The Weight of the Name

In the world of cinema, folks see a certain name tacked onto a film poster, or a particular face in a trailer, and, regardless of anything else, think, “Oh, so-and-so is in this!” and immediately decide to see it. I’ve got a few of those myself – actors and actresses whose body of work is so impressive to me and I trust their acting ability enough to see a film solely because they are attached to it. That’s not to say that I see every single movie they are in, but usually, certain names are enough to lure me in to the theater above all else, and they are –

1.) Christian Bale
This is coming from someone who saw Terminator: Salvation in theaters simply because Bale was in it. After his turn as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale quickly became my favorite actor, and a name that will instantly grab my attention even if the content of a film doesn’t immediately appeal to me. It doesn’t hurt that he’s no slouch at his craft, either, and seems to put the same amount of effort into every role, no matter how small – I mainly saw Hostiles earlier this year because he was in it, since I’m not big on Westerns, and was blown away by his performance and the film overall.

2.) Jessica Chastain
After watching her mesmerizing and powerful performance in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain became a trusted name in my book. She has the ability to carry a film on her shoulders and disappear completely into a role, which makes her acting all the more appealing. Her recent appearances in The Zookeeper’s Wife and Molly’s Game are proof of that.

3.) Dev Patel
Back in 2010, Dev Patel was the sole reason I went to see The Last Airbender, especially after the (well-deserved) audience backlash. Sadly, he couldn’t save that film, but ever since his brilliant breakthrough performance in Slumdog Millionaire, I’m easily lured in by a film bearing his name. I mainly went to see Lion last year because he was in it, and it’s a good thing, too – it was one of my favorites from the Oscar race that year.

4.) Emily Blunt
From the very moment I saw her in The Devil Wears Prada, I was a fan of Blunt’s work – and I’ve never been disappointed as a fan by any role she’s done. She’s another actress who can easily make a role her own and seems to put in significant effort to do so, whether the role is supporting or main. I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that Blunt is the driving force behind me being willing to see the upcoming Mary Poppins movie, because I’m not even a fan of the first one. And yes, I know that’s blasphemous.

5.) Domhnall Gleeson
If I see his face in a trailer, I immediately and gleefully say – either to myself or to whoever I’m with – “Oh, Domhnall Gleeson!” and typically resolve to see the film. It doesn’t hurt that he’s my celebrity crush, too, but back in 2015/2016, there was a string of four movies I went to see that he was in – Star Wars: TFA twice, Brooklyn, and The Revenant – and I was impressed by each performance, and have been impressed by all of his performances since. I am super stoked whenever I see his name attached to a project because I know he’ll give a nuanced and enthralling performance. I even went to see Peter Rabbit, folks – and I’m 26 years old.

6.) Meryl Streep
Um, hello? SHE’S MERYL STREEP. Enough said.

7.) Tom Hanks
Um, hello? HE’S TOM HANKS. Enough said.

8.) Saorise Ronan
From Atonement to Lady Bird, Saorise Ronan always delivers a memorable performance. I mean, look at all the award nominations she’s had, and at so young an age – that speaks for itself. I even went to see The Host solely because she was in it.

9.) Chris Pine
Of all the famous Chrises, Evans is actually my favorite – but Pine is more likely to get my butt in a reclining theater seat. He’s got stellar range, from Steve Trevor, to Captain Kirk, to Cinderella’s Prince, to Nicholas Devereaux, he’s never let me down! My favorite all time Chris Pine scene is when he has to take a comically large bicycle to chase down Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries 2. No, I’m not kidding.

10.) Octavia Spencer
Ever since I saw her prolific performance in The Help, Spencer’s name has been enough to intrigue me when I hear she’s attached to a project. That “Eat. My. Shit.” line shall be forever emblazoned in my memory, and I’m happy with that. And she’s hilarious – if anything, her performances never disappoint me, even if other parts of a film do.

11.) Christoph Waltz
He is the main, if not only, reason I went to see Spectre, the latest James Bond film – quite a feat, considering I don’t like James Bond films. And I didn’t like his performance in that film, but I’ll still see any film that he’s attached to, even if the subject matter doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained were what drew me in, and if I end up seeing Alita: Battle Angel, it will ONLY be because of him, because that trailer was a steaming pile of NOPE.

12.) Amy Adams
She was equally as convincing and memorable as Giselle in Enchanted and as Louise in arrival, though they were drastically different roles. She is a true chameleon, from serious to comical roles, and makes it seem so effortless. I’ve never, not once, been disappointed by her, and can’t wait for her upcoming limited series on HBO.

