The Films of 2020: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (dir by Aaron Sorkin)


The Trial of the Chicago 7, the latest film from Aaron Sorkin, is a fairly mediocre and rather forgettable film.  Because of that mediocrity, it stands a pretty good chance of doing very well at the Oscars later this year.

Aaron Sorkin specializes in political fan fiction.  He writes plays, movies and television shows that address big and controversial issues in the most safely liberal way possible.  Whenever Sorkin writes about politics, there’s not a single debate that can’t be won by one long, overdramatic speech, preferably delivered in an office or a conference room while everyone who disagrees nervously stares at the ground, aware that they’ll never be able to match the rhetorical brilliance of their opponents.  It’s a rather dishonest way to portray the ideological divide but it’s one that’s beloved by people who want to be political without actually having to do much thinking.  Sorkin is the poet laureate of the keyboard activists, the people who brag about how their cleverly-worded tweets “totally owned the MyPillow guy.”  (One sure sign of a keyboard activist is the excessive pride over rhetorically owning people who are ludicrously easy to own.  These are the people who think that Tom Arnold arguing about the electoral college with Kirstie Alley is the modern-day equivalent of the Lincoln/Douglas debates.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin not only wrote but also directed, deals with a real-life event, the 1969 trial of eight political activists who were charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  (Black Panther Bobby Seale was ultimately tried separately from the other defendants, leading to the Chicago 8 becoming the Chicago 7.)  Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the fun-loving activist who delights in upsetting the establishment.  Eddie Redmayne played Tom Hayden, who takes himself and his activism very seriously and who worries that Hoffman’s antics in the courtroom are going to discredit progressives for generations to come.  Hoffman ridicules Hayden for being a rich boy who is rebelling against his father.  Hayden attacks Hoffman for not thinking about how his actions are going to be perceived by the rest of America.  Sorkin the screenwriter is clearly on Hayden’s side while Sorkin the director keeps finding himself drawn to Hoffman, if just because Hoffman is the more entertaining character.  Hoffman gets to make jokes while Hayden has to spend the entire film with a somewhat constipated expression on his face.

As is typical of Sorkin’s political work, the film raises issues without really exploring them.  We learn that the defendants were all arrested during anti-war protests but the film never really explores why they’re against the war.  It’s mentioned that David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a pacifist who even refused to fight in World War II but at no point do we learn what led to him becoming a pacifist.  When Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) talk about how they feel that the government holds people like them in contempt and that they shouldn’t have to fight in a war that they don’t believe in, Sorkin’s script has them speak in the type of simplistic platitudes that could just as easily have been uttered by a MAGA supporter talking about the war in Afghanistan.  If all you knew about these men was what you learned in this film, you would never know that Hayden, Hoffman, and the rest of the Chicago 7 were activists both before and after the Vietnam War.  You’d never know that there was more to their ideology than just opposition to the Vietnam War.  The film never really digs into anyone’s beliefs and motivations.  Instead, everyone might as well just have “Good” or “Evil” stamped on their forehead.

Sorkin’s simplistic approach is most obvious when it comes to Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  With Seale, the film is more interested in how other react to him than in the man himself or his activism.  The film’s most shocking moment — when Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) orders Seale to be literally bound and gagged in the courtroom — actually did happen but the film mostly seems to use it as an opportunity to show that even the lead prosecutor (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is disgusted by the government’s heavy-handedness.  Seale and the Black Panthers are used more as symbols than as actual characters.

Since this is an Aaron Sorkin film, the action is male-dominated.  It’s justified as the Chicago 7 and their lawyers were all men. Still, it’s hard not to notice that the only prominent female characters are an undercover cop who betrays the protestors and a receptionist who is frequently reprimanded by the men in the film.  One black woman in a maid’s uniform does get a chance to reprimand Hayden for not speaking out when Bobby Seale was gagged but she’s never even given a name.  As often happens with women of color in films like this, she’s only there to remind the white heroes to do the right thing.

Watching The Trial of the Chicago 7, I found myself thinking about how lucky Aaron Sorkin was to get David Fincher as the director of The Social Network.  A smart director with a strong and unique style, Fincher was able to temper Sorkin’s tendency toward pompousness.  Unfortunately, as a director, Aaron Sorkin is no David Fincher.  While Sorkin has definitely established his own style as a writer, he directs like someone who learned how to stage a crowd-pleasing moment from watching Spielberg but who, at the same time, never noticed the sense of playfulness that Spielberg, especially early in his career, infused within the best of those scenes.  It’s all soaring rhetoric and dramatic reaction shots and cues to let us know when we’re supposed to applaud.  As a director, Sorkin never challenges the audience or lets the film truly come to any sort of spontaneous life.  Instead, he adopts a somewhat cumbersome flashback-laden approach.  The story never quite comes alive in the way that the similar courtroom drama Mangrove did.  It’s all very safe, which is one reason why I imagine The Trial of the Chicago 7 is as popular as it is.  It’s a film that allows the viewers to celebrate the fantasy of activism without having to deal with the messy reality of all the complications that come along with taking an actual stand.  It’s a film that encourages you to pat yourself on the back for simply having watched and agreeing that people have the right to protest.

