Three major Oscar contenders hit Telluride this weekend; Moonlight, Bleed for This and Manchester by the Sea. The first two were seen for the first time, Manchester debuted earlier this year at Sundance. To say the reviews for A24’s Moonlight are rapturous would be an understatement. As of this writing, the film holds on to a perfect 100 score on Metacritic, just as Boyhood did two years ago – and, incidentally, a film Moonlight has been compared to. Bleed for This, from Best Picture-winning distributor Open Road Film (Spotlight), is starting a bit mixed and feels more like just an acting play for Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart. Manchester by the Sea is scooping up predictably excellent reviews almost across the board, including career-best notices for Best Actor contender Casey Affleck.
[box type=”shadow”align=””class=””width=””]Moonlight is a deep tragedy that’s told in passing glances. Rich with evocative images and tender exchanges, writer-director Barry Jenkins’ treatment of Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” is a beautiful drama that manages to be both epic and understated. Moonlight synthesizes some of the best American cinema of recent years. Jenkins pairs the melancholic power of the repressed sexuality in Brokeback Mountain and Carol with the subtle textures of burgeoning masculinity in Boyhood. [/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Barry Jenkins’ vital portrait of a South Florida youth revisits the character at three stages in his life, offering rich insights into the contemporary African-American experience.
Moonlight would have been ghettoized as a LGBTQ film had it been released a decade earlier, considering that dimension of his self-discovery. Today, no real category applies, and with any luck, this resonant film will connect with audiences in a more universal way.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]An indelible portrait of an imperilled life, Moonlight is quietly devastating in its depiction of masculinity, race, poverty and identity.
The entire cast shines, particularly Mahershala Ali as a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing in the first segment. Harris is heart-breaking as the boy’s mother, her life taking its own journey during the course of the film. As for the three actors who play Chiron’s unrequited love, the best is André Holland, who radiates regret and sweetness as the adult Kevin.[/box]
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BLEED FOR THIS
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Teller is terrific, which should come as no surprise to Whiplash fans, though no less significant, the film represents a significant return for writer-director Ben Younger, the once-hot Boiler Room auteur in whom Hollywood seems to have lost interest.
No less impressive is Aaron Eckhart, virtually unrecognizable as Kevin Rooney, the balding, pot-bellied boxing coach who not only trained Mike Tyson, but convinced Pazienza to fight at his natural weight, psyching him into extending a career that three straight losses had practically cut short.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]At some point in the proceedings you may start focusing on just how severely all the supporting characters in frame are playing against type, or at least severely made up, including not just the nearly unrecognizable Eckart and not quite as disguised Hinds but Katey Sagal, channeling Edie Falco as the chain-smoking Ma in question.
And Teller? He’s done some transforming, too — building his abs as surely as Eckart let his gut go for his role — and he shows additional courage in staying true to the real Paz’s late ‘80s/early ‘90s porn ‘stache. As with “Whiplash,” where he basically played an asshole-in-training, Teller is ideally cast as someone whose very profession demands a lack of cuddliness that is also the actor’s stock in trade. [/box]
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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]Manchester by the Sea is easily Affleck’s best work in a long career of playing characters who keep so much in until, at last, they explode emotionally. What is so brilliant about this performance is that his face, his eyes, tell us what he can’t, what he never will. Thus, what’s compelling and fascinating about the film is watching how Affleck’s character manages the emotions he can’t bring himself to face.
Sad and beautiful, Manchester by the Sea is not a dark film, nor really a depressing one. It’s just about living with the truth laid bare. And that might be, in the end, the only thing that matters.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]The persistence of grief and the hope of redemption are themes as timeless as dramaturgy itself, but rarely do they summon forth the kind of extraordinary swirl of love, anger, tenderness and brittle humor that is Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s beautifully textured, richly enveloping drama about how a death in the family forces a small-town New Englander to confront a past tragedy anew.
It’s been a while since [Michelle] Williams had a role this good, but she’s lost none of her unerring knack for emotional truth in the meantime, and she has one astonishing scene that rises from the movie like a small aria of heartbreak.[/box]
[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]The proud white steeples, choppy waters and forthright, salty demeanor of small-town New England make an exquisite counterpoint to a devastating tale of buried trauma in Manchester by the Sea, an emotional powerhouse with the weave of great literature.
Manchester by the Sea contains multiple detonations, the kind a lesser drama would save for its climax. In Lonergan’s style, he sets them to classical music—the most harrowing to Albinoni’s mournful Adagio in G Minor, resulting in a sequence of sudden loss that has few equals.[/box]