Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (2017)


I knew it was only a matter of time that Margot Robbie would receive her first Oscar nomination since her breakthrough in The Wolf of Wall Street (of which she would have deserved a nom in my books). While I haven’t seen much of her movies, I always find her the standout of her films, such as Suicide Squad and Wolf. She’s certainly a talented performer, with a surprisingly strong film presence that I find rare, even in some of the young stars today like JLaw and Emma Stone, both whom I like too.

In I, Tonya, Robbie plays disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. If I were to sum up Robbie’s performance in one line, it would be this: she acted her butt off for this film. Tonya Harding, to put it simply, is a mess of a character/person. This is a character which requires a great deal of energy from the actor portraying her: Her abusive childhood, her lack of education, her “trashiness”, her agressive competitive spirit all translates into a performance that isn’t exactly subtle, but not over-the-top either. Essentially, what Robbie succeeded in is taking such an unlikeable character and making her so damn fun to watch. In a way, it’s almost like how Vivien Leigh made the bitchy Scarlett O’hara such a delight to watch. While I’m not saying that both performances are of equal calibre, what I loved about Robbie here is that she is not afraid to make Harding unlikeable. She tends to have a mean streak and is unbelievably nasty to her coach, but Robbie justifies these acting choices, allowing us to see why Harding behaves this way. Figure skating is essentially her life, and I loved how Robbie showed the “all-or-nothing” spirit in Harding.

The downwards spiral of Harding is also excellently played, even though the focus isn’t that much on Harding but rather on her husband (played excellently by Sebastian Stan). As always, there are a few crying scenes here and there, but it comes extremely naturally and never feels forced or tacked on. I mean, who can forget that moment as she forces herself to smile while putting on makeup? I wouldn’t say it’s heartbreaking because I find Tonya a difficult character to feel sorry for but I found myself completely understanding how she was feeling. However, her final plea to the judge where she describes skating as her entire life was extremely saddening thanks to the desperation portrayed by Robbie.

Personally, her relationships with the other characters aren’t too complex as they are essentially abusive and violent, but the energy brought out by the actors made them extremely intense and electrifying to watch.

Overall, this is a terrific performance by a talented actress which, in my opinion, would have made a worthy win (I still love Frances McDormand’s performance of course). I think what made it work was the way Robbie actually had fun with the character while at the same time respecting her and portraying her motivations to perfection. The resulting effect is a performance that is chaotic, messy, crazy, and yet highly entertaining and saddening to watch. 5/5.

p.s. Allison Janney was great, but I found her performance a bit limited, both in screentime and layers. I’ll give her credit though – she does manage to find some depth in certain scenes, such as when she describes her abuse of Tonya as a “sacrifice” a mother makes. It is a very good performance, and Janney is such a terrific actress that I cannot begrudge her Oscar win. That being said, I’m still more in the Lesley Manville camp though.


Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread (2017)


Daniel Day-Lewis received his sixth Oscar nomination for playing Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread.

Phantom Thread, in true Paul Thomas Anderson fashion, is not a movie for everyone. To say it is twisted is putting it pretty mildly. Personally, I am still trying to sort out my feelings for it though I can say at the very least that I really like it (…love it?). My sister didn’t like it though LOL. One thing I can safely declare my love for is its impeccable cinematography, score, sets/costume design, and of course, performances. Lesley Manville is deliciously complex as Cyril, Reynolds’ bitchy, cold, yet caring and firm sister. Her relationship with Reynolds is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story actually, along with Reynolds’ twisted romance with his muse Alma (played by Vicky Krieps, who also deserved a nod in my book).

And then there’s DDL in his final film performance. My thoughts about him as an actor are pretty much on par with everybody else. One can arguably claim that he was the one who pioneered the “full physical transformation”approach in acting which eventually became the infallible solution to winning an Oscar (See McConaughey, Redmayne, and even Oldman this year). Yet, unlike others, I’ve always felt that DDL masterfully crafts complex and layered human beings beneath the physical transformation, aligning the physical attributes with the characters’ personalities. Ok, I did think his Lincoln was rather shallow, though technically brilliant, show baiting, but his Daniel Plainview and Christy Brown are some of my favourite onscreen characterisations ever. And I guess that’s what makes him a true actor in the sense of the word.

