Monthly Archives: January 2018

Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition

Every year, there are a set of films and artists that miss out on award nominations that deserved to at least compete for them. They might have not had enough resources to put together as strong (or as loud) of a campaign as others. They might have been flooded out by the more popular films. They might have never been given the time of day in the first place. It could be due to a variety of reasons.

Some of those would qualify as “snubs” — in that, based on majority opinion, they are of better quality than one or more of those nominated. But that’s such a difficult circumstance to determine, meaning that a lot of those are just unfortunate misses.

The following list will detail films and artists that were hardly a part of the larger conversation. So, while Jessica Chastain’s miss in Best Lead Actress for Molly’s Game is painful, she was considered a potential nominee up until the nominations were announced and, thus, will not be a part of this list.

Here are ten films/artists that deserved to be a part of awards season, but, for the most part, weren’t:

*To be transparent, I’ve borrowed the use of this phrase in regard to the Oscars from The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg.*

Kedi (Best Documentary)

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

Kedi gets points for being absolutely adorable, and that shouldn’t be a trivial statement, as it takes great filmmaking to sell that aspect.

But who knew that a documentary about cats could be a profound statement about the beauty of life? The film accomplishes that through its wholesome approach to the cats it follows. Kedi isn’t just about the cats. It’s about the history that brought them to Turkey, the culture that they’ve become a massive part of, the human beings that they live with and depend on and the human beings that they help.

One of the most touching parts of the documentary is how it frames the cats as aids of mental health. The human subjects often come from tough places, backgrounds or situations, and the cats are what led them out of the struggle.

The line that, perhaps, sums up the movie perfectly is: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”

Darius Khondji — The Lost City of Z (Best Cinematography)

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

To be quite honest, The Lost City of Z should’ve been a contender in nearly every craft category. Its sound design is deeply layered, and its costume and production design contribute so much to the world-building. We believe in the world of explorers and discovery that writer-director James Gray crafts, which is also a testament to its (adapted) screenplay.

However, the most glaring omission from far too much of awards season — he did show up for a few critics groups — was Darius Khondji for his stunning cinematography. Khondji’s job was, on both an emotional level and a technical level, absurdly complex.

The film was shot on 35mm in actual jungles, lending Khondji opportunities that he took to their full potential. The wide shots of landscapes are breathtaking, and the slowly creeping camera, almost playing the role of another explorer among the crew, is fully immersive.

But the lighting, specifically, is always breathtaking, both deeply earthy below the jungle trees yet somehow simultaneously ethereal and mythical. And that’s precisely what the visuals of the film had to accomplish to sell its story — evoke the reality of the setting while hinting at the possibilities that Percy Fawcett so desperately searches for.

Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)

Abramorama/Courtesy

It’s not common for a score for a documentary to be among awards chatter, but if any were to deserve it, it would be Philip Glass’ compositions for the Jane Goodall doc, Jane.

The most beautiful part of the experience of watching Jane is how it sneaks up on us and grabs our minds and hearts before we even notice. By its end, we walk out with a beautifully wholesome and loving portrait of a strong and brilliant woman, and true grasp of just how epic her life has been.

And one of, if not the most essential part of that is Glass’ score. That lovingness and that epicness is based in the music, as if Goodall’s will is the driving force behind each note. The slow build of Glass’ layering, on pieces such as “In the Shadow of Man” and “Perfect Life,” truly evokes a sense of journey, but also a simultaneous sense of nostalgic reminiscence. The score so often ebbs and flows with highs and lows that perfectly dig into the highs and lows of Goodall’s life, and there’s such an immense explorative quality in the progression of the music that does as much work painting Goodall as the rest of the film does.

Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Hugh Jackman, the titular Logan, seemed to be almost unparalleled in his ferocity for 17 years. And then, a young 11 year old actress came along. What Dafne Keen accomplishes in Logan is not to be understated. She truly inhabits the character of Laura in every manner. We believe in her fierceness, her ruthless aggression. We believe in her desperation to get to her friends. We believe in the relationship that she and Logan builds.

With nearly no dialogue for a huge portion of the film, Keen grabs our attention and hangs onto it with metal claws. And at the end, when the entire ending rests on her shoulders, she brings us to tears with a powerfully delivered monologue taken from Shane. It’s fully devoted acting that is just as crucial to the emotional story as almost anything else.

Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)

Netflix/Courtesy

Mudbound got four Oscar nominations, and was still deeply underappreciated. That’s just how good it really is.

One of its greatest assets is its ensemble, and we are elated that Mary J. Blige is being recognized. There is, however, a performance just a rich and just as nuanced as Blige’s — that of Jason Mitchell

Mitchell plays Ronsel, a Black man in the South struggling with not only PTSD after World War II, but the oppressive society he returns to and the family role he’s expected to fulfill. He’s often in conversation with Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie, and Jamie’s more explicit PTSD fills a lot of space. But Mitchell’s quieter evocation of Ronsel’s interiority is even more gripping.

Black people of the time, evidently, weren’t granted the same rights and didn’t have the privilege of expression that a Jamie would have, and Mitchell brings this conflict out in Ronsel with force, burying the anger so truthfully that it becomes visible to the viewer. Ronsel may simply be sitting, looking down at the floor as he talks about how the war changed him, but we see so much of who he is and wants to be, and why he can’t be that, through Mitchell’s precise, minute expressions and almost poetic vocal pacing. And it’s Ronsel who we’re with at the end, hearts breaking before being lifted from ash by a narrated monologue that Mitchell performs with stunning empathy.

Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)

Focus Features/Courtesy

It’s rare that someone stands tall next to Daniel Day-Lewis, let alone takes over scenes that he appears in. In Phantom Thread, however, that’s not only the necessity of the character of Alma, but also the unbelievable strength that relative newcomer Vicky Krieps shows in her performance.

In a way, it’s rather meta that Krieps hasn’t been given her fair share of celebration. Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock has such a massive personality that eats up the screen.

But how Krieps subtly elevates Alma to a point where we believe the power dynamics that develop is exactly why she might be more deserving of praise than the legendary actor, as she, essentially, does more with less.

Alma is often silently staring, whether that be in longing, sensuality or even intense anger, and Krieps sells each one so magnetically. It might be that anger, though, that is the most delicious and plentiful, her eyes nearly materializing daggers.

Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

Bale is a three-time Oscar nominee, winning once for The Fighter. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise, and as a bit humorous, that the actor’s arguably best performance in Hostiles was essentially left out everywhere.

In Scott Cooper’s brutal, bruised Western, Bale plays a man filled with anger, nearly broken by it. Precisely how the actor conveys it is where the performance elevates to the extraordinary.

Bale doesn’t have expressive monologues nor does he engage explosively with the other actors. Instead, he pushes all of the emotional work into his eyes. Whether they’re straining, holding a stare or looking on with deep care, Bale’s eyes are absolutely absorbing, and underscore his character with an intensity that renders a softly spoken word into a harrowingly touching moment, or a brief and firm line into the most intimidating, dominating action in the entire film.

So while Bale may be known for his rather outward transformations, it’s in this subdued, careful performance that he shows exactly how much he can do.

Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes (Best Director)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

On nearly every level, Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes films have been under-awarded. And with War, which somehow tops Dawn, Reeves directs something truly special, a classically inspired epic that tells its story with grace and care in ways that few other stories of any kind are told.

It may be easy to look to the film’s visual effects, the actors, the set pieces and more, but we should take a step back and look at the person who orchestrates it all. Reeves’ hand is as firm as any other director’s this year, guiding us through a grand character arc that nails every turn, building the feel of a world imagined far beyond the edges of the frames we see, constructing cinematic language so rhythmically and sonically dynamic.

It’s hard to imagine few other directors delivering War the way in which it was delivered. It’s a blockbuster that doesn’t exploit its big budget, nor its visual spectacle, instead capitalizing spectacle in service of emotion and story. It’s a directorial wonder.

Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

A long-after sequel to an absolute classic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it often is. Even with the recently Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve behind the project, it was hard to be anything but skeptical.

The director, however, arguably delivered the masterpiece of his career, topping even Arrival, with a visually arresting, thematically profound rumination on how we define our humanity. In a world that is quickly becoming digitized and uploaded, it’s strange that more weren’t overcome by 2049, a film that suggests that, even in the absence of natural life and vivid color, humanity can still live through our relationships and through our choices.

Every feature of 2049 is stunning. Roger Deakins’ photography is transfixing and haunting. The actors all work wonders, none over-the-top, all players committed to the subtleties of the many aspects that make us human, especially the stoic, lingering and vulnerable Gosling. Villeneuve directs with force, a true atmospheric genius. And the story builds to something truly tragic, yet invigorating and uplifting. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare film that takes its massive canvas and grounds each frame in the human soul.

 

Featured image via Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy.

Top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017

Each year sees hundreds of new films, many of them filled with great performances. But as the year wraps up, the conversation around performances often becomes too focused on those that end up competing for awards, and those that many feel should be competing for awards.

With those hundreds of films, however, there are, genuinely, hundreds of performances that are worthy of praise, and it is the job of us film writers to make sure that they are given their fair share.

Here are our top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017:

10. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled

Focus Features/Courtesy

The explicit emotions in The Beguiled come from Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. And Elle Fanning is rather good too in defining another, more youthful space, complimented by the other young actresses around her. But Kirsten Dunst adds a layer that no other player does.

Throughout, in quiet moments where Dunst’s eyes do much of the work in how softly expressive they are, we get a sense that the character is depressed and emotionally weathered due to the situation of being stuck during the war. The material allows Dunst to be both explorative and harrowingly frozen, and her performance evokes that grander scope of the war, specifically from the perspective of women.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Cillian Murphy — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Melinda Sue Gordon/Courtesy

To many, Dunkirk is not necessarily a character-driven film, propelled more so by the visual experience. But we’d like to push back on that notion. Mark Rylance is usually the stand-out in conversations, his character being, truly, the emotional center and guide of the film.

Yet, perhaps the more haunting performance comes from Cillian Murphy as The Shivering Soldier. Murphy’s job is deceptively physical. Rylance’s Mr. Dawson describes him as shell-shocked, which is easily taken for granted. However, under close observation, Murphy is doing so much to sell that role. There are so many small moments that would’ve taken away so many layers from the film were they not there, such as toward the end when Murphy’s character cowers in fear at one last incoming German plane and has to be escorted inside the ship by Mr. Dawson.

And then, quite clearly, there’s his outburst toward the middle, which is one of the most tragic displays of the terrors of war in the entire film. While the editing does fascinating work, cutting from his character days prior, the immense panic is so palpable because of, again, Murphy’s physicality and precisely how that physicality pushes the panicked words out of his character.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Colin Farrell — The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24/Courtesy

Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos and actor Colin Farrell followed up the wonderfully unique The Lobster with The Killing of a Sacred Deer and, once again, have a darkly comedic — mostly dark — movie on their hands. It’s hard not to think of Funny Games when watching it.

Farrell, who’s making a career of starring in small-scale films, is excellent in this one as Steven, a father and doctor faced with a harrowing decision: kill one of his children or his wife, or they all die. Farrell plays the obvious horror of the situation convincingly. As an audience, it’s hard not to side with him at first — after all, this seems random, sadistic even. But as the plot unveils, so too does Steven’s brashness and, beyond that, his cowardice.

Perhaps helped by his experience with Lanthimos’ scripts, Farrell delivers the lines perfectly, without his tongue too firmly planted in his cheek. There’s certainly humor in his deadpan performance, but there’s realism too. There’s shock, pain and denial. Beyond all, Steven has a seeming desire to end conversations as quickly as possible, before we learn too much about him.

— Hooman Yazdanian

7. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

Lionsgate/Courtesy

It’s funny because we’d argue that Woody Harrelson had a better performance than the one that got him an Oscar nomination. In plenty of his roles, it’s often simply just ‘Woody being Woody,’ which is, by no means, a bad thing. He’s one of the most enjoyable actors in the business when he’s simply just Woody.

Yet, in The Glass Castle, Harrelson is magnetic and truly crafts a character that extends beyond the man behind it. There’s much of the trademark Woody here, his gigantic personality fitting right into the character of Rex. But there’s an added layer of the character’s self-loathing, his eccentric beliefs and his great love for his family that Harrelson works into every scene. And when they come to the surface, such as when Rex tells his daughter Jeannette, a child, that her burn scar is not ugly or when he voices his regrets in life to her, now an adult, Harrelson heartbreakingly channels and brings out the emotional truth of such a complexly flawed, yet deeply feeling man.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Ryan Gosling — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Ryan Gosling’s performance in Blade Runner 2049 was perhaps too spot on. He seamlessly disappears into the role as Agent K, a replicant Blade Runner whose mental and emotional stability is slowly challenged throughout the entirety of the film’s 164 minutes. Granted, there’s plenty of character work being done in the music and editing, but Gosling absolutely nails the expressionless faces and soft line delivery that hint at so much more going on underneath. In that regard, two scenes stand out in particular: K approaching the furnace in which he hid his toy horse, suggesting that his memories may be real, and K meeting Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) for the first time where she does confirm that the memories are real. In both, Gosling says next to nothing, but optimizes his eyes, body and facial muscles to render those character moments utterly haunting. And as the film wraps up, and it’s revealed (spoilers) that K was not Deckard’s child, but simply had the memories of Deckard’s real kid, we see a change in K’s eyes that evokes such profound tragedy.

Gosling’s performance is subtle. And his casting may have been too perfect for his turn to be appreciated to its fullest; the man is simply too good looking and his behavior too charmingly composed that it wouldn’t be a stretch if he was revealed, in real life, to be an android.

But he is truly doing so much work in every frame, every close-up, and the film rests entirely on him pulling it all off.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Dafne Keen — Logan

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There’s often an age bias when judging child performances in relation to those of adults, which becomes all the more frustrating when one deserves to stand tall next to the actors that eventually receive awards. And this year, Dafne Keen fits right into that unfortunate circumstance in regard to her nearly unbelievable turn in Logan.

Next to one of Hugh Jackman’s greatest performance, Keen holds her own in every regard. Her ferocity is untamed, but distinctly human. Her chemistry with Jackman is fluid and dynamic, as she even takes hold of scenes with him, such as the one in the car when she lists the names of her friends that are in danger. For much of her screentime, Keen has no dialogue, but she lends a searching quality to Laura that perfectly underscores the growing relationship between her and Logan.

Too many take for granted that the ending relies so heavily on her nailing the monologue from Shane. But Keen is emotionally raw and brave in the moment, both paving beautiful space for her character moving forward and allowing such perfect, profound reflection on the life of Logan, which was a monumental task considering that Jackman’s character had been present for seventeen years before Keen showed up.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Beanie Feldstein — Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

Most of the hype surrounding the performances in the much-beloved Lady Bird has been around the leading daughter-mother combo of Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf). But Beanie Feldstein ensures Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, still stands out.

Feldstein strikes an emotional nerve, stealing scenes and believably delivering what may be the film’s most powerful line: “Some people aren’t built happy, you know?” She balances this moment with savvy comedic timing and a take on love and jealousy in friendships that resonates deeply. As Lady Bird is clearly about to get in trouble at the assembly, Julie’s face contorts with concern and she clutches the bleacher seats, all in the midst of a fight with her best friend. Lady Bird and Julie’s conversation about where they’ll be after high school are believable and familiar, like peering through a window at every friend group’s conversations in the waning months of high school — it’s no surprise that Feldstein and Ronan apparently became close friends in real life.

In a year of worthy additions to the pantheon of cinematic best friends (here’s looking at you, Lil Rel Howery), Feldstein’s Julie may be the very best.

— Hooman Yazdanian

3. Harry Dean Stanton — Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

Harry Dean Stanton, who sadly passed a few weeks before Lucky released, is just an absolute delight in the film. And it’s quite touching to see where the film goes thematically in regard to Stanton’s character. The titular Lucky is coming toward the end of his life and he must deal with the passage of time. Through that material, Stanton is riotously hilarious and equally as moving. Lucky is often alone, going through his daily routine, but Stanton eats up the physical space around him whether that be through his quirky physicality or his sarcastic, sassy comments. But even when the character is saying nothing and everything is quiet, Stanton conveys a rumination on life that pushes the film’s scope beyond what many might expect. It’s characterization that only comes from a masterful actor, and it’ll be difficult to forget his weird, hilarious, tragic, captivating final moments as he comments on the universe: “Blackness… the void!”

— Kyle Kizu

2. Robert Redford — Our Souls at Night

Netflix/Courtesy

The quiet Our Souls at Night was ignored on, essentially, every level. But the film is outstanding, precisely because of how quiet it is. That’s where it finds its emotional drive, in the soft and tender moments.

