The final chapter of the half-time movie report for 2016 is the remaining performances, book-ended by the imprisoned of sorts. We also have some voice work, some heroes, some villains. I know there are many, many others we could have included (perhaps including the wooden dummy that portrays Brahms in The Boy), so feel free to get any we missed off your chest in the comments section below. Enjoy the selections in the meantime.
Güneş Nezihe Şensoy, Doğa Zeynep Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğa (Mustang)
Most definitely an ensemble piece, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s majestic Mustang owes a hell of a lot of gratitude to the five girls playing the confined sisters at the story’s heart. As Lale, the youngest, Güneş Nezihe Şensoy could well be the stand-out, captivating as she is, also benefits from the most narrative and screen time, as well as the girl providing the film’s voice-over. That is to take nothing at all away from the others, with Doğa Zeynep Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, and İlayda Akdoğan all excelling in creating this wonderful onscreen unit – each with their own drama to unfold. Excellent comparisons to films like The Virgin Suicides, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dogtooth, have their merits, but the intriguing, enveloping tale of these wild horses ever so eager to stray provides its own originality in story-telling – these young actresses make it their own. The Turkish sisters drape over one another in the heat, long limbs and hair locking their bond tighter – we too dread any separation from each other, a fear prominent in such a repressive culture. The actresses display their plights with plenty of room for charm, inner strength, and an almighty thirst for life. Tender or vulnerable as they seem, or indeed ought to be, their defiant spirits wash over us, even as their playful demeanor are still there on the surface – this is who they are, and part of what is being held captive.
Jeon Hye Jin, Lee Hyo Je (The Throne)
South Korean historical drama The Throne rather came and went without much ballyhoo last year – as undeserved a reception as it is unusual, given that the film itself is quite the ballyhoo in itself. The story, set in the late 1700s in Joseon Korea, is of the life of Crown Prince Sado, and of his death at the hands of his father, King Yeongjo. Boldly emotional, but with a maturity that tempers the melodrama, The Throne is a marvelous vehicle for the impressive work of its ensemble; the lead actors have received due praise for their performances, but my attention was particularly drawn to two supporting actors. Jeon Hye Jin plays the mother of the Crown Prince, in a turn that requires this young performer to portray a character over a 20+ year time-span. What affecting subtlety she brings to the role, ensuring that the breadth of conflicting emotions which she must deploy in such limited space, as the film reaches its most dramatic sequences (of many), is matched by the depth of her portrayal. Even more notable is Lee Hyo Je as young Jeongjo, the Crown Prince’s son, and future ruler of the dynasty. This is one of those child performances that defies comprehension for those of us less extraordinarily gifted, where one simply gawps in astonishment at how someone so young could possibly comprehend such heavy, complex states of mind, to say nothing of the accuracy and the intensity with which he realizes this tricky task. One often compares the work of child actors with their expectations of their adult counterparts – Lee is not merely their equal, but their superior, as evidenced here. He makes a most indelible impression, and does so with only a few minutes of screen time in a film filled with excellence from the entire ensemble. Seek out this superb work of solid storytelling and brilliant acting at once!
John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane)
Needless to say after seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane, I find myself comparing John Goodman’s character to that of some of the most diabolical and cold human beings in cinema. When you can manage to put Kathy Bates in Misery to shame on the sheer level of creepiness you have yourself a memorable performance. Goodman tows the line between good Samaritan with a tragic past and raging lunatic with a messiah complex. You struggle to find the real motivations and inner workings of such a character and are never completely sure if Goodman is pulling a Orson Wells and pulling the veil over everyone’s eyes. You as the audience member crave more of the character even in such a confined setting for the film. Please see this film.
Jason Bateman (Zootopia)
If hustling is an art-form, then no one in the world of Zootopia does it better than Nick Wilde, a cunning, cynical and always cool street fox who’s all about making a buck to survive. That is, until he meets his match in the form of Officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny who’s his complete opposite – she’s optimistic to the point of naivety; determined to make a name for herself in the ZPD, and she hustled him into solving a case that could bring all of Zootopia to its knees. In a movie that’s chalked with incredible voice talents, Bateman’s take on this sly hustler is the standout for me. There’s an ice cool demeanor about him, yet there’s much more to his character than he lets on to his partner, and as we see his back story unfold, I’m somewhat reminded of Christian Bale’s performance as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle, and Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown – they’re doing whatever as to be done to survive in order to stay one step ahead of everyone else, and they make no apologies for who and what they are. It’s a performance that’s rich in laugh-out-loud humor and in character development, and it makes me want to see a spin-off of the shifty Wilde character in the future.
Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)
Not for a long time have we experienced such a swing of the pendulum between suspicion and sympathy for a central character. Model-slash-actress Anya Taylor-Joy provides such an emotional conundrum as Thomasin, the eldest daughter of a family tormented by strange goings-on from the nearby woods. Taylor-Joy is so accomplished in her progressive wide-eyed shock to the unnatural awfulness surrounding, and ultimately pointing the finger at, her, we can be forgiven for truly feeling for the girl as even her own family turn on her. The actress shows all the raw heart-ache and turmoil that comes with such unprecedented, tragic events, while desperately still trying to build a case for her own innocence and sanity. One of the key elements in the horror of The Witch is that it implants in its audience the horrifying notion that Thomasin may somehow be partly responsible for these terrible actions, and Taylor-Joy brings such authentic humanity to the performance she is magnetic throughout in spite of our own insecurities watching from the other side.
Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
When it was first announced that Ben would be the next actor to play the iconic vigilante of Gotham, the reception was anything but warm. Given how the rest of the film would eventually turn out, the casting of Affleck would be one of the film’s strongest aspects. Put simply, he’s the best iteration of the Caped Crusader I’ve witnessed since Keaton wore the cowl. Where other versions highlight the early years of Wayne fighting crime in the shadows, Zack Snyder’s iteration gives us an older, wearier and deeply cynical side to the Batman mythos. He’s a man who’s been chewed up and spat out by years of fighting bad guys, with almost little to show for it, a partner taken out by one of his most nefarious criminals, and has no issues with branding and/or disposing the criminal element, permanently. Added to his bitter outlook is his rage and fear over a certain Kryptonain who he believes, if left unchecked and turns psychotic, can level the entire human race to nothing, and begins to preemptively do combat with the Superman. It’s a performance that calls for an actor who has been through hell and back and have the scars to prove it, and Affleck, given his history from up-and-coming promising actor and early Oscar-winning screenwriter, to the end of a punchline with flop after flop, then re-inventing himself as a fine filmmaker, gives this jaded version of Wayne gravitas and great depth.
Laia Costa (Victoria)
There’s sheer ambition and courage in Sebastian Schipper to take on a film project which inhabits within one single take, no edits or special effects. I guess performers in a play have to express their roles in this singular, you-get-one-chance way you might say, but to deliver on film throughout multiple locations, varied sequences, and alongside many supporting players is always going to be a grand achievement. Pretty much occupying every frame of the movie, Laia Costa plays the title character of Victoria, and is demanded to evolve over a short space of time, from happy-go-lucky girl in a new country, to acknowledging her own fate within a potentially dangerous hang-out, before reaching and exceeding the point of no return. It’s a marvelous movie to watch and get lost in, Costa is the driving force, demonstrating a whole host of emotions and physical states, never faltering, and consistently compelling and engaging. A special effect in her own right, you route for and long to stay with Victoria right to the very end, whatever the scenario.
Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
So far Deadpool is my favorite film of the year, and a major reason for that is Ryan Reynolds. The story goes that he pushed for this film to be made few years, and finally got his wish. It was a complete success due to the fact that it has a fantastic script. When you watch the film, you can tell that Ryan was enjoying himself about as much as any actor ever has making a film. He says so many great one-liners, it’s nearly impossible to remember them all. One of my favorites though is when he says: “Looks ARE everything! Ever heard David Beckham speak? It’s like he mouth-sexed a can of helium. You think Ryan Reynolds got this far on a superior acting method?” He gets to break the fourth wall like no one has before him. Ryan is so great in this film also due to the fact that he gets to play 2 characters, one of which has no filter. If you haven’t seen Deadpool, please go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul)
From the very moment we are introduced to prisoner of war Saul we immediately feel the brooding, enormous presence of Géza Röhrig. His pondering expressions and piercing stare indicate a man so far on the edge of his tether that he has to somehow balance the pain of his reality, and focus his efforts on his own personal mission without ignoring the dangers right in front of him. Even with little dialogue, Röhrig shows us that Saul wants to be somewhere else in his head, giving himself only seconds to dream of a better world amidst the current bedlam. Son of Saul is a real story of grit and determination, the horrors of war providing many uncertain obstacles, Röhrig has the allure to drag the camera close to him, and keep it close, almost making us part of the anguish. Not a single ounce of emotion is spared through each and every moment he appears in the frame, albeit the kind of emotions we can only hope to never experience ourselves in such intensity.