Best of 2017: Lead Actress

LEAD actress

Each year I set aside time to highlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for several days I’ll be sharing my favorite performances for each of the four acting categories. Next up is the Lead Actress. It too is a category full of fabulous performances to consider. Of them all here are my five favorites

#5 – Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”)

GAL GADOT

I think for many people this may be an easy choice to brush off. After all this is a ‘comic book movie’ and the field is so full of incredible and deserving performances. But watching Gal Gadot not simply play a superhero but bring out so many unexpected qualities was a delight. I proudly put her on this list among the year’s best.

#4 – Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”)

RONAN

It shocks me that Saoirse Ronan is only #4 on this list. It’s a testament to the sheer strength of this category. It’s certainly no knock on her. Ronan has been so good in so many films, but this may be her best performance. She is so in tune with Greta Gerwig’s writing and perception of character. Any other year she would top this list. She’s that good in “Lady Bird”.

#3 – Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)

MAUDIE

Yep, you read that right. I’m picking her for her performance in “Maudie” over “The Shape of Water” (although the latter is yet more proof of her incredible talent). I can’t tell you how mesmerized I was by Hawkins portrayal of folk artist Maud Lewis. In a role that could easily ‘go big’, Hawkins keeps everything grounded and authentic. She’s nothing short of captivating.

#2 – Haley Lu Richardson (“Columbus”)

HALY LU

Of all the performances in 2017 it was Haley Lu Richardson in Kogonada’s “Columbus” who was the biggest revelation. She’s incredible. It’s a soulful, understated performance full of melancholy, charm and sincerity. She’s an incredibly expressive actress and we never see her overplay a scene or oversell an emotion. And there is a longing she is able to convey with the smallest effort. I adore this performance.

#1 – Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”)

MOLLY'S GAME

Much like Sally Hawkins, Jessica Chastain had an incredible year. She could have easily made this list for her work in “The Zookeeper’s Wife”. But it was her spectacular performance in Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue-rich “Molly’s Game” that topped them all for me. It goes without saying that Chastain has proven herself to be one of the best actresses working today, but here she is given some meaty material and she knocks it out of the park.

So what do you think. Where did I go right and what did I miss. Please let me know in the comments section. Also, there is only one more category remaining, Lead Actor. See you then.

Best of 2017: Supporting Actor

SUP actor

It’s day 2 of my look back at what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for the next several days I’ll be sharing my favorite performances for each of the four acting categories. Next up is Supporting Actor. It too is a category featuring many fabulous performances to consider. But of them all here are my five favorites:

#5 – Robert Pattinson (“The Lost City of Z”)

PATTINSON

For my money Robert Pattinson has emerged as one of the most exciting young actors in the business. In “The Lost City of Z” he is a bit underutilized but he’s a great compliment to Charlie Hunnam’s character and is superb each time he’s on screen. It may not be the big showy type of performance that often gets this kind of attention, but it’s well worth its place on this list.

#4 – Mark Rylance (“Dunkirk”)

RYLANCE

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” may not be a film focused on character but that doesn’t mean it has none. The always wonderful Mark Rylance certainly delivered a good one. His depiction of a father, patriotic towards his country and deeply bruised from the war’s effects, is so authentic both physically and emotionally. He’s a great cog in Nolan’s action-packed telling.

#3 – Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”)

HAWKE

I think it’s easy for Ethan Hawke’s performance in “Maudie” to be overlooked especially since the movie itself has been. That’s unfortunate because Hawke (like the film) is fabulous. Playing alongside Sally Hawkins, the two make a fascinating couple. And while Hawkins is the star, Hawke’s role and performance is pivotal. I loved it.

#2 – Idris Elba (“Molly’s Game”)

IDRIS

Navigating Aaron Sorkin’s dense, fast-paced dialogue can’t be an easy task, but the writer struck gold with Idris Elba. Elba’s performance is sharp, charming, witty and intense – all qualities his role demands. And his chemistry with Jessica Chastain is undeniable and emphasizes how supporting work can sometimes make or break a movie.

