FlixChatter Review: OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019)

I’m glad I got to see this film on National Whistleblower Day last July. It was a very early screening to coincide with that day, which I think is appropriate as many whistleblowers are unsung heroes in my opinion, and they risked a lot to do what they do.

As did Katharine Gun, a British translator working for GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in which this film is about. The film’s storyline is based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion (a mouthful and very descriptive title!) In 2003, she leaked a secret memo to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. Some of the illegal activities involve US National Security Agency eavesdropping on diplomats from countries (the ‘swing nations’ as it were) tasked with passing a crucial UN resolution in favor of the invasion.

The film begins with Katharine leading an ordinary day, cuddling romantically with her husband in bed, watching TV, etc. Filmmaker Gavin Hood (who directed Eye in the Sky, an effective drone warfare thriller) made a point that Katharine vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion—she commented about Tony Blair while watching him on TV. As you recall, he was deeply unpopular when he backed George W. Bush’s foreign policy at the time. Then came the day Katharine stumbled upon that secret memo, and the film shows how she was outraged by that email. There is quite a bit of political jargon and national security info that get over my head a little, but most of the film focuses on Katharine’s journey… how she wrestles with the idea of leaking the confidential memo, thus breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989.

This film could easily be one of those humdrum BOATS (based on a true story) film, but I’m glad to say it’s pretty intriguing. There are some slow parts, and some scenes were overly dramatized, but overall I was invested in Katharine’s story. She sees the Iraq invasion as illegal, and she’s a headstrong woman that she maintains her ground, and her innocence throughout the whole ordeal. She acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war that she deemed unlawful. There are a few suspenseful scenes, notably the time Katharine was interrogated when GCHQ got wind of the ‘leaked memo’ and another one involving her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) who’s from Turkey. The fact that he’s an immigrant is being exploited by the UK authorities to get Katharine to yield. I have to admit that deportation scene is highly resonant to what’s going today and it sends a chill to my heart.

The film boasts a terrific British cast. I thought Keira Knightley, who looks nothing like the blond Katharine (they didn’t even make Keira’s hair lighter in the film) delivers a pretty convincing and affecting portrayal. It’s perhaps a less flashy role, yet one of her most nuanced performances I’ve seen so far. It’s quite a nice break to see her being rather deglamorized here. As for the all-star supporting cast, there are Ralph Fiennes as Katharine’s human-rights attorney, Matthew Goode (wish there were more scenes of him) and Matt Smith as journalists for The Observer, and Rhys Ifans as another British journalist. Though they each play a small role, I think they all provide a memorable turn as the people Katharine came in contact with. I find the whole correspondents between the supporting cast quite entertaining, perhaps because I have such a penchant for these fine British thespians!

Some say the Katharine Gun story as a morality tale of the 21st century, as her legal battle ends up exposing the highest level of government in both UK and US. Katharine was asked if she was ‘anti-war’ and she replied ‘no.’ She said some wars serve a purpose, and in hindsight, we know that the Iraq invasion shouldn’t have taken place. I for one am not a political person nor am I into overly political movies that are one-sided, but that’s not what Official Secrets is about. This thought-provoking film certainly made me ponder what I would do if I were in Katharine’s shoes, would I dare to stand up for what I believe in when it really mattered, risking everything I hold dear when the easiest to do would just to keep quiet.

I’m glad I saw this film as I didn’t really remember the actual events. As far as films about whistleblower goes, this one isn’t quite as gripping as say, The Insider (one of my fave from Michael Mann boasting an Oscar-worthy turn from Russell Crowe). Nonetheless it’s still a pretty solid drama in which the cast made it well worth a watch. I appreciate that they show the real Katharine Gun at the end of the film. I know people don’t usually go to the movies to see smaller dramas like this one, but I highly recommend it and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.


Have you seen OFFICIAL SECRETS? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Advanced Screening Giveaway to OFFICIAL SECRETS

Happy Friday! We have another giveaway for this coming Tuesday!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you + a guest are invited to an advanced screening of OFFICIAL SECRETS in honor of National Whistleblower Day:

Tuesday, July 30
Alamo Drafthouse Twin Cities at 7:30 pm

RSVP using the link below, while supplies last.

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first serve and is not guaranteed.

Witness the untold true story of one woman’s fight for truth. 

