venerdì 31 marzo 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Ryan Gosling in La La Land

La La Land received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Sebastian Wilder in La La Land.

Ryan Gosling, despite getting a lot of nominations for his performance in this movie and winning the Golden Globe, was never really considered as a true contender for the actual win but rather as one of those cases in which the nomination is pretty much a given but the win itself is not very likely. Emma Stone was the one who got most of the attention among the movie's two leads, and she went on to win a richly deserved Oscar for dazzling, stunning performance, but in my opinion Ryan Gosling is just as good as she is with a far less showy role. He does not have any truly big scene (unlike Stone's "Audition") and Sebastian as a character is more subdued than Mia is, but Ryan Gosling delivers nonetheless a truly wonderful performance that is one of the main reasons why La La Land is such a magical and unforgettable experience. 

Gosling's early scenes are actually far more challenging than it seems at first sight because in the hands of a less talented actor Sebastian could have been an unbearable character: he is technically a bit arrogant and obnoxious and the only reason why he results so endearing is because Ryan Gosling is such an effortlessly charming and charismatic actor. He carries every scene in a very quiet, unshowy manner but he manages to be extremely charming in an effectively low-key way and he manages to hold his own against the always luminous Stone: this does not mean he ever sugarcoates the less likeable qualities of Sebastian - he just manages to portray them in an endearing, sort of comical fashion that makes the character rather enjoyable in his occasional smugness. Especially in the beginning, Gosling actually has some incredibly funny moments due to his impeccable timing and delivery (the "It's not what you mean" is absolutely priceless) or his hilarious facial expressions when Mia requests "I Ran" at a party, much to his dismay. As I mentioned in my review of Stone's performance, I think the two of them share an absolutely amazing chemistry and they balance each other perfectly - Gosling's charmingly subdued performance works wonders opposite Stone's marvelously explosive one and they are just a delight to watch in every single scene. Their chemistry is on fire even when they are bickering and they make for such a perfect match, making you root for them even when the circumstances suggest the contrary. 

Gosling's singing voice is not necessarily amazing but he can carry a tune more than decently and most importantly he acts well during the numbers - in particular, I like his rendition of "City of Stars". And his dancing is actually great, particularly in "A Lovely Night", and he has such an infectious and contagious energy in those scenes. And he does an absolutely amazing job at conveying Sebastian's passion for jazz: not only he brings the right sort of dedication to the scene in which he plays the piano but in each of his speeches about jazz he just brings so much convincion and sincere passion that you just can't help but root for him and wish for his success. An interesting turn arrives when Sebastian joins a band that plays music that is nothing like the one he loves, achieving success but somewhat betraying his ideals: Gosling is amazing at portraying his conflicting emotions in this segment of the movie as he conveys so well both the satisfaction that comes with success but also a certain lack of joy as he feels he is not making the sort of music he intended to. His relationship with Mia also becomes increasingly strained due to the distance, and Gosling and Stone are absolutely amazing in the dinner scene: they are wonderful as they show their happiness for being together again for a moment and then they are terrific as their conversation slowly becomes a heated argument. It's an impeccably written scene and both actors brings an aching ferocity to it. 

I feel that in the last section of the movie the screenplay puts Gosling aside a little bit, but Gosling does such a brilliant job that he manages not to be overshadowed by Stone: he's great in each attempts to convince Mia to try again to become an actress and even if Stone is again the one with the far more emotional role Gosling is great at portraying his faith in her talent and ability to become a star. He brings great support to her while leaving a huge impression himself. And he is terrific in his final conversation with her after her audition: he is terrific at showing his uncertainties regarding their future together but also his sincere love for her. It's a very quiet, subtle scene that ends up being quite heartbreaking because of the beautiful work from the two actors. The ending of the film is absolutely astonishing and this is also because of Gosling's and Stone's work: Gosling's final reaction and smile is just such a beautiful ending note to his performance.

This is a fantastic performance from Ryan Gosling who delivers a wonderfully entertaining and incredibly moving performance that works wonders with Emma Stone's portrayal. He acts on a very quiet register but leaves an absolutely unforgettable impression. It's a performance that is very charming and engaging but also far more than depth, and he finds a depth in Sebastian that many others actors would have missed. It's a great, underrated turn from an actor I really admire.


lunedì 27 marzo 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck won the Oscar from his second nomination for his performance as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea.

