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.
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.
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.
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.
Based on the true love story of the movie’s writers Kumail Nanjiani who is best known for the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley and his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a terrific fresh take on the romantic comedy genre that is full of so much humor and human emotion to be appealing to those who do not like conventional romantic comedies. Played by himself, Kumail is a struggling standup comedian living in Chicago who works part-time as an Uber driver and feels extreme pressure from his traditional Pakistani Muslim family to marry a Pakistani woman. However, he personally experiences the difficult cross-cultural divide between his traditional Muslim family and his desire to be a typical young American man. He begins a relationship with a young white woman named Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, after they meet at one of his standup routines. However, their blossoming romance starts to fall apart when Emily discovers that Kumail’s parents are forcing Pakistani women on him, and, therefore, their future together may never work. Following their tense breakup, Kumail receives an unexpected phone call that Emily is in the hospital and, as the only person there that knows her, makes the decision to allow the doctors to place her in a medically induced coma to prevent the spread of a mysterious and life-threatening infection. Soon after, Emily’s parents Terry, played by Ray Romano, and Beth, played by Holly Hunter, rush to the hospital and basically tell Kumail he is no longer needed despite possibly saving her life. He refuses to leave the hospital, and, initially, her parents are fairly hostile to him and constantly ask him why he is there since Emily already broke up with him. Over several hilarious encounters and heartfelt moments when there is a fear that Emily will not make it, Kumail develops a very close and heartwarming relationship with both Terry and Beth and come to understand each other’s cultures. At the same time, Kumail’s family becomes increasingly agitated with their inability to arrange a marriage for him. They even claim to disown him for finally admitting that he is in love with an American woman who is neither Muslim or has a Pakistani background. Overall, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable films that I have seen recently and is remarkable for being so funny and uplifting despite being about a young woman in a coma.
Based upon the 1951 novel of the same name written by the British author Daphne du Maurier who is best known for writing Rebecca and The Birds that were adapted into successful films by Alfred Hitchcock, My Cousin Rachel is a well-crafted gothic mystery-romance that is noteworthy for Rachel Weisz’s powerful performance and beautiful cinematography that underscores the dark and foreboding nature of the story. Played by the English actor Sam Claflin, Philip, a young and handsome bachelor taken in by his older cousin Ambrose Ashley after being orphaned at a young age, is heartbroken to learn of his beloved cousin’s death in Florence, Italy where he was recuperating from an illness. Philip also finds out Ambrose recently married a mysterious woman named Rachel in Italy, and Philip becomes increasingly suspicious that she was somehow involved in his death. However, when Rachel, played by the deliciously enigmatic and devious Rachel Weisz, returns to Ambrose’s Cornwall estate that Philip just inherited, Philip’s attitude towards Rachel quickly changes. He soon becomes infatuated with her beauty and seductive charms and disregards his previous suspicions. Possibly poisoning Philip with her special blend of tea and with questionable ulterior motives in returning to England, Philip, in the throes of desire, decides to give all of his inheritance from Ambrose to Rachel. Eventually, Philip with the assistance of his godfather, played by Iain Glen from Game of Thrones, begins to realize too late that something is amiss with Rachel, and he may have been deceived. Besides the sublime acting performances, the setting in the English countryside in the early nineteenth century is effectively used to reinforce the dark and gloomy atmosphere; it is very remote and rainy with spooky candlelit rooms in dreary expansive estates. Overall, I found it to be an excellent mystery-romance period piece with stellar acting, terrifically moody cinematography, and well-timed elements of a slow burn gothic thriller.
An Israeli film with dialogue spoken in Hebrew, The Wedding Plan is a romantic comedy that is able to transcend the genre by providing a unique and creative twist and a charismatic performance by the lead actress. Michal, portrayed by the Israeli actress Noa Koler, is an Orthodox Jewish woman in her early thirties who is finally about to get married after so many desperate years but encounters a serious problem a month before the wedding when her husband calls it off. Adamant to not be single, she decides to leave her fate up to God by continuing to plan to get married on the day that was she was supposed to have her wedding. Despite the urging of her mother and sister not to go ahead with the quite unusual plan, Michal keeps the wedding hall booking in Jerusalem even though she does not have a groom because she has full faith that God will provide her a suitable match in time. Her outlandish decision leads to several comic moments as she employees two Jewish matchmakers who set her up on several blind dates with some fairly unusual men. At one point during the movie, she takes a pilgrimage to Ukraine at the tomb of a famous rabbi where she runs into a dreamy yet unsuitable famous Israeli pop star who eventually falls in love with her. Her family becomes increasingly nervous as the day approaches, but Michal remains confident that everything will work out due to her fervent religiosity. On the day of her planned wedding, the 200 invited guests, along with a now very nervous Michal, awkwardly wait and see if a man will show up to marry her. Everyone is eventually greeted with an unexpected surprise that makes the festivities possible. Overall, I found it to be an interesting and sometimes funny film that mixes religion and romance in unorthodox fashion and showcases the acting performance of an actress who must portray a sometimes contradictory and overly zealous character.