Here Are The 2020 Nominations of The Houston Film Critics Society!

The Houston Skyline

The Houston Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2020 on Tuesday.  They’ll announce the winners on January 18th and, hopefully, they’ll remember that Texas always goes its own way and they’ll make some unexpected picks.

(Personally, I’m interested to see how Minari does, as it was filmed in the Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas region and I do think there’s something to be said for local critics doing their bit to support local filmmaking.  I will also be interested to see who wins the award for Best Texas Independent Film.  I’m hoping it’ll be another victory for The Vast of Night.  We’ll find out on the 18th!)

Here are the nominees:

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods
The Father
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Darius Marder – Sound of Metal
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun – Minari

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Youn Yuh‑jung – Minari

Best Screenplay
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Animated Feature
The Croods: A New Age
Over the Moon

Best Cinematography
News of the World

Best Documentary Feature
Boys State
Dick Johnson is Dead
My Octopus Teacher

Best Foreign Language Feature
Another Round
La Llorona
A Sun

Best Original Score
The Midnight Sky
News of the World

Best Original Song
“Turntables” from All In: The Fight for Democracy
“Lo Si” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
“Rocket to the Moon” from Over the Moon
“Wear Your Crown” from The Prom

Best Visual Effects
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky

Best Stunt Coordination Team
Birds of Prey
The Old Guard
Wonder Woman 1984

Texas Independent Film Award
Boys State
Miss Juneteenth
Ready or Not
The Vast of Night
Yellow Rose

Outstanding Cinematic Achievement
Criterion Channel as Best Movie Streaming Platform
Minari for the performance by Alan S. Kim
Small Axe for Steve McQueen’s vision for film anthology
Sound of Metal for immersive sound design
The Trial of the Chicago 7 for ensemble cast

The Hawaii Film Critics Society Honors The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Spike Lee!

The Hawaii Film Critics Society announced their picks for the best of 2020 yesterday and they did not pick Nomadland.  Instead, they named The Trial of the Chicago 7 as the best picture of the year and they named Spike Lee as a best director for Da 5 Bloods.  (It’s interesting that, after years of struggling to get awards recognition, Lee is feeling getting recognized for films that are nowhere close to being as effective or as revolutionary as his best work.)  Nomadland, however, did not go home empty-handed.  Frances McDormand won Best Actress and Chloe Zhao did pick up an award for her screenplay.  (Zhao won adapted screenplay.  Sorkin won original screenplay.  I dread that the same thing is going to happen on Oscar night and we’re going to have to sit through an Aaron Sorkin filibuster about protest, politics, and why women need to learn more about sports.)

(“Let me fix you,” Aaron Sorkin says as he pulls out a DVD boxset of Sports Night.)

The best thing about the Hawaii Film Critics Society is that they also gave out awards for Best Comic Book movie so congratulations, Bloodshot!  (To be honest, Bloodshot probably deserved the award because it’s not like there’s a lot of competition this year and, seriously, have you tried to sit through Birds of Prey more than once?)  Possessor won the award for Best Overlooked Film of the year.  (I agree, by the way.)  And, of course, Wonder Woman 1984 won worst film of the year, despite all of those early reviews that declared it to be “the film that we need right now.”  Then again, with the way things are going, maybe we deserve a bad movie?  Who knows?

All I do know is that I wish I lived in Hawaii and now learning that they have their own Film Critics Society, I’m probably even more likely to look into moving.  Seriously, Hawaii is beautiful and the film critics are apparently quirky.

Here are the winners!

