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Jennifer Jason Leigh (#110 of 11)

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 16

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 16

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 16

“Part 16” of Twin Peaks: The Return is perhaps most remarkable for its numerous arrivals and departures, some of them quite literal, some a bit more metaphorical. In a more rules-oriented series, the second-to-last episode of the season would be spent mostly marking time, given over to scrupulously setting the stage for the finale. There were traces of that here, of course, but rendered wonderfully rich and strange through David Lynch’s meticulous attention to off-kilter audiovisual textures and details.

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap Part 9

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Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 9

Suzanne Tenner/Showtime

Twin Peaks: The Return Recap: Part 9

Showtime gave viewers of Twin Peaks: The Return two weeks to process the epically unsettling excursion into cosmic tone poetry and splattery monochrome horror that constituted much of “Part 8.” It seems likely that, given the show’s fondness for delaying the connection of its many plot points, those events will only bear their strange fruit a few episodes further down the line. And so last night’s installment resolutely picked up where the previous episode’s present-day first act left off, with the miraculously resurrected but still blood-soaked Bad Dale (Kyle MacLachlan) hoofing it along a dusty country road, until a blood-red bandana shows him where to turn off.

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

Focus Features

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

True story: When I saw Titanic on opening night in New York City, Sam Waterston was sitting behind me and, within seconds of the credits rolling, was calling bullshit on the film. Almost 20 years later, his daughter, Katherine Waterston, gave two of the best performances of her young career in Queen of Earth and Steve Jobs, and given the response from critics and awards groups, it’s almost as if she never gave them. That Kate Winslet, a great actress who so artfully disappears into her role of Joanna Hoffman in the latter film that you barely notice her spotty accent work, has arguably robbed Waterston of her time in the sun probably has everything to do with name recognition alone. Or, and maybe Sam will agree with me here, the Golden Globe and BAFTA trophies that Winslet has collected for her turn may be explained by some weird reflex by which Titanic enthusiasts see a win for Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as a two-for-one special.

AFI Fest 2015 Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

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AFI Fest 2015: Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

Paramount Pictures

AFI Fest 2015: Anomalisa and Men Go to Battle

One of the chief pleasures of attending the AFI Fest is seeing major productions with all-star casts alongside independent ones from up-and-coming filmmakers. In some cases, you get both in the same work, as is the case with Anomalisa, directed by Charlie Kaufman and AFI alum Duke Johnson. Using stop-motion puppetry, the film follows customer service guru and best-selling author David Stone, voiced by David Thewlis, through a dark night of the soul while on a 24-hour business trip away from his family.

In Cincinnati to give a lecture inspired by one of his books, the lonely Stone quickly seeks out female companionship, first from a jilted ex-girlfriend, then from a frumpy fan, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in town to hear him speak. Except for Lisa, everyone looks and sounds the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan), projections of Stone’s disenchantment with life.

The film continues Kaufman’s exploration of the existential confusion that accompanies the creative process and the anxiety that’s inevitably unleashed when it’s attended by honest self-examination. Like all of Kaufman’s protagonists, Stone is disappointed by the failure of his art to remedy his personal problems and provide the answers to life’s big questions.

Summer of ‘85 Flesh + Blood

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Summer of ’85: One for the (Middle) Ages: Flesh + Blood

Orion Pictures

Summer of ’85: One for the (Middle) Ages: Flesh + Blood

It’s the summer of 1985—except that it’s the first year of the 16th century, as Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood opens with a vivid and appalling depiction of the shabby and cruel disorder that was late medieval European warfare. Coming off of Soldier of Orange, Keetje Tippel, and The 4th Man, Verhoeven once again confounded expectations, this time throwing us a big, beautiful, thundering comic book of a costume epic. Historical/mythic combat epics were in vogue in the wake of Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, and Ladyhawke. But Verhoeven’s entry outshone them all, and still does.

Flashback: The Hitcher

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Flashback: <em>The Hitcher</em>
Flashback: <em>The Hitcher</em>

“You know, you don’t have to do this,” a concerned sheriff, one of a veritable parade of local police officers, tells Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) at the end of The Hitcher. By that point, after having been worked over thoroughly and completely by sadistic drifter John Ryder (Rutger Hauer, bogeyman par excellence), Halsey’s answer has to be, “Yes, I do.” Over the course of the film, Ryder has goaded, threatened and assaulted Halsey and murdered swaths of cops to prove his point, not to mention removed his last vestige of humanity by murdering Nash (a jail-bait age Jennifer Jason Leigh, no less), Halsey’s potential love interest. Ryder has beaten Halsey by that point and no amount of cathartic bloodshed can change that. When my colleague Ryan Stewart told me that the film “makes The Road look like Mamma Mia!,” he wasn’t kidding.

