In Review: Pain and Glory

The films of Pedro Almodóvar have always been personal. His fascinations have becomes their defining characteristics, their anguishes an extension of his beautiful soul bent on provocation, their wit his own distinct and invaluable point of view. They are of him, beyond even his often audacious queer perspective unmatched for its invention and breadth across decades. His films have an identity that is all their creator, impossible to extricate from how we interpret the artist himself.

But his newest film, Pain and Glory, is something much more emotionally raw and revealing without the artifice of interpretation. And with good reason – even for a filmmaker unafraid to use aspects of himself in his art, this film represents a soul-bearing. If we thought we knew Almodóvar, Pain and Glory is him claiming a persona as bruised and introspective as it is vibrantly alive with feeling. Any guard that was previously there before in his coy narrative has been stripped.

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In Review: First Reformed

In a year where so many films have plumbed the depths of dire mental health to visceral effect – Annihilation, Tully, and even Hereditary – perhaps the most punishing of them all is Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Placing us squarely into the devolving headspace of Ethan Hawke’s tormented priest, Schrader’s film is a battering ram to the body and the spirit. But where those other films gaze into the abyss and find some semblance of an answer, First Reformed finds only deeper and deeper emptiness. It’s grim stuff, but it’s also convincingly profound.

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Best Actor of 2016

I’m getting my Year In Review work started earlier than last year – and before the Oscar nominations arrive on Tuesday! Last year, my Best Actor choice was Michael Fassbender in the already forgotten Steve Jobs, but my choice this year will likely have much more staying power. What nearly made my lineup: a career-best Chris Pine in the underwhelming Hell or High Water, Andrew Garfield’s broken idealism in Silence, Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic watchability, Logan Lerman’s enervated and paranoid Indignation performance, and Jesse Plemons’s uncomfortable queerness in Other People.

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Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
You could easily be wowed by Affleck’s immersion into profound grief and guilt, but it’s the cracks in his resolve that are most impressive. His evasion is by turns infuriating, devastating, and hilarious as Affleck finds unexpected tones throughout unremarkable moments. On the page, Lee is battling the expectations of others, but Affleck makes him at odds with himself.

Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Farrell’s minimalism goes a long way to balance out the film’s more misanthropic moments and absurdities. His plainfaced acceptance and dejection is consistently hilarious and helps the audience submit to the film’s concept. Just like the film, the stifled sincerity and compassion beneath the surface of his performance is both surprising and a crucial piece to the satire.

Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
An exclamation point of a performance, Fiennes is all drunken and self-justified id. With sultry chemistry for every friend, foe, and in-between (not to mention the damn camera), he’s sleezily schmoozing everyone – foremost, the audience. His questionable morals should be our first hint at the film’s intention, but like the film, he’s able to deceive us – those dance moves help.

Ethan Hawke – Born to Be Blue
Chances are you probably missed this Chuck Baker biopic during it’s quick and quiet release, but catch up to it soon: Hawke’s portrait of dying hope in the face of addiction and artistic submission is one of his most passionate and surprising performances. A rare performance that illuminates a real person beyond their persona and greatest hits highlights.

Denzel Washington – Fences
A massive performance defined more by its intense intimacy. Washington reveals a compulsive component to his wrongdoing, an unaware self-destructive streak and the powerlessness to prevent it. So lost in his own despair that he’s blind to the pain he inflicts, Troy all but begs for adoration, dominance, and reverance; Washington, however, commands it.

And the Winner is…

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filmmixtape’s Best Actor of 2015

The lineup below is one far quieter than is usually seen in Best Actor lineups – look anywhere on the internet and you’ll see that the current generation of film is all but completely centered on male protagonists in grand heroic or tragic stature. I found the field of leading male performances underwhelming this year, and narrowing down to a final ballot mostly easy for the few I viewed passionately. Oscar prefers things a bit more showy, and you’ll find my only crossover to be the most ostentatious of my lineup.

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Tom Courtenay – 45 Years

  • He’s thrown by the discovery of his lost love’s body, but his own recent brush with death haunts with unspoken pathos. His regrets and failings shine clearly while the narrative gaze is on his wife. Courtenay acing Geoff’s transition from despair to acceptance as partner Charlotte Rampling is on the exact opposite course is crucial in establishing her devastating arc.

Paul Dano – Love and Mercy

  • Finally given a role that puts his soulfulness center stage, Dano is more open-hearted and accessible than he’s ever been. From his charm and deep well of sadness, he makes you hear “God Only Knows” as if for the first time. He plays Brian’s invading mental illness with a helplessness that informs so much on Brian’s situation in the film’s 80s portion.

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

  • Fassbender is usually cast in roles that demand introspection or physical externalizing of buried emotion, so naturally his work in Jobs is invigorating for his verbal dexterity and stymied emotional communication. Acing the challenge shows him as an actor who can truly master any role, and one who should be considered among the top tier of his generation.

Jason Segel – The End of the Tour

  • Segel underplays each moment much in the way that David Foster Wallace tried to brush aside his sudden success. The marvel of Segel’s work is the tension built within silences, and the slow reveal his Wallace lets down his guard while revealing his deepest defenses.

Jacob Tremblay – Room

  • The complete reverse of Brie Larson’s Ma: as open and x as she is unknowable and removed. His understanding of Jack’s post-Room trauma and thawing goes beyond director-led and builds intuitively. His chemistry with Larson rivals that of any two seasoned adult actors this year.

The Winner is after the jump!

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