Funnily enough, Reynolds Woodcock is one of DDL’s least transformative performance. He speaks in his natural accent, and he pretty much looks like himself normally. What he brings here, however, is a truly brilliant portrayal of a fastidious and difficult artist who is enigmatic, charming and yet repulsive at the same time. It’s difficult to describe this character in one sentence within a few words because DDL, like Woodcock’s meticulousness to his dresses, portrays him in such fine detail.

On one hand, we see a brilliant perfectionist who is so dedicated to his craft that it consumes him entirely and leaves the people around him in edge. DDL is brilliant in portraying the “difficult artist” persona. Having worked with fantastic artists and theatre directors myself, I can assure you that, yes, I totally recognise that feeling of being reduced to tears for just walking too loudly across the rehearsal space. I must say though, Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction and attention to the details of Woodcock’s dressmaking also brings out this point highly effectively.

Beneath this brilliant and tortured artist persona, however, is a lonely and insecure man. Despite having multiple muses, DDL doesn’t portray Woodcock as a non-committal playboy but rather a man who just cannot fall in love because of his work. He is almost a machine whose daily routine cannot be disturbed, and once something as radical as romance comes in, he malfunctions. I know it sounds kinda melodramatic, and yet it is all so captivating and crazy to watch on screen. Alma is like a destructive drug in Woodcocks’ life. DDL shows how much Woodcock yearns for this twisted codependent relationship with Alma in which he willingly lets her manipulate him so that he can fall in love with her again. The details are pretty fucked up, so I’ll just leave it at this.

His relationship with his sister Cyril is also fascinating. They’re cold, professional and terse on the surface and yet deep down, I could feel Woodcock’s strong dependence on her, not just as his manager (I think?) but his sibling. I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of love between them, and yet I do think they care deeply for each other. Or at least I think she cares a lot for him, while he just goes to her to whine incessantly when things don’t go well. Having said this, I especially love Manville’s no-bullshit approach in handling him; she knows his every eccentric facet, and she chooses to let him be as long as he doesn’t push her wrongly.

All in all, this is a fantastic swansong for one of the greatest actors ever. I’m glad that he went for a more restrained and quiet performance that allows him to showcase his range beyond the scenery chewing we typically know of. Makes me want to watch In The Name of The Father now. 5/5.

Leslie Manville: 5/5.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996), Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006), Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

I’ve been insanely busy for the past few months due to school, which is why I haven’t been able to catch as many films as I would like to (I’ve seen none of the films that are receiving Oscar buzz). Thankfully, I finally managed to revisit a few films on the plane last week when I flew off to Japan with my family for a short trip. These were highly popular performances that I’ve been wanting to review again for the longest time, mainly because they didn’t make much of an impact on me during the initial viewing. Generally, I really enjoyed all of them because I’m a huge fan of the actresses, but none really made me go gaga. Still, it was definitely worth rewatching all of them.

Frances McDormand in Fargo (1996)

Frances McDormand Fargo

Frances McDormand won her only Oscar to date for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo, the classic black comedy crime by the Coen brothers. I would like to begin by saying that Fargo is a masterpiece, and I really think it should have won best picture and director at the very least. The way each character’s arch was pieced together in the main narrative is simply amazing, and I was thoroughly hooked from beginning to end, even though I knew what the ending was. The film is also a perfect mix of comedy, drama and thriller, and the dialogue can truly be hilarious at times.

Frances McDormand’s performance as Marge Gunderson isn’t the most difficult one technically. Marge essentially represents the “good” in the film, and the best way to describe McDormand’s performance would be warm. She makes Marge such a kind, lovable presence in the evil world of Fargo that her appearance (which is surprisingly late into the film for a best actress winner) makes you feel reassured and happy. I mean, even her mundane interactions with her husband feels so nice to watch, even though they were just going on and on about…paintings, I think? The fact that the Coen brothers made Marge a pregnant character is also a brilliant choice as it allows McDormand to portray Marge’s maternal warmth and kindness, even when she is interacting the sleazy characters in the story.

That is not to say that Marge is a one-dimensional character. We can also see that she is a brilliant policewoman/detective with sharp instincts, and I really enjoyed the way she pieced together the clues with her partner in this matter-of-fact manner.  Another excellent aspect of this performance is the subtle humour that McDormand injects into the character. I especially loved the way she subtly throws shade at some of the characters in the story, like the two dumb hookers (“So you were having sex with the little fella then?”).

I think of this performance as one where the performer goes beyond what is written in the script and gives the character so much more personality and quirks. On paper, Marge is probably the simplest character in the story, and she could have been the most boring too, and yet McDormand makes her so much more. 4.5/5.

