By Ray Bennett
Brad Pitt (above) is my choice as best actor with Casey Affleck as best supporting actor for “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford.” Laura Linney is best actress for “The Savages” with Romola Garai best supporting actress for “Atonement.”
Pitt deservedly won the best actor award at the Venice International Film Festival with a scorching performance combining his extraordinary charisma and poise with a psychopath’s hair-trigger taste for violence. Following his selfless ensemble work in “Babel,” Pitt has moved up to the level of movie stars who can really act and much will be revealed in his next choices.
Casey Affleck (below) is mesmerizing as the young man Robert Ford, who is wholly in thrall to the bandit star. The film’s director, Andrew Dominik, frames scenes that allow Ford’s adoration and envy to become increasingly haunting. Affleck applies shrewd intelligence to prevent the character from turning into simply a weasel.
Laura Linney has been doing sterling work for years and she’s at her very best in Tamara Jenkins’ absorbing comedy drama “The Savages.” Linney combines with another outstanding actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to create indelible portraits of cultured siblings at a loss over dealing with their ailing father (Philip Bosco, also a fine performance).
Romola Garai has the toughest job in “Atonement” as an 18-year-old World War II nurse. She shows extraordinary poise in vital scenes, saying very little, as the director trusts her formidable expressive powers to convey meaning.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Brad Pitt (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
Sergei Makovetsky (12)
Sasson Gabai (The Band’s Visit)
George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
Ivan Barnev (I Served the King of England)
Russian actor Makovetsky has the starry role in Nikita Mikhalkov’s brilliant trial drama “12” as the sole jury member to dissent from a rushed decision. He underplays to make the alcoholic idealist unforgettable among a dozen memorable performances. Sasson Gabai (left with Ronit Elkabetz) is superb as the strict Egyptian leader of a ceremonial police orchestra lost in Israel in “The Band’s Visit,” capturing the man’s grave dignity and the emotions churning inside. George Clooney’s performance as a jaded attorney who does the right thing in “Michael Clayton” is a master class in top-flight big-star movie acting. Using charm, artful phrasing, and silence, Clooney ranks with the best. Playing a slight but resourceful waiter in Jiri Menzel’s splendid Czech comedy “I Served the King of England,” Ivan Barnev has the physical grace of great comedians and expressive features that encourage sympathy despite some of the unsympathetic things he does.
Honorable mentions: Benicio del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire), Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages), Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Matt Damon (The Bourne Ultimatum), Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac), Christopher Plummer (Man in the Chair), Adam Goldberg (2 Days in Paris)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Laura Linney (above with Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Savages
Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days)
Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Ronit Elkabetz (The Band’s Visit)
Kierston Wareing (It’s a Free World)
Anamaria Marinca, who won acclaim on the Channel Four miniseries “Sex Traffic,” shines in “4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days,” a harrowing tale of abortion in totalitarian Romania. As a pregnant girl’s best friend, she is superb at displaying internal turmoil as she mirrors the horrors of the situation. Cate Blanchett is the best thing in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” using her extraordinary vocal agility to capture a ruler at the peak of her remarkable power. Ronit Eljabetz plays the sympathetic Israeli woman who helps out a troupe of lost Egyptian musicians in “The Band’s Visit,” and she gives her wisdom and grace with a sense of no little regret. Kierston Wareing is Ken Loach’s latest acting discovery and she gives a winning performance as a brash and misguided young woman caught up in the exploitation of immigrants in the U.K. in Loach’s “It’s a Free World.”
Honorable mentions: Marian Alvarez (The Best of Me / Lo mejor de mi), Ellen Page (Juno), Julie Christie (Away From Her), Galina Vishnevskaya (Alexandra), Marianne Faithfull (Irina Palm), Guylaine Tremblay (Summit Circle / Contre toute esperance), Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
Steve Buscemi (Paris je t’aime)
Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)
Philip Bosco (The Savages)
Sergei Garmash (12)
Honorable mentions: Saleh Bakri (The Band’s Visit), Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), Sam Rockwell (The Assassination of Jesse James), Oldrich Kaiser (I Served the King of England), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War), Vlad Ivanov (4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Romola Garai (above, Atonement)
Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There)
Marisa Tomei (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)
Noemie Kocher (1 Journee)
Laura Vasiliu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days)
Honorable mentions: Allison Janney (Juno), Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), Emmanuelle Seigner (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Juliet Ellis (It’s a Free World).