In Review: The Nest

Nearly a decade after emerging with the unsettling psychodrama Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin has finally arrived with a follow-up to that horror-adjacent debut. That film launched the career of Elizabeth Olsen as its fractured titular character, and his latest, The Nest, should rightly send its underrated lead actress Carrie Coon into the stratosphere. But while this film also provides its female headliner with a rich role of stifled expression, here Durkin hones the forebodingly tense traumas of his first film into something less overtly menacing, yet still as keenly psychologically observed. Like a haunted house movie without the ghosts, The Nest thrills with a pervasive sense of unease and no catharsis, making for a special breed of melodrama that eschews the emotional demands of the genre.

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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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