Saturday, November 13, 2021

Noirvember: Johnny Shaw

When I receive my annual request from Jedidiah to make a list for Noirvember, I usually try to compile a short, strange list. One of the small joys in my life is recommending a movie to Jedidiah that he hasn’t seen or--the holy grail--that he hasn’t heard of. Not an easy task, as Jedidiah watches a thousand and fifty movies a month.

But I decided to do something different this time. So if you want some interesting film viewing, track down Bad Genius or The Sound of Noise or White God or The Lure or Danny. Legend. God. 

But for this Noirvember, I’m going with recent English-language movies. Specifically movies (and one TV show) that contain performances by actresses that deserve more recognition and all the praise. These performances made me want to go out and watch everything these women have been in.

Lady Macbeth (2016) - Florence Pugh - With Black Widow, Florence Pugh is no secret to the general public. However, her most impressive performance comes from one of her earliest roles. In Lady Macbeth, Pugh plays a young woman in a loveless marriage with an older man living in a house so remote that she is essentially a captive. What follows is a struggle for independence and power, the house becoming a battleground. As Katherine, Pugh takes the reins in her teeth and commands every moment of the story from calm to chaos.See also: The Little Drummer Girl (2018 Limited Series) 

Beast (2017) - Jessie Buckley - I was already all in on Jessie Buckley after watching Wild Rose, but it’s less of a crime film--although a big part of the story is about her character’s adjustment after being released from prison, so maybe it is. Either way, I’m sticking with this movie. I digress. Beast displays the full breadth of Buckley’s skill. When her character Moll meets Pascal (played by Johnny Flynn), a dysfunctional love story builds that offers more questions than answers. In Buckley’s quiet, but chilling performance you get strength and vulnerability in equal measures, in a character that you won’t soon forget.See also: Wild Rose (2018) 

Thoroughbreds (2017) - Olivia Cooke - Not to take anything away from current It Girl, Anya Taylor-Joy--she’s great in this movie in an unflashy, but essential role--but it’s Cooke whose performances stands out in its uniqueness and her ability to completely embody her character. It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless and in the role of Amanda, a character that does not feel emotion, she communicates everything through a haunting neutrality. In the same vein as Heavenly Creatures, the diabolical nature of teenage girls cannot be understated. One of my favorite films of 2017.See also: Sound of Metal. (2019)

The Hunt (2020) - Betty Gilpin - Holy shit! This one caught me by surprise. The story about the release of this film is well documented and I ended up watching this as an afterthought when it showed up streaming somewhere and my wife was busy for a couple hours. For one, the movie is fun as hell, but what elevates it is Gilpin’s performance. I had only seen her in GLOW and didn’t even recognize her as the same person. The character of Crystal needs to get her own Taken-esque franchise. I would watch the shit out of that. Just trust me on this one. She is absolutely nails in this movie. See also: GLOW (2017-2019 TV series)

Back to Life (2019-present) - Daisy Haggard - If you watch British comedy, Daisy Haggard shows up regularly. She is always good, but this is something special. Co-written by Haggard (with Laura Solon), the story centers around Miri who returns to hometown after serving an 18-year prison sentence for murdering one of her school friends. Haggard embodies the vulnerability of a woman who can’t change the past and the single event that defines her. A person that went into prison as a teenager and is now supposed to understand life as an adult. To approach the premise as a comedy took guts and the result is tonally its own thing, equally parts funny, bittersweet, tragic, but always deeply human. See also: Uuncle (2014-2017 TV series). 

A special prize to Geraldine James who appears in both Beast and Back to Life and is a badass in her own right. She’s great in everything she’s in.

Johnny Shaw is the author of 7 novels, including his most recent The Southland from Agora Books. He holds the distinction of being the only person to be nominated for an Anthony Award for a story with the word "boner" in the title. And nobody can take that away from him.

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