2009 Calvin Awards: Best Cast

February 10, 2009

This picture would have been a lot better if Heath Ledger had been alive and standing in it.

For many films, the place where they go right (or wrong) is in the casting process. Getting a group of actors that just fit can be an art as well as a science, and can turn a mediocre film into a great one, and a great film into a classic. The films we chose for this category all found actors that were perfect for their parts and helped elevate them into something special.

While there's no "I" in cast, there is one performance that looms larger than the rest in our Best Cast winner, The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger's newly iconic performance as The Joker simply made this film. However, just as with Batman Begins, this film was loaded with talent, including Aaron Eckhart, hiding a fantastic and almost thankless performance in plain sight as the straight man, and Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine providing gravitas in crucial supporting roles.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the man in the suit, Christian Bale, who had to veer between tough guy and disinterested playboy on a moment's notice (we'll... overlook the Batman voice for now), quietly creating over two films the most complex and layered superhero we've seen on screen. Even the love interest role got a significant upgrade, with Maggie Gyllenhaal improving on the performance last time around from Mrs. Tom Cruise (sorry, Katie, but it's true).

Second place goes to Frost/Nixon, another film that was anchored by one major performance. Frank Langella's Nixon is a larger-than-life figure in the film, but avoids the common pitfalls of Nixon portrayals by not veering into cartoonish impersonation. He's counter balanced by Michael Sheen as David Frost, the vulnerable playboy, with both of these two reprising their role from the stage play. While those two performances dominate the movie, you can't overlook the passion behind Sam Rockwell's determined researcher, and his counterpart in Kevin Bacon, a man tasked to defend someone he clearly adores but has done wrong. These performances get us that close to feeling sorry for the participants, if not simply understanding them.

Coming in right behind it is In Bruges, the darkly comic hitman film. Colin Farrell is often dismissed because of some of his payday roles, but he's brilliant here as a conflicted, sensitive, but also boorish tourist. While he plays for the comedy often in the role, it's with fine, realistic strokes and keeps it from becoming a joke. Brendan Gleeson also made an impact in the movie as the more competent hitman and tourist of the two. But it's hard to talk about the film without bringing up Ralph Fiennes' psychotic boss, who dominated the last third of the film with a larger than life performance that simply has to be seen to be believed.

Fourth spot goes to the film that scored the most acting Oscar nominations of any film this year, Doubt. Great performances in the film start with Meryl Streep's domineering head nun character, and are added onto by perennial favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman as a complicated priest, Amy Adams as a meek young recruit to the convent and Viola Davis, who burst into the public with this film in a crucial role as the mother of a boy suspected of being abused.


Superhero films make their second appearance here with Iron Man, which saw the rejuvenation of Robert Downey Jr. Playing the title role, a smarmy but ultimately decent inventor, perhaps the one he was born to inhabit, Downey gave the film its center. He was backed up ably by Gwyenth Paltrow, as his long suffering secretary, and Jeff Bridges in a startlingly physical and villainous role.

Slumdog Millionaire's cast is remarkable for its inexperience – while adult characters were, if not veterans, at least familiar with acting, the film grabbed young actors from the streets of Mumbai and created real, honest portrayals of crushing poverty, giving the film vital authenticity.

Burn After Reading took seventh, performing casting magic by tweaking each performer's image to great effect. Brad Pitt's dullard gym instructor is most notable for that, but let's not overlook George Clooney's sexaholic spy, Tilda Swinton's ice princess, Frances McDormand's plastic surgery obsession, and John Malkovich's dangerously unhinged narcissist. All these roles combined for a comic symphony where it's tough to imagine another group working as well together.

Rachel Getting Married, tied for seventh, was led by the best performance of Anne Hathaway's young career, and while that was one of the more impressive roles of the year, it would have meant very little had the actors playing her family and friends not also knocked their roles out of the park. Rosemarie DeWitt in particular burst into our consciousness as Hathaway's sister, and Bill Irwin – a stage actor and clown, of all things, gave a deep and nuanced performance as her father.

Ninth spot went to the biographical film Milk, led by Sean Penn as the flamboyant gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, but also joined by fellow Oscar nominee Josh Brolin, and James Franco and Emile Hirsch, among others. Wrapping up the top ten is Tropic Thunder, packed with outstanding self-parodic comedic performances from Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller, Tom Cruise and Jack Black. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 The Dark Knight 100
2 Frost/Nixon 77
3 In Bruges 76
4 Doubt 66
5 Iron Man 54
6 Slumdog Millionaire 47
7(tie) Burn After Reading 43
7(tie) Rachel Getting Married 43
9 Milk 42
10 Tropic Thunder 34



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