Lonergan. Kenneth Lonergan is a New Yorker who came up as a screenwriter and playwright. He’s made three films from 2000-2020, all three very solidly in the archives. The films are known for their supreme writing and acting. His films are flawless, but not overflowing with cinematic style or ambition. Like Bennett Miller just a few slots before him here- it seems very unlikely Lonergan ever makes a bad film or a masterpiece. He seems dead set on taking his time to make sure he gets it done his way— Kenneth Lonergan films—and the lengthy Orson Welles-like battle he had with the studios over final cut of Margaret has become part of the narrative now both for his career and for Margaret as a film.

intimate stories of families dealing with trauma– his 2000 debut here- You Can Count on Me

Best film: Manchester by the Sea

  • Kenneth Lonergan cements himself as one of the great screenwriters of the 21st century
  • An achievement for Casey Affleck in his Oscar-winning role (his “I can’t beat it” is devastating). With the flashback structure it’s sort of like the creation of an emotional monster in reverse.
  • He’s at his wits end—antisocial, fight in bar (a call back later)
  • Shoveling in winter- this is a winter story and the thawing of the ground for the Kyle Chandler’s character body, the use of the boat with warmer weather at the end and the hint of a smile on Affleck is significant
  • It’s not just great writing in the big moments (the meeting on the street with Michelle Williams, the police station) and the dialogue—but also in the formal repetition (though not much here visually) and call-backs. Extremely economic without feeling predictable or constricted. We have Lucas Hedges’ character losing it with his freezer, the focus on Affleck’s apartment (a self-made prison cell but says he’s looking for one with an extra room at the end) as furniture as a sign of his growth
  • Like Margaret we have the operatic classic score here
  • Lonergan is a master of the family drama- You Can Count on Me, Margaret, Manchester – an impressive oeuvre – raw, realism— it’s not like the other gifted 21st century screenwriters like The Coen brothers, Aaron Sorkin, O. Russell, Charlie Kaufman, Tarantino
  • The supporting work around Casey is incredible—Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol in a key scene- Lucas Hedges is a revelation—nom for him, Williams—wins for Casey and Lonergan for writing
  • It’s combative but authentic—no bow on the ending. It’s funny at moments and there’s a clear performance chemistry between Hedges and Affleck
  • The gut-punch flashback scene— my god—tragedy. The acting in the police station is a tour-de-force from Affleck
  • The town is very much a part of the film- reoccurring shots of the sea— it’s not just going from living room to living room for the 137 minute running time

The town is very much a part of the film- reoccurring shots of the sea— it’s not just going from living room to living room for the 137 minute running time– set up during the credits- but serves as powerful formal interludes as well

  • Slow-motion during funeral
  • Two of the best actors of their generation- Affleck and Williams- the heavyweight meeting on the screen—just exceptional work

Two of the best actors of their generation- Affleck and Williams- the heavyweight meeting on the screen—just exceptional work

total archiveable films: 3

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  0

most overrated:  Lonergan’s are doing very well on the TSPDT consensus list. Margaret is on the cusp of making the top 1000 (it sits at #1039) and is #6 of 2011. That’s higher than where it should be for 2011. Manchester By the Sea is doing even better- it is #4 of 2016. I think it is superb, but it should be a few slots lower. So it is somewhat splitting hairs—but both are a little overrated. You Can Count on Me is just about in the right— the TSPDT has it at #19 of the year 2000.

most underrated :  Lonergan does not have an underrated film—all three are slightly overrated, nothing egregious, or just right.

gem I want to spotlight :  Margaret

  • Another feat for Lonergan—magnificent characterizations, supreme acting, accomplished writing—literate and metropolitan
  • Supposed to come out in 2007 but lawsuits and studio/auteur battles over the length and control of the film
  • No character in the film with the title name—refers to Gerald Manley Hopkins poem read during the film by Paquin in a classroom scene
  • Starts with some beautiful grandiose slow-motion shots of New Yorkers on the street
  • It’s a family drama, a character study (these are real people, flawed, inconsistent but in a good way- depth), but it also acts as group grieving and post 9-11 trauma
  • Paquin is a tour-de-force here- volcanic one minute, selfish the next, —she’s also very well cast as a New Yorker after 25th Hour and The Squid and the Whale
  • Novelistic—pain, morality
  • Shouting matches—jousts—very East coast and angry
  • Formally it starts out so ambitiously—we have the slow-motion interludes and the establishing shots of New York but these drop off… we bounce, formally, off the family drama to heated classroom debates about politics—people cutting each other off—Lonergan uses duration as part of the discomfort. I can see why he needed to fight for this film to be longer
  • Her unprotected sex and possible pregnancy adds to the milieu—so messy—she wants to get rid of her guilt
  • A true coming of age—the system is flawed—a look at why we’re all a little edgy and jaded.
  • A great line—“this is not an opera”- but it is—it is to Lisa (Paquin) and all of us.
  • The ending is magnificent. The crying at the MET—art as catharsis

from Margaret – another feat for Lonergan—magnificent characterizations, top-notch acting, accomplished writing—literate and metropolitan

stylistic innovations/traits:                             

  • Character driven dramas
  • Operatic classical scores
  • The formal interludes (establishing shots in You Can Count and Manchester and the classroom debates in Margaret) –between the intelligent dialogue exchanges. he’s a stronger formal filmmaker than visual stylist
  • Intimate stories of families dealing with trauma—but in a literary linear way in comparison with Lynne Ramsay’s impressionism
  • Setting is important—NYC in Margaret, Manchester of course in Manchester by the Sea
  • Impeccable screenplays and acting

Impeccable screenplays and acting

top 10

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Margaret
  3. You Can Count on Me


By year and grades

2000- You Can Count on Me R
2011- Margaret HR
2016- Manchester By the Sea HR


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives