Posts Tagged ‘best actor’

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

February 1, 2018

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Director: Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash)

Bottom Line: Call Me By Your Name is naturally going to draw some comparisons to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and that might be all the information some of my followers need to decide to stay away. But 2018 is not 2005 and we live in a much more accepting (though still incredibly prejudiced) world nowadays and maybe some of you will appreciate this for what it is: a very solid coming-of-age love story set in Italy during the early 1980s… between a 17 year old boy and a 25 year old man. Yes, not everyone’s cup of tea – and the age difference borders on suspect – but I really enjoyed it. There are some cringe-worthy moments – as is the case with lots of foreign language films – but it’s funny, moving, and plenty memorable. It’s an emotional journey you are truly invested in and the Italian backdrop really engrosses you in the story. Timothee Chalamet gives the strongest 2017 performance from a lead actor that I’ve seen to date and Armie Hammer is also very good in a role I wouldn’t have really expected from him. I also really appreciated Elio’s (Chalamet) parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar). They were very progressive and supportive of what their son was up to, which would be cool enough in 2018, but is even more remarkable for a film set in the 80s.

Call Me By Your Name was a lot of fun and highly recommended. If you’re wary about a love story between two guys then it’s probably not for you, but I thought it was one of the better overall films of 2017. I think this could easily be a film I look back on in a few years and realize it’s better than I’m giving it credit for right now.

Replay Value: The more I think back on it, the more I’d like to watch it again.
Sequel Potential: Director Luca Guadagnino has already announced a sequel, which is rather surprising.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, and Timothee Chalamet for Best Actor.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Manchester By The Sea (2016)

April 25, 2017

Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams
Director: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me)

Bottom Line: This is going to be a difficult movie to review because my watching experience was abnormal to say the least. We had my parents over for dinner and when offering a lineup of potential movies to watch, my mom insisted we watch Manchester By The Sea because it was a lauded movie that she had already seen and hated. My wife asked if we had to finish the movie about 40 minutes in and it was pretty clear my dad was also not into it, so watching a critically acclaimed, snail-paced character drama in the middle of the day when 75% of the audience was distracted was a rather difficult task.

But I liked Manchester By The Sea and no amount of moaning on the sidelines was going to stop me from finishing it once I started. And to be fair to my mom, she said she liked it this time; and it’s reasonable to conclude that any movie you can watch a second time through you probably didn’t really hate the first time around either.

But I can understand why someone would be turned off by Manchester By The Sea. It’s incredibly bleak. And although there are number of surprisingly funny moments, it’s a sad movie that revolves around the tragic curveballs life can throw you and how, sometimes, those moments can be too overwhelming to move on from. The whole film focuses on Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler floating through life like a zombie for reasons that unfold as his story is revealed through flashbacks. It’s no surprise that Affleck won an Oscar for his role in this movie as he is truly wonderful, perfectly portraying a grieving man with emotions so boxed in that they are liable to unload with fury at any moment.

The supporting cast of Manchester By The Sea is also wonderful. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges both earned Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. While Hedges plays more of a central character and his acting prowess is constantly on display alongside Affleck, Williams got award attention for a much smaller role, but there’s an incredibly powerful scene in the third act where you can see the exact moment she earned the all the accolades.

Manchester By The Sea is a very technically sound film, with solid writing, beautiful cinematography shot near a Massachusetts shoreline, and Grade A acting all around. It’s a story about tragedy and how we grieve – and don’t always heal – and it isn’t necessarily meant to be uplifting, but sometimes that is how life is. If you are able to get past the bleak subject matter and don’t mind a slow-paced film that’s entirely focused on the characters, then there’s a pretty good film here. I wasn’t blown away by Manchester By The Sea and it won’t rank in my top 10 films of 2016, but it’s worth watching, especially for Casey Affleck’s fantastic performance.

Replay Value: Not a movie you’d want to watch multiple times, but I’d revisit it some years down the road.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Six nominations: Best Picture and Best Director for Kenneth Lonergan; Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams; and Oscar wins for Casey Affleck for Best Actor and Kenneth Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay.

Grade: 6/10 (recommended)

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The Imitation Game (2015)

May 17, 2015

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Director: Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)

Bottom Line: It was interesting timing for me to watch The Imitation Game considering I just watched director Morten Tyldum’s excellent Headhunters last week and a few weeks before that I saw Ex Machina, whose plot is largely centered around something called a Turing Test, which evaluates if a machine can exhibit intelligent behavior similar to that of a human being. I knew nothing of The Imitation Game plot prior to watching it so it was a pleasant surprise to discover it is the story of Alan Turing, a highly regarded British mathematician and cryptanalyst for whom the Turing Test was named after.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives his typical wonderful performance as Turing, a man whose awkward genius and social ineptitude isn’t that far removed Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes portrayal on his BBC series. He plays Turing with a touch less narcissism and quite a bit more vulnerability. Indeed, Turing was a homosexual in a time (the 1940s-1950s) when such a thing wasn’t just frowned upon, it was prosecutable. While the film spends time detailing his arrest for gross indecency and flashes back to his schooling as a youth and the formation of his first meaningful relationship with another boy, the majority of the film highlights his time at Bletchley Park, a British codebreaking centre, working with a team of fellow geniuses and trying to crack Enigma, a machine used by Nazi Germany to send coded military messages.

The Imitation Game is an amazing and heartbreaking story, in which one of the greatest (unknown) heroes of World War II is later vilified by his country for something we now view as socially acceptable. The film combines drama and humor exceptionally well. Turing is portrayed as a flawed, often self-centered human being, but still someone that is quite easy to root for. Cumberbatch is worthy of his Oscar nomination and Keira Knightley is also great as one of his fellow codebreakers and continues to solidify her status as what I consider to be The Next Kate Winslet.

The Imitation Game delivers on all levels with a great story and top notch acting. Alan Turing is a man whose time and contributions to our world should never be forgotten. The posthumous pardon he was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 was long overdue.

Replay Value: This is definitely a film worth watch again and probably worth owning.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: Won Best Adapted Screenplay. Cumberbatch and Knightley received acting nominations, Tyldum a directing nom, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, film editing, production design, and score.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Birdman (2014)

May 3, 2015

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel)

Bottom Line: Birdman is a brilliant piece of filmmaking from director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s shot and edited in a way that makes it seem like the first two hours of the film were done entirely in one take. While the reality is a bit different, this format still required several long takes and tedious acting and timing from the film’s performers. What results is a seamless journey through a New York theater and the mind of a former Hollywood action star named Riggan – played wonderfully by Michael Keaton – as he tries to reinvent and endear himself to the masses by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway show.

While Birdman isn’t my favorite film of 2014, it’s easy to see why the Academy and critics seemed to agree that it was the best one. From a technical standpoint, they are probably right. It’s also a great character study, as Keaton’s Riggan is quite mystifying – it can be difficult to tell reality from fantasy. What is clear is his desire to break free of the character that made him famous years before, as Riggan is in constant battle with Birdman’s voice in his head. Riggan is certainly more focused on his relationship with his “celebrity” than he is with those in his own personal life. He barely notices his daughter (Stone) even though she works with him in the theater and his love affair with one of his co-stars hardly seems to register with him. This is a man that is highly self-involved. He’s too entrenched with his own demons to notice anyone else’s.

Birdman gives us great performances across the board. It’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Keaton – by a large margin. It’s hard to imagine that Riggan could have been played by anyone else. Edward Norton gives the film’s best performance, however, as Mike Shiner, an established Broadway star that is hired at the last minute to replace one of the show’s actors after an unfortunate “accident.” Shiner is a difficult person and wastes little time in making an enemy of Riggan – suggesting changes in dialogue during his first read through and insisting on drinking real alcohol during rehearsals. Norton plays the role gleefully and provides numerous laughs in the film. The rest of the ensemble cast is sharp and everyone does well with the difficult shooting format.

I thought Birdman was a great film. It’s one that is tough to digest after one viewing and requires a bit deeper thinking, so it’s possible I could one day view it as a masterpiece. The one take style is unique and adds to the film’s wonder instead of coming across gimmicky. Keaton and Norton give stunning performances. I don’t think Birdman is for everyone – it’s a bit grimy and plenty difficult – but for serious filmgoers, it’s a clear must see.

