Reviews & More: In Time for Oscars Season

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Daniel Day-Lewis (left) and Vicky Krieps in “Phantom Thread”

The usual December glut of new releases in time for awards season—and the fact that I only write two columns a month—means I need to play a bit of catch-up with reviewing. Here we go.

 

“Phantom Thread” I love to discuss films with my movie buff friends and the reactions to this one are all over the place, from love to extreme dislike. Of course everyone agrees that if this is indeed Daniel Day-Lewis’ final film, as he has avowed, it will be a huge loss to us all. Good heavens, the man is amazing. The character he plays, Reynolds Woodcock (a fictional 1950s haute couture designer based in London), is an odd, obsessive and difficult-to-like man, made achingly human by Day-Lewis’ artistry. The film itself is both fascinating and off-putting at the same time. A character study of the artist and his current muse, the plot goes in a completely different direction halfway through and, although acclaimed director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson has created a visual work of art, I came away from seeing it feeling both unmoved and dissatisfied.  

 

“Call Me by Your Name” I think this visually gorgeous film might have had more impact—and more controversy—had it come out 20 years ago, before male-on-male romances became somewhat commonplace and acceptance of the LGBT culture became as widespread (in much of the country, at least) as it is now. Still, as a story of a teenager on the precipice of manhood, it is not only lovely to look at (the exquisite northern Italian countryside made me want to hop on a plane that moment), but is made even better by the subtle performance of Timothée Chalamet as the young man and Martin Stuhlbarg as the father we wished we had.

 

“Molly’s Game” If it has a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, the master of brilliant, amusing, rapid-fire dialogue, I will see it and I will pay rapt attention. And this film, his first as both writer and director, is both enjoyable and—typical of Sorkin—in need of editing. The man does love words! Based on the true story of Molly Bloom, Olympics-class skier, organizer of high-stakes poker games and FBI target, it is not a great film but a thoroughly enjoyable one. Sorkin is blessed to have Jessica Chastain playing Molly: She can handle the pacing of his dialog and her face and body are magic on film. Idris Elba plays an important role as a lawyer who defends her with great reluctance before being won over by her stubborn, strong sense of honor. 

 

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Frances McDormand stars, and it is her film all the way. As the grief stricken mother of a daughter who died violently, she is 90 percent enraged, either overtly or subtly, throughout the film as she exacts revenge on those who have not yet found her daughter’s rapist/murderer. The other 10 percent reveals some soft spots, some compassion, gives hints of the difficult woman she was even before the tragedy. It is a masterful performance but, for me, not enough to make me a fan of the film. I admire the supporting performances (too many to name here), the quirky characterizations, some out-of-left field plot twists, but as a fan of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s 2008 gem, “In Bruges,” I was disappointed. After a while, the revenge motif, the violence, even the softer moments, felt repetitious and ultimately unsatisfying.