Already one of our most evocative actors (the heart-tugging stepdad in Love, Actually, the compassionate businessman in Schindler's List), Neeson this time pulls a mask of inscrutability over his head. As Kinsey—an entomologist-turned-sex- researcher—he goes about his investigation with the detachment of an X-Files agent, although from the beginning it's clear that the truth is not "out there."
A character as bullheaded as Kinsey could become a bore. But Neeson keeps surprising us. In his early college lecture about diversity among wasps (the flying kind, not the cultural adversaries he'll later encounter), Neeson's enthusiasm is enough to make you run out and pick up Alford's Textbook of Agricultural Entomology. As he seems to encourage sexual experimentation among his research staff, he might as well be suggesting they look into switching from paper clips to staples. And as Kinsey sees support for his work dwindle, he seems physically assaulted. Only at the end, recalling one small victory, does Neeson allow Kinsey a moment of rapture. We can't know if the real Kinsey ever enjoyed a moment like that. Through Neeson, we get to.
Runners-up: Jeff Bridges as the tormented—and tormenting—children's author in The Door in the Floor.
Richard Gere as the lawyer who learns it takes two to tango in Shall We Dance?…Dennis Quaid as the bewildered 50-something manager with a boss half his age in In Good Company…Kurt Russell as the hard-driving U.S. hockey coach in Miracle…Omar Sharif as the deli owner who befriends a Parisian boy in Monsieur Ibrahim.
Best Actress Over 50
Anne Reid, The Mother
You probably don't know BBC regular Anne Reid, but after The Mother, you will never forget her. Reid's is among the most fearless performances ever by an actress of any age.
Reid's character, May, is the doting 60ish wife of a jovial old man, something of an afterthought to her rambunctious grandchildren and vaguely resentful daughter. Her eyes seem hollow, her walk something just this side of a shuffle.
Suddenly, May is a widow. Slowly, she awakens to the world outside her comfy home, until somehow she falls into a torrid affair with a man half her age. Oh, yes: he also happens to be her daughter's on-again, off-again boyfriend. You see where this is going—or at least you think you do.
As she falls in love for perhaps the first time in her life, May's once-dead eyes glisten. Her forced, pinched smile loosens into a wide-open mix of delight and awe. And her walk morphs into an easy glide, floating on air with a schoolgirl's bounce.
Reid is courageous in the love scenes, unforgiving in their contrast of the lovers' bodies. In the entangled aftermath, she's heartbreaking as she confesses, "I didn't think anyone would ever touch me again…apart from the undertaker." May is far from sympathetic and often easy to dislike. By the end all we know for sure is May's been on the journey of a lifetime, and Reid has taken us along for the ride.
Runners-up: Cloris Leachman, boozy and brassy as Adam Sandler's wine-soaked but wise mother-in-law in Spanglish…Gena Rowlands, courageous and heartbreaking as a woman with Alzheimer's in The Notebook…Susan Sarandon, clueless, then confused, then confounded, as the wife in Shall We Dance?…Meryl Streep, channeling Hillary Clinton and Attila the Hun as the ambitious senator in The Manchurian Candidate…Lily Tomlin, sexy and screwy as an existential detective in I ♥ Huckabees.
Best Foreign Film
Good Bye Lenin! (Germany)
Alex is glad his mother has snapped out of an eight-month coma in a Berlin hospital, but there's one problem: she was one of the last true believers in Communism, and the Berlin Wall has fallen. What's more, Mom's doctor warns him, the slightest shock could kill her. Alex's solution, in director Wolfgang Becker's funny, poignant satire, is to reconstruct East Germany in his mother's bedroom.
Runners-up: The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina): Che Guevara, the early years…Osama (Afghanistan): A girl tries to pass as a boy under Taliban rule…Monsieur Ibrahim (France): A Turkish shopkeeper befriends a troubled boy…The Sea Inside (Spain): A man's fight for the right to die.