This year’s Dubious Achievement Awards in Film go to …
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Continuing in a long tradition started by my predecessor and friend John Hartl, here are a few award categories you won’t see at the Oscars …
Best performance in a lost cause: Judy Greer in “27 Dresses”; Alan Rickman in “Nobel Son”; Colin Farrell in “Cassandra’s Dream”; Forest Whitaker in “Vantage Point”; Bette Midler in “Then She Found Me”; Billy Bob Thornton in “Eagle Eye”; and almost everybody in “W.,” particularly Josh Brolin and James Cromwell.
Best performance by an animal: All those puppies (and their grown-up counterparts) in “Marley & Me” and that very charismatic sea lion in “Nim’s Island.”
Best credit: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” with its sleek ’30s fashions, had not one but two names credited as “corsetier.”
Worst impression of Seattle: In “88 Minutes,” Seattle was played by Vancouver, B.C., which might have been OK except for all those visible signs with Canadian spellings (e.g., “centre”).
Biggest disappointment: “Synecdoche, New York,” the directing debut of the great screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), was a so-high-concept-you-can’t-see-over-it misstep.
Best use of a cellphone: The dramatic, slow drop of a phone in the New York Public Library, bringing terrible news to a character already in her wedding dress, in “Sex and the City: The Movie.”
Worst use of a cellphone: “Body of Lies,” in which Russell Crowe delivered pretty much his entire performance into one.
Best performance by a body part: Did the title of “Fool’s Gold” refer to Matthew McConaughey’s burnished, sculpted and ever-unclothed chest? It certainly deserved top billing.
Best unprintable signature line: The way Colin Farrell’s character kept referring to the city of Bruges, in “In Bruges.” No, of course I can’t repeat it.
Best popcorn movies: “Iron Man,” “The Dark Knight,” “Australia,” “Sex and the City: The Movie” (but only if you were a fan of the show) and “Baby Mama.”
Most unnecessary sequel: “Saw V” (will this franchise ever end?) and “Step Up 2 the Streets,” a straight-to-DVD effort if there ever was one.
Worst wait-for-the-sequel-ending: Yes, we know there’s going to be a sequel to “Twilight” – thanks to all those ominous close-ups of characters who were barely in the first movie but will presumably loom large in the next one.
Best evidence that the art of screwball comedy is alive: Amy Adams, a breathy whirlwind in “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.”
Best villain: Heath Ledger’s curiously stuttering, cackling Joker in “The Dark Knight,” with the smudged face of a nightmare clown, was the year’s most terrifying bad guy.
Best boss: Judi Dench’s ultra-crisp M in “Quantum of Solace,” whose delivery of “If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated” made it one of the year’s best lines.
Best nutcase: PenÃ©lope Cruz, hilariously insane and surreally gorgeous in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” When her ex reminds her that she once tried to kill him, she rolls her eyes as if dismissing an unwanted waiter: “Oh, that.”
Best kid performances: Abigail Breslin in “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” Dakota Fanning in “The Secret Lives of Bees,” Madeline Carroll in “Swing Vote” and Brandon Walters in “Australia.”
Cutest gender-bending: Willow Smith, the adorable 8-year-old daughter of Will and Jada, spent much of “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” almost-convincingly disguised as a boy.
Best breakthrough: The wonderful Melissa Leo, who’s been noticed before (most vividly in “21 Grams”) but in “Frozen River” established herself on the A-list.
Best breakthrough by somebody already famous: Anne Hathaway’s long been on the A-list, but her quavering, vulnerable yet tough-as-nails performance in “Rachel Getting Married” was a welcome reminder that she’s not just a pretty face.
Best costumes: All those lace-encrusted 18th-century confections in “The Duchess,” designed by Michael O’Connor and worn so fetchingly by Keira Knightley.
Best desserts: “My Blueberry Nights,” set in a cafe that specializes in fresh-from-the-oven pies oozing with melting ice cream, may well have sent moviegoers in search of late-night bakeries.
Best use of dessert as a metaphor: “We had tiramisu together!” moans Zooey Deschanel in “The Happening,” speaking of an extramarital encounter. Is that what the kids are calling it these days?
Best singing: 81-year-old Fred Knittle, singing Coldplay’s “Fix You” in the documentary “Young@heart.” The film, about a senior citizens’ chorus, movingly explored both the power of song and the cycle of life – as did the song, intended to be sung by another chorus member, with its lyric “When you lose something you can’t replace … ”
Most muddled plot (in a bad way): “Deception,” in which Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor run around looking confused and breathing heavily as they deal with the complications of belonging to a mysterious late-night sex club (who knew?).
Most muddled plot (in a good way): I’m not entirely certain what happened in “Roman de Gare,” in which a writer slips in and out of the airport-thriller book she’s writing, but I know I enjoyed every minute.
Best performance almost certain to be overlooked by the Oscars because the movie came out too early: Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper, both marvelous as a faithful wife and the husband who’s planning to have her killed, in “Married Life.” (Clarkson was also hauntingly good in “Elegy” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Not that the Academy will notice.)
Most in need of career rehab: Won’t somebody please give Diane Keaton a decent role? Or Kate Hudson? And, now that “Pirates of the Caribbean” is over, could somebody find something for Orlando Bloom to do?
Best chemistry (long established): David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in “Sex and the City: The Movie,” Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
Best chemistry (newcomers): Sean Penn and James Franco in “Milk,” Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” George Clooney and RenÃ©e Zellweger in “Leatherheads.”
Best chemistry (nonromantic): Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in “Baby Mama,” Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris in “Appaloosa,” Robert Downey Jr. and his own reflection in “Tropic Thunder.”
Best chemistry made better for being totally unexpected: Zooey Deschanel and Jim Carrey in “Yes Man.”
Worst journey from small screen to big: “Speed Racer.” Well, at least it was colorful.
Best cameo: Tom Cruise’s gyrating, balding studio exec in “Tropic Thunder” was a lot of fun, if a bit overhyped. More under the radar, and therefore more charming, was author Stephenie Meyer’s brief appearance in “Twilight,” sitting quietly in a cafe typing on a laptop.
Oddest cameo: Mike Myers, who starred in the truly awful comedy “The Love Guru” as a self-help guru, also makes a cameo appearance in the film as … himself.
Most welcome sight: Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia!” Whether that movie was your particular cup of tea or not, wasn’t it fun to watch La Streep kicking up her heels and having a blast?
Best ending: The joyous song-and-dance, Bollywood-style, that concluded “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Saddest goodbye: Heath Ledger, just 29, gave what turned out to be his final screen performance in “The Dark Knight,” and it was hard to watch him and not think about the astonishing work that could have been in his future. And, though it came after a long and wonderful life, many of us got a little teary upon hearing of the death of Paul Newman. Both on screen and off, he was one of the greats.
Best reason to look forward to 2009: Johnny Depp as 1930s gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” (July). “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (July). Meryl Streep as Julia Child in “Julie & Julia” (August). Martin Scorsese’s new thriller “Shutter Island,” based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) and boasting an all-star cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo (October). Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes (November). Bring ’em on.