I'm still going to keep these relatively short. Without further adieu:
Rust and Bone
If I told you that a movie about a double-amputee killer whale trainer who falls in love with an unemployed bare knuckle boxer is not only the best movie I saw all year, it's also the most sensitive and nuanced, you'd probably think I was nuts. But I'm not, and it is.
Jacques Audiard made a fairly remarkable (if flawed) French prison movie in 2010 called Un Prophete. One critic said it was "As epic as The Godfather," when in reality it was chilly, gritty, brutal, and relentlessly unsentimental about its subject matter.
When I read the above description of what was to be Audiard's follow-up, I was confused. This sounded like the type of "quirky" nonsense we expect from someone like Diablo Cody. I could not connect the filmmaker I knew with what the movie sounded like it would be.
Turns out, he was the exact person to tell this story. Audiard approaches the romance between Alain (Matthias Schoenerts) and Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) with the same brutalist eye he took to French prison life in Un Prophete. Rust and Bone is a love story remarkably free of the kind of emotional manipulation we've grown used to in films like this. Instead, it probes lightly at us with a feather-soft touch, identifies our weaknesses, lulls us into complacency, and then digs its hooks in and rips. Audiard's matter-of-fact direction is disarming, so when the big moments come he's made us completely unprepared for their effect.
He also delivers a few flashes of sheer visual poetry that literally took my breath away. A whale swimming up out of the murk, a man desperately punching at an iced-over lake, even a shot of a van door opening and a prosthetic leg emerging — these are images that will stick with me for a long time.
For their parts, Schoenert and Cotillard craft two of the most remarkable, quiet performances I've seen in a long time. Like Audiard, they give us just enough and no more. At first I didn't really like either of them. By the end, I had fallen in love with both, and I can't identify the moment where that happened.