martedì 28 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Isabelle Huppert in Elle

Isabelle Huppert received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Michèle Leblanc in Elle.

Elle is a fascinating film about a businesswoman who decides to track down the man who raped her. I think the movie, due to its rather extreme content, could have easily gone off the rails but it does not thanks to the central performance, an intelligent screenplay and Paul Varhoeven's direction that makes the film both a compelling, tense thriller but also a complex character study. A nomination for Best Foreign Picture wouldn't have been undeserved I think.

Michèle Leblanc is an extremely hard character to pull off: her actions are often quite difficult to understand, her behavior is most of the time far from endearing and it does not have any big, revelatory moment in which the character reveals the movitations behind what she does. Thankfully, the actress playing the role is no less than Isabelle Huppert, a terrific actress of great elegance and intelligence who delves so well into this woman's complicated psyche. The film opens with Michèle being raped by a masked man inside her house (a scene that is shown multiple times during the movie): Huppert is fantastic in this scene as she portrays so realistically and brutally the horror of this moment that you just want to look away. But she's even better in the following moments as she immediately pulls herself together, calmly cleans up the mess, has a bath to wash the blood away and only a few days later she nonchalantly tells her friends that she had been assaulted and raped in her house: those scenes could have been hard to sell but they work because Huppert establishes so well Michèle as a woman who does not face trauma but rather tries to bury it inside her - this trait of her explains her calm behavior throughout the whole movie but Huppert never simplifies this and instead shows what's going on behind Michèle's surface even though she never has any moment in which this façade falls down. It's through her body language and the small reactions in the space between words that Huppert conveys the underlying turmoil in Michèle's life. With admirable restraint, Huppert manages to conveys the bruised soul behind her ice queen exterior, and in doing this she makes Michèle like a ticking bomb - she makes you feel the tense of the situation in every second and therefore keeps you so utterly engaged from start to finish. 

The movie does not just focus on Michèle's plot for revenge, but also on the various relationship between Michèle and the most important people in her life. Isabelle Huppert is consistently terrific in those scenes because on one hand she always does an excellent job at portraying Michèle's detatched, cold demeanor but on the other hand she finds small variations within that behavior, showing the differences in her interactions with the people around her. I really like the scenes between Michèle and her mother (played by Judith Magre) - the two actresses are great at showing that there is a certain degree of love between them but also an inability to truly communicate, due to Michèle's disapproval of her mother's sexually promiscuous behavior and her mother's disdain for Michèle's glacial treatment of everyone around her. There is a terrific scene midway through the movie in which her mother announces that she's marrying a man much younger than she is - Michèle's contemptuous laugh is brilliantly nailed by Huppert. Huppert is also very good in her scenes with Jonas Bloquet, who plays Vincent, Michèle's son - again, Huppert is very good at showing the genuine love Michèle feels for her son but also a certain feeling of disappointment due to his extreme naivety. In particular though I love her scenes with Charles Berling, as Michèle's ex-husband Richard, and Anne Consigny, as her best friend and colleague Anna: Huppert is fantastic in her scenes with the former at portraying a certain regret for how their marriage turned out and in their few moments together she sometimes shows an unexpected, poignant tenderness; in her scenes with the latter, Huppert is excellent at portraying the sincere affection she feels for her friend in spite of the fact that she sleeps with Anna's husband out of boredom. And then there is her chemistry with Laurent Lafitte, who plays Michèle's charming neighbour Patrick: the two are great in their scenes together as they show with effective subtlety the growing attraction between the two of them.

It is revealed that Michèle's father was a mass murdered and that Michèle, who was only a child, was wrongly targeted by the press for it - Huppert does a brilliant job at slowly revealing how much this trauma still affects Michèle to the present days. There is a brilliant monologue in which Michèle opens up to Patrick about this - it's a very quiet monologue, not anything too showy or dramatic, but Huppert is incredible in it as she shows so well the pain that has never left her since what happened. *Spoiler* At one point in the movie Michéle decides to visit her father in prison for the first time after his arrest, only to find out that he committed suicide: her stone-faced reaction and her venomous delivery of "I killed you by coming here" are absolute brilliance. *Spoiler Off*

But the main plot is of course the one involving her search for the man who raped her: Huppert is terrific at portraying her growing paranoia but also her character's great intelligence as she tries to figure out a way to discover his identity. Her performance is calculated in the best way possible as Michèle is a woman who is constantly planning a new strategy: again, thanks to her approach she makes the movie incredibly compelling and absorbing. *Spoiler* At one point Michèle finally finds out that the rapist is actually Patrick and after a moment of confusion the two embark on a twisted, violent relationship: this is where the movie could have easily felt absurd but it does not because Huppert does such a brilliant job at showing her character's damaged psyche that it all works incredibly well. Her eventual realization of the disturbing nature of their relationship could have felt rushed but Huppert pulls it off perfectly: her delivery of "I was in a kind of weird denial but I see clearly now. You don't expect to get away with what you did to me?" is brilliantly handled by Huppert who completely earns this moment and packs the needed punch the scene needs. Her facial reactions during the movie's climax are also absolute perfection and they are at turns strangely satisfying and incredibly terrifying. The ending of the movie is surprisingly low-key, but Huppert is excellent at suggesting that Michèle might find a way to be a little more happy in the future and her final scene with Consigny makes for a surprisingly heartwarming finale. *Spoiler Off*

Overall, this is a fantastic performance from Isabelle Huppert who takes what could have been a one-note role and turns into a brilliant, complex and layered creation. She gets under the character's skin and brings to it a welcome amount of elegance and class, while also managing to make her sympathetic and understandable even when she technically is not. This is simply a phenomenal turn from a gorgeous actress.


domenica 26 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Emma Stone in La La Land

Emma Stone won the Oscar from her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Mia Dolan in La La Land.

La La Land is a terrific movie about an aspiring jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who fall in love in Los Angeles. With its stunning cinematography, the wonderful sets, the lovely costumes and Damien Chazelle's downright beautiful direction, the movie is pure magic that is just so compelling, entertaining, poignant and mesmerizing from start to finish: not only it's a wonder to look at, but there's much more than that to it. It's a moving, beautiful love story and, as the tagline says, a tribute to "the fools who dream". The score is also fantastic with "Epilogue" being a brilliant piece of work, and the songs are all fantastic too: they can be fun and catchy ("Someone in the Crowd", "A Lovely Night", "Another Day of Sun"), tenderly romantic ("City of Stars") or downright heartbreaking ("Audition"). I don't care what the detractors might say - I love this movie and I'd be thrilled if it won Best Picture (even if I prefer Moonlight).

The role of Mia is a tricky role as it requires an actress to sing, dance and also play some difficult emotionally charged scenes, but it's also kind of straightforward on paper and one that a lesser actress could have made sort of bland. Thankfully, the actress in question is Emma Stone, who is in my opinion one of the most effortlessly charming, radiant and talented actress working today. Some people are already critizing Emma Stone's performance in this movie for being a display of her usual off-screen personality but honestly I don't think that it's a bad thing; actually, I think it's one of the reason why her performance in this movie works so well. She puts her own charm at the service of the role and not the other way around - her charming, funny personality and screen-presence enrich the part greatly, and they help making Mia an endearing and likeable character right from the beginning. She is the definition of radiant and she controls the screen in a way that is completely effortless and never overbearing - she never seems to be trying too hard, instead she naturally gains the viewer's interest and attention due to how genuine and spontaneous she appears on screen. But of course her performance is not just based on her charm and Stone does a fantastic job at portraying her character's determination to achieve her dreams - Stone is very moving in each of the audition scenes at portraying Mia's frustration and sorrow as none of them ends up well but she also effectively shows how those failures don't affect her optimism and ambition.

