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Published: Friday, 12/16/2011

COMMENTARY

'The Artist' sets the tone for awards

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

The Detroit Film Critic Society announced its annual winners Friday. Just as with many critics groups in this country, the members voted The Artist as Best Picture. We also selected Michel Hazanavicius as Best Director for his work on The Artist.

I suspect this run of critical accolades for the film, including its leading six Golden Globes nominations, marks an Oscar triumph as well. I call it a triumph because a black-and-white silent film homage to black-and-white silent films is hardly the kind of mainstream movie the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences typically awards. The Artist truly is a refreshing experience in this era of bland, big-budget banality.

The society voted Michelle Williams as Best Actress for her note-perfect performance of Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. Williams remains the film's selling point, and an impressive one at that. We don't learn much more about Marilyn than we already knew (and thought we knew): She was in turn happy and sad, a fragile soul with darkness on the horizon. But beyond those sensuous curves and breathless smile was undeniable talent as a performer. Williams channels all that, and showcases her own abilities quite well. By the way, My Week With Marilyn is still around at Levis Commons 12 for at least one more week.

A surprise to some -- though it shouldn't be -- might be the society's selection of Michael Fassbender as Best Actor for his turn as a New York sex addict in the NC-17 Shame. Nor should anyone be surprised at Carey Mulligan for our top pick as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as the equally damaged sex addict's sister in Shame. They are brave performances -- and I don't mean that because both actors go full frontal for the camera (one of the few instances where nudity is critical to the story) -- about two broken people trying to connect to a cold, indifferent world. Shame is a difficult movie to sit through, but the reward is watching two of the best young actors today deliver poignant performances not softened in the least.

Christopher Plummer took top honors as an elderly father who comes out of the closet as a gay man and rediscovers the joys of living in Beginners. It's a moving performance by Plummer, and a celebration of honesty and emotional freedom.

Breakthrough Artist was the easiest category to select, and I suspect actress Jessica Chastain ran away with our votes. Chastain was in five films this year -- The Tree of Life, The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter, and Coriolanus -- and she was memorable in each. Prior to this year, Chastain has appeared in two feature films, with a resume consisting mostly of TV guest spots. That's breaking through.

The starry cast of the play adaptation Carnage won for Ensemble. The film stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz as two dysfunctional couples who spend an afternoon arguing, supporting and tearing each other apart. Roman Polanski directed and helped adapt the play to film.

For Documentary we chose Tabloid, the true story of a former Miss Wyoming who abducted and imprisoned a young Mormon missionary. Tabloid was directed by Errol Morris, the filmmaker who helped birth the modern documentary.

And finally, for Best Screenplay, we awarded Moneyball, a tough script to write, considering it was based on a sports book that focused on the importance of obscure statistics in fielding a winning baseball organization. Aaron Sorkin and later Steven Zaillian made it work onscreen, thanks in part to career-best performances by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

I'll share my 10 best films in 2011 for a year-ender piece to run Jan. 1. Meanwhile, my top selection in each of the society's categories: Best Picture: Take Shelter; Best Director: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life); Best Actor: Michael Shannon (Take Shelter); Best Actress: Williams; Best Supporting Actor: Patton Oswalt (Young Adult, which opens in Toledo on Friday); Best Supporting Actress: Mulligan; Best Ensemble: Margin Call; Breakthrough Performance(s): Chastain; Best Screenplay: Moneyball; Best Documentary: Marwencol.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734. Follow him on Twitter: @bladepopculture.



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