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Oscars 2016: Best Actress

Curse you, Charlotte Rampling (for a number of reasons). All of the women nominated in this category were nominated for films with one-word titles, but you couldn’t just star in “45” could you? I digress, although this may be the best category this year, full of outstanding actresses giving career-best performances. Three first-time nominees are going head-to-head with old Academy favorites, and the talent on display here is impeccable. Even though there may be a blatantly clear winner, like often happens with the Best Actress category, that doesn’t mean she’s out of the woods yet, as much can change in four weeks like we all know too well.

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Best Actress: The Nominees

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room – Will Win, Should Win

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Power Rankings: Larson-Ronan-Rampling-Blanchett-Lawrence

Brie Larson has this one in the bag, and she deserves it. One of my favorites from last year, Larson is tremendous in Room, exhibiting probably every emotional possible within a two-hour time span. I called this one a long time ago, as Brie Larson was announced to be playing Ma, a pitch-perfect choice for such a brilliant novel. Besides destroying everything in her path at festivals and the guild awards (I managed to catch a glimpse of her at the BFI London Film Festival), the AMPAS adorned the film, and it managed to squeeze into Picture, Director, and Screenplay nominations, earning the big four.

So where does that leave the remaining nominees? Well, one could certainly make a case for the exquisite Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, another one of my favorites from 2015. While she may not have that scene like Larson, Rampling, and Lawrence, the young Irish actress has managed to snag a number of trophies, mostly from across the pond. Whatever her prospects, this definitely will not be the only nomination Ronan receives in her lifetime.

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Controversy aside, Charlotte Rampling is devastatingly compelling in Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, which I finally managed to see over the weekend. She doesn’t have many lines, but when she does she delivers with such complexity. She is able to conjure up emotions from just the look on her face. Although it is a small film, Rampling definitely deserves her place. Unfortunately for Cate Blanchett, being a recent winner for Blue Jasmine in 2014 won’t do her any favors for her title role in Carol. I wasn’t as smitten by her performance as I was for her co-star Rooney Mara, but Blanchett does remarkable work (although when does she not?) Academy favorite Jennifer Lawrence takes the final spot for her role in Joy, the film’s only nomination. Her work with David O. Russell keeps paying dividends, and while she took home the Golden Globe in a traditionally weak category, she doesn’t hold a candle to the other ladies.

As for the snubs, there weren’t too many, as this is the strongest category this year. Many thought veterans Blythe Danner, Helen Mirren, or Maggie Smith would take a spot away from Lawrence, although history has shown the Academy loves to skew younger for this category. Wild card Amy Schumer would’ve been a breath of fresh air for her great work in Trainwreck, but the Academy doesn’t normally go for pure raunch. For my personal nomination, I give Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The young newbie has years ahead of her, but like Rampling, is able to stir up emotions just by facial expression alone. The film may be too progressive for some voters (see the omission of Carol from the top prize), but Powley shines in the indie treasure, and I hope she takes home the Independent Spirit Award in a few weeks.

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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in 2016 Academy Awards

 

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Oscars 2016: Best Supporting Actress

Ditto the most interesting comment from my previous post. Best Supporting Actress has the luxury of being one of the few categories that still doesn’t have a runaway winner. Predictions on who would be nominated in this category were off the wall, as the two frontrunners could have made a case in Best Actress thanks to their heavy screen time. In the end, AMPAS settled with Supporting Actress for these two, and the rest fell into line as SAGs and Globes stirred the pot.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol – Should Win

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl – Will Win

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Power Rankings: Vikander-Mara-Winslet-Leigh-McAdams

For a while, it seemed like the only woman in contention here was Jennifer Jason Leigh. While she is indeed the best part of The Hateful Eight, the film’s lukewarm response has killed the buzz significantly. While it would be a big career resurgence for Leigh, the push simply isn’t there right now.

I see this one boiling down to Vikander versus Mara, two young competitors who give beautiful and heartfelt performances. I finally saw The Danish Girl, and thought Vikander nailed it. She’s had quite a year, and the Academy likes to go for the “it girl” of the moment narratives (see: the love for Jennifer Lawrence), even if it may not be the best performance of the bunch. Although many believe Alicia Vikander belongs in the Best Actress category, she may have put herself in a pickle since her more critically-acclaimed and actually supporting role could be found in Ex Machina, which netted her a Golden Globe nomination. As for Rooney Mara, she pairs wonderfully with Cate Blanchett, and her win might be the only one Carol goes home with on Oscars night. A shame because the film is remarkable but Mara did give the best performance of the five.