Emma Stone does not necessarily have the greatest singing voice ever, nor is she the greatest dancer, but she certainly sings and dance well enough and most importantly she brings the needed energy, passion and nuance to each song: Stone does not just sing her musical numbers but she acts them as well - for example, "City Stars" is a great song not only because of the lyrics but also because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone bring the needed tenderness to it, and "A Lovely Night" is not just catchy because of the rhythm and the funny but also because Gosling and Stone sing it with playfulness and energy. Speaking of her scenes with Ryan Gosling, the chemistry between the two is the kind of unique connection that makes a love story one for the ages - Stone's electrifying screen-presence and Gosling' low-key but unresistible charm blend so beautifully together, balancing each other perfectly and creating such a wonderful armony. In their early scenes, the two of them are very entertaining at portraying both their initial hostility but also mutual, undeniable attraction and as their love grows the two of them couldn't be more wonderful - they are just a marvel together and you can't help but root for them as they make you so invested in their romance. Moments like the two of them walking around the sets or dancing at the planetarium are just magical to watch and the actors are a big reason why.

In the second half of the movie, the relationship between Sebastian and Mia starts to deteriorate (as his successful career starts to drive him away from her) and she grows increasingly disillusioned due to her inability to find success as an actress. This is where Emma Stone is required to show off her dramatic chops and she absolutely thrives. There is a brilliant sequence in which a dinner between Mia and Sebastain slowly degenerates into a heated argument: it's an absolutely mesmerizing scene due to Gosling' and Stone's incredible acting - they are phenomenal at showing the strains in their relationship and they just keep you glued to the screen because they're so effective in their roles. What I love the most about their performances though is that, even in the moments in which the two characters seem to be more distant, they still show the underlying love between them. Stone is also terrific at portraying Mia's growing frustration and pain as her career never seems to take off: there is a scene in which Mia performs on stage a play she wrote only to find out that the theatre is almost empty and overhearing later two people mocking her work - her facial work in this sequence is the definition of heartbreaking and with her beautiful, expressive eyes Stone conveys so perfectly her character's feeling. The scene in which she tearfully expresses her doubts about her own talent to Sebastian is also very moving, but still the highlight of her performance is the scene towards the end in which she tells a story about her aunt at a very important audition: Stone is groundbreaking in the scene with her singing being at its absolute best and she is just fantastic at showing the pain and the struggle of Mia but also her unwillingness to give up her dreams. It's one of the movie's best moments and it's thanks to Stone who sings her heart out and breaks the viewer's. I won't spoil the ending, but I can say that it's one of the best of 2016 and it's the kind of bittersweet ending that brings both a smile and a tear to your face. Stone's final glance at Gosling is nothing short of incredible - with that smile, she conveys a thousand of feelings and brings an amazing closure to her performance.

In the end, I think this is a fantastic performance from a great actress: she enriches the character with her luminous screen-presence and gives a captivating, endearing and touching performance that works so well with Ryan Gosling's turn and Damien Chazelle's vision. It's a beautiful performance that is simple and complex at the same time and if she wins the Oscar tonight I'll be overjoyed.


giovedì 23 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep received her twentieth Oscar nomination for her performance as Florence Foster Jenkins in Florence Foster Jenkins.

Florence Foster Jenkins is an entertaining movie about a ditzy socialite who decides to become a singer in spite of her terrible voice. It's a well-written comedy that I found very enjoyable from start to finish also thanks to the talent of the two leads (Hugh Grant probably should have received a nomination considering that he delivers the strongest performance in the movie) and I thought it recreated nicely the 1940s sorroundings (a Production Design nomination wouldn't have been undeserved). Also, Meryl Streep's costumes are really quite lovely and they occasionally enhance the hilarity of her performance. If there is one weak spot in the movie I would say it's Simon Helberg who, despite a few genuinely touching moments, delivers a performance that is a bit too mannered for its own sake. 

Considering the huge critical acclaim she has received over the course of her whole career, I guess it's easy to deem Meryl Streep as an overrated actress but I personally feel her reputation is entirely earned. She is a true chameleon and I don't mean this regarding the purely technical aspect of her performances (even if it's certainly easy to admire her for her amazing ability to basically adopt any accent): she understands her characters and disappears into them. What I find particularly fascinating about her as an actress is the fact that she is clearly a very technical and calculated actress yet at the same time her performances come off as effortless and natural. This goes for her performance in Florence Foster Jenkins too: her performance in this movie can certainly be described as quite theatrical but this is extremely fitting to the larger-than-life central character. Streep is quite wonderful in the role as she makes Florence a very endearing character right from the beginning: she is very funny in her portrayal of her character's ditziness, even naivety, without ever turning her into broad caricature - in spite of her very eccentric behavior, Streep always makes Florence a believable, at times even relatable human being and right from the beginning conveys the character's big-hearted nature that lies beneath her over-the-top personality. Her singing scenes are extremely tricky as it's not at all easy to play a genuinely bad singer without coming off as hammy or grating: Streep handles these scenes with impressive skill as she recreates convincingly Jenkins' terrible singing voice without ever becoming annoying. Those scenes (and over the course of the movie there are quite a lot) could have ruined the whole movie if a lesser actress had played Florence, as they could have turned the character into a joke: Streep though never allows Florence to feel as such - we laugh due to Streep's hilarious singing but we never laugh with mockery but we laugh with affection, even tenderness. This is also because Streep manages to convey a lot of passion behind Florence's bad singing - she is so convincing at portraying her character's determination to sing that she turns her into a surprisingly poignant, even inspiring creation and one to root for.

As the movie goes on, more things about Florence are revealed and Streep is terrific in the few moments in which Florence's sunny personality cracks: we find out that she got syphilis from her first husband and that her illness crushed her hopes of becoming a pianist. She reveals this in a heartbreaking scene with Simon Helberg (who plays her pianist Cosmè McMoon is at his best in his few subtle moments with her): Streep is great at portraying Florence's inner sadness and regret for this situation but also properly shows her personal tragedy never affects her natural optimism and good nature. She and Helberg also share a pretty good chemistry as the two portray quite well the growing friendship and affection between the two. But of course her most emotionally resonant moments are the ones she shares with Hugh Grant as Florence's husband St. Claire, who is endlessly supportive towards her but also cheats on her with younger woman. Streep is very moving in her scenes with him as she portrays so well Florence's love for her husband and also her plight as she is fully aware of him having an affair - the scene in which she tearfully expresses her sorrow for her inability to have children due to her illness is particularly devastating.

In a way I would say that Streep's performance is kind of limited by the screenplay itself: on paper is written as rather two-dimensional and as good as she is in the role Streep can't help her performance become a little bit repetitive after a while. Also she is occasionally overshadowed by Hugh Grant who delivers a subtler performance but who is actually the one to do the real heavy-lifting in the movie. Still, Streep has some very impressive moments in the last act of the movie, such as her truly touching speech about how much singing at Carnegie Hall would mean to her. And she is certainly fantastic in the scene depicting her performance in the renowned theatre - she is great at portraying her initial stage fright, her confusion and heartbreak as she sees people making fun of her and then her renewed confidence and joy as her share of supporters silence her mockers. As odd as this may sound, her bad singing couldn't be better there and also isn't her little dance absolutely adorable? Her last scene is also very moving as Streep portrays very well both Florence's final awareness regarding her singing ability but also her pride and fulfillment as she has finally achieved her goals.

