Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: Jeannie Berlin’s performance on HBO’s The Night Of.
Even if you’ve never seen Jeannie Berlin — and given her slim IMDb resume, it’s quite possible you haven’t — you instantly feel a connection with her when she appears onscreen. She’s a character actress in the most widely accepted use of the term, someone who inspires the reaction, “Oh, her!”
She only appears in seven of the ten episodes of The Night Of, a “limited” series (maybe) created by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price that unspooled on Sunday nights this summer on HBO. Her character, veteran prosecutor Helen Weiss, is a tough nut to crack. She carries herself with dignity and poise, but also sneers at her conversation partners and appears unmoved by appeals to her emotions. For a few episodes, she’s a background player, visible in one or two scenes only to disappear for most of the main action.
And then the trial of our protagonist, maybe-murderer Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed), begins, and Helen Weiss shines.
Devin and I took a look back at HBO’s summer miniseries The Night Of, a crime procedural embedded under a thick layer of ambiguity and eccentricity. Not everything about the show worked for us, but we found plenty to enjoy and even more to discuss.
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All too often, film criticism falls victim to what I call the “Oscar Eyes” phenomenon, prioritizing showy performances and actors who make noticeable physical commitments to their characters over work that’s subtle but no less critical to a movie’s effectiveness. Below, here’s my attempt to look beyond the performances likely to be up for awards. These performances are on the margins of Oscar consideration for several reasons: either they’re in movies that rarely attract awards attention, or they’ve been overshadowed by performances with more obvious “award-bait” moments. They’re worthy of recognition nonetheless.