I will say that Sorkin made some good casting choices.  Langella is memorably nasty of the judge and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a good job as the prosecutor.  Eddie Redmaye is a bit of a drag as Tom Hayden but Alex Sharp is likable as Hayden’s friend, Rennie Davis.  Michael Keaton has an effective cameo as Ramsey Clark.  The film presents Clark as being a bit of a wise liberal and the film’s epilogue doesn’t mention that Clark went on to a lucrative career of providing legal aide to murderous dictators and anti-Semites.  (Lyndon LaRouche was one prominent Ramsey Clark client.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 will probably do well come Oscar-time.  In many ways, it almost feels like a generic Oscar movie.  It’s about a historical event, it’s political without being radical, and it presents itself as being far more thoughtful than it actually is.  That’s been a winning combo for many films over the years.

The San Diego Film Critics Society Honors Promising Young Woman


The Nashville critics were not the only ones to honor Promising Young Woman and Carey Mulligan yesterday!  The San Diego critics did so as well.

Here are all of the winners from San Diego:

​Best Picture
BLACK BEAR
FIRST COW
NOMADLAND
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
SOUND OF METAL (RUNNER UP)
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (WINNER)

Best Director
Darius Marder – SOUND OF METAL
Kelly Reichardt – FIRST COW
Aaron Sorkin – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (RUNNER UP)
Florian Zeller – THE FATHER
Chloe Zhao – NOMADLAND (WINNER)

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL (WINNER)
Chadwick Boseman – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Brian Dennehy – DRIVEWAYS
Anthony Hopkins – THE FATHER (RUNNER UP)
Steven Yeun – MINARI

Best Actress
Viola Davis – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Vanessa Kirby – PIECES OF A WOMAN
Frances McDormand – NOMADLAND (RUNNER UP)
Carey Mulligan – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (WINNER)
Aubrey Plaza – BLACK BEAR

Best Supporting Actor
Sacha Baron Cohen – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Frank Langella – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Peter Macdissi – UNCLE FRANK (RUNNER UP)
Bill Murray – ON THE ROCKS
Paul Raci – SOUND OF METAL (WINNER)

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Ellen Burstyn – PIECES OF A WOMAN
Olivia Cooke – SOUND OF METAL
Amanda Seyfried – MANK (RUNNER UP)
Yuh-jung Youn – MINARI (WINNER)

Best Comedic Performance
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM (RUNNER UP)
Sacha Baron Cohen – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Radha Blank – THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION (WINNER)
Bill Murray – ON THE ROCKS (RUNNER UP)
Andy Samberg – PALM SPRINGS

Best Original Screenplay
Lee Isaac Chung – MINARI (WINNER)
Sofia Coppola – ON THE ROCKS
Emerald Fennell – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (RUNNER UP)
Darius Marder, Abraham Marder & Derek Cianfrance – SOUND OF METAL (RUNNER UP)
Aaron Sorkin – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (RUNNER UP)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller – THE FATHER (WINNER)
Charlie Kaufman – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (RUNNER UP)
Kelly Reichardt & Jonathan Raymond – FIRST COW
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Chloé Zhao – NOMADLAND

Best Documentary
ATHLETE A
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
REWIND
THE SOCIAL DILEMMA (RUNNER UP)
TIME (WINNER)

Best Animated Film
ONWARD
OVER THE MOON (RUNNER UP)
SOUL
TROLLS: WORLD TOUR
WOLFWALKERS (WINNER)

Best International Film
ANOTHER ROUND
THE LIFE AHEAD (WINNER)
MARTIN EDEN
THE PLATFORM (RUNNER UP)
SPUTNIK

Best Editing
Alan Baumgarten – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (RUNNER UP)
Andy Canny – THE INVISIBLE MAN (WINNER)
Andrew Dickler & Matthew Friedman – PALM SPRINGS
Jennifer Lame – TENET
Matthew L. Weiss – BLACK BEAR

Best Cinematography
Christopher Blauvelt – FIRST COW
Erik Messerschmidt – MANK (RUNNER UP)
Joshua James Richards – NOMADLAND (WINNER)
Hoyte Van Hoytema – TENET
Dariusz Wolski – NEWS OF THE WORLD

Best Production Design
Donald Graham Burt – MANK (WINNER)
Nathan Crowley – TENET
Molly Hughes – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (RUNNER UP)
Kave Quinn – EMMA.
Shane Valentino – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (RUNNER UP)

