Blue Jasmine

Blue-JasmineIt’s very rare that I see a performance in a film that absolutely takes my breath away. While elements of the film, and there are minor quibbles here, I wish were improved, Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Jasmine is nothing short of brilliant. It’s such a naked performance, that, in its final moments, surpasses anything she has ever done since her first role in Oscar and Lucinda.

Not often does an actor go so far out on a limb to reach the core of a human being unraveling and yet grasping at the shreds of life before succumbing. It’s fascinating to watch. I’m reminded of Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice or One True Thing where she must carry the film and everyone with her so that the film is elevated to high art.

Ms. Blanchett and the supporting cast of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which includes, most memorably, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin and Bobby Cannavale takes a story that combines both Bernie Madoff and elements of A Streetcar Named Desire, and makes you care about people on the edge of life, despair and delusion.

Go see her performance and be amazed.

The Place Beyond the Pines

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The Place Beyond the Pines, to me, is the first great film of 2013. Set in Schenectady, NY amid various classes and men, the film weaves together three generations, but aims at the relationships of fathers and sons.

Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) has made a minor epic propelled by stellar performances and a palpable dread that infuses almost every scene, which keeps you riveted for its entire running length of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Eva Mendes, who has the difficult task of being almost the sole female in the cast, isbrilliant for being at a loss as to what to do about the circumstances she finds herself in and the deceit swirling around her.

I loved how the camera moved through the scenes: from the very first time we see Ryan Gosling almost glide with confidence from his trailer,through the carnival and into a tent, we watch how the director probes each scene for nuance whether it’s a tattoo or a dangling cigarette.

It’s novelistic in its approach, revealing characters and lives set in motion by tragedy. I hope it has a long life beyond the theater and will become a minor classic.

The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson

No other filmmaker working today is as interesting as Paul Thomas Anderson. That’s a fact in my humble opinion. Ok, Terrence Malick, whose film, To The Wonder, joins The Master as part of The Venice Film Festival, is just as interesting. But Mr. Anderson’s films are rife with the poetic dissonance that a film must have to make it compelling, haunting, and ultimately moving. Each of his films from Hard Eight to There Will Be Blood contain towering and revelatory performances: Who knew that Adam Sandler could actually act in Punch Drunk Love, or Tom Cruise could step out of himself in Magnolia? Or Burt Reynolds had one more interesting performance in him in Boogie Nights?

I used to show a scene from Magnolia to my students in which Philip Seymour Hoffman feigns giving a cigarette to Jason Robards as he’s dying as a last gift in a brilliant moment of compassion and quiet amid the frenetic energy of the entire film, which was encapsulated in Julianne Moore’s performance.

Or again, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s devastating performance in Boogie Nights that turns on the betrayal of friendship. Paul Dano nearly steals the film, in my opinion, in There Will Be Blood. His performance is so exquisitely modulated against Daniel Day Lewis’ more showy performance that the son’s denouement is deeply felt. As a side note, if you haven’t seen Dano’s performance in Ruby Sparks yet, you should. To an actor, each one is given a gift in Mr. Anderson’s films because each of his characters are rich with nuance, heft and story. Each actor is challenged to bring whatever gifts they have to one of his films and work on the high-wire of their art.

From the kaleidoscopic storytelling of Magnolia and Boogie Nights to the epic There Will Be Blood, and the smaller stories of Hard Eight and Punch Drunk Love, Mr. Anderson’s films are rife with human anecdote that makes each of his films extraordinary to watch.

I’m looking forward to seeing The Master. No other film this fall is being more talked about. I can’t imagine the trio of performances that he elicited from Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Hoffman and Amy Adams. I’ve read that they are astounding, and one only has to look at the trailers to see how they could be. Check them out here. http://www.themasterfilm.com

In the meantime, I’m on pins and needles.