I've already said multiple times on this blog that I'm not Manchester by the Sea's biggest fan, and unfortunately time has only made its flaws resonate with me more. I don't hate it, but I really can't stand its overbearing, distracting score and its extremely unfocused script. Still, there is one thing that I loved on first viewing and that I still love nowadays: Casey Affleck's leading performance, which is probably the main reason why I do respect the movie to a certain degree. Even in the most' weakest scenes, Affleck delivers an absolutely first-rate performance that manages to be completely captivating and realistic in spite of my feelings about the rest of the movie.

Just like I did with Michelle Williams, I'll review this performance following the scenes' chronological order. In the flashback scenes, I think Casey Affleck is terrific at establishing who Lee is with not that much screen-time: he makes Lee a rather laidback guy that occasionally might get a little annoying by being a bit too loud, noisy and careless, sometimes even temperamental. Affleck is very convincing in those moments as he portrays his character in a very true to life manner and just brings to life so believably both his character's likeable traits and his flaws. He never glosses over Lee's more grating qualities but he manages to rather charming in a low-key fashion, especially in his few scenes with Michelle Williams in which the two of them believably portray Lee and Randi as a fairly loving couple. I also really like his few scenes with Kyle Chandler (who plays his brother): they share very little time together but they make the most out of it by managing to find a tender chemistry full of warmth and understanding. What I particularly like about this early scenes of Affleck's performance is the fact that he feels so full of life and energy which contrasts strikingly with the rest of his cast, making it even more devastating. After tragedy strikes, Affleck is absolutely amazing at portraying his character's intense desperation and guilt, delivering on all fronts in the scene in which he is questioned by the police: I sort of hate the scene itself because I think the score is at its most distracting in it, but Affleck saves it by being so powerful in his portrayal of his character's shock and messy remorse as he explains what happened. It's a scene that could have been played very differently and in a much more overt fashion, but Affleck stays fairly low-key through it and that's why it's so chillingly effective.

In the present scenes, Affleck is absolutely devastating in every second of his performance while keeping his acting extremely minimalistic and subdued. Portraying a character facing such an intense depression can be very tricky, as it's the kind of role that is rather easy to play as dull or one-note: instead, Affleck is downright amazing at conveying the painful history of the character in each look and small gesture - the incredible feat is that he manages to portray a person that does not have any will to live without actually giving a lifeless performance himself. He makes his character's depression a quality that is not at all overbearing but almost a natural, ordinary part of Lee, which is what makes his performance so utterly devastating. It just gets under your skin. Affleck is deeply moving at portraying his character's inability to open up to anyone, even handle a normal conversation: there is a later scene in which the mom of one of Patrick's "girlfriends" tries to strike up a friendship with Lee and he is just unable to engage in small, polite talks - it's just devastating to watch. And the amount of emotions he can convey just with his is astounding: his quiet reaction upon his discovery of his brother's death is just heartbreaking. And he is extremely poignant at subtly portraying how coming back to Manchester brings back so many painful memories to him. 

As the movie progresses, Affleck is fantastic at portraying his relationship with his nephew Patrick. As I mentioned in my review of Hedges' performance, the two actors share a brilliant chemistry showing both the natural affection between Lee and Patrick but also their inability to truly show their mutual pain and to communicate with each other. Their relationship changes in a very subtle fashion and Affleck and Hedges are totally convincing every single step of the way reaching very powerful heights in various scenes such as Patrick's breakdown, in which Affleck does a great job at portraying his character's attempts to be a comforting presence while he's quietly falling apart himself. Affleck is amazing at showing that he will never truly move on from his past but still manages to show how Lee does find some solace in Patrick's company and finally develops a human connection to someone. It's a very quiet development that is made extremely moving by Affleck's phenomenal work.

