Film is subjective, and therefore an extremely unique and personal experience; so when anyone says the best of anything one must always take it with a grain of salt. My opinion often differs with the Academy, sometimes maddeningly so, but sometimes they get it just right (or at least I think so), hence here's my ten best list of the most deserving Oscar winners of the past ten years, in my opinion.
10. Mo'Nique, Precious (2009) Best Supporting Actress
The only member to rank from this past year simply because the resonance and power of this performance is such a magnificent force. It's a performance I can't easily explain nor completely understand. What makes a monster like Mary Jones erupt with such fervor? Can't articulately or scholarly explain, but I can remember the performance totally despite seeing the film only once. She's human and achingly vulnerable, but still a monster, and the messy reality of this woman feels completely shaded by Mo'Nique's forcefulness.
9. Marie Antoinette- Milena Canonera (2006) Best Costume Design
Already a legendary costume designer, she worked with Stanley Kubrick often, and already with two Oscar prior (for Barry Lyndon and Chariots of Fire), she won for Sofia Coppola's melancholy biopic of the French queen. The film, which was sadly under appreciated upon opening (I should discuss further in a later post; I do really like this film), but technically exquisite. I'm not a costume fetishist, however the scale and scope and beauty, as well as the thrilling history accuracy made for some awesome eye candy. Often times the Academy makes an error in tech categories-- they assume that the most of something a movie has must be the best; this is one example where that's true.
8. Once- Glen Hansard & Marketa Iraglova (2007) Best Original Song
There is some many cases where the Academy errs in judgement in the music categories-- so much so that I often think they should just do away with the category all together. However, "Falling Slowly" is one the very best song choices they've ever made, and as a Once devout, I was positively agog when it won. Endlessly pretty and listenable, it's probably one of my favorite contemporary songs.
7. Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain (2005) Best Director
So much has been said of the Crash\Brokeback Oscar issue-- I stand firmly that Crash didn't deserve anything! Whatever accusation one might call, Ang Lee was 2005's best director. A pinnacle in a versatile and inspiring career, he was perhaps the best and only choice for the "gay cowboy movie," making a film that was so achingly technically beautiful, filled with wonderful and career best performances from each member of it's talented cast, a lovely nuanced score, and so enormously classy that any jokes were discarded after the first reel. Brokeback may have lost best picture, but thanks to Lee, I'll never quit this movie.
6. Moulin Rouge! (2001) Best Art Direction & Best Costume Design
I'm cheating here, as this is technically two Oscars, but Catherine Martin won both of them so I think it's allowed; she shared the art direction award with Brigitte Broch, and the costume award with Angus Strathie, respectively. Again as stated earlier, many times the Academy confuses the most of with the best of, but here again it's completely true-- Moulin Rouge!'s art direction and costume design is clearly the most of, but what else could top it-- when the film is shouting "Spectacluar, Spectacluar," the visuals kind of have to deliver that, and the opulent and purposely over-done art design is a fever dream of "most of" done brilliantly. The imagery was instantly iconic, and deservedly so.
5. Sean Penn, Milk (2008) Best Actor
I must confess that Sean Penn often doesn't do it for me. I recognize he's talented and totally committed, unquestionably, but there's always a part of his glum intensity that I've always felt a slight remove from, like he didn't really quite want to let me in too much. I recognize I'm in the minority here, and that's fine. I also recognize that in 2008 he was up against Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, and the quality of both performances are so strong that either of them, had Rourke won, probably would have placed in the same spot on my countdown. But on Penn in Milk; it's the warmth, humanity and humor that surprised me here, and coupled with his renowned intensity and commitment, my eyes opened wide to an a breathlessly hopeful and inspiring performance. One of the very best ever, I'd say.
4. Talk to Her- Pedro Almodovar (2002) Best Original Screenplay
Spain neglected to submit Almodovar's gorgeous ballet\bullfighter romantic tragedy as foreign film, but the Academy rightfully corrected that horrific error in judgement by rewarding Almodvar not only an original screenplay Oscar (his second after All About My Mother's foreign film win), but also nominating him as best director. Whatever Spain's issue is, the film is a beaut, and one of the strongest original pieces of work I've ever viewed in a cinema. The romance, the melodrama, the colors, the oddity of a black and white film about a shrinking man, the nurse that went too far (criminally too far, and yet we still sympathize.) Words can't describe my deep love and affection for Hable con Ella, one of the bests of a pure master.
3. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (2007) Best Actor
Perhaps an obvious choice, but Daniel Plainview is a role of lifetime for an actor who's made a career out of them. And Paul Thomas Anderson seemed acutely aware that only one actor could have done justice to such a bravura role. So many layers are required and manipulated to pure perfection. Plainview is supposed to be grandiose and slightly theatrical, but it's the aspects of humanity and humility that slowly but surely start to shrink away that Day-Lewis paints so vividly. I remember on first viewing, I really wanted to see this character die, and upon further analysis thought about what that meant about me, am I any better than Plainview? I hope so, but it's that maddening self-analysis that pulls the character in further.
2. WALL-E (2008) Best Animated Feature
In a perfect world, WALL-E would have won best picture, but I'll settle for Pixar's best at least being the best something. It was by far my favorite film of 2008, and it's beauty and emotion has stayed in tact since. I still get choked up thinking about the finale. And exhilarated just thinking of this fine film period. Andrew Stanton, the films director achieved something that feels exactly what Speilberg's A.I. was supposed to-- the melding of Speilberg and Kubrick; sweet but dark, lovely, but sad; beautiful, but dangerous. How I love this movie.
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind- Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry & Pierre Busmuth (2004) Best Original Screenplay
Even though this is one of my favorite movies of the past decades (perhaps my absolute favorite), I'm almost happier that it just won screenplay, and nothing else. I would hate for it too feel overrated, it's always going to be that cool niche film, it feels better that way. However, it surely deserved more Oscar love, in pretty much every area. Here is a film that all at once pleases the eyes, the brain, and the heart.