In his unrelenting brutality, Ryder resembles a bleak executioner straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel, more than likely an Anglo-Saxon cousin to Anton Chigurh. We meet him right after the opening credit sequence, where Halsey nearly falls asleep at the wheel of his Driveaway rental car for want of excitement in his life. Ryder’s first few jabs at Halsey collectively feel like a condensed shot of abject nihilism. Screenwriter Eric Red brings this overdone opening act to a head by having Ryder run his switchblade up and down Halsey’s cheek, insisting that he’ll only stop once Halsey says, “I want to die.”

Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion

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Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion
Robert Altman’s Short Cuts on Criterion

For nearly a decade, I’ve felt a certain allegiance to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, and I’d never seen a single frame of it. It was always known as a “big sister” to the sprawling ensemble films that I became obsessed with in the late 90s; if I loved movies like Magnolia so much, then there’s no doubt that Altman’s opus must’ve been exceptional. I took this allegiance so far as to chide anyone who would praise any new “tapestry film” with interlocking stories because, if they knew anything, they’d know that Short Cuts did it first.

Now, finally, I’ve met the “big sister.”

As Altman has put it, Short Cuts is not necessarily a group of stories, but rather a group of occurrences. It lifts the roofs off houses and peeks in on the conversations. And it’s not what the characters are doing that’s important, it’s the fact that they are doing it (and why and how). The film is not concerned with plot, but with people; the rest will take care of itself. It’s a risky approach, and even Altman himself isn’t always successful with the method—The Company took a similar tack with a smaller cast and more plot, and it didn’t work as well as it should have. But it works in Short Cuts.

On the Circuit: Margot at the Wedding

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On the Circuit: <em>Margot at the Wedding</em>
On the Circuit: <em>Margot at the Wedding</em>

Writer-director Noah Baumbach is often identified with a group of young white filmmakers who comprise a new American New Wave (David O. Russell, Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, P.T. Anderson, David Gordon Green, and others). But he really should be appointed head of the “splat pack” over Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, James Wan, et al. He could teach them something.

Margot at the Wedding has all the tension and jolts that those splat directors clumsily strive for. It isn’t a horror flick, but it moves and schemes like a great one. The gore here isn’t found in blood-’n’-guts, just via a family of thin-skinned, overeducated neurotics eviscerating each other (and themselves) emotionally. Grisly stuff. But Baumbach’s mastery doesn’t let you look away or exhale until knots of accumulated tension climax in fits of nervous laughter or loosen into surprisingly tender revelations. His brand of splatter is humiliation. Sounds juvenile, but he’s clearly wrestling with something so personal here, and rendering it in such an intimate voice, that we don’t recoil, just fight through to the moments of grace, good humor and insight.

5 for the Day: Jennifer Jason Leigh

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5 for the Day: Jennifer Jason Leigh
5 for the Day: Jennifer Jason Leigh

Okay, so: my mother has this friend, “Curly.” Nobody else in the family has ever met Curly, but we love her anyway, because she writes the most insane Christmas letter in the history of the winter holidays—three single-spaced, seven-point-fonted pages of monomaniacal commitment to The Dread Lord Overshare. Not one detail is omitted from Curly’s annual review: carpool-schedule adjustments, subtle shifts in ambient humidity, cavity repair, the circumstances under which her husband left the family and moved into an apartment in a neighboring town…no, seriously! She put that shteez in the Christmas letter—cheerily, as befitted the season; I distinctly recall a handful of smilies after the phrase “couples counseling”—and then she described the apartment. And if you think she didn’t top herself the next year, think again. Let’s just say the word “fistula” figured heavily in the proceedings.

You’ve already read the title of the entry, so you know where I’m going with this, but if Curly’s Christmas letter could take human form, it would clearly take the form of Jennifer Jason Leigh—too real, too much information, horrifying and awesome, candy canes and gangrene, utterly authentic and utterly uncomfortable. And my reaction to Curly and to Leigh is the same: That I kind of wish they could turn it down, or off, just once, but at the same time, I have to admire their dedication. I don’t want to subscribe to The Diverticulitis Gazette, particularly, but Curly keeps sending it out, and I keep reading it. Leigh, same thing; “watch borderline personality decompensate over course of two hours” isn’t on my to-do list anywhere, but I can’t un-know what it looks like now.