In the end, this is a wonderful performance by Meryl Streep who makes Florence a truly endearing character you can't help but care for. Despite being occasionally upstaged by Hugh Grant's more layered performance, Streep still handles this difficult role with impressive skill and her turn is at times hilarious and heartbreaking. A very nice, likeable performance from a fantastic actress.


martedì 21 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016

And the nominees are...

Isabelle Huppert - Elle
Ruth Negga - Loving
Natalie Portman - Jackie
Emma Stone - La La Land
Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins

What are your predictions for my ranking? How would you personally rank the nominees?

lunedì 20 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016: Ranking

5. Naomie Harris in Moonlight
Naomie Harris gives a rather uneven performance in the movie's first two acts, with her portrayal of her character's addiction being convincing at times and shaky at others. But she is absolutely outstanding in her final scene, in which she packs a huge emotional punch.
Best scene: Paula apologizes to Chiron.

4. Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures
It's a very quiet, unshowy role that could have easily been overshadowed but Spencer delivers a lovely, measured performance that subtly leaves an impression. She is entertaining in her portrayal of her character's sarcasm and quite inspiring in her depiction of her resilience, and she shares a terrific chemistry with her co-stars.
Best scene: Dorothy' putdown to Mrs. Mitchell in the bathroom.

3. Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea
Michelle Williams does not have a lot of screen-time in Manchester by the Sea but she makes the most out of it. Her performance in the flashbacks is convincing and realistic, but what truly makes the performance work is her big scene towards the end, in which Williams absolutely delivers giving a devastating portrayal of her character's desperation and regret.
Best scene: Lee accidentally runs into Randi.

2. Viola Davis in Fences
Viola Davis gives a fantastic performance in Fences. She perfectly establishes her character in early scenes, leading up beautifully to her later emotional moments that feel wholly earned by Davis. In the second half of the movie Davis is just groundbreaking in her portrayal of both her character's plight and strength and she matches Denzel Washington's leading performance step by step.
Best scene: Rose finds out about the affair.

1. Nicole Kidman in Lion
Nicole Kidman delivers a truly heartwarming portrayal of motherly love, adding a lot of depth and complexity to the second half of Lion. In spite of her fairly limited screen-time, Kidman leaves an unforgettable impression as she portrays her character's plight but also her endless tenderness and support as well as her determination to keep her family together. It's a truly heartbreaking performance from a great actress.
Best scene: Sue reveals the reason why she chose to adopt.

Honorable Omissions: Lupita Nyong'o delivers an incredible performance in Queen of Katwe and to be honest she was actually very close to being my overall win of the year: she portrays believably her character's hardened, embittered façade conveying her character's backstory through her performance while still showing her good-hearted nature that lies beneath. Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning get the juciest roles in 20th Century Women and they are both brilliant: Gerwig is extremely captivating in her portrayal of Abbie's peculiar style but at the same time she never allows her character to feel just like a bundle of quirks, adding instead a lot of depth and sensitivity to her performance - the scene in which she finds out that she is probably not goint to be able to have children is heartbreaking; Fanning is equally effective as Julie: with her deep voice and unique beauty she brings the allure the character needs but also reveals an underlying vulnerability that makes her performance just electrifying - her monologue about sex is funny, tender and poignant all at once. Nathalie Baye is fantastic in It's Only the End of the World, portraying very well her character's ditzy, cheerful personality but also her great wisdom: her speech to Gaspard Ulliel midway through the movie is a brilliant, touching moment and one of the movie's highlight. Marion Cotillard is also great in the same movie, disappearing perfectly into the role of the meek Catherine and turning a potentially passive role into an intelligent, empathetic observer, and Lèa Seydoux also leaves an impression as the rebellious but fragile sister. Lily Gladstone delivers a subtle, heartbreaking portrayal of her character's painful loneliness in Certain Women and Michelle Williams is also terrific in the same movie, nailing her character's passive-aggressive demeanor and showing the frustration and unhappiness beneath it. Felicity Jones is devastating in her limited screen-time in A Monster Calls, strikingly depicting her character's physical decay and nailing every emotional beat in her scenes with Lewis MacDougall - her monologue about "breaking things" is one of the most touching scenes of the year. Imogen Poots gives a compelling, magnetic performance in Green Room - she is darkly entertaining but she also projects a humanity that another actress could have easily missed. Janelle Monàe is the standout of Hidden Figures delivering such an entertaining, sassy and loveable performance while being very moving at portraying her character's dream and ambitions. Jena Malone is fantastic in The Neon Demon, turning Ruby into the movie's most disturbing and upsetting character but never losing her character's sad, desperate core even in the edgiest moments; Abbey Lee is equally great as she shows the jealousy and distress that cause her action and absolutely nails the final scene, with her final reaction with absolutely terrific; Belle Heathcote gets the least to do among the three but she's still great at making her character basically an empty, emotionless shell until her final scene in which she's both disturbing and devastating. Rachel Weisz is very moving in The Light Between Oceans, making the viewer sympathize with her character's plight but never becoming overdramatic even when the role itself could have been such: she does not even have much screen-time, but I felt she was actually the best thing about the movie. I found The Hollars to be an extremely poor comedy but Margo Martindale was absolutely great in it, nailing both the comedic and dramatic sides of her performance even when the movie around her was at its worst: if I was ever to rewatch this movie, it would be only because of her layered, funny and touching performance. Anna Foglietta, Alba Rohrwacher and Kasia Smutniak are all great in Perfect Strangers (more detailed thoughts under by review of Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water). I hated Suicide Squad but Margot Robbie was terrific as Harley Quinn, making for such an entertaining, unpredictable screen-presence but also finding some nuance in the more emotional moments. The more I think about Ghostbusters the less I like it, but Kate McKinnon gives a great comedic performance in it, nailing each of her deliveries and facial reactions. Taraneh Alidoosti is absolutely sensational in The Salesman, delivering a harrowing, devastating and nuanced depiction of her character's traumatized state and sharing a terrific chemistry with her co-star Shahab Hosseini: her acting in the final scenes is astonishing and heartbreaking. Alison Sudol delivers a wonderfully charming performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: she is a lovely presence to have on-screen and brings the needed warmth and ditziness to the role while sharing such a tender chemistry with Dan Fogler, with the two actors making their little love story surprisingly heartbreaking. Angourie Rice is terrific in The Nice Guys, delivering such an endearing and entertaining performance completely rid of any awkwardness that can sometimes be found in child actors. She works wonderfully with both Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, creating such an enjoyable and winning dynamic with them. Despite both being limited by the screen-time and the movie's focus, Maria-Victoria Dragus and Lia Bugnar are extremely as the traumatized daughter and the long-suffering wife of the movie's lead character, respectively. 
The next year: Best Actress 2016.

