“I, Tonya” – Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya is a biographical feature film directed by the Australian Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hour (2014)), starring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Suicide Squad (2016)) as Tonya Harding, the American 90’s champion in figure skating. I, Tonya is Margot Robbie’s first film as both producer and leading actress. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017.

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I, Tonya follows the life of the competitive figure skater Tonya Harding from Portland, Oregon and her connection with the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. But unlike most media, the film mostly focusses on the human being behind it all, not only the ‘incident’. Tonya’s life is centred around the abusive relationships with her mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), which influenced her behaviour during competitions and in other human relationships.

I, Tonya is nominated for 3 Oscars in the categories Best Actress in a Leading Role for Margot Robbie, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Allison Janney and Best Achievement in Film Editing for Tatiana S. Riegel.

As already announced in the introduction, I, Tonya is a biographical film featuring interviews with the characters in the  present to create a sort of mockumentary. Remarkable about the narrative style is the recurrent fourth-wall breaking, which means the characters look into the camera during the action scenes as if they directly address the audience and involve them.

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Next to Margot Robbie, you might also recognise Sebastian Stan (Captain America (2011), Logan Lucky (2017), Black Panther (2018)) as Tonya’s husband Jeff and Allison Janney (Juno (2007), The Help (2011)). The latter is phenomenally funny in the role of Harding’s mother, although I doubt that anyone would want someone this foulmouthed as a mother. Nonetheless, Janney’s convincing ‘viciousness’ makes her the ideal nominee for the Oscars.

The almost nauseating cinematography is by the Belgian Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead (2011), The Drop (2014), Le Fidèle (2017)). He was the ideal Director of Photography for I, Tonya, because he was the first to agree on chasing the actors in their actions instead of simply following scheduled camera positions. The skating scenes are so dynamic and detailed, as if you are part of the setting yourself.

The editing is by Tatiana S. Riegel. Although Robbie was trained to do most of the choreographies herself, the hardest tricks were covered by a body double, after which Riegel flawlessly pasted Robbie’s face over it as if Robbie did them all herself.

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In my opinion, the soundtrack of I, Tonya is another remarkable element. Some of the songs were actually used in Harding’s real routines, like ZZ Top’s Sleeping Bag. Most tracks are from the 70’s and 80’s and are classic rock songs. They are powerful, such as Heart’s Barracuda. This symbolises the narrative perfectly. I especially liked the cover of The Passenger by Siouxsie & The Banshees at the end. But of course, taste in music is something personal after all.

To conclude, you should watch I, Tonya for plenty of reasons. The acting performances, the rocking soundtrack and the cinematography are only a couple of them. But also, just check the film so you know why Allison Janney will win that Oscar ;).

 

 

“Phantom Thread” – Paul Thomas Anderson

 

Phantom Thread by the American director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood (2007) and Inherent Vice (2014)) will be actor Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film ever, like he announced in 2017. He reached the age 60 of and after winning 3 Oscars for Best Actor (My Left food (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012)), he now throws in the towel. One of Britain’s most acclaimed actors decided to retire from acting, in order to focus on his private life and his career as a shoemaker. Therefore, the costume drama Phantom Thread needs that little bit of extra attention.

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The story is set in London in the 1950’s, where the life of the renowned and genius dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is disrupted when he meets the young Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his muse and lover. Reynolds is a narcissist and control freak -with mommy issues on top of it- not only in his work, but also when it comes to the people he loves, he only settles for perfection. The breakfast scenes are sometimes simply funny, because he demands absolute silence and peace, so the sound of a toast getting buttered could already make him cranky for the rest of the day.

Phantom Thread looks like a simple love story at the beginning, but soon enough evolves in a fascinating power struggle between the 2 lovers. Their relationship seems to be based on ‘repel and attract’, where Reynolds’ male dominance gets challenged by Alma’s female charm, wit and persistence. In my opinion, Phantom Thread is about the male ego giving itself over to the power of the women who rule his life; who in this case are Reynolds’s lover Alma and his beloved sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). He never argues with the latter, because he knows he will lose.Phantom thread

Daniel Day-Lewis is known as a method actor, which is also the case in Phantom Thread. As preparation for his part as Reynolds Woodcock, he worked with a dressmaker for months before shooting. This can be seen on the screen, because his hands are full of hard skin. These months of mental preparation turn him into a purebred and tormented artist. The female lead is Vicky Krieps, who is an actress from Luxembourg and rather unknown, but her performance isn’t overshadowed by Day-Lewis at all. Her acting is rather modest, but still powerful and unpredictable. Alma is the woman who manages to push Reynolds from his pedestal and it’s unimaginable for an alpha male like him, but he actually is attracted to her pushing him over. Although he is afraid of losing his controlled and planned life, he finds himself overwhelmed by love.

Phantom Thread is nominated for 6 Oscars, for Best Achievement in Costume Design for Mark Bridges for instance and there is another nomination for Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Imagine him winning another Oscar, then he will be the very first actor ever to win 4 Oscars in this category.Phantom thread3

To close this article, I’d like to point out that it is very remarkable that Paul Thomas Anderson did his own cinematography for Phantom Thread although he never refers to himself as the Director of Photography and he is uncredited as such. He rather calls the film’s photography a close collaboration with his gaffer Michael Bauman and camera operator Colin Anderson, which after months of experimenting definitely resulted in a magnificent cinematic style.

To conclude, Phantom Thread is a skillful movie when it comes to decors, costumes and also cinematography. But the biggest strength definitely lies in its scenario and the acting performances of both Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps.

And as an extra, you can watch this YouTube-clip with an overview of Daniel Day-Lewis’ top 10 acting performances.