Oscar Predictions – 2017

February 6, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Posted in 2017, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well, the Oscars are about a month away and I’ve seen all the 2017 films that I’m going to. So, I guess it’s predictions time. Just like #oscarssowhite shaped what was nominated and how Academy members voted last year, I can’t help but think that #metoo and Times Up will have a similar effect. With the exclusion of James Franco from the Best Actor and Best Director categories, we have seen it already shape nominations, so I suspect it will have an influence on voters as well. With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts on who should win and who likely will.

Best Picture

Should be:  Get Out.  This was a tough call for me. I loved several films in this category. But, ultimately, “Get Out” is the most inventive, provocative and brave of all the nominees. I think it is the one most likely to have a lasting effect on future films.

Will be:  The Shape of Water.  This film certainly has all the momentum and it really is an excellent film, even if I was  more moved by several other films on the list. However, I have to consider the possibility of something like last year’s upset. “Lady Bird” could take the award, if Times Up gains enough momentum.

Best Director

Should be:  Jordan Peele for Get Out.  For the same reasons I stated above. I think it took real courage to make this film and I think he made it with no idea it would succeed. My #2 would be “Dunkirk,” which couldn’t be more different. It is just such a classic Hollywood movie. But the scale was immense. I think it took real mastery to create a cogent movie out of all those disparate moving parts.

Will be:  Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water.   Almost certainly.  This is a gorgeous, beautiful movie that is exactly the type of thing modern Hollywood loves. It’s quirky, offbeat, and feels like an “artsy” independent film, despite the fact that it is absolutely not.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Her rage was a vision to behold in this film. This is a tar-black comedy that was perfectly cast. McDormand got inside the skin of this character and gave her just the right amount of sympathy, mixed with bile, sarcasm and violence.

Will be: Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water. I think McDormand has a slight lead, as of now, but Hawkins could easily steal it.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Timothée Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name. His raw, emotional honesty was easily the best piece of acting I saw this year.

Will be:  Gary Oldman for The Darkest Hour.   The Oscars love it when actors play real people; perhaps it makes it easier to measure how good their acting was (eg “he sounded just like Churchill”). And Oldman has been around a while, without an Oscar. It looks like Hollywood thinks it is his time. There have been some murmurs about his treatment of women, but nothing seems to have taken hold. There is an outside chance he won’t get the win for those reasons. If that’s the case, I think the award will go to somebody very safe: the fan favorite Daniel Day-Lewis for his purportedly final movie.

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Allison Janney in I, Tonya.  Without question. She was so fantastic in this role that she is heads and tails above the rest.

Will be: Allison Janney in I, Tonya.  Almost certainly.

Supporting Actor

Should be:  Sam Rockwell in  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Though all the actors in this category did a fine job this year, it could not have been easy to play a character so despicable but still make him human.

Will be: Sam Rockwell in  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is certainly where all the momentum is.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be: Call Me by Your Name.  Though I also think “The Disaster Artist” was an amazing accomplishment. I was just really moved by this film, and I found the book to be more salacious than sentimental. James Ivory gave real vitality to this story.

Will be:  Call Me by Your Name.  Probably the only Oscar it will take home.

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Get Out. For all the reasons I stated above.

Will be:  The Shape of Water. “Three Billboards” could steal it. “Lady Bird” might even take it if Times Up proves to be very influential with voters this year. Unfortunately, “Get Out” is the least likely candidate to get the win.

Best Animated Feature

Should be:  No answer.  I have only seen one of the films, “Coco,” which was a great film. But, I have heard good things about “The Breadwinner.” So, I don’t feel I have enough info to judge here. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because…

Will be:  Coco.  The easiest prediction of the night.

Best Cinematography

Should be:  Dunkirk. This is a tough call for me. “Blade Runner 2049” had amazing cinematography and I would be perfectly happy if it won. It’s just the massive scope of “Dunkirk” that makes me choose that film. What an undertaking that must have been.

Will be:  The Shape of Water.  Maybe. Though I think almost any film in this category could steal it.

Costume Design

Should be:  Phantom ThreadThose dresses were quite amazing.

Will be:  Phantom Thread.  I suspect this will be the one token Oscar they get.

Visual Effects

Should be:  Blade Runner 2049This was a stunningly beautiful movie full of evocative images that were both reminiscent of the original and also uniquely there own.

Will be:  Blade Runner 2049. I suspect this will be the one nod this movie gets.

Original Song

Should be:  Mystery of Love from Call Me by Your Name. This Sufjan Stevens song was perfect for this story. As were the other two he wrote for the film. They are melancholic and yearning and really beautiful. You can hear this one here.

