New York Film Festival: Manchester by the Sea

 

manchester-seaFew directors are able to make a film that successfully blurs the line between tragedy and comedy, while also maintaining a tone that is unquestionably dramatic. It helps that the film is set during an overcast snowy New England winter; that its set in a working class environment; and has an score that features some heavy pieces, including Albinoni’s classic funeral hit,“Adagio in G Minor.” Director and writer Kenneth Lonergan has seamlessly blended the dramatic with the comic, not only through his direction but also through his well-crafted script. You don’t walk away confused about you they just saw—it’s a definitely a drama, a devastating drama with many moments that capture the clumsiness that add to daily life with humor.

Manchester by the Sea came out of Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals as a favorite and it’s getting the same love at this year’s New York Film Festival. Lonergan directs with careful detail and allows the scenes to run as long as necessary without feeling indulgent, but with enough emotional intensity that it feels honest. The performances possess the same quality of subtle intensity. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a handyman living in a working class neighborhood of Boston. He’s essentially given up on life after suffering a tragic loss some years earlier. Following the death of his older, more stable brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee learns that is the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Affleck is the conflicted center of this film and gives a career-high performance that is a case study of quiet restraint, and subtle emotional depth. This is an honest performance that is successful for it’s nuanced and controlled quality, yet it’s not dull or boring—it’s authentic.  Lee is ultimately a likable guy, mostly because, although he is very damaged and lonely, he is in need of help, he is a good man who is responsible and does the right thing. Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife delivers one of her most powerful performances in years, despite her too little screen time. In an unforgettable scene later in the film, Williams and Affleck are remarkable and heartbreakingly honest as she is awkwardly tries to talk to Lee about their tragic past, but through polite restraint, Lee is unable to let go and succumbs to avoidance as his only tool. In the hands of any other director this scene would have been a sappy, get-out-your-handkerchief moment, but here it’s a simple, frustrating (you want reach out and help them), and truthful moment. Affleck and Williams handle this scene masterfully.

kyle-chandler-casey-affleck-credit_-claire-folger-courtesy-of-amazon-studios-and-roadside-attractionsAnother stand out performance comes from Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel) as Lee’s nephew who finds himself suddenly alone, and at odds with Lee’s desire to take Lucas back to Boston to live until he is of legal age to receive his inheritance.  With his teen angst and rampant horniness, he’s the perfect counterpart to Casey’s emotionally muted (yet volatile given enough alcohol) and sexually stalled state. Their relationship is a pleasure—with the right amount of pain—to watch.

Manchester by the Sea, with its Oscar caliber performances, mature writing, masterful direction and a score that—despite coming dangerously close to overpowering the film—effectively enhances the over all tone of the movie, will likely stand out as one of 2016’s best films.

–John David West

 

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New York Film Festival: Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is the one to see at this year’s New York Film Festival. Writer, director Kenneth Lonergan’s film is deeply moving, honest, and surprisingly funny. Casey Affleck’s truthful performance is detailed, restrained, and refreshingly organic. He is surely this year’s Oscar front runner.
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5 New York Film Festival Movies to Catch when they Hit Theaters

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The New York Film Festival may have ended a couple weeks ago but the movies that premiered at the festival continue to roll into theaters including Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Steven Spielberg’s The Bridge of Spies, featuring Tom Hankes; and Steve Jobs directed by Danny Boyle. In the weeks and months ahead more NYFF movies will be released in theaters. While the above-mentioned features are good, here are five films that are not to be missed and I hope to see, once again, in theaters.

—John David West

The Lobster

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Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz in The Lobster

As one of my most anticipated movies of 2015, I had high hopes for The Lobster. How could I not? Yorgos Lanthimos—who brought us the Oscar nominated Dogtooth (2011) —directs his first English language film starring a middle aged, pudgy Colin Farrell and a short-sighted Rachel Weisz in a movie whose title begs the question, “what the hell is this about?”

