Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ranking the 20 Oscar-Nominated Acting Performances

Four weeks from today the Academy Awards will be honoring this year's most prolific performances. And while I've openly stated my personal opinion that 2016's cinematic year left me feeling rather underwhelmed, it's still impossible to ignore the quality performances that were given by a talented crop of actors and actresses. The Oscars aren't perfect, but in an opinion-based system in which operates, who really is? Yet, it's impossible to refute that Hollywood's biggest awards ceremony does a very admirable job of highlighting top-flight talent in all regards. So here are my individual rankings for the 20 Oscar-Nominated performances (December's list):

*** Note: It's VERY rare that I miss a nominated performance, however I haven't been able to catch the foreign film Elle this year (I will update this list as soon as I do).\

Unranked: Isabelle Huppert (Elle) ***

#19. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

I mean, honestly, the Academy passed on Amy Adams for this? Streep is an amazing actress, it can't be denied, but she doesn't deserve a nomination for every role based purely on reputation! Florence Foster Jenkins was a punishing watch and it's difficult to fathom all of the film's fanfare.

#18. Nicole Kidman (Lion)

I'm still baffled by Lion's ability to capture 6 Oscar Nominations. Harvey Weinstein's influence appears a bit unsettling as this middling account of a remarkable story continues to churn through the awards season. Kidman offers a decent performance in a very small and forgettable role.

#17. Dev Patel (Lion)

We go back-to-back with the performances from Lion that were nominated. And while Dev Patel's much larger and more impactful role clearly outshines Kidman's work, the performance still lacks the type of depth delivered by many other actors and actresses this year.

#16. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

This is by no means a slight towards Barry Jenkins' outstanding indie drama, Moonlight, I just viewed Naomie Harris' role as a drug-addicted inner-city mother as stereotypical. It failed to push any boundaries and, in fact, I'd argue that Janelle Monae's supporting turn in the film was just as impressive, if not more.

#15. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)

Octavia Spencer's work represents another performance that I felt was overshadowed by the brilliance of co-star Janelle Monae. However, Spencer landed the nomination as she delivers another fine piece of acting in this year's crowd-pleaser, Hidden Figures.

#14. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Mel Gibson's war-drama, Hacksaw Ridge, is another one of those films that critics and moviegoers adored much more than myself. Although I was put off by the film's odd inability to capture an appropriate tone, I will admit that leading star Andrew Garfield stands as Hacksaw Ridge's most glowing attribute. 

#13. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)

Let me be clear, I believe the Academy went in the wrong direction here. Ben Foster offers a much more compelling and memorable character than Bridges, who admittedly gives an all-too familiar performance, but the veteran actor still shines in David Mackenzie's Hell or high Water.

#12. Ruth Negga (Loving)

As the fall of 2016 approached, early buzz placed Jeff Nichols' Loving as a legitimate Best Picture contender. However, as time marched closer to the awards season frenzy, the film's flame ultimately burned out. Yet, thankfully, leading lady Ruth Negga wasn't a casualty of time as she eked out a nomination for her soulful and deserving performance.

#11. Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Viggo Mortensen delivers a remarkable performance in one of the year's most prominent films, Captain Fantastic. The audience is transported into an unfathomable lifestyle that Mortensen and his co-stars give immense credence to. I completely believe that the film wouldn't have resonated like it did without Mortensen's towering achievements.

#10. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Despite being my highest rated performance on this list from Moonlight, Mahershala Ali's strong work serves as a necessary component to 2016's best ensemble of any film. This tantalizing indie drama is far greater than the sum of its parts and Ali represents just one of the many exceptional turns scattered throughout the film.

#9. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Lucas Hedges bursts onto the scene in Kenneth Lonergan's heavy-hitting drama, Manchester by the Sea. My initial reaction to the film was that the young performer's character was written a little poorly. Yet, upon further examination, the teenager's irrational reactions to his father's passing are actually captured in a more realistic manner than I initially thought. That revelation reaffirms just how impressive Hedges truly is in the film.

#8. Denzel Washington (Fences)

In the usual Denzel Washington fashion he gives a flashy, all-eyes-on-me type of performance in his own directed film, Fences. The actor's work is boisterous, loud and completely lacking in subtlety. Yet, the role gives him the ability to command the screen and Washington proves he can still do that with the best in the business.

