“Roughly Speaking” on the 2016 Oscar Nominations

Rodricks Oscar Noms

Today, Linda DeLibero – Director, Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University – and Christopher Llewellyn Reed (that’s me) – Chair and Professor, Department of Film & Moving Image, Stevenson University – joined Dan Rodricks on his Baltimore Sun podcast, “Roughly Speaking,” where we discussed the just-announced 2016 Oscar nominations, giving our opinion on what we agreed with and what we didn’t (here are my own lists of the best films, the best acting, and the best artistic and technical work of 2015). We also talked about the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, once again, mostly ignored people of color in its choices.

Here is the link to the show.

Enjoy!

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Film Acting of 2015

What follows is a list of what I consider the best acting in films released in 2015. Four days ago, I published my list of best (and worst) films of the year, and most actors in most of those films turned in admirable performances. The same goes with directors. I see no need to publish a separate “best directors” list, since if the film is good, then I credit the director. A few actors and actresses in films which I did not put among my top choices still made into this new list, since they were so mesmerizing and memorable, even if the film was not.

Therefore, the actors and actresses listed, below – each with a clip of their performance (when available, and if none is available – or if the available clip is not very good – then I include the movie’s trailer, instead) – are the 5 per category (I stick with just 5, like the Academy, though this is sometimes difficult) whose work most stands out (for me) within the context of the film they’re in; those performances which most contribute to raising the quality of the movie. All movie titles are hyperlinked to my review, and if you follow that link, you can learn more about the movie, itself, and my thoughts on what makes that actor’s performance so special in that movie.

It’s so difficult to choose, but here goes (in alphabetical order by last name within each category):

BEST ACTRESS:

Brie Larson, Room

Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq

Bel Powley, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (no full review yet, so I link to my “best films of the year” page, where I have a capsule review)

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Joan Allen, Room

Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy

Kiersey Clemons, Dope

Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

BEST ACTOR:

Paul Dano, Love & Mercy

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Shameik Moore, Dope

Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul (no full review yet, so I link to my “best films of the year” page, where I have a capsule review)

Jacob Tremblay, Room

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

Michael Peña, Ant-Man

Tony Revolori, Dope

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

New “Baltimore Sun” Podcast with Dan Rodricks

Roughly Speaking Banner

Dan Rodricks, former host of Midday on WYPR, has a new audio venture at The Baltimore Sun, where he has been a columnist since 1979. It’s a podcast called “Roughly Speaking,” and with a few new episodes a week, it promises to be a vibrant mix of current news and commentary. I was fortunate enough to be invited to join Dan for his second podcast, to review 4 films that had come out the weekend before: Bridge of SpiesCrimson PeakFreehold and Steve Jobs.

Here is a link to the podcast (to which you can subscribe through iTunes). Enjoy, and stay tuned for more!

“Bridge of Spies” Is a Fine Historical Thriller That Meditates on American Values (i.e., It’s a Spielberg Film)

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg, 2015)

This movie had somehow slipped under my radar before its release. I didn’t even realize it was a new Steven Spielberg film. Perhaps its terribly generic poster pushed my thoughts towards dismissal. That would have been a shame, as Bridge of Spies, poster notwithstanding, is quite a fine espionage thriller. If it gets a bit unfocused in its final act, that doesn’t take away from the solid filmmaking of the first two thirds. What’s particularly refreshing about the way Spielberg and his screenwriters (two of whom are Ethan and Joel Coen!) present the material is that the government spies at work within the story are anything but Bondian. Instead, it’s an insurance lawyer who saves the day. The film is also a wonderful meditation on the meaning of ostensible American values: what good is liberty and justice if we ignore them when times get tough?

The film opens with a big unknown. A man looks in the mirror, painting his self-portrait. At first, even though a title card had just announced that this was a movie about the Cold War, I thought it might be Norman Rockwell, but when the phone rang and he ran out without a word, jumping into a New York subway car, I thought otherwise. This mystery man is played by Mark Rylance (Angels & Insects), and though he has done more British TV and stage work than Hollywood films, he is an extraordinary presence in front of the camera. Which is good, because it turns out that he is a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, and so needs all of the sympathy that a great actor can give him. In a bit that recalls the great 1953 communist-paranoia thriller Pickup on South Street, Abel is pursued by the FBI on that subway, and then home, where he has taken a secret bit of possibly classified information he surreptitiously picked up on his journey. The G-men bust in, grab him, and that’s the end of it.

Or not. We then meet James B. Donovan – played by Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) with his usual folksy charm – a star insurance lawyer whose firm has been asked by the U.S. government to defend Abel, to show the rest of the world that the Americans offer justice even to those who would destroy us. Donovan gets the short straw, and like a good boy scout is soon annoying those very forces that wanted him to put on a good show. To him, that means offering the best defense possible. To his superiors, that means doing the bare minimum. We sense a showdown.

Meanwhile, Spielberg starts cutting back and forth between scenes of Donovan and Abel and scenes of Francis Gary Powers – stoically played by Austin Stowell (Miles Teller’s drum rival in Whiplash) – as he is first selected, and then trained, to fly a high-altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union. As history tells us (kind of hard to ignore it), he is shot down on his first mission and taken captive, and soon we have parallel captured-spy scenarios. Before long, we find ourselves in East Berlin, where a new wall is going up, as Donovan – reviled at home for defending a “Russkie” but now freelancing for the CIA – tries to negotiate a prisoner exchange. As a cloak and dagger procedural, it’s fascinating stuff, until it all gets just a little too long.

No matter the length, though, this is good storytelling. The terrific actress Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) may be relegated to the role of “the wife” – shame, Hollywood, shame! – and there may be nary a face of color in sight – shame, Hollywood, shame! – but otherwise this is a very fine historical thriller that reminds us of our best moments as a country. A good lesson for the upcoming election year!