When we first meet Louis Bloom, played with laser-like focus and precision by Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s methodically clipping chunks of chain-link fence in the dead of night outside of a deserted L.A. industrial yard. When a security guard shows up and inquires what Bloom is up to (he’s stealing the fence metal to sell on the sly), Lou puts on a hapless “I’m lost” smile and forks over his ID . . . and then blindsides the rent-a-cop. We then see Lou trying to hawk his ill-gotten wares to a junkyard man, while simultaneously trying to bargain for a job. Nightcrawler is a viscerally exciting foray into an amoral — and possibly sociopathic — mind, garnering comparisons to the likes of Taxi Driver. Unlike Travis Bickle, who sought to rid the streets of the maggots that feed on the underbelly of society, Lou Bloom exploits it, following the motto of "if it bleeds, it leads" like it's a religious aphorism. And yet, even though he is in every scene, we never really get a bead on who Lou Bloom is. He is a loner, one who never seems to sleep. Much of his dialogue is couched in rigorous and yet almost Zen-like mantras of success and perseverance he cribbed from the Internet. Lou’s a go-getter, and yet there’s something dark there, something calculating. What horrifying thoughts are worming behind Bloom’s overly polite exterior? Gyllenhaal clearly tapped into a staggering wellspring that very few actors are capable of; not only did he gaze into the abyss, he dove headlong into it.
Socially awkward, childishly dependent on others, likely an alcoholic and so desperately lonely. As Mary Smith in Another Year, my favourite performance from an actor this decade, Lesley Manville is asked to give us a lot. In this true test of any actor, Manville runs the gamut with aplomb. We understand the frustrations people feel with Mary, as Manville makes us. We empathize with Mary as Manville makes us. She delivers a broken, hopeless human and never lets us truly believe there is hope for Mary, as there may well not be. Those final crushing moments at the dinner table, with those subtle micro expressions flickering across her face. She is a broken woman and we will not forget it.
Happy for Keaton and Sandler making it to the top 20. I honestly thought some perfs would have been higher, though. (Manville, Weisz, De Niro, Di Caprio, Pacino's Kevorkian, Emma Stone, Rylance, J.K. Simmons... almost everyone could have made my top 20. Maybe they actually did, can't remember)
Joe Pesci, one of the most intimidating midgets in the history of the movies, comes out of the woodwork to give maybe his quietest performance ever… and also his most intimidating. It’s easy to be menacing when you’re screaming at the top of your lungs and pointing a gun in someone’s face, but Pesci’s Russell Bufalino only needs a small gesture or a vague statement in order to scare the shit out of someone or to seal the fate of another.
I think that Pesci needed to retire, relax, and recharge in order to give us what might be his crowning achievement here. He’s older, wiser, and calmer. But nothing feels old about the magic he brings once again under Scorsese’s direction and opposite his longtime co-star Robert De Niro. A perfect swan song in terms of both in the quality of the performance, and the fitting nature of the role that he realizes flawlessly.
Performances in films that strive for realism are pretty hard to pull off. The actor has to tread a very thin line for the performance to be 100% effective. If they overplay an emotion there is a big chance that it will come off as artificial or melodramatic and therefore undermine the realistic approach of the film in the eyes of the viewer. On the other hand, if an emotion is underplayed, the scene might come off as cold and distant to the viewer and, thus, not achieve the desired emotional connection with the character. For the film to work on the maximum level, everything from the actor must come naturally and must feel genuine. Mads Mikkelsen achieves just that in The Hunt and his performance is one of the main reasons the film works so well.
Much like Certified Copy itself, Binoche's performance is one that appears to be one thing that seamlessly transforms into something else entirely. Immediately grabbing our attention with her inherent charisma and watchability as a woman both taken by and inquisitive of the suave British author James Miller, the complexity of Binoche's unnamed character becomes gradually revealed to us, as the actress' slowly-emerging vulnerability opens up so many nuances to the character we never would've seen otherwise. While Binoche's perfectly natural chemistry with William Shimell is astonishing in its own, it's the emotionally-bare work of Binoche that begins to hold our attention entirely. Kiarostami loves framing his actors in close-up (heh) here, and at times all we need is Binoche's face in the center of the frame to convey everything we need to know, a tortured lover clinging to an ideal, longing for something more than a copy of the past. It speaks volumes that I've seen this film twice and didn't realize before writing this review that Binoche's character is unnamed -- we come to learn so much about her, to know her so intimately, that to realize even the most rudimentary detail about her still eludes us is confounding