Helen Mirren in The Queen (2006)

Helen Mirren The Queen

Helen Mirren won her only Oscar to date for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which I actually thought was an overall well-made film that I liked a lot more this time round. I have always been fascinated by the UK Royal Family for the wrong reasons (I find them excellent gossip material), and even though I was very young when she passed away, I actually have a fairly strong impression of Princess Diana’s legacy throughout the world.

Helen Mirren is one of my favourite actresses, and I always felt that she is a real force on screen. Granted, yes, she can be theatrical and campy (Man, I would love to watch her perform on stage one day), but to me she is always one of the highlights of her movies.

Mirren performance as Queen Elizabeth II is simply a technical achievement. She is actually a lot more restraint here than usual, but it just fits the Queen’s reserved and highly controlled persona perfectly. She is also very calculated in her acting choices, from her line deliveries to her every action (such as when she arranges the pens on the table), but to me, it is all done in a manner that is truthful to the character’s highly controlled and private personality. As mentioned in the movie, the Queen is someone who prefers to keep her feelings to herself, and Mirren perfectly captures this spirit. There is so much dignity and grace in the way Mirren carries herself as the monarch, and one can really see how she has successfully inhabited the role.

The main highlight of the performance is how Mirren manages to illustrate the Queen’s struggle between appeasing the public and the deeply rooted tradition that she is born into. Without saying much, we can see her deep concerns over her waning popularity, and also her frustrations over Tony Blair’s concern pestering. Her brief outburst at him where she lectures him about “doing things quietly and with dignity” was perfectly delivered, and I really loved how she almost mechanically puts the phone down. It’s really the small actions like this that gives the Queen so much more personality beyond the old, stuffy monarch image.

Honestly, the brief crying scene felt like it written for the sake of giving Mirren a crying scene, and yet Mirren manages to do it with such dignity and grace while still showcasing the Queen’s vulnerable side. I really loved that closeup which showed her appreciating the beautiful stag that she came across, as it really showcased her human side without any words.

I feel that this performance isn’t really that popular nowadays due to its highly quiet nature, but I think what Mirren does here is truly admirable work on a technical level. 4.5/5.

Nicole Kidman in Lion (2016)

nicole kidman lion.jpg

Nicole Kidman received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing Sue Brierly in Lion. Lion is a well-made film that dragged a little, but I thought it was a moving story about mothers and love. Dev Patel actually gives a really good performance, although I feel like he is the lead of the film (I guess best actor was too crowded to slot him in there).

Nicole Kidman’s graceful acting style has always impressed me, and she utilises it very well here. Although the role is very limited in terms of range and screentime, there is so much warmth, love and heartbreak here that she instantly captures your attention from the moment she appears. Her big monologue scene about choosing not have children is heartbreaking and brilliant, but I actually loved her first appearance where she interacts with Saroo in the airport. She really captures Sue’s nervousness and excitement at being a mother, and I loved her little interactions with Saroo. A little OT, but I wonder if she poured in her own personal experiences with her (allegedly) estranged adopted children for this movie, because man, the way she depicted her pain as her children drifted away from her felt really real.

Overall, this is a warm and nice performance by a truly talented actress (she was truly great in Big Little Lies too by the way), and it was a nice nomination to add on to her list of accolades. 4/5.

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment (1983)


Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine won her oscar for playing Aurora Greenway in James L. Brooks’ best picture winner Terms of Endearment. This is her fifth acting nomination and I don’t think her win is considered a surprise – she’s a veteran actress who is widely respected and I’m pretty sure she was considered overdue. The fact that she is in the best picture is also to her advantage, I guess.

Terms of Endearment is a good movie, but I’m not that sure whether it is deserving of its best picture Oscar. I am also not entirely sure if James L. Brooks deserved his directing award. I can’t really judge cause I haven’t seen the competition, though I can say I prefer this film slightly more than Tender Mercies. Jack Nicholson won his Oscar for, well, playing himself. I personally felt his character was the weak link of the story (such contrived writing urgh) and I also felt like Nicholson wasn’t really putting that much effort in his performance either. I’d rather he had won for his role in Reds 2 years earlier.

