Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Month in Review: November 2011

Best Film (Theaters): Martha Marcy May Marlene
Known to my friends as, "the one with all of the M names," Sean Durkin's debut unfolds with much more grace than its title tumbles off of the tongues of those unfamiliar with it. Jumping between past and presence with incredible ease, the film is quietly arresting from its opening sequence. Though it may be as deep of an examination as it seems to think it is, this is still an expertly crafted pyschological thriller, and one hell of a debut. Led by Elizabeth Olsen's excellent performance, you may have a hard time remembering the title, but you'll have a hard time shaking either her work, or the film around her.

Best Film (DVD/Streaming): Army of Shadows
Jean Pierre-Melville's classic, delayed from release in the US until 2006, hasn't lost anything over the decades since its first unveiling. Masterfully told, this tale of French Resistance fighters in WWII confronts the brutal reality of the struggle with a refreshing honesty and maturity. The whole thing may end up being a bit of a downward spiral, but Melville never manipulates, and lets the events fully earn their intended reactions.

Best Director: Jean-Pierre Melville - Army of Shadows
Turning to his own experiences in WWII proved to be a goldmine for Jean-Pierre Melville, as it resulted in one hell of a movie. Melville has a way of capturing his performers' littlest ticks amid the drearily epic story, which is quite the accomplishment. Army of Shadows may focus more on the logistics of operations than overblown violence, but what flashes there are provide a compelling (and in several instances, horrifying) look at the life of the men and women of the resistance.

Best Male Performance: Paul Newman - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Though he doesn't do much initially other than lay about sullenly on a sofa, the unravelling that Newman's Brick goes through is haunting to watch. Though the film is filled with big personalities, the more Brick gets dragged into the mess of it all, the better Newman becomes. It all comes down to the final confrontation with Burl Ives' Big Daddy in the basement, which elevates Newman's work to the status of legendary. It's almost painful to watch, yet it's simultaneously impossible to look away. One of the greatest performances, by one of cinema's best actors.

Best Female Performance: Elizabeth Taylor - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Though she plays one half of one of cinema's most dysfunctional couples, Taylor by herself is such a force to be reckoned with it's a miracle the other actors were left standing by the story's end. Taylor digs deeper than ever with Martha, and the results are ferocious, compelling, and intense as hell. Watching her slip from sly flirtations with Nick (George Segal) to savage bile-spewing with George (Richard Burton) so seamlessly is a marvel to behold. And, just when it doesn't look like Taylor can take the performance further, she nails her character's shattering climactic scenes. The film itself may be hard to watch, but Taylor's performance is too good to miss, as it's one for the ages.

Best Screenplay: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Richard Brooks and James Poe (adapted from Tennessee Williams' play)
Building an entire film on nothing but characters talking in different rooms can be quite the challenge, which is just one more reason why Brooks and Poe's adaptation of Williams' play is such a triumph. The dialogue, as much as there is, navigates an emotional minefield with such skill that there's hardly a moment that feels less than compelling.

Best Ensemble: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Newman, Taylor, and Ives. Those three names along make Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a force to be reckoned, in addition to strong work from Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, and Madeleine Sherwood. Watching the myriad of relationships between and among the characters play out is quite the show, and the almost non-stop fireworks is one of the most impressive acting displays ever captured on film.

No comments: