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Daily Reads: Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Performances, Ranked; How ‘Fury’ and ‘The Imitation Game’ Reflect a Divided Political Culture, and More

Daily Reads: Jennifer Lawrence's Best Performances, Ranked; How 'Fury' and 'The Imitation Game' Reflect a Divided Political Culture, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Performances. Jennifer Lawrence’s rise to superstardom is as fast as anyone’s since Julia Roberts, with only 13 roles (not including sequels) under her belt. The Telegraph’s Tim Robey ranked each of her performances from worst to best, naming her breakthrough work in “Winter’s Bone” as the top choice.

Lawrence’s best performance and film handily converge here. 17-year-old Ree Dolly, in this hardscrabble Ozarks drama, was her first chance to carry a whole picture on her shoulders, thanks to the trust Debra Granik placed in her – and what a robust, physically credible and confidently contained performance this was. It was Ree, more than Tiffany, Rosalyn, Katniss or the rest, who proved Lawrence had the chops to get inside a young woman’s headspace and intuitively figure out the fight she had to win. Megastardom was just a matter of time. Read more.

2. R.I.P. Charles Champlin. Film critic and former Los Angeles Times entertainment editor Charles Champlin has passed away. The Times’ Dennis McLellan paid tribute to Champlin:

Champlin acknowledged his “reputation as a kind critic.” But in a talk he gave at Chapman University in 1977, he good-naturedly offered ample evidence to the contrary by reading excerpts from some of his less-flattering movie reviews. Of the 1975 comedy-drama “Lucky Lady,” for example, he wrote that it was a “cynical, vulgar, contrived, mismated, violent, uneven and uninteresting disaster.” As for the plot of the Liza Minnelli-Burt Reynolds-Gene Hackman movie, it was, he wrote, “unmenageable, trois as we will.” 
Read more.

3. “The Swan Princess” 20 Years Later. The 1994 animated film “The Swan Princess” is a terrible movie: the heroes and villains are generic, the animation unremarkable when it isn’t poor, the songs forgettable. Yet the film has a fair amount of cultural relevance for those who grew up with it. The Atlantic’s Lenika Cruz wrote about being OK with the fact that her favorite childhood film is not very good.

“The Swan Princess” is admittedly cheesy, embarrassing, and falls outside the canon and not in a cult classic kind of way. But still I’ll nurse a deep and weird attachment to it because of the spidersilk-thin narrative threads that connect me to it—half-formed memories of clutching my Odette necklace on the school bus, wearing that handmade ivory-and-green dress day and night, the fact that both the original actress who voiced Odette Michelle Nicastro and my mother were born within a month of each other and later died of breast cancer. More often than not, nostalgia is deeply personal, delicate, unmarketable, and unremarkable. Read more.

4. “The Good Wife” as TV’s Most Engrossing Drama. “The Good Wife” was always strong, but it recently dropped the “case of the week” plot structure, and it may now be TV’s strongest drama. The Atlantic’s David Sims makes the case.

Nine weeks into the season, I am not getting sick of The Good Wife going to the well of “Alicia is shocked by politics” over and over again, partly because Julianna Margulies plays her inner conflict so well. There’s the occasional leap of logic required—surely Alicia knows enough about politics to not be so stunned by its mercenary nature behind the scenes. But she is wisely suspicious when Prady visits her to give her all the opposition research dirt he has on her and promises to use none of it, while asking the same of her. None of it is too shocking: her affair with Will, her supposed (but as yet unrealized) affair with Finn. Read more.

5. William A. Seiter and Colleen Moore Restored. Warner Bros. and The Vitaphone Project have restored a pair of films by silent comedy director William A. Seiter, “Synthetic Sin” and “Why Be Good?” Over at Movie Morlocks, R. Emmett Sweeney wrote about the films and another by Seiter, “The Family Secret,” and the star of the three films, comic actress Colleen Moore.

Colleen Moore also exudes a mischievous innocence, but one that perpetually bumps up against the double standards that confront women. Moore’s freedom from restraint is alluring, but it is always in danger of becoming too alluring, in which case the movies pull back and reveal her to be a good girl after all…The Colleen Moore persona is synonymous with that of the “flapper”, post-WWI women who flouted conventional gender roles by smoking, drinking and sleeping with whomever they wanted. This image was popularized in the 1923 Colleen Moore film “Flaming Youth,” in which Moore dallies with her mother’s ex-lover…With her razor-sharp bob, bamboo-thin body and bowtie lips, she became the physical embodiment of the flapper ethos. Read more.

6. How Two WWII Films Reflect Modern Issues. Fury” and “The Imitation Game” are both World War II films, and yet there’s something about their moral questions that are decidedly contemporary. Noah Gittell of RogerEbert.com investigates.

“Fury” will resonate with people who see war as a noble and heroic fight against evil, while “The Imitation Game” is for those who view violence of any kind as a last resort. The former is a hyper-violent, militaristic paean to the American soldiers who fought the war on the battlefield. The latter is a vehicle for progressive social values that portrays British academics as the real heroes. The disparate values in these films are reflective of our divisive political culture, to which apparently not even the most justifiable war in modern American history is immune. Read more.

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