Will be:  Mighty River from Mudbound. I’m not at all sure of this. I just think they will give it to Mary J. Blige, partly because it’s a powerful song and she did a great job of acting in the film, but won’t get the Oscar. And, partly because this will be the film’s only win.

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2017 – The Year in Review

February 4, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment

Having just seen my final film of 2017, I thought I would give you all my synopsis of the year in film and what I thought were the best and worst of what I saw. I have seen 67 of the films released in 2017. That is just below the 73 I saw last year. And, for the first time, it includes 3 films that were just (or primarily) released on Netflix. I’m not sure how many like these I will include in the future, but, given that one of those films (“Mudbound”) is Oscar-nominated, I feel justified.

People always want to know if I think this was a good year for film. Yes, I do. Though, not quite as good as last year, there were still plenty of films to recommend. That said, I was much harder on films this year. I gave only one 5 ◊ rating, as opposed to 4 last year. Whereas the number of films in my other two top ratings were almost identical to last year. This was a deliberate decision to not rank so many films as “classics.” I’m just not sure if Hollywood produces a half-dozen classics every year. But, maybe.

I was actually surprised as I reviewed my list that I found myself disagreeing with my ratings far more often that usual. Is “Blade Runner 2049” really the best film I saw this year? I don’t think so. I was actually far more moved by “Call Me by Your Name.” But, that said, “Blade Runner” was beautifully and very very clever. Which one will stick with me longer? I’m not sure. My point is: don’t hold me to these ratings. Who knows what I will think next year or 5 years from now.

One rating you can hold me to is my lowest rated film of the year. Fortunately I have no Ø this year, but I do have a measly ½, so I thought I would include it as a cautionary tale.

Enough rambling. Here is the list of my favorites, ranked (roughly) in order, as of right now. I have included all films I ranked as 4 lozenges or higher. Enjoy.

◊◊◊◊◊

Blade Runner 2049

◊◊◊◊½

Call Me by Your Name

Trainspotting

Endless Poetry

The Disaster Artist

The Shape of Water

The Florida Project

Dunkirk

Patti Cake$

◊◊◊◊

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Get Out

Coco

War for the Planet of the Apes

Okja

Lost in Paris

Lady Bird

I, Daniel Blake

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

½

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

As with the past several years, you can check out any of my above reviews by clicking on the film title.

 

Hostiles

February 4, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

Within the first few minutes, I had a clear sense of what this movie was going to be. It starts with Comanches massacring a homesteading family. The screen fades to black and we get the single word “Hostiles,” which fades until only the “I” remains. Just in case it isn’t clear yet that this is a film about how everyone is a hostile (including you and I), the first scene after the title is of white soldiers terrorizing an Apache family. From there, the film moves at a languid pace, interspersed with sudden moments of violence, as it tells the story of a group of soldiers commanded to take a Native American family home, so that the chief can die. They are led by Captain Blocker (Christian Bale), who has killed countless Native Americans and (of course) hates them all with a passion. The film hasn’t really started yet, but we can all see where this is going. Over the long course of 135 minutes, there will be some measure of suffering and redemption for virtually everyone. This is a strong cast, including Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Adam Beach, Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemmons, Jonathan Majors, and Timotheé Chalamet. They all do a good job of being grim, broken, and determined. Few other emotions are required. That said, I was particularly impressed by Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused,” “Empire Records”). I have mostly considered him a comic actor, but his haunted Sgt Metz was particularly effective. The film unfolds over the stunning Montana landscape and director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart,” “Black Mass”) pulls out every stunning “Dances With Wolves” shot he can think of. And, in the end, that’s its biggest problem; there was really nothing new here. Every image shown, every idea explored, has all been done in other films. There is nothing wrong with this story. It just isn’t an original one. On top of that, the final scene was just a little too pat and easy. I’m not sure that much redemption had been earned. This wasn’t a bad film. It just felt like something I would have been impressed by a couple of decades ago.