Best Visual Effects
BIRDS OF PREY
GREYHOUND
THE INVISIBLE MAN (RUNNER UP)
THE MIDNIGHT SKY
SPUTNIK
TENET (WINNER)

Best Costumes
Erin Benach – BIRDS OF PREY (RUNNER UP)
Alexandra Byrne – EMMA. (WINNER)
April Napier – FIRST COW
Ann Roth – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Trish Summerville – MANK

Best Use of Music
DA 5 BLOODS
DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA (RUNNER UP)
HAMILTON (WINNER)
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (RUNNER UP)
SOUND OF METAL

Best Ensemble
DA 5 BLOODS
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (WINNER)
PALM SPRINGS
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (RUNNER UP)
UNCLE FRANK

Breakthrough Artist
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL (RUNNER UP)
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Radha Blank – THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION (WINNER)
Sidney Flanigan – NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Vanessa Kirby – PIECES OF A WOMAN

Here Are The 2020 Nominations of the San Diego Film Critics Society!


The regional critics have been busy today!

The San Diego Film Critics Society have announced their nominees for the best of 2020!  Perhaps the most interesting tidbit here is that they nominated Black Bear for best picture.  So far, Black Bear hasn’t really been spoken of as an Oscar contender but, with the extended awards season and all, that could all change.  It’ll be interesting to see if the SDFCS nomination is just an outlier or a sign of critics just now discovering the film.  If nothing else, it keeps things interesting.

Here are the nominees!  The winners will be announced on Monday, January 11th.

​Best Picture
BLACK BEAR
FIRST COW
NOMADLAND
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
SOUND OF METAL
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Best Director
Darius Marder – SOUND OF METAL
Kelly Reichardt – FIRST COW
Aaron Sorkin – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Florian Zeller – THE FATHER
Chloe Zhao – NOMADLAND

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL
Chadwick Boseman – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Brian Dennehy – DRIVEWAYS
Anthony Hopkins – THE FATHER
Steven Yeun – MINARI

Best Actress
Viola Davis – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Vanessa Kirby – PIECES OF A WOMAN
Frances McDormand – NOMADLAND
Carey Mulligan – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Aubrey Plaza – BLACK BEAR

Best Supporting Actor
Sacha Baron Cohen – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Frank Langella – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Peter Macdissi – UNCLE FRANK
Bill Murray – ON THE ROCKS
Paul Raci – SOUND OF METAL

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Ellen Burstyn – PIECES OF A WOMAN
Olivia Cooke – SOUND OF METAL
Amanda Seyfried – MANK
Yuh-jung Youn – MINARI

Best Comedic Performance
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Sacha Baron Cohen – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Radha Blank – THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION
Bill Murray – ON THE ROCKS
Andy Samberg – PALM SPRINGS

Best Original Screenplay
Lee Isaac Chung – MINARI
Sofia Coppola – ON THE ROCKS
Emerald Fennell – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Darius Marder, Abraham Marder & Derek Cianfrance – SOUND OF METAL
Aaron Sorkin – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

Best Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller – THE FATHER
Charlie Kaufman – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Kelly Reichardt & Jonathan Raymond – FIRST COW
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Chloé Zhao – NOMADLAND

Best Documentary
ATHLETE A
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
REWIND
THE SOCIAL DILEMMA
TIME

Best Animated Film
ONWARD
OVER THE MOON
SOUL
TROLLS: WORLD TOUR
WOLFWALKERS

Best International Film
ANOTHER ROUND
THE LIFE AHEAD
MARTIN EDEN
THE PLATFORM
SPUTNIK

Best Editing
Alan Baumgarten – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Andy Canny – THE INVISIBLE MAN
Andrew Dickler & Matthew Friedman – PALM SPRINGS
Jennifer Lame – TENET
Matthew L. Weiss – BLACK BEAR

Best Cinematography
Christopher Blauvelt – FIRST COW
Erik Messerschmidt – MANK
Joshua James Richards – NOMADLAND
Hoyte Van Hoytema – TENET
Dariusz Wolski – NEWS OF THE WORLD

Best Production Design
Donald Graham Burt – MANK
Nathan Crowley – TENET
Molly Hughes – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Kave Quinn – EMMA.
Shane Valentino – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

Best Visual Effects
BIRDS OF PREY
GREYHOUND
THE INVISIBLE MAN
THE MIDNIGHT SKY
SPUTNIK
TENET

Best Costumes
Erin Benach – BIRDS OF PREY
Alexandra Byrne – EMMA.
April Napier – FIRST COW
Ann Roth – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Trish Summerville – MANK

Best Use of Music
DA 5 BLOODS
DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA
HAMILTON
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
SOUND OF METAL

Best Ensemble
DA 5 BLOODS
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
PALM SPRINGS
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
UNCLE FRANK

Breakthrough Artist
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Radha Blank – THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION
Sidney Flanigan – NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Vanessa Kirby – PIECES OF A WOMAN

Here Are The Chicago Indie Critics Nominations


The Chicago Indie Critics (call them the CIC, if you really want to impress people with your precursor knowledge) released their nomination for the best of 2020 yesterday.  The winners will be announced on January 2nd, 2021 which …. OH MY GOD, THAT’S JUST A FEW DAYS AWAY!

