The Atlantic magazine recently placed Fordham English Professor Shonni Enelow's article on contemporary styles of film acting on its list of "exceptional works of journalism" from 2016.
Published in October of that year in Film Comment, Enelow's essay discusses performances by Jennifer Lawrence (in Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games); Rooney Mara (in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Carol); Oscar Isaac (in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, and even Star Wars); and Michael B. Jordan (in Fruitvale Station and Creed), arguing that while "it’s notoriously difficult to analyze film acting," even so "acting styles, taken in the aggregate, are...unusually good barometers of cultural modes, themes, and ideas."
Taken together, Enelow argues, "the ambivalence about the trustworthiness of emotional expression" visible in these performances can tell us things about our present moment--the essay is titled "The Great Recession"--and its differences from the historical moments when Method Acting was prevalent or when the classical Hollywood styles of Greta Garbo and Cary Grant held sway in movies. For Enelow, "these performances make visible what cultural critic Lauren Berlant calls 'crisis ordinariness': the mundanity of trauma in a world of unexceptional violence."
“While cooler styles have always been with us, from Greta Garbo and Cary Grant to Steve McQueen and Charlotte Rampling, those actors communicate that they are above or outside of emotion, either aristocratically detached or winningly unflappable. In contrast, the thread of resistance to and evasion of spectacular emotionality among many in today’s new generation of stars doesn’t evoke emotional detachment or indifference but rather a tortured mistrust of expression itself—one that, in its understated way, clearly forms its own kind of emotional appeal to the audience at the same time as it dramatizes why the actor must resist making one.”