Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Best of the Philadelphia Film Festival 2015

Now that I've had some time to sit back and digest all of the 21 films I encountered during the 24th annual Philadelphia Film Festival, it's time for me to acknowledge the best of what the festival had to offer (here's a look back at 2014's festival). With some huge late additions into the festival lineup including two films expected to make an awards season splash, Spotlight and Suffragette, there were plenty of reasons for optimism. So here's a look at the movies, directors and performances that caught my eye during another successful year.

Note: I wasn't able to catch Suffragette, The 33 or Michael Moore's latest documentary, Where to Invade Next.

Best Supporting Actress

Honorable Mention: Cynthia Nixon (James White) and Rachel Weisz (Youth)

#3. Julie Walters (Brooklyn)

#2. Rooney Mara (Carol)

And the winner is ...

Joan Allen (Room)

It was an absolute winning performance in one of the year's finest films. Joan Allen gives an emotional turn that helps sustain the second half of Room. Although Rooney Mara is better positioned for an awards season run, I'll take Allen's performance any day.

Best Supporting Actor

Honorable Mention: Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Harvey Keitel (Youth) and Stanley Tucci (Spotlight)

#3. Jacob Tremblay (Room)

#2. Michael Keaton (Spotlight)

And the winner is ...

Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

It's to be expected, but this year's Best Supporting Actor race is loaded with noteworthy performances and there are still two months left for films to qualify for the Oscars. After last year's close loss to Eddie Redmayne, it almost feels like the voters will give one to Michael Keaton for his brilliant turn in Spotlight. Keaton was clearly fantastic, but his co-star Mark Ruffalo shined even brighter. With every new performance Ruffalo continues to climb my list of respected actors.

Best Actress

Honorable Mention: Sarah Bolger (Emelie), Sandra Bullock (Our Brand is Crisis) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

#3. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

#2. Cate Blanchett (Carol)

And the winner is ...

Brie Larson (Room)

I've been touting Brie Larson ever since her Oscar snub for 2013's indie drama, Short Term 12. Larson elevates her game even higher with a sure-fire performance that could land her a statue at the Academy Awards. Room is absolutely compelling and we have its superb leading star, Brie Larson, to thank for that.

Best Actor

Honorable Mention: Christopher Abbott (James White), Tom Courtenay (45 Years) and Ben Foster (The Program)

#3. Tom Hardy (Legend)

#2. Mark Stanley (Kilo Two Bravo)

And the winner is ...

Christopher Plummer (Remember)

Although there were many films I had the pleasure of enjoying during this year's festival, one of the most memorable was the impactful drama, Remember. Christopher Plummer provides an unforgettable turn as a dementia patient who ventures from the hospital to seek vengeance on the former Nazi soldier who killed his family during World War II. With an unusually short list of worthy Best Actor performances this year, I'm surprised more hasn't been about Plummer's work here.

Best Director

Honorable Mention: Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Atom Egoyan (Remember) and Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa)

#3. Paul Katis (Kilo Two Bravo)

#2. John Crowley (Brooklyn)

And the winner is ...

Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

As an outspoken fan of McCarthy's 2011 drama, Win Win, there aren't many people as happy as I am that the writer/director is receiving all this acclaim for his latest effort, Spotlight. As the current Oscar frontrunner, although it's awfully earlier to get excited, McCarthy and his cast are every bit as good as advertised. 

Best Picture

Honorable Mention: 45 Years, Anomalisa, Emelie, Our Brand Is Crisis and The Program

And the winner is ...

This year's Philadelphia Film Festival delivered plenty of notable features, but none stood out as much as Lenny Abrahamson's adapted drama, Room. Brie Larson gives an unmatched performance as a prisoner held captive as a sex slave who eventually gives birth to her captor's son. Forced to raise him  exclusively in a tiny 10 x 10 foot shed, the boy has never experienced anything outside the walls of "room". The film lures in the audience with a constantly progressing story that allows each of its acting talents to build depth to their characters. Room is an absolute must-see and one of the year's best pictures.

*** Stay tuned for a complete recap of every film I encountered at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival

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