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While Kate Winslet may have received a last-minute boost from her Golden Globe win for Steve Jobs, the buzz for that film simply isn’t there as well. I wasn’t enamored with her performance, but I did adore the film, and it’s a shame it didn’t receive more love. Chalk it up to Steve Jobs biopic fatigue. And while Rachel McAdams stole the final slot, Spotlight has the disadvantage of being an ensemble. While the SAG Award may have confirmed a Spotlight win for Best Picture, I don’t see any of the cast breaking out last-minute.

Had Clouds of Sils Maria been released with a traditional Oscar-narrative, I could’ve seen Kristen Stewart going home big. She’s my personal nomination for Supporting Actress, for a role that earned her a Cesar Award, the first ever for an American actress. A strong campaign could’ve at least put her further into the conversation. Other omissions include Jane Fonda for Youth and Helen Mirren for Trumbo, but this category tends to skew younger and for more ‘moment’ actresses rather than seasoned pros. The Trumbo miss is troubling, as the film has seen a comeback unlike any other. Great performances also came from Joan Allen in Room and Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy, the latter of which I expected over McAdams, for being the best part of one of my favorite films from last year, as well as being an ‘it girl’ right now.

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Posted by on February 6, 2016 in 2016 Academy Awards

 

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Oscars 2016: Best Supporting Actor

Arguably the most interesting of the acting categories this year, Best Supporting Actor is always prone to a high degree of drama and conspiracy, as category fraud runs amuck post-Golden Globes. You can argue the screen time of these fine actors, but there are never clear guidelines as to what constitutes a ‘supporting’ role. Drama aside, these are one of the few categories this year that don’t feel locked down this point in Oscar season. Surprise nominees have changed the game and studios campaigning in categories where their performers don’t belong have made the supporting roles the most volatile, and we may be looking at some surprises come February.

This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures', Warner Bros. Pictures' and New Line Cinema's drama "Creed," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) ORG XMIT: CAET190

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies – Should Win

Sylvester Stallone, Creed – Will Win

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I love Stallone’s narrative after the surprise success of Creed. He’s never won an Oscar, and what a better way to pay tribute to the acting veteran than a win for the role that made him so renown. If the Oscars go this route, which they most likely will, I have no qualms because Stallone is great in the movie, but I think there a few better actors on this list, technically speaking. Mark Rylance, who was probably the only sure thing in this list when we were talking last October, gives a quietly destructive performance in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Despite the film’s wavering success post-release, Rylance has been the one constant that critics can agree on. A first-time nominee, Rylance hasn’t had a role like this before, and it’s a knock out (Creed joke).

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The other three nominees is where this category gets interesting, because I could honestly see any of them taking home the trophy as well. Christian Bale is probably the most likely of the three remainders, which would be a shame because I think Steve Carrell gives the best performance in The Big Short. Nevertheless, Bale is on a roll with supporting roles as of late, able to blend into these eccentric characters (see: American Hustle) with ease. As far as Tom Hardy is concerned, despite being the saving grace in that unbearable film, I wouldn’t count him out as well – we could be looking at another Dallas Buyers Club Actor-Supporting Actor victory. Mark Ruffalo takes the last spot as the inevitable Spotlight nominee, beating out fellow Michael Keaton in an explosive performance, but one that most likely won’t go down as one of his best. Spotlight is juggling a lot on its plate right now, and it may be difficult to gauge its prospects, but I have a hard time imagining a Ruffalo victory Oscars night. His narrative repeats itself again from last year’s Foxcatcher, another chilly film with great performances, and if history repeats itself then he’ll be left out in the cold.

So who was left off the final list this year? Many. Room’s Jacob Tremblay was right on the bubble for this one, and he would’ve been a refreshing change of pace for a category that normally skewers older. Given the AMPAS’s love for the film (including Best Picture and Director nominations), I was shocked by this one after Tremblay’s SAG nomination. Other near misses included Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation and Jason Mitchell for Straight Outta Compton, two diverse performances that are the best parts of their respective films. Elba’s omission is especially head-scratching, given how well he’s been received including a Golden Globe and ISA nomination. My personal nomination for this category, however, would’ve been Jason Segel in The End of the Tour. The quiet Sundance film didn’t make much of a splash on the fall circuit, but Segel gives the performance of his career as author David Foster Wallace.