My Best Supporting Actress Ballot:
  1. Taraneh Alidoosti, The Salesman - 5/5
  2. Nicole Kidman, Lion
  3. Lupita Nyong'o, Queen of Katwe - 5/5
  4. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women - 5/5
  5. Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women - 5/5
  6. Alison Sudol, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - 4.5/5
  7. Nathalie Baye, It's Only the End of the World - 4.5/5
  8. Abbey Lee, The Neon Demon - 4.5/5
  9. Viola Davis, Fences
  10. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls - 4.5/5

sabato 18 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016: Viola Davis in Fences

Viola Davis won the Oscar from her third nomination for her performance as Rose Lee Maxson in Fences.

Fences is an effective film about a working-class African-American man trying to come to terms with his life, his family and his mistakes that threaten to destroy it forever. I would say it's a very good movie although not quite a perfect one: the screenplay is obviously great considering the source, but the movie does not quite feel like a perfect transition from stage to film. The early scenes in particular have a rather distracting feeling as it seems almost like a filmed play: thankfully, as the movie progresses, this feeling diminishes and Denzel Washington' direction grows definitely more assured. Ultimately what makes the movie great is the strength of the original material and the acting from the entire ensemble.

The review may contain spoilers.

Since Viola Davis won the Tony for Best Leading Actress for her performance in the play, many people were fairly surprised to find out that she was going to campaign for supporting in the film adaptation: I would say the role is very borderline, and she's a good fit for both leading and supporting. She gets a huge amount of screen-time and she is the second most important character in the story, but she also has many moments in which she is not on-screen or just sort of hangs in the background. Regardless of her category placement, let's talk about her performance: watching the trailer I was rather skeptical about her performance since it looked a bit over-the-top at times. Davis herself is an actress I often admire but that I also find occasionally a bit hammy (not a huge fan of her performance in How to Get Away with Murder from the couple of episodes I've seen). Watching the movie, Davis proved me wrong: she gives a very subdued performance for the most part, and in the few scenes in which she goes big feel completely earned on her part. What I particularly appreciated about her performance is the way she clearly understands the character (after all, she played it on stage) and feels totally comfortable inside the character's skin. In her first scenes she could have so easily been overshadowed by the other performances around her instead she quietly leaves an impression with each of her moments: she quickly establishes Rose as a loving wife and mother but she never allows her character to feel just that, instead she adds a lot of depth and dimension to the role (which can often feel like a lifeless stereotype). She exudes the right amount of warmth in each of her interactions but she also portrays Rose as an intelligent, funny, even sassy woman, never allowing her to be defined by her status as a mother and a wife but creating a full-fleshed person there. Her chemistry with Denzel Washington in particular is very good as the two actors convey so well the history between the two characters: on her part, Davis is very effective at portraying Rose as a woman who sees the flaws in her husband but loves him nonetheless, and I particularly like her reactionary shots in the scenes where Troy (Washington) tells various stories to impress the people around him - she plays those scenes with a mix of annoyance and devotion, showing the complicated feelings she feels for her husband. But she works really well with the rest of the cast: I like her few nice interactions with Stephen Henderson as Bono, the family's friend, in which she again does a good job at adding humour to the proceeding while conveying the pasts of the two characters; I also really like her few scenes with Russell Hornsby (who plays Lyons, Troy's son from a previous marriage), bringing a warmth and understanding to her interactions with him but showing the proper difference between her relationship with him and the one with her biological son Cory (Jovan Adepo); her chemistry with Adepo is also great as she very touchingly shows her affection towards her son as well as her plight as she witnesses Troy's mistreatment of Cory - the scene in which she confronts Troy after he forbade Cory to play football ("Everything that boy do, he do for you") is a very moving moment due to Davis' portrayal of motherly love and support; and I was also impressed by her scenes opposite Mykelti Williamson, who plays Gabe, Troy's younger brother who is mentally handicapped after being severely injured during the war: again Davis brings the right sort of compassion in her moments with him and convey well both her sorrow due to his condition but also her guilt due to the fact that everything she has is due to the money Gabe received for his injury and that Troy took from him. 

Her big moments come midway through the movie when Troy reveals that he cheated on her and his mistress is pregnant: Davis is heartbreaking at portraying her confused, shocked reaction over this unexpected discovery and does a striking job at showing how this surprise and pain quickly turns to anger. Her big speech in which she tells Troy that she always stood by his side, burying her needs and desire because she felt it was her duty as a wife, is simply outstanding: it's a very loud scenes, full on screaming and tears, but Davis never takes it too far, painfully portraying her character's emotional devastation. Her delivery of "Don't you think I had dreams and hopes, what about my life, what about me?" couldn't be more moving as she just shows so well how all of Rose's life crumbles around her. Her later emotional scenes are on a much quieter level and Davis shows that she can thrive even in less explosive scenes: I love her acting in the scene in which she finds out that Troy's mistress died during childbirth - her display of emotional exhaustion and weariness is truly moving, and she's even better in the following scene in which she accepts to be a mother for the newborn child, acknowledging that the little baby has no faults, but refuses to forgive her husband: she is very moving at showing how Troy's infidelity has broken her heart to a point that makes a reconciliation impossible. Her delivery when she utters "Now this baby has a mother... but you're a womanless man" is just chilling due to Davis' cold, unforgiving voice in that moment. And I was also very impressed by the quiet fire she brings to the scene where Rose confronts Troy over the fact he had Gabe locked up in a facility to inherit the rest of his money. 

Viola Davis ends her performance on a very high note with her final scene that takes place after Troy's death and Cory tells her that he doesn't want to go to the funeral. Davis is absolutely amazing in her final speech as he reflects over her marriage with Troy: she conveys so well her regrets over her willingness to give up everything in her life for him but also her love for her husband that has never left her regardless of all of his mistakes. She does such a great job at showing her conflicted feelings over their history together but also bringing a lot of compassion and peace to her performance - Rose has finally come to realize that hate and resentment will not bring her any relief and that forgiveness is the only mean through which go on. 

Overall this is an excellent performance from Viola Davis who clearly has a deep understanding of her character, establishing her personality perfectly right from the beginning. She then does a great job at portraying her character's pain and conflict both in the louder and soubtler scenes, making Rose a very memorable and vivid character. It's a great performance from an actress of great talent and her eventual Oscar win will be richly deserved. 


giovedì 16 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Actress 2016: Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Paula in Moonlight.

Naomie Harris is an actress I enjoy watching on screen very much. I think she has a graceful, elegant screen-presence that often leaves a rather remarkable impression on the viewer's mind: I sincerely hope that, after this Oscar nomination, she'll start getting more good roles instead of being wasted in thankless parts (Our Kind of Traitor). Her performance in Moonlight is an interesting phenomenon: she received raves from the critics and even won a few awards for her performance, but a fair share of people also found her performance to be often too overdone to be truly effective, even citing her as the weakest element in the movie. As a huge fan of the movie, I will admit that Harris is not among its more remarkable elements and her performance is indeed a little flawed: I believe that, if she had more than 3 days to shoot her scenes, she could have given a truly amazing performance, since she is certainly not lacking in talent, but as it is I can't quite embrace her performance completely. At the same time though, I can't deny that her performance certainly leaves an impact: in fact, there are certain things in her performance that she nails and others that she doesn't quite. She does an excellent job at completely denying her usual grace and charm, embodying convincingly the role of the crack-addicted, abusive Paula, as well as her British accent: regarding these aspects, she actually disappears into the role extremely well and it's clear that she has a deep understanding of her character. My problem with her performance is that, despite the actress having the right instinct, the execution sometimes leaves a bit to be desired and she sometimes overdoes it in her portrayal of her character's addiction.