All the Money in the World

February 4, 2018 at 10:05 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊

I have to be honest that the only thing that drew me to this movie was curiosity. I have known all the salient information about the Getty kidnapping for many years and was never all that interested. But, I wanted to see how seamless this movie was after having to reshoot the Kevin Spacey scenes a few weeks before the release date. I must say that I was surprised. I had assumed the the JP Getty role must have been an extended cameo with two or three scenes. However, he was one of the film’s three pillars. It is incredibly impressive what Ridley Scott and his actors were able to pull off in so short a time. And, in particular, that Christopher Plummer was able to breathe life into this role with so little prep time, was particularly impressive. In fact, that “gimmick” is impressive enough that it threatens to overshadow the film as a whole. I think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is actually a pretty good film overall. Covering the 4 months of Paul Getty’s abduction, the film shifts back and forth between it’s three central characters: JP Getty, Paul (his grandson), and his daughter-in-law, Gail. Michelle Williams is the best thing in this film. Her Gail had an unrelenting determination, born of desperation, that drove the entire story. Mark Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase could have easily been the center of the film, tying the disparate parts together. However, Wahlberg simply isn’t up to the task. Of the lead performances, his was the most wooden; he could have been playing any other character he has ever played. Instead, the energy focuses on Williams who is able to convey a full range of Gail’s emotions with ease: sadness, fear, delight, exasperation, a wry humor… the list goes on. Williams is one of the better actors in Hollywood and it shows every time she’s on screen. Young Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) played the ransomed grandson. I have never seen him before and he has mostly had bit parts until now, but, as Paul, he was vulnerable and very relatable. As for the other Plummer, his JP Getty was steely, calculating and cold. He seemed perfect for the role, but I found it hard not to speculate what Spacey’s performance would have been like in each scene. His “evil” characters tend to be so much more snide and condescending. I hope I can one day see those takes. The story moves along at a steady clip, creating far more drama than I would have thought, given that the outcome was never in doubt. Scott shot the film in lots of yellow light and the screen was a wash of browns, golds, and other soft, warm colors. It had a sense of Italy (where it was shot), but it also had a real sense of the ’70s, like you were looking at one of those old faded photos from the era. I think it’s important to note that the film is a dramatization of real events. In the real world, it was Paul’s father (not his mother) who did all the negotiation with JP Getty. I have no idea why that was changed, other than to highlight the power differential more starkly. And, the entire ending is pure fiction, and not particularly good fiction. I think we would have been better served by a less melodramatic and more honest wrap-up. It’s a shame; the truth is almost always more interesting. This was a solid film. It was well acted, beautifully shot, and well-paced. But it isn’t anywhere close to one of the best of the year. I think most who see it will enjoy it, but I doubt anyone will feel the need to see it twice.

Phantom Thread

January 31, 2018 at 9:59 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊

“Phantom Thread” seems like the type of movie where there is so much more going on than I’m aware of. Continually, I got the sense that things meant more than they appeared to, like the words stitched into hiding places on the dresses. Writer and Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood,” “Inherent Vice,” “Magnolia”) is known for complex, multilayered stories. Yet, this one seemed deceptively simple. Taking place some time in the late ’50s or early ’60s, the story is about the fictional Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis). Woodcock is the top fashion designer of his age. He is moody, rigid, aloof, and controlling. He takes on women as his muses/lovers and has his sister get rid of them once he has grown bored. But then, Alma enters his life and slowly begins to get the upper hand. This is a film that looks like a Merchant-Ivory production, but has the heart of a Gillian Anderson novel. There is a dark, twistedness to this story; if you miss it early on, the ending will only baffle you. In fact, even when you catch it, the ending could still leave the audience scratching its collective heads. There is nothing here as blunt as “There Will be Blood” or as overtly weird as “Magnolia,” but it gets under the skin, nevertheless. I’ve said before that I think Day-Lewis is the best male actor alive. He completely becomes his characters (think of the difference between his Christy Brown, Bill The Butcher, and Lincoln). If this truly is his last film, it will be a loss to those of us who love great acting. Here, Day-Lewis inhabits the prim fastidiousness of his character. He is a superficially gentle, soft-spoken man who is wound too tight. Many actors might have tried to show that dichotomy by having his explode in rages. Day-Lewis’s Woodcock never has to do that; we understand his internal world by the slightest shift in pitch, the look in his eyes, the tenseness in his shoulders. This is a subtle performance, full of meaning. I kept thinking of his character Daniel from “There Will Be Blood.” That character was also tightly wound, but Day-Lewis showed us rage beneath the calm exterior, whereas here he gives us exasperation and anxiety. To be able to express those subtle differences just with his body is what makes him a master. Even in a film that felt plodding in many places, it was still a joy to watch him at work. I have to be honest, I prefer every other Day-Lewis film and Anderson film that I have seen. Had the tone of the ending crept into the film earlier, I may have been more engaged. But, as curious as this one was, it never truly gripped me.

