Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2004

In mere hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be handing out film's highest honors. But you don't have to wait that long to find out my favorites from the year. Without further ado, I give you the Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2004!

Best Drama: The Door in the Floor

This was a great year for film, and it was really hard for me to pick just one favorite. I eventually settled on The Door in the Floor because out of the two movies I saw this year with which I couldn't find any flaw, it produced a stronger response in me. It's a smaller, less well-known film than the runners-up, but it's got everything you could ask for: flawless, understated, moving performances bearing out an amazing script.

Runners-up: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Closer, Finding Neverland, Ray, Garden State, Friday Night Lights, Sideways

Best Comedy: The Incredibles

Interestingly enough, for the second year running I picked a smaller film for my Best Drama and a blockbuster for my Best Comedy. I've said it before, but I need to say it again (no matter how cheesy it sounds): The Incredibles is an incredible film. Not only is it a technically amazing film--the animation is superb--but it also had a great script and really wonderful voice acting. The result was a movie that was hilarious and touching in all the right ways.

Runners-up: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 50 First Dates, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I Heart Huckabees

Best Actor: Jamie Foxx (Ray)

This category was the only easy decision for me. There were a lot of great performances this year, but there's just no question that this was Jamie Foxx's year. It wasn't just that he completely immersed himself in the role, making me forget that I was even seeing Jamie Foxx and not Ray Charles himself. It's that he made me feel Charles' life, all the joy and pain and wonderful, wonderful music. Foxx's Ray Charles isn't just my favorite of the year; in my opinion, it's one of the greatest performances I've ever seen.

Runners-up: Jeff Bridges (The Door in the Floor), Clive Owen (Closer), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Best Actress: Julia Roberts (Closer)

On the other hand, this category was the most difficult for me to make up my mind on. I finally settled on Julia Roberts because, while I think that Hilary Swank may have given a technically better performance, I'm so conflicted about Million Dollar Baby that I just can't bring myself to call hers my favorite performance of the year. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts was able for the first time to really get my attention and respect as an actress. As I walked out of the theater after Closer I found myself genuinely impressed by her acting in that film. It may just have been that the script was the first one I've seen that gave her a chance to flex her acting muscles, but if that's the case then I hope she continues to get such roles in the future.

Runners-up: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), Natalie Portman (Closer), Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village)

Best Supporting Actor: Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State)

I just watched Garden State again last night, and I was amazed that I had completely forgotten about Peter Sarsgaard's performance. He managed an incredibly natural performance that balanced the huge dichotomy of a character who is both a deadbeat lowlife and a good friend. It was really his performance that really made the film's sense of a young adult's homecoming ring true.

Runners-up: Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland), Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), Ian Holm (The Day After Tomorrow), Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)

Best Supporting Actress: Natalie Portman (Garden State)

It was a good year for Natalie Portman. With Closer she proved that she can handle more adult roles. But as good a job as she did with that performance, where she really shined was in Garden State. It was a more similar character to the other ingenue roles that she's played, so perhaps it wasn't as much of a stretch, but she really brought the character of Sam to life. I am still amazed that the woman who did such a great job with such a wide range of emotion portraying the mercurial love interest in Garden State was the same actress who fell so flat in the Star Wars prequels.

Runners-up: Kim Basinger (The Door in the Floor), Virginia Madsen (Sideways)

Sakeriver Movie Awards for 2003

The Academy Awards are a mere two days away as I write this, and somehow I think that more people will notice them. But for the few of you who read this very infrequent column of mine, I give you the 1st Annual Sakeriver Movie Awards. In many categories--possibly all of them--I am recognizing different films and actors than the Academy will. This is in part because I have different tastes, but also because I haven't seen every movie that came out last year. So, rather than this being a list of the best films and actors of the year, it is a list of the best films and actors that I saw. Ready? Let's begin.

Best Drama: Whale Rider

There were a lot of good movies that came out in 2003, but Whale Rider really stands out in my mind. A well-written, deeply moving story, simply told and superbly acted, Whale Rider had everything I look for in a movie. It's the kind of movie that makes you forget that it's a movie. If you haven't seen it yet, you are really missing out.

Runners-up: Mystic River, Big Fish, Seabiscuit

Best Comedy: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

OK, it's not really a comedy per se. But I think it fits better in this category than the other. Pirates was a really fun movie. Like several films I saw last year it surprised me by being much better than I expected. In many ways it's the opposite of a film like Whale Rider; it's big, it has action and special effects, it made lots of money, and it wasn't particularly deep. But the acting was good--some of it especially good--and the movie was exactly what it needed to be: fun.