Set in the near future, The Lobster is about how single people are arrested and transferred to The Hotel, where they must find a mate and fall in love or they will be forever transformed into an animal (or crustacean) of their choosing. Essentially it’s a love story that explores the human condition and examines the ubiquitous fear of there’s something wrong with you if you’re single. Beyond the film’s absurd, bleak view of a world where people are failures unless they’re in love (and become a voiceless animal), it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy—sad, but funny: violent, but smart and oddly hilarious. It leaves the viewer with much to ponder the big questions, like does being coupled matter that much and what animal would you choose to be?

 

Son of Saul

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Géza Röhrig as Saul. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Directed by László Nemes and featuring Géza Röhrig as Saul, this film won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize of the Jury. Nemes’ first feature film is a powerful and unique look at the horrors of Auschwitz. Shot in 35mm, in academy ratio, with shallow focus, and long tracking shots; Son of Saul provides an immersive human experience that sticks with you long after the film is over. This should be an Oscar front-runner for Best Foreign Language film.

 

The Martian

Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself stranded and alone on Mars, in THE MARTIAN.
Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, The Martian is based on Andy Weir’s best selling book of the same name, Matt Damon plays astronaut and botanist Mark Watney who is left behind on Mars and thought as dead when the crew encounter a violent sandstorm and are forced to abandon their mission and make an emergency lift off from the red planet.

The Martian is both a crowd-pleasing movie and a smart science fiction film. It’s action packed fun and gorgeous to watch, and arouse rebellious thoughts like “come on NASA, let’s get back into space travel” —perhaps The Martian will inspire future missions to Mars astronauts and scientists. Unlike Gravity, Drew Goddard’s script succeeds in making the events plausible. The movie is packed with interesting science facts that don’t feel jarringly expositional, perhaps due to the comedic script and Damon’s charismatic performance. Ridley Scott succeeds in weaving a complicated story that is, at times visually poetic, at other times hilarious, but always consistently engaging. His use of is 3D is subtle and thankfully not distracting by being annoyingly self-aware. It sometimes comes dangerously close to having moments of schmaltzy Hollywood-feel-goodness (a few too many shots of cheering crowds in the control room and on the streets), and many characters are rather one-dimensional, but once you get past that The Martian is just elegant, fun, filmmaking.

 

Carol

ROONEY MARA and CATE BLANCHETT star in CAROL
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett

In typical 1950s tradition Carol, brilliantly played by Cate Blanchett, lives in a world where everything is seemingly perfect, ordered, and definitely stylish. All is as it should be or at least it appears so on the surface, as Carol conceals the secret of her sexuality. She is more progressive than one might expect, as her husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler) is aware of her past relationships with women. Living in the repressed ’50s, a mother and a beautiful wife to a wealthy man her sexuality is a secret that must be concealed despite herself. Todd Haynes has explored this world before, in the luscious Douglas Sirk homage, Far From Heaven (2002), a film filled with colorful autumn-rich wide-angle shots. Carol is a bit more subdued, honest, and quite cold. Rather than vibrant shots, Carol is filled with close-ups, notably of faces, toys, and shiny vintage 1950s cars; and it’s a cold lonely winter that fills the screen. Perhaps this is not the most inviting world for the viewer, but Blanchett’s brilliance for conveying great depth without saying a word is evident in the film’s final shot, a simple yet impactful, delicate moment that lives beyond the life of this movie.

 

The Witness

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A thoroughly engrossing documentary by director James Soloman that unpacks the details and misinformation surrounding the events and iconic death of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was reportedly killed in front of 38 witnesses in Queens, New York.

The Witness is a powerful look at the devastating results of irresponsible journalism. Over the years, the Genovese murder became the subject of numerous books, news reports, themes on episodic TV crime shows, and case studies; her brutal murder shocked the country and its myth has remained alive through the world over the last half century. What is most refreshing in The Witness is how the film brings Kitty to life and reveals the person behind the grotesque murder. For the first time in 50 years, we see her as a beloved sister, popular friend, and a never-forgotten lover.

—John David West