Best Film Performances of the 2010s

1 Comment

CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Back in April, I revealed my lists of the best podcasts, TV shows, TV episodes, albums, songs, and movies of the 2010s. I declared that that was it for my Best of the Decade curating for this particular ten-year cycle. But now I’m back with a few more, baby! I’ve been participating in a series of Best of the 2010s polls with some of my online friends, and I wanted to share my selections with you. We’re including film performances, TV performances, directors, and musical artists, so get ready for all that.

First up is Film Performances. Any individual performance from any movie released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019 was eligible, whether it was live-action, voice-only, or whatever other forms on-screen acting take nowadays. For actors who played the same character in multiple movies, each movie was considered separately.

More

Ford v Ferrari = Friendship!

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

I’m not sure what the message of Ford v Ferrari is, and I’m not sure if that’s a mostly good or mostly bad thing. (We could be doing a lot worse in this world!) Is it about how you can’t ever stop American individualism from being as individual as possible? Or is it about how the United States won’t ever stay an underdog for long, even in pursuits usually dominated by the Europeans? If it’s either of those, then why is the main character an Englishman? Maybe it’s about how teammates stick with each other no matter what, and the whole American-ness of it all just be how it be. Certainly what stuck with me the most is the friendship between Christian Bale’s vroom-vroom-goer Ken Miles and Matt Damon’s vroom-vroom-guider Carroll Shelby. It’s an oft-contentious relationship, which only makes sense when you’re gearing up for a race that lasts a full day. Such competition, such support, such politics behind the whole affair – I saw it all!

I give Ford v Ferrari 240 out of 360 Laps.

This Is a Movie Review: Dick Cheney is Ten Chess Moves Ahead of Everyone in Adam McKay’s Typically Ambitious ‘Vice’

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Justin Kirk, Tyler Perry, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan

Director: Adam McKay

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Profanity in the Halls of Power and Images of War and Torture

Release Date: December 25, 2018

If I’m understanding Vice correctly, then Adam McKay believes that Dick Cheney (here embodied by Christian Bale) is directly or indirectly responsible for everything that is wrong with the current state of American politics. That actually is not as much of a stretch as it sounds. During his eight years as vice president, Cheney wielded a degree of influence that was profoundly unprecedented for the position. The conventional wisdom is that his views on executive power and surveillance now represent the status quo for whoever is occupying the White House. Thus, McKay is not so far off the reservation to imply all that he is implying. But he may have bitten off a little more than he can chew with the expansiveness of his argument. He was similarly ambitious with The Big Short, but that earlier effort is more durable to scrutiny because there he laid the responsibility on forces that were perpetrated both actively and passively by many people. It may very well turn out to be true that Cheney’s influence is as wide-ranging as McKay claims – it’s just tricky to say so about a person who is still living.

Interestingly enough, that tenuousness is baked right into the script. If not for a few key decisions, the life of Dick Cheney, and ergo America, could have played out very differently. Without the presence of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams conjuring Lady Macbeth), he could have ended up a drunk nobody. And if not for his propensity to see life like a chess match in which he is ten moves ahead of everyone else, there might be no Patriot Act, ISIS, or extreme income inequality.

The thesis of Vice is that it was all so close to going differently. Through fourth-wall breaking and formal experimentation (like playing the end credits halfway through), the message is that all that we have been living through was not foreordained. Some may find that frightening, as it indicates that we are always on the precipice of disaster. And McKay’s propensity to cut to random footage of pop culture ephemera may come off as a lamentation that we are too distracted to do anything about it. But I actually see encouragement. You don’t have to like Cheney for him to be an inspiration. If you have a problem with the way things are in the country right now, maybe you can see an opportunity where everyone else sees the masses placated by “Wassup!” commercials. I’m not sure how well Vice works as a movie, but I choose to see it as an exhortation to make things right.

Vice is Recommended If You Like: The Big Short, Oliver Stone’s political thrillers, The Daily Show, Fourth-wall breaking

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Unitary Executive Theories

This Is a Movie Review: Christian Bale Gives It His Grimmest in the Dour, Distressing ‘Hostiles’

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Lorey Sebastian/Yellow Hawk, Inc.

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Ben Foster, Bill Camp, Stephen Lang

Director: Scott Cooper

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: R for Western Hostility

Release Date: December 22, 2017 (Limited)

Christian Bale excels at playing men who are forced into carrying the weight of a profoundly demanding mission, whether by their own volition or due to leverage someone else holds over them. The Dark Knight’s “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now” is basically that status as personal credo. In the 1892-set Western Hostiles (Bale’s second collab with his Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper), he plays a much more reluctant protagonist, an Army captain forced to deliver a Cheyenne chief and his family back to tribal lands, under threat of losing his pension if he refuses. He looks like he hasn’t bathed in years; that stink and his impressive mustache tangibly represent the brunt he is under.

