Thoughts On ‘A Most Violent Year’

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I can’t help but perceive a certain distance implied in the title A Most Violent Year. It’s as if the speaker is regarding the year in question with an intimate knowledge of the violence referenced without having actually been a part of it, per se. It’s reminiscent of when one hears of the untimely death of someone one doesn’t know personally and remarks something along the lines of “how tragic;” acknowledging the loss without feeling it. That sort of detachment lays at the heart of the journey of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) in J.C. Chandor’s film. Continue reading

Thoughts On ‘Birdman’

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The thing that sets Alejandro González Iñárritu apart as a filmmaker is his humanity. He shows human beings at their extremes, showing people at their most animalistic and also at their most humane, doing so with empathy and free of judgement. He has an incredible ability to not just examine human behavior but to see into the human soul. Iñárritu is the foremost humanist director of his generation.  Continue reading

Top 10 Performances of 2013: #2

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2. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street


The best work of his career by a wide margin. He’s never been more charismatic, funnier, or taken more risks. As in Django, he looks like he’s having more fun here than usual. He’s looser, braver, and stranger in The Wolf of Wall Street than in any of his other work. Part of what made this picture so spectacular is that everybody involved clearly just “went for it.” He and Scorsese have been great together before, but this feels like the culmination of many years of collaboration and trust. It may not be DeNiro in Raging Bull (nothing is), but it’s pretty damn special. Staying on Raging Bull, there’s a through-line connecting the two films in the way that they both center around a frank and uncompromising portrayal of a multidimensional human being that most people would find morally repugnant. It is no small feat to pull off performances like these. The breadth and scope of DiCaprio’s performance in Wolf cannot be overstated. He’s just spectacular in this and he never gets boring for the entire three hour run-time.  He’s in almost every scene and his figure looms in the few that he’s not.  It’s a classic performance in a classic film.

Top 10 Performances of 2013: #5

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5. Jennifer Lawrence: American Hustle

Lawrence manages to deliver a performance that’s equal parts hilarious, sexy, and maddeningly ridiculous. She’s even better here than she was in Silver Linings. The only thing funnier than “the microwave scene” in 2013 was the “quallude sequence” in The Wolf of Wall Street. “Don’t put metal in the science oven” is now my favorite David Russell line. This is one of those supporting performances that you want to be a bigger part, but its part of why she’s so compelling is that when she’s on screen she dominates and when she’s not you miss her presence. Her manner and her energy remind me a bit of Gena Rowlands, and I do not make that comparison lightly. She’s just a natural with a presence and maturity way beyond her years.  When you watch her she comes across as a twenty-year veteran, not someone in their early twenties, and her trophies already accumulated are a testament to that. I would pay money to watch her fold laundry for two hours. She’d get an Oscar nomination for that too.

Top 10 Performances of 2013: #8

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8. Christian Bale: American Hustle

The thing I love the most about David O. Russell as a filmmaker is his ability to take extremely flawed characters and give them a narrative space to truly thrive in. I consider it his trademark as a writer and director. He takes individuals most people would condescend to and shows us why and how they’re remarkable. Christian Bale literally embodies this quality in American Hustle. He’s bald, overweight, etc., but at all times he appears to be completely comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is, which of course makes him a good con man. It’s a fine counterpoint to Bradley Cooper’s character, who has no idea who he is. We see this with their respective “hair” sequences. The film is about deception and role playing, and Bale’s character is the only one who doesn’t switch. His sincerity and relative decency in this role makes the whole thing work. Also, they shot this film in my hometown, so thumbs up for that.

Top 10 Performances of 2013: #9

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9. Oscar Isaac: Inside Llewyn Davis

First of all, I had no idea Oscar Isaac was such a fantastic singer. This isn’t meant as a mere side compliment, because the character of his voice is crucial to an understanding of the film. Isaac’s voice is rich and true, resonating throughout the story, giving us a beautiful contrast to his extended series of fuck ups, mishaps, and bad breaks we’ll call his life. The film is a character study, a portrait of an artist, and his face tells us as much as his voice does. He wears everything on it. It’s appropriate he got this role not just because he’s tremendously talented and well suited for it, but just as a Coen’s fanatic I have to say that he really reminded me of a young John Turtturro in this. It’s an excellent performance from a really underrated actor in an absolutely beautiful piece of cinema.