My favorite scene of his performance though is his casual encounter with Randi: I've already mentioned in my review of Williams' performance that I find this scene to be the movie's highlight and this is thanks to the writing (that in that moment is absolutely on point) and Williams' and Affleck's incredible acting. Williams gets the showier part in this scene and she's absolutely mesmerizing, but Affleck is just as terrific. He is great at portraying Lee's awkwardness as he honestly does not know what to say to her until he too starts to breakdown quietly, unable to say anything: he's just so convincing in his line-delivery as he keeps stuttering in his speech unable to form a coherent thing to say to her as he tries to hold back the tears. The two actors convey so well the history between Randi and Lee extremely well and show very well how their relationship has gone to a point beyond reconciliation. His dejected delivery of "There's nothing there" couldn't be more heartbreaking. And he is also fantastic in his few final scenes with Hedges: he does a brilliant job at showing how Lee is forever going to suffer from his past mistakes but he also suggests the slightest hope in his portrayal, the hope that while he probably will never move on completely he could manage to find a little more happiness in his life. Affleck and Hedges end the film on a beautiful, touching note and I actually applaud the film for its ending as it's neither excessively depressing nor unrealistically and overly optimistic, it's just true to life.

Regardless of my mixed feelings towards the movie itself, this is an amazing performance from Casey Affleck who delivers a performance of incredible subtlety and delicacy. He gives such a compelling, realistic and brutally devastating portrayal of his character's emotional state while beautifully handling his gradual transition. The emotional power of the movie lies in his haunted and haunting eyes. It's a truly fantastic performance and an extremely worthy winner. 


mercoledì 22 marzo 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016

And the nominees are...

Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling - La La Land
Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington - Fences

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

domenica 12 marzo 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Ranking

5. Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins
Meryl Streep delivers a very entertaining performance in Florence Foster Jenkins, enjoyably portraying her character's eccentricities while still bringing the needed poignance and emotional power to the role. She carries the movie very nicely even if I think she is occasionally upstaged by Hugh Grant's more layered performance.
Best scene: Florence' performance at Carnagie Hall.

4. Ruth Negga in Loving
Ruth Negga is absolutely amazing as Mildred, delivering a performance of heartbreaking subtlety and simplicity: with her unique, expressive face, Negga conveys perfectly Mildred's inner strength and determination while bringing a lovely amount of grace and warmth to the screen whenever she appears. Her chemistry with Joel Edgerton is also top notch.
Best scene: "We may lose the small battles, but win the big war"

3. Emma Stone in La La Land
Emma Stone gives a wonderful performance in this movie that goes far beyond what the role required: she grounds her character thanks to her spontaneous, charming screen-presence and she brings the needed energy and feeling to the musical scenes. She thrives at portraying her character's frustration but also her hopes, and she shares a lovely chemistry with Ryan Gosling.
Best scene: Audition.

2. Isabelle Huppert in Elle
Isabelle Huppert gives a brilliant performance in Elle giving an incredible amount of complexity to the character of Michèle. She gives a compelling, deep and layered portrayal of this complicated woman and when the movie goes into rather disturbing territories she manages to keep it from going off the rails. It's an amazing, endlessly fascinating portrayal.
Best scene: Michèle's confrontation with Patrick in the car.

1. Natalie Portman in Jackie
Natalie Portman is amazing in Jackie perfectly replicating Jacqueline Kennedy's mannerisms and voice but also going far beyond than an imitation. She gives a heartbreakingly intimate portrayal of a woman battling with grief and trying to preserve her husband's legacy: it's a true tour-de-force and Portman nails every single nuance in a portrayal full of surprises.
Best scene: Her breakdown during the interview.

