With the Oscar nominations announced this past week, everyone (not just those of us in the business) takes a moment to reflect, analyze and appreciate the great films and performances that were released over the last year. In this spirit, we thought it would be interesting for Elizabeth and Chris Bensinger, EMAS’ newest faculty member and a distinguished theater producer, to sit down together discuss the work that they’ve admired in 2016.
EM: Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your impressions of this year’s films. As a 2 time Tony Award winner – It will be fun to hear what you have to say about another Award show.
CB: Thanks – it’s been a good year for stories.
EM: Absolutely – I love how many intimate tales, tales that are quite unique to each individual character are getting such universal recognition. Stories that are a bit quieter and more soulful than we’ve seen in the past. I am thinking specifically of Moonlight,Loving and my favorite of the year Captain Fantastic. The characters in these films are what actors dream of.
CB: I really felt that intimacy with Joel Edgerton’s performance in Loving and I’m disappointed he didn’t get nominated. He captured the quiet, unsophisticated, deeply expressed emotions of the time period and circumstance. His eyes led the way where his quiet subtle voice and cadence followed after. We see him thinking, processing, feeling through his eyes and not his words. Rich performance. Viggo Mortenson- Captain Fantastic. A mature, and again, patient and settled performance delivering a full commitment to this nuanced outsider in love with his children and in total fear and distain for our modern world. His interaction with his children was so natural and mesmerizing. The kids were fantastic as well.
EM: There is one scene in Captain Fantastic – where the camera settles on Viggo’s character Ben driving the bus – this is a non-speaking close up where he shows us every stage of grief. Again – it was all in the eyes- A stellar performance. He’s a long shot – but I’d love to see this film get some more viewers and some recognition for it’s beautiful originality.
CB: In a very different style of performance – I think Emma Stone has best Actress for La La Land… She swings from one side of the acting spectrum of human expression to the other with such compelling depth and ease. She astounds me. Here she manages to enter this world of fantasy with the absolute perfect blend of old Hollywood elegance to the “modern day woman” filled with conflict and fast moving parts. Emma is exceedingly smart in her choices and her ability to convey that “it” quality where charisma meets craft, where outside beauty meets inside beauty. I say this all the time to my students, keep forward, get it out, feel through your eyes.. “She had me at hello” and never lets go.
EM: I wasn’t as big a fan of LaLa Land – I enjoyed it – but missed the dancing and singing that leaves me in awe (though I was quite moved by Emma’s song “Here’s to the Fools who Dream”). Emma Stone is absolutely charismatic but when I think about what she had to portray verses what Natalie Portman, or Amy Adams or Taraji P. Henson (who should have been nominated!) did and it just didn’t have the same acting demands. Though what struck me was the real diversity of film genres the actresses worked in, Romantic Musical, mystery (Elle), and 3 bio-pics with very different styles and povs. Best Supporting Actress is also strong, but I think Viola Davis in Fences is the one to beat this year. When you can identify the hurt, the rage and the love in one glance you are truly looking at a master of her craft.
CB: Absolutely…but my favorite performance in this category was Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. She broke my heart in her quintessential poignant scene when the two meet up late in the film; she barely has enough breath to deliver her lines. Incredible. For that scene alone she should get awards.
EM: Michelle chooses her parts so sincerely. I have never seen her in a false moment. Such a beautiful actress – vulnerable and strong. Boy oh Boy…what about supporting actor – how do you compare Mahershala Ali in Moonlight to Michael Shannon inNocturnal Animals. And Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors of all time (can we just talk about Crazy Heart?)
CB: Jeff Bridges is one of the craftiest actors today. I put him up there in an elite category. Just take a look at the moment his partner gets shot in his film Hell or High Water (which by the way was my second favorite movie of the year). Watch him shutter and absorb the trauma like he had been the one struck by the bullet while at the same time transferring his attention to the shooter. Really good stuff there. However, I would love to see it go to Lucas Hedges – he stole the show. I loved how he exuded such a protective coating to the immense childhood trauma. Here again, he allowed himself to sit in the moment allow us to catch up with his towering emotions delivered behind his veil of hormones and a drive to hold on to his community. Loved his performance and very much look forward to his developing career.
EM: So what do you think about best director and best film?
CB: La La Land! Hey, I teach musical theater. What do you expect? When Damian Chezelle can transport the audience with complete emersion and entertainment into your cinematic world you deserve high plaudits. Damian deserves the crown this year. His use of pace (yet controlled) and musical numbers to transition scenes yet simultaneously drive the plot forward is a joy. This film with a twinkle in its eye, set in contemporary LA with a nod to the 1940’s is a folly romp that will have you “singing in the rain” in Sunny LA.
Even with my bias…, La La Land is still is the best film of the year regardless. What terrific filmmaking. An homage to old Hollywood and movie musicals yet is utterly fresh in approach. I was hooked in from the long opening musical sequence on the highway which took a lot of creative courage to the brilliant “what if” montage at the end. I was so enamored by the charm and elegance of this film. The musical numbers bind the plot and moved the narrative forward, which is exactly how it should be done. Not to mention, the chemistry between Emma and Ryan worked. The tone never waivers; lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, acting all working perfectly together… a masterful and utterly entertaining film. But… like I said, I am biased.
A Tony Award winning theater producer, Chris Bensinger joined the EMAS faculty to help actors hone the skills that allow them to shine in Hollywood’s growing number of Musical and “Musical TV” productions.
The founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik has deep roots in the Meisner technique and extensive experience both as a working actress/director and as a teacher with a love for the craft of acting
Have your own thoughts on what performances deserve recognition? Let us know!