So many of those moments come from Robert Redford as Louis Waters. The film picks up with him late in his life, and it’s slowly revealed that he’s had quite a long and often sad journey. We’re never offered flashbacks, but Redford still shoulders the weight of that past beautifully. We hear about things that happened to Louis and, through Redford’s small glances and brief words, we can see how all of that has informed who he is now, how all of that has crafted this quiet life we get to observe. In the most emotional scenes, all Redford needs to do is break his composure for a split second, and our hearts nearly shatter. It’s unbelievable work from the legendary actor, much of it being quite difficult to capture in words.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Betty Gabriel — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Betty Gabriel, who plays Georgina in Jordan Peele’s standout directorial debut Get Out, was a revelation. Gabriel’s Georgina, the Armitages’ housekeeper, is often at the crux of the film’s drama and tension, her face revealing more than words ever could, hinting at the central twist and the societal influence behind it.

Gabriel displays the textbook example of how to portray a “conflict within.” Her mannerisms stand out from the moment we see her on screen. Clearly, something is off. Is she evil? Has she been hypnotized? Is she trying to provide a warning? All these contradicting motivations are played perfectly and, somehow, simultaneously by Gabriel.

It’s impossible to keep our eyes off of her for the rest of the movie, whether when she brushes her hair or jump scares Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). Her most famous scene, where she cries, smiles, laughs and exudes terror — again, all at once — is masterful.

Gabriel seemingly came out of nowhere in Get Out (her previous biggest role was in another social thriller, The Purge: Election Year) but she ended up stealing scenes and producing a true standout performance in one of 2017’s very best films. Yet, no one — at least on the awards circuit — seems to have noticed.

— Hooman Yazdanian

 

Sophie-Marie Prime participated in voting for this list.

Featured image via 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Magnolia Pictures/A24.

Box Office Report: ‘Maze Runner’ races to the top as ‘Hostiles’ expands

Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final installment in the series, opened to an estimated $23.5 million this past weekend to top the box office. The Dylan O’Brien led young adult action franchise has seen great financial success due in large part to the films’ ability to make a dent on a comparably low budget — the first being made for $34 million, the second for $61 million and this one for $62 million. Add in The Death Cure‘s international haul of $82 million, bringing the worldwide total to $105.5 million, and the film is already close to breaking even.

While Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was finally unseated, the film still only dropped 15.9%, making another $16.4 million. It has officially passed It and Spider-Man: Homecoming to become the fifth largest domestic grosser released in 2017. It’s approximately $50 million behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Having released in most international markets, it will likely fall just short.

Coming in third with an estimated $10.205 million was Hostiles, which expanded wide this past weekend after opening in limited release on December 22. The film reportedly had a budget of $39 million, meaning that it will have to climb to approximately $80 million to break even. While Christian Bale and crew were among those vying for Oscar nominations, the film fell short, perhaps due to a late October purchase by brand new distribution company Entertainment Studios — an unfortunate result as Bale’s performance is one of his best.

The Greatest Showman will just not quit, taking home $9.5 million for fourth place and a domestic total of $126.475 million. With two more solid weekends, the film should pass Transformers: The Last KnightWonder and Split on the 2017 domestic chart.

Finally, the recent Oscar nominees have faired well. The Post earned an estimated $8.85 million to bring its worldwide total to $83.035 million. It will certainly break even off of its $50 million budget. The Shape of Water added 1,001 theaters, making $5.7 million to bring its worldwide total to $51.581 million. The Guillermo del Toro film was made for an astonishing $19.5 million, meaning that it’s veering into profit territory now.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via 20th Century Fox.

Analyzing the Oscar Nominations

The Academy never fails to surprise or disappoint and, this year, they did both to varying degrees. Here are some of the notable takeaways from the nominations announced this morning:

Most nominated:

The Shape of Water earned 13 nominations to take the spot as the most nominated film of the year. It held on in categories such as Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing, where there was heavy competition, and pushed through into Best Supporting Actress with Octavia Spencer when it seemed that she was just beyond the edge.

The second most nominated film is Dunkirk, recognized in eight categories. The film was always a craft/technical juggernaut, and it showed up as such in Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Cinematography. But the film also confirmed itself as one in the top of the pack, landing Best Director and Best Picture nominations.

A phantom contender:

Focus Features/Courtesy

While most expected nominations in Best Lead Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Costume Design for Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread was justly nominated in Best Original Score for Jonny Greenwood, Best Supporting Actress for Lesley Manville, Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Motion Picture. Anderson films doesn’t always click with the Academy, as The Master was limited to just acting nominations and the director was only nominated in the category once before for There Will Be Blood. The same can be said about Jonny Greenwood who, despite turning in brilliant work on those previously mentioned films as well as Inherent Vice, had never been nominated before.

Firsts:

These nominations provided plenty of firsts, both for individual artists as well as in Oscar history.

  • Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in Best Cinematography.
  • Logan became the first superhero film nominated in a writing category.
  • At 88, Christopher Plummer is the oldest acting nominee.
  • Among firsts for many in their career — such as Greenwood, actresses Margot Robbie and Mary J. Blige, actors Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya and debut directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele — perhaps the most notable first comes to a veteran. Christopher Nolan, director of landmark films such as MementoThe Dark Knight and Inception, earned his first Best Director nomination.
  • Dee Rees became the first Black woman to be nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay and joined Suzanne de Passe (Lady Sings the Blues) as the only Black women nominated for screenwriting.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first person ever nominated for a performance and for an original song in the same year, for the same film.
  • Netflix picked up its first non-documentary Oscar nominations with the four that Mudbound received.