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods

Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods

Frances McDormand – Nomadland

Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal

Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Chris Craine and Dan Webster – Mank

Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Hoyte Van Hoytema – Tenet

Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Lupin III: The First

Beastie Boys Story


Sound of Metal

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Mank

“Speak Now” – One Night in Miami…



Regina King – One Night in Miami…

Florian Zeller – The Father

Possessor – Brandon Cronenberg

Jamie Foxx – Soul

Relic – Natalie Erika James

Bloodshot – Dave Wilson

Tenet – Christopher Nolan

The Life Ahead – Edoardo Ponti (Italy)

Waikiki – Christopher Kahunahana (Oahu)

Wonder Woman 1984

Artwork of the Day: Glamour Photography (by Rafael De Soto)

by Rafael De Soto

This was the cover of the Summer 1957 edition of Glamour Photography. I tried to find more information about the magazine but my Google search took me to some pretty weird places so I guess this cover (and the “glamour studio on wheels” blurb) will just have to speak for itself.

This cover was done by Rafael De Soto.  I’ve shared a lot of De Soto’s work on this site.  Apparently, in the 50s, farm girls would get all dressed up and sit at the side of the road while photographers cruised up and Route 66, searching for legs to photograph.  This cover is both innocent and tawdry.  I hope no one got in the car.

The Films of 2020: Hillbilly Elegy (dir by Ron Howard)

Oh, Hillbilly Elegy.

This is a film that I think a lot of people expected to be an Oscar contender because it was directed by industry favorite Ron Howard, it was based on a genuinely moving best seller, and the cast included Amy Adams and Glenn Close, two actresses who are more than overdue for their first Academy Award.  I don’t think anyone expected it to win much, largely because Ron Howard isn’t exactly the most groundbreaking director working in Hollywood, but it was still expected to be contender.

Even before it was released, there were a few signs that Hillbilly Elegy might not be the award-winning film that some were expecting.  The first images from the film featured Glenn Close and Amy Adams looking like characters from some sort of ill-conceived SNL sketch.  Then the trailer came out and it was so obviously Oscar bait-y and heavy handed that it was hard not to suspect that the film was trying just a bit too hard.  By the time the film itself finally premiered in November, I think a lot of people were specifically waiting for their chance to skewer it.

Make no mistake about it, Hillbilly Elegy deserves a certain amount of skewering.  Its a bit of a tonal mess and, far too often, it feels as if Ron Howard is inviting us to gawk at the film’s characters as opposed to showing them any sort of real empathy.  Those critics who have claimed that the film occasionally feels like “poverty porn” have a point.

And yet, despite all of those legitimate complaints, I would argue that the film is partially redeemed by the performance of Glenn Close.  Close plays Meemaw, who always seems to be carrying a lit cigarette and who has no hesitation about threating to beat the Hell out of her children and her grandchildren.  Meemaw lives in a cluttered house that probably reeks of smoke.  The TV is almost always on.  Meemaw is a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  If you’ve ever wanted to hear Glenn Close say, “Hasta la vista, baby,” this is the film for you.  Meemaw is a somewhat frightening character (during one flashback, she sets her drunk husband on fire) but she’s also the most caring character in the film.  When it becomes obvious that her drug addict daughter, Bev (Amy Adams), is incapable of taking care of J.D. (played by Owen Aszatlos as a teen and Gabriel Basso as an adult), Meemaw essentially kidnaps J.D. and take him home with her.  Close’s performance is undeniably theatrical but it works.  She communicates that underneath all the bluster and the profanity and the anger and the cigarette smoke, Meemaw truly does love her family.  Glenn Close transcends the film’s flaws and brings some real heart to the story.

Hillbilly Elegy opens with J.D. as a student at Yale Law School, hoping to get accepted for a prestigious summer internship.  Meanwhile, all the other Ivy Leaguers treat J.D. like some sort of alien on display because he’s originally from Kentucky, he served in the army, and he went to a state school.  Though ambitious and intelligent, J.D. still feels likes an outsider.  When he goes to a banquet and discovers that he’ll be required to use different forks throughout the meal, he calls his girlfriend (Frieda Pinto) and gets a quick lesson on which fork to use when.

