Here Are The Nominees For the 2020 NAACP Image Awards!


The NAACP has announced their nominees for the 2020 Image Awards!

And here they are:

Outstanding Motion Picture
Bad Boys For Life
Da 5 Bloods
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
One Night In Miami…

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture
David E. Talbert – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
George C. Wolfe – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Gina Prince-Bythewood – The Old Guard
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old Version
Regina King – One Night In Miami…

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
Anthony Mackie – The Banker
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Forest Whitaker – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Will Smith – Bad Boys For Life

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
Issa Rae – The Photograph
Janelle Monáe – Antebellum
Madalen Mills – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Tracee Ellis Ross – The High Note
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Aldis Hodge – One Night In Miami…
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Clarke Peters – Da 5 Bloods
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Glynn Turman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Anika Noni Rose – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Gabourey Sidibe – Antebellum
Nia Long – The Banker
Phylicia Rashad – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Taylour Paige – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture
David E. Talbert – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Kemp Powers – One Night In Miami…
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Pete Docter, Kemp Powers & Mike Jones – Soul
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old Version

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
Emperor
Farewell Amor
Miss Juneteenth
The 24th
The Banker

Outstanding International Motion Picture
Ainu Mosir
His House
Night of the Kings
The Last Tree
The Life Ahead

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance in a Motion Picture
Dayo Okeniyi – Emperor
Dominique Fishback – Project Power
Jahi Di’Allo Winston – Charm City Kings
Jahzir Bruno – The Witches
Madalen Mills – Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture
Da 5 Bloods
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Soul
The Banker

Outstanding Animated Motion Picture
Onward
Over the Moon
Scoob!
Soul
Trolls World Tour

Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance – Motion Picture
Ahmir-Khalib Thompson aka Questlove – Soul
Angela Bassett – Soul
Chris Rock – The Witches
Jamie Foxx – Soul
Phylicia Rashad – Soul

Outstanding Short Form (Live Action)
Baldwin Beauty
Black Boy Joy
Gets Good Light
Home
Mr. & Mrs. Ellis

Outstanding Short Form (Animated)
Canvas
Cops and Robbers
Loop
The Power of Hope
Windup

Outstanding Breakthrough Creative (Motion Picture)
Loira Limbal – Through the Night
Melissa Haizlip – Mr. Soul!
Nadia Hallgren – Becoming
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old Version
Remi Weekes – His House

Before anyone makes any jokes about that Best Picture nomination for Bad Boys For Life — hey, that was a fun movie.  If the Academy ever had gone through with that plan to start awarding an Oscar for Best Popular Film, I assume that Bad Boys For Life probably would have been contender.  Anyway, the winners of the Image Awards will be announced on March 27th so you’ve all got a lot of times to consider these nominees.

So, get to considering!

Lisa Marie Picks The 30 Top Films of 2020


Well, it’s finally time!  It’s time for me to announce my picks for the best films of 2020.

Before we begin, there is one thing I want to make clear.  Unlike the Academy, I did not extend my eligibility window.  Films like Nomadland, Minari, and The Father (amongst others) will undoubtedly be competing for the Oscar for Best Picture of 2020.  However, as far as I’m concerned, those are all 2021 films.  And I imagine that a few of them will probably appear on my best films of 2021 list.  However, the list below are my picks for the best films of 2020.  You’ll probably agree with some of my picks and disagree with some of the others.  As always, I welcome any and all comments.

Also, be sure to check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019!  Wow, I’ve been doing this for a while!

And now, in descending order, my favorites of 2020!

30. Money Plane (dir by Andrew Lawrence) — Okay, I can sense that you’re already rolling your eyes at my list by seriously, Money Plane is such a cheerfully absurd and self-aware little B-movie that there’s no way I couldn’t include it.  Seriously, how can you not love a film that features Kelsey Grammer always a gangster known as the Rumble?  Basically, as soon as I heard that priceless declaration of “We are going to rob the Money Plane!,” this movie had me under its spell.

29. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (dir by George C. Wolfe) — Though this adaptation of August Wilson’s play never quite escapes its theatrical roots, no one can deny the powerful performances of Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and especially Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman dominates the film from the minute that he makes his first appearance, playing an ambitious, troubled, and undeniably talented trumpeter.  Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey with the self-awareness of someone who knows that the record producers need her more than she needs them.  She has the power and she’s not going to let anyone get away with forgetting it.

28. The Invisible Man (dir by Leigh Wannell) — Before the Academy announced that they would be changing their rules to considers streaming movies, many critics speculated that one of the results of the pandemic would be The Invisible Man winning all of the Oscars.  Though they may have been joking, it was not as outlandish an idea as they seemed to think.  The Invisible Man is a horror film that proves that being a genre film does not mean that film can’t also be a good and thought-provoking work of art.  The Invisible Man breathes new life into a somewhat hokey premise and Elisabeth Moss gives a great performance as a woman stalked by her abusive (and now invisble) ex.  The Invisible Man features one of the best ending scenes of 2020.