Honorable Omissions: I already reviewed Amy Adams' un-nominated performance in Arrival, so I'll just say that hers is in my opinion the best performance of 2016. She also is very good in Nocturnal Animals and she is actually one of its few redeeming qualities. Sonia Braga delivers a terrific performance in Aquarius - every moment of her performance feels so human, real and sincere and she portrays wonderfully every facet of the character of Clara, beautifully leading up to the final scenes in which she's simply a force of nature. Hello, My Name is Doris is a problematic and unremarkable comedy but Sally Field's leading performance is nothing short of astonishing: she portrays her character's quirks endearingly and convincingly but she goes far beyond that, delivering an absolutely heartbreaking portrayal of a lonely and regretful yet optimistic woman. Similarly, Annette Bening is excellent in 20th Century Women: hers is another character that could have easily been defined by its quirks, but Bening delivers a wonderfully funny and genuinely poignant portrayal of a woman quietly reacting to the changes of time. Isabelle Huppert is terrific in Things to Come, giving a performance that is completely different from her Oscar-nominated turn: it's a very quiet, realistic performance and Huppert is poignant and moving as an intelligent, independent woman facing the end of her marriage, the death of her mother and her problems at work with courage and dignity. Elle Fanning is excellent in The Neon Demon, giving an extremely disturbing portrayal of her character's transition from wide-eyed naivety to cold-hearted narcissism while being a perfect fit to Nicolas Windin Refn's peculiar vision. I hated The Girl on the Train but I personally was very impressed by Emily Blunt's performance: I thought she gave a powerful portrayal of her character's addiction both in the explosive scenes and the quieter ones and she is the only reason to watch this otherwise pretty terrible movie. Hailee Steinfeld is both hilarious and touching in The Edge of Seventeen - she has a pitch-perfect comedic timing but she also nails every single emotional beat and carries the movie flawlessly. Kate Beckinsale delivers an extremely entertaining and charismatic performance as the manipulative but impossibly charming Lady Susan in Love & Friendship - it's not a particularly three-dimensional role but Beckinsale completely makes for it thanks to her brilliant delivery and terrific comedic timing. Marion Cotillard is absolutely terrific in Allied - the film is very flawed and Brad Pitt's leading performance is more than disappointing but she is terrific at being such a mysterious and alluring presence while bringing the needed emotional power to the last act of the movie. I didn't love The Light Between Oceans, but Alicia Vikander delivers a very strong performance bringing a great deal of emotional power to her role and bringing honesty to her character's questionable actions. 
The next year: Best Actor 2016.

My Best Actress Ballot:
  1. Amy Adams, Arrival - 5/5
  2. Sonia Braga, Aquarius - 5/5
  3. Natalie Portman, Jackie
  4. Sally Field, Hello, My Name is Doris - 5/5
  5. Isabelle Huppert, Elle 
  6. Emma Stone, La La Land
  7. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women - 5/5
  8. Ruth Negga, Loving
  9. Isabelle Huppert, Things to Come - 4.5/5
  10. Elle Fanning, The Neon Demon - 4.5/5

I will be abroad in the next week or so, therefore I won't be able to post much. I will still answer your comments but sadly I won't have the time to write reviews until at least 21st March.

giovedì 9 marzo 2017

Best Actress 2016: Amy Adams in Arrival

Amy Adams did not receive an Oscar nomination for her performance as Dr. Louise Banks in Arrival.

Arrival is a brilliant movie about a linguists professor who is given the task of interpreting the language of extraterrestrial beings after twelve mysterious spacecrafts appear all over the world. Denis Villeneuve completely deserved his nomination for Best Director for his ability to make the movie so utterly enthralling and captivating from the very beginning, evoking the right sort of amazement and wonder in the viewer but also making him emotionally involved with its profound, relatable, human elements. The screenplay is not quite perfect: the writing regarding Michael Stuhlbarg's pointless, annoying character is rather weak and I'll admit that the political relationships between the country are quite oversimplified, but still everything regarding the themes of language and communication and the leading heroine completely makes up for it. The score is absolutely phenomenal and is an essential element for the atmosphere around the encounters with the aliens, the minimalistic production design is very effective and I thought the editing should have won the Oscar.

I will say that it is impossible to review this performance without giving away the movie's twist, so I suggest not to read my review until you've seen the movie (and if you have not seen it yet, do it now, it's worth it). Anyway, Amy Adams was actually considered to be a very likely nominee this year: with very strong critical support, nominations from the Golden Globes, the SAG and the BAFTA as well as a NBR win, plus being a fifth-times nominee, she looked like a sure bet on nomination day. When I found out she was not nominated, I was extremely disappointed. Not only do I think that this is Amy Adams' best performance, and I'm very fond of her in general to begin with; not only do I think that this is the best performance of 2016; I think this is one of the most unforgettable, haunting and powerful performances ever and one that only gets better after you've seen the movie a few times.