She risked everything to stop an unjust war. Her government called her a traitor. Based on world-shaking true events, Official Secrets tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information.

One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

The film also stars Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode and Matt Smith. Official Secrets is directed by Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky)

The film hits select Twin Cities theaters on September 13.


FlixChatter Review: A Bigger Splash (2016)

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When I first heard of this film, I was immediately intrigued by the premise of an idyllic sun-drenched holiday that’s being disrupted by an unexpected visit. The people on holiday are famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). When we’re introduced to the couple, they’re stark naked by the pool on their villa. They read books, sun bathe, make love, basically enjoying a blissful time together in this picturesque remote island of Pantelleria, Italy.

Soon though, their moment of euphoric existence comes at an abrupt stop when Marianne’s old flame suddenly arrives on the island. They reluctantly pick them up at the airport to find Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). What strikes me right away is how exuberant Fiennes was in this role, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so vivacious on screen.

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Things unfold in a rather unhurried fashion. I didn’t realize at first that Marianne is rendered practically mute as she had just undergone throat surgery, so even though there are glimpses of her in rock star mode (a la Bowie), we didn’t hear her voice until later in the film. She communicates with gestures, and Paul pretty much doing the talking for her. I’m glad I hadn’t read much about this film before seeing it, and so I won’t discuss much about the plot in my review. I do however, want to talk about the acting in this film, as it’s truly the highlight.

Fiennes and Swinton are absolutely marvelous here, displaying their acting versatility and proficiency. I’ve mentioned how exuberant Fiennes was. There’s an extended dance sequence where his character express himself through music that’s truly a joy to behold. In contrast, Swinton is much more reserved, communicating her emotions through subtle gestures and facial expressions. I have never seen such a romantic side of Swinton. She looks absolutely sensuous and glamorous here, and casting her as a rock star is absolutely spot on. I also adore every single outfit she wore here, they’re all perfectly-tailored for her. The fact that she’s unable to speak somehow creates an intriguing tension to the nervous energy that’s already present in the group. Every time these two are on screen, I was truly in awe.

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I had seen Schoenaerts in a couple of things (Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française) and he’s certainly got a pleasant countenance about him. He displays a certain unpredictability here that the role of Paul requires. As for Johnson, I have to say she’s the weakest link here but I think it’s more to do with the fact that her character is the most underwritten. Up until the end I don’t really have much of a clue what she is all about and thus it’s hard to care for her character.

Working on a script by David Kajganich, Italian director Luca Guadagnino weaved a tale of jealousy, frustrated passion that escalates to a boiling point. What started out as a drama slowly unravels like a whirlwind and turns into something sinister. I’m glad there’s still that element of surprise and I really didn’t know where things will lead. Unpredictability is always something I appreciate in any story. There’s also a bit of humor thrown in throughout, especially that bit with the local police fangirl-ing over Marianne.

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The island of Pantelleria is practically a character itself in this movie. The stunning cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (who also shot Clouds of Sils Maria) is definitely a plus here, but it’s the gripping story and fantastic performances that made this a memorable endeavor. Being that it’s a European production, there’s a frankness with sexuality and nudity, but yet the way it was shot it didn’t feel crude or distasteful. I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, it felt a bit tedious at times and the filmmaker luxuriate too much on in the scenery. I’ve also mentioned the part about Dakota’s character not being as well-developed. I do think her casting might be more suitable than Margot Robbie who’s initially cast, as she would’ve been too mature-looking to play a late teen.

So overall, this is quite an absorbing psychological drama. I saw this film at a morning press screenings and there were less than five people in the entire theater. That’s too bad as I think this film deserve a larger audience. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something off the beaten path that’s superbly acted.

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Have you seen ‘A Bigger Splash’? I’d love to hear what you think!

Double Reviews: Trumbo (2015) & Hail, Caesar! (2016)

I generally love movies about making movies. Yes it’s like Hollywood taking a giant selfie and we all know there are no shortage of narcissists in the business. Nevertheless I enjoy watching movies about the tales of how a picture got made, especially set in the Golden Age of Hollywood where the behind-the-scenes drama is likely more intriguing than what’s on screen.

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These two films take place in a similar era and boast quite an ensemble cast. One is based on a true story and the other is a work of fiction that feels true, so I thought these two would make a perfect double review.