27. The Hunt (dir by Craig Zobel) — Delayed due to a manufactured controversy and released to critical bafflement, The Hunt is a clever satire of our hyper-partisan and hyper-polarized society.  The film’s final twist is a clever commentary on social media drama and Hillary Swank steals the show with an unexpected cameo.

26. One Night In Miami (dir by Regina King) — I went back and forth on this one.  Based on a stage play, this film imagines what happened the night that Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali met in a Miami motel room.  There are a few times that the film is undoubtedly a bit too stagey for its own good and, early on, some of the dialogue is a bit too on the nose.  But the film has a cumulative power and, despite a few uneven moments, it’s ultimately an intriguing look at race, celebrity, and political activism in America.  A good deal of the film’s power is due to the ensemble.  While most of the awards chatter seems to be focused on Leslie Odom, Jr. as Sam Cooke, it’s Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown who truly anchors the film.

25. Gunpowder Heart (dir by Camila Urrutia) — This raw and angry film from Guatemala was one of the more powerful films to be featured at 2020’s virtual South By Southwest.  In Guatemala City, Maria and her girlfriend Claudia are assaulted by three men.  Maria wants revenge, no mater what.  Claudia, the more cautious of the two, knows that Maria’s plans are going to end in tragedy and disaster but she also knows that there’s nothing she can do to stop her.  Gunpowder Heart isn’t always easy to watch but it’s undeniably powerful.

24. The Shock of the Future (dir by Marc Collin) — Taking place in 1978, this French film follows one day in the life of a composer named Ana (Alma Jodorowsky).  It’s a typical day — Anna wakes up, a friend comes by with the latest albums, Anna tries to compose music, she goes to a party, and she hears the newest music.  It’s a simple but effective celebration of both music and the thrill of having your entire creative life ahead of you.  Alma Jodorowsky is brilliant in the role of Anna.

23. She Dies Tomorrow (dir by Amy Seimetz) — This a disturbing mood piece about a woman who is convinced that she is going to die in a day.  Everyone who she meets also becomes convinced that they’re going to die within 24 hours.  Some of them go out of their way to make sure that it happens while others just wait for death to come.  Is it a mass delusion or is it something else?  The atmospheric film may raise more questions than it answers but it will definitely stick with you.

22. Driveways (dir by Andrew Ahn) — Kathy (Hong Chau) and her young son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), move into the home that was owned by Kathy’s deceased sister.  In his final film appearance, Brian Dennehy plays the gruff but caring neighbor who befriends both Cody and his mother.  This is a low-key but emotionally resonant film, elevated by Dennehy’s heartfelt performance.

21. Figurant (dir by Jan Vejnar) — Clocking in at 14 minutes, this unsettling but powerful French/Czech co-production tells the story of a quiet man (Denis Levant) who follows a group of younger men into a warehouse and who soon finds himself in uniform and on a battlefield.  Or is he?  It’s not an easy question to answer but this intriguing short film will keep you watching, guessing, and thinking.

20. What Did Jack Do? (dir by David Lynch) — David Lynch interrogates a monkey in an expressionistic train station.  The monkey talks about a chicken and sings a song about true love’s flame.  “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?” Lynch asks.  It’s a brilliant short film and really, it’s the sort of thing that only David Lynch, with his mix of earnestness and eccentricity, could have pulled off.  Technically, this film was made a few years ago but it only got it’s official premiere in 2020, when Netflix released it on Lynch’s birthday.

19. Red, White, and Blue (dir by Steven McQueen) — Steve McQueen’s Small Axe was made up of five short films.  Three of them appear on this list.  There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not the Small Axe films should be considered individual features or if they should be considered a miniseries.  Obviously, I see them as being individual features but, in the end, they’re brilliant and thought-provoking regardless of whether they’re television or film.  Red, White, and Blue takes a nuanced look at institutional racism and features an excellent lead performance from John Boyega.

18. Mr. Jones (dir by Agnieszka Holland) — A film that deserved more attention than it received, Mr. Jones tells the story of Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist who, in 1933, discovered the truth about the state-sponsored famine that was killing millions in the Ukraine.  Despite his efforts, the press refused to report on what was really happening in the Ukraine and instead, an odious propagandist named Walter Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer prize for writing pro-Stalin stories that were later determined to be full of deliberate lies.  An important and heartfelt film, Mr. Jones features a subtle but effective lead performance from James Norton and a memorable supporting turn from Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Walter Duranty as a smug snake.

17. The Outpost (dir by Rod Lurie) — Based on a true story and directed by Rod Lurie, this film pays tribute to the men who have fought and died in America’s forgotten conflict, the War in Afghanistan.  Well-acted and doggedly unsentimental, The Outpost will literally leave you breathless.

16. Emma (dir by Autumn de Wilde) — The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-adapted novel, Emma has a playful spirit that is lacking in so many other literary adaptations.  It also has a great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, who makes the character of Emma Woodhouse her own.

15. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir by Eliza Hittman) — Two teenagers, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), travel to New York City from Pennsylvania so that Autumn can get an abortion without having to get her parent’s consent.  Though I’m occasionally a bit skeptic of cinema verite, Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes good use of the style.  Far more than just being a film about abortion, it’s a character study of two people trying to survive in a harsh world.  The scene where the previously withdrawn Autumn is prodded to open up about her past is one of the most powerful of the year.

14. Possessor (dir by Brandon Cronenberg) — Brandon Cronenberg’s disturbing sci-fi/horror hybrid is not an easy film to explain or to even describe.  Questions of identity and betrayal are mixed with grotesque images of body horror and societal neglect.  By the end of the film, you’ll find yourself reconsidering everything that you previously assumed about the movie.  This one sticks with you, even though you may not want it to.  (How’s that for a recommendation?)

13. Horse Girl (dir by Jeff Baena) — This is a film that definitely deserved a bit more attention than it received.  Alison Brie gives a brave and sympathetic performance as someone who believes that she’s a clone who has been abducted by aliens.  Is she suffering from delusions brought on by a combination of loneliness and too much television?  Or is she right?  The film will leave you guessing.  While Brie is at the center of almost every scene, Molly Shannon also gives a good performance as one of Brie’s only friends.

12. Sound of Metal (dir by Darius Marder) — Riz Ahmed plays an occasionally obnoxious drummer who goes deaf.  Worried that Ahemd is going to relapse into drug use, his girlfriend and musical partner (Olivia Cooke) checks him into a rehab center for the deaf.  With the help of a sympathetic but no-nonsense counselor (Paul Raci), Ahmed struggles to come to accept the loss of sound and music from his life.  The three main performances elevate this film, making it one of the year’s best.  In the film’s best moments, we hear the world through Ahmed’s ears and experience what he’s experiencing.

11. Mangrove (dir by Steve McQueen) — The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology tells the story of a true life court case.  Politically charged from beginning to end and leaving no doubt as to what the true stakes were in the case, Mangrove is the film that Trial of The Chicago 7 should have been.

10. Soul (dir by Peter Docter) — The latest from PIXAR made me cry as only a great PIXAR film can.  A music teacher named Joe (voices by Jamie Foxx) falls down a manhole shortly after winning his dream job in a jazz band.  Unwilling to die before performing on stage, Joe finds himself in the Great Before, assigned to teach an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) what it means to be human …. okay, you know what?  This film has one of those plots that sounds silly if you try to explain it.  What matters is that it’s a heartfelt film that celebrates every minute of life.  Foxx and Fey both do wonderful voice work and the animation is as clever as always.  Plus, there’s a cat!

9. The Vast of Night (dir by Andrew Patterson) — This low-budget film is a wonderfully atmospheric look at what may or may not be an alien invasion taking place in the 1950s.  Featuring wonderfully naturalistic performances and an intelligent storyline, The Vast of Night is a triumph of the independent spirit.  I can’t wait to see what Andrew Patterson does next.

8. Lovers Rock (dir by Steve McQueen) — The 2nd film is Steve MQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock centers on one exhilarating house party.  Though the world outside of this party may be harsh and full of oppression and racism (a group of white teens shout racial slurs at one partygoer when she steps outside of the house), the world inside of the party is one of love, music, and celebration.

7. i’m thinking of ending things (dir by Charlie Kaufman) — A riddle wrapped in an enigma, i’m thinking of ending things features great performance from Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.  What starts out as an awkward drive to visit Plemons’s parents grows increasingly more and more surreal until the audience is left to wonder what is real, what is fantasy, and whether the majority of the film’s characters even exist.  This film plays out like a dream and stays with you long after it end.

6. Palm Springs (dir by Max Barbakow) — Perhaps the ultimate twist on Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a thought-provoking comedic gem from Lonely Island Classic Pictures.  Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, and Cristin Milioti find themselves living the same day over and over again.  Each one reacts to their predicament in a different way.  It’ll make you laugh and then it’ll make you cry.  Revealing too much else about the plot would be a crime.  It’s on Hulu so go watch it.

5. The Assistant (dir by Kitty Green) — This infuriating and ultimately tragic film follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a production assistant at a film company.  Though he’s never seen, Jane’s boss is clearly meant to be a fictionalized version of Harvey Weinstein.  Should Jane save her career or try to warn the actress that her boss has clearly set his eyes upon as his next victim?  The scene where the head of HR assures Jane that she needn’t worry about her boss’s behavior because “you’re not his type,” rings all too horribly true.  The Assistant was obviously designed to be a rallying call for #MeToo but sadly, today, it feels more like an obituary.