#1 – “Rob Morgan (“Mudbound”)

MORGAN

In a film filled with good performances none struck me quite like Rob Morgan’s. He’s probably best known for his roles in several Netflix series, but he clearly deserves more attention. In “Mudbound” I found his performance full of conviction, empathy and compassion. He was my favorite character in the film and I found an emotional connection with him that has stuck with me. Give Rob Morgan and “Mudbound” a look.

And there you have my picks for Supporting Actor. What did I hit and what did I miss. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Next up, the Lead categories.

Best of 2017: Supporting Actress

SUP actress

Each year I set aside time to highlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for the next several days I’ll be sharing my favorite performances for each of the four acting categories. Ladies first so I’m starting with the Supporting Actress category. Women had a ton of fabulous performances to consider this year which made this tough to narrow down. Nonetheless here are my five favorites:

#5 – Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”)

WATER

You could make an argument that Octavia Spencer could play this role in her sleep. I tend to agree, but that doesn’t make her any less fabulous in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”. There is an incredible natural quality to Spencer’s acting making it a perfect fit for characters like this. The movie certainly benefits from her presence.

#4 – Kirstin Dunst (“The Beguiled”)

DUNST

With the many good performances in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” my mind kept coming back to Kirsten Dunst. It’s a fittingly low-key performance but one that’s hard to read. As the tension amps up in the film’s second half, Dunst is allowed to open up her character a tad more. But through it all she still remains a bit of a mystery.

#3 – Tatiana Maslany (“Stronger”)

DSCF8085.raf

One of the true surprises of the year came from Tatiana Maslany who plays Jake Gyllenhaal’s on again/off again girlfriend in David Gordan Green’s biopic “Stronger”. It would have been easy for Maslany to get lost behind Gyllenhaal’s attention-getting performance but she’s incredibly good and an anchor in many of the movie’s best scenes.

#2 – Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”)

BLIGE

Drop this one into the “eye-opening” category. Mary J. Blige kills it in “Mudbound” and it’s great to see her getting some well-deserved attention along the awards circuit. I knew Blige had gotten into acting but I had never seen her work. After her performance as the matriarch of her 1940s Mississippi Delta family, you can expect to see a lot more of her.

#1 – Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”)

METCALF

There were several really good performances from women playing ‘complicated’ mothers. Laurie Metcalf’s from “Lady Bird” was easily my favorite. There is a complexity to the character that demands a very careful and precise performance. Metcalf gets it just right and delivers a character who walks the pivotal line between sympathetic and infuriating. Brilliant.

So what do you think? What did I get right and what did I miss. Share your thoughts and picks in the comments section. Supporting Actor is next.

Random Thoughts: 2018 Golden Globes

RANDOM GLOBES

It’s hard to believe the Golden Globes have (once again) come and gone and the Oscars are right around the corner. As always there were funny moments, some not so funny moments, some surprises, and some disappointments. As usual I have a few random thoughts I cant help but share. So here we go…

  • There was definitely a theme of the night. Women rising up from Hollywood inequality seemed to make its way into every speech and in many awards. Some of the language was beautiful and inspiring. Others seemed a bit out of place. For example…
  • Natalie Portman’s slam at the Best Director category. Presenting the award she said “And here are the all male nominees”. Now I have to admit it was a glorious shot. But it also felt a little dirty and demeaning to what the nominees accomplished. But they’re big boys. They’ll get over it.
  • Another thing on the womens theme, did anyone else sense Hollywood saying great things about moving forward but very little about their culpability? It was Hollywood that allowed and maintained the sexist (and in many cases) abusive environments. I would have loved to see more of that introspection.
  • And lastly let’s hope Hollywood is serious about moving forward and that this isn’t simply their “Cause of the Year”. The women of the industry deserve so much better.
  • It was great seeing Daniel Day-Lewis there and heartbreaking to know it’s for his last film. Simply put he is one of the greatest actors of all time. In many ways I would have loved to see him win Best Actor but…
  • Gary Oldman absolutely deserved it. Talk about an amazing performance. In his long line of great performances this could be his best and it was great to see him get recognition for it.