One thing I like about the CIC nominations is that they have two best picture categories — one for low-budget indie films and one for big-budget studio productions.

Here are their nominations:

BEST INDEPENDENT FILM (budgets under $20 million)
THE FATHER
FIRST COW
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
NOMADLAND
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

BEST STUDIO FILM (budgets over $20 million)
DA 5 BLOODS
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
MANK
SOUL
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
ANOTHER ROUND
BACURAU
BEANPOLE
HIS HOUSE
THE LIFE AHEAD

BEST DOCUMENTARY
BOYS STATE
DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD
RISING PHOENIX
THE SOCIAL DILEMMA
TIME

BEST ANIMATED FILM
ONWARD
OVER THE MOON
SOUL
THE WILLOUGHBYS
WOLFWALKERS

BEST DIRECTOR
Emerald Fennell – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Spike Lee – DA 5 BLOODS
George C. Wolfe – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Florian Zeller – THE FATHER
Chloe Zhao – NOMADLAND

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
MANK – Jack Fincher
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS – Eliza Hittman
PALM SPRINGS – Andy Siara
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – Emerald Fennell
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 – Aaron Sorkin

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
THE FATHER – Florian Zeller
FIRST COW – Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS – Charlie Kaufman
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM – Ruben Santiago-Hudson
NOMADLAND – Chloe Zhao

BEST ACTOR
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 ACTRESS
Nicole Beharie – MISS JUNETEENTH
Viola Davis – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Sidney Flanigan – NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Frances McDormand – NOMADLAND
Carey Mulligan – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman – DA 5 BLOODS
Bo Burnham – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Sacha Baron Cohen – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Frank Langella – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Yayha Abdul-Mateen II – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Bill Murray – ON THE ROCKS

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Olivia Colman – THE FATHER
Talia Ryder – NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
Amanda Seyfried – MANK
Youn Yuh-jung – MINARI

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
DA 5 BLOODS
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
MINARI
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
DA 5 BLOODS
EMMA
JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
MANK
NOMADLAND
TENET

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
EMMA
JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
MANK
TENET

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
EMMA
JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
MANK
SYLVIE’S LOVE

BEST MAKEUP
BIRDS OF PREY
EMMA
JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
POSSESSOR

BEST EDITING
THE FATHER
NOMADLAND
TENET
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
WANDER DARKLY

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
MANK
THE MIDNIGHT SKY
MINARI
SOUL
TENET

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Husavik” – EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA
“Loyal Brave True” – MULAN
“Speak Now” – ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
“This Day” – JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
“Wuhan Flu” – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
THE INVISIBLE MAN
JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY
THE MIDNIGHT SKY
TENET
WONDER WOMAN 1984

SPECIAL AWARDS

TRAILBLAZER AWARD
Honors the work of an artist who truly pushes the boundaries of the medium in terms of form and content
Radha Blank
Chadwick Boseman
Emerald Fennell
Steve McQueen
Chloe Zhao

IMPACT AWARD
Given to a person whose work has had a positive impact on society
Chadwick Boseman
Garrett Bradley
Scott H. Dehn
Ryan Oestreich
Chloe Zhao

Here Are The Nominees of the 2020 Indiana Film Journalists Assosciation!


Bad Education

The Indiana Film Journalists Association (IJA) has announced their nominees for the best of 2020!  They’ll be announcing the winners on December 21st!

What I like about these nominations is that there’s a lot of them.  2020 may have been a difficult year for many but there were a lot of good films released and it does seem kind of silly (as it does every year) to limit things to some sort of arbitrary number.  Why only nominate 10 films when you could nominate 20 or 30?  Many of the nominees below will appear on my own personal best lists in January.

The other thing that I like about these nominees is that the include films like Bad Education and Mangrove.  There’s some debate as to whether or not these films should be considered Oscar eligible.  I feel that they should be so it’s nice to see that the folks in Indiana agree with me!