 

Honorable Mentions: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Helen Mirren, Peter Dinklage, Frances McDormand, Henry Cavill, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Sally Field, Maggie Smith, Dan Stevens, Armie Hammer, Jason Momoa, Lily James, Anne Hathaway, Harvey Keitel, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Zhang Ziyi, Wes Studi, Ken Watanabe, Marian Cotillard, Tom Hardy.

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Best Picture Countdown #3: The Shape of Water

“He’s a wild creature. We can’t ask him to be anything else.”Richard Jenkins as Giles, The Shape of Water (2017)

Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones
Runtime: 2hr3min
Rating: R

The Shape of Water is a fantasy/drama set in the Cold War era and centered on mute custodian Elisa (Hawkins) who establishes a romantic connection with an “Amphibian Man” (Jones) who is being kept at the facility where she works. When outside forces threaten them, Elisa concocts a plan that might save the creature from a cruel and undeserved fate, even if it means their separation.

The_Shape_of_Water_(film)

When I walked into the theater for Guillermo del Toro’s monster romance The Shape of Water, I fully expected to be putting it at #1 by the time the credits rolled. Perhaps this film suffered from over-hype, or perhaps set my expectation meter too high, but I found The Shape of Water a bit lacking beneath the surface. It’s a visual spectacle that subverts traditional tropes, a dreamlike tale of love, loss, and finding hope in the darkness, but the glossy sheen can’t quite mask that depth isn’t quite there.

For the record, I love weird shit and have always admired del Toro’s vision, so this film is right up my alley. The story is gripping, the stunning visuals create an immersive atmosphere well-suited to the narrative, the acting is on point and the characters are distinct and memorable, the monster himself is exceptional, and everything about this film screams both horror and beauty in equal measure. This film got the most Oscar noms out of any others in the competition, and all the buzz about it is totally deserved, but it doesn’t top my personal list for a few reasons.

Overall, I perceived a lot of the character motivations to be shallow, with the exception of Michael Stuhlbarg’s character (Hofstetter) and Michael Shannon’s villain (Strickland). I expected myself to be charmed by Elisa’s romance with the Amphibian Man, and I was invested in their development, but ultimately found it to be… lackluster. To me, Elisa came across as so desperately lonely she latched onto the misunderstood creature to cure that emptiness, and the Amphibian Man just kind of went with it. The two clearly forge a genuine connection over their mutual loneliness and “outsider” status, and they learn from one another and each undergoes changes because of the other, but it didn’t click for me the way it should have. The “song and dance” number near the end of the film also did not land – it took me out of the film entirely, and only made me feel like their romance was simply Elisa projecting her fantasies onto the Amphibian Man while he was merely infatuated with eggs. The ending of the film, however, redeemed their uneven bond somewhat in my mind. I also appreciated the exploration into the side characters – especially Hofstetter and Strickland, and Giles to some degree – but I think the wide-reaching focus and other plot threads, though compelling, came to the detriment of the main story.

But there is a lot to love about this film. Alexandre Desplat’s score is gorgeous, and a perfect supplement to the narrative and the characters. I’d love Zimmer to win for his contribution to Dunkirk, but I think Desplat will be taking another Oscar home this weekend. The writing and directing is another del Toro triumph, as he masterfully weaves a haunting, yet whimsical fairy-tale where the monster is a prince and the princess is an outcast, and a vile villain threatens them with the face of an ordinary man. The cinematography, sound, and other technical and visual aspects are all contenders – so many frames/stills from this movie stick in my mind for how striking they are – and I’m personally predicting it will win Production Design. On the acting front, Jenkins is superb as Giles, providing comic relief and contributing powerfully to the heart and the emotional conflict of the film… but I actually thought Shannon should have gotten the nod over him. He was fucking terrifying – more frightening than any monster or beast of lore could be. I felt ambivalent about Octavia Spencer – she’s great, as usual, but I’m not sure it’s Best Supporting Actress worthy. Hawkins is marvelous, expressing hope and heartbreak and emoting without being able to actually vocalize Elisa’s feelings, but I’ve got one actress on my ballot slated above her in the Best Actress race. Though if her name gets announced on Oscar night, I’ll be cheering.

When it comes to the array of awards The Shape of Water is nominated for, it’s more or less guaranteed to take home some hardware on the evening of March 4th. But when it comes to the ultimate prize, the esteemed Best Picture award, I’m not sure if this whimsical, monstrous dream of a tale will emerge victorious over the competition.
Oscar Nominations:
Best Director (del Toro)
Best Actress (Hawkins)
Best Supporting Actor (Jenkins)
Best Supporting Actress (Spencer)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Costume Design
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Film

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