Luca Guadagnino’s story about a rich Italian family centered around Tilda Swinton’s Emma Recchi, a Russian trophy wife. Swinton, as always, brought complexity and soul to her lead role; the photography was beautiful; the music - re-purposed John Adams - added to the arty vibe; yet I found myself removed from the movie. The cool composure of the characters kept me at arm’s length, even as I admired the individual elements that came together in this well-made package.
The ending changed that. After an entire movie of characters acting as they are supposed to, giving only small hints of their inner longings - or, in Emma’s case, acting on them impulsively - it overflowed with emotion, showing longing, regret, hope, and grief in a wordless coda, with Adams’ lovely music swirling around the characters. Suddenly it was clear: that reserve, that slow build, was setting up this break, and made the show of emotion in small gestures that much more powerful. I Am Love earned its tears; it does not throw emotional content at you to get you to cry, it crafts an ending that grows perfectly, almost inevitably, out of the characters it has so painstakingly portrayed.
So, on to a category that you won’t find at SAG or the Oscars: best lines of the year. There is one line from a movie and one line from a tv show that stand out in my mind.
First, the movie: in Inception, the most memorable scene is the hallway fight scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, where he fights the baddies in a tilting universe, and then has to tie the dreamers together and move them around in zero gravity. In a self-serious movie, the touches of humor were the best, bringing a much needed sense of levity to the proceedings. While Tom Hardy flirting with JGL is certainly amusing, I laughed out loud when JGL is sprinting around the staircases and suddenly stops, pointing out the gap between floors by saying “paradox” and then flinging the bad guy over the edge. It’s a silly line, but it stands out to me as it is so purely entertaining.
Now, the tv show: Edie Falco is wonderful in Nurse Jackie, and her reaction to her husband and her best friend confronting her and her addiction is to hide. She tries out being in recovery. “Hi, my name is Jackie, and I’m an addict,” she says to the mirror. Then she laughs. “Blow me!” she finishes off. It’s absolute perfect in writing and delivery, a great moment on a strong show. (Seriously, watch Nurse Jackie, it’s so good).
Let’s talk about “True Blood” for a moment. It seems that the current cultural conception of the show is that it’s fun trash. It is, but it is also much, much more. There are deep, complex themes embedded in the pulpy narrative - themes of repression and abandon, grief and loss, prejudice, innocence, and the simultaneous desire to change as a person, and the impossibility of actually doing so. The recaps at TWoP pull out some of these themes, as well as the intricate way “True Blood” draws parallels and shows subtle distinctions.
Because of this complexity - under that flashy fun surface - the acting on this show is a harder task than it looks like. It’s different than a traditional drama; it requires a deep grounding in the character, but a simultaneous ability to pull off soapy melodrama. That’s why the actors who have been consistently great (Ryan Kwanten as Jason Stackhouse, Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica) are doing a harder task than it seems.
Into this odd mix comes Denis O’Hare - a consummate Hey! It’s That Guy - as Russell Edgington, the King of Mississippi, and not only is he trying to stay afloat in a series that even fans criticize for bad acting due to the difficulty of the tone and subject matter, but he’s a new character, and people are NOT kind to new characters on their beloved shows.
So what does he do? He nails it. O’Hare nails the part to the wall, and is the most fascinating, watchable, insane part of an over-the-top series that is stuffed to the brim with intrigue and suspense. He is more watchable than Alexander Sarsgaard, who looks like this.
O’Hare gleefully chewed his way through the scenery of this show, cackling wildly when he discovered Sookie’s strange gifts, and still kept the part grounded. He kept the part so grounded that he made Talbot - Talbot, for the love - seem interesting after his death. As Russell rolled around in that pile of goo that used to be Talbot, then lovingly cradled the jar of goo in his arms, he made it seem like there was a reason he would be missed, rather than that he was the most one-note, queeny, bitchy stereotype of a gay man ever put onto film. I would love to know whether the little gesture of turning the jar of goo around so ‘Talbot’ can see what Russell is describing was O’Hare’s idea, the writer’s, or the director’s, but it’s brilliant no matter what. When O’Hare’s face was covered in an inch of black ash, leaving him to act with his voice and his body only, he was still fascinating and perfect. He’s so good, that his spine-ripping, child-eating climax of the season, while wholly gripping and awesome, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hat tip to James Frain, so wonderful as Franklin; Ryan Kwanten as Jason and Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica, still consistently showing the depths of their characters; and Alexander Sarsgaard, growing into his role as Eric more each season.
The end of the year is my favorite time of year, not because of Christmas, but because of all the top 10 lists, loving examinations of favorites, and beautifully written homages to the works that moved us. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be rolling out my personal ‘best of the year’ list, one at a time. The list will look at elements of TV and movies, and each ‘best’ will get it’s own entry. It will include performances, lines, episodes, scenes, as well as music, costumes, and cinematography.Stay tuned - tomorrow you’ll hear about the television performance that was, hands down, my favorite of the year.Edited 12/20 - clearly this post has not happened yet, but stay tuned, it’s coming.
It’s been over a month since Cannonball Read 2 wrapped, a comprehensive list of all 52 books and links to review can be found here. Rather than do a list of all the books from best to worst, here are the highlights - the 10 favorites from all year, starting with the most recently read:
Digging to America by Anne Tyler - Tyler writes memorable characters and uses literary devices in ways that add to the story rather than draw attention to their use. A compassionate look at different cultures. (read more)
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - Chandler’s sparse writing hides the skill that goes into writing a mystery this effective. (read more)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - a sad dystopian tale, this book’s strength is the narration provided by the main character. (read more)
Wise Children by Angela Carter - bizarre, witty, fantastical story, a slow read but ultimately engrossing. (read more)
Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher - Fisher should get some sort of prize for writing this book, adapting it into a totally different (wonderful) movie that radically changes the plot and jettisons major characters, but retains the same charm and wry tone. (read more)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman - one of my favorite non-fiction books ever. (read more)
Nobody Passes ed. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore - a must-read for those with an interest in gender & intersectionality. (read more)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold - sad and hopeful all at once, this book suffers a bit in comparison to The Book Thief (the two share similar themes and narrators), but is still one of the best I read this year. (read more)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - probably the favorite of all of these. Don’t be put off by the ‘young adult’ label, this book deals with themes of grief, loss, and love in a way few ‘adult’ books do. (read more)
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - transcendent. The writing in this book is superb, and Humbert Humbert is absolutely fascinating & horrifying. If you haven’t read this book and think it advocates pedophilia, give it a read - it condemns the main character by giving him voice. (read more)