#7. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Just in front of Denzel Washington is his Best Actor competitor, Ryan Gosling. Their rankings are very close, in my eyes, but for completely different reasons. Gosling's performance isn't quite as showy, but it blends together heart-filled emotion, charm and complexity that helps stamp La La Land as the year's finest film.

#6. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

There's a renegade-vibe to Michael Shannon's detective character in Nocturnal Animals. He's all about unbridled justice, a perplexing trait for a man of the law, as he helps a man seek retribution for his loss. Shannon continues to stand as one of the finest character-actors in the business.

#5. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

While supporting star, Michelle Williams, isn't given anywhere near the amount of screen time as many other actors and actresses on this list, she makes the most of every second in Manchester by the Sea. Her emotionally-battered character oozes with torment and sadness in one of the film's most pivotal scenes. This blistering interaction between Williams and Affleck is both powerful and unforgettable.

#4. Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Natalie Portman captures the perfect blend of melancholy and sadness in her eerie, life-like portrayal of former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. Portman delves into the despair of her title character, reliving the bitter moments following her husband's unforeseen assassination. This somber examination isn't the most thrilling watch, but Portman gives the film a shocking sense of authenticity.

#3. Viola Davis (Fences)

Given her massive amount of screen time, it's almost unfair that Viola Davis is competing within the Best Supporting Actress race. The Fences co-star outshines her counterpart and director, Denzel Washington, to deliver one of the most fiery performances of the year. There's nothing "supporting" about this role as Davis stands as the most influential aspect of the film.

#2. Emma Stone (La La Land)

Perhaps I'm a little biased, as La La Land is clearly my favorite film of the year. Either way, Emma Stone represents the heart and soul of Damien Chazelle's whimsical tale of love and chasing your dreams. Stone's character hits home as she straddles the line of confidence and quitting, a contemplation we've all experienced in some form. She's magnificent in the role and deserving of her first Oscar statue.

#1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

In a year filled with amazing work from talented actresses, somehow a man still finds a way to steal the spotlight. Casey Affleck offers a career-best performance that should (and better) earn him a first Oscar victory. I've heard many complaints from moviegoers regarding Kenneth Lonergan's long, drawn-out screenplay. Yet, Affleck's quiet and nuanced performance screams pain and agony with one of the year's most gut-wrenching turns. He bear-hugs the tattered soul of his character and puts on an acting display for the ages. Affleck is reason enough to witness the heartbreaking tale of Manchester by the Sea.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Free Oscar Pool 2017

Oscar Nominations have been handed out and that means Reel True co-owner, Greg Rouleau, and I return with our annual awards ceremony contest. It's free to join and the winner will receive a $50 gift card to a movie theater chain of their choice. All you have to do is click the link below and follow the prompts to sign up. Spread the word and see how well you can predict the Oscar winners in every single category. Good Luck!

Click the link below to join:

*** Note: The winner of the contest must be a resident of the continental United States.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017 Oscar Nominations: Snubs & Surprises

All of Hollywood was up before sunrise eager to discover the nominees for the 89th annual Academy Awards. And now that they have officially been announced, it proved to be another historic day for Damien Chazelle's La La Land. The timeless musical secured a record-tying 14 nominations in total and solidified the film's epic frontrunner status nearly a month before the big night. Looking back at our predictions for the nominees in the major categories, we were far from perfect but still respectable. But just like us. the Oscars don't always "get it right" either (click here for a complete list of nominees). So here's a look at the biggest snubs and surprises for this year's Academy Award Nominees:


Perhaps no omission is greater than the work of Amy Adams in the sci-fi drama, Arrival. The film garnered nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay categories, but its leading star wasn't able to crack the top five. This was a historic year for the Best Actress race, but Amy Adams felt like a safe bet throughout the entire awards season.

It's a very rare feat that an actor wins a Golden Globe but misses out on Oscar Nomination for the same performance, however Nocturnal Animals supporting star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, did just that. In a bit of a surprising twist, Taylor-Johnson's nomination may have come at the expense of his co-star, Michael Shannon, who missed out on just about every other major awards show.