I, Tonya

January 22, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

So, Part II in my real-life comedy bios of women sports stars… Actually, that statement is where any comparison between “Battle of the Sexes” and this film ends. “I, Tonya” starts with a disclaimer; “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” That should tell you the mood and tone of this film. Unlike “Battle,” this is a bleak sort of humor; we are laughing at and not with the characters. Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and writer Steven Rogers (“Hope Floats”) squeeze as many laughs as they can out of what is essentially the story of an abused girl who marries an abuser and then attempts (and fails) to claw her way out of poverty. This is not a movie that makes you laugh easily and carelessly but, that said, it will leave you with some unexpected compassion. Understanding as we do that everything we learn in this film is distorted by the people who told it (namely Tonya, her mother, and her ex-husband), the audience still can’t help but feel for the brutal unfairness of this girl’s life. She was devalued and rejected by everyone, including, perhaps most painfully, the ice skating community she ached to be accepted by. The film presents her as mostly a victim of others. This is a story that is almost certainly untrue. Gillespie and Rogers balance the fact that the movie is based mostly on her interviews by giving us glimpses of her today, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. This is very clever film making. They could have chosen to present her as all hero or all villain. Instead, they invite us into the grey areas and, as a result, we get a far more compelling story. Much has been said about Margot Robbie’s and Allison Janney’s performances, as well there should be. These two women were dynamic. Robbie deserved her nomination for the SAG award and deserves one for an Oscar as well. She brought all the fierceness she showed as Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad” to bear here. And, through some intensive training and very effective CGI, she managed to look wholly believable as a skating phenom. She was truly magnetic. But, that said, Janney was even better as her mother. She stole every scene and gave the film its best laughs. She squeezed every drop of disdain possible out of the slow blink of her eyes. It was one of my favorite performances of the year. I have to also give credit to the virtually unknown Paul Walter Hauser (the “Kingdom” tv series) as Shawn Eckhardt. He was brilliant at playing the slow witted, self-important friend around whom so much of the story revolved. I hope this performance helps launch his career. This is not an easy story to watch and it offers no easy answers by the end. What it does offer, however, is a razor sharp script, some brilliant directing, and a few of the best performances of the year.

Battle of the Sexes

January 22, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

“Battle of the Sexes” is a playful look back at a simpler, less ironic, and more deeply sexist time. It gets it’s laughs, and there are plenty, from the “oh my god, I can’t believe they used to think like that” variety, and from the good-natured humor of its two leads. Taking place in 1972 and ’73, it follows two tennis greats, one who is at the top of her game and one who is way past his, as they careen toward a showdown that was part ridiculous spectacle and part serious social commentary. Billy Jean King is played with an earnest, exasperated intensity by Emma Stone. She does a fantastic job transforming into King. Compare this role to her character in “LA LA Land;” every way she carries herself, from her shoulders to her walk, is utterly different. She gives us a woman relentlessly determined to be taken seriously. On the other side of the net, Steve Carell plays Bobby Riggs with goofy abandon. Riggs seemed incapable of taking anything seriously. He understood that what drove media and public interest was larger than life tropes: good guys and bad guys. They were the perfect rivals because they were so different on every level. Nobody could turn away and everyone picked a side. While a movie about a single tennis match may not seem that exciting, this one managed to be. From start to finish, this was a highly entertaining romp that took itself just seriously enough. It was never gloomy or heavy and all the sharp edges were softened. The film rode entirely on the backs of Stone and Carell. Fortunately, their volleys both on and off the court was more than enough to entertain.

Bright

January 8, 2018 at 11:36 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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This film was only released on Netflix, but I recently reviewed “Mudbound” and “Okja,” both of which fall into the same category. It’s so much easier to do when it’s a film I like but, I guess reviewing Netflix movies is something I do now. So, here goes. This movie actually has an interesting premise; it’s a shame that’s the only thing interesting about it. Taking place in modern L.A., it imagines a world where magic, orcs, elves, etc. have always existed. In this alternate universe, there is intense racial tension between the species. The elves live in highly wealthy and segregated communities and they appear to run everything. Orcs are mostly poor, under-educated and despised by the other races. Human officer Daryl Ward (Will Smith) has been paired with a token hire Orc, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton). He distrusts his new partner and so does the rest of the precinct, who want him to find a way to get rid of the guy. Meanwhile, some bad stuff is going down regarding a prophesy about the return of a dark lord. That is something way outside of the LAPD’s league, but Ward and Jakoby end up right in the middle of it. That could have been an interesting story with the opportunity for some prescient and insightful metaphors about society today. However, director David Ayer (“Suicide Squad,” “End of Watch”) seems intent on beating the audience with his metaphoric broadsword. His depiction of Orcs as a metaphor for African Americans was so over-the-top as to become almost racially insensitive. It ending up reading more as parody than metaphor, and that’s a problem for a film trying as hard as this a one was to be taken seriously. In its attempt to make that we get the metaphor, the script has every character acting as a one dimensional cliché. Every police officer, besides Ward and Jakoby, were so evil as to be ridiculous. Smith seemed to be sleepwalking through his role and Edgerton’s normally expressive face was hidden under inches of rubber. The dialogue was painfully unnatural. I did not believe anything anyone was saying; anger, vulnerability, fear, camaraderie all felt utterly phony. No emotion was earned in this film and, as a result, nothing meant anything. Its ending clearly leaves open room for a sequel. Good luck with that. Even for free, I wouldn’t bother watching the next one.

