Yes, many people are already writing their Top 10 movie lists for 2013. We're saving ours for the last week of the year. While we wait for this terrific movie year to wind down, we're going to start looking back at some highlights. Today, it's our favorite forgotten performances: These won't be rewarded come Oscar time, but they stuck with us nevertheless.
The brilliant, wrenching last half hour of Before Midnight has torn me apart the three times I've seen it. It's shocking and painful and full of the truth and nastiness that only two people who have known and loved each other a very long time can muster. It also establishes the secret of the whole Before Sunrise franchise: These movies have been about Celine all along.
In the first film, Ethan Hawke's Jesse seemed to be living out every callow American pseudo-intellectual boy's dream: Traveling through Europe, he spends a perfect evening wandering around Vienna with a beautiful French girl who understands him, man, in a way that no one back home ever could. It was moving and funny and real, but it also never pretended this was an actual relationship that could last outside this one evening. In Before Sunset, the sequel, Jesse is a successful author who still sort of thinks it's all about him, that all the problems that adult life brings can be solved in one grand, dramatic gesture. Celine is always present for these moments, simply being herself, calling Jesse out for his bullshit but secretly dreaming herself, wondering if that vague sense of dissatisfaction could possibly be extinguished by this coarse, full-of-himself American.
In Before Midnight, we see the ramifications of the last two films, in the real world. Jesse and Celine still love each other—the movie never wavers from that central fact—but we see clearly how so much of this relationship has been on Jesse's terms. Jesse got his big dramatic gesture but lost his family for it, something he secretly resents Celine for, which he'll never admit. (Jesse thinks that giving up everything means that he should automatically win every argument after that.) So he plunges forward in his life with self-regard, assuming that his genuine love for Celine will allow him to keep getting away with everything.
The fight at the end is Celine finally calling him out on it in the way that only someone who loves him—and is exhausted by him—can. Celine, a brilliant, ambitious woman who has put aside much of her life for Jesse and their twins, notes that Jesse just gets what he wants all the time, without paying for it. He doesn't know the name of the family pediatrician; he begs out of the more strenuous parts of parenting; he falls into routines that benefit him far more than Celine. She, basically, picks the relationship apart. As with all fights, she's right about some things and wrong about others, but Julie Delpy never makes us feel like Celine is just complaining, or is just trying to pick a fight. This has always been her life too, and in the real world, the fantasies of the last two films can crumble… and she's the one always having to sweep them up.
And yet: She still loves him, they still love each other, and they'll keep moving forward. Both Hawke and Delpy have aged, obviously, but Delpy still feels connected to the world; you can almost see Hawke (and Jesse) receding into gruff older gentleman mode. Celine is still trying, still believing, still fighting… and Delpy makes us feel every second of it. It's an incredible performance. I can't wait to see what she comes up with seven years from now, because she keeps getting better. And we keep loving her more.
Denis O'Hare is one of those great "that guy" character actors: You may not recognize his name, but you know his face and love his work. A Tony-winner (for Take Me Out) and Emmy nominee (for American Horror Story), O'Hare has been featured on television shows such as True Blood, The Good Wife and Brothers & Sisters, and in movies like 21 Grams and The Proposal. (He plays the doctor who keeps Angelina Jolie locked up in Changeling and the doctor who stands in the way of Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.) But he's rarely gotten the chance to shine on-screen like he did in C.O.G., one of the year's real buried treasures.
Written and directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier With Practice), C.O.G. is adapted from a David Sedaris story and stars Jonathan Groff as David, a young East Coast snob who travels to Oregon to take a summer job at an apple orchard, convinced he needs some real-world, regular-folks experience. David is grappling with his homosexuality, but he finds himself becoming friends with Jon (O'Hare), an older born-again Christian and Gulf War vet who wants to spread the Gospel, unaware that David, his would-be new protégé, is gay.
C.O.G. is a lovely balance between comedy and drama—it's a slender film enlivened by its collection of precise, multi-dimensional characters—and Jon is the person who lingers longest in the memory. As played by O'Hare, he's a mess of contradictions: He's a genuinely funny and thoughtful man, but he's also a bigot with an incredibly short fuse, as if the sinner he once was and the saved man he thinks he now is are fighting for supremacy.
Jon is the kind of character that's easy to mock—a clueless, hypocritical fool who clings to religion because he can't cope otherwise. But O'Hare won't let us see him so simply. Instead, Jon is revealed to be an empathetic man in real spiritual crisis, a well-intentioned soul trying to convert David to Christianity who can't even control his own worst impulses. In the process, O'Hare delivers something uncommon: a compassionate, nonjudgmental portrayal of how flawed everyday people wrestle with faith, trying to aspire to something greater than themselves even though they're cursed to be the screwed-up individuals that they are. In real life, you probably would want to steer clear of someone as angry and exhausting as Jon. But the beauty of O'Hare's performance is how he draws us in, giving Jon the grace he'll never find himself.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.