Bad Education

4. Bad Education (dir by Cory Finley) — All year, I have been lamenting the fact that Bad Education was bought by HBO and not Netflix.  If it had been released on Netflix, it would probably be an Oscar contender and Hugh Jackman would be in the hunt for his first Best Actor Oscar.  Instead, it aired on HBO and it had to settle for limited Emmy recognition.  It’s a shame because this film, which centers on embezzlement at one suburban school, was one of the best of 2020.  At a time when we’re being told not to question authority, Bad Education encourages us to question everything.  Along with being thought-provoking, it’s also occasionally laugh out loud funny.  Jackman is brilliant in the lead role.  Allison Janney is award-worthy as his partner-in-crime.  Ray Romano takes another step in proving that he’s more than just a sitcom actor.  All in all, this was a great movie.

3. First Cow (dir by Kelly Reichardt) — This melancholy tale follows two men who meet in Oregon in the 1820s and who become unlikely business partners.  Unfortunately, being partners means stealing milk from Toby Jones’s cow and thievery was even less appreciated in the 1820s than it is today. Featuring outstanding lead performances from Jon Magaro and Orion Lee, First Cow is a rewarding work of historical fiction.  Kelly Reichardt makes you feel as if you’ve woken up in the 1820s, even as she uses the past to comment upon the present.  This probably isn’t a film for everyone.  Reichardt’s style has always been more about observing than passing judgment.  But for viewers willing to stick with it, this deliberately paced film is a rewarding experience.

Finally, when it comes to the best film of the year, I’ve been going back and forth between two films.  In the end, I have to declare a tie.  In alphabetical order by title, here are the two best films of 2020:

2. The Girl With A Bracelet (dir by Stéphane Demoustier) — This French film is about a teenage girl who is on trial for murdering her best friend.  Whether or not she’s guilty is ultimately less important than why everyone has been so quick to accuse her in the first place.  Featuring an outstanding ensemble and an intelligent script, The Girl With A Bracelet will leave you thinking about …. well, everything.  It can currently be viewed on Prime.

1. Promising Young Woman (dir by Emerald Fennell) — When I first started watching this film, I worried that it might be too stylized to be effective.  But it soon became apparent the director/screenwriter Emerald Fennell and star Carey Mulligan both knew exactly what they needed to do to tell this story.  Mulligan plays a med school drop-out who is seeking her own unique style of revenge against not only the men who raped her best friend in college but also the people who Mulligan feels subsequently let her friend down.  Bo Burnham plays the pediatrician who asks Mulligan out on a date and who appears to be the perfect nice guy, the adorably awkward boyfriend who you you would expect to find in a 90s rom com.  Neither character turns out to be exactly who they initially appeared to be.  Promising Young Woman mixes genres that normally don’t go together, smashing together drama and comedy, and it’s just audacious enough to be one of the best films of the year.

 

 

TSL Looks Back at 2020:

  1. 2020 In Review: The Best of Lifetime (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  2. 12 Good Things I Saw On Television in 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  3. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Novels of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  4. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Non-Fiction Books of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  5. Lisa Marie’s 20 Favorite Songs of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  6. Lisa Marie’s 16 Worst Films of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  7. My Top 20 Albums of 2020 (Necromoonyeti)
  8. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems That I Saw In 2020 (Valerie Troutman)
  9. Top 10 Vintage Collections (Ryan C)
  10. Top 10 Contemporary Collections (Ryan C)
  11. Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (Ryan C)
  12. Top 10 Ongoing Series (Ryan C.)
  13. Top 10 Special Mentions (Ryan C.)
  14. Top Ten Single Issues (Ryan C)

Here Are The Film Independent Spirit Nominations!


Earlier today, the nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards were announced!  The winners will be announced on April 22nd so that’ll give all of us a lot of time to consider them.

Here are the nominees:

BEST FEATURE
First Cow
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland

BEST FIRST FEATURE
I Carry You With Me
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Miss Juneteenth
Nine Days
Sound of Metal

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000
The Killing of Two Lovers
La Leyenda Negra
Lingua Franca
Residue
Saint Frances

BEST DIRECTOR
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST SCREENPLAY
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Mike Makowsky – Bad Education
Alice Wu – The Half of It

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Kitty Green – The Assistant
Noah Hutton – Lapsis
Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
James Sweeney – Straight Up

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Jay Keitel – She Dies Tomorrow
Shabier Kirchner – Bull
Michael Latham – The Assistant
Hélène Louvart – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland

BEST EDITING
Andy Canny – The Invisible Man
Scott Cummings – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Merawi Gerima – Residue
Enat Sidi – I Carry You With Me
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner – The Assistant
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

BEST MALE LEAD
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Adarsh Gourav – The White Tiger
Rob Morgan – Bull
Steven Yeun – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Alexis Chikaeze – Miss Juneteenth
Yeri Han – Minari
Valerie Mahaffey – French Exit
Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Yuh-jung Youn – Minari

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Colman Domingo – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Orion Lee – First Cow
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
Glynn Turman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Benedict Wong – Nine Days

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast
One Night in Miami…
Director: Regina King
Casting Directors: Kimberly R. Hardin
Ensemble Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Collective
Crip Camp
Dick Johnson is Dead
The Mole Agent
Time

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)
Bacurau
The Disciple
Night of the Kings
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Quo Vadis, Aida?

