Best Film [Theaters] - Drive
Acting as a perfect mix of style over substance, Nicholas Winding Refn's latest isn't terribly deep, but it takes Hossein Amini's skeletal screenplay and injects it with enough style to make it a memorable art-house action ride. Despite thin characters, Drive gives us enough time with them before launching into its gritty final act. Filled with nice performances (MVPs are Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston), strong production values, and some killer soundtrack choices, Drive may be a bit on the shallow side, but that doesn't make it a lesser achievement; this is cinema in its most badass form.
Though the story has been told before, John Carpenter's take on The Thing easily deserves to stand as the definitive version. From the deceptively simple opening, to the increasing amount of dread and paranoia, this is horror done right. Even in its nastiest moments (Carpenter doesn't exactly shy away from the graphic stuff), it remains compelling and scary as hell, if a little silly in spots. Even when scenes don't end with a jump, The Thing, much like the titular monster, still manages to get under your skin with unnerving results.
Despite all of the names in Drive's ensemble, the real star is the man behind the camera. Refn, who's no stranger to intense, violent films (Bronson) still knows where to draw the line between art and exploitation. But where Bronson sometimes skirted said line uncomfortably, here the director tones it down without compromising his style. The violence is often graphic, but Refn never lingers on the most intense images for the sake of upsetting your stomach. He's more concerned with giving us just enough to make us wince before showing us how the characters react to what has just happened. Like Joe Wright's Hanna, Drive is an example of a potentially iffy screenplay brought to life by superb directorial choices.
Gosling's Driver may not have a name or much of a backstory, but don't mistake him for a blank slate. What starts out as a seemingly empty performance evolves into a compelling turn, as we see a man harnessing his inner violence. Whether Gosling is upset (his mesmerizing stare after the motel room fight) or intimidating (the strip club confrontation), he's utterly commanding from start to finish.
Further cementing her status as break out actor of the year, Chastain delivers yet another solid turn in John Madden's Cold War thriller. As Rachel, the Mossad agent tasked with capturing the twisted Dr. Vogel, Chastain's mix of vulnerability and toughness comes through with a nice, understated polish. Rather than play upon similar techniques as her previous films, she gives a performance that is completely unlike her work in The Tree of Life or The Help, which only makes her newfound It Girl status that much more deserved.
Despite the relatively one note characters, Drive's cast more than made the most of what they were given to work with. Though no one is quite award worthy (though Gosling's sheer magnetism is certainly worth mentioning), the cast is filled with good work on all fronts, even those who aren't utilized to the fullest (Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman). In a film that was truly a director's show, the cast still managed to make an impact.
In case you hadn't caught on by now, I really really liked Drive, and can think of no better recipient for cinematography than Sigel. Though the color palette is slightly washed-out (I'm assuming this is due to shooting on digital), Sigel's lighting and camera movements are quite striking, capturing Refn's gritty, neo-noir vision of Los Angeles with refined style.