Best Film Performances of the 2010s

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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.

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Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 6/5/20

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CREDIT: Guy D’Alema/ABC

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Shirley (Hulu, On Demand, and Drive-In Theaters) – Another excellent performance from Elisabeth Moss!

TV
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 5 Premiere (June 5 on VH1)
Hollywood Game Night (New Episodes Return Starting June 7 on NBC)
Don’t Series Premiere (June 11 on ABC) – New wacky game show hosted by Adam Scott

Music
-Run the Jewels, RTJ4

Josephine Decker’s ‘Shirley’ Presents Elisabeth Moss as Shirley Jackson in Her Latest Acting Tour de Force

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CREDIT: NEON

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman

Director: Josephine Decker

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Acid Tongues and Sexual Encounters in Multiple Directions

Release Date: June 5, 2020 (Hulu, On Demand, and Drive-Ins)

When writing a movie review (or a review about anything, really), it is wise to focus on the details that you care about most. So with that in mind, after watching Elisabeth Moss play Shirley Jackson in the Josephine Decker-directed biopic Shirley, I must say: I love the shirts! Shirley favors short-sleeve button-downs, including an absolutely tremendous one with a mallard pattern. The film takes place in Vermont, but you wouldn’t know it from all the exposed forearms. In another context, her sartorial choices could easily fit on a painfully ironic hipster or a dad joke-spewing goofball, but when Shirley wears them, they say, “This is who I am: deal with it. Or don’t. Either way, I’ma do me.”

That vibe of defiance is thick in the air of Shirley, in which the writer and her Bennington College professor husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) “welcome” newlyweds Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young) as guests into their home. If that setup has you thinking Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, you’re in the right area. If you’re also thinking there might be a heavy influence of Jackson’s most famous works, that, however, is not precisely accurate. There’s no stoning of anyone like in the short story “The Lottery,” nor are there any hints of the supernatural akin to her oft-adapted novel The Haunting of Hill House (save for the ghosts of marital discord). Despite the lack of one-to-one connections, the Jackson home is plenty scary, which Rose and Fred soon discover as they get caught up in a swirling psychosexual adventure.

When it comes to successful visionary movies, they let audiences in on a way of feeling that they fundamentally just get in their psyches (or souls, or hearts, or whatever) without necessarily having to understand the logic of it all. And that’s Shirley for me (and perhaps for some of you as well). I didn’t quite feel that way with Decker’s last film, Madeline’s Madeline, which struck me as a bit too foreign (at least on first viewing) to truly attach to it. But with Shirley, I have the key to open its lock for the cinematic language to feel just right. The psychology of why Stanley feels compelled to torture Fred over his dissertation or why Shirley and a very pregnant Rose find themselves frolicking by the bathtub is not spelled out in concrete terms. Travelling into this abode is like a trip through Hades. It’s pretty exhilarating, at least if you know you’re going to come out eventually. But for those stuck there, it’s a little more exhausting, and my mind will be stuck on them for a while.

Shirley is Recommended If You Like: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Making sarcastic comments at a party, Patterned Short-Sleeve Button-Downs

Grade: 4 out of 5 Typewriters

‘The Invisible Man’ Has a Scary Number of Tricks in Its Arsenal

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman

Director: Leigh Whannell

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Deadly Weapons Deployed Unpredictably

Release Date: February 28, 2020

In the immortal words of Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And when it comes to loosely adapting H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, one can give oneself a lot of leeway in terms of how much magic the titular fellow uses to render himself invisible. Writer-director Leigh Whannell (a veteran primarily of the Insidious series) makes it pretty clear which side of the magic-technology pendulum he’s swinging on by letting us know that his invisible man is “a world leader in the field of optics.” But while we are assured that there is a scientific basis for these strange happenings, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of movie magic. One shocking set piece in which a steak knife suddenly starts floating in the air underscores the power of good old-fashioned well-timed editing. Then there are the moments of actors getting thrashed about by seemingly nothing, and it amazingly does not come off as silly, thanks to whatever combination of camera tricks, CGI manipulation, and precise physicality is employed.

The Invisible Man demonstrates the far-reaching power of abusive relationships. They do not just tear apart the people within them, they can also break down anyone who comes into contact with their deceit and manipulation. The film begins with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escaping the mansion where she lives with her thoroughly controlling husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). While crashing at her friend James’ (Aldis Hodge) house, she is initially barely able to walk out to the mailbox until she learns that Adrian has killed himself. But soon enough, a series of inexplicable occurrences convince Cecilia that Adrian actually faked his death and has now become the ultimate stalker.