PRODUCERS AWARD – The Producers Award, now in its 24th year, honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.
Kara Durrett
Lucas Joaquin
Gerry Kim

SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD – The Someone to Watch Award, now in its 27th year, recognizes a talented filmmaker of singular vision who has not yet received appropriate recognition.
David Midell – Director of The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain
Ekwa Msangi – Director of Farewell Amor
Annie Silverstein – Director of Bull

TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD – The Truer Than Fiction Award, now in its 26th year, is presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.
Cecilia Aldarondo – Director of Landfall
Elegance Bratton – Director of Pier Kids
Elizabeth Lo – Director of Stray

TV CATEGORIES

BEST NEW NON-SCRIPTED OR DOCUMENTARY SERIES
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children
City So Real
Immigration Nation
Love Fraud
We’re Here

BEST NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
I May Destroy You
Little America
Small Axe
A Teacher
Unorthodox

BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
Elle Fanning – The Great
Shira Haas – Unorthodox
Abby McEnany -Work in Progress
Maitreyi Ramakrishnan – Never Have I Ever
Jordan Kristine Seamón – We Are Who We Are

BEST MALE PERFORMANCE IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
Conphidance – Little America
Adam Ali – Little America
Nicco Annan – P-Valley
Amit Rahav – Unorthodox
Harold Torres – Zero, Zero, Zero

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A NEW SCRIPTED SERIES
I May Destroy You
Ensemble Cast: Michaela Coel, Paapa Essiedu, Wruche Opia,
Stephen Wight

The Films of 2020: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (dir by George C. Wolfe)


The year is 1927 and the place is Chicago.  6 men are in a claustrophobic recording studio, waiting for the arrival of blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis).  While Ma’s agent, Irv (Jeremy Shamos) and studio owner Mel Sturdyvant (Johnny Coyne) wait upstairs, the members of Ma’s band gather in the rehearsal room.  They’ve been given a list of songs to rehearse.  As is quickly made clear, the band doesn’t have much say about which songs they’re going to perform and record.  In fact, Irv and Mel pretty much go out of their way to have as little contact with the black musicians as possible.

The band is made up of Cutler (Colman Domingo), Slow Drag (Michael Potts), Toledo (Glynn Turman), and a trumpet player named Levee (Chadwick Boseman).  Cutler may be their unofficial leader but Levee is the most outspoken.  Levee is sick of playing what he calls “jug band music.”  He’s written his own songs and he’s shown them to Sturdyvant.  He’s convinced that he’s going to start his own band and that he’s going to become a bigger star than Ma Rainey ever was.  The rest of the band views Levee with a mix of humor and distrust.

As for Ma, she arrives an hour late, accompanied by her girlfriend Dussie (Taylor Paige) and her nephew, Sylvester (Dusan Brown).  She doesn’t apologize for being late and, as soon as she arrives, she starts to make her voice heard.  She wants Sylvester to perform a spoken word intro on the record, despite the fact that Sylvester stutters.  When Irv and Sturdyvant fail to bring her a coke, she brings recording to a halt until she gets one.  She argues about which songs she wants to record and she reprimands Levee for trying to change the arrangement of one of her songs.  Ma’s difficult but, as she explains it, she has to be difficult.  Irv and Sturdyvant don’t care about her, they don’t care about what her music is actually about, and they certainly don’t care about paying her what she deserves.  Irv may claim to care about her but, as Ma tells Cutler, he’s only invited her to his home once and that was so she could sing for his white friends.  When they’re in the recording studio, Ma has all of the power and she’s not going to let anyone forget it.

Meanwhile, the members of the band continue to talk among themselves with the conversation always coming back to what it takes to survive in a society run by white people.  The three older men seem to have accepted that the world is what it is and that’s it’s never going to change but Levee believes that he has a future.  When the other members of the band poke fun at him for the obsequious way that he talks to Sturdyvant, Levee discusses the horrifying trauma of his past.  As the recording sessions continues, tempers start to flare until finally, the film climaxes in an act of sudden violence.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on a play by August Wilson and, despite a few efforts to open up the story by including a few scenes on the streets of Chicago, it’s an undeniably stagey film.  You never forget that you’re essentially watching a film version of a theatrical experience.  Fortunately, the performances are so powerful and the dialogue is so sharp that it’s easy to forgive both the film’s staginess and the occasional lapses in pace.

In his final performance before his tragic passing, Chadwick Boseman transforms Levee into a character who manages to be frustrating, sympathetic, and occasionally frightening.  From his powerful monologue about what he and his family experienced during his youth to the film’s final anguished moments, Boseman holds your attention every second that he’s on screen.  Boseman captures not only Levee’s anger and his ambition but also Levee’s fragile confidence.  At the start of the film, he may be bitter about having to play Ma’s music but he’s also perhaps the most hopeful musician in that recording studio and there’s something undeniably tragic about watching him come to realize the truth of his situation.  He’s a character about whom many viewers will have mixed feelings but Boseman is never less than compelling.  Viola Davis, as well, gives a powerful performance as Ma Rainey, playing her as someone who knows that she can’t afford to show a single moment of weakness.  Ma knows that the white men who are in charge of the studio need her more than she needs them and she’s not going to let them forget it.  Of the rest of the cast, Glynn Turman is a stand-out as a piano player who knows and understands history in a way that his bandmates don’t.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

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 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Honors …. Small Axe!?


