On Chesil Beach

Based on the 2007 novel of the same name written by critically acclaimed British author Ian McEwan who also wrote the novel that was adapted into the Academy Award-winning 2007 film Atonement, On Chesil Beach is a beautifully shot and acted British drama that explores a young couple’s romance and sexuality shortly following their marriage. Set on their wedding night in the summer of 1962 at their honeymoon hotel and the nearby spectacular Chesil Beach located on the southern coast of Dorset, England, the movie follows the love story of Florence, played by Academy Award-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan, and Edward, played by up-and-coming actor Billy Howle. Following a rather slow pace imitating their gradual romance over the years, the story is mostly told through a series of flashbacks to the pivotal moments in their courtship through the past several years. Like Florence, Edward is shown as a young accomplished student who studies at Oxford and has great ambitions in life. Despite overcoming several challenges while dating, including Edward’s mother’s grave mental health, their inexperience with physical intimacy as virgins in their early twenties poses a crucial problem on their honeymoon as they are about to consummate their marriage. They have drawn-out arguments over the course of the night as Florence tries to grapple with her awkward fear of sex even with her true love Edward who is eager for intimacy. As the characters have deeply philosophical dialogue about love and sex, the filmmaker uses evocative cinematography with sweeping shots of the famous beach to convey a tender yet heartbreaking story. Overall, I found it to be a particularly well-made film that felt like a typically British drama complete with outstanding emotional acting performances and a somber story with great heart.

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Disobedience

Directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio who just who won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for 2017’s A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience is an emotionally evocative drama exploring the complex intersectionality of love and religion and is anchored by terrific acting performances. The plot follows the return of an ostracized photographer living in New York named Ronit, played by the always brilliant Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz, to her strict Orthodox Jewish community in London after the death of her father who was the beloved rabbi and leader. Neither really wanting to be there or being welcomed back by the close-knit religiously conservative community, she must confront the very reasons she was forced to leave the group and grapple with the repercussions. She is shocked to learn that one of her former best friends Dovid, played by Alessandro Nivola in a standout performance, who is the heir apparent to her father, is married to Esti, played by Oscar-nominated actress Rachel McAdams. It is later revealed that Ronit and Esti were engaged in a sexually intimate relationship that was discovered and resulted in Ronit’s banishment. Involved in such an obviously grevious sinful act as homosexuality among the Orthodox, the now liberalized Ronit is never completely recognized by the community and is feared because of her tainted reputation. The somber and repressed Esti tries to hide her affection for Ronit, but, ultimately, she cannot deny her desires and acts out on her sexuality with Ronit despite the high costs, including affecting her husband and his status as the possible lead rabbi. The filmmaker does a remarkable job of showing what life must be like living in an insular Orthodox Jewish or any other conservative religious group and how the traditional rules and norms impact the individual. It vividly portrays the anguish and suffering of the two lead female characters who must deal with their frowned-upon love for one another. Overall, I found it to be a truly exceptional film with top-notch acting performances that brought to life the struggles of living in a extremely conservative community that has heartbreaking results for those involved in forbidden love.

Finding Your Feet

finding_your_feet_ver2_xlgDirected by Richard Loncraine who is best known for romantic comedies and 2006’s thriller Firewall, Finding Your Feet is the quintessential British romantic comedy revolving around a group of senior citizens looking for joy and love and is brought to life by the highly talented cast. We first meet one of the protagonists Sandra Abbott, played by Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton, after she discovers that her husband of many years has been cheating on her with her best friend. She moves out of her wealthy enclave to go to London and stay with her older sister Bif, played by Celia Imrie best known for 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Unlike Sandra, Bif is very much a free spirit who is happy to live a modest life in a crowded inner-city apartment and has a group of eccentric friends who all take a dance class at the local community center. Eventually, Sandra is convinced to participate in the dance class in order to get over her pending divorce and reconnect to others her age and outside her comfort zone. Through a series of charming scenes marked by typically dry British humor, she meets Bif’s friends and dance classmates, including the down-to-earth and delightful Charlie, played by acclaimed British actor Timothy Spall, the jovial Ted, played by David Hayman, and the flirtatious Jackie, played by comedic actress Joanna Lumley. The romantic part of the movie comes into play as Sandra begins to fall in love with Charlie; at that very moment, Sandra evolves from being preoccupied with wealth and social status to falling for a man who has very little wealth and lives on a river barge in London. Their romance is complicated by unforeseen circumstances, including Sandra’s husband trying to make amends and Charlie’s past love life. Although much of the movie is an innocent feel-good movie, there are some sentimental moments in which life is brought down to earth through the universal aspects of aging, including grief and loss of loved ones. Overall, I found it to be a delightful British film filled with witty innocent humor and a realistic pinch of bittersweet emotions that is elevated by a terrific cast of characters.

