Both Cake and Two Days, One Night are now out in Dallas theaters and the two lead actresses, Jennifer Aniston and Marion Cotillard, highlight a stellar group of female performances for 2014-15.  In that stellar group are Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike.  In all I've sadly only missed the SAG and OSCAR favorite Julianne Moore's performance.  But it's the unique choices by the SAG awards, to nominate Aniston, and the Oscars, to nominate Cotillard, that has me reviewing these two films/performances together.  Click through for my reviews of the film.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT – Directed By The Dardenne Brothers (Luc and Jean-Pierre).

Official Synopsis –

"For the first time, the Dardenne Brothers have teamed with a major international star, Academy Award ® winner Marion Cotillard, and the result is another masterwork of humanism.  Sandra (Cotillard) has just returned to work after recovering from an illness. Realizing that the company can operate with one less employee, management tells Sandra she is to be let go while the remaining employees will each receive a bonus.  Over the course of a weekend, Sandra, often with the help of her loving husband (Fabio Rongione), races against time to convince each of her fellow co-workers to sacrifice their much-needed bonuses in order for her to keep her job. With each encounter, Sandra is brought into a different world with unexpected results while her fate hangs in the balance.  The Dardennes have brought an extremely relevant social inquiry and turned it into a powerful statement on community solidarity"

Marion Cotillard dominates this emotional race as she's in every sequence and scene.  The voyeur style of the Dardenne Brothers allows for some intimate and  tense moments in almost all of their films.  Two Days, One Night allows for the brothers to showcase the raw power of one of the finest actresses in the world.  They've stripped her of her elegant sexuality and instead we see a broken and defeated mother trying to hold on.  It's a film that allows Marion to focus on all of her emotional lexicon to give a tremendously focused performance.  Each "battle" with a co-worker holds more risk and chance for failure.  We see her hit bottom and make a ghastly choice that could forever impact her loving husband and children.  Overall it's a performance that could easily become tedious or unemphatic but instead Marion holds our attention throughout.  The Dardennes' make you question how you would react in this situation and it's a wonderful way to keep the audience hooked into their realistic style of filmmaking.  A powerful look at what it takes to be strong-willed when you've lost your respectability.  A worthy Oscar nomination and a very questionable snub by the SAGs. 

CAKE Directed by Daniel Barnz.

Official Synopsis –

"Claire Simmons (Jennifer Aniston) is in pain. Her physical pain is evident in the scars that line her body and the way she carries herself, wincing with each tentative step. She’s no good at hiding her emotional pain either. Blunt to the point of searing insult, Claire’s anger seethes out of her with nearly every interaction. She has driven away her husband, her friends — even her chronic-pain support group has kicked her out.

The only one left in Claire’s otherwise solitary existence is her housekeeper-cum-caretaker, Silvana (Academy Award nominee Adriana Barraza), who barely tolerates her boss’ need for liquor and prescription pills. But the suicide of Nina (Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick), one of Claire’s fellow chronic-pain group members, prompts another fixation. In pursuing questions about the death of a woman she barely knew, Claire explores the boundaries between life and death, abandonment and heartbreak, danger and salvation. As she inserts herself into the lives of Nina’s husband (Sam Worthington) and the son Nina left behind, Claire just might find salvation."

Jennifer Aniston's (Claire) painful agony filled world in CAKE is something we've not seen her tackle before.  Director Daniel Barnz and Writer Patrick Tobin have made a compelling film from Tobin's short story by giving us a fully realized female lead character.  Overall Aniston's constant battles create some fantastic scenes especially with Adriana Barraza's Silvana character.  The plot line of Anna Kendrick's deceased Nina and her widowed husband Sam Worthington lack the real meat of Aniston scenes on her own.  I just wish we'd gotten more sequences with underrated Chris Messina who plays Claire's separated husband.  The loss they share is a real cloud over the film and something you yearn for more of that part of the plot.  The mother element of the film is understated and used more as a "sad" reveal but should have been highlighted more giving us the real agony behind Claire's struggles. Cake has a quality story to tell and shows a fresh new production company like CINELOU has the balls to back good scripts.  Aniston has now given us a full complete character that we haven't seen since she was on TV. 

I commend the SAG for giving Aniston a nice shout out but overall Cotillard's performance deserves full recognition at both major award shows.

Check out our SAG coverage next week.

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