THE 2016 OSCARS are upon us and I thought I’d weigh in on a few films I’d been mum on– in case you were wondering for what and whom to root!
ROOM: Nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay is a compactly explosive film about a horrifying situation: a young woman kidnapped, impregnated, and kept prisoner by a sexual predator– and what happens next. Brie Larson (My bet for Best Actress–she’s won the Golden Globe, the SAG and the British BAFTA awards.) is a marvel of contained rage, fear, tenderness, resourcefulness, and love. 9 year-old Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated as Best Actor for his extraordinarily nuanced and controlled performance as a normal growing boy in utterly abnormal circumstances. The film quietly observes and pulls us in, bit by bit, until the full weight of these insufferable circumstances lands. The film then ratchets up the tension by meticulously orchestrating the action leading up to a heart-stopping climax. The physical, emotional, and psychological fall-out from such a trauma reverberates through the interior lives of all involved; the film ultimately affirms a ray of light in the darkness.
45 YEARS: Earns a nomination for Charlotte Rampling’s performance as Best Actress, the toughest competition for Brie Larson in this category. Rampling’s performance packs the power of a silent earthquake as she plays a wife preparing to celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary. The film opens with her walking in the fog, humming a tune, “Smoke Gets in your Eyes,” and shortly comes upon her husband, played by the great Tom Courtenay, stricken by news of a past love. Suddenly, this piece of the past which the couple has never talked about “taints everything.” The entire foundation of their marriage falls into question. But little by little the smoke begins to clear, and the past comes into focus. If I described the devastating last scene, it would sound like nothing. But trust me, somehow, in front of all their friends and family, Rampling elegantly contained in all her ravaged beauty, suddenly knows if her “true love was true,” and lets us know with a look and gesture as lethal as a stab to the heart.
CAROL: Nominated for Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Costumes, Best Actress for Cate Blanchett and Supporting Actress for Rooney Mara is based on the Patricia Highsmith novel about a love affair between two women in the 1950’s. The movie is gorgeous to look at, every frame as composed as the dress and demeanor of a 1950’s woman of a certain social class. Director Todd Haynes and cinematographer Ed Lachman get it all right–down to the hats, handbags, gloves, and flat lighting in the department stores of the period. The script is a tad flat as well, but Blanchett and Mara as lovers do a very intricate, absorbing dance. Rooney looks like a young Audrey Hepburn with her lithe figure, grace, and gamine features, but with a shaded complexity that was no part of Hepburn’s cinematic presence. Blanchett is a handsome, sophisticated woman who knows what she wants, and though constricted by social mores and a very well-meaning but a squarely middlebrow husband, will not be denied.
THE DANISH GIRL: Nominations include Best Actor for Eddie Redmayne, Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander, and Costume Design. It should also have been nominated for Cinematography for Danny Cohen whovmakes every frame a painting. This is a beautifully written and acted piece inspired by real life early 20th century Danish artists Lili Elbe and Gerde Wegener whose married life shifts as Einar/Lili explores her identity as a transgender pioneer. Eddie Redmayne is breathtakingly poignant in the part, fearless and tender, and Alicia Vikander is compelling as an extraordinarily daring and open partner, ferociously loyal even as she loses her husband to the woman he really is. The script drifts into sentimentality near the end, but I couldn’t take my eyes off these carefully calibrated scenes of his budding awareness and physical transformation, and her wide-eyed ferocity and compassion. It is a true love story if there ever was one. I will be rooting for Vikander as Best Supporting actress here. Check out this versatile and charismatic actress also in EX MACHINA and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.