Call Me by Your Name

Nominated for the 2018 Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, Call Me by Your Name is a beautifully crafted film flowing with powerful emotions about forbidden love between a teenager and a young graduate student during the summer of 1983 in the Italian countryside. Elio Perlman, played wonderfully by Timothée Chalamet who is nominated for an Oscar for his performance, is a seventeen-year-old Jewish American-Italian who lives in a rural Italian villa during the summers with his Italian mother and American father who is an archaeology professor, played by the always terrific Golden Globe nominee Michael Stuhlbarg. A very bright young man, Elio spends most of his time alone idyllically reading books and transcribing classical music until the arrival of American graduate student Oliver, played by Armie Hammer who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, who lives with the family for six weeks to help Professor Perlman with his academic work. While in a quasi-romantic relationship with a girl his age named Marzia, Elio is still exploring his love life and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he becomes closer and closer to the older and handsome Oliver. Initially, the two are rather distant, but, over the course of the slow yet mesmerizing plotline, they begin to fall in love as they leisurely spend time together cycling through the countryside or swimming while engaged in intellectual conversations. Although at first he is somewhat confused by his emotions and homosexual attraction to Oliver, the remarkably mature Elio embraces his romantic and sexual desires by subtly making advances on the carefree and flirtatious Oliver. Through the use of gorgeous cinematography, beautifully subdued music, and immersion in very emotional moments, the acclaimed Italian director Luca Guadagnino expertly portrays an evocative romance, complete with the typical ups and downs experienced by any heterosexual couple. In one of the most poignant scenes, Elio’s compassionate father tries to comfort Elio as he grapples with the heartbreak of the inevitable conclusion to his time with Oliver as Oliver returns home where it would be extremely difficult to continue their amorous relationship. His father displays a complete understanding of Elio’s touching romance with another man and tells him that he too experienced pain over forbidden love. His advice to his son is to cherish the fact that he was lucky enough to share such great joy with Oliver. Overall, I found it to be a truly remarkable movie made possible by stellar acting performances and a heartwarming story with a powerful message about love set against the breathtaking beauty of Italy.

Phantom Thread

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson who is best known for 1997’s Boogie Nights, 2007’s There Will Be Blood, and 2012’s The Master, Phantom Thread is a beautifully crafted arthouse film with outstanding acting performances, sumptuous cinematography, and a terrific script revolving around a rather unusual and evocative story. Set in 1950s London, the plot follows a famous couture dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock, stupendously played by three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who lives a rather lonely and sheltered life obsessed with his work to make the finest dresses for the rich and famous. The only person he really shares his life with is his no-nonsense sister and fashion partner Cyril, played by British actress Lesley Manville, who insulates him from the harsh outside world and very much babies him to satisfy his peculiar habits. While eating at a restaurant near his country home, Reynolds becomes enamored with a beautiful young waitress named Alma, played by a revelation of a star Vicky Krieps, who he insists must go to dinner with him. Over time, she becomes his muse and is invited to live with him and his sister at their London fashion house where they embark on a rather unorthodox romantic relationship. As Alma gets closer and closer to Reynolds and learns more about the high fashion world, Cyril becomes weary of Alma and the disruption that she causes for her needy and obsessive compulsive brother. Throughout the film, the relationship between Alma and Reynolds fluctuates between emotionally and physically intimate and brutally distant as he focuses on his meticulous work making outfits. Underscoring their bizarre romance, the plot veers into unexpected territory with a puzzling ending. Daniel Day-Lewis, like his other equally terrific work over the years, delves deep into his role as evidenced by the realistic great care that his character takes for fashion and believably taking on the neuroses of his character. His mesmerizing performance is greatly enhanced by the talents of Paul Thomas Anderson who creates a beautifully meditative and emotionally delicate story with impressively detailed cinematography, musical scoring, and costuming. Overall, I found it to be a terrific work of art and a perfect ode to the fabulous Daniel Day-Lewis in what may be his last acting role.

