Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
This week has an embarrassment of riches in terms of the actors with new films out. Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins, Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Danny Trejo, and Chris Messina have new movies coming out along with a handful of actors best known for their TV work. Jude Law works a lot and I suspect I will have an opportunity to tackle him in the future, but these others may not have as many frontline options in the future, so I thought I would pick out one film from each filmography to highlight.
Winger and Jenkins co-star as parents of the main character in this week’s Kajillionaire, director Miranda July’s latest film about a criminal family who begins to splinter when a newcomer is brought into the ranks. Coon stars alongside Law in The Nest as a couple in Sean Durkin’s film about an entrepreneur (Law) and his American family as they move into an isolated English manor. Trejo is an incredibly busy man who appears in numerous films each year, but this weekend’s release is THE PREY about a team of soldiers hunting Taliban in Afghanistan who are trapped in a cave where they are slowly picked off by a monster. Finally, Messina plays a beleaguered husband to Noomi Rapace as she kidnaps and tortures her German neighbor believing that he was responsible for heinous crimes against her during World War II.
Highlighting either the best work for the actor (Winger & Coon) or my favorite films featuring the actor (Jenkins, Trejo & Messina), these actors have appeared in some impressive efforts, but also a lot of terrible ones. After the break, a look at my favorite films for each actor.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Debra Winger had an impressive string of hits in the 1980s with starring roles in films Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman, and this 1983 Best Picture Oscar winner. Starring alongside living legends Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, Winger more than holds her own as MacLaine’s daughter who marries just to get out from under her mother’s controlling thumb.
The film also features Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow in supporting roles. The cast is terrific and the film scored 9 Oscar nominations, four of which were for acting with MacLaine winning her first and only Oscar (on her sixth and final nomination) over Winger, and Nicholson winning his second of three Oscars over Lithgow. Had Winger been nominated in support as modern studios would have insisted, she might just have won, bringing the film’s total to six Oscars rather than the solid five it received.
One of the things that made the original 1978 film so haunting was its suggested violence, letting the audience fill in the blanks with fright rather than with actual gory images. Singer-turned-director Rob Zombie decided to flip the script with his 2007 remake of the original with Malcolom McDowell taking over for Donald Pleasance then taking on a different narrative direction away from Michael Myers’ original nemesis, Laurie Strode (played in the original by Jamie Lee Curtis).
For all the subtlety of John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Zombie makes his film bloodier, gorier, and crazier. Although most of the best 1970s and 1980s horror films eschewed displayed violence in favor of suggestion, modern slasher horror films have the tendency to try to one-up one another with the gore-quotient. Zombie’s film may well beat almost all of them with his gleeful disdain for visceral propriety. Yet, as different tonally as the film is from the original, it’s still an impressive and evocative effort that stands tall in an entirely severed universe all its own.
Gone Girl (2014)
While she had a very small role in Gone Girl, Carrie Coon is nevertheless impressive as Ben Affleck’s twin sister in this twisty adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s popular novel of the same name. Director David Fincher cast a terrific Affleck in the lead role with a stellar Rosamund Pike as his mysteriously disappeared wife while Affleck’s character shifts from beleaguered husband to suspected murderer.
Fincher’s tense drama navigates the narrative with aplomb, allowing the richness of Flynn’s characterizations to come successfully through. This is a film that will make you question whether Affleck’s inattentive and abusive figure is worth siding with or if he deserves to be punished for a crime he assures the police and the audience that he hasn’t perpetrated. It’s a stellar film on all counts and although Coon is only in it briefly, she does exceptional work in her most pivotal scene late in the film, which is why this film makes my list for this week.
The Shape of Water (2017)
Although Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film seemed like a science fiction fantasy made in the style of 1950s and 1960s horror films, its themes were far deeper and more varied than many films of that era could claim. Sally Hawkins plays a mute woman who falls in love with a scientific specimen in the military lab at which she provides janitorial services. This water-dwelling creature is a humanoid not far removed in design from the Creature from the Black Lagoon. As she develops a relationship with the creature, the threat the facility’s commander (Michael Shannon) poses to the creature leads her to enact a plan to rescue him and release him to the sea.
Co-starring Richard Jenkins as her closeted gay neighbor living above a movie theater, Octavia Spencer as her friend and fellow cleaning woman at the facility, Michael Stuhlbarg as a Soviet spy working undercover at the facility, and Doug Jones as the creature, the film pits four marginalized figures (a disabled woman, a gay man, a Black woman, and an aquatic creature) against the very prominent straight, white man who threatens their lives. Not only is it a stirring bit of sci-fi splendor, a love letter to the very horror films it is styled after, the film acts as a poignant political commentary on the oppression of those who are different from the society’s concept of normality.
Birds of Prey (2020)
This might be a rather controversial choice considering how audiences weren’t as receptive to the film as they should have been, but this feminist manifesto upends decades of arguably sexist comic adaptations and turns it into a powerful rebuke of societal norms regarding the portrayal of female superheroes.
Harley Quinn, the central figure of this film, first appeared in Suicide Squad alongside a number of more dominant male characters. She managed to stand out, but her slavish devotion to the Joker character was still intact. If ever there was an abusive relationship, it was theirs. In this film, she’s finally given the fantabulous emancipation she’s long deserved, standing on her own at the center of a film whose heroes are women and whose villains are men.
Chris Messina stars as Victor Szasz, a horrendous serial killer who stalks and kills women. He isn’t the primary villain, but his employment by actual villain Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), an abusive businessman, accentuates the utter disdain his character has for women, Harley Quinn in particular. The film plays out over one hour and forty-nine minutes, rarely letting up on its terrific action set pieces and its sermonizing about how women don’t have to get along to make a concerted difference in the world. This is the primary reason why Cathy Yan’s direction and Christina Hodson’s screenplay pull together all of the pieces into an exciting and significant film.