TRUMBO

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I was familiar with Dalton Trumbo’s story for some time but I never knew the details. As a huge fan of Roman Holiday, I knew he’s a great screen writer, but it turns out he was the best in the biz. At one point he was the highest paid writer in Hollywood and well-respected by studios and peers alike. The film started out in the late 40s with Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) at the height of his career, but then his life took a downward spiral when he’s subpoenaed for being a Communist, accused of using the movies to corrupt democracy and overthrow the nation. He’s later sentenced to a year in federal prison and the scenes of him being humiliated in prison is really quite heartbreaking.

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But what’s even worse than the jail sentence is that Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 writers were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, and not only that, they were kicked out of the Screen Writers Guild as well, which they themselves helped built. Now, I don’t think the film is all that political, it’s more focused on the character of this extraordinary talented man and his journey in Hollywood. But he’s also not perfect, obviously he’s an eccentric man who spent most of his writing in the bath tub and he practically ignored his family unless he needs help with delivering a script discreetly to the studios. The film is quite fascinating and kept my interest throughout, all the quirks of Trumbo and his friends & foes are played wonderfully by a great ensemble of actors.

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My faves are Louis C.K. as screenwriter & Trumbo’s BFF Arlen Hird, John Goodman as a B-movie studio honcho, both had some of the funniest scenes. Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas and German actor Christian Berkel as director Otto Preminger are also pretty memorable here and O’Gorman whom I knew from playing the Fili in the Hobbit movies, had a surprisingly canny resemblance to Mr. Douglas.

I love Helen Mirren in general but here I didn’t think her performance was all that great, to be honest she made a better impression in the Hitchcock film which is of similar genre. Diane Lane is quite good as Trumbo’s wife though she’s not on screen that much, as was in that era, it’s the male cast that really got to shine in this film. In any case, the real star here is Cranston and I’m not surprised he’s nominated for an Oscar. I think his performance carried the film and made it worthwhile. It’s incredible how he captured the voice and mannerism of the real life Trumbo, but more than than, I think he captured his genius as well as his eccentric personality.

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Despite the serious subject matter, the film’s tone is pretty light and fun. There were dark moments to be sure, but director Jay Roach made sure it never lasted for too long. I don’t think it undermines the story however, especially the speech at the end that made you really reflect on the whole ordeal Trumbo and his friends went through. For a film about the greatest screenwriters, the script by John McNamara (based on a book by Bruce Cook) was thankfully quite sharp. The costumes, set pieces, cinematography, and especially the performances, really brought the story to life and made me appreciate Trumbo, and screenwriters in general, even more than I already do.

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Hail, Caesar!

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Now, when the trailer first dropped, I must’ve watched it half a dozen times in one day. It’s a satire of Hollywood big studios and their big stars, told in a day-in-the-life format of a Hollywood fixer called Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Mannix is a fixer who works for Capitol Pictures in the 50s, he’s the man tasked with cleaning up after the biggest names in the industry. Ruthless though he may be, Mannix is a tormented person, so ravaged by guilt that he goes to confession more often that the priest himself care to hear. The movie pretty much picked up when the studio star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set of one of a huge epic movie modeled after Ben-Hur (it even had the same tagline, A Tale of the Christ). Now, the set up promises a lot of intrigue and hilarity but in the end it only partly delivered.
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There are some genuinely hysterical moments, especially the exchange between Alden Ehrenreich and Ralph Fiennes (as an Laurence Olivier-type director) in a film set which had me in stitches. Despite being the least known actor in the cast, Ehrenreich actually had a pretty big part in the movie and he acquitted himself well here. Heck, I think he’s better than Clooney as I actually believed him as the character, instead of just an movie star basically just playing a variation of himself. Whitlock seems like a caricature instead of a real person. I’m not sure whether or not it’s because of Clooney’s own stature and star-wattage or the way the script played out. The plot about Whitlock’s kidnapping would likely amuse (or irate) the real Dalton Trumbo, though the twist played out like something out of an SNL skit.

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Brolin’s Mannix is the most-developed character in this movie and the only one with a real arc. Thankfully Brolin was good in the role and made me care for his plight, but the rest of the ensemble cast filled with the ‘who’s who of current Hollywood establishment’ wasn’t given much to do. I feel like the fun moments peppered throughout just didn’t quite gel as a cohesive film. Many characters came and went without leaving any mark, and SO many actors were underutilized, even Tilda Swinton who played a dual role. Jonah Hill is basically in a blink-and-you-missed-him role, he’s only on screen as much as he was in the trailer. Those who love Channing Tatum‘s dancing will be pleased with him here, but the musical numbers here don’t make much of an impression to me. Now, the Coens’ regular Frances McDormand‘s part is basically a cameo, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable scenes.

