The National Society of Film Critics Honors Nomadland

I was kind of hoping that, when they met and voted earlier today, the National Society Of Film Critics would add some new films and performances to the Oscar discussion but instead, they went for the usual suspects.  Nomadland took Best Picture, though First Cow was a close runner-up.  Chloe Zhao, Frances McDormand, and Maria Bakalova won again.  I mean, if we’re going to be honest …. it was all pretty predicable.  Remember how, in past years, it sometimes took nearly an entire day for the NSFC to announce all their winners because the voting was so close?  That didn’t happen this year.  It was all pretty much cut-and-dried.  I followed along on twitter because I’m addicted to this stuff but as soon as they announced Frances McDormand was their pick for Best Actress, I knew how the day was going to go.

(And don’t get me wrong!  Frances McDormand is great!  I haven’t seen Nomadland yet but I greatly admired The Rider, Chloe Zhao’s previous film.  Please do not think that I’m saying that any of these awards are undeserved because I most certainly am not.  Instead, I’m just saying that — from the perspective of a lifelong Oscar watcher — it’s more fun when things aren’t predictable.)

Oh well, it happens.  Sometimes, you have an Oscar race where every precursor is unpredictable and it seem like anyone could win.  And then we have years like this one, where the same film keeps winning over and over again.  Some people would say that we should probably just be happy that people can all agree on something for once.  Hopefully, they won’t say that to me, though.  If we’re all going to agree on something, let’s agree to treat one another with respect and not always jump to the worst conclusion about the other side.  Agreeing on films, though, is nothing to celebrates.  Films are meant to be argued about.

Anyway, here are the winners from the National Society Of Film Critics!

Best Picture
Winner: NOMADLAND (52 points)
Runners-up: FIRST COW (50 points) & NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (41 points)

Best Director
Winner: Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND (58 points)
Runners-up: Steve McQueen, SMALL AXE (41 points) & Kelly Reichardt, FIRST COW (30 points)

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner: COLLECTIVE (38 points)
Runners-up: BACURAU and BEANPOLE (36 points) & VITALINA VARELA (32 points)

Best Actress
Winner: Frances McDormand, NOMADLAND (46 points)
Runners-up: Viola Davis, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (33 points) & Sidney Flanigan, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (29 points)

Best Actor
Winner: Delroy Lindo, DA 5 BLOODS (52 points)
Runners-up: Chadwick Boseman, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (47 points) & Riz Ahmed, SOUND OF METAL (32 points)

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Maria Bakalova, BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM (47 points)
Runners-up: Amanda Seyfried, MANK (40 points) & Youn Yuh-jung, MINARI (33 points)

Best Supporting Actor
​Winner: Paul Raci, SOUND OF METAL (53 points)
Runners-up: Glynn Turman, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (36 points) & Chadwick Boseman, DA 5 BLOODS (35 points)

Best Screenplay
Winner: Eliza Hittman, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (38 points)
Runners-up: Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, FIRST COW (35 points) Charlie Kaufman, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (29 points)

Best Cinematography
Winner: Joshua James Richards, NOMADLAND (47 points)
Runners-up: Shabier Kirchner, LOVERS ROCK (41 points) & Leonardo Simões, VITALINA VARELA (34 points)

The Films of 2020: The Midnight Sky (dir by George Clooney)

For all of his skill as an actor, George Clooney is a remarkably mediocre director.

Yes, I know.  Clooney was nominated for an Oscar for directing Good Night, and Good Luck but that film was honored more for what it was about than what it actually was.  All of Clooney’s directorial efforts — from the Oscar-nominated to the Razzie-embraced — have suffered from two huge problems.

Number one, George Clooney can occasionally set up an interesting shot but he appears to have no idea how to create or maintain narrative momentum.  His films tend to lay flat, with incidents piled on top of each other but you never get the feeling that there’s some sort of internal motor moving the action along.  It’s not easy creating and maintaining a narrative flow but it’s something that all good film directors can do. It’s also something that Clooney has never managed to master.  Instead, he seems to assume that his own good intentions and broader concerns will provide the film with whatever momentum it needs.  Unfortunately, good intentions are not the same as storytelling talent and, as a director, Clooney rarely brings any of the nuance that’s makes him such a good actor.  George Clooney could play Michael Clayton but he could never direct the film named for him.

This bring us to Clooney’s other problem as a director, which is that he approaches his films with this sort of dorky earnestness that feels incredibly old-fashioned.  On the one hand, dorky earnestness can be a likable trait.  On the other hand, when watching his directorial efforts, you do find yourself wondering if George Clooney has seen any films made after 1989.  There’s nothing terribly subversive about George Clooney’s artistic vision.  He’s not a director who takes you by surprise nor is he a director who is capable of making you look at the world in a different way.  While other filmmakers are challenging preconceived notions and attempting to reinvent the cinematic language, Clooney is busy trying to revive live television productions and making the type of stolid films that haven’t been relevant since the end of the studio system.  It’s a shame because, as an actor in films like Michael Clayton and Up In The Air, Clooney expertly revealed the insecurity that lurked underneath the seemingly perfectly façade of the seemingly successful alpha male.  But as a director, he’s a third-rate Taylor Hackford.  And while it’s true that not every director can be Martin Scorsese, is it too much to ask for a director who at least tries to do something unique or different?  For someone who has enough money and international clout that he can basically get away with just about anything and who has worked multiple times with the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh, Clooney is an oddly risk-adverse filmmaker.