Out of the 2 leading ladies, MacLaine has the lighter storyline and, I suspect, lesser screentime. That being said, I always found her the more interesting character as compared to Winger’s Emma. Aurora is one wacky and eccentric lady who is full of insecurities and neurotic tics, but MacLaine is always truthful in her portrayal, making Aurora entertaining and sympathetic at the same time. She’s scenery chewing a lot here (as she always does) but it just works – I mean, when she screams “GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!!” at the Nurses it could have failed so badly but MacLaine nailed it, making it one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Beneath all the weirdness of the character, MacLaine allows us to see a vulnerable side of Aurora, mainly through her love for her daughter Emma. Despite her abrasive and straightforward personality, she deeply cares for Emma and I love the scenes where she advises her, and when they share their troubles together. MacLaine is so motherly here in her nagging and chiding, and the excellent chemistry between the 2 actresses is also one of the best aspects of the film.

The Nicolson scenes are my least favourite parts of the film, but I’d admit that Nicolson and MacLaine have great chemistry. I also like how she used the opportunity to create an arc for Aurora, transforming her from a neurotic, insecure widow to a woman who learns to fall in love again, all while learning to be a new grandmother at the same time.

She doesn’t have the melodramatic storyline like Winger but MacLaine’s portrayal of Aurora is colourful, entertaining and moving, making her the best aspect of the film. 4.5/5.

Debra Winger

Although I prefer MacLaine’s performance because of how unique it is, I think Winger holds her own as Aurora’s free spirited, cheerful daughter who is forced to grow up due to her rocky marriage. Winger excels in portraying Emma’s transformation from an immature and naive young lady to a hardened Mother struggling to deal with her cheating husband and troubled children.

Emma is a highly sympathetic character that is typically played for tears, especially since she gets the cancer storyline. I liked how Winger gives her a spunky edge to flavour things up a little, and some of her wisecracks are pretty funny.

Her farewell scene is also fantastically played and I loved how she managed to convey so much emotions within a few seconds without saying a word. But, as mentioned earlier, I have always felt that the best parts of the performance come from her excellent chemistry with MacLaine – it is truly heartwarming to see the 2 women confide in each other during their ups and downs.

Somehow I was less interested in Emma than Aurora – she’s certainly very sympathetic, especially when watching her deal with her struggling marriage and illness. But at the same time, I felt like Aurora had a bit more mystery to her, especially when one tries to understand her eccentricity and insecurities beneath that loud and colourful facade. Emma’s storyline is a bit more straightforward, but I think Winger does a great job nonetheless. 4.5/5.

Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983)

Robert Duvall won his only Oscar to date for playing Mac Sledge, a washed-up country singer in Tender Mercies.

Tender Mercies is an okay film that I wasn’t particularly passionate or crazy about. Honestly, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, but I just wasn’t super engaged by it either. It is very quiet, and has this rustic, dreary mood that fits the story perfectly. I guess one way of describing it would be that it’s like a good old-fashioned country song. There are emotional moments, and it’s easy to watch but I’d be lying if I said it is going to stay with me in the long run. The best picture nod is fine but I didn’t think the direction was anything out of the ordinary, except for one (sortof) suspenseful scene which made me wonder if Mac had gone off drinking in the night. The actors were great in general though.

Robert Duvall is an actor whom I haven’t seen much of, although I do think he is really talented based on the few films of his I’ve seen. He kinda reminds me of Sissy Spacek with his naturalistic style of acting and his chameleonic abilities that allows him to make his performances entirely different from one another without being too mannered.

It’s amazing how quiet this performance is – or rather, it is amazing that the Academy recognised such a quiet performance. Duvall internalizes a lot of his emotions but he manages to create many layers and in turn make Mac Sledge a real and sympathetic human being. He rarely goes over-the-top except for a couple of scenes where he raises his voice by just a little, but he manages to convey a wide range of emotions and conflicts. I especially liked how he shows Mac’s desire to return to singing and composing despite his claims that he has already retired. I could always sense Mac’s disappointment and frustration when he’s told that he has “lost it”. Mac also has a somewhat rocky past with his ex-wife and daughter, and you could always sense his sadness and desire to reconnect with his daughter. Duvall does a lot of subtle acting here with his eyes and voice, and miraculously it works.

His chemistry with Tess Harper’s Rosa Lee is also surprisingly great, despite them marrying only at the 13 minutes mark. They have a very quiet but sweet relationship and it is always clear that they are each other’s emotional support. His final monologue to Rosa about the unpredictability of life and why he doesn’t place too much trust in happiness is especially amazing – his lines (imo) are pretty dramatic but he plays it in a low-key manner that is rich with weariness, resignation and yet also a forward-looking optimism.