Unfortunately, before the meal even starts, J.D. gets a call from his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), telling him that Bev has overdosed on heroin and is at the hospital.  J.D. has to drive all the way to Ohio so that he can try to get his mother into a drug rehab.  Because Bev doesn’t have medical insurance and would rather just stay with her good-for-nothing boyfriend, that turns out to be a bit more difficult than J.D. was anticipating.  The film becomes a race against time to see if J.D. can get his mom taken care of and still make it back to Connecticut so that he can interview for a prestigious internship.  Along the way, there are frequent flashbacks to Meemaw telling the young J.D. that he can be something better than just a hillbilly.  All he has to do is try and not give up.

By structuring his film as a series of flashbacks, Ron Howard ensures that there’s really not any suspense about whether or not J.D. is going to be able to escape from Appalachia.  Since we’ve already seen that the adult J.D. is going to be end up going to Yale, it’s hard to get worried when we see the teen J.D. smoking weed and hanging out with a bunch of losers.  We know that J.D. is going to get over his adolescent rebellion and get his life straightened out.  The film tries to create some tension about whether or not J.D. is going to be able to make his internship interview but, again, J.D. is going to Yale and living with Frieda Pinto.  From the minute we see J.D., we know that he’s going to be just fine regardless of whether he gets that internship or not.  In fact, his constant worrying about missing his interview starts to feel a bit icky.  While Bev is dealing with her heroin addiction, Ron Howard is focusing on J.D. driving back to Connecticut as if the audience is supposed to be saying, “Oh my God, has he at least reached New Jersey yet!?”  This is the type of storytelling choice that could only have been made by a very wealthy and very comfortable director.  It reminded me a bit of The Post and Steve Spielberg’s conviction that, when it came to the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, audiences would naturally be more interested in the owner of the newspaper than the people who actually did the work breaking the story.  Here, Howard seems to be saying, “Yes, Bev might overdose and die having never reconciled with her son but the real tragedy is that J.D. might have to settle for his second choice as far as prestigious summer internships are concerned.”

Along with the story’s structural issues, the film also suffers because the usually wonderful Amy Adams is miscast as Bev.  Adams acts up a storm as Bev but the performance itself a bit too obvious and on-the-surface.  While Glenn Close disappears into the role of Meemaw, you never forget that you’re watching Amy Adams playing a character who is a bit more troubled than the usual Amy Adams role.  You don’t think to yourself, “Oh my God, Bev is losing it.”  Instead, you think, “Amy Adams sure is yelling a lot in this movie.”  Somehow, Hillbilly Elegy makes Amy Adams feel inauthentic, which is something that, before I watched this film, I wouldn’t have believed to be be possible.

Aside from Glenn Close’s performance, Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t quite work and that’s a shame because I do think that a good film could have been made from Vance’s book.  Unfortunately, Ron Howard doesn’t bring any sort of grittiness to the film’s depiction of what it’s like to be poor and forgotten in America.  Instead, the film feels just a bit too slick.  It attempts to be both a film about poverty and a crowd pleaser.  When the movie should be showing empathy for its characters, it puts them on display.  When it should be challenging the audience, it pats us on the back as if we should feel proud of ourselves merely because we spent two hours watching J.D. and his family.  The film just doesn’t work.  No wonder Meemaw prefers watching The Terminator.

Music Video of the Day: Lick It Up by KISS (1983, directed by Martin Kahan)

Right.  What to make of this?

Lick It Up almost sounds like the title of a song that you would come up with if you were attempting to parody a KISS song.  However, KISS beat you to it because KISS is a band that has never been afraid to descend into self-parody.

The video has a very Spinal Tap feel to it, opening with a group of beautiful women living in a burned-out city.  They’ve figured out how to survive on their own but they’re still not happy.  Then the members of KISS come walking down to the street and start singing “Lick it up,” and everyone realizes what this post-apocalyptic hellscape has been missing.

This video was from the period where KISS stopped wearing their makeup because, when you’ve got a songs like Lick It Up, who needs a gimmick?

This video was directed by Martin Kahan, who also directed the video for KISS’s All Hell’s Breaking Loose.  That video also featured KISS performing in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.  I guess that was the thing to do in 1983.