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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in 2016 Academy Awards

 

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Best of 2015: Movies

We’re right in the middle of awards season, and things are going to be heating up over the coming weeks as nominations are announced right and left. 2015 was a big year for movies, as we saw record-breaking grosses along with new distribution models and the domination of Walt Disney Studios. I gained a lot of new favorite movies this year, and my list runs the gamut of blockbusters to the art house specialties.

Honorable MentionsThe Walk, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Martian, Sicario, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Bridge of Spies

And now, my Top 10 Movies of 2015:

Carol

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Beautifully told and gorgeously shot, Carol succeeds in all departments. The story of two young women who fall for each other in 1950s New York feels like a relic of time gone by. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are convincing lovers, and sell you on their love with minimal dialogue. Sly looks, sensual provocations bring Carol and Therese together, and the film is a perfect representation of what makes people fall in love. Todd Haynes’s has such respect and admiration for his protagonists, and he extends that care to the filmmaking, with breathtaking cinematography and costume design.

The Big Short

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The Big Short, like Steve Jobs, is a riveting drama with its own rhythm. Adam McKay’s film gives you a behind-the-curtain look at what caused the housing collapse of 2008, and if this sounds like a bore, trust me, it’s anything but. The accessible approach makes it an appropriate film for any adult looking to learn some economics but also what caused them to lose their job. It’s a film that will make you mad but also intrigue you. The Big Short‘s ensemble of characters gives you a new perspective on the national economy.

Trainwreck

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Judd Apatow’s protagonists are always stunted in emotional growth, and what makes Trainwreck so invigorating is Amy’s transformation over the course of the two-hour film. She goes from carefree serial dater to mature professional 21st century woman, but her journey never feels like an “A to B.” Her speed bumps along the way harden her emotionally, and you’ll lust for her new relationship with Aaron to go well for her own sake. The film never makes judgments about behavior, as every character in Amy’s life has flaws of their own. Amy Schumer’s star vehicle is more than a great case for her leading lady status, it’s a complex yet straightforward raunchy comedy with an unforgiving cast of characters and sharp writing.

Love & Mercy

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Music biopics are a dime a dozen, but the best ones are the ones that truly understand their subject. Comparing it to Straight Outta Compton might seem presumptuous, but both these films are creative endeavors that reflect the artists’ music as an extension of the artist themselves. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy, however, is unique in its take on Beach Boys’ frontman Brian Wilson’s life, as it tells a parallel narrative of Wilson’s life in the 1960s and his life in the 1980s. The two different actors show Wilson’s transformation from troubled creative to patient zero but never feel disconnected from the overall narrative. Gorgeously directed music recording sequences are contrasted with the somber reflective second half of Wilson’s life, and the links between the two are never ostentatious, always accessible.

Spotlight

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Spotlight is unbelievable. Tough subject matter aside, this is a thrilling film, back when journalism would be described as “hard-hitting.” The ensemble is remarkable, and seeing them grapple with the personal and professional stress of the story is made riveting thanks to director Tom McCarthy’s emotionally rich script. It’s a film about deception and scandal, but also one about truth and justice, as the Spotlight team knows the stakes behind this story are sky-high. Coupled with great production design and more than a few standout sequences, Spotlight joins the ranks of Zero Dark Thirty and the podcast Serial as the best modern-day journalistic endeavors.

Mistress America

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Screwball at its finest, Noah Baumbach’s second film of 2015 is one of his greatest, and marks his collaborations with Greta Gerwig as one of the finest in the indie business. There are a lot of films and programs about millennials in New York City, and Mistress America‘s take on a young college girl who bonds with her soon-to-be sister is simply a delight. There’s shades of Woody Allen here as the city comes to life as a supporting character, but the friendship between Tracy and Brooke is the real heart and soul, and gives the film a personality of its own. It’s the kind of film that you put in on a rainy afternoon, as it sucks you into their world and makes you feel not like an observer of the hijinks, but a real participator.

Brooklyn

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On the surface, there may not be anything immediately fascinating about the movie Brooklyn. The story is not the most complex one, and it may look like a typical immigrant tale if you’re just window shopping. But Brooklyn’s simplicity is what makes it stand out, and it was refreshing to see a movie so classically told, one that won’t make you scream or shout, but rather one you’ll be admiring for years to come. Saoirse Ronan sells you on Eilis’s experience, as she’s torn between her new home in New York and her old one in Ireland. The elegant simplicity of the filmmaking and writing allows Brooklyn to focus on other things, and the result is a new classic, one that will never feel old or dated.