Robert Duvall’s performance here is a brilliant case of subtle acting that I wish the Academy would recognise more. I think its strength lies in how there is never a false note and how he lets his eyes and voice do the acting, creating a moving performance. 4.5/5.

p.s. I’m going to start exploring weirder films for future posts. Looking into David Lynch,

Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956)

I feel sorry for Kirk Douglas for several reasons. One of them is having to deal with Melissa Leo, but the other is due to the fact that he is a talented actor whom imo, should at least have one acting Oscar today. I guess this feeling also stems from my immense dislike of Yul Brynner’s win – one of my least favourite best actor winners – but my point is, Douglas has grown to become one of my favourite actors as I watch more and more of his films. I actually think he is better actor than his son even though some people will start this lengthy debate about whose acting style is better (classical vs modern blablabla). To me, it’s not just his well-known emotional intensity that captivates me as a viewer. He has this specificity in his acting choices that makes his characterizations memorable and sharp, and when combined with his emotional intensity, it’s really like watching fireworks.

I was completely mesmerised by Douglas’ performance as Vincent Van Gogh. He captures the painter’s turbulent brilliance, and his desperate desire to capture life through his paintings. Douglas portrays how Van Gogh was slowly consumed by his need to understand life and people, and how he would eventually be consumed by his own demons. His mental deterioration is ugly to watch, and in true Douglas fashion, the intense ugliness of it is disturbing and sad.

There are so many facets in Douglas’ performance that makes it stand out. Van Gogh’s selfishness, social awkwardness and bluntness can be off-putting (like the way he forced himself onto his cousin), but Douglas manages to penetrate his psyche and allow us to understand what drives the man to do what he does. Or more accurately, he allows us to understand that what goes through Van Gogh’s mind cannot be understood, even to Van Gogh himself, and this ultimately led to his tragic demise. Despite his lack of likability, Van Gogh is an extremely sympathetic and heartbreaking figure thanks to Douglas’ portrayal – I will never forget that monologue about his fear of loneliness.

This is a brilliant portrayal of a tortured artist that left me feeling as exhausted as Douglas (probably) did. Great, great work. 5/5.

P.S. Watched Alien: Covenant and thought it was utterly mediocre. Wanted to write a post about it but honestly, I can’t bring myself to cause I found it so predictable, lacking in suspense and forgettable. 2/5.


Anouk Aimée in A Man and a Woman (1966)

How much of chance did Anouk Aimée have in winning the Oscar back then? I was somewhat surprised to learn that she won a couple of awards, including the Golden Globe. That being said, I don’t think she had much of a chance in beating Elizabeth Taylor tour-de-force turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The reason why I was surprised at the number of awards picked up by this performance is simply because of how quiet the role is. First of all, A Man and a Woman is truly a beautiful film that deserved its foreign language picture win. I would even go ahead and say that it is my personal pick for best director that year. Claude Lelouch created a unique and original film that excels despite the simple premise. The editing is highly effective, especially in the flashback scenes and the score is beautiful – I will never forget that entire wordless boat sequence. That being said, I don’t think it is for everyone. If you cannot get into the really unique mood it is trying to create, chances are you will be bored out of your mind.

A Man and a Woman is really not so much of an actor’s movie. Its main focus is its portrayal of different stages of a relationship, and it does so in a captivating manner. As such, the characters end up a little thin, being nothing more than instruments to portray the various stages. We get a little backstory here and there – Anouk Aimée plays Anne Gauthier, a grieving widow who meets a widower Jean (played wonderfully by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and falls in love with him. You don’t really know much about Anne other than what you see – she’s a beautiful, reserved and elegant woman who doesn’t speak much and gradually opens up to Jean. Aimée does a lot of wonderful acting with the eyes here – you can see the longing, the hesitation, the sadness and the love in there despite how few lines she has.

It’s not that Anouk Aimée is giving a bad performance – on the contrary, she gives a well-done performance that fits the movie perfectly. She conveys the emotions naturally and has a mysterious presence that is captivating to watch. However, the thinness of the role just limits how much she can do as an actress. I felt like I was watching different states of a woman falling in love rather than a character per se. The movie finds its emotional substance in its overall style rather than its actors, who are merely pieces of a puzzle here. Still, it’s nice, fine work. 3.5/5.