In Review: The Report

Scott Z. Burns’ The Report puts Adam Driver at the front of an enticing ensemble to meticulously examine the uncovering of the US military’s enhanced interrogation tactics in the wake of 9/11. Like the intended bipartisan investigation, the film sublimates its rage at the administration as much as it can, resulting in a film that’s clinical nature reflects the neutral aim of the reporting it depicts. But as the film’s subtle thesis shows, there are certain ethical lines crossed that transcend neutrality, and the film ultimately simmers with condemnation. It’s the rarest bird of adult dramas for mainstream but patient audiences, unsalacious to the extreme as information flows from familiar faces.

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In Review: The Seagull

What happens when you truncate a classic in both narrative and spirit? In the case of Michael Mayer’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, the result is a rather meddlesome inertia. One of the foundational pieces for the modern global theatre, Chekhov’s play has resonated throughout the past century for its depth in depicting the ultimately tragic myopias of its large ensemble of characters. While this version is often lovely, it’s more of a revisit than a fresh take.

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Best Actress of 2016

There may not be better proof of an overall strong film year than the oasis of leading actress performances we’ve been given. Best Actress giveth so much that it’s exceedingly difficult to take away from the many deserving performances by whittling it down to five. Missing from my final five is Isabelle Huppert’s Elle dexterity, Kate Beckinsale’s cunning shade in Love and Friendship, Rebecca Hall’s morphing intensity in Christine, the evasion of Krisha‘s addict Krisha Fairchild, and the deception of Min-hee Kim in The Handmaiden.

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Amy Adams – Arrival
Consider the degree of difficulty that Adams makes look easy: the believability and coherence of Arrival‘s time-shifting twist (which only plays better on a second viewing). She’s its emotional and intellectual compass, without sacrificing either. The empathy and wonder in her face is transfixing.

Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
“Yes and no.” A performance of dualities and contradictions, as unknowable yet familiar to the audience as a parent to a child. There’s seldom a beat she doesn’t surprise, always remarkably underplaying emotion and humor. Reveals Dorothea even though Dorothea is evasive about revealing herself.

Sonia Braga – Aquarius
Her strength, her rage, her hair! Braga carries mortality, sexuality, and history (and with simplicity) for a full-bodied, lived-in performance. She layers the past into a fraught present while being wary of the future – she invites you into all of it so you experience it with her.

Viola Davis – Fences
A complete force of nature as Davis has ever been. Doting wife is a role Rose plays, but Davis lets the cracks show in that veneer. She disarms Washington because her resentments have built up as much as his. Davis makes forgiveness both Rose’s weakness and her strength.

Natalie Portman – Jackie
The many affectations only enhance the film’s study on ego and performance, but Portman is loose and unencumbered. At once a loose canon and frozen in place by the stages of grief, you never quite know what Jackie will emerge. Even her many selves deliver different kinds of rage.

And the Winner is…

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In Review!: “20th Century Women”

Like Beginners was inspired by Mike Mills’s relationship with his elderly gay father, his new film 20th Century Women focuses his relationship on his mother. While Beginners similarly played with editing to embody the intangibility of memory, Women exists in a beautiful haze of shapshots threaded together like we might remember a period that defined us: linear but maybe not, burdened by the perspective of the future, perhaps even a little better (or worse) than it actually was. The film is a memory play of sorts but moreso interested in the unknowability of any one person in your life, no matter how they reveal or define themselves. With omniscient details of the inner lives of the ensemble delivered in shared voice over, Mike Mills makes a film that is deeply personal for all of its inhabitants, a work about growing up from a filmmaker who has done just that with his third film.

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