Right from the beginning, it's amazing how much depth and realism Adams manages to bring to the role of Dr. Louise Banks, who could have easily been just a foil for the more supernatural elements of the story. Adams, as usual, brings a certain grace to the character that makes it naturally pleasant to watch on-screen and even if the character is depicted as a very quiet, unshowy person there is not a single moment Adams makes you doubt she's one of the most respected professors in the world: she easily makes Louise a very bright, intelligent woman, not sassy in the traditional sense but a very witty, fast-thinking person who can outsmart everyone around her without ever looking arrogant. She makes for a leading character you immediately care about - she is not only a very intelligent, independent character but she is also a comforting, warm, endearing presence on-screen. Her first scenes are really good as she perfectly shows her shock and confusion regarding the "arrival" but also her natural curiosity and interest in the situation. In her attempts to communicate with the aliens Louise works along with physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner: their chemistry is nothing particularly incredible but it is not supposed to be - they're rather charming in their scenes together and they share a low-key connection that conveys well their mutual attraction. 

In the various scenes in which Louise tries to communicate with the aliens and decipher their language Adams is absolutely brilliant: as I said before, she could have easily been overshadowed by the supernatural elements especially considered the very subtle fashion of the character, but she is absolutely mesmerizing at portraying every single reaction as her relationship with the two aliens developes. Through Adams' performance, we share every joy and surprise as Louise becomes more and more comfortable with the so-called Abbott and Costello, even starting to understand their language and establishing a somewhat friendly, empathetic relationship with them. Not a single look, a single gesture and a single reaction is ever wasted: she makes the most out of every frame and she makes for such a graceful, human and relatable centerpoint to the story that you just can't help but follow her every second of her performance. She's quite incredible in the way she conveys so much with just the smallest details and she keeps us invested and captivated throughout the whole movie. Adams' performance is also the reason why the scenes involving the world conflict work: she adds a lot of tension to the proceedings by portraying her urgency at trying to discover the reason of the aliens' visit as well as her growing worry as she sees the main political leaders becoming more and more frustrated by the whole situation and threatening to end it with violence. 

At the very beginning of the movie we are introduced through what appear to be flashbacks to Louise's daughter Hannah: in those first scenes, Adams is just wonderful at being such a warm, lovely and radiant presence showing so tenderly Louise' love for her daughter without ever making those scenes schmaltzy. Then, she is heartbreaking in her portrayal of her desperation and grief as she witnesses her daughter dying of cancer - and her voice over during those initial flashbacks is so soft, delicate and tender it's just devastating. During the rest of the movie, Louise never addresses to her pain or her daughter but we just sort of take it for granted: Adams subtly conveys this sense of vulnerability that suggest her supposed inner grieving. Towards the end of the movie though, in an absolutely spectacular scene, Louise finds out that the aliens have come to Earth to give humans a gift: their different, non-linear conception of time; therefore, we realize that Louise's visions of her with her daughter are not flashbacks, but rather flashforwards and that this daughter belongs to Louise's future and not her past. Adams completely earns this moment and sells the twist brilliantly: after this scene, if you look back at her performance or rewatch it, you perfectly realize that what to the viewer seemed like internalized grief is instead just simple confusion and puzzlement towards this visions of a yet unborn daughter. Adams is downright amazing as she does not give away the twist but once it is revealed she makes it work perfectly. It's an incredibly hard task to pull off but she does it phenomenally. The subsequent flashforward, the "I know something that's going to happen" scene between Louise and Hannah, is absolutely heartbreaking and it's not surprise that it was used as Adams' clip at the SAG and BAFTAs. 