Breathe

Directed by first-time director Andy Serkis best known for his CGI work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movie series, Breathe is a heartwarming and inspirational movie based on the true story of Robin Cavendish who became one of the first polio patients on a respirator to leave the confines of a hospital. At the beginning, Robin, played by Academy Award-nominated actor Andrew Garfield, falls in love with his a beautiful young woman named Diana, played by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy from the 2016 Netflix series The Crown. Eventually, they both lead an adventurous life living in Africa after they get married. Unexpectedly, in late 1958 at the age of 28, Robin is diagnosed with polio that leaves him paralyzed and fully dependent on a ventilator. Even after the birth of his Jonathan, he descends into a great state of despair over having to spend the rest of his life, which doctors tell him may only last a few months, in a hospital bed without any way of escaping to the outside world. Diana tries to encourage him to have the will to live for the sake of their new son. Against the doctor’s orders that he would be risking his life, Robin decides to leave the hospital and move back home with his wife and son where he can use the ventilator at home. A so-called responaut, he even dares to go outside his house and travel places. He asks his good friend and Oxford professor Teddy Hall, played by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, who is also an inventor to design a wheelchair that could also include a ventilator. With his newfound freedom, Robin becomes an advocate for the severely disabled in the UK and even travels to a conference in Germany where all the experts and medical professionals are astonished that he is out in the world and are deeply fascinated by his groundbreaking wheelchair. The film is especially heartbreaking when the audience sees how many of the paralyzed polio patients at the time are placed in iron lungs, which allows them to breathe but essentially trap them in a coffin unable to ever leave the hospital wards. Robin along with other disability advocates help to raise finances to provide the specialized wheelchairs to those needing a ventilator, including his other friends still at the hospital. Besides being a movie about Robin’s courageous struggle to live, it also tells a poignant story of the constancy of love between Robin and Diana that always remained in spite of the difficulties associated with caring for somebody with a disability. Robin is able to reach a point in life in which he is happy to be alive and grateful to be with his beloved wife and see his son grow up. Overall, I found to be one of the more inspirational stories about those with disabilities and how one person can help drastically change those suffering and have the will to live. Although the movie was slow at times, the dynamic and beautiful acting performances of the two main characters help to create a genuinely emotional cinematic experience.

Crown Heights

Based on a true story chronicled in a 2005 episode of the NPR radio show This American Life, Crown Heights is the heartbreaking tale of a young man living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York who spends many years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a homicide in 1980. The talented young actor Lakeith Stanfield plays an 18-year-old immigrant from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago named Colin Warner who leads a troubled life as a petty criminal. After a young man is shot to death in broad daylight, Warner gets caught up in the corrupt and negligent justice system eager for convictions in crime-ridden 1980’s New York. As a result of false testimonies given by predominately young immigrants pressured by the police, he is quickly ushered through the court system and sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder of someone he had never heard of, along with a likely guilty co-defendant who is sentenced to less time as a juvenile. Disgusted by the injustice in which he was convicted and later lost appeals, Warner’s close friend Carl ‘KC’ King, played by former NFL Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha, tirelessly makes it his mission to prove his childhood friend’s innocence and get him released from prison. The film does an excellent job of providing an intimate glimpse into prison from the perspective of an innocent man, including the difficult moments resulting in angered violence and coming to the harsh belief that he may be behind bars for the rest of his life for a crime he did not commit. King remains tenaciously hopeful even when Warner is despondent and spends day and night learning the legal system with the occasional help of a generous criminal defense attorney, played by Bill Camp best known for the 2016 HBO miniseries The Night Of. With his new knowledge, King investigates and interviews witnesses in order to create a compelling appeal for Warner’s exoneration. Over the course of the movie, the filmmaker expertly contextualizes the sometimes injust justice system in the United States by inserting newsreel montages depicting the government crackdown on crime for each decade Warner spends in prison. Overall, I found it to be a truly enlightening and emotionally powerful film about some of the problems with the criminal justice system, including the depressing statistic that up to 120,000 innocent people may be currently incarcerated.