Friday, December 9, 2011

Best and Worst Careers of 2011

Best and Worst Careers of 2011

Best and Worst Careers of 2011, This year was crazy. So much drama, whether in everyday life or in the movie world. Here's a brief rundown of the cinematic ones: Was "Drive" a pretentious pretend tough-guy movie? Did "The Tree of Life" need dinosaurs? Was "The Help" racist or not? Could the brilliant auteur Lars Von Trier please put that microphone down? And did Clint Eastwood really need to slather so much old-age makeup on Leo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer? As much as I like Eastwood, I at times felt like I was watching the Max Fischer Production of "J. Edgar," which, come to think of it, would be pretty great.

But we're here to discuss stars and their careers of this year. As I do nearly every year, I look over who has triumphed and who has struggled. And everyone struggles, so there's nothing mean-spirited here. I love movie stars. I love directors. I love movies. And let's face it, we all love drama.

Lindsay Lohan

Oh, Lindsay. I know you return to this list so often that it almost seems unfair to place you here. Other than acting in artist Richard Phillips' beguiling short film inspired by Ingmar Bergman's "Persona"/Godard's "Contempt"  and running around with Terry Richardson for some perfectly sexy, disheveled photo shoots, and then quite a few other things that I don't have the room to mention, you were in court. Though you're creating quite an iconic set of images of yourself arriving to court , I'm not happy seeing such a young beauty and talent wasting her life with ankle bracelets and allegedly stolen jewelry . As usual, I have hope for our LiLo. She will return. And she'll have some fantastic Hollywood folklore that Kenneth Anger could only dream of.
James Franco and Charlie Sheen

Stick with me on this one. These guys are polar opposites. Franco is a hard worker who so overtaxes himself with college, novels, art projects, film adaptations and, yes, Oscar hosting, that he actually hurts himself by his obsessive overbooking. Sheen may have worked hard on "Two and a Half Men" but not so much when he was fired and went ... well, nuts. And not just drugged-out nuts, but nuts enough for every cinephile to understand that "Network" was not actually a satire. But back to Franco and the Oscars. No, he wasn't the best host. In fact, many felt he was the worst in the history of the Academy Awards. He angered viewers and Franco fans enough that all the Franco love, which was quite palpable at that time, turned into outright disdain in one evening. Talk about a tough gig. But then Charlie Sheen came along. Perhaps Sheen was actually saving Franco, allowing him to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. And then Franco made one of the surprisingly best films of the year, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." So Franco is fine. And I don't think lightly of Charlie's problems , but I hope he'll be fine as well. Tiger blood. Tiger blood. It's not a bad motto. For either of them. Actually, ape blood is much better ...
Lars von Trier
I hate having one of my favorite working filmmakers on this list. But, on a personal and professional level, this was not a good year for von Trier. His brilliant movie "Melancholia," which might top my No. 1 spot as the greatest of the year  had some tough going at first after that ill-fated Cannes Press Conference during which he riffed off a few jokes that the French did not find so amusing. After discussing how for many years he thought he was Jewish and then realized he wasn't, he went into a rambling, amused, disjointed joke. A sample: "What can I say? I understand Hitler. But I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker ... He's not what you would call a good guy, but, yeah, I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews ... I am, of course, very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, how can I get out of this sentence?" He then praised Albert Speer and said, "OK, I'm a Nazi." Cannes kicked him out, made him persona non grata. After a few interviews, he swore he would do no more  and, for a time, the fantastic film was overshadowed by these statements that were jokes. No, they weren't good jokes. I mean, Cannes is not the right place to try out your "edgy" Nazi material for the Comedy Store's amateur night, but Lars does not deserve this kind of treatment. France is different than the United States, and I realize much more sensitive, but we're not allowed to make dark jokes? Please.
Nicole Kidman

What the heck was going on here? Last year she was superb, heartbreaking in the acclaimed "Rabbit Hole." Critics were discussing this as a sort of comeback performance. And then ... "Trespass"? I mean, it co-starred Nicolas Cage  and it was directed by that slick Hollywood filmmaker Joel Schumacher, so you'd think this family-under-siege thriller would have at least opened wide. Not so. It played in a few theaters and was straight to VOD. And with very little press. It's kind of too bad because, yes, the movie is what you might call terrible, but it's also fantastically entertaining with one of those larger-than-life Cage performances that make it all worthwhile. And Nicole looks lovely and, fine actress she is, is genuinely powerful. There's always next year, Kidman.
Adam Sandler