Small Axe: Mangrove

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association met earlier today and announced their picks for the best of 2020.  In the past, the LAFCA has been considered to be one of the more reliable of the Oscar precursors.  For the past decade, the LAFCA’s pick for best film has gone on to pick up several Oscar nominations.

Well, that streak came to an end today.  In a totally unexpected but still rather nice twist, the LAFCA selected Steve McQueen’s Small Axe as Best Picture.  Small Axe, of course, is the umbrella title for five films that McQueen produced for the BBC and which are currently streaming on Prime.  I’ve reviewed two of them — Mangrove and Red, White, and Blue I’ll watch and review the other three this week.

Whether or not Small Axe is Oscar eligible has long been an open question.  Both Mangrove and Red, White, and, Blue were selected to premiere at Cannes and to play at other festivals before making then airing on the BBC and streaming on Prime.  Due to the pandemic, the Academy also changed the rules this year to make it easier for streaming films to compete.  However, Steve McQueen has said that Small Axe was always intended to be a television miniseries and that, despite the films being accepted to Cannes and other festivals, there was never any plan to release any of them theatrically.  For its part, Amazon has submitted Small Axe to the Golden Globes as a Limited Series and was apparently planning on mounting an Emmy campaign next year.  With the exception of documentaries, films nominated for Emmys are not eligible to be nominated for Oscars and vice versa.  The rule, even in this odd year, is that you have to pick one or the other.

So, by all those standards, none of McQueen’s five films nor Small Axe as a whole are Oscar-eligible.  Will that change?  Will Amazon decide to forgo the Emmys and instead go for an Oscar campaign?  Eh …. probably not.  But who knows — with this year blurring the lines between theatrical and television films like never before, anything could happen.  (But probably won’t.)

Anyway, here are the LAFCA winners!

Best Film
Small Axe
Runner-Up: Nomadland

Best Foreign Film
Beanpole
Runner-Up: Martin Eden

Best Director
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Runner-Up: Steve McQueen – Small Axe

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Runner-Up: Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actor
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Runner-Up: Riz Ahmed – Sound Of Metal

Best Documentary Film
Time
Runner-Up: Collective

Best Screenplay
Promising Young Woman
Runner-Up: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Animated Film
Wolfwalkers
Runner-Up: Soul

Best Supporting Actress
Youn Yuh-jung – Minari
Runner-Up: Amanda Seyfried – Mank

Best Editing
The Father
Runner-Up: Time

Best Production Design
Mank
​Runner-Up: Beanpole

Best Supporting Actor
Glynn Turman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Runner-Up: Paul Raci – Sound Of Metal

Best Music/Score
Soul
Runner-Up: Lovers Rock

Best Cinematography
Small Axe
Runner-Up: Nomadland

New Generation Award
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old-Version

Career Achievement Award
Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Harry Belafonte

Legacy Award
Norman Lloyd

The Douglas Edwards Experimental Film Prize
John Gianvito – Her Socialist Smile

John Boyega in Small Axe: Red, White, and Blue

 

The Films of 2020: The Way Back (dir by Gavin O’Connor)


Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) used to be a star.  When he was in high school, he was a brilliant basketball player.  He led his high school, Bishop Hayes, to multiple championships.  Everyone expected Jack to have a bright figure but …. well, times change.

Decades later, Jack is a construction worker.  He spends every night at the neighborhood bar.  He wakes up every morning with a hangover.  He starts his day by drinking and he ends it by passing out.  He’s separated from his wife, Angela (Janina Gavankar), and he can’t even enjoy a nice Thanksgiving dinner without everyone getting on his back about his drinking.

When he gets a phone call from his old high school, he’s shocked to learn that he’s being offered a job.  The school’s basketball coach has had a heart attack.  Father Devine (John Aylward) wants to know if Jack would be interested in filling in for the rest of the school year.  Though at first reluctant and perhaps not wanting to be reminded of the future he once had, Jack eventually agrees.

The team, it turns out, is not particularly impressive.  The school hasn’t gone to the playoffs since Jack graduated and basketball is such a low priority that the team only has 6 players.  When Jack takes over, the team that has only won a single game.  The team is undisciplined and so used to being losers that they can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a winner.  You know what type of team I’m talking about because, even if you weren’t an athlete in school, you’ve probably seen a movie or two about underestimated high school teams that, under the leadership of a new coach, ended up shocking everyone by making it to the playoffs.