Netflix/Courtesy

A year to celebrate women (but we can still do better):

Over the last fourth of 2017, culture began shifting as the world finally began talking — genuinely talking — about not only sexual assault and harassment, but other women’s rights areas such as equal pay, representation and opportunities.

Female filmmakers, particularly, have been championed and today, the Academy nominated Greta Gerwig in Best Director, making her the fifth woman to ever be nominated.

That stat is embarrassing and shameful, that there have been so few, but Gerwig’s inclusion here is rightful recognition of her beautiful accomplishment this year and, hopefully, another key moment in lifting up female filmmakers. Gerwig should not have to embody the entire movement, as that would be unfair, but the nomination is still something that will and must extend beyond the awards ceremony.

Gerwig doesn’t even have to, if one looks below the surface. Women have producing credits on six of the nine Best Picture nominees, and are recognized in, beyond Best Director, both writing categories, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Sound mixing — as noted by journalist Mark Harris.

Merie Wallace/A24/Courtesyy

And while Dee Rees did not get her fair share of talk for the Best Director category and the film was omitted from Best Picture, Mudbound still showed up with four nominations, and its players also made history.

Only more change will come.

Other stories of note:

While they may not have been firsts or records, these following stories, culturally, in Oscar history and just as awesome occurrences, are of note:

  • Jordan Peele became both the third person to ever be nominated in Best Picture, Best Director and one of the writing categories for their first film, and the fifth Black person to be nominated in Best Director. Get Out released back in February and many thought, at the time, that it could compete in Best Original Screenplay and not much else. But its critical, financial and cultural success proved to hold and hold true as the year wrapped up, and the film continued to show up throughout the awards season.
  • James Franco had been predicted in the Best Lead Actor category by plenty of experts, most thinking that the allegations unveiled in the LA Times article arrived too late in the voting process — there were only two days left — for him to be left off. But Franco did end up missing, which may have been due to the allegations, the competition of other actors or, the more likely scenario, a combination of both.
  • At 22, Timothée Chalamet is the youngest Best Lead Actor nominee since 1939.
  • Christopher Plummer was announced to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World in early November. He then shot his part between November 20 and November 29. Weeks later, he was nominated at the Golden Globes. And today, a few days over two months since Plummer stepped on set, he has an Oscar nomination. The turnaround of that is one of the most mind-boggling stories of its kind.

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Surprises:

A ‘surprise’ can usually be determined by how much love a certain film or artist got or by how many ere predicting it to show up. They can be individual or general. Here are the many:

  • Both Call Me by Your Name supporting actors missed out. Armie Hammer received plenty of buzz out of Sundance and seemed to maintain it for the first two thirds of the year. Then, Michael Stuhlbarg took over once the film came to more festivals and released to the public — likely due to his transfixing, heartbreaking speech at the end of the film. But both were passed over. The scenario wasn’t unheard of, as the same happened at the Screen Actors Guild, but many were hoping that the Academy would take a different path.
  • Most things Phantom Thread, as said before.
  • I, Tonya did not show up as strongly as many had suggested it would. As 2017 came to an end and Oscar voting got underway, there was a lot of buzz about how the film was picking up steam. And the evidence was there, with the film earning nominations at the WGA and PGA, and at other craft guilds such as makeup & hairstyling. But it seemed as though Phantom Thread got in instead.
  • Darkest Hour turned up much better than expected. The film was one of the most talked about out of the late August/early September film festivals, but seemed to have sunk as the season shaped up. There was never any doubt about Gary Oldman or Best Makeup & Hairstyling, but the film held strong in other craft categories, making it into Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It also showed up in Best Picture, shocking many that thought that I, TonyaThe Big Sick and Mudbound were ahead of it.
  • Victoria and Abdul‘s nominations are, perhaps, on the more boring end of ‘surprise.’ The film earned nods in Best Costume Design, ahead of films like The Greatest Showman and Murder on the Orient Express, and in Best Makeup & Hairstyling, ahead of supposed strong contenders I, TonyaBright and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • This may not be the most evident surprise to most, but, in the Best Visual Effects category, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island showing up was not what buzz suggested. This branch holds a contender showcase, often regarded as the “bakeoff,” where each on the shortlist offers a presentation on the visual effects of their film. Word from the bakeoff pointed to OkjaThe Shape of Water and Dunkirk as the films that would fight for the final two spots. That none of them made it in is surprising.

Netflix/Courtesy

  • In the Best Documentary Feature category, two heavyweights ended up falling off — City of Ghosts and JaneCity of Ghosts was nominated at the Directors Guild and Jane won the documentary award from the Producers Guild.
  • Finally, many expected Martin McDonagh to show up in the Best Director category. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri had just won the SAG Best Ensemble award and McDonagh was nominated by the DGA. The DGA and the Oscars don’t always line up, but, with the film’s supposed (and now defunct?) frontrunner status, many thought that Peele or Gerwig would fall before he did.

