The 2013 Fall movie season has been great and the solid pictures keep coming. There’s plenty of awards talk about Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the performances they’ve each turned in has been stellar. All attention is well-deserved and accolades wouldn’t be mistakes if each of these folks were given their awards.
But while you’re watching Captain Phillips, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave, be mindful of some of the supporting players, or even lesser-seen work being presented this year. Here’s a few of my favorite bits from these and other movies of the past year:
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Chiwetel Ejiofor is getting a ton of praise, as he should. Being the centerpiece of a film of this magnitude about slavery is anything but easy, and he manages to bring the audience into the mind of a slave often with just a look in his eyes. But the hidden treasure of this movie is Lupita Nyong’o. She plays Patsey, a young slave who has become a favorite of her master — and the thorn in her mistress’s side. Courageous, heartbreaking, and utterly powerful, Nyong’o carries much of the weight of later emotional scenes.
**While Michael Fassbinder, Paul Giamatti, and Benedict Cumberbatch each provide strong personalities to hate and love to hate in the film, the only other performance I’d like to highlight is the directorial work of Steve McQueen. His camerawork is amazingly versatile, and there are two scenes in particular in which he doesn’t cut away, but instead weaves through the action in a never-ending cycle, forcing the audience to accept the soulless actions and the diminishing fight within the characters. Quite skillful without feeling manipulating.**
Again, a movie in which the lead, Tom Hanks, is garnering quite a lot of attention as the driving force of the film. And, to be true, his dedication in the last half of the film is impeccable, seemingly an effortless perfection by a very talented actor. But it’s the work of Barkhad Abdi that shines just outside the Hanks spotlight. Abdi’s internal struggle as Muse, the Somali pirate captain, sharply contrasts his crew’s explosive moments, and his calm demeanor was an interesting, menacing choice against Hanks’ professional captain. Abdi stood his own against Hanks, a difficult thing to achieve in a movie as stressful as Captain Phillips, so don’t discount his work come awards season.
Amy Seimetz is the lead in this movie, and for all the attention the film receives for philosophical or skilled reasons, her work as the troubled and disturbed Kris, a young woman emerging from a devastating, confusing situation and eventually searching for happiness and hope, is commendable. She presented a confident range of confusion, depression, and slight wafts of hope despite the complex structure of Shane Carruth’s script. The camera loved her, and awards should, too.
It was to be expected, but the latest chapter in the romance of Jesse and Celine is absolutely satisfying. Maybe that’s because I’ve been able to grow with these characters and learn life lessons about romance as well, but the fact remains that the structure of this film (and all of the Before… films) is simple, yet characters very complex. Both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are sympathetic while infuriating, confident yet very vulnerable. And naturally, the vistas are amazing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie gained traction in writing and Best Picture categories in the coming months, but both actors deserve some attention as well. After three movies in the last 20 years with these characters, they should get some recognition.
In Frances Ha, Greta Gerwig plays Frances as naive to a fault, but constantly corrects herself to become a woman confident with herself and her dreams, despite the fact that her life is clearly not on a path to reach those dreams. She balances that fine line of sympathetic and pathetic very well, and deserves a bit of attention for representing the unsure artist misguided by false hope. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Sandra Bullock is getting loads of attention, as is Alfonso Cuaron. Yes to both of these folks. But, I’d like to point at the script for this movie. A lot of flack has been thrown at the script: that the movie is too simple, that the technical aspects are so dominating, that there’s a lot of “technically incorrect” aspects to the story, just to make it work.
Phooey on all of that.
This script is very tight, very quick, exposition unfolds naturally and though the symbolism can be heavy-handed at times the (very clear) metaphors ultimately work, expounding on the themes, and we’re given a character with a clear arc, a clear goal, and obstacles which step in front of her achieving that goal. Storytelling 101, and even though one could probably point out the lack of emotional connection to the character it is my feeling that sometimes, and in this case, that approach works. For the first part of the movie we’re astounded by the technical aspects, and then we are willing to go along with her on the ride, then by the end we feel confident she has emerged a stronger person. Where’s the lack of emotion?
But, to each their own, and we still have loads more films to come out in the final few months of 2013. Enjoy the movies, don’t get bent out of shape, and try to peer beneath the surface of the movies you see to find the real treasures in the cast, the score, behind the camera, or any other aspect you love.