Marriage Story: The central marriage in Noah Baumbach’s career-best film begins in such love, it’s frightening and bewildering to witness its stunning unravelling. With each successive choice facing theater director Charlie (Adam Driver) and his muse/actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they progress through a break-up, we ask ourselves: What would I have done or said at that point? Could I do better for my marriage than these two people who clearly had so much to give each other before they lost it in a haze of miscommunication and misunderstanding?
Marriage Story is as raw as a newly frayed nerve or a freshly trampled ego. Of all this year’s GEMS, Baumbach’s film seems likely to receive the most Academy Award nominations—and I believe Adam Driver may win Best Actor for the sheer fearlessness with which he expresses his own vulnerability. Johansson is also brilliant, and Laura Dern may nab Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing comedy as Nicole’s divorce lawyer.
Honey Boy: Shia LaBeouf has had a fairly turbulent media presence the last couple of years, so there’s something incredible about seeing him channel that pain and frustration into a work of cinematic art. Written by LaBeouf, Honey Boy is loosely based on his childhood, where he found early success as a child actor while under the guardianship of his alcoholic father. It’s a film that’s overflowing with deeply felt emotion, part of which is due to the fact that LaBeouf himself takes on the role of his abusive father in one of the best performances you’ll see all year. An extraordinary film that‘ll speak to anyone that had an unstable home life, the end product is one that makes us feel like we’re watching old wounds heal in real time.
Top End Wedding: Most romantic comedies rely so heavily on the crutch of a successful formula—cast big names; come up with a clever meet-cute; throw in an obstacle to keep the lovers apart; overcome it to bring them together; rinse and repeat—that they forget to give audiences any other reason to watch. So when a film like Top End Wedding hits you, it feels like nothing less than a miracle. What may sound like a conventional plot—Lauren and Ned have just a few days to find Lauren’s runaway mom before their wedding day—is actually the launching point of a multi-layered, multi-generational story brimming with insights about love, family, forgiveness, cross-cultural relationships, and the merciless passage of time. It will make you laugh (indeed, fall out of your chair), cry and be thoroughly entertained; with ravishing Australian landscapes as icing on the cake. What more can you ask for from a film?
Staff Only: Travel, although one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences, can also be very uncomfortable as it triggers fundamental questions about identity. That’s the case for Marta, the Spanish teenager at the center of Staff Only, who vacations at a tourist resort in Senegal with her father and little brother. Marta is annoyed by the fake cultural experiences staged for the visitors, and mortified by the exotification of the locals, she makes every effort to develop different relationships with them, trusting her ability to create connections she sees as more authentic. But over the course of the story, Marta experiences a painful and real transformation that makes her confront who she is. Through Marta’s character we are invited to revisit our traveling experiences through a different lens, and we are reminded of the power of cinema to explore, question and mirror human relationships.