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The Best Movie I’ve Seen in 2018 (So Far)

July 25, 2018

puzzle

Oftentimes the films that sound like the absolute worst on paper turn out to be the best on screen. If you had told me at this time last year that my favorite movie of 2017 — and the winner of Best Picture at the Oscars — was a Cold War-era romance between a mute cleaning woman and a fish-man — I would’ve said that makes as much sense as the title The Shape of Water.

It may sound puzzling, but my favorite movie I’ve seen in 2018 so far is about a mousy housewife who discovers she has genius-level skills at putting together jigsaw puzzles and sees the pieces of her life falling into an exhilarating new place as a result. I know, I know, it sounds awful, but trust me on this one: Puzzle is a masterpiece.

Adapted by one of the world’s most underrated filmmakers, Oren Moverman, along with Polly Mann, from 2010’s Argentine movie Rompecabezas, Puzzle stars Kelly Macdonald, whom I had the privilege of interviewing along with director Marc Turteltaub and producer Wren Arthur after a recent SAG-AFTRA Foundation screening of the film.The Glaswegian actress has brought a captivating presence to Trainspotting, No Country for Old Men, Gosford Park and Boardwalk Empire, but nothing prepared me for the powerful subtlety of her performance here.

Screen-Shot-2018-07-25-at-10.45.46-AM

Macdonald says and does relatively little in many of her scenes, yet a deeply moving drama plays out across her face; she would’ve been a great silent-film actress. She’s matched in quality by Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire) as a slyly seductive divorced inventor who becomes her puzzle-competition partner and David Denman (aka Roy, Pam’s first fiancé on The Office) as her lunkheaded-mechanic husband.

The beauty of Puzzle comes not just from its luminous visuals and hypnotic score but from the empathy it shows for each of its characters, including the very different sons of Macdonald’s and Denman’s characters, played by Austin Abrams and Bubba Weiler. One’s a smart-ass college-bound kid who wants to take a gap year and travel in Tibet; the other’s a frustrated wannabe chef forced to work at his father’s garage.

The characters in Puzzle sometimes make morally questionable decisions, but there are no heroes or villains here. Like puzzle pieces, everyone has their own unique shape. Kind of like the shape of water, you might say.  But when you put them all together, they create a picture more breathtakingly beautiful than the sum of its parts.

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