If you're both a movie fan and a consummate statistician, it's easy to love and appreciate the Oscars for shoehorning the majority of film history into a manageable grading rubric. I'm an Oscar apologist myself, and I still have one bone to pick with the Academy -- and all award-spewing organizations: the unnecessary reliance on gender-based categories. Is it not more thrilling to pit all actors against each other? Is there such an objective difference between Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock? Meryl Streep and Robert Downey Jr.? "Actor" is a gender-neutral term, and I think we'd all better off -- and better entertained -- without the meaningless siphoning. Thus, I'm stacking up the best performances of 2011 without categorical regard for gender or role size. It's a winner-take-all affair, and this winner definitely wants it all. Here's my top 10:
Margin Call isn't the first film to peer into the moneyed, aspirationally heartless world of finance, and it's not going to be the last, but it's got a fair shot at being the one with the most masterful timing. J.C. Chandor's feature debut aims to offers insight into the mindset of bankers poised to plunge the country into the 2008 economic crisis because of their own reckless conduct, and it reaches screens as Occupy Wall Street has spread across the U.S. and internationally, fueled in part by outrage about a lack of accountability in the financial and corporate world. The film's not an indictment or a satire -- it's a tense but contemplative exploration of being on the other side of one of those mirrored skyscraper windows, of being in a precarious place of privilege, power and, most important of all, carefully guarded remove.
Writer-director J.C. Chandor isn't traditional Verge material -- a 15-year veteran of commercials, documentaries and short films whose dramatic feature debut, Margin Call features a eye-popping ensemble cast of Oscar winners (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons), seasoned pros (Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker) and next-generation standouts (Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley) taking on the tale of a New York City investment bank flirting with oblivion at the dawn of the ongoing financial crisis. And thanks to both the cast and his own formidable chops, Chandor pulls it off with impressive aplomb.