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In the end the film seems too random and frivolous, and despite those hilarious moments, ultimately it’s a rather forgettable affair . Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a big disappointment as I’m actually not a huge Coens fan if I’m honest. I actually think this could be one of their most accessible films, and the light tone made it pretty enjoyable, it just lacks the gravitas one expect from the talents involved. The ending also felt anticlimactic to me, and the emotional connection is lacking overall. On a technical level, the film is gorgeous thanks to Roger Deakins’ masterful craft, and the retro costumes are nice to look at. If you’re a big Coens fan, this one is still well worth a rent, just don’t expect this to be another one of their classic hits.

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So, have you seen either one of these films? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: SPECTRE (2015)

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I wonder if the way I feel about the Bond song somehow impacts how I feel about the film itself. Some of my least favorite Bond songs are The Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day, and Quantum of Solace, and those are also my least favorite Bond films. I already mentioned in this post how much I abhorred Sam Smith’s latest, Writing’s on the Wall which sounds more like fingernails on a chalk board. Unfortunately for me, during the press screening, I had to endure that song not once but twice as they played Sam Smith’s music video before the movie, so I had to suffer through THAT song once again during the opening title [sigh]

Of course it’s ludicrous to judge a Bond movie from the song, so I was prepared for an awesome Bond film. To be fair, the melody of the song itself is actually not bad, with Thomas Newman back scoring this again after Skyfall. Well, the first 15 minutes is certainly promising. It’s tradition that Bond films open with a bang and this one is no different, starting with a foot chase through a throng of huge crowd during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. It’s followed by a spectacular fight scene aboard a helicopter flying above the main square. If we’re to judge a movie by cinematography alone, Spectre is excellent, thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema whose done amazing work in Her and Interstellar recently.

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Plot-wise, Spectre has a lot going for it, at least on paper. The parallel conflicts that Bond and M are facing in the film also promises an extra layer of intrigue, in addition to the personal vendetta that runs through the vein of Daniel Craig‘s Bond films. A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization and somehow he ends up going rogue. Meanwhile, his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with a crisis of his own as the head of Joint Intelligence Service (which merged MI5 and MI6) threatened to shut down the double-O section. It’s an intriguing set up and as a massive Bond fan, I expect once again to be bowled over.

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Alas, after that spectacular opening, the film seems to lose momentum and never quite claim it back. All the high-octane action didn’t have quite the adrenaline rush I expected from a Bond movie. Even the car chase through the streets of Rome feels rather stale, it’s like I’ve seen a far more exciting car chase scene in previous Bond movies and recently in its rival franchise, Mission Impossible 5. Then there’s the unintentional humor that makes it hard to take the film seriously. The two times Bond wooed two of the beautiful Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, the scenes elicit laughter from the audience. It feels so obligatory and cringe-worthy, a far cry from the intriguing AND sexy love affair between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale. Vesper was a complex character with a compelling story arc, but here the two Bond girls aren’t given the same courtesy. It’s sad to see an actress of Bellucci’s stature be utterly wasted here.
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The film also promises a massive super villain, the mother lode of all villains Bond has encountered in his past, “I’m the source of all your pain,” Oberhauser tells him once Bond gets to his lair. So it’s quite a let down that this supposedly fearsome, ultra-powerful mastermind turns out to be not so menacing at all. Remember how sinister Christoph Waltz was in Inglourious Basterds? Well, here he’s nothing more than a clichéd psychopath throwing tantrums at Bond because of… a childhood feud. Huh? No less than FOUR screenwriters credited here, three of whom also worked on Skyfall, and all they could come up with is THIS half-baked story? [spoiler alert] I find it hard to believe that Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chifre, who was effortlessly menacing AND intriguing in Casino Royale, actually worked for this lame, petulant nutjob.

