Between Christmas and New Year’s I saw six memorable films: Fences, Jackie, La La Land, Cafe Society, Lion, and Manchester by the Sea, unintenionally saving my favorite two for last. It is hard to turn a play into a great film (the best example I know of is A Few Good Men). I wish I had seen Viola Davis and Denzel Washington when they starred in the play on Broadway because their performances on film were powerful. Especially memorable is Davis’ monologue toward the end of the film. I learned some history lessons watching Jackie and it was fun to talk about the events portrayed with my mom, who lived through it all, immediately after we saw the film. Natalie Portman’s performance makes the film worth watching, though like Fences, it would have been fine to wait and borrow it from the library. La La Land was fun with delightful music. I loved the singing and dancing, wish there had been even more of it, and Ryan Gosling earns the highest praise for doing his own piano playing (and singing and dancing withe Emma Stone). Later in the evening, after discussing our double-feature day, I checked something on Amazon and saw an ad for Woody Allen’s newest film, Cafe Society, which you can stream on Amazon. About 30 minutes into the film I started laughing because it felt like I was watching the same story–jazz, Hollywood, and love. This latest is Allen’s best film since Midnight in Paris.
Then we saw Lion. Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of Kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home (Rotten Tomatoes). These wonderful themes have no chance of becoming sentimental with the central cast members: Dev Patal as the older Saroo, Nicole Kidman and David Wenhem as the Australian parents, and an amazing Sunny Pawer as the young Saroo. I was ready for a grand story in which the landscape became a character, I learned something about another part of the world, and the ending included joy and hope.
Our final film was Manchester by the Sea. After the death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is shocked to learn that Joe has made him sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Taking leave of his job, Lee reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for Patrick, a spirited 16-year-old, and is forced to deal with a past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised. Bonded by the man who held their family together, Lee and Patrick struggle to adjust to a world without him (Rotten Tomatoes). I have liked Casey Affleck since Ocean’s 11 and in Manchester he gives a performance like those in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James. I was a loyal fan of Friday Night Lights, due to the performances by Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, so it was fun to see Chandler in this perfect role. I still have some films that I want to see before Oscar night, but I hope and assume that Manchester will pick up some awards.