OLDMAN

  • Seth Myers was fine. Nothing bad. Nothing special. Simply okay. But did he have to yell practically every syllable of his monologue?
  • As I watched winner after winner from the television categories I couldn’t help but notice the slew of ‘movie stars’ taking home statues. It just shows how television has changed. Big screen stars committing to 7-10 episode seasons. Seems weird.
  • Oh, and I realized I haven’t seen one single episode of one single nominated TV show (pathetic, I know). I guess that’s why it’s called “Keith & the MOVIES”.
  • “Three Billboards Outide Ebbing, Missouri” left the big winner and potentially the Oscar frontrunner. With all due respect to the great ensemble, the Globes love blew my mind. So many better films.
  • I’m still shaking my head at Martin McDonagh’s Best Screenplay win for “Three Billboards”. How it beat Aaron Sorkin’s blazing script in “Molly’s Game” or Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is beyond me.
  • Speaking of “Lady Bird” what a great win in the Best Musical or Comedy category. I’m so proud for Gerwig who was the true architect of that film.
  • And speaking of “Lady Bird” again, Saoirse Ronan! I squealed when her name was announced. She’s been great so many times and it’s wonderful to see her get some much deserved recognition.
  • But can Ronan knock off Frances McDormand who won the Best Actress Drama award? McDormand was good in “Three Billboards”. She always is. But I would have taken Chastain over her in a heartbeat.
  • Speaking of always good, Allison Janney won for Best Supporting Actress Comedy. It’s really hard to argue that win but man I was rooting for Laurie Metcalf. Of the eccentric overbearing mothers, Metcalf moved me so much more.
  • Sam Rockwell winning for Best Supporting Actor? Sure. It’s hard not to like Rockwell. But there were so many omissions from that category.

rockwell

  • The Hollywood Foreign Press must not care much for music. Did you see them fly through the nominees and winners for Best Original Score and Best Original Song?
  • Gal Gadot and The Rock. Yes please.
  • I can’t bark too much because I’ve only seen two of the nominees in the Best Foreign Language category. But may I say (again) that Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” is one of the best film’s of the year? There, I said it.
  • “Get Out” was shut out and I have to say (don’t crucify me) I was glad to see it. I know I’m practically alone but I just can’t see the fascination. Some cool ideas but far from awards-caliber execution.
  • Speaking of “Get Out” I saw some interesting tweets insinuating the movie’s bad night may have racial foundations. I don’t buy that. “Get Out” isn’t good enough. But then I wonder where is Idris Elba, Dee Rees, and Rob Morgan? Hmm.
  • Think about this – both Tommy Wiseau and Tonya Harding were celebrated in the same Golden Globes show.
  • And James Franco winning Best Actor Comedy was okay I guess. It may see him at least get an Oscar night invite. But does anyone really think he has a shot at winning? Nope.
  • “Coco” wins for Best Animated Feature. The most predictable win of the night in what turned out to be a very bland group of nominees.
  • Let’s face it, Christopher Nolan apparently doesn’t make movies that appeal to these voters and I love him for it. Obviously they “appreciate” them but not enough to award them. That’s a shame. “Dunkirk” is phenomenal.
  • Which brings me back to Best Director and its winner, Guillermo del Toro. There were some big omissions among the nominees. But of those listed, Christopher Nolan’s accomplishment was unlike any other. But see previous point.