Everyone in front of and behind the camera takes their cues from paranormal films in which the victim of supernatural phenomena is dismissed as suffering from the hallucinations of mental illness. As Cecilia notes, that is the profound insidiousness of an abusive relationship at work, as the abuser does everything he can to make the victim look like she’s crazy. This approach also works fantastically on a formal level, as Cecilia struggles to convince the people around her that Adrian is right there when they are in the utmost danger. She is not asking them to believe anything beyond the physical realm, but rather, to sniff out a high-level illusion. Not only is Adrian invisible, he’s also apparently soundproof, odor-free, and otherwise imperceptible. I had to wonder more than once: where and when does he eat and excrete? That’s not a criticism, just a further illustration of how much he renders himself untraceable. A supervillain this inventive does not come around too often, and it is quite the catharsis when his deception is exposed.

The Invisible Man is Recommended If You Like: Monster scientists, sleek modern mansions rendered as haunted houses, overwhelming horror scores, comeuppance for abusers

Grade: 4 out of 5 Diazepam Pills

Movie Review: ‘Her Smell’ Puts Elisabeth Moss Through Hell as She Fights Her Way Back to Punk Rock Redemption

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CREDIT: Gunpowder & Sky

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Dan Stevens, Eric Stoltz, Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Amber Heard, Virginia Madsen, Eka Darville, Lindsay Burdge, Keith Poulson, Alexis Krauss, Craig Butta, Hannah Gross, Daisy Pugh-Weiss

Director: Alex Ross Perry

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for The Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle at Its Most Rock-Bottom

Release Date: April 12, 2019 (New York)/April 19, 2019 (Los Angeles)

Her Smell is not about riot grrrl punk rock so much as it just takes place in the riot grrrl milieu. Although I suppose it would be fair to say that a person like Becky Something, lead singer of Something She, would be most likely to have the breakdown that she has in this particular setting. Hers is a story as old as show business: she grew up with a profound inner sense of emptiness and sought to fill it with the stage, but she also turned to drinking, drugs, and suspect shamanism. Elisabeth Moss is fully, almost painfully committed to a performance of Becky as a shell of a person who cannot cover up the destructive whirlwind she has become. This is The Elisabeth Moss Show, with Becky’s bandmates, ex, daughter, manager, and mom left to simply react in horror.

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry conveys Becky’s unraveling and possible redemption over the course of a couple of long nights and one afternoon, favoring long takes that will not allow us to escape the bowels of hell. The camera tracks around backstage hallways without ever finding the exits, keeping us stuck in a claustrophobic nightmare. The music is surprising, but effective. While Something She plays the expected Sleater-Kinney-style bangers, the score resembles that of a mystical sci-fi flick set in rural England. It contributes to the sense of how otherworldly this whole situation feels. Punk rock, and indeed all rock music, has long had a reputation of being the devil’s music. Her Smell does not believe that at all, and in fact all of Becky’s loved ones are fully supportive of her rocking endeavors. But if demonic possession is something that exists, she appears to be suffering from it, and this film makes absolutely clear which vices are  really the ones causing that destruction.

Her Smell is Recommended If You Like: A rock star biopic infused with a horror vibe

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Spin Magazine Covers

Movie Review: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ is a Landmark Achievement in Doppelgänger-Based Horror

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CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop

Director: Jordan Peele

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: R for Scissor-Based Bloody Violence and Semi-Euphemistic Drug Talk

Release Date: March 22, 2019

The appeal of Get Out, Jordan Peele’s first film, had a lot to do with its underlying social message, which declared: this is the horror of what it’s like to be a black person in America. Now his follow-up Us is luring crowds primarily on the promise of its scare tactics, which are based on the fundamentally unnerving premise of a family terrorized by a group of people who look exactly like them. There is another social metaphor wrapped up in this package, and there is a good chance that you will figure it out by the end, or that someone will point it out to you. It’s clear enough, without being thuddingly obvious. Other reviews might reveal that subtext, but I’ll leave it unsaid, because there is satisfaction to be had in going in cold and having it click for you.

While Peele’s films are driven by an urge to convince people to look deeper at the world around them, they also work confidently on a surface level. Us is a striking triumph of the marriage of craft and performance. It would have to be for us to accept a world in which a group of doppelgängers, known as “the Tethered,” speak in a mixture of indefinably accented English, clicks, and blood-curdling screams. Occasionally, there is a chaotic mix of horror and comedy butting up against each other not exactly comfortably, with the tension breaking perhaps one too many times. But Peele is working in such unprecedented territory that I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The acting is impressive across the board, especially in terms of a risk-taking appetite. A great deal is asked of Lupita Nyong’o, as the mother of the main family and the leader of the Tethered. She gives the sort of performance that is some unholy mix of ridiculous and brilliant – it might be a great folly, or the best of the year, or both.

