First Glance: “The Last Thing He Wanted”

When it comes to original movies Netflix has evolved into a powerhouse. In 2018 Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” received tons of praise and end of the year awards. 2019 was even bigger with movies like “Marriage Story”, “The Irishman”, and others earning the streaming giant a whopping 24 Oscar nominations. It hasn’t taken them long to excite us for 2020.

“The Last Thing He Wanted” is a political thriller with an eye-catching cast: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez, and Willem Dafoe. More exciting is it’s the follow up film for director and co-writer Dee Rees. Her last movie “Mudbound” was one of my favorites from 2017 so this is a must-see for me. The first trailer has landed and things look promising.

We won’t have to wait long. “The Last Thing He Wanted” premieres at Sundance then hits Netflix on February 21st. Check out the new trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

Best of 2019 – Lead Actor


Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on the best acting performances of 2019. It’s day four and it’s time to look at the final category. We wrap things up by looking at Lead Actor. This group may not be as ripe with stellar performances as the past couple of years but it was still tough to narrow it down to only five performances. Here are my picks for the best the year had to offer.

#5 – Mads Mikkelsen (“Arctic”)


It’s sad but I don’t know of anyone who is talking about “Arctic” or more specifically Mads Mikkelsen’s rugged, stoic performance. Mikkelsen is sublime, able to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders through both his intense physical commitment and deep emotional resonance. “Arctic” is a survival film in the fullest sense and Mikkelsen sells every moment with a steely yet measured realism. Simply put, he’s great.

#4 – August Diehl (“A Hidden Life”)


Not just any performer can do well in a Terrence Malick movie. It takes a special talent to move with the filmmaker’s unique visual and storytelling rhythms. This is especially true for “A Hidden Life” and August Diehl is the perfect fit. Quiet, expressive, and deftly in sync with Malick’s meditative beats, Diehl’s ability to visualize inner turmoil, heartfelt conviction, and loving concern is astonishing. It’s one of the best performances of the year that too few people have seen.

#3 – Brad Pitt (“Ad Astra”)


A key part of Brad Pitt’s fabulous 2019 was “Ad Astra”, a quiet and contemplative slice of science-fiction. His portrayal of a highly decorated yet tortured astronaut is some of the best work of his career. It’s a subdued and understated performance, internalized yet so effective that nearly every feeling can be understood through his pained eyes. Pitt is a proven big Hollywood star who probably has a ton of projects to choose from. I love seeing him make choices like this.

#2 – Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)


I don’t know if any actor has watched his star skyrocket quite like Adam Driver. In Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” he is in top form playing one-half of a New York City couple navigating the bruising, messy travails of divorce. Driver has done a little bit of everything throughout his career and he brings all of it to this role: tenderness, humor, naïveté, sorrow, pain, fury. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, he’s also a really good singer!

#1 – Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)


No performance in 2019 mesmerized me and got under my skin quite like Joaquin Phoenix did in “Joker”. Phoenix is no stranger to losing himself in a role both physically and emotionally, but his transformation into the deeply disturbed and frighteningly sinister Arthur Fleck is unlike anything he has done before. Taking on such a well known character is a challenge, but Phoenix digs into it and makes it his own. It’s easily my favorite performance of 2019.

And that wraps up my look back at the 2019 movie year. What do you think of my choices for Lead Actor? Let me know in the comments section below.

Best of 2019 – Lead Actress


Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on the best acting performances of 2019. It’s day three and with the supporting categories in the book it’s time to look at the Lead Actress group. It was a brutal job picking only five but you know the rules. So here we go.

#5 – Sierra McCormick (“The Vast of Night”)


It’s such a shame that more people haven’t been able to see “The Vast of Night”. One of many reasons is they miss out on seeing Sierra McCormick who gives a fun, effervescent, and eye-opening performance. She handles the film’s dense Sorkin-like dialogue with ease and fully develops a character you can’t help but love. I so hope more people can soon see this film.

#4 – Awkwafina (“The Farewell”)


I admit it, I was no fan of Awkwafina’s brand of comedy and she was one of my only gripes about “Crazy Rich Asians”. But I love it when a performer opens my eyes and makes me a true believer. That’s what Awkwafina did in “The Farewell”. This is a beautiful dramatic turn but with a very controlled sense of humor. Most of all it’s undeniably authentic from start to finish.

#3 – Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)


In this small slice of Judy Garland’s life Renée Zellweger loses herself in the entertainment icon’s troubled skin. From the physical details to the emotional range to singing her own numbers, Zellweger gives a fiercely committed performance that often rises above the material she is given. It’s fascinating work from an actress who has put herself back in the spotlight.

#2 – Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”)


This is the 2019 performance that I hope more people will be able to catch up with in 2020. Alfre Woodard carries this brutally honest movie about a prison warden in charge of state executions and the psychological toll it takes on her. Woodard’s performance reveals a strong woman who earned her position in a male dominated field. At the same time she’s tormented by the moral dilemma her job poses. It’s a quiet performance, emotionally authentic and without a hint of theatrics.

#1 – Lupita N’yongo (“Us”)


For some it may be easy to forget “Us” was a 2019 movie. It released way back in March. But how can you possibly forget Lupita N’yongo’s stunning two-pronged performance? It’s hard to say much about her work without spoiling key parts of the story, but N’yongo brings two distinct personalities to her role and shows two completely different sides of herself as an actress. Incredible range, intensity, and emotion. How she’s not getting award nominations is beyond me.