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75

  • Another happy Greta Gerwig moment – how about her speech for the big “Lady Bird” win. Talk about humble, unscripted, and pure appreciation. It made me happy.
  • I can’t tell you whether he deserved it or not, but Sterling Brown being the first black actor to win Best Actor in a TV Drama. Let that astounding fact sink in for a second.
  • And Oprah. I’ve always been mixed on Oprah but never downplayed her cultural impact. Sure, parts of her speech were inspiring. But I still love it when these speeches focus on the art and the person’s accomplishment within the art. I know, but that’s just me.
  • Those Kevin Spacey jokes…WOW!
  • Speaking of Tommy Wiseau, did you notice how Franco, Rogan and company didn’t let him sit at their table? It looked like he was stuck in the back somewhere.
  • Remember when Seth Myers introduced “TV Legends” Carol Burnett and Jennifer Aniston? TV Legends??? Carol Burnett absolutely. But Jennifer Aniston. Hmmm.

Well that’s enough randomness. Lets do it again next year!

Top 10 Films of 2017

BEST17

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again – the time of the year where critics and bloggers throw together lists of the movies they felt shined the brightest during the past year. Sure, some turn their noses at these things, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Why not take time to promote the movies you feel were the real treats of the past 365 days. So here we go, reflecting back on 2017 and sharing my picks from what the year had to offer (At least out of what I’ve seen. Sadly, frustrating release schedules means some much anticipated films have yet to open near me. “Phantom Thread”, “Hostiles” and “The Post” head that list).

As always I’ll begin by showing some love to the fine movies that just missed my top 10. Here are my #11 – 20 picks:

  • #20 – “Finding Oscar”
  • #19 – “Pilgrimage”
  • #18 – “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
  • #17 – “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
  • #16 – “The Bachelors”
  • #15 – “Lady Bird”
  • #14 – “Frantz”
  • #13 – “Wonderstruck”
  • #12 – “Molly’s Game”
  • #11 – “The Beguiled”

And now my Top 10 films of 2017…

MAUDIE#10 – “Maudie” Sally Hawkins received much well-deserved attention in 2017. Most of it resulted from her performance in “The Shape of Water”. For me it was her superb portrayal of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis that stayed with me for days. Director Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White tell this moving story free of the typical biopic formulas. There isn’t an ounce of false conviction or sentimental gloss. A gruff Ethan Hawke is fantastic in a key role but then you get back to Hawkins. She vanishes into her character and fearlessly tackles the challenges of portraying Maud’s frail body, soft voice, and irrepressible positive spirit. She’s the real deal.

1922#9 – “1922” There were plenty of surprises in 2017. In fact it was the surprises that saved the movie year for me. Perhaps the biggest one came in the small psychological horror film “1922” based on a Stephen King short story. Thomas Jane (in what may be my favorite performance of the year) plays a struggling Nebraska farmer at odds with his wife over keeping their land or moving to the city. Writer/director Zak Hilditch crafts a movie that gets under your skin and maintains a menacing vibe from start to finish without ever relying on overused genre gimmickry. It may be a tad too slow for some, but its steady sense of discomfort and dread had me hooked. What a year for Netflix.

UNKNOWN GIRL#8 – “The Unknown Girl” The Belgian sibling duo of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have become some of my favorite filmmakers. There is an unvarnished naturalism in their handling of their characters, their circumstances, and the moral quandaries they face. All hold true in “The Unknown Girl”, a mesmerizing drama and personal journey veiled as a murder mystery. The Dardenne’s focus their real-world lens on a young doctor played with a magnetic measured intensity by Adèle Haenel. Her striking performance is almost Bressonian in its quiet authenticity – a perfect match for the Dardenne’s style.

GHOST#7 – “A Ghost Story” David Lowery’s meditative supernatural drama was unlike anything else I saw in 2017. There is nothing conventional or routine about Lowery’s film or his approach to storytelling and that’s part of its allure. “A Ghost Story” surprises at so many levels. It may be the seismic yet effective narrative shift midway through the movie. Or maybe the amount of emotion we get from Casey Affleck under a bedsheet. Or Rooney Mara’s soulful, evocative performance despite having little dialogue. I found it all to be both beautiful and tragic. Its story is patient and personal; its presentation audacious and impressionistic. It all had me under the film’s spell from the start.