Here are the nominees:

BEST FILM
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Assistant
Athlete A
Bad Education
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Dick Johnson is Dead
Emma.
The Father
First Cow
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
The Nest
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
Small Axe: Mangrove
Song Without a Name
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Onward
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
76 Days
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Dosis
Song Without a Name

BEST DOCUMENTARY
76 Days
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Athlete A
Boys State
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Desert One
Dick Johnson is Dead
Disclosure
John Lewis: Good Trouble
The Last Out
Miss Americana
MLK/FBI
Time
Totally Under Control
Welcome to Chechnya

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
James Montague and Craig W. Sanger – The Vast of Night
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller – The Father
Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Brandon Cronenberg – Possessor
Pete Docter – Soul
Sean Durkin – The Nest
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kirsten Johnson – Dick Johnson is Dead
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Spike Lee – Da 5 Bloods
Melina Léon – Song Without a Name
Steve McQueen – Small Axe: Mangrove
Matthew Rankin – The Twentieth Century
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Alice Wu – The Half of It
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST ACTRESS
Haley Bennett – Swallow
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigin – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Han Ye-ri – Minari
Leah Lewis – The Half of It
Rachel McAdams – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Pamela Mendoza – Song Without a Name
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Aubrey Plaza – Black Bear
Margot Robbie – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jane Adams – She Dies Tomorrow
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Toni Collette – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Olivia Colman – The Father
Olivia Cooke – Sound of Metal
Allison Janney – Bad Education
Margo Martindale – Blow the Man Down
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari

BEST ACTOR
Christopher Abbott – Possessor
Ben Affleck – The Way Back
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Paul Bettany – Uncle Frank
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Eli Goree – One Night in Miami
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Hugh Jackman – Bad Education
Jude Law – The Nest
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Eddie Redmayne – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods
Bo Burnham – Promising Young Woman
Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island
Peter Capaldi – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Aldis Hodge – One Night in Miami
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost
Alan Kim – Minari
Frank Langella – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Orion Lee – First Cow
Ewan McGregor – BIrds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom, Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs
Dan Stevens – Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
David Strathairn – Nomadland
David Thewlis – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

BEST VOCAL / MOTION CAPTURE PERFORMANCE
Sean Bean – Wolfwalkers
Tina Fey – Soul
Jamie Foxx – Soul
Oliver Platt – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Donald Ray Pollock – The Devil All the Time
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog

BEST ENSEMBLE ACTING
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
The Devil All the Time
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The King of Staten Island
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
One Night in Miami
The Personal History of David Copperfield
She Dies Tomorrow
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Uncle Frank

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
Erick Alexander and Jared Bulmer – The Vast of Night
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami
Ludovico Einaudi – Nomadland
Ludwig Göransson – Tenet
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Richard Reed Parry – The Nest
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Soul
William Tyler – First Cow
Jay Wadley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer – Emma.
Benjamin Wallfisch – The Invisible Man
Jim Williams – Possessor

BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR
Maria Bakalova (actress) – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Max Barbakow (director) – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell (writer / director) – Promising Young Woman
Sidney Flanigin (actress) – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Alan Kim (actor) – Minari
Orion Lee (actor) – First Cow
Leah Lewis (actress) – The Half of It
Darius Marder (writer / director) – Sound of Metal
Andrew Patterson (director) – The Vast of Night
Tayarisha Poe (writer / director) – Selah and the Spades
Kemp Powers – co-writer / co-director for Soul and writer for One Night in Miami
Matthew Rankin (writer / director) – The Twentieth Century
Andy Siara (writer) – Palm Springs
Autumn de Wilde (director) – Emma.

HOOSIER AWARD
Athlete A
Eliza Hittman, writer / director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always and graduate of Indiana University

ORIGINAL VISION AWARD
After Midnight
Assassin 33 A.D.
Dick Johnson is Dead
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
She Dies Tomorrow
The Twentieth Century
The Vast of Night
Vivarium

Mangrove

Film Review: Cutthroat Island (dir by Renny Harlin)


Today is Talk Like A Pirate Day which, let’s just be honest, is an extremely stupid holiday that mainly exists to remind us that “doubloon” is a deeply silly word.

Doubloons were a currency that were popular in Europe and South America back in the 18th century and pirates were always looking for doubloons.  If you listen to enough pirate talk, you’ll quickly discover that there’s a lot different ways to say the word doubloon.  Some people put the emphasis on the fist syllable while others emphasize the second.  Some people say Due-bloon while others say Duh-bloon.  Either way, it’s impossible to listen to pirates talk about doubloons without thinking that they sound very, very silly.  The secret behind the success of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is an understanding that it’s impossible to take pirates seriously.

Unfortunately, I chose not to watch The Pirates of the Caribbean for Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Instead, I watched 1995’s Cutthroat Island.

Cutthroat Island is a story of pirates, a lost treasure, and one big sea battle that literally seems to go on and on.  There is occasional talk of doubloons, though not enough for my liking.  Instead, most of the film deals with the efforts of Morgan (Geena Davis) to find a hidden treasure before her uncle, Dawg (Frank Langella), discovers it.  Morgan has one-third of a map.  It was originally tattooed on her father’s head.  After he died, she scalped him and took over his boat.  She also purchased a swashbuckling slave named Shaw (Matthew Modine) because Shaw is capable of reading Latin, the language in which the map is written.  Needless to say, Shaw and Mogan fall in love while Dawg teams up with corrupt colonial officials to not only track down the treasure but to also capture his niece.