While it isn't much of a "snub" in my eyes, Florence Foster Jenkins co-star, Hugh Grant, also found himself outside looking in for the Best Supporting Actor Race. After earning both Globe and SAG nominations, Grant felt like an assured finalist.


One man's loss is another man's gain. While Co-star and Globe Winner, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, failed to secure an Oscar nod, Michael Shannon takes his unimaginably snubbed performance to the big dance. Shannon failed to secure a nomination from the Globes, SAG and BAFTA, but the Academy just couldn't say "no". I'm glad they got it right!

She always had an outside chance of sneaking into the mix, but it was supposed to take a miracle for Loving star, Ruth Negga, to secure her first Oscar Nomination. Some may try to rationalize the selection as a backlash to last year's #OscarsSoWhite outrage, yet Negga gives a mightily deserving performance.

It appears as though the presumably tarnished relationship between the Academy and Mel Gibson has finally ended. After an unforgettable verbal tirade damaged his career, Gibson's artistic prowess just couldn't be ignored by Oscar voters. The highly competitive Best Director race found its 5th finalist in the form of Hacksaw Ridge helmer, Mel Gibson.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Predicting the 2017 Oscar Nominees

Bright and early Tuesday morning all of Hollywood and beyond will be listening closely for who made the cut and who got snubbed by the Academy Awards. And as it happens every year, guest-writer Greg Rouleau and I offer up our predictions on who will be nominated in all of the major categories. Here they are, predictions for this year's Oscar Nominees:

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees For Both: Arrival, Lion, Moonlight and Nocturnal Animals

Dave's 5th Nominee: Hidden Figures

Greg's 5th Nominee: Fences

Dave's Should Be Here: Deadpool

Greg's Should Be Here: Hidden Figures

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees For Both: Captain Fantastic, Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea

Dave's 5th Nominee: The Lobster

Greg's 5th Nominee: Zootopia

Dave's Should Be Here: Eye in the Sky

Greg's Should Be Here: 20th Century Women

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees For Both: Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Should Be Here For Both: Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees For Both: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) and Dev Patel (Lion)

Dave's Other Nominees: Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Greg's Other Nominees: Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Dave's Should Be Here: Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)

Greg's Should Be Here: Stephen Henderson (Fences)

Best Actress

Predicted Nominees For Both: Amy Adams (Arrival), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Natalie Portman (Jackie) and Emma Stone (La La Land)

Dave's 5th Nominee: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Greg's 5th Nominee: Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures)

Should Be Here For Both: Rebecca Hall (Christine)

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees For Both: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Denzel Washington (Fences)

Dave's Should Be Here: Tom Hanks (Sully)

Greg's Should Be Here: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Director

Predicted Nominees For Both: Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) and Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Dave's 5th Nominee: David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water)

Greg's 5th Nominee: Martin Scorsese (Silence)

Dave's Should Be HereTom Ford (Nocturnal Animals)

Greg's Should Be Here: David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water)

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees For Both: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight

Greg's 9th Nominee: Silence

Dave's Should Be Here: Captain Fantastic

Greg's Should Be Here: 20th Century Women

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Split and The Founder

The undulating career of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has been well documented. A tidal wave of acclaim followed his 1999 title, The Sixth Sense, which went on to earn 6 Oscar Nominations. From there Shyamalan dished out a string of reasonably successful efforts including, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, but he's failed to regain his winning form ever since. Until now, that is, as Shyamalan delivers an imaginative new supernatural thriller with the early year release, Split.

After three teenage girls are kidnapped and held captive in an underground lair by a man (James McAvoy) experiencing multiple personality disorder, they must learn which of these different identities they can use to help them escape. However, as time pushes forward and the wicked plan of the main personalities comes to fruition, there's no telling just how dangerous this situation truly is.