Snubs:

‘Snub’ is a word that’s thrown around far too often. I adhere to a rather strict definition of what a snub really is. Granted, much of this is subjective, but I believe that a snub occurs when a film or artist left off is, in the majority opinion, of better quality than at least one of those nominated. With that definition in mind, here is a list of what the snubs of this year might be (as there will be disagreement on what’s been deemed of better quality in the majority opinion):

  • Mudbound missed out on a Best Picture nomination, and many believe that it may be due to the Netflix label, which might still be frowned upon by a significant portion of industry voters and might have caused some to even ignore the picture all together. That seems to be the only logical reason because the film is absolutely breathtaking and regarded as one of the best films of the year.
  • The Best Foreign Language Film category is hard to suggest there’s a ‘snub’ in because so few see all of the shortlisted films, so this one is based mostly on critics and the awards season. Israel contender Foxtrot emerged from the Venice Film Festival as one of the most talked about and acclaimed foreign films of the year, picking up a few awards from the festival. It won the category at the National Board of Review, and has a MetaCritic score only beaten by A Fantastic Woman.
  • As mentioned above, Jane won the PGA documentary award, making it more than a little bizarre for the film not to even be nominated.
  • Also pointed to above, Victoria and Abdul didn’t really strike many as a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nominee. The snub doesn’t come in any specific film’s exclusion, but in a variety of options instead of the Judi Dench picture.
  • Another point talked about, Michael Stuhlbarg was a critical and audience favorite. The industry respects him, and Call Me by Your Name was apparently a very strong contender in many places. It seemed strange to think that the film would only earn one acting nomination, for the newcomer lead Chalamet. So, Stuhlbarg was expected and wanted. And he deserved a nomination. The performance is lived in in every way, quiet but impactful in similar (but also opposite) ways as Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville. But what Stuhlbarg had was one of the most stunningly performed scenes of the year — the speech at the end of the film. The scene is the most talked about from the film (if not the one that’s a little more peachy) and in a year when hate was so rampant, its empathy seemed all the more powerful. How the Academy opted for Woody Harrelson, who is no better than ‘Woody being Woody’ in Three Billboards, is beyond us.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

  • We would like to formally apologize to Octavia Spencer. We have nothing against you or your performance. You are a brilliant actress, one of the best. But we would certainly call the exclusion of actresses such as Hong Chau, Holly Hunter and Tiffany Haddish — perhaps Hunter in particular due to her momentum and popularity leading up to today — snubs. Spencer is good in the role, but, let’s face it, she’s not anything more than that.
  • Our final snub is one that stings because of the history that comes along with it. Three years ago, the Academy shockingly and ridiculously omitted The LEGO Movie from Best Animated Feature. And this year, while not as shocking, they ridiculously omitted The LEGO Batman Movie. What got in instead? Ferdinand and The Boss Baby. It’s not even up for debate.

Takeaways:

The Oscar nominations are often a bit diverting from what the awards season had built up until that point. While other awards, such as those from the major guilds, point to potential outcomes at the Oscars, the Oscar nominations can change those narratives. Here are the takeaways from the nominations:

  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is not the frontrunner (to be clear, though, it never was). It’s still in contention — especially with that SAG Best Ensemble win and a Best Film Editing nomination — but missing out in Best Director is a bit crushing. Argo recently pulled off a Best Picture win without a Best Director nomination, but it seems rather unlikely for Three Billboards to do the same. McDonagh would almost certainly need to win the DGA award to craft similar momentum for the film.
  • Dunkirk is holding on in Best Picture and Best Director, thanks in part to McDonagh falling off. As awards season shaped up, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film seemed to flatline — not as a contender, but as a serious contender. But that nomination in Best Director ahead of a supposed frontrunner film’s director gives Nolan and the film a much needed boost. It’s main obstacle is that it is much more obviously a technical/craft contender. Without a nod in Best Original Screenplay, Dunkirk will probably lose out on Best Picture. But, just recently, The Revenant showed that a film can still contend, and contend up until the last moment without a writing nomination. Even if it does lose there, a win at the Directors Guild wouldn’t be surprising and would give Nolan further momentum toward possibly beating Guillermo del Toro.

Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros./Courtesy

  • The Shape of Water might have made up for its lack of a SAG Best Ensemble with its 13 nominations. It needed the acting nominations and safely made its way into Best Original Screenplay. And it showing up throughout the technical/craft categories shows its wide strength (every voter from every branch gets to vote on Best Picture). But this seemed to be the narrative for La La Land too, that it could make up for missing out of a nod for SAG Best Ensemble. We all know how that turned out, so let’s just say that things are still up in the air.
  • Get Out and Lady Bird are still fighting for Best Picture. Had one of them gotten a Best Film Editing nomination, the narrative would be stronger, but both making it in for Best Director is key. If the WGA award for Best Original Screenplay goes to either of these, they could pick up even more steam. And if one of them wins Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, even if the film miss out on winning Best Director, lookout for the one that does to take the night — as Spotlight and Moonlight did the same.

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The 2018 Oscar Nominations

The time has finally come. This morning, at the absurd hour of 5am, the Academy announced their Oscar nominations for the films of 2017. The contenders for the 90th Academy Awards are as follows:

Best Motion Picture:

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Call Me by Your Name
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
The Post
Phantom Thread
Darkest Hour

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele — Get Out
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread

Best Lead Actor:

Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour
Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread
Denzel Washington — Roman J. Israel, Esq

Best Lead Actress:

Frances McDormand — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird
Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water
Meryl Streep — The Post
Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actor:

Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project
Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World
Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress:

Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird
Allison Janney — I, Tonya
Mary J. Blige — Mudbound
Lesley Manville — Phantom Thread
Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

Best Original Screenplay:

Jordan Peele — Get Out
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
Martin McDonagh — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Vanessa Taylor, Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

Best Adapted Screenplay:

James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound
Aaron Sorkin — Molly’s Game
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber — The Disaster Artist
James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green — Logan

Best Production Design:

Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola — Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer — Darkest Hour
Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin — The Shape of Water
Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis — Dunkirk
Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer — Beauty and the Beast

Best Cinematography:

Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk
Roger Deakins — Blade Runner 2049
Rachel Morrison — Mudbound
Bruno Delbonnel — Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen — The Shape of Water

Best Costume Design:

Mark Bridges — Phantom Thread
Jacqueline Durran — Beauty and the Beast
Consolata Boyle — Victoria and Abdul
Luis Sequeira — The Shape of Water
Jacqueline Durran — Darkest Hour

