Zelda has always been a figure of fascination amongst literary types, for both her roaring ’20s, flapper-styled high life and the tragedy of her later years. As played by Alison Pill (the chameleonic young actor who also played Anne Kronenberg in Milk), she’s spirited, funny, sexy, and intriguing, yet with a telltale hint of sadness around the edges of her smiles.
Joseph Keenan in Red State
John Goodman is such a reliable comic presence that he doesn’t always get credit for his acting chops. That’s why it’s nice when he occasionally gets a more serious role, like that of Joseph Keenan in Kevin Smith’s controversial (around here, anyway) Red State. As a good-hearted ATF agent who’s in way over his head when a raid on a religious extremist compound goes out of control, Goodman is quietly wonderful; he’s a man who’s trying to do the right thing under very difficult circumstances, and not always certain he’s making the right calls. Goodman plays those doubts as a strength rather than weakness, and ends up turning in one of his most intriguing performances yet.
Libby (aka “Boltie”) in Super
Ellen Page is flat-out terrific as Libby, the comic-book store cutie who helps Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) research the methods of crime-fighting superheroes before appointing herself his sidekick. She’s a charming girl who can’t get over how cool it is to fight crime (“My God,” she yells, “my hand is trembling!“), and even when writer/director James Gunn’s tone is uncertain (which is often), Libby is utterly charming and amusingly enthusiastic. (Also, she looks super-cute in her “Boltie” duds.)
Terri in Terri
Our first real indication that all is not right with Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is when we see him trudging off to school in his pajamas. It’s not a one-time thing; he does it every day. They’re just comfortable, you see. It’s not a decision that’s going to enrich his already unfortunate high school existence; the overweight teen is a frequent target of harassment and bullying, called “Grimace” or “Trash Heap” or worse. But he has decided that if he’s going to be miserable every day, he may as well be comfortable. The entire film traffics in that kind of practical non-sentimentality; don’t make Terri laughable or oafish — but they refuse to paint him as particularly wise or exceptional either. He’s just a normal, socially awkward kid with some problems. That’s almost revolutionary in today’s teen movies.
Joan Ostrowski-Fox in Cedar Rapids
Miguel Arteta’s Midwestern insurance-convention comedy isn’t entirely successful — it’s more odd and quirky than genuinely funny — but it’s full of interesting characters, particularly John C. Reilly’s cheerful vulgarian Dean Ziegler and Stephen Root as the boss back home. But the most intriguing person in the movie is sexy insurance agent Joan Ostrowski-Fox; she’s played by Anne Heche, back from the TV/DTV wilderness with a turn so fresh and complicated, you remember why we were all so excited about her back in the mid-’90s. Joan is a mother and wife who views her week in Cedar Rapids with a Vegas-style “what happens here, stays here” eye, and the character is weird, likable, sexy, and admirably complicated.
The dogs of Beginners, The Artist, and The Adventures of Tintin
So it’s not just us — there were some great dog performances in movies this year, right? In last summer’s Beginners, the Jack Russell terrier “Cosmo” played the role of Arthur, the dog of leading character Oliver’s recently departed father, and yes, we know a dog can’t actually “act,” but you watch the scene of Oliver showing little Arthur around his new home and try to tell us that good boy’s not acting. Then came November’s The Artist, and a performance by Uggy the wonder dog that was so good, it won the “Palm Dog” award at the Cannes Film Festival (no, seriously, that’s a real thing) and prompted our friends at Movieline to start a #ConsiderUggy campaign to get the charming pooch an Oscar nomination. And then there’s Snowy, the performance-capture animated sidekick in The Adventures of Tintin — and Snowy is almost distractingly delightful, as in there were several moments where we ceased paying attention to foreground action because they had Snowy doing something so adorable in the corner of the frame. Your author is and always has been a cat person, but frankly, the felines were big losers at the movies this year.