The film starts out as a romance with a dash of comedy before eventually transforming into a standard action movie.  That means that boats get blown up and there’s a lot of scenes of people fencing.  There’s also a lot of slow motion footage of bodies plunging into the ocean.  The climatic battle goes on forever and it actually features Morgan hissing, “Bad dawg!” at her uncle.

(Amazingly, “Bad Dawg” isn’t the worst of the dialogue to be heard in Cutthroat Island.  Morgan has a habit of saying stuff like, “I will maroon you on a rock the size of this table, instead of splattering your brains across my bulkhead” and “Since you lie so easily and since you are so shallow, I shall lie you in a shallow grave.”)

Throughout the film, there are hints of what Cutthroat Island could have been, if it hadn’t been such a by-the-numbers action flick.  The fact that it was Morgan who was continually rescuing Shaw was a nice change-of-pace from the usual damsel-in-distress clichés that one finds in most pirate movies.  When Morgan effortlessly breaks the neck of a soldier and sets free her crew, it’s a great moment, comparable to Angelina Jolie taking out Liev Schreiber in Salt or Milla Jovovich kicking zombie ass in a Resident Evil film.  Unfortunately, director Renny Harlin (who was married to star Geena Davis, at the time) is usually too concerned with getting to the next action set piece to truly take advantage of the film’s subversive potential.

Frank Langella is smart enough to bellow his way through his villainous role while Matthew Modine appears to be so amused by the film’s terrible dialogue that it’s impossible not to like him.  Geena Davis is convincing when she’s breaking necks and swinging swords but she delivers her dialogue like someone who has already figured out that the movie was a bad idea and resigned herself to the fact that her film career will never recover.  She doesn’t appear to be having any fun, which kind of defeats the purpose of being a pirate.

Cutthroat Island was a huge and notorious box office flop and it’s still considered to be one of the biggest financial disasters in film history.  Apparently, Hollywood was so traumatized that it would be another 8 years before there was another major pirate production.  That production, of course, was Pirates of the Caribbean, a film that captured the fun that was so lacking in Cutthroat Island.

A Movie A Day #284: Brainscan (1994, directed by John Flynn)


Michael Bower (Edward Furlong) is a 15 year-old loser who walks with a limp and still has nightmares about the night his mother was killed in a car wreck.  Brainscan is the new PC game that Michael makes the mistake of playing.  In the game, Michael is encouraged by The Trickster (T. Ryder Smith) to kill both his friends and complete strangers.  When Michael starts finding body parts around his house, he realizes that whenever he kills someone in the game, he kills them in real life too.

Though it may be forgotten now, Brainscan was heavily promoted when it was first released.  I think the producers were hoping to turn The Trickster into the new Freddy and get a new horror franchise out of it.  Like most films from the 90s that dealt with computers and gamers, Brainscan is now as dated as dial-up internet.  T. Ryder Smith does ok as the Trickster but it is difficult to take him seriously because he has a big red mohawk skullet and he dresses like the keyboard player in every new wave band that has ever synthesized.  As for Furlong, he had apparently already entered the I-no-longer-give-a-shit phase of his career when he made Brainscan.  Add to that one of the worst endings that I have ever seen in a horror movie and Brainscan is one film that is easy to forget.

It is easy to say what Brainscan is lacking: suspense, gore, and horror.  It is less easy to say what would have made it better.  Considering its suburban setting, I think Brainscan would have been improved by cameos from the stars of Shattered If Your Kid’s On Drugs.

With Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson around to serve as mentors, Eddie Furlong never would have gotten addicted to playing video games in the first place.

Right, Burt?

Horror Film Review: Dracula (dir by John Badham)


I have to admit that, when I first sat down to watch the 1979 version of Dracula, I wasn’t expecting much.  I hadn’t even heard of the film until I came across it on Encore and, when I considered that it was made in 1979, I immediately assumed it would be a disco Dracula film.

And, let’s be honest — a disco Dracula film sounds kinda fun.  But still, it’s Halloween.  Dracula is an icon of horror.  And somehow, the idea of watching disco Dracula just was not appealing.  It would be appealing in November or September.  BUT THIS IS OCTOBER!

Well, despite my misgivings, I watched the film and I quickly discovered that it wasn’t a disco Dracula at all.  This Dracula takes place in 1913 and there’s actually very little about it that would lead you to suspect that it had been made in the 1970s.  Instead, it feels more like a tribute to the colorful and lushly erotic Dracula films that Hammer produced in the 60s.  Except, oddly, the Hammer films were far more bloody than the 1979 version.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  There’s a few gory scenes in 1979’s Dracula.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a rather bloody impaling.  Dracula graphically breaks another character’s neck as we watch.  But, even with those scenes in mind, the 1979 Dracula feels oddly restrained at times.

