I won’t decide who to vote for until I’ve seen all the films, but I have just seen a performance that, to all of us, is a rare gift, and that’s Saoirse Ronan as Mary Queen of Scots. In every part of every scene, she is so true, so deep inside the role that the line blurs between actor and character and then disappears. Ronan hands us a treasure that goes beyond this ‘race’ and this year, and is there for us forever.

Mary and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth the First of England, are each surrounded by male ‘advisors,’ a whole troop of them, pushing and pulling the queens toward the agenda these men have chosen. The queens are also aware of enemies, some hidden and some boldly in their faces. Treachery is always looming in those cold, dark castle corners.

The film is beautifully photographed, and we are held surely in the period. I wish the take on Elizabeth could have contained more of her strengths and less of her weaknesses, but history is open to choices. She is played well by Margot Robbie, but, in a few scenes, partly due to make-up, comes close to caricature.

Could there be a film more different from Mary Queen of Scots than The Sisters Brothers? It’s a frontier story of gold rush days, following two hired gunmen bent on killing two educated men who are interested in the gold that‘s waiting in the streams. I won’t say what happens when they all meet, but I will say that this is a truly engaging film with characters of depth, smart writing, excellent performances and you WILL be surprised -- many times. The actors are amazing, all four: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. You do need to be okay with screen violence, with gunfights, but in trade you get more value than you expect.

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Copyright Gerald DiPego 2015-2017