FIRST#6  – “First They Killed My Father” Through four films Angelina Jolie has shown a sharp awareness of technique but has never quite hit her stride. That changes with her fifth film, “First They Killed My Father”. It’s a heart-wrenching true story of a young girl growing up during the Khmer Rouge reign in 1970s Cambodia. Jolie’s commitment to authenticity pays off. The movie was shot in Cambodia, with Cambodian performers, and uses the Khmer language. Also many films have told their story from a child’s perspective, but few have done it as well as Jolie does here. The true story in incredible, Jolie’s pacing is perfect, and the cinematography is stunning. It’s a difficult movie to watch but it’s an absolute must-see.

CITYZ#5 – “The Lost City of Z” James Gray’s masterful biographical adventure “The Lost City of Z” didn’t get a ton of buzz, but it is a film that has stuck with me since my first viewing. Its story of British officer, geographer, and eventual South American explorer Percy Fawcett is fascinating on its own, but Gray’s storytelling is just as absorbing.  You can’t help but see light shades of Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo”. Even touches of John Huston come to mind. Yet remarkably James Gray has created a movie that feels completely of itself. It’s his best film. It’s Charlie Hunnam’s best performance to date. It’s easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

MUDBOUND.png#4 – “Mudbound” Over the past few years there have been several movies willing to deal with slavery and the racial aftermath that reverberated for decades. “Mudbound” is the best of them. Set in the Mississippi delta during the 1940s, “Mudbound” tells the story of two families bound by the rugged farmland they work. Co-writer and director Dee Rees brilliantly portrays the harshness of the period setting while her shrewd handling of the racial climate is powerful and authentic. “Mudbound” is a devastating movie with a bold perspective, great performances throughout, and a young filmmaker with an incredible eye and great understanding of her material. The results are superb.

WONDER#3 – “Wonder Woman” DC’s attempts to match Marvel in the superhero genre haven’t been warmly received (sometimes unfairly but I’ll leave that be). “Wonder Woman” was the injection their shared universe needed. Director Patty Jenkins brings a fresh sensibility and perspective to the genre while still capturing what makes these comics-to-screen adventures so much fun. And of course there is Gal Gadot who not only makes Wonder Woman her own, but gives her more depth than I expected. And that’s what made this film one of the best of its genre – a protagonist with powers that leave us in awe but genuine emotions we can relate to.

COLUMBUS#2 – “Columbus” One of the great surprises of 2017 was “Columbus” and its first-time feature filmmaker Kogonada. Rarely does a first film feature such a deft handling of story and visual technique. Set among the modernist architecture of Columbus, Indiana, Kogonada elegantly and meticulously composes shot after shot that are stunning but never without purpose. They always serve the beautiful but quietly devastating story of two wounded souls played by John Cho (who is fantastic) and Haley Lu Richardson who turns out to be a true revelation. It all melds into one of the most soulful experiences of the year and one of the strongest filmmaking debuts in decades.

DUNKIRK#1 – “Dunkirk” In my mind Christopher Nolan has established himself as the premier big budget filmmaker of our time. Time and time again he has delivered fascinating cinematic experiences that make their own rules. “Dunkirk” is one of his best. This World War II action film honors an incredible true story by creating some of the most harrowing war sequences ever put to film. It fluidly moves between land, air, and sea campaigns while also using time in clever unexpected ways. But perhaps the most surprising element to “Dunkirk” is the emotional punch it packs. It’s not delivered through backstory or heavy plotting. The emotion builds through the intense visceral experience we share with the characters. The vividness of Nolan’s presentation puts us on that beach, aboard the boats, or in the planes. It’s a masterclass of filmmaking and storytelling.

Now it’s your turn. What did I get right? Where did I go horribly wrong? Please share your thoughts and your picks in the comments section below.