In this version of Dracula, the title character is played by a youngish Frank Langella.  I have to admit that it was a bit odd to see Langella playing someone other than a corrupt authority figure.  Dare I say it, Langella is almost sexy in this film and his somewhat feral features are perfect for a character who considers wolves to be “the children of the night.”  Langella’s performance falls between the haughty charm of Bela Lugosi and the animalistic fury of Christopher Lee.  And while Langella’s performance never quite reaches the heights of those two actors, he’s still effectively cast.

As for the film itself, it starts with a shipwreck near a local asylum.  One of the passengers on that ship is the charming but mysterious Count Dracula.  Dracula introduces himself to the head of the asylum, Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasence, stealing almost every scene in which he appears).  There’s an immediate attraction between Dracula and Seward’s daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan).  That does not amuse Lucy’s fiancee, Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve, who is perhaps the whiniest Harker in film history).

Meanwhile, Lucy’s best friend, Mina (Jan Francis), has been taken ill and it might have something to do with the two puncture marks on her neck.  After Mina dies, her father (played by Laurence Olivier) comes to investigate.  Her father’s name?  Abraham Van Helsing.

As I said, I was not expecting much from this version of Dracula so I was actually pleasantly surprised during the first hour of the film.  This version gets off to a nice start, with director John Badham giving us a mix of lush romanticism and gothic moodiness.  I’ve already talked about Langella’s performance but  Donald Pleasence and Laurence Olivier also distinguish themselves.  It’s obvious that these veteran performers enjoyed playing opposite each other and there’s a lot of pleasure to be found from watching Pleasence and Olivier compete to see who can steal the most scenes.

Unfortunately, after that strong first hour, Dracula slows down.  Once Seward and Van Helsing know that Dracula is a vampire, the whole movie becomes about finding excuses for them to not do anything about it.  The final 40 minutes feel almost like filler and, at one point, you’re required to believe that an elderly man, who has been seriously wounded, could still find the strength to swing a hook into a much stronger person’s back.

In the end, the 1979 Dracula is more of an intriguing oddity than a definitive version.

So, I Finally Watched Grace of Monaco…


Grace_of_Monaco_PosterWell, I finally saw Grace of Monaco and…

Oh God.

Seriously, I am sitting here right now and I am just thinking to myself, “Oh God, do I really have to try to think up something interesting to say about this movie?”  Grace of Monaco is not a good movie but, at the same time, it’s bad in the worst way possible.  It’s not so bad-that-its-entertaining.  Instead, it’s just a dull misfire.

In fact, probably the only really interesting thing about Grace of Monaco is that it is the first film to go from opening Cannes to premiering on Lifetime.  Though it may seem impossible to believe now, there was a time in 2013 when everyone was expecting Grace of Monaco to be a major Oscar contender.  It seemed like everyone was saying that Nicole Kidman was a lock for a best actress nomination and maybe more!

Then the film’s American release date was moved from November of 2013 to June of 2014.  Rumor had it that the infamous Harvey Weinstein was chopping up the film and destroying the vision of director Olivier Dahan.  “Bad Harvey!” we all said.  (Of course, having now seen the film, I can understand why Harvey may have had some concerns…)

Okay, we told ourselves, Grace of Monaco probably won’t be a best picture contender.  But surely Nicole Kidman can get a nomination.  Surely the costumes and the production design will be honored…

And then the film played opening night at the Cannes Film Festival and it was greeted with less than appreciate reviews.  In fact, the reaction to the film was so negative that it has since become somewhat legendary.

And so, the American premiere was canceled.  The film opened in Europe, where it made little money and received scathing reviews.  But it was destined to never play in an American theater.  Instead, Grace of Monaco was sold to the Lifetime network.

And, after all of the drama and the waiting, I finally got to see Grace of Monaco tonight and … well, bleh.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a pretty movie.  I loved looking at what everyone was wearing.  I enjoyed looking at the ornate settings.  Whenever Grace Kelly stopped to look out at the view from the palace, I appreciated it because it was a beautiful view.  If I had hit mute and simply enjoyed the film as a look at beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful houses, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But, unfortunately, Grace of Monaco has a plot that gets in the way.  The evil French, led by Charles De Gualle (played by Andre Penvern, who gives a performance that would probably be more appropriate for a James Bond film), want to take over Monaco because the citizens of Monaco don’t pay any income tax.  (I was totally Team Monaco as far as this was concerned.  Everyone should stop paying their taxes.  If we all do it, we’ll be fine.  They can’t prosecute all of us!)  Only Princess Grace Kelly can stop them but first, she has to convince her headstrong husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), to listen to her opinions.  She has to convince her subjects that she’s more than just an opinionated American.