Unfortunately, all of Clooney’s directorial weaknesses are on display in The Midnight Sky, a rather slow science fiction film that would have made a good episode of The Twilight Zone but which falls flat as a movie.  In this one, the world is ending and George Clooney is basically the last man left in the Arctic.  Clooney is playing an astronomer who has spent his life searching for habitable planets and who is now dying of a terminal disease.  He thinks he’s alone but then he comes across a mysterious girl named Iris.  Iris rarely speaks and when she does speak, it’s to ask questions like, “Did you love her?”  While Clooney is trying to figure where the little girl came from, he’s also trying to get in contact with a space mission so that he can warn them that the Earth is no longer inhabitable and they should relocate to one of Jupiter’s moon.

The space mission, meanwhile, is made up of Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bircher, and Tiffany Boone.  They’re stuck in space and trying to figure out why they can’t communicate with Earth.  There’s a scene where their station gets bombarded by asteroids.  The special effects are impressive (and this is a film that, despite being released on Netflix, really is meant to be viewed on a big screen) but during the whole scene, I was like, “Hey, it’s Gravity all over again!”  Clooney never makes the familiar material his own.  Instead, you find yourself thinking about all of the other sci-fi films that you’ve seen about the end of the world.  Clooney doesn’t have the eccentricity of Alfonso Cuaron nor does he have the frustrating but intriguing megalomania of Christopher Nolan.  Instead, he’s still same the director who thought that Edward R. Murrow was never more compelling than when he was complaining about people wanting to be entertained.

Lest anyone think that I’m going overboard in my criticism, allow me to say that The Midnight Sky isn’t really terrible as much as it’s just incredibly bland and forgettable.  As I said before, the special effects are impressive.  Clooney manages a few properly desolate shots of the Arctic, though making the Arctic look like the end of the world isn’t exactly the most difficult task in the world.  As an actor, Clooney wears a beard in The Midnight Sky.  Whenever the beard makes an appearance, you know that Clooney means for us to take him seriously and he gives an okay performance.  He delivers his lines convincingly but his character is a bit dull and you can’t help but feel that Clooney the director wasted the talents of Clooney the actor.  The film probably would have been improved if he and Kyle Chandler had switched roles.

The Midnight Sky didn’t really work for me.  The end of the world should never be this boring.

Artwork of the Day: Backwater Woman (by Rudy Nappi)

by Rudy Nappi

The message of this cover appears to be that, if you’re going to live in the backwaters, you’re going to have to bare your midriff and show a little leg if you want to survive.  The arched eyebrow suggests that she thinks she had the situation under control but sticking your bare feet into yellow swamp water is not recommended, unless you want to risk attracting leeches and crocodiles.

This book was first published in 1957.  The cover is by Rudy Nappi, whose work I’ve frequently shared in the past and I’ll probably share even more of it in the future.

Music Video of the Day: I Don’t Care Anymore by Phil Collins (1983, directed by Stuart Orme)

Phil Collins takes a lot of abuse.  Remember Noel Gallagher telling voters to vote Labour in 2005 because Phil Collins was threatening to return to the UK if the Tories got in?  Admittedly, Phil brings some of that abuse on himself by being notoriously thin-skinned and quick to take offense.  (I’ve always gotten the impression that one reasons why the Gallagher brothers always picked on Phil was because they knew he’d never have sense enough to just ignore them and would always reply.)  But Phil Collins deserves better than he’s often given.

Not only does his music epitomize an era but he’s also one of the better drummers around.  Collins famously started out as a Genesis’s drummer, only becoming their ubiquitous lead singer after Peter Gabriel left the band.  (Going from Gabriel to Collins was just as extreme as you might think, which is why Peter Gabriel’s Genesis is often considered to be a totally different band from Phil Collins’s Genesis.)  In I Don’t Care Anymore, Collins shows off his skills as a drummer and regardless of what you might think about Collins’s overall career, the song definitely rocks.

Like most of Collins’s better songs, I Don’t Care Anymore is a dark and angry song that exists a universe away from the Disney soundtrack material that Collins produced in the 90s.  He wrote this song while he was going through his first divorce, a process that left him emotionally exhausted and feeling as if he didn’t care anymore.

The video, which is largely a performance clip, was directed by Stuart Orme, who directed several videos in the 80s.  He also did the video for Collins’s In The Air Tonight, a song that’s even darker than this one.