comedic timing. As the irreverent speech therapist, Lionel Logue, Rush gave an understated, but sharp-tongued performance that offered the perfect foil for Firth’s uptight Prince Albert, future king of England. Really, the role should serve to remind us that Rush has always had this ability to amuse. Why yes, that was him making the best quips in Shakespeare in Love, and holding his own opposite Johnny Depp in the Pirates franchise (I’ve only seen the first one, so forgive me if this valuation does not extend). Though Rush is likely everyone else’s pick for runner-up in the Supporting Actor category, I’m going with my gut and picking Renner as 2010’s R.

Since there is no award given to runner-ups, I can’t be wrong!