The thing is that she is never entirely bad, but she alternates very effective moments with more overdone ones. Take for example her confrontation in the first act of the movie with Mahershala Ali, in which Juan accuses Paula of being an unfit mother to Chiron and she tells him that he is just as reponsible as she is as he is the one who (indirectly) keeps selling the drugs: Harris can switch from good to bad in the span of a sentence, portraying realistically and effectively her character's messed up state in a moment, and being sort of unconvincing and over-mannered in the next, often repeating the same sort of gestures all over the scene. Or take the "Give me the money" scene, in which Paula physically attacks Chiron to get money from him in order to buy some crack: again, Harris mixes inspired, pitch-perfect acting choices with others that feel a little too calculated. Even in her weakest moments, Harris is never entirely ineffective as she still projects the right sort of scary unpredictability that the role requires (and the way she is shot in certain moments also help to create a certain dread around her character), but her few missteps make the impact she leaves somewhat muted. She is never terrible and she never detracts from the movie in any way - but looking closely at her work I found it a little too broad to be truly amazing. In the first two acts of her performance, I actually think she fares better in the subtler moments than in the louder moments - I'm talking in the few moments in which Paula actually tries to reach out to Chiron and appears shameful regarding her behavior: Harris is terrific in those moments as she nicely pulls back and reveals Paula's remorse between her actions, effectively showing how Paula actually loves her son in spite of everything but also how her addiction that keeps getting worse prevents her from being a good mother to him. 

So I believe that the two first acts of her performance are a bit of a mixed bag with both excellent and underwhelming moments; the reason why I'm more on a positive side regarding her performance is her last scene in the movie's third act, in which she is nothing short of amazing. In this scene, where Chiron visits an aged Paula recovering from her addiction, Harris is not only completely believable but actually trully outstanding at portraying her character's remorse and shame over her past actions. Harris still uses some mannerisms in the scene but this time they feel wholly natural and cohesive, and a genuine part of her character instead of a put on: she works beautifully opposite Trevante Rhodes (playing the adult Chiron) as the two actors perfectly convey the troubled history between the two actors but also the love that keeps them together. It's one of the movie's most poignant scenes and Harris is heartbreaking at portraying Paula's desire to reconnect with her son. Their eventual reconciliation at the end of the scene is a truly heartwarming moment and the two actors bring the right emotional impact to it.

In Moonlight, Naomie Harris delivers a performance that is imperfect but still very effective. She falters at portraying her character's addiction at certain times, but everything else she does makes up for it, particularly her incredible final scene. As I mentioned before, I think that if she had more time to shoot her scenes I think she might have given a stronger performance; as it stands, it's a performance that is not always convincing but that still is a memorable part of a true masterpiece.


martedì 14 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016: Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures

Octavia Spencer received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures talks about a team of African-American female mathematicians who struggle to make their voices heard in the early years of the US Space Program in NASA. It's in many ways a standard "feel good" movie, but it checks all the needed boxes to be a good example of that: it's consistently engaging and entertaining, it achieves the needed emotional weight in its inspirational moments and balances nicely the main story with the various subplots involving the characters' personal lives. Its biggest strength is in my opinion its very strong ensemble, with Janelle Monàe being the standout with her scene-stealing performance. 

Octavia Spencer was the only member of the ensemble to be singled out for an Oscar nomination for her work, which is kind of expectable but also surprising: expectable because the Academy tends to choose previous Oscar winners/nominees in regards to movies with large ensembles (such as Glenn Close in The Big Chill); surprisingly because out of the three main female roles Dorothy Vaughan is by far the least Oscar-y. Taraji P. Henson, being the lead, has the biggest amount of screen-time and the most emotional role, while Janelle Monàe has the kind of scene-stealing role that allow the actress to show off both comedic and dramatic chops. This leaves Octavia Spencer with a very quiet, unshowy supporting role that could have easily been overshadowed by the other actresses: I didn't have high expectations for this performance, mistakenly thinking that it was going to be a less inspired version of her performance in The Help, but watching the movie I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, Spencer delivers a lovely performance that does not have any big scene but that quietly leaves a lasting, remarkable impression. First off, she creates a beautiful dynamic with Henson and Monàe and the three actresses make each of their scenes together wonderful to watch: their more light-hearted moments are delightful thanks to the actresses' pitch-perfect comedic timing and delivery and on her part Spencer is very entertaining at portraying her character's sense of humor that is sarcastic but not at all acidic; in their more serious moments, the three actresses are great at conveying the deep understanding between Katherine, Dorothy and Mary and their friendship is never in question thanks to the actresses' dedication. The scene in which the three of them dance in the kitchen is a truly beautiful and heartwarming moments because the actresses are so spontaneous and relaxed in their roles.

Dorothy is the least emotionally charged character among the main three, but this does not mean her storyline is less interesting. Her subplot centers around the fact that she is already doing the job of a supervisor without having the official title nor the pay: Spencer does a very good job at portraying Dorothy's bitterness over the lack of appreciation for the tiresome work she does, while also conveying a certain resilience in her behavior as she certainly has no intention to give up trying to get the position she deserves. I particularly like the scenes between Dorothy and her boss Vivian (Kirsten Dunst, effective at portraying her character's casual racism): Spencer is very good in those moments as she perfectly portrays Dorothy as someone who is always carefully thinking about every word she is going to say - she knows Vivian is in a better position that she is and that she can't afford being too direct with her, while still trying to make her opinion heard. In particular, I love the scene in the bathroom in which Vivian tells Dorothy that she does not have anything against black people: Dorothy's reply ("I know you probably believe that") is probably the best line in the movie and Spencer' subtly sharp delivery couldn't be more excellent. But past that there are many other excellent moments in her portrayal, such as her reaction when she finally gets the position of supervisor or her final scene with Dunst, in which the two actresses do a terrific job at showing their mutual respect now that Vivian has finally started to treat her like an equal.

Another subplot takes place after Dorothy finds out about the installation of an electronic computer that could replace the work of her colleagues and therefore teaches hearself and her co-workers how to use the machine in order not to be left out of a job. Spencer effectively portrays the determination that keeps Dorothy going, making this subplot much more compelling than it could have been otherwise. Her performance in the scenes in which she has to prove her self-worth to her male colleagues is subtly fierce and powerful, and she has one particularly great scene in which she is escorted out of a library for white people only: Spencer is great at showing both Dorothy's indignation and dignity but also her unwillingness to get in trouble, and the later moment in which she explains her children the difference between what the law says and what is right is also very memorable. She is not directly involved in the movie's climax (the launch), but she makes the most out of every small reactionary shot.

Overall this is a very strong performance by Octavia Spencer, who takes a potentially thankless role and manages to make it memorable thanks to her dedication and commitment. She delivers a subtle, intelligent portrayal carrying effectively her own subplots and bringing the needed emotional punch to the character while always acting in a very restrained fashion. A very memorable portrayal that works extremely well within the movie's large ensemble while also leaving a remarkable impact on her own.


domenica 12 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016: Nicole Kidman in Lion

Nicole Kidman received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Sue Brierley in Lion.

