Nathaniel R reporting from TIFF. The festival is winding down now but my mind keeps drifting back to the Amy Adams double feature on day two. If there were gif walls featuring all of Amy Adams close-ups in both of her movies this year, they would accurately describe this critics innermost thoughts about the movies they came from. Read on and I'll elaborate (without spoilers) though we'll obviously revisit and go into more detail when both movies actually...ahem... arrive in mid November which is unofficially 'Amy Adams Month' according to distributors.
ARRIVAL (Dir. Denis Villeneuve, US)
Paramount Pictures. Opens on November 11th
In this gripping and sensationally crafted sci-fi drama, adapted from the short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, Amy Adams plays Dr. Louise Banks. Dr Banks is a prominent linguist who is recruited by the government to attempt to communicate with extra-terrestrials. They have arrived on Earth or, rather, are hovering above it in twelve space crafts each in a separate area of the world, appearing to do nothing at all. Will the world's fearful governments nuke the ships or can Dr Banks save the world (if it's even threatened?) by learning why they've come?
We don't learn much about Dr Banks backstory but she frequently remembers a daughter she lost to cancer. Whenever the movie flashed to these hazy scenes I personally flashed to Sandra Bullock's similar backstory in Gravity and worried for all the imaginary mothers in future Hollywood movies that will be forced to lose their children to provide a sentimental hook. It is that, alas, but it's also far more organically fused to the material, which is circular in its themes and visuals so we know intuitively that we'll keep circling back to her sad memories as Dr Banks agonizes over how to communicate with the beings that have come to be known as "heptapods".
The alien language is also circular, visually speaking, when Dr Banks finally convinces them to speak. I don't want to spoil any details because every trip inside the alien space craft is wholly transfixing, as is the movie around it but to a lesser degree. Director Denis Villeneuve proves again, right on the heels of the stunning Sicario, that he's a master of his craft. That's two master classes in producing high anxiety silences and using resourceful female leads to illustrate the dangers of a violent man's world. Amy Adams anchors the film with one of her smartest performances, warm but not personal (she's a total professional) and quite believable as a thinker and expert communicator. Watching the emotions dance on her face from awestruck happiness to deep sadness and, more importantly, watching her gears turn to process all the information, is exactly what many will feel watching this terrific movie.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Dir. Tom Ford. US/UK)
Focus Features. Opens on November 18th
In the Tom Ford film, based on the novel "Tony and Susan" by Austin Wright, Adams plays Susan Morrow. Susan is a highly successful but quite miserable art dealer, who worries that her marriage is failing. One day in the mail she receives an unpublished novel called "Nocturnal Animals," written by her ex Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book within the book, you see, has become the movie of a book, inside of another movie.
Though Ford's visual prowess will bewitch many it's also, to these eyes, wasted on an often sordid and empty movie. The nude credits sequence (immediately jawdropping) is woefully disconnected to the dull lonely marital drama it prefaces which is itself aggravatingly detached from the inner movie but for the face of Jake Gyllenhaal, the only actor in both inner and outer movie. "Nocturnal Animals" is a lurid and violent pulp fiction in which a man named Tony, his wife (Amy Adams lookalike Isla Fisher) and their daughter are driven off the road by a group of thugs and things only get more hellish from there. Your mileage may vary but I found it more and more distasteful and mean-spirited as it played out.
For her part Amy Adams is given precious little to do as Susan. In the outer movie she's all jaded disillusionment, and self-pitying sadness, as she reacts to other flashier characters. I was all of those things while watching her movie. In the inner movie (we flash occassionally to her reading it) she's at first mesmerized, then terrified, than sad all over again. Finally she's eager to move on and desperate for a silver lining. I know how you feel, Amy. I know you feel.
MVP: Michael Shannon owns the movie. He appears in the Nocturnal Animals section as a local sheriff attempting to help Tony with the crimes perpetrated against him. Shannon strikes such a perfect tone, think non-naturalistic but Great-Character-in-Book stylization, that you can love him within the movie even if you hate the movie.
Oscar Chances: Oscar Chances: A major contender across the board from the sounds of the audience chattering around me and some critics though it's Jury Prize win at Venice just baffles me. It's so empty. It could contend in Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Production Design, Score, and Adapted Screenplay