Working with assistant coach Dan (Al Madrigal), Jack struggles to turn the team into winners.  He’s a strict coach and, at first, the students resent him and his methods.  When he kicks one of the best players off the team for showing up late to practice, everyone thinks that Jack’s gone too far.  However, when the team actually starts to show signs of improvement, the team and the school rallies around their new head coach….

Of course, Jack still has his problems.  He’s too quick to lose his temper.  He curses a bit too often.  Despite caring about the team, he’s still weary about getting too close to them.  He’s emotionally damaged as the result of an abusive childhood and the death of his son.  A winning season isn’t going to magically change that.  However, Jack’s main problem is that he’s still an alcoholic.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to sugarcoat Jack’s addictions.  Jack doesn’t magically become sober just because he’s found a purpose in life.  Even when he briefly cuts back on his drinking, the temptation is still there.  And when Jack finally does end up returning to his neighborhood bar and has too much to drink, the film is honest about the consequences of his actions.

The Way Back took me by surprise.  It started out as a well-made but rather predictable underdog sports story but it takes a turn during the third act and reveals that it’s actually a character study of a well-meaning but immature man who cannot escape his demons.  The film is honest about Jack’s problems and, to its credit, it doesn’t pretend like there are any easy solutions.  It’s going to take more than just coaching his team to the playoffs for Jack to make peace with himself and his past.  The film ends on a note that’s hopeful yet ambiguous.  Jack has a long way to go and you’re not totally convinced that he’s ever going to truly complete his journey.  But, at the same time, you’re happy that he finally got a chance to do something good with his life.

Ben Affleck was the perfect choice to play Jack and he gives the best performance that I’ve ever seen him give.  Affleck has been open about his own struggles with alcoholism but beyond that, it’s easy to see Jack’s struggles as a metaphor for Affleck’s own up-and-down career.  Like Jack, Affleck won a championship when Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture but it sometimes seems as if he’s struggled since then.  His directorial follow-up, Live By Night, was a critical and commercial failure.  His turn as Batman was appreciated by some but ridiculed by others.  When he stepped down from directing The Batman, he was the subject of the same type of uncharitable gossip that follows Jack as he coaches his team.  In the role of Jack, Ben Affleck gives a poignant, vulnerable, and honest performance.  He’s willing to be unsympathetic.  He doesn’t shy away from showing us that Jack, even at his best, can be a massive fuckup.  And yet, he holds onto our sympathy even while Jack does some very stupid things.  It’s Affleck’s performance that elevates The Way Back from being just another sports film to being something far more touching.

The Way Back may not be quite strong enough to be called a great film (though it’s certainly a good one) but Ben Affleck gives a great performance.

Black Brigade (1970, directed by George McCowan)


During the closing days of World War II, General Clark (Paul Stewart) wants to capture a Nazi-controlled dam and he thinks he’s found just the man for the job.  Captain Beau Carter (Stephen Boyd) is a tough and good with a knife and a gun.  Carter is sent to take command of a ragtag group of soldiers who have spent the last three years waiting for combat.  The only catch is that the soldiers are all black and Captain Carter is a racist redneck.

This was an Aaron Spelling-produced television movie that was originally broadcast under the name Carter’s Army.  When it was released on video, the name was changed to Black Brigade, probably in an effort to fool viewers into thinking that it was a cool blaxploitation film instead of a simplistic TV movie.  The film has gotten some attention because of the cast, which is full of notable names.  Roosevelt Grier plays Big Jim.  Robert Hooks is Lt. Wallace while Glynn Turman is Pvt. Brightman (who keeps a journal full of the details of the imaginary battles in which he’s fought) and Moses Gunn brings his natural gravitas to the role of Pvt. Hayes.  Probably the two biggest names in the cast are Richard Pryor as the cowardly Crunk and Billy Dee Williams as Pvt. Lewis, who says that he’s from “Harlem, baby.”

Don’t let any of those big names fool you.  Most of them are lucky if they get one or two lines to establish their character before getting killed by the Germans.  The movie is mostly about Stephen Boyd blustering and complaining before eventually learning the error of his ways.  The problem is that Carter spends most of the film as such an unrepentant racist that it’s hard not to hope that one of the soldiers will shoot him in the back when he least expects it.  The other problem is that, for an action movie, there’s not much action.  Even the climatic battle at the dam is over in just a few minutes.

There is one daring-for-its-time scene where Lt. Wallace comes close to kissing a (white) member of the German Resistance, Anna Renvic (Susan Oliver).  When Carter sees him, he angrily orders Wallace to never touch a white woman.  Anna slaps Carter hard and tells him to mind his own goddamn business.  It’s the best scene in the movie.  Otherwise, Black Brigade is forgettable despite its high-powered cast.