As is the case with almost any M. Night Shyamalan movie, it's imperative to not give away the secrets to his screenplay. As a master of mystery and plot twists, storytelling has always been the filmmaker's strongest attribute. Shyamalan recaptures past magic with a dark and clever tale of the body's remarkable capabilities. Split takes the audience on a thrilling ride that admittedly loses momentum as the minutes pile on, however everything still culminates in a rewarding fashion. While the writer/director (and let's not forget, actor too) slowly reveals these pieces the puzzle, he also manages to tip his hand fairly early in the film. Therefore, the slow building that follows never feels as surprising as it should. There are countless up and down moments all throughout the film, yet Shyamalan's gripping story is perfectly captured by the immense acting talents of James McAvoy. He commands the screen with each distinct personality and the unpredictability of his characters keep the film engaging. Split doesn't quite align with Shyamalan's most notable works, but it marks a successful return to form for the once heralded filmmaker.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

"If my competitor were drowning, I'd stick a hose in his mouth and turn the water on". And that's all you need to know about Ray Kroc and the manner in which he transformed McDonald's from a successful family-run restaurant into a global fast-food chain. Earning the biopic treatment, John Lee Hancock - director of The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks - teams with Michael Keaton to deliver a compelling examination of capitalism's cutthroat nature in The Founder.

Once struggling milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) learns the ins and outs of the small California-based burger shop, McDonald's, he envisions a golden opportunity for growth and franchising. Not look after, Kroc weasels his way into a limited partnership with sibling owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman). But as this trio of business partners fails to see eye-to-eye on key issues, Kroc must take any means necessary to make his vision become a reality.

As a ruthless depiction of the American dream modestly tempered by well-scripted moments of humor, John Lee Hancock's The Founder mirrors a hybrid of recent biopics such as The Social Network and The Wolf of Wall Street. Ray Kroc's character becomes more and more interesting as we see his hunger for success grow wildly out of control, to the point where he gladly takes whatever he wants. Michael Keaton is the main attraction here, as he breathes a sinful likability into the real-life persona of an American entrepreneur. The film's entertaining screenplay, which is wonderfully assisted by Keaton's performance, crafts a complex character that the audience hates to love. There are a few deficiencies within the film, like its failure to break any new ground from a cinematic and storytelling standpoint, which creates a rather limited ceiling of achievement. But, if nothing else, The Founder stands as a smoothly-paced and enlightening watch, highlighted by a gifted lead actor and a realistic journey into the world of big business.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Greg's Top 10 Films of 2016

As he does every year, guest-writer and Reel True co-owner, Greg Rouleau, unveils his Top 10 Films of the Year. Generally, Greg offers a detailed write-up explaining his selections. However, this year he lets the movies themselves do the talking, as he puts his editing skills on display with a video recap of 2016's finest films. Enjoy!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dave's Best of 2016

January 24th is right around the corner and Oscar Nominations will be here before we know it. But before the industry's biggest awards ceremony announces its nominees, I'm going to take a moment to reflect on my personal picks for the years best actors, screenplays and directors. Here are the best of the best in 2016:

Best Adapted Screenplay

#5. The BFG

#3. Arrival

And the winner is ...

Barry Jenkins transforms an original story by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney into one of 2016's most well-rounded entries. Moonlight is a shining example of what indie filmmaking is all about and its engrossing story takes you on a memorable journey that's worthy of being labeled as the year's Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

And the winner is ...

Kenneth Longergan pens an emotional masterpiece that, despite its slight over-extension, captures the core of the human psyche. Manchester by the Sea takes a familiar theme and molds it into a heartbreaking and original story.

Best Supporting Actress

Honorable Mention: Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky), Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) and Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake)

#5. Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls)

#4. Gillian Jacobs (Don't Think Twice)

#3. Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)

#2. Michelle Williams (Manchester by/ Sea)

And the winner is ...

#1. Viola Davis (Fences)

As the heart and soul of Denzel Washington's adapted film, Fences, Viola Davis is given a much larger platform to display her talents than any other woman in the category. It's almost unfair to classify her role as "supporting", yet I'll measure her by the same standards as the rest of the major awards ceremonies, which clearly makes Davis the Best Supporting Actress of 2016.

Best Supporting Actor

Honorable Mention: Aaron Eckhart (Sully), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane) and Woody Harrelson (The Edge of Seventeen)

#5. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

#4. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

#3. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)

#2. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

And the winner is ...

