We’re gonna go off format this chapter and cover Manchester By The Sea and Nocturnal Animals at once. Why? They have a lot in common: both will appeal to a select audience, both are difficult to watch at times, and both are risky but successful ventures. Both deal, hauntingly, with the loss of family. Also, both are movies almost no one’s gonna rush out to see, regardless of quality.
I’m taking about Manchester By The Sea and (the “fancier”) Nocturnal Animals. These films both deal with bitter loss and the act of moving on, though the worlds that these two stories take place couldn’t be more different.
Manchester takes place in rural Massachusetts amongst the lower middle class, and Nocturnal Animals is populated with long-suffering characters from the upper middle class. Pain and loss tend to be a great equalizer, and we get to look into both sides of the track in a way that feels like eavesdropping. You won’t see better acting this year than you’ll see in these two outings.
Speaking of the acting, another thing the two films have in common are casts brimming with some of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated and under-“awarded” actors on the planet. What does Jake Gyllenhaal have to do to get an Oscar or earn the moniker of one of today’s great actors? What about Amy Adams? Casey Affleck? Michelle Williams has received props in the past, and my money says she’ll win best supporting actress this year for making your heart bleed in Manchester within a role that spans only a few remarkable scenes, but the rest are just as brilliant. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the scary redneck and Michael Shannon bring unusual supporting characters to life in ways that are sure to be lauded as well. Shannon always wears too much makeup, but, whatever.
Nocturnal is a two-stories-in-one affair, directed by Tom Ford, looking like a perfume commercial most of the time but terrifying and deeply moving. It’s about the courage it takes to step into one’s truth against the odds and will, most likely, make you terribly uncomfortable and challenge your sensibilities about what is “right.”
Manchester is a more straightforward, less glamorous look at the same themes and is a more successful (if aesthetically less appealing) movie. It’ll break your heart but remind you you’re alive. Is it worth it? Yes, definitely yes.
We “yanks” like our narratives to be tidy and familiar. Neither of these films fit this description. Both movies do what is commonly referred to as “It just ENDED” by most American audiences. And, at a glance, this is true. Yet, the invitation to surmise the outcome sits well with you as you digest this material. In a way, it feels refreshing to not be spoken down to or spoon fed a message. Both Manchester and Nocturnal are movies we grownups are always bitching there aren’t enough of yet rarely go out and support.
If you’re going to choose just one of these edifyingly depressing films, I’d go with Manchester By The Sea since it will (along with La La Land) probably be considered one of the “finest” films to be released this year -- and definitely the most celebrated during awards season.
I still highly recommend both of these unusual and extraordinary films.
(Loudinni specializes in movie reviews under 500 words, sans spoilers.)