Room

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I was possibly the biggest emotional wreck in the theater after the movie Room. Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, and brought to the screen by director Lenny Abrahamson, Room has such a marvelous first act that you might wonder if the film can keep up the pace for the remainder of the film. Told beautifully and made with the tender touch of a mother, Room makes such a convincing bond between Ma and Jack. You’ll grow frustrated with them but also yearn for their release, and both Brie Larson and young actor Jacob Tremblay tap into these fictional characters and make them feel “ripped from the headlines” real.

Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs is electric filmmaking. The film retains such a rhythm throughout its entire run, and it makes the experience feel like you’re watching history being made, which you kind of are. Michael Fassbender gives the best performance of his career as the enigmatic Jobs, and Danny Boyle’s film allows him to explore new angles of Jobs that we may not have previously known. The brilliant three-act structure gives a Shakespearian atmosphere to the whole affair, and Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin never let the film lose momentum. Boasting brilliant direction and some great supporting turns from Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs is unlike any other film you’ll see this year.

Inside Out

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Many (including this writer) thought that Pixar’s glory days were behind them, yet Inside Out is the studio’s best film to date. It’s worth repeating that Inside Out is a creative masterpiece, overflowing with ingenuity and attention to detail, with accomplished voice actors and a beautiful score. But then again, so are all of Pixar’s films. What makes Inside Out so special is that it may be the first animated film truly made for adults and children. Yeah, there are jokes that range from slapstick to witty quips, but the emotional mileage that Inside Out gets out of its protagonist Riley is simply unprecedented. You’ll think of your own adolescence as Riley struggles with hers, you’ll relate to Joy and Sadness and their adventure through Riley’s head, you’ll laugh and cry along with Riley’s parents as they adjust to a new home. What Inside Out does is make these experiences universal, while allowing the viewer to make it personal. All of this is coated with the signature Disney-Pixar polish that we’ve known and loved, and you’ve got a new classic for the ages.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Other

 

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The Big Short

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For all of its juvenile tendencies, The Big Short stays grounded in harsh and distressing reality during its entire 2-hour plus running time. There hasn’t really been a movie like this about the 2008 economic crisis, and what Adam McKay has done here is make more than an accessible behind-the-scenes financial drama. The character stakes are incredibly high, as the audience knows the outcome, but McKay’s smart filmmaking allows the film to subvert expectations in every unorthodox way.

From the director of Anchorman of all places, The Big Short is based on the 2010 novel by Michael Lewis (of “The Blind Side” and “Moneyball” fame). It’s a money drama to be sure, yet the most important thing about The Big Short is that it remains accessible. For all of its talk of subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations, the film doesn’t hit you over the head with jargon, and explains the important bits when absolutely necessary (with help from a few special guest stars and some fourth-wall breaking).

The four main characters that The Big Short focuses on are described as outsiders, as they see the crisis coming when nobody else believes them. This lends tension and drives the plot, as awkward hedge funder Michael Burry (Christian Bale) digs into the nitty gritty of the housing market and bets against the market. Burry is the film’s real outsider, and I’ve never seen Bale give a performance so eccentric yet plausible. He dresses for work like a dad at a fish fry, drumming along on his drumpads while the economy collapses around him. On the other end is Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a hot-headed Wall Street trader who catches wind of Burry’s plan via Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling). Baum’s character comes away with his faith broken in the system, just like we do, as I left the film with a mix of outrage but also intrigue.

The Big Short never delves into Wolf of Wall Street territory, and that’s a good thing for a film taking on such a serious subject matter. There’s no hookers or blow, no guns, but this film is all about the money. There’s a fine line that the film straddles on how to treat the bankers involved, and the film succeeds at leaving you with the answers you need directed at the people responsible. But this isn’t a call-to-action film either, it’s rather a warning call, neither a wholly satirical one nor a dull biographical picture – it’s Hollywood entertainment after all, with top-notch performances and direction layered with razor-sharp edges. The Big Short is an important film, and it educates without pandering, while entertaining to its full extent.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Joy

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Loosely based on the life of entrepreneur Joy Mangano, David O. Russell’s Joy is a bit of a mess on the surface. It has such great ideas centered around a riveting main character, yet getting there is a bit sloppy. While the performances are riveting like always – we’d expect no less from Russell – the plot suffers from an over reliance on exposition. The result is a mixed bag of underdeveloped and overdeveloped emotions, but it’s nothing the Miracle Mop can’t clean up.