Best Film Editing:

Lee Smith — Dunkirk
Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver
Tatiana S. Riegel — I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky — The Shape of Water
Jon Gregory — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:

Ivana Primorac, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick — Darkest Hour
Naomi Bakstad, Robert A. Pandini, Arjen Tuiten — Wonder
Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard — Victoria and Abdul

Best Sound Mixing: 

Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill — Blade Runner 2049
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo — Dunkirk
Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern — The Shape of Water
Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin — Baby Driver

Best Sound Editing:

Mark Mangini, Theo Green — Blade Runner 2049
Richard King, Alex Gibson — Dunkirk
Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Nathan Robitaille — The Shape of Water
Julian Slater — Baby Driver

Best Visual Effects:

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist — War for the Planet of the Apes
John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer — Blade Runner 2049
Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus — Kong: Skull Island

Best Original Score:

Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat — The Shape of Water
John Williams — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Carter Burwell — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Song:

“Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name
“This Is Me,” Benj Hasek, Justin Paul — The Greatest Showman
“Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez — Coco
“Stand Up for Something,” Diane Warren, Common — Marshall
“Mighty River,” Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

Best Animated Feature:

Coco
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent
The Boss Baby

Ferdinand

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Square
A Fantastic Woman
Loveless
The Insult

On Body and Soul

Best Documentary Feature:

Icarus
Faces Places
Strong Island

Last Men in Aleppo
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Best Documentary Short:

Edith+Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)

Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Best Live Action Short:

The Eleven O’Clock
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us
My Nephew Emmett
DeKalb Elementary

Best Animated Short:

Dear Basketball
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes
Garden Party

 

Featured image via A24/Warner Bros./Universal Pictures/Fox Searchlight.

Box Office Report: ‘Jumanji’ is rock solid as ’12 Strong’ opens strong

Here we are again, with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle atop the box office. This weekend, its fifth, it pulled in an estimated $20.04 million, which is an astonishingly small 28.7% drop-off from the previous weekend. Its domestic total stands at $316.985 million and needs just under $18 million more to beat both It and Spider-Man: Homecoming to become the fifth largest domestic grosser released in 2017. The film has truly struck gold.

In second and third are two new releases, 12 Strong and Den of Thieves. The former, based on a true story of soldiers heading off to the Middle East almost immediately after 9/11, stars Chris Hemsworth, and made an estimated $16.5 million despite middle of the road reviews.

The latter, starring Gerard Butler, 50 Cent and O’Shea Jackson Jr., made a respectable $15.32 million, also in spite of rather poor reviews.

Coming in fourth is last weekends #2, Steven Spielberg’s The Post. In its wide release, the Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep vehicle is fairing rather well, boosting up to $45.191 domestically after $12.15 this weekend. On a budget of $50 million, the film will likely end up successful, especially once it receives Oscar nominations.

In fifth, and still holding strong, is Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman with approximately $11 million. Domestically, the film has outperformed many other large budget spectacles, such as Blade Runner 2049. Its run speaks to the power of a wide demographic.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi just passed a milestone, crossing into $600 million domestically — $604.284 to be exact. It is only the sixth film to ever do so. It’s unclear if it will beat Marvel’s The Avengers $623.357, but there’s certainly a shot

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread expanded from 62 theaters into 896, and made an estimated $3.37 million. It’ll be interesting to see how well it does as it continues to expand and if its star, Daniel-Day Lewis, does get an Oscar nomination.

Finally, Call Me by Your Name also expanded, from 174 theaters into 815, but in much worse fashion, pulling in only $1.505 million. The film had been in limited release since November and it seems as though anticipation has fizzled out and that it still isn’t even in enough theaters to gain traction. Sony Pictures Classics botched this release plan, and now must hedge bets on Oscar nominations pushing some to go see it.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Columbia Pictures

2018 Oscar Predictions: The Shorts

All of the shorts lack precursors that could point us in much of a direction. These categories mostly come down to word of mouth, the subject matter and if there might be a studio or famous figure behind one. In addition, professional award writers, who have access to these shorts, are good sources to look to.

For documentary short, Netflix is behind Heroin(e), so with them pushing the film and the subject matter the opioid crisis, it has enough to get it there. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, a film with a hell of a title, could get there, as could Edith+Eddie. For animated short, retired NBA star Kobe Bryant is at the center of Dear Basketball and with plenty of the voting body located in Los Angeles, home of the Lakers, that could push it past Pixar’s Lou — although Pixar can win this category even when they have a film that’s just about a cute bird and not much more, so don’t discount their entry or Garden Party, which is rather popular. In live action, the subject matter is what hints toward a winner, as DeKalb Elementary is about a school shooter and the current public focus on the Douglas High School shooting gives the short film plenty of power. If anything can take the category instead, it might be The Silent Child.

Documentary Short

The Nominees
Edith+Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)

Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Will win: Heroin(e)
Could win: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Animated Short

The Nominees
Dear Basketball
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes
Garden Party

Will win: Dear Basketball
Could win: Lou

Live Action Short

The Nominees
The Eleven O’Clock
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us
My Nephew Emmett
DeKalb Elementary

Will win: DeKalb Elementary
Could win: The Silent Child

 

Featured image via Premium Films.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Song

Best Original Song doesn’t always go to the best song. Oftentimes, it’s a popularity contest, like last year’s “City of Stars” win, and this year is no different.

The song that should be winning, Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon,” from Call Me by Your Name, wasn’t even nominated. Out of the nominees, Stevens still has the best song with “Mystery of Love,” an endlessly moving ballad. While it won at the Guild of Music Supervisors Awards, it has next to no momentum heading into Oscar night.