Runners-up: School of Rock, Finding Nemo, A Mighty Wind

Best Actor: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean)

In any given year there are plenty of good performances, and this year was no different. What separates Johnny Depp from the crowd is that I think he is more of an actor, in the truest sense of the word. You see, many actors go on screen or on stage and don't really separate themselves from their characters. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because often the roles they are chosen for fit the particular quality the actor brings. I have seen very few actors who so consistently immerse themselves in their characters the way Johnny Depp does, though. Many of his performances and characters are quirky, but none are the same.

Runners-up: Sean Penn (Mystic River), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Jeff Bridges (Seabiscuit)

Best Actress: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider)

Normally I'm not much for awards being given to child actors, but Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance in Whale Rider was so amazing that I actually couldn't even think of a woman in a lead role that compared. She gave a performance that was heartbreaking yet uplifting, strong yet vulnerable, mature yet childlike. In short, it was so real that you forget that she's even acting.

Runner-up: Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation)

Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai)

I had such mixed feelings about seeing The Last Samurai, because even though it looked interesting, I just can't stand Tom Cruise anymore. I'm glad I did, though, because it gave me a chance to get acquainted with Ken Watanabe. Watanabe brought a quiet dignity to the film that was a great match for his character. Perhaps real samurai weren't all that noble, but Watanabe's performance certainly was.

Runners-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Cold Mountain), Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean), Kevin Bacon (Mystic River), Tobey Maguire (Seabiscuit)

Best Supporting Actress: Koyuki (The Last Samurai)

Koyuki is another reason that I enjoyed The Last Samurai as much as I did. She played her character so subtly that even though she didn't show much on the surface, you could still see all of the emotion underneath. Having grown up in a Japanese family, that aspect of her performance really resonated with me.

Runners-up: Natalie Portman (Cold Mountain), Alison Lohman (Matchstick Men)


I went and saw the movie Identity today. I had been looking forward to seeing it since I saw the first preview for it a few months ago. You may know that I am a big fan of the movies; I go to one or two a week. The preview for Identity made it look suspenseful and smart. I was very excited to see it today, especially since I had to wait through the first two weekends it was out. So you can understand when I left the theater feeling like I had been totally jerked around, I was a little disappointed.

As the remainder of this editorial will reveal things about the movie that will ruin it for you, I would recommend skipping the rest if you plan on seeing it.

*** SPOILERS ***

Identity began well. At the beginning of the film we were shown several intriguing instances of coincidence and it was very suspenseful. My fiancee and I were making guesses about the identity of the killer and the nature of the connections between the victims. We were getting very into it. There were several grisly murders and there was plenty of mystery to go around. All in all, it appeared to be a normal suspense thriller, written in the tradition of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. It seemed like it would definitely live up to that masterpiece.

So I was quite surprised when, about two-thirds through the film, it was revealed that the entire movie was nothing more than a psychotic episode happening in the mind of a character. The killings in the movie were actually nothing more than a mental patient's way of working through his Multiple Personality Disorder. I felt like I had been betrayed!

When developing a story, writers can fool the audience in many acceptable ways. People can be lead by the nose through a thousand pages of plot twists and come away with a sense of intellectual satisfaction. One example of a film that does this extraordinarily well is The Game. By the end of that film all of our previous assumptions have been totally blown away; it is the proverbial "head trip." Yet we feel quite rewarded by the conclusion, especially if we have figured it out ahead of time. (I didn't.) The reason that The Game works is because, while it does constantly cause us to re-evaluate everything we know, it never violates the basic framework of the story. We always know that we are being messed with.

Identity felt like a cop-out because we entered the theater expecting a thriller. At certain points of the movie we become confused by some supernatural-seeming events that don't seem to fit the overall tone. Are we seeing the handiwork of some incredibly brilliant evil mastermind, or is there magic happening? Finally, after being dragged through the victim's terror and the intellectual challenge of trying to stay one step ahead of the killer, we discover that we have been lied to, that none of it was real in the first place. After having become emotionally invested in these characters, we suddenly find that none of them matter.

Despite the fact that I felt cheated by the ending of the movie, I still don't feel like I wasted my money. For one thing, it was a matinee. Seriously, though, the acting was great and it really was an interesting idea. In fact, had I merely heard about the film and not seen it, I probably would have thought it was brilliant. I just wish the writers had found a more honest way to present it to us.