James McAvoy and Annette Bening shine this weekend with 'Split' and '20th Century Women'

"I don't get it. What is the attraction of going to the movies to become anxious, disturbed and scared!"

SPLIT (2017)

Score: B

Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) -- 117 minutes

I don't get it. What is the attraction of going to the movies to become anxious, disturbed, and scared! For some reason, lots of people will flock to see yet another M. Night Shyamalan psychological thriller. I still shudder at some of the bloody horror he displayed in last year's THE VISIT. The significant difference, however, between these two Shyamalan films is SPLIT is a much better movie. I would go as far as saying that this is one of Shyamalan's four best films. He has written and directed a fascinating "split" personality screenplay. In fact, 24 different personalities.

Actor James McAvoy earned his paycheck as the star of SPLIT. McAvoy plays Kevin, who is a psychiatric patient afflicted with dissociative identity disorder. He is absolutely believable. He will make your skin crawl. Also believable are the three abducted high school students, played by Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher was almost unrecognizable to me. She will always be Grizabella in the Broadway musical CATS. She won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, stopping the show with the song "Memory." Her role in SPLIT reminds us of just how good an actress she is.

THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW. I am not going to give any more of the plot away other than to say that there are the expected twists and turns and surprises. And yes – Shyamalan does introduce some supernatural hocus-pocus towards the end of the story. You will have to decide if you like the final twist at the end of the film.

I am comfortable awarding a strong B rating because of consistent – if not great – acting. With THE WITCH and now SPLIT – Taylor-Joy is a gifted young actress to watch. And, the challenge with films having a January release, is that outstanding performances such as what McAvoy and Buckley provide in SPLIT – will be long-forgotten around Academy Awards time one year from now.


Score: B

Rated R -- 118 minutes

I have written all year long that the toughest Oscar races this year will be for Best Actor and Best Actress. With only five nominations in each category, some great performances are going to be left off the list. In a typical year, Annette Bening should be a lock on a Best Actress nomination. She might be passed over when the nominations are announced four days from now. Bening, who will be married to Warren Beatty for 25 years this year, remains one of our finest and most beloved actresses working in film today. Consider her filmography: nominated four times for an Oscar – in THE GRIFTERS, AMERICAN BEAUTY, BEING JULIA, and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Personally, I first fell in love with her many years ago in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN is one of my favorite films of 2016. There is such sweetness and such loyalty in this story. Bening's performance is full of so much heart and reflection. As the mom, she is reinforced by an absolutely outstanding supporting cast. Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Lucas Jade Zuman each bring great empathy to their roles.

Written and directed by Mike Mills, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN is the story of so many women – finding themselves as single mothers raising an adolescent boy during the challenging days of the late 1970's. Her household is a bit funky. Mom is subsidizing the family income by renting out a room to an outspoken feminist photographer; trading room and board to a handyman who is renovating her house; a teenage girl who is strictly a platonic friend with her son; and the son who is just starting to find his way in this unforgiving world.

If the plot sounds a bit shallow and weak, that perhaps explains why this film is not receiving more than a B rating. I was touched by the themes of the baggage we seem to carry – the uncertainty we sometimes feel, how we cope with isolation and insecurity.

Many women across the country are marching this weekend. You just might march yourself to your favorite neighborhood theater and see Annette Bening who at this time is absolutely at the top of her game.


Next week, read the SURPRISES and the SNUBS of the 2017 Academy Award Nominations. Also, full reviews of:

PATERSON (2016) is more of an art film and unfortunately will search hard for an audience. Adam Driver, however, gives yet another outstanding 2016 performance to add to his growing filmography.

GOLD (2017) has a chance to make some money. A lot of advertising dollars are now being spent – as the producers realize that they have a pretty darn good movie on their hands. Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey gives a career-high performance.