Ergo, Captain Bale (Captain Joseph Blocker is his character name) is filled with a lot of hostility, and he is surrounded by a lot of low-grade or full-blown hostility, whether it be from his fellow soldiers, the suicidal widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was recently slaughtered, his Cheyenne transports, or the natives that ambush them. We might have our winner for Most Accurate Title of the Year right here.

While nobody in this film is particularly heroic, I do worry that its portrayal of Native Americans hearkens back to a more racist tradition of Westerns. The opening scene presents a group of Comanches at their most savage. For no clear reason, they burn down a family’s home, skinning the father’s scalp and mercilessly killing him and his two young daughters. I am sure that some natives were actually this brutal in late-19th century frontier America, and I do not mean to say that I think that Hostiles is implying that all of them (or all of this particular tribe) were this awful. But the fact that this worst version is all we see of them and that this portrayal is presented so bluntly is concerning.

At least we can appreciate at the aesthetic pleasures (or anti-pleasures, really) with fewer moral qualms. If you ever wanted to see Ben Foster tied up in the cold, muddy rain at night, Hostiles is the film for you. Cooper’s designs for how icky and uninviting nature gets without modern amenities is thoroughly harsh. Lovingly so, even (at least the crafty attention to detail is loving). You’ll probably want to shower afterwards, in a cathartic sort of way, or if you’re a 19th century fetishist, you’ll run right out and find the closest available barren lands.

Hostiles is Recommended If You Like: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood at their most rugged

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hostiles

This Is a Movie Review: The Promise

Leave a comment

This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale

Director: Terry George

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Acknowledging Crimes of Humanity Against Humanity

Release Date: April 21, 2017

This February’s Bitter Harvest strove for epic love against the real-life backdrop of the Soviet Ukrainian famine of the 1930’s. The effort to shine a light on an oft-ignored chapter in history was admirable, but the tame dramatization resulted in a less-than-memorable story. The Promise operates by much the same principles of historical examination but ends up with something more compelling, thanks to a more complicated romantic scenario. The setting in this case is especially relevant: the World War I-era systematic extermination of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire, which the Turkey (Ottoman’s successor) to this day refuses to refer to as “genocide.” If shots of fleeing Armenians can stir up empathy for today’s refugees, then The Promise will prove its worth in at least one way.

Furthering the Bitter Harvest comparison, The Promise is the latest in a long line of American-produced historical epics with questionable casting. There are some Armenians and Turks among the supporting cast, but the main players consist of a mix of Guatemalan (Oscar Isaac), Iranian (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and French Canadian (Charlotte Le Bon, although at least in her case she is playing an Armenian raised in Paris). Even the main American is played by a Welsh-Englishman!

I am not systematically opposed to an actor’s ethnicity not matching up with the character, but when a movie is about the attempted destruction of an entire people, and only one of the principal roles is played by a member of that people (Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan), the optics do not look great. Isaac’s accent work is solid, and he brings so much decency to his performance such that his lack of Middle Eastern heritage does not detract from the film’s overall quality. Still, it is worth considering this issue from a business and humanistic standpoint.

The Promise illuminates how emotional and familial well-being are insignificant but also essential in the face of widespread disaster. The synopses I have encountered have billed this as a love triangle, but it is really more of a quadrangle. Armenian villager Mikael (Isaac) moves to Constantinople for medical school, which he can afford thanks to the dowry he receives after agreeing to marry fellow villager Maral (Sarafyan). While in school, he meets and falls in love with Ana (Le Bon). She quite passionately reciprocates his feelings, though she is married to American journalist Chris (Bale).

As war breaks out, the story takes a turn toward labor camps, escapes under cover of night, and attempts to flee the country. The romantic rivals are allies in the greater struggle of exposing the truth and rescuing their loved ones. Isaac conveys the burden and resolve of a man bound by duty that is at odds with his once-in-a-lifetime romance. When he and Bale share the screen, the tension is riveting – you are never sure if they will punch or hug each other. This is the struggle of an existence driven by both emotions and morals. When humanity – both the principle and the population – is threatened with extinction, living right and living passionately still must find a way.

The Promise is Recommended If You Like: Atonement, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan

Grade: 3 out of 5 Sacrifices