In the movie's last act that features Louise trying to avoid global war by using her newfound gift could have easily fell short but thanks to the brilliant editing, score, direction and her performance they do not. Adams is fantastic as she brings so much tension to those scenes that they are absolutely compelling to watch and they really keep you on the edge of your seat. But the most powerful moment of her performance is the very end of the movie that is probably the best ending scene of 2016 and gives the movie a whole new layer of moral complexity, in fact I kept thinking about it for days after the movie was over, reflecting about Louise's choice and asking myself if I would have done the same. Adams is amazing in this scene as she conveys so much on her face as she witnesses her whole future in front of her and deciding to have her daughter anyway regardless of the fact that she knows she will die: it's just a profoundly moving moment and Adams is incredible in it - her simple delivery of her final "Yes" to Jeremy Renner's character is devastating in its quiet poignancy.

This is simply an incredible performance from Amy Adams and one that I could not praise enough really. She gives a performance of amazing subtlety, grace and delicacy, quietly carrying the movie on her shoulders and giving it the needed heart and feeling. It's a brilliant turn of outstanding complexity, from a fantastic actress that never stops surprising me. 


lunedì 6 marzo 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Ruth Negga in Loving

Ruth Negga received her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Mildred Loving in Loving.

Loving is a touching film about Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial married couple, and their legal battle for their right to live together from their first arrest to the examination of their case at the US Supreme Court. I really liked the film because of how it tells its inspiring story in a very quiet, unspectacular way - it's delicate, intimate and personal and this way it becomes even more powerful. By the end of the movie, I was in tears because the film manages to make you feel these people so close to you. Joel Edgerton was absolutely robbed of a Best Actor nomination for his subdued, terrific performance.

Out of the five performances nominated for Best Actress, Ruth Negga's is definitely the quieter one - it's very unshowy, always very subtle and reserved just like the movie itself. A lesser actress might not have been able to pull off the extreme subtlety required for the role and might have been completely unimpressive, but Ruth Negga instead proves to be a perfect fit for the role, delivering a performance of outstanding sensitivity and beautiful simplicity. The movie does not give much time to Edgerton and Negga to develop Richard and Mildred's relationship prior to their marriage, but thanks to the greatness of the two leads a backstory is not needed - they share an absolutely amazing, low-key chemistry from the very first moment we see them on-screen and their love is pretty much a given because the two actors never allow you to doubt it. It's incredible what Negga manages to convey with her expressions - thanks to her doll-like, delicate face and her big, expressive eyes, Negga suggests every single emotion of the character without having to utter a single word. She has the quiet expressiveness and presence of a silent movie star. Her posture and her acting style have the grace, the dignity and the luminous charm of the great Japanese actress Setsuko Hara - she is just a wonderful presence on-screen and one that is effortlessly and instantly endearing. The amount of power she brings to every little detail is amazing - such as the unforgettable moment in which Richard and Mildred are arrested and she points out to their marriage license and simply says "I'm his wife". In the scenes that show her in prison or when the couple is forced to leave the state of Virginia for 25 years in order not to spent a year in jail, Negga does not say anything but she makes the most out every single little reaction. There is one moment in particular that impressed me and it occurs when the Lovings come back to Virginia so that Mildred could give birth to their child while having their families around, but the police finds out and comes to arrest them once again: the dignity and courage she exudes as she gently gives her baby to her siser, stands up, puts her coat on and goes to face the police is astonishing. In the scenes at the Loving' house at Washington, Negga is very good at conveying her character's happiness in regards to her marriage and her children but also her homesickness. 

The character of Mildred, writing-wise, could have easily been paper-thin but Negga disappears so well into the role (the accent is pretty much flawless) and portrays so well her personality that she completely overcomes these limitations. What I love the most about Negga's performance is that behind her graceful, fragile appearence she conveys a great wisdom, intelligence and resilience - she does not speak a lot, but she is the one who writes a letter to Robert Kennedy and who ultimately brings the case to the attention of the ACLU. Again she is so brilliant in the scene in which she is called by the ACLU - you can read every emotion across her eyes and her face. While Richard is not very comfortable with the attention that their case brings to them, Mildred is sure that the attention of the country is what they need to be able to live together in their house of their dreams in Virginia - there's such a beautiful hopefulness in her performance that it's just heartwarming and inspiring to watch. She is optimist regarding their lawyers and she sincerely believes that the journalists are on their side even when her husband is doubtful: Negga though makes sure that her optimism does not come from naivety but rather from her simple but not stupid belief that ultimately justice will be done. I love her small conversation with Michael Shannon (as the photographer working for LIFE Magazine) in the kitchen in which she again conveys so well her expectations about the future: her delivery of "We may lose the small battles but win the big war" is beautiful because of its sincerity and simplicity. And she is also wonderful in the scene in which she is interviewed and says that their enemies don't matter because they have friends as well - Negga's genuine portrayal of Mildred's quiet determination and hopefulness is inspiring and empowering. And her joyful reaction when she finds out about the Supreme Court's decision brought tears to my eyes. 