But Grace doesn’t just want to keep the French out of Monaco!  She also wants to return to her film career.  Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) wants her to star in Marnie.  (Hitchcock is always filmed as being slightly out-of-focus.)  Rainier doesn’t want her to return to acting.  And neither does a priest played by Frank Langella…

What was Frank Langella doing in this movie?  I have no idea.  He was some sort of advisor.  I understand that he’s based on a historical figure but honestly, the film was so boring that I can’t even bring myself to go on Wikipedia to find out who exactly he was.

But really, the main issue with Grace of Monaco is that it tells us absolutely nothing about Grace Kelly.  The film doesn’t seem to know who she was or what it wants to say about her.  And Nicole Kidman is a good actress and I hope that I look as good as she does when I’m 47 and after I’ve given birth to two children but seriously, she seems to be totally lost in this film.  Olivier Dahan fills the film with close-ups of Kidman’s face but for what reason?  Never for a minute do we believe we’re looking at the face of the star of High Noon, Rear Window, or To Catch A Thief.  Instead, we’re always aware that we’re looking at Nicole Kidman and she doesn’t seem to be sure just what exactly she’s supposed to be doing.  We learn nothing about Grace, Monaco, France, royalty, or movies.

And it’s a shame really.  Because the story of Grace Kelly would make a great film.  But Grace of Monaco doesn’t really tell you anything about her life.

It’s just boring and a film about an actress like Grace Kelly has absolutely no right to be boring.

Shattered Politics #76: Good Night, and Good Luck (dir by George Clooney)


Goodnight_posterOne of my favorite episodes of South Park is called Smug Alert!  As you may remember, this is the episode where the citizens of South Park all buy hybrid cars and end up getting so self-satisfied that a dangerous cloud of smug forms over the town.  At the same time, another smug storm is racing across the United States.  This smug storm was created by the speech that George Clooney gave when he won the Oscar for Syriana.  When those two clouds of smug meet, it’s the perfect storm.  It also ends up destroying San Francisco.

The same year that Clooney was named Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, he was also nominated for directing the 2005 best picture nominee, Good Night, and Good Luck.  In his speech, Clooney specifically said that he felt he was winning supporting actor to make up for not winning director and proceeded to give the speech that he would have given if he had won director.

And looking back, I think that we do have to admit that it was a very smug speech.

Fortunately, Good Night, and Good Luck has aged better than Clooney’s speech.

I do have to admit that, when I recently rewatched Good Night and Good Luck, I was a little concerned.  I always manage to forget that the film starts on a really bad note.  The year is 1958 and news anchorman Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) is receiving an award.  As Murrow stands behind the podium, he proceeds to give a long and self-righteous speech about how television should be used not to entertain but to educate as well.  And, quite frankly, he comes across like such a pompous blowhard that I was dreading the idea of having to spend the next 90 or so minutes with him.

But then, fortunately, the film entered into flashback mode and, until the final few minutes of the film, we didn’t have to listen to anymore of Murrow’s speech.  The majority of Good Night and Good Luck takes place in 1953.  U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (who appears in archival footage throughout the film) has declared that he has the names of communists who hold important positions in both the government and the media.  Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) defy the corporate overlords of CBS and bravely investigate and challenge McCarthy’s claims.  McCarthy and his henchmen respond by trying to smear both Murrow and one of his reporters (Robert Downey, Jr.) as a communists.  As always seems to happen in films about McCarthyism, another supporting character reacts to the change of communism by committing suicide.  And, in this particular vision of the fight against Joseph McCarthy, Edward R. Murrow and the media save America.

Of course, if you actually make the effort to learn history, you’ll discover that it wasn’t just Edward R. Murrow who stood up to McCarthy.  In fact, you’ll discover that Murrow stood up to McCarthy after several other prominent people — on both sides of the political divide — had already done so.  If anything, the real-life Murrow seems to have more in common with pompous scold seen at the beginning and end of the film, as opposed to the one that we see standing up to McCarthy.

One can very legitimately debate whether or not Murrow deserves all of the credit that he’s given in this film.  Still, the film does make a larger and very important point.  We, as Americans, have to always be on guard against witch hunts and against demagogues and the forces of fear and paranoia that are always trying to shape our politics.  And, whether or not Murrow was a hero or just a bystander, one cannot deny that the larger message of Goodnight, and Good Luck remains as relevant today as when the film was originally released.

Judging from some of his other films — The Monuments Men and the Ides of March — I don’t particularly feel that George Clooney is that good of a director.  But he does do a good job with Good Night and Good Luck.  (In fact, he does such a good job that you can’t help but feel that it’s the exception to the rule as far as Clooney the director is concerned.)  Filmed in wonderful black-and-white and full of good performances, Good Night, and Good Luck remains surprisingly watchable.

Just avoid any George Clooney Oscar speeches while watching it.  San Francisco has never recovered.