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Sam Mendes and his team of writers seems to have recycled a lot of what’s been done in previous Bond films with nothing new to add to the franchise. In fact, in terms of the treatment of the Bond girls, it’s a step backward. The film seems to aim for a darker story but the execution feels light and even unintentionally comical. I realize that Bond films aren’t expected to be too deep or poignant, but even the fun, escapism factor seems to be missing in this one as Mendes can’t decide what kind of Bond movie he wants this to be. At times it harkens back to the Roger Moore era, which is a jarring contrast to the more pensive and grittier tone established in Craig’s films.

The returning characters from Skyfall are still good in their roles. I do like Ralph Fiennes as M but yet he still can’t hold a candle to how fantastic Judi Dench was in the role. Moneypenny and Q (Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw) have bit more to do in supporting 007, though not so much that would make any real impact in the movie. Andrew Scott, who’s excellent in the Sherlock series, is just serviceable here, but Dave Bautista certainly lives up to other big, burly but taciturn henchmen of Bond’s past. The fight scene on the train is certainly an homage to From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me with my favorite henchman, Jaws.

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As for the titular hero, I still like Craig as Bond, but more often than not he looks bored in this movie. It’s as if he’s weary of the same old types of shenanigans and hollow sexual escapades in various exotic locations. Yes I know Bond’s supposed to have this devil-may-care attitude but I think there’s a sense of fatigue that the actor can’t quite conceal. Perhaps it’s telling when Craig said in an interview recently how he’d rather slash his wrist than play James Bond again. It’s tacky to bite the hand that feeds you, but I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

It’s a pity because this could’ve been a truly great swan song for Craig if he were to retire as Bond (though I think he’d be back for at least one more). I like the fact that four of his films are connected in some way, though the constant throwback to his previous films also invites the inevitable comparison. If I were to rank Craig’s Bond films now, Spectre is just slightly more watchable than Quantum of Solace, but falls far short of the greatness of Casino Royale and Skyfall.

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Spectre might’ve topped the box office, but it’s nowhere near the top of the best Bond films for me. So I guess that awful theme song is sort of a warning about the movie. Bond’s most personal mission barely evoke any emotional response as the protagonist himself didn’t even seem to care. There’s just no compelling human drama here in this largely soulless affair. Overall the payoff just doesn’t live up to all that build-up and frankly, the film is just forgettable. I saw it four days ago yet I barely remember anything about it. It’s such a bummer really, this movie even made this loyal Bond fan think that perhaps I’ve outgrown this franchise a bit.

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Well, what did you think of Spectre? Did you like it more or less than I did?

Trailers Spotlight: Hail, Caesar! + Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Hey, so maybe February isn’t a dead movie month after all. Here are two movies coming out on February 5 that I’m actually looking forward to seeing!

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Sometimes a trailer came along and you’ve instantly become obsessed with it though you haven’t even heard of it before. Hail, Caesar! is such a movie and I’ve seen it three times since this morning. Glad to see the Coens working on their own movie after a couple of years absence (though they wrote Unbroken last year and also on the TV show FARGO, so they’re still keeping busy).

I have to say that I LOVE the Coens’ dark comedies and this definitely has their quirky and wacky brand of humor all over it.

A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.



The star-studded cast is appropriately-filled with today’s movie stars, perfect for a satire about Hollywood golden age: George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and the Coens’ perennial favorite Frances McDormand. This marks McDormand’s eighth collaboration with her husband Joel Coen and brother-in-law Ethan. It’s got a lot of actors reunions too: Fiennes & Swinton were in Grand Budapest Hotel & A Bigger Splash and of course Tatum & Hill in the Jump Street movies.

Clooney seems to be channeling/spoofing Richard Burton? That part when he can’t remember his lines is just hilarious, love Clooney in comedies and even Josh Brolin looks like a hoot here. I always love seeing serious actors in comedic roles, so I’m thrilled to see Fiennes doing more of that lately.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Now, this one I’ve been anticipating in a while and though it may not be a great flick, it sure looks like fun. You already know I’m a big fan of period dramas, and so the bizarre twist of combining Jane Austen’s classic with zombies is just impossible to resist!

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Lily James seems ready for some knife action bad-assery here. “Have courage and be kind” is her motto as Cinderella, well she seems to abide by the first part, but I don’t think even her gentle mother would advise her to be kind to flesh-eating zombies!!


