1. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)- There must be something about Paul Thomas Anderson that gets such raw, elemental performances for his movies. Phoenix, after his faux crazy odyssey, gives The Master such ferocious, filthy life that he managed to beat all the other fantastic roles this year, including the great Daniel Day-Lewis (who also gave Anderson an immortal performance in There Will Be Blood).
2. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)- Though Lincoln is an ensemble drama, it is built from the ground up around a character that needed to be reigned in and humanized. Day-Lewis is not larger than life as our 16th president because that would’ve added layers of cheese to a movie that was already scored by John Williams. His take on Lincoln often appears exhausted, both physically and emotionally, as he should be while overseeing the Civil War while trying to push through the 13th amendment to ban slavery and contend with family drama.
3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)- The slow, ruthless decline of Anne during Michael Haneke’s Amour is essential to the movie’s success. From her first, silent stroke at the breakfast table to her crippled, mangled body by the end, this is a performance that required great emotional honesty without overdoing it. She gives one of the most wrenching depictions of hopeless, helpless illness ever.
Bernie Directed by: Richard Linklater Written by: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth (screenplay) Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey and Brady Coleman
Murder isn’t completely wrong when the person is unlikable, is it? That grouchy old lady, who hisses at the idea of warm conversation and enjoys treating the world as if it owes her something; if she were killed, would anybody really care?
The people of Carthage, Texas cared. Not for her (Shirley MacLaine), though, but her killer, her kind manservant Bernie (Jack Black). Bernie is based on true events, just as almost every movie not based on a novel is. The wonderful writer/director Richard Linklater is preceding, though, and he treats the truth as more than a novelty.
The Muppets Directed by: James Bobin Written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller (screenplay), Jim Henson (characters), Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen
The entirety of this reboot of The Muppets franchise is about why it’s necessary. The Muppets will be duking it out with Scream 4 for the title of “Most self-reflexive movie of 2011,” and sadly it’s the same mess of mixed quality and mediocre execution.
Jason Segel and Amy Adams play Gary and Mary, two people who, along with Gary’s Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), attempt to get the Muppet gang back together for a farewell show. Segel co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, and it’s unfortunate that such a worthy premise oddly can’t decide if it wants to be funny or not.
In structure and (sometimes) tone this reboot resembles the Seinfeld Reunion season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Kermit The Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) joins the oddball trio to reassemble his Muppet posse, with Curb’s Seinfeld reunion line “We’ll do it in a way that won’t be lame,” being implied instead of spoken. The Muppets are battling to be relevant, and the visual gags and several self-reflexive references are made to do battle with forced pathos instead of being front-and-center.