During film festivals, opportunities emerge to catch performers in multiple films. This awards season features a few instances of these kinds of double features.
During film festivals, usually opportunities emerge to catch performers in multiple films, granting audiences the thrill of watching said performers displaying multifaceted, chameleon-like abilities in the service of truly diverse filmmaking visions.
It can be a wonder to behold such recognizable faces blend and morph into divergent characters and narratives with the greatest of ease. This awards season features a few instances of these kinds of double features, with the added benefit of the distinct possibility of major award nominations on the line as well.
No discussion of award-worthy performances in 2019 should start without mentioning Toronto International Film Festival Rising Star Kelvin Harrison Jr., who kicked off the year with his much-lauded role in director Julius Onah’s Luce. It’s the story of a young man saved from war-torn Eritrea by his adoptive parents (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) who navigates his way through high school while being thought by an obsessive teacher (Octavia Spencer) to be an insidious threat. Harrison exudes charm and steely resolve when reacting to perceived slights, setting up just the right amount of ambiguity capable of fueling endless post-screening debates.
Harrison followed up Luce with another family drama: director Trey Edward Shults’ Waves. This time Harrison faces off against the high expectations of a domineering father (Sterling K. Brown) as yet another son struggling to figure out how to become his own person. In each film, Harrison’s flawed humanity makes it clear that striving for perfection leads to the greatest fall.
When it comes to human failings, we sometimes yearn to connect what we know of a performer’s life offscreen with efforts captured on film. And recently no one has illustrated this more than Shia LaBeouf. I still remember watching the initial season of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Project Greenlight as would-be filmmakers Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin cast a young LaBeouf who, to my mind, had the presence of early Tom Hanks — that uncanny mixture of humor, charm and honesty, which signaled a seemingly bright future. The Battle of Shaker Heights didn’t prove to be a breakout for anyone involved, but LaBeouf definitely kept shaking things up. He graduated to leading roles (Disturbia) in smaller films, then hit the blockbuster track in the Transformers franchise and later Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But LaBeouf succumbed to the noxious effects of fame, which seemed to derail him at every turn.
This year, LaBeouf has found a path of least resistance, in small part by mining his own life story. His current project, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, is the story of a young actor’s tumultuous childhood and early adulthood, shared from the vantage point of viewers observing a troubled father/son dynamic. As the screenwriter, not only does LaBeouf use his own history, but he also portrays the father, offering a truly meaningful chance to find grace and forgiveness.
If that wasn’t enough, LaBeouf also gifted audiences with his open-hearted work in The Peanut Butter Falcon, a smart and quite funny road trip dramedy about a young man (Zack Gottsagen) with Down’s Syndrome who attempts to follow his dream of becoming a wrestler by hooking up with a well-meaning opportunist (LaBeouf). Maybe he really is the second coming of Tom Hanks…
The true player to watch out for though is Adam Driver, which should come as no surprise. Last year he snagged a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work in BlacKkKlansman and he has been stealing scenes since his days on HBO’s Girls.
It is actually difficult to define just how special 2019 has been/will be for Driver — to focus on his leading roles in The Report and Marriage Story sets up a situation where Driver will be competing with himself to claim a round of Best Actor nominations from the various guilds and critics groups. The smart money would be on his heartbreaking turn opposite an equally devastating Scarlett Johansson – who has her own awards season two-fer reel if you also consider her supporting work in Jojo Rabbit – in writer/director Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story. Breaking up, as seen through the experiences of this creative family, is torture, and Driver makes sure we see all of the damage from inside his character’s soul.
Driver presents a special case because his awards season two-fer is, in fact, a holiday trifecta — he ends 2019 in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The sky, for Driver, is definitely the floor, not the ceiling.