Replay Value: Multiple viewings required.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Crushed the Oscars, winning statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, while being nominated in five other categories, including acting noms for Keaton, Norton, and Stone. Interestingly, Birdman did not receive a nomination in film editing, which kind of boggles my mind.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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Flight (2012)

April 7, 2013

Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Back To The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Quick Thoughts: Flight hit home for me a bit. Being an alcoholic myself–one that has been sober for nearly three years now–I couldn’t help but relate to the path of self-destruction that Denzel Washington’s character Whip Whitaker had created for himself: the complete lack of self-control, the walls his family has put up, the delusion, the denial. Of course, the decision to make this character the pilot of a major airline makes his story worthy of a film. Watching the movie, I was wondering how much of it was based in reality. Was it a true story? The answer is… not really. While Whip’s decision to invert the plane during the incredible flight and crash sequence was inspired by true events, the character of Whip Whitaker himself is a figment of screenwriter John Gatins’ imagination–or more likely, a loose translation of someone the writer actually knows.

This is one of those films where the hero is quite the opposite. There’s no protagonist in this movie. I can’t imagine too many people rooting for Whip Whitaker. He’s despicable. Aside from his alcoholism, he also abuses drugs, womanizes, and is generally crude and overbearingly filthy in his diction. Perhaps we want to see him sink so low that he finally sees and admits the errors of his ways, but that’s it. About 90 minutes into the movie, I turned to my girlfriend and said: “This movie can’t possibly have a happy ending.” There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this person.

While I found Flight to be entertaining–seriously, the flight sequence is jaw-dropping–and the best depiction of alcoholism since Leaving Las Vegas, I did walk away with some serious questions. Whip’s flight crew is all too familiar with his antics. He’s sleeping and partying with one of his flight attendants (a fellow substance abuser) and it appears this is no secret to the rest of the crew, particularly a devoutly religious woman that has known Whip for years. My question is, knowing who this man is, why on earth would these people get on a plane that he’s flying? I understand enabling and co-dependent relationships–believe me–but I can’t understand constantly putting your own life and lives of passengers in immediate danger. This man is piloting planes drunk while reeking of vodka (as his co-pilot later points out). Who in their right mind is letting that happen? Also curious, Whip’s toxicology report comes back with a .24 BAC after landing the plane, getting extracted from the wreckage, and possibly transported to a hospital. In other words, during the crash, Whip was probably sporting a BAC over .3, which is well into black out territory. Of course, this is the portrait of a “functioning” alcoholic, but come on. And… my comments on the ending I will post below*.

Despite these concerns, I was still pleased with Flight and thought it tackled alcoholism quite well. The crash sequence is legendary and Denzel Washington gives another great performance.

Replay Value: Worth watching again for sure.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Denzel received an acting nomination and Gatins a writing nomination. Surprisingly, the visual effects team was snubbed.
Nudity: Quite a bit during the opening sequence.
Grade: 7/10 (Must See)
RottenTomatoes Scores: Critics: 79% Audience: 76%
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Recommendation: Highly recommended, especially to those who have dealt with alcoholism in their lives.

SPOILERS:

I felt like this movie couldn’t possibly have a happy ending and while I suppose I was satisfied with the way things wrapped up, I didn’t really buy it either. Whip Whitaker ultimately breaks down and admits the truth of his alcoholism–a scene that brought tears to my eyes–right on the brink of lying his way to freedom during his testimony. All he has to do is tell one more lie and he can go right on living his destructive life. So what sparked his change of heart? He has the perfect alibi: the woman he spent the night with before the crash has passed away, she’s a known alcoholic, and he can say that she drank the two bottles of vodka that had been found in the wreckage. But instead, he admits that he drank those bottles and suffers all the punishments that come with that admittance. Why? Do we really believe this man, that has chosen alcohol over the relationships of anyone close to him–wife and son included–would choose this moment to come clean? Presumably to protect the honor of a dead woman he had a casual sexual relationship with? I’m sorry, but this would never happen in real life. Alcoholics are incredibly selfish people and I really believe that 100% of alcoholics in that situation would choose to lie and protect their freedom. Perhaps the close call with extensive jail time would be enough to spark a change, but Whip Whitaker doesn’t take the fall there. Ever.