CREDIT: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

The conclusion explains the rise of the Tethered with a twist that at first struck me as nonsensical. My instinct was to scramble back and fill in some extra-textual details that would fix what seemed like a glaring mistake. But now that I have had time to reflect, I am choosing to embrace the absurdity. It fits with a world in which people are often irrational and not fully paying attention to all that is around them. There are so many opportunities for reflection within Us, and you may be surprised, and perhaps invigorated, by what you see.

Us is Recommended If You Like: Get Out, Funny Games, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Grade: 4 out of 5 Scissors

This Is a Movie Review: The Old Man & the Gun

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Some people cannot help themselves, incorrigibly escaping from prison and robbing banks forevermore. Well, at least one person was like that. Actually, there have been plenty of career criminals in human history. But “incorrigible” usually isn’t the right word to describe most of them. It is, however, a perfect fit for Forrest Tucker, who was known for charming the heck out of bank tellers as he flashed his gun at them.

There are the singular characters like Tucker, and then there are the weavers of tales like David Lowery, who writes and directs Tucker’s story in The Old Man & the Gun. He wisely casts Robert Redford as the ultimate Robert Redford-type and commissions Daniel Hart to craft a breezy, jazzy score, and it all makes for a perfectly fine way to transport yourself for an afternoon.

I give The Old Man & the Gun 20 Diner Dates out of 25 Prison Escapes.

This Is a Movie Review: Palme d’Or Winner ‘The Square’ Skewers the Art World Savagely But Also Kind of Lovingly

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

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

Starring: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary

Director: Ruben Östlund

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: R for Tourette’s-Fueled Potty Mouth, Outrageously Offensive Violence, and Dangerous Handling of a Condom

Release Date: October 27, 2017 (Limited)

A chimpanzee roommate walks around the apartment right before some hanky-panky is about to go down. A tug-of-war over a condom very nearly leads to some messy results. A shirtless performance artist acts like a gorilla for sanctioned live theater at a fundraiser dinner. For all the merciless weirdness that occurs in The Square, it is ultimately rather on-the-nose with the point it sets out to make.

The Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Square is the latest satire from Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund. To American eyes, it may at first glance seem like the latest case of the Europeans going full-bore with their European wackiness. But to Scandinavian viewers who are likely more familiar with Östlund’s sensibility, this probably looks like a straightforward comedy of manners, if perhaps a bit overlong. Plus, if you can get past the subtitles (and a good chunk of the dialogue is in English anyway), it becomes a lot more accessible. Besides, there is a hardcore zing directed at Comic Sans, so it cannot be completely incomprehensible.

The major conflict involves the testing of museum curator Christian’s (Claes Bang) ideals after his wallet and cell phone are stolen. This actually serves as the perfect opportunity to test out the message of the installation piece by American artist Julian (Dominic West) that Christian is currently presenting. The piece, which gives the film its name, is designed as an area where trust between patrons is binding. It is a slice of society in which everyone is looking out for each other. When Christian distributes a letter throughout an apartment building requesting the quick return of his possessions, his thief actually complies, thus fulfilling the promise of The Square. Alas, as Christian has given his letter out to all the building’s residents, the parents of a preteen boy wrongfully punish him for the same theft. In turn, the boy becomes a steady vengeful thorn in Christian’s side, constantly threatening to “make chaos.” In addition to all that, Christian must deal with a viral video campaign to promote The Square that gets out of hand, as well as the fling he gets into with Anne (Elisabeth Moss), a journalist covering the opening, that develops beyond his emotional comprehension.

The Square is much stronger in its outsize moments of satire than in its more intimate moments. From the viral video that exploits the plight of the homeless by exploding a baby, to the man shouting misogynistic obscenities during an interview at the museum who claims to have Tourette’s, to the aforementioned ape-man performance artist who takes his routine way too far, these set pieces are all steady and effective in their outrageousness. But Christian’s more personal moments of crisis are harder to unpack for a clear meaning. His fight with the non-thief boy putters out unsatisfyingly and a little sickeningly, while his situation with Anne is just plain impossible to define, with Moss giving a performance that is solid but hard to pin down. Overall, The Square is an adventure of morality that will have you asking “How would I act in that situation?” and also, “Is it even worth it to entertain the possibility that I could ever end up in that situation?”

The Square is Recommended If You Like: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Art World but also making fun of the Art World

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dirt Piles as Art

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”