Mudbound‘s Mary J. Blige double dipped at this Oscars, receiving nominations in Best Supporting Actress and in Best Original Song for “Mighty River.” That acting nomination could push plenty of voters to opt for her in Original Song.

Perhaps the second best song, Coco‘s “Remember Me,” a culturally infused, heartbreaking song that’s integral to the plot of the film, is a definite contender, as it comes from a Pixar film and plays during a point of the film that makes nearly everyone cry.

The La La Land songwriting team, massive marketing in itself, worked on The Greatest Showman, and the number “This Is Me” has certainly been the talking point of the season as it champions diversity and is almost frustratingly catchy. The song won at the Golden Globes, and was a theme at the Winter Olympics. It’s not a lock, but it’s the most obvious choice to make and, as “City of Stars” showed last year, that could easily be the right choice.

The Nominees
“Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name
“This Is Me,” Benj Hasek, Justin Paul — The Greatest Showman
“Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez — Coco
“Stand Up For Something,” Diane Warren, Common — Marshall
“Mighty River,” Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

Will win: “This Is Me,” Benj Hasek, Justin Paul — The Greatest Showman
Could win: “Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez — Coco
Should win: “Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name
Should’ve been nominated: “Visions of Gideon,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name

 

Featured image via Twentieth Century Fox.

‘Phantom Thread’ Review: An elegant, dreamlike, hilarious psychological romance

Phantom Thread is a strange film, one that could only really sprout from the mind of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Yet, its strangeness might be precisely what offers viewers so much to eat up.

Following master fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he courts Alma (Vicky Krieps), the film revels in the psychological dynamics between the two as their relationship grows. From misunderstanding each other’s intentions to nailing each other’s faults directly on the head, the two constantly negotiate emotional control. It’s often overtly uncomfortable, toned by a sense of deliberateness in Anderson’s delivery. We’re meant to, ourselves, become a third party in the fluctuating conversation.

That aspect of the film, the ambiguity and the resulting passive aggressiveness, is deliciously hilarious in its nastiness, especially when blurted with full pompous force by Daniel Day-Lewis. Woodcock is rendered utterly charming, magnetically powerful and horribly ridiculous, all at the same time.

But the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis, even owning him in certain scenes. The film likely wouldn’t have worked without her turning in a performance so effectively controlled, her glare as cutting as razor blades, because much of the content literally requires Krieps to dominate her co-star with her presence. And thankfully, Alma is given the necessary agency and moments of power to keep the film from becoming some kind of sick show.

In Anderson’s construction of story, which is both fiercely and elegantly polished, Phantom Thread can be described as a genuine psychological romance — a subgenre not too common in contemporary cinema. But there’s also something about the director’s touch that evokes a nearly dreamlike aura when watching the film, similarly to the effect of The Master.

This film is, by all means, about love. When Woodcock and Alma are in sync — and especially in that climactic moment when they finally come to a true understanding of what exactly makes the other tick — the characters seemingly float in space and time, lifted up by the rich and depthful film photography of Anderson and his camera crew, the transfixing work of costume designer Mark Bridges and the somehow pleasantly visceral, overwhelmingly wistful and absolutely enchanting score by Jonny Greenwood.

As the credits start to roll, Phantom Thread begins to feel like a lovely dream itself. It’s an experience that’s hard to put to words, but it’s one that we long for and fall for in storytelling.

Grade: 9.0/10

 

Featured image via Focus Features.

‘Molly’s Game’ Review: Jessica Chastain is electric in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut

Aaron Sorkin is one of the few screenwriters to have become a recognizable name to the general audience, and for good reason. His scripts, for the likes of The Social Network and Steve Jobs, are masterful. So, him making his directorial debut, not only in features, but in either film or television, is a major point in his career.

With Molly’s Game, Sorkin proves himself behind the camera as well as he does on the page. Following Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as she runs one of the most prestigious underground poker games in the country, the film is full of flash and glamor, and the editing of high stake sequences both at the table and beyond it is razor sharp.

But Sorkin does not simply allow the film to be about the extravagance of the poker. Every part of the story builds the character of Molly Bloom in deliciously dynamic feminist fashion. Much of the conflict of the story comes from toxic men and their abuse of power, such as when Bloom’s day job boss, who initially started the poker game, forces her to work for free because he thinks she’s making too much off of tips from the game.

Yet, this conflict adds to the central dilemma at Bloom’s core. She was nearly an Olympic skier until sustaining a devastating injury, and, ever since, or maybe even much earlier from her father’s tough parenting, she’s been searching for identity. The structure of the film revolves around this search, in that Bloom is portrayed at her highest when the games are going well and the players respect her, but that high only leads her to overcompensate and endanger what defines her — a structurally brilliant ebb and flow of character development.

Bloom is so well-defined and well-rounded, but it’s difficult to imagine her in the hands of anyone other than Jessica Chastain. Bloom narrates throughout the movie — a surprising move that somehow works, in part because the narration is edited so smoothly into the rhythm of the pacing, but largely because of Chastain’s vigorous line delivery.

When on screen, Chastain manages the tricky balancing act of channeling the spark of Sorkin’s dialogue while also shaping a character that feels naturally lived in. And as the film comes to an end and Chastain completely owns the character’s climactic moment, we truly feel for Bloom on an unexpected emotional level.

While it may not have held a stylistic flair quite like David Fincher’s The Social Network, Molly’s Game showcases Sorkin’s undoubtable directorial ability to translate the page into a magnetic visual story. But even regardless of that, the film is a platform upon which Jessica Chastain reasserts herself as one of the most powerful actresses working today.

Grade: 8.5/10

 

Featured image via Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment.

« Older Entries