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Holy Motors

Director: Leos Carax
Cast: Denis Lavant,Édith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Élise L’Homeau

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Denis Lavant
Holy Motors


Denis Lavant becomes a human chest of wonders in Leos Carax’s love letter to cinema. The versatile actor plays Oscar, a mysterious man whose work consists of carrying out odd scenarios using makeup, costumes and strange props. During the span of a day we see him become a homeless man, a doppelganger assassin, a revolting creature of the sewers and a doomed lover, among others. The intention of Carax’s film is mostly left to be determined by each viewer, but the passionate abandon with which Lavant gives in to the whims of his director makes for a beautiful ode to the craft of being a thespian, especially when it makes us realize that all of us could be Oscar, changing our makeup and costumes to adjust to the different roles life demands of us on a daily basis. Jose Solis


 

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Looper

Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Looper


Why wasn’t Bruce Willis’ face altered to look more like Joseph Gordon Levitt? Given Willis’ longevity in the business, and action-movie prowess, I’m sure producers believed that making Willis more recognizable, thus altering the appearance of their lead star to reflect Willis’ plainness, would draw more movie goers than if Bruce Willis was made to look like Levitt. That was a mistake, because Levitt’s performance as Joe is so much more mesmerizing than Willis’ typical brute and ironic arrogance—practically the same in almost everything he does. Not to say that Willis is bad in Looper but rather generic after having watched Levitt’s wonderful turn as a hit man who plays it close to the vest. It’s a true testament to Levitt’s talent that under all that make up and CGI altering, he provides one of the most brilliant performances of his career. Enio Chiola


 

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The Sessions

Director: Ben Lewin
Cast: Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Adam Arkin

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John Hawkes
The Sessions


In the past, such a role would be considered pure Awards Season pandering. After all, actors give their (usually working) right arms to play sick, dying, or handicapped. So it’s refreshing to see Hawkes hold back on the hanky material. Instead, he takes his paralyzed poet character and turns him into a fully functional, if physically incapacitated human being. The theme of sex and normalcy are constantly countermanded by Hawkes transformation (he used various tricks to imitate his character’s curved spine and mangled mannerisms. But at the heart of his work is a deeper understanding of what makes someone feel like less of an outcast. From his wonderful work in Winter’s Bone to his enigmatic cult leader in Martha Marcy May Marlene, this is a performer on the verge of a major league breakout—if he hasn’t done so already. Bill Gibron


 

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Lincoln

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader

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Daniel Day-Lewis
Lincoln


The most haunting performance of the year was also the most ambitious. When you get down to it, how do you create a cohesive character onscreen out of various facts and legends? Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln goes beyond the stereotypical folksiness and gravitas of our image of the man—a cross between Henry Fonda’s plangent Young Mr. Lincoln and the ballpark announcer stance of the Lincoln in Disney’s Hall of Presidents. The Lincoln of Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg, and Tony Kushner is a kind and crafty politician; a reluctant hero like Spielberg’s Oskar Schindler. The movie abounds with memorable scenes, but few as extraordinary to me as the one in the first seven minutes of the movie with the British actor David Oyelowo as freed slave who engages Lincoln in a moral showdown that sets the tone for the entire film. It’s a performance that’s momentous as it is moving. Farisa Khalid


 

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The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Madisen Beaty

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Joaquin Phoenix
The Master


If James Dean and Marlon Brando had somehow conceived a child, there is no doubt that that child would have been Joaquin Phoenix, whose portrayal of the troubled veteran Freddie Quell in P.T. Anderson’s The Master is as brutal and shocking as it is real. Like many Anderson characters, Phoenix’s Freddie is a man searching for love in quite literally all the wrong places, a man who cannot handle even the slightest hint of rejection or even disapproval. Phoenix’s ferocity, combined with his troubled, pre-pubescent behavior, makes Lancaster Dodd’s (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) third-acting disarming of Freddie, beating him to an emotional pulp by reminding him of a lost love whilst singing “Slow Boat to China”, all the more powerful. This is Phoenix’s On the Waterfront. Kevin Brettauer


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