Netflix Pix: Vicky, Cristina, Maria Elena, Hannah and Her Sisters

Kevin from Awkward is What We Aim For here with another installment of Netflix Pix.

This week, we're taking a look at some of the most fabulous women ever to grace Woody Allen's oeuvre. That's right, this week we're looking at the my number one film of 2008, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, starring Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johanssen, Patricia Clarkson and the fiery Oscar winner Penelope Cruz. We'll also take a look at Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen's 1986 box office success that stars Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Allen himself, and two Oscar winners, Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest.
Fair warning: this week's Netflix Pix is going to be less exciting than usual. I can say right now that the grade for both films is easily an A, and there are probably more than a few who disagree with me, particularly regarding Vicky Cristina Barcelona. But this is where we all learn something about me, and Awkward is What We Aim For as a result, that we all know already: I'm a sucker for a good script and great acting.

First, let's quickly talk about Hannah and Her Sisters, a movie very few would argue isn't deserving of high praise. With a brilliant script that remains one of Allen's crowning achievements (along with Annie Hall and Manhattan, as well as arguably Match Point) and a cavalcade of now-legendary actors, Hannah holds up incredibly well. It's funny, refreshing, impressively plotted and masterfully acted. Watching Barbara Hershey's performance here (as well as considering her underrated performance in Black Swan), it's a shame she never broke out to be a bigger star in Hollywood. Of course, screen legends Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine are doing some of the best work of their careers here, with Wiest as the true revelation. Hannah is on Instant Stream: there's really no reason not to watch this one.

But the real point of this column is to defend my love of Allen's 2008 Spanish venture, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. His third film shot in Europe and the first of which wasn't shot in the United Kingdom, Barcelona is often considered nothing more than the best of Allen's worst works. However, the film deserves more credit than that: while it isn't as superbly scripted as some of his other works (though it's still a fine script), the acting captures the emotions of the film perfectly. Of course, Penelope Cruz is magnificent as the fiery Maria Elena--her Oscar was well-earned. She captures the insanity and humanity of the character in equal measure--not an easy feat.

Javier Bardem gives good smolder, nailing his deadpan delivery while still managing to remain magnetic on-screen. Scarlett Johanssen captures the restlessness of her vacationing student with aplomb. Minor characters like Patricia Clarkson's sexually frustrated wife nail their performances with few scenes. But perhaps the best in the film is the Woody Allen stand-in Vicky, played with the greatest uptight energy by Rebecca Hall. The performance could have been immensely unlikable, and it surely isn't truly likable, but she makes the character's arc feel completely believable and relatable.

Two different films, two different triumphs: one of acting and one of writing. Each is competent in the other regard and is directed with Allen's signature quirkiness. Each is a prime example of exactly why Allen is the legend he is. Each is worth an easy A.

Agree? Disagree? Take it to the comments! We'll be back with Netflix Pix again!