I’m one of the few people who enjoyed the preposterous silliness of previous Seth Grahame-Smith’s adaptation Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter so I think I’d enjoy this one, too. Lena Headey is listed in the cast, but no character name is mentioned on IMDb but I have a feeling she’ll play Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Darcy’s super bitchy aunt and that’d be perfect casting. I’m also looking forward to seeing Jack Huston as the dastardly Wickham.

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Thoughts? Are you excited for either one of these movies?

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite MALE Performances of the Year

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Well, now that I’ve posted my Top 10 Movies of the year and picked my Top 10 favorite FEMALE Performances and Top 10 Film Scores of the year, I’m finally down to my last 2014 Recap list. It’s quite a crowded category, more so than the female counterpart, as obviously there are more roles for men as there are for women on any given year. But I’m still picking only 10 on the main list, and another 10 15 on Honorable Mentions (there are just too many to keep it to just 10). Naturally these are performances from films I got a chance to see last year. So in case you’re wondering where’s Jake Gyllenhaal, Eddie Redmayne or J.K. Simmons, well I haven’t seen Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything nor Whiplash.

Same w/ the ladies, this list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

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It’s one of those transformative roles that all actors are privileged to get but not everyone can pull it off. Well, I always think that Steve Carell is a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for and Foxcatcher‘s director Bennet Miller said during our interview that “…it’s exciting when an actor breaks out of what’s expected of them.” But it takes so much more than just putting on a fake nose to create a convincing character. I’ve seen him in serious roles before in Little Miss Sunshine, but took his dramatic potential up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. As I’m writing this, I couldn’t help recalling his earlier role as Evan Baxter in Bruce Almighty, yet I couldn’t fathom that they’re played by the same actor!

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

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Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger to playing an eccentric genius on screen. But apart from being British and a brainiac, Alan Turing couldn’t be more different than his Sherlock persona. Cumberbatch effortlessly captures that brilliant intellect and that arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the world around him, but he also convincingly conveys Turing’s inner tumult. The final scenes where Turing is treated as a social outcast is the film’s most heart-wrenching moments. All the pain, anguish and utter despair is palpable on Cumberbatch’s face but without a moment of overacting. It’s no doubt the actor’s shining hour, a personal best even amongst his already impressive resume.

3. Chris Evans – Snowpiercer

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In a year when he’s truly coming into his own as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America in its sequel, Chris Evans also emerges as a capable indie leading man. Certain actors often become stuck to play certain roles because of how they look and I think Evans is one them. But Evans is more than just a pretty face & a hot body, even if his role choices are questionable at times. I saw that he has dramatic chops in Puncture but this is an even more complex role – not to mention a better-crafted film overall – and he gets to show what he can do as an actor. As a conflicted rebel leader with a dark past, Evans displays an unusually somber, soulful and heartfelt performance. I’d love to see him tackle more dramatic roles like this in the future, he certainly has it in him.

4. Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Whilst Carell is comedian playing a dark role, the normally-serious Ralph Fiennes got to do the opposite. It’s such a thrill to see him being so goofy here, and he seems to relish in the character’s inherent zany-ness. Apparently Wes Anderson wrote this role specifically for him, which I think is an inspired choice that absolutely paid off. His deadpan delivery is really fun to watch here, and he has that effortless elegance about him too that fits the role of the legendary concierge M. Gustave.

5. Tom Hardy – Locke

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It takes an actor of a certain charisma to hold your attention for 1.5 hour long when all you see is him inside a car the entire time. But charisma can only go so far without the skills, but thankfully, Hardy’s got both. This is the first film with him in the leading role, after seeing him stealing scenes left and right in films like Rocknrolla, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises. He was a co-lead (with Joel Edgerton) in Warrior, an intensely physical role that he offsets with layers of vulnerability. As a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life, his body is barely shown the entire movie, so he had to rely on his eyes and facial features to convey every single emotion. Suffice to say, he delivered with aplomb. It’s a mesmerizingly-nuanced performance that confirms my opinion that Hardy as one of the finest actors working today. Seems that he’s only just getting warmed up.

6. Michael Keaton – Birdman

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One of the highlights of 2014 cinema for me is definitely seeing the perpetually-underrated Michael Keaton getting a career resurgence. I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember, as he’s the kind of actor who can tackle hard-hitting drama as well as silly comedic roles effortlessly. In Birdman he gets a chance to tackle both and he relish in that opportunity. He’s been garnering kudos left and right and he’s the one I’m rooting for the entire award season. The fact that there are many similarities between his character Riggan and his professional acting life certainly adds a dose of amusement as well as authenticity to his portrayal. Keaton infused Riggan with such depth and genuine pathos that even during some of the film’s most bizarre scenes as Riggan descend into madness, he’s always emotionally engaging.