One more to go. Tomorrow we look at the Lead Actor category. What did you think of these picks. Let me know in the comments section below. 

First Glance: “First Cow”


When it comes to independent cinema, A24 has made quite a name for itself. The sheer quality of the movies that come from the company is impressive in itself. But then you throw in the diversity of their portfolio: comedies, horror, period pieces, coming of age films. They have established themselves as the premiere indie movie distributor.

That leads to the oddly titled “First Cow” from writer-director Kelly Reichardt. Her latest looks to be a Pacific Northwest frontier drama where a cook, a Chinese immigrant, and a prized milk cow join together for a secret (and hopefully lucrative) business venture. Sounds as quirky as the title, right? The first trailer looks intriguing and Reichardt’s signature minimalism and quietude is all over it.

“First Cow” is slated for a March 6th release (limited I’m sure). Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

Best of 2019 – Supporting Actor


Yesterday I began my reflection on the best acting performances of 2018. The women started strong and now it’s the men’s turn to match. The Supporting Actor category had several truly stand-out performances and narrowing them down to five wasn’t easy. But those are the rules so here are my choices for Supporting Actor.

#5 – Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)


When I first heard Tom Hanks would be playing Mister Rogers my first reaction was “Well of course. Who else?” And as expected he delivers a knock-out performance. At first it resembles an impersonation but within mere seconds Hanks has us believing he is Fred Rogers. It’s a performance so in tune with Mister Rogers, his gentle mannerisms, and the innate kindness he was known for.

#4 – Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”)


Jamie Foxx is an actor who may be best known for his comedy, but “Just Mercy” reminds us that he is no slouch when it comes to dramatic turns. He plays a wrongfully convicted black man sentenced to death in 1986 Alabama. Foxx brings several unexpected layers to his character from sorrow and despondency to hopeful and inspirational. I haven’t always been high on Foxx, but here he is exactly what his role needs.

#3 – Sterling K. Brown (“Waves”)


“Waves” is a crushing family drama driven by thoughtful characters and moving performances. None are as complex and layered as Sterling K. Brown’s stirring portrait of a stern but loving father. His character could have easily been the film’s antagonist but he’s hardly that shallow. Brown gives us someone whose motivations are rooted in the pains of his past and his determination to keep his son from experiencing them.

#2 – Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)


Stepping into a role after almost ten years of retirement and delivering this quality of work is really impressive. Joe Pesci is pretty comfortable in the gangster genre, but this isn’t some rehash of a character he has played before. Here he’s dialed back, focused, and has an almost grandfatherly presence despite working in a world characterized by its violence. It’s such a great performance.

#1 – Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)


One of favorite 2019 performances from ANY category came from the ageless 56-year-old Brad Pitt. You couldn’t find a better fit to play Cliff Booth, an easy-going stuntman living the life in 1969 Los Angeles. Pitt is dripping with charisma, has an endlessly cool charm, and can also be really funny. I absolutely love this performance and it should earn Pitt the much deserved first acting Oscar of his career.

That’s it for the supporting categories. Tomorrow we begin our look at the leads. What do you think of my picks? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Best of 2019 – Supporting Actress


As we look back on the year that was I always enjoy giving time to the performances that shaped the year’s films. Over the next few days I’ll be highlighting my favorite work from the four major acting categories. This year we were blessed with a variety of fine performances, many from unexpected places. So let’s get to it by starting with the Supporting Actress category.

#5 – Zhao Shuzhen (“The Farewell”)


From the very first time I saw the beautiful “The Farewell” I knew that Zhao Shuzhen was going to be on this list. She is the heartwarming center of Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical comedy-drama. Her performance is so sweet, emotionally authentic, and full of gentle, infectious humor. I love what she brings to the story.

#4 – Laura Dern (Marriage Story)


Talk about an actress who had a great year on the big screen! She was fantastic in “Little Women” but even better in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story”. She plays a devious but savvy divorce attorney who you can’t stand yet you can’t help but admire. She’s shrewd, confident, and devilishly entertaining as portrayed by Dern. She’s been sweeping the awards season and Oscar should be next.

#3 – Rebecca Ferguson (“Doctor Sleep”)


Mike Flanagan’s “Doctor Sleep” was one of my biggest surprises of the year. There are several reasons it works so well and Rebecca Ferguson is one of them. Sadly, no one is talking about her performance which I found to be mesmerizing, charismatic, and utterly chilling. She was one of year’s best antagonists and was a real scene-stealer.

#2 – Thomasin McKenzie (“Jojo Rabbit”)


“Jojo Rabbit” is a movie full of rich performances but my favorite may be from Thomasin McKenzie. I can’t think of another young actress who can convey so much through the softest voice and most earnest expression. Much like Scarlett Johansson, McKenzie is an essential ingredient and the film wouldn’t be the same without her tender and heartfelt performance.

#1 – Florence Pugh (“Little Women”)


If you don’t know Florence Pugh by now you must not be paying attention. She is hands-down one of the most exciting and diverse young actresses out there. Her work in “Little Women” is further proof of that. She brings so much fresh life and many new layers to a classic literary character. Full of confidence and feminine grit, this is a truly memorable performance.

So there you have my picks for the best supporting actress. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below and watch for my supporting actor choices tomorrow.