- Phantom Thread
- The Shape of Water
- Loving Vincent
- Call Me By Your Name
- The Florida Project
- Faces Places
- Good Time
- Lady Bird
Call Me By Your Name is the kind of film that is for the most part a very personal experience, it either reminds you of discovering sexual desire as a youth or it doesn’t; either way it’s impossible to believe that whatever depths the film touches aren’t mainly the responsibility of Timothee Chalamet’s gorgeously indelible performance in the lead. The look on his face when the object of his desire, played by a godlike, towering Armie Hammer, first touches his bare shoulder during a volleyball game is the kind of thing that would have made him a star during the silent era, while the emotional responses to his sexual situations with Hammer are full of the kind of impulsive spontaneity that make really great acting seem like a magic trick.
Actors who play characters with limitations are painfully predictable awards fodder, there’s a long history of trophies given to all manner of impairments performed by those who do not possess them. Even when taking that into account, though, something must be said when an actor can use that limitation to further highlight the qualities they are left to work with; in the case of Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro’s masterful The Shape of Water, one sees just how effectively her bright, expressive face can convey emotion without words as she falls in love with the scaly fish man who lives in her employer’s septic tank. It’s easy to say that she’s fearless for performing the role’s more sexually forthright elements with abandon, but for me it was even more magnificent to see this actor, whose sparkly eyes and rubbery mouth make her so infinitely watchable, ignore the cynical times we live in and just experience love and trust with such a refreshingly open heart.
Lead roles, supporting roles, cameos, heroes, villains, collaborations with great directors and hacks, Willem Dafoe has seen it all, playing everything from vicious killers to Jesus Christ and, while not being regularly showered with awards, is frequently blessed with that greatest of holy grails in the business called show: work! If he has developed any diva-like demands because of his vast range of experience, there’s no evidence of it in The Florida Project, in which he provides seamless grounding for a series of characters who are spinning through life without much to anchor them. In a film populated by a high number of non-professionals, Dafoe also blends in quite organically with the film’s world, interacting with adults and children alike with effortless panache and performing the role of motel manager in a motel that was actually in operation during filming (those are real phone calls and customers in the scenes shot at the reception desk).
Honour Roll: Christopher Plummer, All The Money In The World; Adam Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected); Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water; Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name/The Shape of Water
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The most competitive acting category this year is one that provides an embarrassment of riches, remarkable actors doing so much with roles that are not unfamiliar to women of a certain age (three tough moms and a black cleaning lady, what is this, 1964?) The fiercest and finest of them, though, is the incomparable Lesley Manville providing all the punches in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, her steadfast presence providing such a brutal backdrop to the power of wills that form the film’s central romance. One constantly expects Manville’s Cyril Woodcock to have the typical motivations of the jealous sister, nervous about her successful brother’s new romance because it will threaten their livelihood as well as her lifelong ability to control him. Not long after we meet her, though, Cyril turns out to be full of surprises, happy to let anyone try and be her brother’s nemesis and keeping deep reserves of sensitive understanding hidden well beneath the exterior of her steely gaze and razor-sharp perfect appearance. Manville can rarely be in a movie without making a lasting impression, and it’s wonderful to know that it is not just Mike Leigh who knows what to do with it.
The idea of a director like Christopher Nolan making a war film is the kind of foregone conclusion that makes mainstream filmmaking such a bore: of course the guy who makes guy films starring guys is going to make a battle movie, and of course I don’t care if it’s good. Walk into the theatre to see Dunkirk with this expectation and you’ll be amazed at the depth and intelligence that Nolan adds to the well known technical skill and craftsmanship for which he is rightfully celebrated. Nolan focuses on one key event in Britain’s role in World War II with subtlety and grace, completely ignoring the kind of heroic grandstanding common to the genre and instead unfolding with a nervous, tense, naturalism. Its most famous cast member is hidden behind a mask, while the closest thing the film has to a lead actor barely speaks, allowing the spirit of a nation to be the film’s main hero while the technology (boats or planes) is always kept looming large and tall over the many desperate humans. The result is so very moving: after a couple of hours of waiting and worrying, the simple handing of a bottle of beer to a returning soldier is enough to reduce one to blubbering tears.