Great Emerging Young Actors EditionBuried
This month's edition of Netflix Picks will be focused on the incredible crop of young actors and young directors who are exploding onto the scene of late, and why not start that list with the least likely of all (not to mention the most Halloween-friendly) flick/thespian on the list. Ryan Reynolds (Yeah, that Ryan Reynolds) gives a stunning performance as Paul Conroy, an everyman who, as the film opens, wakes up to find himself buried in a coffin underground with only a half-powered cell phone and a lighter to comfort him. The second feature from Director Rodrigo Cortés, Buried is made a stirring and unsettling vision by its commitment to not letting the audience off easy. The camera never once leaves the box, placing the entire weight of the film on Reynolds, his mesmerizingly real senses of panic, dread, frustration, and humanity all wholly realized. Screenwriter Chris Sparling even managed to snag a Best Original Screenplay award from the National Board of Review, though the movie flopped horribly in the American box office. One of my very favorite flicks from all of last year, if you love good film, or are curious about what it looks like when Reynolds tries, you owe it to yourself to give this One a shot. Just don't blame me when your palms start to sweat. This guy is stressful.
The secret on Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been out for quite a while now, and Brick sits right at the forefront of his big coming out party. The directorial debut of Rian Johnson (who's fun follow-up The Brother Bloom certified him as a name to watch), Brick tells the story of Brendan, a teenager who's public school experience differs a bit from my own, and hopefully yours as well. His ex-girlfriend has just gone missing, and it's up to Brendan alone to delve into the seedy underbelly of his (cough) high school. The prospect of a revamped film noir taking place in the suburbs with culprits who still live under their parents' roofs admittedly sounds dicey, but Johnson makes the most of his unlikely trappings, stuffing the film with incident and mystery. Nearly every character uses excessive slang that seems to exist in the social universe of this movie alone, and it's Gordon-Levitt's command of this speech, as well as his magnetic, emotive screen presence, that glues the thing together. A scintillating yarn that keeps the viewer guessing from first frame to last, Brick is a great showcase for Gordon-Levitt's talent (which is currently being put to wondrous use in the terrific 50/50), not to mention being a hell of a flick in it's own right.
It's been a big year for Ryan Gosling, starting out with rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love. before moving on to a captivating turn in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, and now starring in the new George Clooney film The Ides of March, which opens on Friday. But those who have only thought of Gosling as, 'that guy from The Notebook,' up until now might be surprised to find that the heart-throb has actually given a series of jaw-dropping performances, including Half Nelson, for which he received a Best Actor nomination, the seventh-youngest actor to ever receive such an honor (and the youngest since John Travolta in 1977 for Saturday Night Fever, the rest of the list dating back to 1956 or earlier). He stars as Dan Duune, an inner-city middle school teacher and girl's basketball coach who manages to genuinely inspire and engage his students... in between trips to the bathroom to nurse his coke habit. Duune's secret is discovered by strong, stoic teen Drey (Shareeka Epps), and the Two form an unlikely bond. Beautifully composed by co-directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (who's last feature sadly left me reeeeeally cold), Half Nelson is an emotionally draining experience that asks tough questions without giving easy answers, a film highlighted by Gosling's stellar central turn. As always, the actor puts his signiture charisma to good use, but it's his clear sense of inner turmoil that keeps your eyes glued. Featuring a soundtrack almost entirely composed of Broken Social Scene's career-best album You Forgot it in People, Half Nelson is an emotional roller-coaster, and yet another example of just how much Gosling can offer a single film.
Tom Hardy might be a slightly smaller name in a slightly smaller movie, but his titular Bronson performance is nothing if not massive. The film follows the life and times of Michael Gordon Peterson (Hardy), who, following an attempted theft, finds himself imprisoned at a young age. As it turns out, worse things could have happened: As he tells the camera in the movie's surreal opening moments, Peterson has always wanted to be a star, and his natural tendency towards violence makes the joint a perfect place to do this. Beating up prison guards becomes Peterson's calling card, swapping out his old name for his glamourous, 'fighting name,' a title that the movie shares. Bronson is directed by macho-ism wunderkind Nicolas Winding Refn, who's insane new flick Drive can still be seen in theaters, but for my money, this is his more satisfying vision. Bronson locates a strange place where animal magnetism and sordid celebrity rule the world, and Hardy knows just how to occupy such a universe. Taking turns as both a humorous charmer and a fearsome beast, Hardy dominates the role from front to back, One of the most compelling physical performances that you're likely to ever see. Hardy is only really known to American audiences as shape-shifter Eames in Inception, but by this time next year, he will have already starred as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and on this evidence, he's going to be knocking that One out of the park. Beat the crowd, and see this movie now.
It's saying something that Hunger proves the most disturbing film on a list that includes prison beatings, missing youths, crack addicted teachers, and being buried alive, but I suppose that's just the kind of film that we're dealing with here. Hunger tells the story of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, an event promoted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), a group that sought equal rights and political status, sometimes through violent means. Michael Fassbender, an actor first known in the states for his role in Inglourious Basterds who has since starred in the latest Jane Eyre adaptation, as well as this Summer's X-Men: First Class, shines as IRA volunteer Bobby Sands, a man with enough determination and ambition to starve himself to death should the cause necessitate it. His performance is tragic and grand, highlighted not only be scenes of skin-crawling physical deterioration, but also a 17-minute-long shot of him and another man simply talking at a table that radiates heat and philosophical quandaries. Director Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen), is able to locate tortured beauty amidst all the madness, his fully-formed style and unwavering determination making Hunger One of the most striking Directorial debuts to come along in quite some time. Later this year, McQueen and Fassbender will team up again for Shame, a film that has been lighting up the festival circuit for some months now. Don't wait until then to see what these Two are all about.