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127 Hours (2010)

April 12, 2011


Starring: James Franco
Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting)

Quick Thoughts: Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is a gripping, claustrophobic film. James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a perpetual outdoorsman that must fight for his survival after his arm gets trapped under a rock while hiking through the mountains and canyons of Utah. It’s a compelling story, as Ralston slowly realizes the severity of his situation: it takes at least 24 hours for the boulder on Ralston’s arm to transform from major inconvenience to a seriously life-threatening object. No sir, that rock’s not going anywhere. 127 Hours makes you squirm in ways that would make a horror auteur jealous; it’s genuinely scary. Take a step outside the film and realize this is something that actually happened to someone and then put yourself in his shoes… it will send shivers down your spine. Due to the nature of the situation, the scope of the film is pretty limited, but Boyle and Co. more than make up for this in the first twenty minutes, most of which features stunning cinematography of the beautiful landscape this crisis takes place in. Franco is great in this movie and well deserving of his Oscar nomination, displaying a wide range of character that goes from cocky to scared to outright delusional. 127 Hours is a haunting, true tale of survival that is thrilling throughout its duration despite the fact that the majority of the story unfolds in a very small space.

Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Doesn’t strike me as something I’d want to watch repeatedly, but I’d strongly consider buying it.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Six nominations: Best Actor (Franco), Best Director (Boyle), Best Original Song, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Picture. No wins.
Nudity: None.
Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)
Recommendation: 127 Hours is a great story with a fast pace and clocks in at just over 90 minutes, making for a quick watch. I’ve heard complaints about the hallucinations (Scooby Dooby Doo… where are you?)–people calling them silly–but I suggest going five days without food or water… or mobility… and seeing how your brain holds up. Personally, I thought this movie was great, but if you didn’t like Into The Wild or Slumdog Millionaire, you suck… and you should probably skip this.

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The King’s Speech (2010)

February 23, 2011


Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Robert Schwentke (“John Adams” mini-series)
Quick Thoughts: The King’s Speech opens with Colin Firth’s character, the future King George VI, preparing to address an audience of thousands over a megaphone. There’s sweat on his brow, his eyes are watering, and he’s visibly shaken. You know this isn’t going to end well. It’s actually painful watching him stammer helplessly, unable to even complete a sentence, embarrassing himself in front of his legions. Part of you wants to laugh, but most of you is horrified. Can you imagine being a man of enormous power, required to be the voice of your people, when speaking publicly is your absolute worst nightmare? I’ve actually heard criticism of The King’s Speech claiming that the story isn’t particularly strong or interesting, but I personally find the King’s predicament absolutely fascinating. If this story was about a regular Joe with a speech impediment the dilemma wouldn’t be nearly as dire nor the impact as strong, but this is royalty we’re talking about here and his problem is severe. Though The King’s Speech is clearly a dramatic film, it had numerous hilarious moments. I was laughing out loud through numerous scenes, including this exchange:

Lionel Logue: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
King George: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Logue: They’re idiots.
King George: They’ve all been knighted.
Logue: Makes it official then.

And the script is filled with funny moments like that. Obviously, Colin Firth’s performance is phenomenal here. Successfully pulling off the stammering dialogue is impressive enough, but he does it while exuding the body language of someone that is completely void of self-confidence. Amazing. Anything short of a Best Actor statue is CRIMINAL. Nothing comes close. The entire acting ensemble is solid, from Helena Bonham Carter in an oddly subdued role (sedatives?) as George’s hopeful and supportive wife, to the excellent Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, all the way down to Timothy Spall in a small, but great role playing a smug Winston Churchill. The King’s Speech has more Oscar nominations than any 2010 film and deserves all of them. The Social Network is favored to win Best Picture and even though I love that movie, I know I wouldn’t bet my money against The King’s Speech. An excellent movie with a triumphant story and great acting, and easily one of the best films of the year.
Viewings: 1
Replay Value: Character dramas don’t tend to have a ton of replay value, but the script is funny enough and Firth’s performance is so good that repeat viewings are a must. I know I’ll be buying it.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and acting noms for Firth, Carter and Rush.
Nudity: None
Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)
Recommendation: Obviously, this is must see cinema.