#1. Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)

While co-star Jeff Bridges has enjoyed a busy awards season run, Hell or High Water's Ben Foster delivers the film's most notable performance. In many ways it's a typical role for Foster, arrogant and edgy, character traits he's build a strong career portraying. And while that narrow range may detract from some voting bodies, I feel like it's the perfect way of acknowledging how effective of a performance he can give.

Best Director

Honorable Mention: Peter Berg (Patriots Day), Matt Ross (Captain Fantastic) and Martin Scorsese (Silence)

#5. David MacKenzie (Hell or High Water)

#4. Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals)

#3. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

#2. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

And the winner is ...

#1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

If La La Land helmer, Damien Chazelle, takes home the Oscat statue for Best Director, then he'll be the youngest to do so in history. As only Chazelle's second feature film - and Best Picture Nominee Whiplash being the other - it's remarkable to imagine what the future may hold for this rising filmmaker. Whatever it may be, I can't wait to see it.

Best Actress

Honorable Mention: Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane), Ruth Negga (Loving) and Susan Sarandon (The Meddler)

#5. Amy Adams (Arrival) 

#4. Natalie Portman (Jackie)

#3. Annette Bening (20th Century Women)

#2. Rebecca Hall (Christine)

And the winner is ...

#1. Emma Stone (La La Land)

In a year flooded with quality lead actress performances, La La Land's Emma Stone emerges from the crowd as the best of 2016. And not only does she put on a memorable acting display, Stone sings and dancers her way through the year's most diverse role. Her character is the backbone of La La Land and without this exceptional performance, who knows how effective this musical would have been.

Best Actor

Honorable Mention: Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake) Michael Keaton (The Founder) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

#5. Tom Hanks (Sully)

#4. Denzel Washington (Fences)

#3. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

#2. Christopher Plummer (Remember)

And the winner is ...

#1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Despite playing a rather quiet character, Casey Affleck's work speaks volume about a man's unfathomable confrontation with past regrets. Affleck offers a subtle and nuanced performance that lets the space between his words breathe life into his character. It's a bitter role and one he executes with remarkable ease. There may not have been a better performance last year.

Best Picture

And the winner is ...

After revealing my Top 10 Films of 2016 nearly two weeks ago, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Damien Chazelle's La La Land secures the biggest prize. In a year full of heavy subject matter and darkly toned narratives, La La Land represents a refreshing and original burst of energy that stands out among the competition. And while the film (being a musical) won't necessarily appeal to everyone's taste, anyone open to the viewing experience and eager to catch the film should definitely give it a chance.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Patriots Day and 20th Century Women

You don't have to look any further than his latest trio of films to recognize that Peter Berg has purposely aimed his filmmaking talents at tackling real-life stories of human struggle. 2013's Lone Survivor stood as a resonating examination of the brotherhood and sacrifice of a stranded Navy Seal team caught under fire by Taliban militants, while Deepwater Horizon centered around the untold story of oil rig workers caught in extreme explosions that resulted in the catastrophic BP oil-spill off the Gulf coast. And as his movie timelines creep closer to present day, Berg's new release, Patriots Day, focuses on the orchestrated manhunt to capture the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombers. Although Berg hasn't announced his next directorial effort and considering his recent string of critical success, it will be interesting to see if Berg sticks to this thematic formula.

Patriots Day is annually celebrated with the long-standing tradition of the Boston Marathon. And in 2013, a day like any other, a pair of radicalized Islamic extremists (played by Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze) detonated two self-made explosives near the marathon's finish-line, killing a trio of civilians and injuring more than 250 others. Boston's police department, headed by Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and with the help of officer Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), aided the FBI in their search to identify and capture the Tsarnaev brothers.