Negga and Edgerton does not share many moments alone but when they do they are absolutely incredible: I love how the two actors portray their characters' relationship in which Richard and Mildred both rely on and support each other. Negga never allows her character to be reduced to the "supportive wife" stereotype but she still fulfills this side of the role exceptionally well making for an extremely reassuring, warm presence on-screen. The scene in which she comforts Richard in their bedroom is truly heartbreaking thanks to the delicacy and tenderness of the two actors. And I love them in the scene at the end in which journalists ask them questions and they just embrace each other smiling, bringing the needed emotional weight to the movie's ending,

This is a stunning performance from Ruth Negga who turns the simplicity of the role to her favor and delivers a performance of remarkable subtlety, intelligence and warmth. She completely disappears into the character and nails every single nuance without ever having any big scene. It's a truly great performance and I'm absolutely thrilled that the Academy decided to recognize such a quiet piece of work. 


venerdì 3 marzo 2017

Best Actress in a Leading Role 2016: Natalie Portman in Jackie

Natalie Portman received her third Oscar nomination for her performance as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.

Jackie is a terrific film about Jacqueline Kennedy's battle with grief and her struggle to define her husband's legacy in the four days following his assassination. Pablo Larraìn makes this movie as far as possible from a conventional biopic, and therefore creates an incredibly intimate and profound movie that is not at all a glorification but rather a layered, deep character study and an interesting reflection about the power of image we give and the legacy we leave behind. I particularly loved the editing, with the scenes being placed in a scattered sequence that makes the movie like a haunting collection of memories, Mica Levi's thrilling, vibrant score and the stunningly accurate costumes. 

In order to better review her performance, I'll review her performance considering the scenes in chronological order even if, as I mentioned above, that's not the order they are shown in the movie. Natalie Portman is neither an actress I particularly like nor one I particularly dislike - I think she has the capacity of being really great but she's also given her fair share of poor performances. I was actually quite worried about her performance in this movie as it is a very tricky performance that relies a lot on mannerisms and the accent and that could have easily come off as a disaster. But Portman proves to be completely up to the challenge delivering an absolutely masterful performance in which she perfectly recreates Jacqueline Kennedy's public persona without ever making her portrayal  feel like a cheap imitation, but importantly she gives a truly compelling, complex and sensitive characterization of this rather extraordinary woman. The few scenes prior to the assassination are nicely played by Portman who makes the most out of them - Jackie and John Kennedy only have a few brief interactions shown in the movie, yet Portman completely convince us of her love for her husband as she is just radiant whenever she shares the screen with Caspar Phillipson. There is a hint of unhappiness in her portrayal even in those scenes - her close-up during the concert or some brief reactions on her face before getting out of the plane in Dallas suggest an inner plight in Jackie (that is explored further in scenes I will get to later), but at the same time Portman aptly shows that her own suffering does not diminish at all the affection and devotion she feels for her husband. In particular, I love the scene involving the production of "A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy" - Portman is brilliant in these scenes as she makes Jackie the properly appealing, charming and pleasant presence that she is supposed to be but she is also very effective at showing that everything she does and say is a bit of a put on. She delivers her line with grace but also a certain disingenuousness: Portman is terrific at recreating the poise and elegance of the First Lady and I particularly love the way she handles the extremely difficult, half posh, half New Yorker accent - personally I think she nails it and I like how in the public scenes it feels purposefully accentuated while in the more intimate moments it feels far more natural and less thick. 

