Hollywood Contenders – Has “Youth” been underestimated?

“Youth,”  Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel
I’ve been teasing it out for a few weeks, but I absolutely adored Youth. Paolo Sorrentino’s film is a beautiful feast for the eyes, incredibly well acted by the quartet of Michael Caine, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, and Harvey Keitel, not to mention incredibly poignant. Reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival had been mostly positive, but I was very nearly blown away by how great this was. Not only is it among the top dozen things I’ve seen this year, I think it has a good chance to be an under the radar Oscar contender in the acting categories, among other places. I’d watch out for Youth, which opens in limited release on Friday…

The movie is a drama with comedic tinges. We follow retired orchestra composer Fred Ballinger (Caine) as he spends an annual holiday at a resort in the Alps. He’s joined, as always, by his longtime friend, film director Mick Boyle (Keitel), though this year he also has daughter Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) in attendance. The resort is home to many a famous person, including American actor Jimmy Tree (Dano), but Fred spends most of his time either alone or with Mick. When an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform his “Simple Songs” for Prince Philip’s birthday comes in, we start to find out more about just who he is. In addition to those cast members and the aforementioned Fonda, Paloma Faith is on hand, among others. Sorrentino writes and directs, making this his second English language feature.

Youth Jane Fonda

I’m a huge fan of the performances here, along with the visuals. Again, the group of Caine, Dano, Fonda, and Keitel are outstanding. Caine is the lead and delivers one of his very best performances to date, with the same being said for Keitel’s supporting turn. Dano is mellow and a completely different energy in the flick, but also is incredibly strong. As for Fonda, she absolutely steals her single scene. This takes nothing away from Weisz, who’s very good too, keep that in mind. Between the acting and the look of the film, courtesy of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, Sorrentino has an almost embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Throw in the score from David Lang and there’s tons to love here. I know some have found it a little lacking, but I’m not one of them. I even have a hunch that Oscar voters are going to be very fond of this one.

Awards wise, I can see a bigger campaign than expected coming the Academy’s way for Youth. Look for campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for Sorrentino), Best Actor (for Caine), Best Supporting Actor (for Dano and especially Keitel), Best Supporting Actress (mainly Fonda, but also Weisz), Best Original Screenplay (for Sorrention as well), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. I think the likely target is Caine in Actor, Keitel in Supporting Actor, and Fonda in Supporting Actress, but watch out for Sorrentino in Original Screenplay as well. If that happens or comes close to happening, a nomination in Picture could actually be in the cards.

Overall, I just think Youth is an outstanding bit of cinema. Sorption’s take on aging and regrets is often beautiful, with the performances by his cast only elevating that. Between the luscious cinematography, welcome bits of humor, and the moving plot points, it’s a near masterpiece. It very well could make my year end top ten list, and at the very least, it’s a must see in art houses when it begins its theatrical run this week. If it catches on, I’m sure voters will heavily consider it. Even if it doesn’t, I think the Academy and its members will have a hard time completely ignoring it. Sit tight and we’ll see what happens…

Be sure to check out Youth, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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