Well it’s that time of year again – the Academy Awards are upon us and those of us who love movies are pumped. But even more pump-erific is the annual Pal-Ademy Awards, in which I make up categories to celebrate my favourite movie stuff of the year.
The theme this year is surprises. I had many movie surprises. It was surprisingly surprising. Also, they inspired surprisingly long award names. So without further adieu, here are the awards:
And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance by an actor everyone recognizes but nobody knows” goes to…
J.K. SIMMONS IN WHIPLASH!
A moment of tribute, please, for character actors — those guys who do piles of movies and shows over dozens of years, and everyone knows he’s that guy from that thing, but no one knows his name. Every so often, one of those guys pulls off a performance so commanding and juicy that all of a sudden everyone notices and he’s up for awards.
This year, it’s Simmons turn. You’ve seen him as Ellen Page’s sweet dad in Juno and Paul Rudd’s sweet dad in I Love You, Man, and now watch as he chews apart the scenery as a monstrous jazz teacher who verbally and physically assaults his students, all in the name of trying to produce just one player whose music will be remembered long after he’s dead (probably of a drug overdose in his 30s).
He seems to have found his match in Miles Teller’s Andrew, an aspiring jazz drummer who couldn’t agree more that greatness comes with a price. It all comes together in my third favourite ending of the year. Great film. Great performance. Best supporting actor Oscar is in the can.
And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a movie that is so much more than my wife thinks it is but for the life of me I can’t convince her to see it with me” goes to…
SCARLETT JOHANNSON IN UNDER THE SKIN!
OK, so Johansson is a sexpot. And she’s usually just so-so as an actress. And in this movie she plays a sexy alien who seduces men for mysterious purposes. And there are several scenes in which she peels away her clothes while seductively walking away from the camera…But it’s not what it sounds like! It’s not trashy! It’s not a re-hash of Species starring Natasha Henstridge!
Really it isn’t. It’s artful, provocative, profound and strange, and it’ll make you see the world differently. And Johannson is damn good. Really. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m saying. Come to think of it, if you have seen it, could you maybe talk to Mrs. Pal about it? I could use a little help. All she seems to expect from this movie is this:
And the award for “Most surprising documentary about a band that isn’t actually a documentary about a band but that nevertheless really makes me want to see that band in concert” goes to…
MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS!
It ain’t easy being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub. It’s even harder being an under-achieving, bumbling schlub when your brother is the lead singer of one of the most adored indie rock bands around. Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, let his brother Tom come on tour to help out with the food and equipment, and to make a little movie while he’s at it. The resulting film I suspect surprised everyone involved. Ostensibly, it’s about The National but it’s really about Tom and Matt, and it’s touching and funny and wonderful.
And even though it’s not really about the band, there is concert footage. Oh, the concert footage! And my second favourite ending of the year.
And the award for “Most surprisingly good performance in a surprisingly good movie that I never would have seen if I didn’t have a teenage daughter” goes to…
SHAILENE WOODLEY IN THE FAULT IN OUR STARS!
Author John Green tapped right into the teen zeitgeist with his novel about kids with cancer falling in love. I knew all about it because it made the rounds in my house but I didn’t feel a strong need to read it, or see it when it was inevitably made into a film.
But in exchange for introducing my 13-year-old to the teen movie of my time – Breakfast Club (she loved it) – she sat me down to watch the teen movie of her time, and I don’t mind telling you…I cried a little. Yes, the movie is carefully constructed to detonate every tear duct in range, and it does go over the top at times (I’m looking at you, Anne Frank House scene), but it’s got enough snappy dialogue and brains to keep it compelling and real.
And it has Shailene Woodley, whose effortless, natural performance surprised the heck out of me, and kept the whole thing together. I’d heard of this actress — I believe she’s in lots of other teen-centric movies I’ll probably never see. I can’t wait to see what the kid’s going to do when she grows up.
And the award for “Most surprisingly awesome, loveable character who only says one thing and is voiced by an actor I never paid a moment’s attention to” goes to…
GROOT IN GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY!
Vin Diesal starred in about 25 movies before 2014 and I didn’t give a crap about any of them. So imagine my surprise to learn that he was the voice behind the marvelous creation that is Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.
I enjoyed Guardians, Marvel’s latest super-hero opus. It’s got a lot a more spunk and humour than these things usually have, though it also contains the usual hyper-kinetic, ultra-violent action scenes that we’re all supposed to love but usually just turn my brain to goo and make my over-stimulated eyeballs twitch.
But the best thing by far was Groot. How is it possible to find yourself dearly loving a tree that is smart enough to talk but not smart enough to know more than four words? No idea but, amazingly, Vin has something to do with it.
And the award for “Most surprisingly great sequel in a franchise that’s been around forever but I never bothered with until my son got me into it” goes to…
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!
I’ve often thought I should check out at least one Planet of the Apes movie, but never got around to it until my 9-year-old decided that he and I were going to spend some time with the latest entry in the franchise, and boy oh boy, what a grand surprise this turned out to be — possibly the biggest surprise on this list.
It’s a sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In Dawn, battle lines between human and ape have been drawn and tensions are rising fast. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and it’s not easy to choose a side. “I don’t know who to cheer for” my boy said at one point. “I know!” I said excitedly, before realizing that, for him, this was not a good thing. He has a strong moral compass and likes a clear definition between good guys and bad guys. Not me — I like the grey zone.
For him, it was a lesson that right and wrong is not always clear cut. For me, it was one of the most exciting surprises of the year — ape movies are cool! We went back and watched Rise. Just as good. And though it’s been said a million times before I’m going to say it too — Andy Serkis is wicked-awesome at performance-capture acting. That damn dirty ape is a revelation.
And the evening’s final award – “Best movie without need for qualifications or explanations” – goes to…
I’ve already written about it here, so I won’t go on and on. Suffice to say Richard Linklater’s 12 year experiment moved me and thrilled me. Plus, of course, it had my favourite ending of the year.
I hope it wins every Oscar it’s up for plus a few others.