Relay Race – The 10 Best Christmas Movies

CHRISTMAS

As I was visiting the site of one of my favorite long-time movie bloggers Nostra (My Filmviews) I noticed he had revived a cool feature of his – the movie relay race. And then another respected long-time movie blogging buddy Mark (Marked Movies) had joined it and tagged me as next in line. There is no way I could pass that up especially considering the topic – Christmas movies. You can see Nostra’s original lineup HERE and below you can see the current lineup following Mark’s addition and subtraction.

Not sure how it all works? Here’s a rundown from Nostra himself:

The rules are, just like the past relay races, very simple: The list has 10 Christmas movies (in random order) and when the baton is handed over to a new blogger, he or she has to remove one title of the list (with an explanation why) and add one new title. Once that is done a new blogger is contacted who will take the baton and run with it, doing the same (you can reinstate a title which has been previously removed). As Christmas is in three weeks I want to ask you to publish your entry as quickly as possible to make sure the list changes as much as possible before the 25th of December. Add the logo of this relay race to your post and also add links to those who came before you making it easy for everyone to find all the entries.

So here is the list of the 10 Best Christmas Movies as it stands now:

HOME ALONE

HOME

There are a number of Christmas films that I actually watch annually and Home Alone has been one of my favorites for years. This film, written by John Hughes, has all the elements to amuse and get you in the mood Christmas. And Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are of course hilarious when the “Wet bandits” Harry and Marv.

ELF

ELF

The film is almost fifteen years old, but the timeless story of a grown man who grew up among the elves and heads to New York, looking for his father, still is very funny and entertaining. Will Ferrell is the perfect “man child” and the short animated parts are a pleasure to watch. A real Christmas classic.

A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

MUPPET

Although Charles Dickens story has been translated to film many times, this version is still my personal favorite. A film with a lot of atmosphere and the warmth of the Muppets.

DIE HARD

DIE HARD

Every year people argue whether or not Die Hard can be labeled a Christmas film. Yet it is very simple: Although there is a lot of action, the story takes place around Christmas. And Bruce Willis might play his best role ever.

BAD SANTA

BAD SANTA

Almost everything that Christmas should not be and therefore wrong at the same time, but fun.

GREMLINS

GEMLINS

Although you might not associate this horror comedy with Christmas immediately, this film is set during this period and the gremlins even sing Christmas songs. A title that can not be missed.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

WONDEFRFUL

It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie which is watched by lots of people every year. Rightly so, because it is a beautiful film that fits the Christmas period.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

MIRACLE

Another title that I have to think about immediately during this period. Although the opinions are divided which two of the two versions is the best.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

ARTHUR

The clumsy son of Santa, Arthur, has to make sure that a forgotten package is delivered on time, doing this together with his grandfather. A very nice film from Aardman studios (also responsible for the Wallace & Gromit films).

EYES WIDE SHUT (Mark’s addition)

EYES

I’m using the same argument here that many Die Hard fans cling to. The story is set during the festive season and, in actual fact, most if not all scenes are introduced by depicting a Christmas tree. It’s fair to say, that it’s dark psychological mystery isn’t exactly in tune with the Christmas cheer but if Die Hard can be tenuously linked to this joyful season then so can Kubrick’s masterpiece.

Deciding what to remove was a painful task. I first considered tossing out “Miracle on 34th Street” and replacing it with the 1947 original which I feel is the true treasure of the three versions. But ultimately it came down to a film I genuinely can’t stand. Therefore bye-bye “BAD SANTA“!

What am I replacing it with?

A CHRISTMAS STORY

RALPHIE

Few films have defined my Christmas movie watching like Bob Clark’s delightful “A Christmas Story”. Sure, I gets overplayed during the season, but it is such a fabulous concoction filled with humor and heart. So many memorable scenes, so many memorable lines, so many memorable characters. This one simply has to be here.

So now I pass the yuletide baton to my friend Ruth over at Flixchatter!