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Fall film preview: weekend in review


For cinephiles, fall equates to pre-Oscars season — when blockbusters seem to crank out week after week leading up to the Academy Awards in February. Although many of the big-budget films making predictable debuts around Christmas, some must-sees hit theaters in the past two months, teasing our appetites. Here are our weekend picks that are bound to snag nominations come awards season. 

"BEAUTIFUL BOY" 

Drug addiction affects not only the user but everyone connected to them. In the new drama, “Beautiful Boy,” David Sheff finds himself bewildered over his son Nic’s debilitating reliance on crystal meth. David longs to have the son he has always known, the one that loved to draw, read and write — before he was high. 

David and Nic — portrayed by Steve Carell and Timotheé Chalamet, respectively — dominate this tearful drama. The film, directed by Felix Van Groeningen, is based off of both Nic and David Sheff’s separate memoirs. Groeningen leans more on the perspective of David, creating a narrative based around the effect of Nic’s disease on his loved ones. 

The decision to use both memoirs creates a temporal shift throughout many key scenes in the film. As David lumbers through life trying to help his eldest son, the film cuts to flashbacks with Nic as a young boy. This distracts the viewer from the real pain David is feeling and Carell bleeds with on screen. 

The one benefit from the adaptation of both memoirs is the depth and multitudes that Nic’s character exudes. Anchored by Chalamet’s performance, Nic is simultaneously charming, caring and hopelessly tragic. The character of Nic works to drag his father along, constantly thinking that he can fix his son. The portrayal in many ways lies directly in Chalamet’s wheelhouse. His breakout performance in “Call Me By Your Name” oozes earnestness while his role in “Lady Bird” presents him as interminably cool. Chalamet’s talents manifest whenever Nic gets high. The film crucially does not gloss over that Nic loves doing drugs. Each time he shoots up or smokes, the film hones in on his face and the joy Nic feels. Then it shows the crash.

Addiction dramas follow a template. They revolve around flashbacks to a simpler time, and the films can be divided into crisis, recovery and relapse. Brilliantly, “Beautiful Boy” goes through those motions several times, creating a sense of monotony. That is really what addiction is. It is a disease that will continue to sprout up, again and again, no matter how one tries to fight it. 

"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

Marielle Heller’s film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” tells the true story of writer Lee Israel. After Israel finds herself strapped for cash, and no one biting on her latest Fanny Brice biography, she resorts to forging high-priced letters from famous literary authors of yore. 

Israel is the most eye-catching and intriguing character of the film. Melissa McCarthy shines as the curmudgeon, yelling vitriol and crank in-between swigs of whiskey. Primarily an over-the-top comedic performer, McCarthy delivers a grounded performance combined with her trademark boorishness. 

Israel links up with an equally fascinating character Jack Hock played by the marvelous Richard E. Grant. Hock overflows with charisma, teeming with gin and up for anything at any minute — making him a perfect accomplice for Israel. The two set up on a life of crime, reaping all of the spoils and thrills that come along with it. 

The film is set in a different kind of New York, one that is in the 1990s. One that had an air of freedom, quiet and lacked identifiable corporate overlords. Israel and Jack inhabit this world as amoral criminals waiting for the next score. Yet, they don’t lack decency or integrity, but are just trying to live in this chilly city winter. 

Israel and Jack are both gay, which is integral to the story, but somehow also no big deal. Both of them navigate various relationships longing for someone to tolerate them like they can each other. 

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is an overall delight of a film. Both McCarthy and Grant are destined to attain Oscar nominations, deservingly so. Heller directs with candor and maturity, never becoming expository or blunt. Israel is utterly unlikeable, but through her grumpy demeanor she becomes a screen delight. This film shines with a unique voice, hopefully other filmmakers take note. 


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