The Great Performances of 2020 | Features

Arriving as the film’s central family struggles to acclimate to the heartland, Youn’s character lends the home a binding force. She’s crossed the globe to be with them. As she teaches little David how easy it is to grow minari, an herb traditionally used in Korean cooking, what she is actually planting is the notion that it’s not where they are or what they do that matters but the gift of being together. In Youn’s sincere, and sometimes devilish smile, and later her mournful eyes, the language of heartfelt care for others comes across unencumbered. (Carlos Aguilar

Cooper Raiff as Alex Malmquist in “Shithouse

Cooper Raiff’s performance in “Shithouse” isn’t necessarily from a fully realized actor, or person. In many scenes, he’s out-acted by his co-lead, Dylan Gelula, an actor with quite a few more credits to her name. But instead of being a dramatic showcase, “Shithouse” opts to be a display of empathy, humanity, and growth, with those qualities resting on Raiff. 

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Taking on writing, directing, and lead acting responsibilities, Raiff, in his early 20s, crafts a movie that’s uniquely his own, drawing from personal experience, giving a level of honesty missing from most films. Playing a version of himself in Alex, an aimless 19-year-old struggling in his first year of college who’s thousands of miles away from home, Raiff offers a tender look at the pangs of maturation, of needed development, and of young love. Following Alex’s night as he goes to one of his first college parties and connects with his RA, Maggie (Gelula), the film allows Raiff to present himself bare to the viewer, a portrait of a lost, nervous kid searching for some semblance of glue to hold him and his life together. 

Every look and emotion sprayed across Raiff’s face, which he rarely hides, is authentic, seemingly the best word to describe “Shithouse.” He doesn’t need to be the best actor in Hollywood, or even in his film, for the performance to matter and to resonate. Instead, he provides wit and heartbreak, laughter and loss, and the ability to send nine messages on Instagram without looking creepy. Raiff almost makes you miss having your heart broken. He’s the only actor for the role, and with him soaking up the screen, fittingly next to Gelula, the film doesn’t need to be fully realized to be important. “Shithouse” and Raiff are intertwined, and that connection leads to one of the year’s most honest performances. (Michael Frank)

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