To qualify for Academy Award nominations, a movie has to open in New York and Los Angeles for at least one week in the 2011 calendar year. That's why two of the year's best, Oren Moverman's Rampart and Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus, will do a disappearing act after one week and reappear for wide release in January. At that time, I'll run full reviews in Rolling Stone. But right now I want to make you aware of each film and the white-hot performances that demand Oscar attention.
Directed by Oren Moverman
As Dave Brown (Harrelson), a sexist, racist, trigger-tempered police officer carving out his own definition of justice on the mean streets of 1999 Los Angeles, Woody Harrelson climbs to the top of the acting mountain. It's a monumental portrayal of a cop in meltdown — bruisingly brilliant and coiled to spring. Listen up, Oscar. Director Oren Moverman (The Messenger), who co-wrote the script with James Ellroy, is a filmmaker with rare skills. He can let us inhale the toxic atmosphere of crime and corruption and then startle us with unexpected feeling. No chance you'll forget Rampart. Thanks to Harrelson and Moverman, it sizzles and stings.
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
As a first-time film director, actor Ralph Fiennes updates Shakespeare's Coriolanus into a brutal tale of modern warfare (think The Hurt Locker) with no damage to the Bard's muscular poetry. Neat trick. Fiennes, as star and commander, pulls off a triumph. But the MVP prize goes to Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' mother, Volumnia. Redgrave outdoes even her legendary herself, which is saying something. Her towering performance is a tour de force that carries the film to glory. Take note Oscar voters: this is as good as acting gets.