John Hawkes


1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln. There might not be another actor alive who would devote many months just to find Lincoln’s voice. Fewer still who could take what history told us about him, subtract the multitude of falsely deep Lincoln voices because they sounded “more important” and give us the real Lincoln via his unusual and less familiar voice. He was going to take some shit for this choice, as no one was ready to accept a Lincoln with that voice. Take on its own in isolated clips it might at first have sounded  a little strange, but when you witness Day-Lewis immersed in Lincoln’s totality, the actor vanishes. The voice comes alive with thoughtfulness, and that unmistakable color of sadness that Lincoln carried around with him since he was young, when his mother and then his sister died. Somehow Day-Lewis knew how to capture that sadness. He knew that Lincoln was weary — from the war, from the burden of doing what was a right at a time when there opposing forces seemed insurmountable — and weary from his wife’s mercurial disposition, crying or raging, depending on the day or the haunting.

Day-Lewis has captured so much in one breathtaking turn that this becomes, maybe, a bar to which all others might aspire. His head hung to one side, his tall person’s slouch, his lopsided walk. That any group would award someone else for the prize of best performance only illuminates, in many ways, Day-Lewis’ unequivocal work. They can’t say he wasn’t good enough. They can only say they’d like someone else to have a chance to share the spotlight with him. If Oscars are meant to be given out as career achievements, Day-Lewis would easily and handily win his third Oscar. We all know that the Oscars, despite their intentions, do not always award the best. But history should remember Day-Lewis, whether they give him a gold statue for it or not.

The supporting players: Sally Field – for her astonishing work as Mary Todd Lincoln Field gained some weight and reseacrhed the extensive first-hand historical record, as any great actress would, to find out that Mary Lincoln possessed a fiery intelligence, shared a love for reading with her husband, and didn’t have much else to do back then but stand by her man. Field captures Mary Lincoln’s craziness, unending grief and inner battle with depression so well it makes you long for the days when you had to be this good to get into movies. Tommy Lee Jones brings with him the great memory of Thaddeus Stevens, and perhaps the best moment of his role is the conflicted scene when he has to support the notion of freeing slaves but knows he must withhold his feelings in agreeing that they’re equal in all terms. He does this through his teeth, against everything he believes in — but he does it because he knows that tearing down an old sturdy wall is done brick by brick. Other wonderful turns in Lincoln include James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the great Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, self-freed slave who became an author.

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Lisa Schwartzbaum at Entertainment Weekly gives the film a B+ and writes about John Hawkes:

But The Sessions is first and foremost about Hawkes’ virtuoso performance, one of those My Left Foot-y transformations that make audiences verklemmt and generate awards talk. And second, it’s about the elegant matter-of-factness with which the 49-year-old Hunt bares herself, body and actorly soul, for the job. (Because it must be said: wowza.) In an extraordinary approximation of the real O’Brien, Hawkes continues to burnish his reputation as one of those rare artists who know how to disappear into a role with a modesty that cloaks the complexity of the work. And in the lovely choreography between Hawkes and Hunt, as natural-looking as it is unusual, The Sessions becomes a dance of joy in the midst of severe challenge, and a movie with a light spirit that lifts a tale of heavy fate.

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers gives it three and a half stars:

And Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Deadwood) does the kind of acting that awards were invented for. Having learned to twist his body, use a mouth stick to dial a phone and type, and suggest the sheer effort it took for O’Brien to simply breathe, Hawkes and his technical virtuosity are astounding. But it’s how Hawkes uses his voice and expressive eyes to reveal the inner Mark that makes his performance a triumph.

Steven Holden at the New York Times says, “At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I would like to nominate John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in The Sessions as the movie couple of the year.”

Their extraordinary connection while re-enacting the true story of a disabled, virginal 38-year-old writer and his sexual surrogate infuses the movie, written and directed by Ben Lewin, with a piercing depth of humanity and no small amount of humor.

…From the moment Ms. Hunt appears, “The Sessions” becomes a different movie on a much higher plane. Cheryl has never worked with someone like Mark, who must remain on his back, his thin, fragile body painfully contorted. This married woman is exploring uncharted territory every bit as much as Mark, and the therapy is a dual journey in discovery. Inevitably, she makes mistakes.

…Mr. Hawkes is entirely convincing in his portrayal of a man who is by turns vulnerable, wittily self-lacerating, charming and erudite. You can feel how increasingly difficult it is for both partners to follow the rules once they have reached a certain level of intimacy.

At the Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey writes, “The shocker about The Sessions, starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, is not the full-frontal nudity, or its provocative story of a sex surrogate who helps a 38-year-old in an iron lung lose his virginity. It’s not even the priest’s blessing allowing the out-of-wedlock sex acts.

Rather, it’s the humanistic way in which “The Sessions” deals with what sex at its best can be — emotional, spiritual, physical, pleasurable, soul-satisfying, life-affirming. In a country that embraces cinematic violence with such ease but blushingly prefers to keep sex in the shadows or under the sheets, the grown-up approach of “The Sessions” is rare.

…In “The Sessions,” O’Brien’s disability and desires are fully exposed. Hawkes’ body, twisted and still, his voice squeezed by the weak muscles, mirror, don’t mimic, O’Brien’s difficult reality. Because his character’s wry cynicism keeps things light, it makes for a memorable change from the darker roles — “Winter’s Bone” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” most notably — that had come to define the actor.

…The challenge for Hunt is to channel Cheryl’s pragmatism about what is going to happen. Somehow she makes it possible to relax and just go with the story. Her performance is a brave one. Hunt truly does turn herself and her body into an instrument for healing. It is the best work the actress has done since her Oscar turn in 1997’s “As Good as It Gets.”


Todd McCarthy says about Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, “Onscreen for nearly the entire running time, Washington has found one of the best parts of his career in Whip Whitaker, a middle-age pilot for a regional Southern airline who knows his stuff and can still get away with behaving half his age. In the film’s raw opening scene, he’s lying in bed in Orlando at 7 a.m. after an all-night booze, drugs and sex marathon with a sexy flight attendant. With a little help from some white powder, he reassures her they will make their 9 o’clock flight for Atlanta.”

This is easily one of the best performances of the year and will be a strong contender to win the Best Actor race. He will have some competition, though, in Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln — which has to be among the best performances of all time, and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. These are probably the strongest three in the race as we head into the final months.

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Helen Hunt seems to be doing a variation on her character in As Good as it Gets, which means Oscar will be all over it. They love nothing more than a kind, semi-downtrodden woman who is sexually free. It’s like their favorite female meme. The other meme they like? Characters with disabilities. Even as presumed Oscar bait, it still looks pretty good — these actors are so good. Nominations seem like a sure bet. Lead for Hawkes, Supporting for Hunt.

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