Nicole Kidman is an actress I actually find to be pretty underrated. I know it's odd adjective to associate with a four-time Oscar nominee but still I think she does not always get the credit she deserves: she is a risky, brave actress with a very wide range who has given many terrific performances over the course of her career, even when her movies are not very good (The Paperboy would be a recent example of it). She can excel as an air-headed yet cunning news anchor in To Die For, a stern mother living in a potentially haunted mansion in The Others, a woman struggling with her marriage and desires in Eyes Wide Shut, a grieving widow unable to recover from her husband's death in Birth, an embittered, self-absorbed writer in Margot at the Wedding, a trashy but deep down desperate woman involved with a man on death row in The Paperboy and a naive woman who is physically and psychologically tortured by the whole population of a small town in Dogville. What all these extremely different characters have in common is that they all go into rather dark territories at some point: the character of Sue Brierley, instead, is extremely different from those she usually plays as she is a warm, loving mother that in spite of her suffering never loses her tenderness and endless support towards the people around her. And here Kidman proves that, unlike some of her detractors say, she is also able to play characters that are not cold - in fact, her performance in this movie couldn't be more gentle and sweet.

Kidman first appears in the movie when her character Sue and her husband John (a very endearing David Wenham) adopt the little Saroo. In those early scenes Kidman is simply wonderful at making Sue a very calm, comforting and reassuring presence: with just a few shots of her glancing lovingly at Saroo, Kidman becomes the movie's bright spot, exuding such a great amount of warmth with just a few smiles and a bunch of tiny reactions. She has a brilliant, deep understanding of her character and she portrays it with such delicacy it's astonishing: even when she is apparently not doing anything too special, Kidman leaves an unforgettable impression by portraying Sue's tender and kind demeanor towards Saroo as she quietly observes him and slowly bonds with him. Take the moment in which Saroo is at the dinner table and utters "Pepper!": Kidman's overjoyed and amused reaction is simply pitch-perfect because it feels so real and natural. The acting in her performance looks truly effortless: she completely disappears into the role of an ordinary person, denying her usual glamour and star power. The scene in the bathroom where Sue tells Saroo she is always going to listen to him is one of the movie's most tender moments and you never doubt her words because Kidman's portrayal couldn't be more truthful and sincere. Some time later John and Sue adopt another boy, Mantosh, who immediately exhibits a very severe emotional unsability. Kidman is heartbreaking at portraying her character's shock and confusion as Sue attempts to calm him down and prevent him from hurting himself: her depiction of her character's plight could not be more realistic and believable, but most importantly Kidman shows that the suffering caused to her by Mantosh does not diminish her will to help him and love him. There is a beautiful shot of Sue and John embracing Mantosh while crying: it's a beautiful moment because Kidman shows so well her emotional strain but also tenderness and care in equal parts. And then she is truly heartbreaking in the next scene in which Saroo finds her crying in the kitchen in the middle of the night and silently cheers her up: it's a beautiful moment thanks to the excellent chemistry that Kidman and Sunny Pawar managed to develop in their brief time together and Kidman is fantastic at showing both the pain and joy that co-exist in Sue. 

Kidman does not get a huge amount of screen-time after the movie's time jump, but she makes the absolute most out of every single scene. Kidman's biggest strength is, again, the realism and sincerity that she projects in her performance, and there are so many moments in her performance that feel so close to real life, such as the one in which she tells Saroo how proud she is of him in spite of his embarrassment: it really feels like something a real mother would do, and in those moments Kidman is at her most endearing and sweet. But again her portrayal is not all warmth, as Mantosh' erratic behavior and Saroo's distant demeanor as he becomes more and more focused on his search cause Sue a great deal of pain. I particularly love the scene in which Saroo and his girlfriend Lucy go to dinner to his family's house and a fight between Saroo and Mantosh ensues: Kidman gives a masterclass of subtlety in this scene as she is just heartbreaking in each of her small reactions, portraying Sue as a woman who tries to mantain a cheerful façade and keep the family together while she herself is falling apart. Her reaction when Saroo tells her that he hates Mantosh for the suffering he has caused her is pitch-perfect: in a couple of seconds, Kidman conveys more than a lot of actors do in a whole movie. And I haven't talked yet about her chemistry with Dev Patel and Divian Ladwa: in her interactions with the former, Kidman beautifully portrays her character's motherly love and pride and each of their moments together is truly poignant and heartfelt; but she also shares a very good chemistry with the latter in spite of the fact that they share very little screen-time together. Kidman is great at portraying her love and support for Mantosh in spite of his mistakes, and I particularly love the scene in which Sue talks to Lucy about Mantosh: in her delivery you can truly feel the affection Sue feels for her son and when she says that she feels blessed you truly believe her.

My favorite scene of her whole performance is towards the end of her performance, when she reveals Saroo that she was not infertile but actively decided to adopt children after having a vision years before that inspired her to help others through adoption. It's an extremely tricky scene: the camera rarely leaves her face and the monologue could have easily felt cheesy. Kidman though makes this moment the most powerful of the movie: she gives an incredibly moving depiction of her character's very fragile emotional state but at the same time she is completely believable at showing how the suffering caused by her two sons does not at all affect her nature or make her even remotely regret her decision. Thanks to Kidman's heartfelt, sincere delivery when Sue talks about her vision, I literally felt chills down my spine: Kidman does not just say those words, she feels them and makes you feel them too. She downplays the monologue and the fact that it's so low-key is probably the reason why it is so moving and by the end of the scene I was in tears. Her final scene with Dev Patel is very brief, but it's also very moving: Kidman does a fantastic job at portraying her character's unconditional support towards her son as she finds out of his intention of finding his biological mother and when she tells him that she sincerely hopes he will find her you never doubt her words. Kidman and Patel give this small moment the emotional power it needs and in this moment in particular they do such a fantastic job at portraying Sue's and Saroo's very special bond.

In the end I think this is a truly amazing performance from Nicole Kidman: she never turns Sue into a saint, she just realistically portrays her as a truly good-hearted human being conveying all of the different emotions inside of her. She gives a powerful depiction of her character's plight while  also portraying so well her motherly love that never weakens or falters no matter what. It's a truly heartwarming portrayal that has never left me since I've seen the movie from the first time: it's just one of those performances that get to your heart and leave a special impression that is impossible to forget. 


venerdì 10 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016: Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea

Michelle Williams received her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Randi in Manchester by the Sea.

Michelle Williams won quite a few awards from the critics and garnered a lot of nominations for her work in this movie and at some point during the awards season, when it was still unclear whether Viola Davis would have campaigned in the leading category or the supporting one for her performance in Fences, she was actually the frontrunner for the Oscar. When you watch the movie, the acclaim towards her performance might feel a little bit puzzling and truth to be told I really don't think this performance does actually live up to the hype generated by the critics: this is not at all because Williams does anything wrong in the role (and she actually makes the absolute most out of what she has to work it) but rather because the character of Randi is barely in the movie. Her screen-time is extremely limited: she appears in three not particularly long flashbacks, has a couple of very brief moments and then gets her big scene towards the end which is without a doubt the reason why her performance caused such a sensation. Her character is in the movie for too little to allow Williams to explore it in depth and truly flesh it out (and that's true for basically every other character in the movie not named Lee or Patrick) and I think it's a real pity because Williams does very well with what she is given. 

