Shout-outs to the Shutouts

They coulda been contenders. They shoulda been contenders. And now, they are.

Maybe not for the Academy Awards, but for an equally exclusive honor: the Review-Journal’s 24th annual Terry Awards.

Named for Terry Malloy — the down-but-not-out dockworker of "On the Waterfront" who first uttered the immortal line "I coulda been a contender" — the Terrys honor those who coulda, woulda and shoulda been contenders for tonight’s 80th annual Academy Awards.

As always, outrageous snubs abound. Topping most Oscar-watchers’ lists: the acclaimed Romanian drama "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days," which didn’t make the cut in the foreign-language category. (At least it won Cannes’ top prize last year, so maybe it’ll still play local theaters despite the Oscar shutout.)

Me? I’m wondering where "Hairspray’s" costume nominations went. What about "The Darjeeling Limited’s" dazzling art direction?

We could go on, but why dwell on such slights and oversights when there are dozens of Terry Awards to distribute? Unlike the Academy Awards, being nominated really is the honor.

And the Terrys go to …

BEST PICTURE

At least a few top Oscar contenders deserve their recognition — especially "No Country for Old Men," which topped my top 10 list of 2007’s best.

But several favorites were missing in action, from the thrilling musical melodrama of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" to the burnished warmth of the immigrants-in-America saga "The Namesake." Add the haunting Alzheimer’s drama "Away From Her," the glowing musical gem "Once" and the unsettling odyssey "Into the Wild" and you’ve got an alternative Final Five at least as compelling as the Oscar field.

BEST ACTOR

All five contenders deserve their nominations. (Which is, as veteran Oscar observers will attest, not always the case.)

Yet the Terry Awards committee has come up with some equally deserving candidates.

In the couldn’t-have-done-it-without-you division, "Away From Her’s" Gordon Pinsent proves an equally moving counterpoint to best actress Oscar nominee Julie Christie. And, as "Into the Wild’s" young wanderer, Emile Hirsch provides an appreciative audience for supporting actor contender Hal Holbrook’s grizzled wisdom.

In our biographical category, Denzel Washington as "American Gangster" Frank Lucas, Christian Bale as "Rescue Dawn’s" indefatigable Vietnam War POW Dieter Dengler, Richard Gere as "Hoax’s" jaunty con man Clifford Irving and "Control’s" Sam Riley as doomed Joy Division singer Ian Curtis all register strongly. But no one scored more in this subcategory than Don Cheadle, as "Talk to Me’s" pioneering shock jock Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene.

Up on the tightrope, Ryan Gosling (an endearing shy guy who finds romance with a real doll in "Lars and the Real Girl") joins Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as "Lookout’s" brain-damaged heist participant) and Benicio Del Toro (as a heroin addict struggling to restart his life in "Things We Lost in the Fire") as standouts.

And, in the difficult role of a good man doing his best, "The Namesake’s" Irrfan Khan radiates gentle idealism and quiet dignity — without turning into a plaster saint.

BEST ACTRESS

Most Oscar-watchers cited Angelina Jolie’s performance in "A Mighty Heart" as a major Oscar oversight.

Personally, I found her portrayal more than a bit forced and self-conscious. Instead, here’s a toast to some performers even more deserving of "she was robbed" outcries:

Tabu, Irrfan Khan’s "Namesake" counterpart, conjures a world of emotion through often wordless expression. "Lust, Caution’s" Tang Wei captures a wide range of inner conflicts as a young actress turned undercover spy, while "Black Book’s" Carice van Houten explores similar territory, equally memorably, as a Jewish resistance fighter infiltrating Gestapo headquarters.

On slightly less dangerous ground, Sienna Miller captivates as "Interview’s" not-so-dumb starlet, while Helena Bonham Carter finds the romantic yearning beneath "Sweeney Todd’s" eminently practical partner-in-crime, Mrs. Lovett.

On a slightly lighter musical note, Nikki Blonsky finds the bounce behind "Hairspray’s" heroine, Tracy Turnblad, while Amy Adams sparkles as "Enchanted’s" enchanting Disney princess in Manhattan.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Starting with those providing impressive backup for actual Oscar nominees, J.K. Simmons provides gruff warmth as "Juno’s" supportive father.

On more dangerous ground, Ed Harris delivers yet again as "Gone Baby Gone’s" detective nearing the breaking point, while Chris Cooper proves hypnotically inscrutable as "Breach’s" traitorous spy Robert Hanssen.

"Hoax’s" Alfred Molina, meanwhile, provides ace sad-sack assistance to Clifford Irving. And Steve Zahn downplays his usual goofy instincts as a "Rescue Dawn" POW.

"The Lookout’s" Jeff Daniels finds welcome depth and humor in what could have been a stock sidekick role. Kurt Russell brings irresistibly sleazy zeal to his sicko "Grindhouse" villain. And Chiwetel Ejiofor proves a dapper, determined counterpart to "Talk to Me’s" unhinged central character.

Leading our dynamic duos: "No Country for Old Men’s" seen-it-all sheriff Tommy Lee Jones and on-the-run good ol’ boy Josh Brolin. Brolin scores a double-double thanks to his persuasive "American Gangster" turn as a crooked narcotics agent — a perfect counterpart to tenacious hero Russell Crowe.

And, lest we forget, the "Zodiac" tag team of Mark Ruffalo (as a hard-charging detective) and Robert Downey Jr. (as a dogged reporter), to say nothing of the "Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead" lineup of Albert Finney (as a father betrayed by his desperate sons), Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

"Juno" scores a double in this category, with Jennifer Garner as a prospective mother and Allison Janney as the title character’s down-to-earth stepmother. (Janney also proves a deadpan hoot as an overprotective parent in "Hairspray.")

Speaking of motherly instincts, Catherine Keener radiates warmth as a wandering earth mother in "Into the Wild," while the "Waitress" team of Cheryl Hines and the late Adrienne Shelley provides loving, if wisecracking, backup for the winsome title character (Keri Russell).

Shifting to decidedly unmotherly instincts, how could we forget esteemed British thespian Imelda Staunton as smilingly sinister "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" instructor Dolores Umbridge?

Her character may be stunningly hiss-worthy, but — like all her Terry Award counterparts — her performance merits nothing but cheers.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0272.

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