Magnolia plays like a finely tuned orchestra. The third film in Paul Thomas Anderson's widely acclaimed canon, this modern classic is perhaps his best work, an opinion acknowledged by even the director himself. Throughout the film, Anderson captures a brilliant ensemble of actors, with many giving career-defining performances. Among the cast is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
When live-in nurse Phil Parma discovers that his dying patient yearns to reconnect with an estranged son, the quiet hero sets forth upon a mission to unite the two. Parma learns that his patient’s son is none other than notorious pick-up artist Frank T.J. Mackey.
After locating a phone number in Hustler magazine, Parma calls Mackey's self-help organization, pleading with the operator for a reunion.
Hoffman's performance is guided with tenderness and precision. When Prima confesses to the operator that their conversation is like a scene from a movie, Hoffman's skillful grace transcends an otherwise bland allegory, weaving it into poetry.
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson is one that stays with the viewer long after their initial experience. The perfectly packaged film contains every element that comprises a solid work of art: a brilliant script that explores social change; inventive direction; sharp editing; a beautiful score (provided by Broken Social Scene); and - above all - honest, sincere acting.
Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a middle-school teacher in Brooklyn who forms a close relationship with one of his students, Drey (played by Shareeka Epps).
Despite having a respectful demeanor in the classroom, Dan possesses a secret addiction to cocaine. Dan's dependence is discovered by Drey when she finds him freebasing in a locker room at school.
When discovered, Dan's stunned shame is amplified by Drey's disappointment. Gosling and Dunne play off of each other with such strikingly honest intensity. The juxtaposition of their relationship is examined throughout the entire film, along with the exploration of sobering truths about society's complex class divide.
Jennifer Lawrence's breakout role was brilliantly captured in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone. Set in the devastatingly bleak, poverty stricken Ozarks, Lawrence portrays Ree Dolly, a young woman determined to save her family from losing their land.
When Ree's convict father goes missing after posting bail, she conducts a personal search for him in attempt to avoid losing their home in the bail bond agreement. She journeys into the desolate, meth-fueled country in her quest for the old man, who more than likely died in the hands his drug cartel.
The pursuit leads Ree to her father’s crime boss and his family, and she is then brutally subjected to their wrath.
Ree's valiant determination shines like a beacon of light throughout the incredibly dark film. This riveting performance earned Lawrence an Academy Award nomination as well as a well-deserved spot among Hollywood's A-List.
Almost Famous is one of the greatest films of all time. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, the semi-autobiographical journey captures William Miller, a young journalist following a band called Stillwater while they tour the country.
William, played by Patrick Fugit in his debut role, comes of age while on tour with Stillwater, discovering both the joys and woes of life, love, and rock and roll. He also meets band groupie Penny Lane, portrayed by Kate Hudson, who gives the finest performance of her career.
Tensions rise when the band abandons Penny, losing her as a bet in a poker game. When this information is revealed to Penny by William, Hudson's dynamic performance is priceless.
Penny's casual, nonchalant reaction is subtly juxtaposed by a single teardrop. And through that teardrop, the audience peers into her shattered soul.
Todd Field makes a superb directorial debut with In the Bedroom. His supremely understated masterpiece captures some of the finest performances in the last twenty years. Among the ensemble are Sissy Spacek and Marisa Tomei portraying Ruther Fowler and Natalie Strout, respectively.
Ruth and Natalie are tragically connected after a heinous murder claims the life of Ruth’s son, Frank. Natalie and Frank were dating before he was senselessly killed by Natalie’s jealous ex-husband. Now, in this small Maine community, Ruth and Natalie must cope with daily life after suffering a tragic loss.
In this devastating scene, Natalie attempts to make amends with Ruth, apologizing for her role in Frank’s death.
There is much suspense in the stillness. And that slap, in turn, becomes deafening.
Some thoughts on art, life, and theatre. Stay positive.