In Review: Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham’s debut film Eighth Grade begins as outsider Kayla wraps up the unheralded school year of its title, solitary and not so hopeful about the impending high school years to come. To mark the occasion, her class is given their sixth grade time capsules, decorated and filled with an already dated optimism. Hers calls out from the unfathomably long distance of a few years time like a stranger, “To the coolest girl in the world”. Kayla doesn’t feel so cool, lesser so in the shadow cast by her own former earnestness.

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In Review: Disobedience

The saying “you can never go home again” means something different for queer folks. At best, our formative communities and family units still carry the feeling of before and after we became someone else. For those of harsher reality, a return brings it’s own consequences, a reckoning of lingering past, anxious present, and uncertain future. If this person is permitted to return at all.

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In Disobedience, the latter is closer to the truth for Ronit, a photographer and former member of an enclosed conservative Jewish community, played with tense reserve by Rachel Weisz. Her return is prompted by the funeral of her strict father to which she was estranged, but the real coming home is to her former trio unit with the doting Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams). Dovid has risen in the ranks of the Orthodoxy as a rabbi and Esti is now his wife, creating odd maneuverability around what their group has been and how it has changed.

But the meaningful glances between Ronit and Esti tell us all we need to know about this repressed shared past. And yet the palpability of the unspoken brews questions upon questions for us until they can now more stifle themselves behind their darting eyes and hesitant sentences.

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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!: “Christine”

This year brings two widely dissimilar studies on Christine Chubbuck, the local Florida television journalist that committed suicide on live television – the documentary Kate Plays Christine and Antonio Campos’s considerably more traditional Christine. In the narrative version, Rebecca Hall plays the disturbed Chubbuck in the weeks leading up to the mythologized event and her news station cohorts (played by Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Maria Dizzia plus others) take a deeper part in her story. The two films create interesting dynamic in contrast unlike similar competing films close in release (think Capote and the less successful Infamous), illuminating both the subject and the larger societal implications of her case when seen in close proximity.

 

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This Christine belongs mostly to Rebecca Hall’s stunning and alive performance, with challenges unlike anything the actress has ever been granted. Hall possesses a gallows humor underneath her pain that is unexpected and quite effective in helping portray Chubbuck as a flesh and blood human being as the film doubles down on her enveloping psychosis. Equally impressive is her ability to play the woman’s nuance and more unhinged moments with a cohesiveness that the script doesn’t always achieve. As heartbreaking as it is terrifying, Hall just delivered a career high performance that will rattle you.

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filmmixtape’s Best Actress of 2015

What a year for leading actress performances. The first longlist for my Best Actress picks yielded over thirty serious candidates and it was like pulling teeth to narrow down to a final five. Fan favorites and personal darlings had to be dropped with thoughtless abandon, so forgive the many exclusions. The lineup I’ve chosen was ultimately the ones that lingered hardest in my brain and wouldn’t leave my mind.

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Cate Blanchett – Carol

  • She’s physically indicative of Carol’s mental state and intentions, but never delivers a mannered or cheaply telling moment. Her every longing and regret is so present in her physicality that she creates an aura of unspoken emotion around herself. Once she finally speaks her mind, Blanchett becomes the source of the film’s catharsis and appropriately unfetters Mara’s Therese (and the audience) anew.

Emily Blunt – Sicario

  • Blunt plays Kate as a knotted muscle of blind morals and ambition, becoming the surrogate for the audience’s increasingly unbearable tension. The film wouldn’t click without the humanity she brings to the role and her economy in suggesting Kate’s unspoken depression. The threat of violence and potential for irreparable sacrifice is plain on her face from the word go.

Brie Larson – Room

  • Filled with specificity of Ma’s pain, but open enough to acknowledge that there are things about her experience that will remain unknowable to her loved ones and the audience. She makes Ma more than a savior, but a complex woman frozen by trauma into the immature mind of a teenager. Like the film itself, Larson modulates her anguish for the sake of Jack and the audience while remaining fiercely honest.

Rooney Mara – Carol

  • Her Therese is changed by love both in the moment and over the course of the film in clear ways, but Mara never cheapens them with obviousness. She may be flung out of space, but she’s also unexpectedly plain spoken, allowing Mara’s natural screen presence to take hold. From her sense of longing, to her anger, to her cold heartache, she is always the perfect compliment to Blanchett’s Carol.

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

  • A performance that’s at its most transformative in the silences, with whole revolutions happening on Rampling’s face as her understanding of her marriage crumbles. Her consciously dissipating connection to Courtenay as she becomes more interior predicts the conclusion’s sharp turn without diminishing its impact. To put it cheaply, it’s as if she’s living on the screen rather than acting in it.

The Winner is after the jump!

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