by Camille Borodey
Nightmare Alley (Steam on Hulu): Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) is a director known for making movies about monsters, but in his dark neo-noir “Nightmare Alley,” based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, the monsters may actually be human.
Eager to start a new life after literally burning his old one to the ground, Stan Carlise (Bradley Cooper) stumbles upon a traveling carnival where he begins assisting a clairvoyant Madame Zeena (Toni Collette, and honestly, her character demands a movie), and her alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn). Pete begins teaching Zeena’s tricks to Stan, which includes coded language and cold reading. After Stan falls in love with Molly (Rooney Mara), another performer, the two run away to launch a successful psychic act in Buffalo. Things begin to unravel when Stan meets Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychologist who, knowing Stan is a con-man, unlocks his greedy side by offering him information that will make him rich.
“Nightmare Alley” follows a lot of classic noir film tropes: Cooper, as the charming chump, Mara as the innocent, wide-eyed love interest who can’t quite cross over to the dark side, and Blanchett as the film’s devilish femme fatale. However, the movie deconstructs these noir archetypes to reveal that something darker is lurking behind each character. “Nightmare Alley” is nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.
Spencer (Hulu): Many people were surprised when Kristen Stewart (Nominated for Best Actress in a Leading role) was cast to portray Diana, but the actress may have more in common with the late Princess of Wales than one would think. Although Stewart is being praised for her performance now, I remember a time when the media used to tear her apart for ridiculous things like being a tomboy, not smiling enough, and overall not adhering to the standards of a Hollywood leading lady. Similarly, Diana was often criticized for breaking conventions on how a princess was supposed to act.
In December 1991, the British Royal Family spent the Christmas holiday at the Queen’s estate in Norfolk. From the moment she arrives, Diana is already fed up with the royal regime. Everything is planned, from the clothes she wears (but the clothes are fabulous!), when they go outside, and the food they eat, which is unfortunate because she is struggling with an eating disorder. Not only do the over-the-top traditions and non-flexible schedules weigh down on her, but she’s dealing with the aftermath of Prince Charles’ infamous affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and the loneliness that comes from being rejected by the royal family.
At times “Spencer” is anxiety-inducing, a little frustrating, and takes the glamour out of royal life. It’s important to keep in mind that this movie is historical fiction, so instead of impersonating Diana, Stewart’s performance gives us a look at a princess the public didn’t see. One that wasn’t perfect or poised but human.
The Lost Daughter (Netflix): “The Lost Daughter” isn’t the type of film with some big dramatic climax that will leave you shocked. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directional debut is more like a series of painful and pleasant memories that come with the difficulties and expectations of motherhood.
While on holiday in Greece, Leda (Olivia Coleman), a college professor and translator, becomes acquainted with Nina (Dakota Johnson), a mother of a 3-year-old. Nina expresses that she is excessively stressed out by motherhood and her controlling husband. In flashbacks, Leda (young Leda played by Jessie Buckley) recalls her own experiences. She was a literary scholar whose husband was often away for work, making her the primary caretaker for her two young, and often clingy, daughters, Bianca and Martha. As she excels academically, she finds it more challenging to take care of her children and slowly begins to withdraw from her family.
With their nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Coleman and Buckley do a fantastic job showing Leda’s struggles in different stages of life. Buckley’s performance tackles Leda’s breakdown that leads her to withdraw from her family, while Coleman’s performance shows the regretful yet quiet remorse of being an absent mother. The movie could also be seen as a critique of double standards in parenting and begs why it’s so much more jarring to see a mother reject parenthood versus a father doing the same. “The Lost Daughter” is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Oscars air on March 27th. Stay Tuned for more nomination reviews.