The Post

January 8, 2018 at 10:40 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊

I’m not sure I have much to say about this polished but predictable film. It files easily in the category of liberal, high-minded, and earnest films about how the press is necessary to keep power in check (think “All the President’s Men” or 2015’s “Spotlight“). The story arc is basically the same: Some powerful people are doing bad things, intrepid reporters/editors become aware of it, against massive opposition they bravely publish the truth (personal consequences be damned). It’s a rousing story and certainly a noble one, especially in light of our current administration’s views on the media and the role the NYTimes played in exposing the Hollywood sex scandal. And this film was well constructed and finely acted. Spielberg has proven himself a master storyteller and this one is no different. It moves along tautly with virtually no wasted space. He makes a story that could seem dull into something gripping. His focus is very intentionally on the courage it took the owner, editor and writers of the Washington Post to move ahead a publish. The actors in each of those roles played them absolutely as well as you would expect from the likes of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, and Michael Stuhlbarg, among others. Streep and Hanks are always easy to watch and their verbal sparring was entertaining. Streep, in particular, can morph into her roles physically and vocally so thoroughly and expresses so much in facial expressions and body language that it’s always a pleasure to watch her performances. All of that is very positive and yet I couldn’t help but feel that I have seen this all before. I’m not sure it shed much light on the need for a free press or on the courage it takes to keep that press free. But maybe we need to hear it all again right now. Maybe, if we can have countless action movies with the exactly same plot, it isn’t the worst thing to tell this important story one more time. I can’t help but feel that, if I had seen this movie before “Spotlight,” it might have gotten a higher rating from me. I don’t know that that is fair, but I am just being honest.

Call Me by Your Name

January 1, 2018 at 11:46 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ½

After having just reviewed “Darkest Hour,” I now have to review another film built almost entirely on a single performance. But I feel very differently about the outcome. “Darkest Hour” felt like an exercise in great acting. I enjoyed watching Oldman’s craft, but I was always aware that I was watching acting. In “Call Me by Your Name,” I became lost in Timothée Chalamet’s performance as Elio. Taking place in Italy in 1983, the story covers Elio’s American family, living in Spain because his father is a professor of antiquities. They all speak fluent English, Italian and French, and the film moves back and forth between the three languages fluidly. Seventeen-year-old Elio considers himself a sophisticate, but he is unprepared for the doctoral student who comes to stay with his family for the summer. Elio falls hard for Oliver (Armie Hammer) and a summer romance blossoms. Based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, the film wisely tones down the eroticism of the book and focuses instead on the romance. I cannot overstate how taken I was with Chalamet’s performance. He portrays Elio’s adolescent sense of wonder, bravado, lust, goofiness, and insecurity perfectly. Elio tries so hard to seem cool but is deeply uncertain of himself. The script gives Elio a chance to show that insecurity over and over in really beautiful moments and Chalamet is up for the task. For most of the film, we are treated to charming moments of him falling in love against a stunning backdrop. Some of those scenes work better than others but they all give Chalamet an opportunity to utterly charm the audience. Toward the end, the film shifts as summer comes to a close and the story goes where we always knew it had to. This is also where the film became the most effective for me. It was no longer just sweet, it was genuinely heart-wrenching. Michael Stuhlbarg (“The Shape of Water,” “A Serious Man,” Season 3 of “Fargo”) plays Elio’s father. He is kind, wise and far more aware than Elio knows. In his final scene, Stuhlbarg’s monologue is a beautiful piece of writing, acted beautifully. Who doesn’t wish they had that father? And the final scene. Anyone who has read many of my reviews knows I put a lot of weight on the final scene. This is one of my favorites and I will remember it for a long time. It is in those final moments, as the credits roll, that you really understand Chalamet’s acting skill. So much is conveyed in his face and it all feels so real. I don’t know how anyone could portray those emotions so really, without actually experiencing them. I don’t know where inside of himself that young man went (he was only 20 at the time of filming), but I am grateful he was able to go there. What he ended up giving us was deeply touching. This is the difference between a good and a great performance. It felt like Armie Hammer was acting well. It felt like Timothée Chalamet was living it.

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