The scene of the assassination is particularly raw in the movie and it does not hold back anything, and neither does Portman: she is absolutely devastating in her portrayal of every single emotion that goes through Jackie's mind in the scene, from her befuddlement as she hears the first shot, her sudden, instictive reaction to keeping her husband's brains inside of his head, her shock and inability to grasp the situation as she sits there, covered in blood, holding her dead husband... it's a terrifying moment and its emotional impact is due to Portman's performance. The following scenes are just as excellent, especially an emotionally exhausting close-up in which we see a devastated Jackie wiping away the blood from her face - it's such a good scene I felt chills down my spine. But, again, every single scene is a treasure as Portman consistently delivers: she makes the most out of every single look and facial expression in the scene in which she witnesses President Johnson taking the Presidential oath and in the later scenes at the hospital she does a brilliant job at portraying how the still overwhelmed Jacqueline starts to process what happened. The scene in which she comes back home, takes off her clothers soaked in blood and wanders in the empty rooms is heartbreaking because Portman silently conveys so well the loneliness and desolation of this woman. 

I admire the movie because it does not portray Jacqueline Kennedy as always honorable in her suffering: she can be inconsistent and irrational at times and this is exactly why she feels so real, relatable and moving. Portman is excellent at portraying her character's mood swings and achieves some really powerful heights in various moments, such as the scene in which Jackie has to pull herself together and tell her children about their father's death, or her quiet breakdown at her husband's desk. She portrays her character's struggle through grief in such a realistic manner it's even quite hard to watch at times - she lets you so close to the character and makes you so invested in her grief that by the end of the movie you are emotionally shaken too. But what I love the most is that, no matter what, Portman always portrays an underlying resilience and a determination to give her husband a proper send-off and to have him remembered by the people. I love the commanding firmness in her face and voice when she decides the place where to bury her husband, or the iron will behind her fake gentleness when she says to Jack Valenti that she will walk to the burial place during the funeral procession, regardless of the danger. And the scene of the procession is absolutely phenomenal, with Portman embodying so well both the pain and the dignity of the First Lady, silently conveying a whole lot of emotions with just a few glances. 

Portman also works very well with the rest of the cast: she shares some very nice moments with both Peter Sarsgaard, as Robert Kennedy, when the two characters share their mutual pain and she also has a very sweet chemistry with Greta Gerwig as her best friend and secretary; but some of her most impressive moments are with John Hurt as a priest to whom Jackie reveals her deepest fears and feelings. Natalie Portman is just incredible in those scenes as she's at her most raw, naked and emotionally vulnerable: there is absolutely no artifice in those moments but just the pain of a devastated woman who has lost everything that she held dear. Portman is great at portraying with such subtlety and sincerity the emotional fragility of Jacqueline and adding a great deal of complexity to the character as she reflects on her husband's infidelity, her miscarriage and stillborn son in the early stages of her marriage and her doubts and insecurities regarding her future. Portman and Hurt establish a truly poignant connection in those moments that are in many ways the emotional crux of the movie and they handle the dialogue with heartbreaking delicacy. 

Scattered throughout the movies there are the scenes regarding Jacqueline Kennedy's interview with Theodore White a few weeks after her husband's assassination. Portman is phenomenal in these scenes at portraying Jackie going through a different stage of grief: she is apparently more calm and less unpredictable, but she is also far colder and more distant. I love the passive aggressiveness in her exchanges with White but also the piercing, haunting vulnerability behind her eyes: when her embittered, cold façade cracks while she remembers the shooting and she breaks down, Portman is absolutely devastating at showing the pain that will never leave Jackie, but I particularly love how she pulls herself together and coldly utters "Don't think for a second I'll let you publish that". I also really like the chemistry between Portman and Billy Crudup as the two actors does a great job at portraying their growing respect for each other and their last scenes together are quite moving, especially as Jackie talks about her husband's Presidency and compares it to Camelot because you can feel so well Jacqueline's loyalty and pride in Portman's voice ("There will never be another Camelot").

Natalie Portman's performance in this movie is nothing short of amazing. She delivers a simply mesmerizing characterization in an extremely difficult role, nailing the accent and the posture but being even better at portraying her character's shattered soul. It's a truly brilliant performance in a great movie and one that does not lose its emotional power even after repeated viewings.