In the flashback scenes, Michelle Williams is very effective as just being an ordinary, common person living a fairly ordinary marriage. Her performance in those scenes is nicely relaxed and laidback and Williams impressively achieve the task of appearing completely realistic and true to life, which is not at all an easy thing to accomplish. She also shares a very effective chemistry with Casey Affleck - fittingly to the movie, the two never make Lee and Randi a unique couple matched in heaven: instead, they just make Lee and Randi a very normal married couple, creating the sort of playful, warmth-filled atmosphere in their sweetest moments together but also explosing the flaws of their relationship that does not quite always work. Williams is very good at portraying her character's weariness regarding Lee's occasionally reckless, even gratingly childlish behavior and in their very few moments they are shown together (and really I wish they had given them much more time to develop their relationship even better) the two actors perfectly realize both the good and the bad sides of Randi's and Lee's marriage. Another thing that limits Williams' performance is the movie's perspective: it's all seen from Lee's point of view so we really don't see much of Randi outside of Lee's perception of her - for example, we never see her grieving for the tragedy that strikes, tearing the family apart; we just assume she gets better with time, but we never actually see it. Williams is actually quite devastating in her portrayal of her character's intense desperation, hysteria and shock as she witnesses the horrifying event (that I won't spoil here), but after the brief moment in which we are shown her reaction we never get to see her journey of recovery.

In her few later scenes in the present days, Williams is again wholly solid in the role: in Randi's rare interactions with Lee (either by phone or in person), Williams projects the right sort of awkwardness but also an apparent maturity as Randi seems to be determined to bury the past. Which leads to her big scene towards the end of the movie, which is already sort of iconic and it's indeed the movie's highlight: I've already mentioned in my review of Lucas Hedges' performance that I'm not quite in love with this movie as many people are, but I can't deny that this scene is a masterclass in both acting and writing. When Lee and Randi accidentally run into each other, Williams is again terrific at conveying a certain embarrassment in her behavior due to their past together but also great at showing her determination to move on: their dialogue though soon degenerates into a messy breakdown on Randi's part, which is just perfectly portrayed by Williams. The actress is absolutely phenomenal at portraying her character' confused, unstable emotional state and she does this also thanks to her body language and facial acting - she is not an actress who cares about looking glamorous or beautiful when the part does not call for it, and in fact there's nothing glamorous or beautiful about the scene itself. Williams is excellent as she just feels so brutally realistic and raw in this scene and she is just brilliant at showing the scattershot emotions of Randi, her guilt over the things she said to Lee, her desperation as she tries to reconnect with him and realizes that he is not able to and her never-ending plight due to the past trauma that will never stop to affect her. She is the definition of heartbreaking in this scene and each of her line-deliveries couldn't be more perfect - her way of saying "My heart was broken... and it's always gonna be broken... And I know yours is broken too" with many pauses as her voice keeps breaking is devastating, and her "I should fucking burn in hell for the things I said" is a small moment of shocking intensity and unexpected brutality. It's a trily phenomenal scene and to say that Williams is amazing in it would be an understatement. 

This is a strong performance by Michelle Williams, who does the best she can to overcome the limitations of the script. She does not succeed, but she tries admirably and still manages to leave an unforgettable impression in her very short screen-time. She is wholly solid in most of her scenes and then absolutely delivers in her big scene, nailing every single emotional beat of this extremely tricky sequence. It's not an incredible performance and it's not my favorite performance from Williams of the year (that would be Certain Women), but it's still a pretty great performance in a flawed but still effective film.


mercoledì 8 febbraio 2017

Best Actress in a Supporting Role 2016

And the nominees are...

Viola Davis - Fences
Naomie Harris - Moonlight
Nicole Kidman - Lion
Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

What are your predictions for my ranking? How would you personally rank the nominees?

martedì 7 febbraio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2016: Ranking

5. Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals
Michael Shannon is definitely among the best elements of this poor movie, but he is still heavily limited by the writing behind his character. Nonetheless, he's an enjoyable presence whenever he is on-screen and when he gets the chance to deliver, he does.
Best scene: Bobby reveals that he is dying.

4. Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea
Lucas Hedges can't quite save the movie's least interesting storyline, but he makes up for it in the rest of his scenes. Hedges delivers a realistic portrayal of a teenager trying to cope with his grief, bravely depicting his character's despicable qualities while still managing to create an understanding to his actions. His chemistry with Affleck is terrific.
Best scene: Patrick finds out Lee is going to leave.

3. Dev Patel in Lion
Dev Patel carries the second half of the movie impeccably. He is wonderfully endearing in his first few moments, and as the movie progresses he believably portrays his character's growing frustration and anguish but also his undying hope. He shares a fantastic chemistry with his co-stars, especially Nicole Kidman, and brings the needed emotional impact to the ending.
Best scene: Saroo reunites with his biological mother.

2. Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Mahershala Ali delivers an absolutely fantastic portrayal of his complicated character: he really nails the role of Juan conveying all of his complexities and contraddictions. He makes for a warm and loving presence while still showing his guilt and shame over his profession. He only appears in the movie's first act, but he leaves an incredibly lasting impression nonetheless.
Best scene: His final scene.

1. Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water
I basically love Ali and Bridges just the same, but for the time being I'm giving the edge to Bridges' fantastic performance, even if he is in the wrong category. Bridges gives a wonderfully entertaining performance and he shares such a wonderful chemistry with Gil Birmingham, while still subtly grounding the character. In the movie's thirs act, Bridges is absolutely outstanding, nailing every single emotion with his final confrontation with Chris Pine being one of the best acted scenes of the year.
Best scene: His aforementioned confrontation with Pine.