7. James McAvoy – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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If only you more people had seen at least one version of this romantic drama, even just to see how good both lead actors are. McAvoy’s co-star Jessica Chastain is on my Top 10 list of Female Performers from the same film. I’ve been a fan of James McAvoy since Atonement and the Scottish actor has since done an amazing job balancing big blockbusters like X-Men: First Class to small indies like this one. He’s an instantly likable actor who I vehemently believe is more talented than people give him credit for. What I love about McAvoy is that there’s always such a natural way to his acting that you instantly believe he’s that character. Here he wears his character Conor like an old shoe, a man desperately trying to somehow regain his lost love. There is a moment in the film where Conor is alone in an empty apartment and he reminisce on his marriage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a shame that AMPAS doesn’t even notice this film as both Chastain & McAvoy’s marvelous performances are certainly Oscar-worthy.

8. Edward Norton – Birdman

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Another highlights from Birdman and why this is truly one of the best films of the decade is seeing Ed Norton in a role worthy of his talent. It’s definitely a scene-stealing role in a film that’s already jam-packed with fine performances. Just like his co-star Keaton, Norton did a brilliant dramatic and comedic turn as a self-absorbed diva of an actor who’s more comfortable in his own skin when he’s on stage. All the scenes of him and Keaton are truly the film’s highlights as both actors not only baring their skin down to their underwear, but they also bare themselves emotionally. It’s too bad that he probably won’t win an Oscar again this year, but I sure hope the three-time Oscar nominee won’t be wasted playing second/third banana in subpar movies like Bourne Legacy ever again.

9. David Oyelowo – Selma

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I’ve made my quibbles known about one of the egregious snubs of this year’s Oscar. But if there is justice in the world, this wouldn’t be the last we see Oyelowo’s name being mentioned during cinema’s award season. Even in bit parts in a myriad of movies ranging from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Help, Jack Reacher, etc., I always notice his performance. He finally got to shine in a prominent supporting role as Forrest Whitaker’s teenage son in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which also deals with the Civil Rights Movement. It’s interesting that a year later he got to play the key figure in that historical movement, a role that I read he’s been dreaming to play for some time. Oyelowo didn’t just get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mannerism and speaking style right, it’s more than just a brilliant impersonation but he truly embodied the role. What’s more, he portrayed Dr. King as not just a heroic figure but as a man, flawed and plagued with doubts just like any regular person would. He is just as convincing as a powerful and persuasive orator as he is in the quieter scenes that demand subtle nuances. I can’t wait to see what Oyelowo will tackle next.

10. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 

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Is there anything Mark Ruffalo can’t do? I feel like I’ve been missing out as for whatever reason I didn’t really pay attention to him until recently. I was going to list his performance in Begin Again but technically that’s a 2013 film, but man what an astounding display of versatility. His role as an Olympic pro-wrestler David Schultz in Foxcatcher couldn’t be more different than a distressed & disheveled record producer in Begin Again but he’s utterly believable in both. Ruffalo’s role is actually the least flashy compared to Steve Carell’s and Channing Tatum’s, but his character is no doubt the heart of the film. It’s a role that demands the perfect amount of nuance and subtlety and Ruffalo pulls it off wonderfully. The video interview scene alone when he’s asked to describe Carell’s character is simply masterful, I remember marveling at how good his performance was as I was watching it. I think that might’ve been what earned him his second Oscar nomination.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I truly didn’t expect to see some names would end up on this list. I honestly have never seen Tyler Perry nor Zach Galifianakis in anything other than clips of their movies, but they definitely left an impression on me in their respective films. There are some big breakthroughs here too, especially Dan Stevens and Chris Pratt, garnering a lot of buzz in their successful starring roles. There are also some perennial favorites of mine who definitely still got it (Keanu Reeves), as well as a brand new actor I’ve never seen before. Manish Dayal‘s like the male counterpart of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for me and I hope to see him more movies! As for Guy Pearce, I sure hope that he will get the recognition he deserves one day as he’s simply a phenomenal actor.

Here they are in random order:


Thoughts on these male performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?