Some have argued that it's "too soon" for Peter Berg to make such a film. However, to the director's credit, he bridges his Hollywood re-enactment with real-life events by editing a timeline of actual investigative footage into the film. This life-like approach cements a feeling of legitimacy and accuracy that adds a great deal to the movie's dramatic effect. Patriots Day begins by capturing the city's fragile and emotional state following these traumatic events, and quickly morphs into an intense and thrilling game of cat and mouse between the FBI and the Tsarnaev brother. And while Mark Wahlberg has never been lauded as one of Hollywood's most gifted actors, Berg continues to evoke escalating quality of work from him with each subsequent collaboration. In fact, the film's entire cast is remarkably on-point as a long list of strongly-delivered performances support this winning effort. Outside of a few over-dramatized moments of asinine "Boston strong" dialogue that ultimately suggest these events as a city's tragedy rather than a nation's, Patriots Day offers sound technical achievements and an extremely compelling recount of this devastating moment in recent history.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

In my humble opinion, the greatest stories are the ones that build the strongest characters. Writer/director Mike Mills has illustrated an uncanny ability to do just that with interesting works such as Beginners - which earned veteran actor Christopher Plummer his first Academy Award - and the lesser-known, Thumbsucker. But as Mills pushes on with this character-driven approach, his efforts continue to gain notoriety. As is the case with his new Oscar-contending release, 20th Century Women.

Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mother raising her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in Southern California during the late 70s. And when Dorothea recognizes her inability to properly raise Jamie on her own, she enlists the help of her trusty tenant, a punk-loving twenty-something (Greta Gerwig), as well as Jamie's best friend and teenage crush Julie (Elle Fanning). These trio of women impart their singular wisdom and world views on the impressionable young man as he embarks on adulthood.

20th Century Women represents a hearty and comical coming-of-age story that puts its characters first. Mills doesn't obsess with the progression of the story as much as he finely tunes these multi-layered characters, and the result is a fun-filled depiction of the maturation process. Annette Bening has received (and earned) a large amount of awards season acclaim for her role as Jamie's independent and often cynical mother. She morphs into her character with unfettered ease and as Bening regularly delivers Mills' perfectly-scripted one-line zingers, Dorothea becomes an organic and complex persona that commands the audience's attention. In addition to Bening, supporting stars Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and Lucas Jade Zumann all offer exceptional turns. Gerwig separates herself from the pack with one of 2016's finest supporting performances. A few moderate issues with pacing haunt this nearly two-hour endeavor, yet 20th Century Women includes enough humor and soul to stand out as another successful film from a rare character-first writer/director.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2016's Most Underrated Performances

2016 is almost completely behind us now that we're almost two full weeks into January, so I'm releasing another annual list exploring the most underrated acting performances of this past year. There was a long list of options I needed to carefully sift through to compile this list. Also, quite a few "fringe" options tip-toed the line between underrated and modestly recognized. In fact, if a performance drew awards season honors from any notable Critics Groups, then I deemed it ineligible. That's why quality work from talents like Rebecca Hall (Christine), Hayley Squires & Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Felicity Jones & Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls) and Janelle Monae (Moonlight & Hidden Figures) won't be found in my Top 10. Therefore, knowing my criteria for inclusion, here are 2016's most underrated performances:

Honorable Mention: Billy Crudup (20th Century Women), Sarah Paulson (Blue Jay), Kristen Stewart (Cafe Society), Chris Messina (Live by Night) and Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys)

#10. George MacKay (Captain Fantastic)

Much has been made about leading star, Viggo Mortensen's, Best Actor run during the awards season. Yet, arguably Captain Fantastic's most compelling character, the eldest son Bo (played by MacKay), steals the film. MacKay's conflicted character possesses immaculate book-smarts, but has the social skills of a gnat. His awkward relationship with a teenage girl he meets during his travels is absolutely priceless and MacKay even shines in the supporting role with a dramatic Oscar-worthy scene.

#9. Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle)

You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but Kingsman's sleek and suave leading man, Taron Egerton, is actually the same person pictured above. But physical transformations aside, Egerton's turn as a physically unfit athlete with Olympic dreams elevates Eddie the Eagle from hokey biopic to meaningful true-story drama. Egerton truly is the soul of the film and, believe me, one exists throughout this often comical examination of the strangest Olympian ever.

#8. Mark Duplass (Blue Jay)

There's an aura of desperation surrounding Alex Lehmann's directorial debut, Blue Jay. Shown strictly in black & white, this emotional and mostly-improvised drama keeps the camera on its sensational leading co-stars, Mark Duplass & Sarah Paulson. Both performances are tender and frail as these former high school sweethearts cross paths years after a devastating break-up. Duplass has long been a phenomenal indie filmmaking voice and his powerful work continues with this shamefully overlooked portrayal.