The structure of the film is as unorthodoxly ‘biopic’ as they come. While the film is technically based on the life of a real woman, the film is dedicated to the ‘true stories of daring women,’ Joy herself is an amalgamation of the creative spirit women like her possess. She’s a thinker, a dreamer, and the film makes that known to us since the beginning. The exposition and narration from Joy’s grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) helps ease us into her world and introduces us to her unpredictable family. But this is a misstep from Russell, breaking the “show, don’t tell” rule. It works in some ways, as Joy and Mimi are the only normal members of the clan, adding a unique perspective to the mix, but at other time it’s an overbearing device that doesn’t treat its audience like adults.

The beginning of Joy gets us acquainted with Joy and her family, including her two children, father Rudy (Robert DeNiro), mother Terry (Virginia Madsen), and sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm). They’re an interesting bunch, Russell is no stranger to these kinds of family dynamics, and the characters work well as foils for Joy. Joy’s a doer, always thinking and making things with her hands, but her dreams have been sidelined by her family. Her father Rudy’s new girlfriend Trudy, the effervescent Isabella Rossellini, helps Joy get her invention off the ground, and from here the film begins to gain traction.

Joy isn’t known as the “Miracle Mop” movie, as it’s neither a biopic nor a prestige drama. Joy’s invention is groundbreaking, to be sure, but the film isn’t interested in exploring angles related to product development or business strategy. It’s Joy’s film at its core – the supporting characters are mostly background noise – and the film gets most of its emotional mileage from the decisions she makes towards making her dream a reality at her personal and professional expense.

The film’s highlights take place at QVC, when Joy takes her product to executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and pitches it to the station. It’s here where the film really delivers, both thematically and creatively. The beautifully shot scenes of Joy presenting at QVC put Lawrence to the test, as she must lay it all on the line in such a vulnerable situation. She goes through an array of emotions so complex in this short time that it cements the Lawrence-Russell partnerships as one of the best in the business. The colors of the studio are contrasted with the brights of the kitchen set itself, and it sings.

From here until the finale, Joy settles back into its not-so-interesting role of a murky story about a woman of ideas. Most of the conflict revolves around problems with her manufacturer in Texas, another patent owner of a similar mop, and her family who keeps bailing her out of debt. If Joy had taken more risks thematically and relied less on small random bursts of plot development to keep up the pace, we could have been looking at something special. Joy is still a good film, but it could have been a great one. Inspiring performances (one of Lawrence’s best) and well-developed characters keep the film aloft, and Russell’s direction has never been better, but a murky script holds Joy back from being the hot item this Christmas.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Homeland Season 5

While season 5 of Homeland may not always bring the thrills like the very consistent season 4, it’s still a mildly entertaining political thriller miles ahead of traditional television fare. This season abandoned much of the terror and intensity that made previous seasons so enthralling, in favor of a plot of conspiracies, of the new world order. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) adjusted to her new life with her daughter and her new job, but finds herself being hunted and uncovers a deeply-embedded web of lies within the Berlin government. Not everything was harmonious, with a string of dragged-out side plots and a b-plot with everyone’s favorite Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) lacking major focus, but when it works, season 5 was Homeland firing on all cylinders.

Let’s start with what didn’t work, and most of that is concentrated in the middle third of the season. Allison Carr (Miranda Otto) is totally believable as a villain, but some of her motivations were hazy. When Carrie’s name appears in Quinn’s kill box in “The Tradition of Hospitality,” Allison’s name is rightfully thrown around, and Carrie eventually uncovers her conspiring with her former handler to carry out terrorist attacks in Berlin. Miranda Otto is a competent performer, and has the presence of a woman with conviction hardened by her lengthly career as an agent, yet the show doesn’t seem interested in finding out why or where that conviction came from. A few flashbacks in 5.08 “All About Allison” don’t do her story justice, as we learn her backstory with Carrie in 2005. If she had been introduced a few seasons back, and we had gotten more acquainted with her, we might not have been having this discussion. In a similar vein, her romantic relationship with Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) only serves to put Saul in opposition and at a crossroads for the majority of the season. While this leads to some thrilling moments in which Saul is trying to figure out what the hell exactly is going on, the dramatic irony is lost almost immediately. A few “a-ha” moments like the one at the end of “All About Allison” barely save this story from going under.

