In the old days, like 2007, the middle of July would definitely be too early to start thinking about the Oscars. Back then, Hollywood loaded up its prestige fare in the fall so that it would stays fresh in the minds of Academy voters. Yet last year, four of the ten Best Picture nominees — include winner “Hurt Locker” — were released in the summer. So now that we are officially half way through 2010, let’s look at some of the best — and worst — movies of the year so far.
BEST MOVIE: INCEPTION
Runner-up: Winter’s Bone
Sure, Christopher Nolan’s metaphysical heist flick is only coming out this week and the commercials have been a bit on the mysterious side, but trust us: it’s good. From its mind-bending dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream plot to its way cool special effects, the movie stands head-and-shoulders above an otherwise lackluster movie summer. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s zero-G fist fight in a hotel hallway is worth the price of admission all by itself.
WORST MOVIE: VALENTINE’S DAY
Runner-up: The Last Airbender
With a star-studded cast (including Oscar winners Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates, and Shirley MacLaine, plus hotties Patrick Dempsey, Jessica Alba, and Eric Dane), you’d expect this Garry Marshall-directed rom-com to be tolerable at the very least. Well, it isn’t. In fact, it’s the worst movie we’ve seen in years. From its banal storylines to its dreadful dialogue to its embarrassing lack of laughs and heart, “Valentine’s Day” is a lazy day of infamy that nobody should have to suffer through.
BEST WORST MOVIE: BIRDEMIC
Runner-up: Sex and the City 2
In the so-bad-it’s-good category is James Nguyen’s unintentionally hilarious ode to Hitchcock, featuring a blandly attractive couple fleeing from the scourge of exploding vultures. On just about every category, the movie is just wrong — from the staggeringly amateurish editing to the somnambulist acting. But it’s the special effects that really send the movie into Ed Wood territory: the film’s poorly digitized, obviously cloned birds look like they were ripped from a screen saver.
BEST ACTRESS: TILDA SWINTON, I AM LOVE
Runner-up: Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
Tilda Swinton has steadily built a reputation as being one the best actresses working today, from her gender-bending turn in “Orlando” to her Oscar-winning performance in “Michael Clayton.” For Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love,” Swinton delivers with her usual depth and nuance, but she does so entirely in Italian and Russian — two languages she didn’t speak prior to shooting. More impressively, to fit her character, she learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent. That’s the sort of jaw-dropping virtuosity that Oscar just loves.
WORST ACTRESS: JENNIFER ANISTON, THE BOUNTY HUNTER
Runner-up: Jennifer Lopez, The Back-Up Plan
When will Jennifer Aniston just go away? Really? Ever since her long-running sitcom, “Friends,” left the airwaves in 2004, the woman best known as Rachel Green has given us more than her fair share of box office bombs and lame performances. The only two roles that ever impressed anyone were in two little-seen art house films, 2002’s “The Good Girl” (co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal) and 2006’s ensemble dramedy “Friends with Money.” In this year’s The Bounty Hunter, Jen plays a painfully annoying bail jumper running from her ex-husband, a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter, played by the equally atrocious Gerard Butler. Suffice it to say, we’ll likely see Ms. Aniston in the mix at the 2011 Golden Raspberry Awards, where she’s already the front runner for Worst Actress.
BEST ACTOR: BEN STILLER, GREENBERG
Runner-up: Andrew Garfield, Red Riding 1974
Many critics and fans haven’t really consider Ben Stiller a serious actor. Let’s be honest, he became a household name and mega-millionaire thanks to inferior kiddie fare (Night at the Museum) and gross-out guy comedies (Something About Mary), not by acting his way through Oscar-caliber films. Hopefully, come awards season, he’ll be seen in a different light. Thanks to his humorous and heartbreaking performance as a 40-year-old man-boy recovering from a nervous breakdown, Stiller has never been better. Instead of adding another trophy to his mantle full of MTV Movie Awards, he’s poised to nab his first, and much-deserved, Academy Award nomination.
WORST ACTOR: JOHN TRAVOLTA, FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
Runner-up: Tom Cruise, Knight and Day
Dont get us wrong; “From Paris with Love” could have been the sort of fun, fast-paced piece of fluff that’s perfect for February and the doldrums of winter. However, John Travolta’s role as foul-mouthed, Fu Man Chu-sporting special agent Charlie Wax was beyond ridiculous. Truth be told, it was kind of infuriating. Had a less ludicrous performance by a less inane star been delivered, the film — which features delicious twists and turns and an awesome car chase sequence — might have worked. Instead, it was DOA.
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, WINTER’S BONE
Runner-up: Delphine Chaneac, Splice
At the heart of “Winter’s Bone” — a dizzily Gothic noir set in the extreme backwaters of the Ozarks — is Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as the tough-minded teenaged hero. She conveys her character’s fears and resolve almost completely non-verbally. It’s a remarkable performance and Hollywood is clearly taking note; she’s already been cast as Mystique in the hotly anticipated X-Men reboot.
BEST KISS: AMANDA SEYFRIED & CHANNING TATUM, DEAR JOHN
Runner-up: Amanda Seyfried & Julianne Moore, Chloe
We’re more than a little embarrassed to admit this, but Dear John wasn’t awful. Dare we say it was better than average, or even secretly good? Better than the film itself, however, was the first kiss shared by stars Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, who portray Savannah and John, a college student and a young Army sergeant who fall madly in love with one another over spring break. A few days before John returns to base and deploys for the Middle East, he and Savannah realize that they’re meant to be together once he visits her at her volunteer worksite. When the sky opens and heavy rains begin to soak them, they seek shelter in each other’s arms, and before you know it, they’re entangled in a passionate embrace and share one of Hollywood’s most romantic kisses.
BEST ON-SCREEN DUO: STEVE CARELL & TINA FEY, DATE NIGHT
Runner-up: Julianne Moore & Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Steve Carell is hilarious as dim-witted manager Michael Scott on NBC’s The Office, but the 47-year-old actor is even better when he’s on the big screen. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Little Miss Sunshine, and Dan in Real Life are truly fantastic films, which feature his priceless performances. Then there’s Tina Fey, the star and mastermind of “30 Rock,” the brains behind Mean Girls, and the most prolific head writer in SNLs storied history. Combining these two comedic powerhouses in this year’s unexpected smash, Date Night, was pure genius. Nobody expected the film — released in early April — to make a blip at the box office. Boy, were they wrong. The film was a Top 10 money earner for eight weeks thanks to word-of-mouth marketing, and the chemistry and comedy delivered by its two stars, who perfectly portrayed the frenzied Phil and Claire Foster.
BEST FOREIGN FLICK: MOTHER
Runner-Up: I Am Love
This flick was South Korea’s official selection for the Oscars this year, so don’t expect it in your Oscar polls next March. But we don’t care. This Hitchcockian thriller is terrific and the more people should see it. Hye-ja Kim as the titular mom gives a flat out brilliant performance as worried parent turned Lady MacBeth. It comes out on DVD next week. “I Am Love” is really good too.