Honorable Omissions: Mahershala Ali deservedly got a nomination for his work, but there are other excellent performances to be found in Moonlight, such as Jarrel Jherome's, Ashton Sanders', Andrè Holland's and Trevante Rhodes'. Sanders is great at portraying Chiron's emotional turmoil and Jherome effectively reveals Kevin's tenderness: their chemistry is fantastic and they make the scene at the beach absolutely unforgettable. Holland brings the needed charm and warmth to the role of the adult Kevin and he pays off Rhodes' performance very well: speaking of Rhodes, not only he has a mesmerizing screen presence but he gives one of the most emotionally powerful performances I have ever seen. He shows so well Chiron's vulnerability behind his tough façade and each of his small reactions is just so perfectly handled - he doesn't need to speak much, his body language and eyes convey every single feeling and thoughts of Chiron. It's a delicate, beautiful portrayal and his final scene is devastating in its honesty. Martin Scorsese's Silence has a fantastic supporting cast as well: Yoshi Oida and Shinya Tsukamoto are very moving at portraying their character's faith in such a honest fashion, Liam Neeson makes the most out of his limited screen-time with his portrayal of a shattered man who has given up his faith, Issey Ogata is both an entertaining scene-stealer and a chilling villain and Tadanobu Asano oozes malice in his fantastic portrayal of what's probably the movie's most interesting character. But my favorite out of the supporting players is Yosuke Kubozuka who is amazing in a role that could have easily felt like a joke: he realistically and poignantly portrays his character's cowardice and makes his character's intense desperation and moral conflict truly compelling to watch. Toby Kebbell does not have a lot of screen-time in A Monster Calls but he is very effective in his role, showing both his character's affection towards his son but also his flaws as a father. Ben Foster is a astonishing in Hell or High Water as he gives such a compelling portrayal of his character's ruthless, unpredictable nature but also bringing the needed while also bringing the needed emotional impact to his few moments of reflection. Gil Birmingham is also very good in the movie, sharing a great chemistry with Bridges and being such a wonderfully funny, touching and warm presence. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is by far the best thing about Nocturnal Animals, making Ray an unforgettable, terrifying villain and being such an unpredictable presence whenever he appears. Valerio Mastandrea, Marco Giallini, Edoardo Leo and Giuseppe Battiston are all terrific in Perfect Strangers (Perfetti sconosciuti) (more detailed thoughts on their performances can be found under Jeff Bridges' review) and they are part of what makes the movie such an original, unique experience. Sam Neill gives a wonderful performance in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, sharing a fantastic chemistry with Julian Dennison: he is entertainingly grumpy in his first scenes and then properly warm in the final act, while nailing every single step in between. Stellan Skarsgard is fantastic in Our Kind of Traitor, making for such an entertainingly larger-than-life presence while conveying the desperation and regrets of the great character that Dima is. Damian Lewis is just as terrific in the movie: past having a very unique and compelling screen-presence, Lewis is amazing at showing his character's personal plight behind his determination and beautifully brings to life his character's gradual loss of cynism over the course of the movie. Alden Ehrenreich is by far the best thing about Hail Caesar! along with the Production Design, as he gives a truly entertaining and endearing performance in which he pulls off perfectly even the trickiest lines and makes the "Would that it were so simple" the funniest scene of the movie. Kevin Costner delivers a good supporting performance in Hidden Figures, showing his character's dreams behind is occasionally abrupt demeanor in a rather moving fashion. Vincent Cassel is amazing in It's Only the End of the World, finding a lot of nuance in a possibly one-note role: he commands the screen whenever he's on but never delivers a showboating performance, and he's actually quite heartbreaking at portraying his character's desperation behind his agressive behavior. Laurent Lafitte is rather charming in his first scenes in Elle and as the movie progresses he does a great job at portraying his more disturbing qualities, while Billy Crudup and John Hurt are both incredibly well in their potentially limited role in Jackie. Hugo Weaving is remarkable and moving as Desmond Doss' troubled, alcoholic father in Hacksaw Ridge while Dan Fogler delivers an absolutely wonderful, endearing and entertaining performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, also thanks to his terrific chemistry with both Eddie Redmayne and Alison Sudol. 
The next year: Best Supporting Actress 2016.

My Best Supporting Actor Ballot:
  1. Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight - 5/5
  2. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight 
  3. Yosuke Kubozuka, Silence - 5/5
  4. Ben Foster, Hell or High Water - 5/5
  5. Vincent Cassel, It's Only the End of the World - 5/5
  6. Damian Lewis, Our Kind of Traitor - 5/5
  7. Stellan Skarsgard, Our Kind of Traitor - 5/5
  8. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals - 5/5
  9. Ashton Sanders, Moonlight - 4.5/5
  10. Sam Neill, Hunt for the Wilderpeople - 4.5/5

sabato 4 febbraio 2017

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals

Michael Shannon received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Detective Bobby Andes in Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals is a very problematic movie about a wealthy art gallery owner who grows increasingly paranoid about her ex-husband's novel, a gory thriller that she interprets as an allegory for their marriage. The first time I saw the movie, I actually liked it a lot; then my admiration gradually started to cool down until I finally gave the movie a rewatch which pretty much destroyed it for me. The half of the movie involving Amy Adams' character looks splendid - the production design is gorgeous and the cinematography looks stunning, but in terms of substance it is completely empty, with the few moments of satire being totally out of the place and most of the supporting characters being one-note cartoons (Laura Linney has a moment or two in her single scene, but otherwise she is terrible). I'll give credit to Adams who still manages to pull off a believable and even moving performance despite having an extremely passive character to work with, and she convincingly portrays Susan's transition from naive, idealistic student to embittered ice queen. The half of the move depicting the book's plot is slightly better: I still love Aaron Taylor-Johnson' chilling portrayal and I thought the first scene was impeccably done; otherwise, it's a fairly standard crime story that never becomes particularly compelling - it's not necessarily bad, but nothing special either. The worst element of the movie is probably the screenplay, with often badly written and unrealistic dialogues.

Michael Shannon plays Bobby Andes, a character of the novel who is the detective working on the case involving the rape and murder of Laura and India, respectively the wife and daughter of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). The supporting roles in this half of the movie are not very well-written: it seems like Tom Ford wanted them to be some sort of heavily stylized figures, something not unlike the supporting characters of David Lynch's Wild at Heart. Unfortunately Nocturnal Animals is not Wild at Heart or anything like David Lynch's movies as Ford doesn't really set a definite atmosphere in this movie and that's why it feels mostly atonal. The novel side of the movie in this regard feels particularly odd as there are both straightforward performances (Gyllenhaal) and very stylized ones with the overall register being just sort of flat. Bobby Andes is one of those heavily stylized supporting characters - he is the archetype of the sardonic detective, although Andes might have a few more quirks than those that are usually associated with this kind of character. Shannon is an excellent actor and he pulls off this side of the character really quite well - he makes for a fairly entertaining presence and he delivers his one-liners in a rather amusing fashion. The writing behind his character is pretty weak and there are times when the screenplay pushes the character's eccentricities way too far, but even in those moments Shannon is still good in the role. He portrays very well Andes' flamboyance without ever feeling too mannered and he often adds some needed energy to the proceeding. The accent he adopts for the role is quite thick but thankfully he pulls it off really well so it never becomes distracting, and actually he manages to sell even his oddest lines thanks to his delivery alone. For a large chunk of the movie, there is nothing to his character othen than his surface and Shannon can't do anything about that, but to his credit he does try to give some weight to a few moments, such as the one in which he tells Tony the cause of death of his wife and daughter, and he makes the interrogation scenes both very entertaining and tense - no one can pull off the creepy, intense stare like he does. He is quite fascinating in his portrayal of his character's own method in his work and his performance occasionally quite compelling even if the role itself is not really worth his effort.

The only scene in which the screenplay gives Bobby a little bit more depth is in the second half of the movie, in which he reveals Tony that he is dying of cancer. Shannon is very moving at showing his character's sadness towards his imminent fate but not quite a desperation - he doesn't fear death, he has sadly accepted it and the things that hurt him the most are his regrets, particularly his relationship with his estranged daughter. Shannon stays fairly low-key throughout the entire scenes but he gives it the needed emotional key and subtly communicates the suffering and plight of this man. Along with the pain, Shannon also brings a certain determination to Bobby as he now has nothing to lose and decides to see justice done before his demise.

In his final scenes I found Shannon to be rather effective at portraying his character's unhinged behavior as he really won't stop in front of anything in order to achieve his goal and there's a raw quality to his performance in those scenes that I certainly appreciated. He has some truly chilling moment in his last scene as he confronts two of the men responsible for the crimes, even if I have to say his exit in the movie is extremely disappointing. He just sort of leaves and it really doesn't feel like a worthy closure neither to the character nor the performance.

In the end, I think that this is an entirely good performance by Michael Shannon even if it is hardly his best. He really makes the most out of his severely underwritten role and even if for most of the time his character is all surface he does a good job at portraying that surface. In the moments in which he is allowed to shine, he truly does. Overall his work is undermined by the movie and the screenplay, but it's still a wholly solid turn from an actor who, with a better writing, would have been amazing in the role.