I happen to like Adam Sandler. When used properly. "Happy Gilmore"? Hilarious. "The Wedding Singer"? Charming. "Punch Drunk Love"? Brilliant. But even Sandler fans seem to be getting a bit tired of the comic actor's shtick. Who remembers "Just Go With It," co-starring Jennifer Aniston? And then there's "Jack and Jill" — by the preview alone, Sandler haters and even fans are thinking "No way in hell." And for the love of God, he voiced a monkey in one of the worst movies of the year, "Zookeeper." Sandler needs to work with P.T. Anderson and James L. Brooks again. He has it in him, and if he's as spazzy as Jerry Lewis, it's time for his "King of Comedy." Now that would be something.
Brad Pitt

Will Brad Pitt be nominated twice this year? "Moneyball," which is universally beloved, boasts a terrific, lovable performance that not only reveals why he's the movie star he is, but also why he's one of the greatest actors working. And then there's Terrence Malick's elegiac, gorgeous, transcendent film "The Tree of Life," in which he plays the troubled father. Not only does he look beautiful in the film, he is so potent, so universal, so iconic in his representation of not just the American father, but also the father who sacrificed to raise his kids and wasn't so nice all of the time. There are moments in the picture that he imbues it with such heartbreaking soul that the viewer feels beside himself. It's that perfect a performance. And it's that perfect of a year for Pitt
Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender -- he is so needed in cinema. Not only is he ridiculously handsome , he's one of the greatest actors working, a cross between Trevor Howard, Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando -- scratch that. He's just his own thing. No one is like Michael Fassbender. And he was excellent in every movie he appeared in, from "X-Men: First Class" to his moody Rochester in "Jane Eyre" to his sex addict in the controversial "Shame" to playing Carl Jung, for heaven's sake, in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method." And we never tire of him, particularly because he has such wonderful range. This is an actor with a long and artistically rich career ahead of him.
Kirsten Dunst

In spite of Lars von Trier's controversies, he has received raves for one of his best movies. And leading the way is his fine actress, Kirsten Dunst, who nails this part with agony, hilarity, beauty, grace, ugliness and otherworldly wonder. She plays a woman who is so depressed at her wedding  that she simply abandons her husband, stays with her sister , her sister's young son, and brother-in-law  while the end of the world in nigh. And that's all I will say. Dunst, under the direction of the great and notoriously depressed Von Trier, understands depression in all its agonizing and sometimes annoying qualities. But with this, she also feels a calm as the world is in danger. She has never looked more beautiful, and she never previously revealed this kind of range. She won Best Actress at Cannes. I think she should win Best Actress come Oscar time, too. It's a brave, brilliant performance.
Ryan Gosling

Like Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling appeared to be in every freaking movie this year, and was chronicled all over the place. There was even a fake Tumblr blog supposedly penned by Gosling with the popular meme "Hey Girl." From comedies to cars to cancer to Clooney, Gosling appeared in "Crazy, Stupid, Love.," "Drive" and "The Ides of March." And he's becoming something of a sensitive sex symbol, a lover boy for the American Apparel set. But unlike Fassbender, there was a whiff of viewers  growing a little tired of him. That's not fair, of course, since he's a fine actor and clearly has some range. And you know, as the blog states: "Hey Girl, my perfect Saturday is a hot cup of tea at sunrise, a trip to the Farmer's Market and curling up on the couch to figure out bell hooks' theory that feminism is a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture with you." Hmm ... Is James Franco penning this blog?

Kristen Wiig

"Bridesmaids" got a lot of hype for being the female "Hangover," but I don't think that's why the movie works. It's not the gross-out humor ; it's not the "Hey, we can be just as funny as the fellas" quality; it was the fact that a role was written about a woman -- Kristen Wiig's Annie -- who actually is flawed, is kind of a bad friend and really should get her damn life together. Instead of Sarah Jessica Parker hyperventilating over some high-power fab job she has while teetering on Jimmy Choos and oh so adorably being "goofy" while having salad or whatever the hell with her friends, Wiig actually lives in a cruddy apartment and is bitter and jealous, like a lot of women. And sometimes not in such adorable ways. Like when she goes nuts on the airplane OK, actually that was kind of adorably awesome. Wiig's interaction with Maya Rudolph, those small moments are what make "Bridesmaids" so intelligent and real. And I hope to God more roles like this are written for women. Because guess what? Women are funny. And not just cute funny, but ugly funny. Get used to it.
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