#7. Jesse Eisenberg (Cafe Society)

There's always a common feeling behind Woody Allen's career work. And his latest film, Cafe Society, stands on the higher end of that narrow spectrum. Jesse Eisenberg shines in what many would label a typical role for the actor. And while it's difficult to argue against that notion, it's also impossible to deny his charming performance. Eisenberg's character is doe-eyed and naive as he ventures from New York to Los Angeles in order to break into the film industry. As a former Academy Award Nominee, Eisenberg's role in Cafe Society serves as a reminder of his elite abilities.

#6. Susan Sarandon (The Meddler)

True to its name, Susan Sarandon can feel so frustrating, annoying and even endearing in Lorene Scafaria's small-time festival darling, The Meddler. Sarandon stars as a lonely widow who follows her daughter to Los Angeles and weasels her way into the lives of everyone she meets. She achieves the essence of her character so perfectly and it makes for a quality film. But despite all of the character's irritating qualities, Sarandon still comes off as sweet and lovable as she slowly begins to build a life of her own.

#5. Woody Harrelson (The Edge of Seventeen)

Woody Harrleson has always been one of those actors who can do no wrong, and he confirms it once again in Kelly Fremon Craig's coming-of-age comedy, The Edge of Seventeen. It came as a pleasant surprise, but Harrelson's role as a teacher-mentor ends up much larger than I ever expected. His natural comedic delivery serves as a wonderful complement to the character's pseudo-careless attitude. Yet, deep down Harrelson is a compassionate and caring figure to this clumsy teenage girl whose life seems to be falling apart.

#4. Gillian Jacobs (Don't Think Twice)

Evident by its strong showing on my Top 10 Films of the Year list, Mike Birbiglia's Don't Think Twice is as genuine and authentic a film as you can make. Outside of its slightly tempered, although immensely plentiful, humor, the movie does an amazing job of examining human behavior, and none was more fascinating than Gillian Jacobs' role as, Samantha. Her subtle performance crafts a layered character that's equal parts perplexing, simplistic and hopeful. Not only does Jacobs possess an innate ability to make the audience laugh, but she also demonstrates the talents to elicit and emotional response as well.

#3. Aaron Eckhart (Sully)

Aaron Eckhart has enjoyed a lengthy career of quality work, but the actor's role in Clint Eastwood's Sully is clearly one of his most memorable. Tom Hanks stars as the film's title character, but Eckhart injects a witty tone that ads levity to this true story of an emergency forced landing on the Hudson River. I was shocked to discover that Eckhart hadn't earned any awards recognition whatsoever for his portrayal of Captain Sully's loyal co-pilot. Yet, no matter what accolades Eckhart misses out on, I'll always admire this performance as one of his finest.

#2. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)

Going from a familiar face like Aaron Eckhart to the newcomer, Ashton Sanders, it makes you appreciate how much talent is really out there. However, opportunity is everything and Ashton Sanders seizes his in Barry Jenkins' Best Picture contender, Moonlight. This gripping drama follows an impoverished Miami youth struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. Told through three distinct chapters, Sanders is masterful during the film's second segment where we witness the character's emotionally-ranging teenage years.Sanders effortlessly navigates through moments of anger, rage, betrayal and lust. Moonlight is a remarkably powerful film and Sanders plays a pivotal part in its overwhelming success.

#1. Christopher Plummer (Remember)

There's a bit of trickiness surrounding my top pick as the year's most underrated performance. Atom Egoyan's Canadian revenge thriller, Remember, hit theaters north of the border in 2015 (where Christopher Plummer, Egoyan and the film itself were recognized by Canadian film critics groups). However, Remember didn't reach U.S. theaters until early in 2016, where it received a limited release. Nonetheless, lead star Christopher Plummer gives a hypnotic performance as Zev, an elderly man who escapes from his retirement home to seek vengeance on the former Nazi prison guard who murdered his family at Auschwitz. The former Academy Award Winner shows he's still got it with a brilliant leading role that ended up completely ignored this year. This 95-minute treat serves up a phenomenal finale that begs to seen, so do yourself a favor and enjoy Christopher Plummer's top-flight acting in Remember.