Another part of the season that didn’t quite go as planned is the background plot involving the German government bypassing their country’s privacy laws by hiring the CIA to report on suspected terrorists in Berlin. This is where the timely material comes into play, something Homeland has always been good at, yet this story feels like two ends of a sloppy book. It starts out brilliantly, and sets the stage for the majority of the rest of the season’s dramatics. Hacker Numan (Atheer Adel) is the perfect 21st century ‘villain,’ or ‘hero’ depending on how you see him. The whistleblowing tactics resonate in a world where nothing is certain, where the enemies are individuals hiding behind a keyboard. Numan works just fine as a representation of those ideas, but his partner in the spotlight, the overbearing American Laura Sutton (Sarah Soklovic) lacks that well-drawn characterization. Almost everything she spews is nonsense, and Soklovic neither looks up for the part nor convinces you of her views. It’s a waste of a character and almost an insult, because her conviction is sound, it’s just how she goes about it that isn’t.

A theme in the last two paragraphs was that when the focus is off of Carrie, things being to fall apart. Nowhere is that more evident than in the side plot involving Peter Quinn. He starts out as a solitary man, and props to Rupert Friend for giving an on-point and brilliant speech about the state of U.S. foreign policy in the premiere, “Separation Anxiety” (Emmy reel, please). Yet when Quinn gets injured and wanders away(?), he gets captured by Syrian jihadists with ties to the main plot mentioned above. This was the most contrived plot, one that went one for far too long as he got to know their leader Bibi (Rene Ifrah). Quinn was not on top of his game since the premiere, and it’s disappointing to see him in this state, as he becomes their guinea pig for a saran gas experiment. His relationship with Carrie is unorthodox, to be sure, and the show hasn’t completely dismissed their feelings for each other, so at least there are stakes here, even if they are centered on romance like Allison’s. Whatever Quinn’s fate at the end of the finale (and it didn’t look pretty), he’ll always be remembered as the rogue badass with a soft side.

Luckily, Homeland has and always will be the Carrie Mathison show. Since season three, the show has remained self-contained in little seasonal arcs, and this allows the focus to be mainly on Carrie herself, with Saul, Quinn, Dar Adal in the background. This season found Carrie struggling with atonement, as she learns that she can’t control everything. Claire Danes has never been better, and although she doesn’t have as many scenes where she can really dig into Carrie’s psyche (see: Carrie off her meds in “Super Powers”), she still brings her A-game the whole season. Her rocky relationship with Saul, something that still hasn’t been clarified yet assumedly happened after she sabotaged his bid for the CIA directorship, led to some tense and well-acted moments between the pair who go way back. Carrie’s a free agent now, done seeing Saul as a mentor, yet he still remains in a position of authority for her. Carrie’s surrogate for that relationship, her new boss Otto During (Sebastian Koch), fails to offer the same warmth and respect that Saul used to offer her. I like Otto as a character, and the finale sets him up to appear in season six (already given a green light), so I hope we see more from him.

When Homeland, like Carrie, goes off its meds, it can lead to some good stuff. The brilliant episode two, “The Tradition of Hospitality,” brought us back to season two-level Homeland, with an outstanding sequence with Carrie and her boss in a refugee camp in Beirut. This mostly self-contained episode reminds us that Homeland might not be prettiest in its plotting, but it certainly knows how to hold your attention. The direction from showrunner Lesli Linka Glatter draws inspiration from Kathryn Bigelow, and the action scenes (when they come) are thrilling, just look at “Our Man in Damascus.” I could’ve done, however, without the treading water of episodes five through about eight, which serve as mainly catch-up episodes for viewers and characters. Both Homeland and The Affair could benefit from shorter seasons, as the momentum is lost when episode after episode is simply stalling.

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This season really conflicted me, a long time Homeland fan. It’s nowhere near the awfulness of season three, but I wish it took more risks in its storytelling this time around. I’m grateful for the focus on Carrie, and she can keep the show afloat, but the supporting cast needs to be rounded out, as one-off characters each season might not be the best route to take. I’m not saying get rid of Saul (the exact opposite, more please!), but rather remember why we fell in love with Homeland in the first place. Allison, like Martha from season four, isn’t the compelling black-and-white antagonist we’re accustomed to, and the series’s broad strokes and lack of convincing supporting characters of color only serve to show how behind Homeland really is in geopolitics, no matter how relevant its themes may be. Still though, Showtime’s Homeland more than belongs in the category of “Peak TV” for its ability to portray a complex character like Carrie Mathison without ever going over the top.

 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2015 in TV Reviews

 

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