Deep Cover (1992, directed by Bill Duke)


When Russell Stevens was 10 years old, he saw his father get gunned down while holding up a liquor store.  Now, 20 years later, Russell (Laurence Fishburne) is a cop who is so straight that he doesn’t even drink.  But because of his father’s background, a psychological profile that indicates Russell is unique suited to understand how the criminal mind works, and the fact that he has no loved ones at home, he is recruited to work undercover.  His weaselly handler, Carver (Charles Martin Smith), explains that going undercover means that Russell is going to have to become a criminal 24/7.  He can’t just do his job for 8 hours a day and then go back to his normal life at night.

With the government’s money, Russell sets himself up as a dealer, buying and selling the drugs that are destroying his community.  It does not take long before Russell meets David Jason (Jeff Goldblum), a lawyer and aspiring drug kingpin.  At first, David makes Russell as being an undercover cop but, after Russell is arrested by the righteous but clueless Detective Taft (Clarence Williams III), David changes his mind and brings Russell into the operation.  The line between being a cop and a criminal starts to blur, especially after David and Russell start to bond over their mutual dislike of their boss, Felix (Gregory Sierra).  It doesn’t take long for Russell to get in over his head.

There have been a lot of films made about undercover cops losing themselves in their new criminal identity but few take the story to its logical conclusion like Deep Cover does.  Russell may start out as a straight arrow but, by the end of the movie, he’s killed a dealer in cold blood and broken his own personal pledge to never do cocaine himself.  He also discovers that David is often a more trustworthy partner than his own colleagues in law enforcement.  Fishburne and Goldblum both give excellent, spot-on performances as Russell and David and they’re supported by an able cast of weasels and tough guys.  I especially liked Charles Martin Smith’s performance as Carver.  (When Russell asks Carver if he’s ever killed a man, Carver laughs and says that he went to Princeton “just to avoid that shit.”)  Gregory Sierra is also great in the role of Felix and I loved that, of all people, Sidney Lassick played one of Felix’s henchmen.  That’s like seeing John Fiedler play the Godfather.

One of the best crime thrillers of the 90s, Deep Cover is not only a detective film but it’s also a politically-charged look at why America’s war on drugs was doomed to failure.  No sooner does Russell get into position to catch the man behind Felix’s operation than he’s told to drop the case because the State Department thinks that the drug lord could be politically helpful to them in South America.  As Russell discovers, the War on Drugs is more interested in taking out the soldiers on the streets than the generals in charge.  While men like Carver sit in their offices and move people around like pieces on a chess board, people like Russell are left to clean up the mess afterward.

Playing Catch Up With The Films of 2016: Race (dir by Stephen Hopkins)


race

Do you remember Race?

It came out in February of this year and it was kind of a big deal for a week.  I think everyone was expecting it to be a big hit, just because there’s never much competition in February.  Race is a biopic of Jesse Owens, the African-American runner who sets world records and won gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, defeating a legion of Aryan athletes while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.  Not only is that a compelling story but 2016 was also an Olympic year.  Eddie The Eagle had already been a success due to the Olympic connection.  Add to that, Focus Features promoted the Hell out of this film.  In they weeks leading up to its release, I saw commercials for it on a nearly hourly basis.  The reviews, when the came, were mixed but generally positive.

I’m not really sure how Race did at the box office.  According to Wikipedia, on its opening weekend, it was sixth at the box office.  Apparently, the film only had a budget of five million and ultimately made a profit of $20,000,0000.  I guess that would make it a success.  All I know is that it seems like, for all the hype, Race just kind of came and went.

In fact, I didn’t see Race until about two months ago.  It’s one of those films that’s not really great but it’s certainly not bad.  It’s pretty much the epitome of being adequate.  It was well-made and generally well-acted.  Director Stephen Hopkins occasionally struggled to maintain a consistent pace (Race is over 2 hours long and feels longer) but he still did a good job filming the scenes of Owens of running and competing.  In the role of Jesse Owens, Stephan James was well-cast.  You not only believed him in the dramatic scenes but he was also believable as a record-setting athlete.  He had some great scenes with Jason Sudekis, who was surprisingly believable in the role of Jesse’s coach.

With all that in mind, why didn’t Race make more of an impression?  I think that, too often, Hopkins allowed the film’s focus to wander away from Jesse and the inner conflict he felt as he won medals for a country where he was treated like a second-class citizen.  There were too many random scenes of Jeremy Irons and William Hurt, playing Olympic officials and debating whether or not to boycott Hitler’s Olympics.  During the second half of the film, Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten) showed up and we got a few scenes of her trying to film Jesse’s triumph at the Olympics despite the interference of Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbles (Barnaby Metschurat).  All of these extra scenes are supposed to set Jesse’s struggle in a historic context but they’re unnecessary and distracting.  All the context that the film needs can be found in the fact that Jesse was a black man living in America in the 1930s.

For the most part, Race is uneven but occasionally the film delivers a powerful scene or two.  One of the most powerful parts of the film comes when Jesse, after setting world records and being proclaimed as a hero across the world, is informed that he still can’t enter a New York club through the front door.  As well, the scenes depicting Jesse’s friendship with German jump Luz Long (David Kross) are poignant.  In fact, they’re so poignant that I initially assumed that they were fictionalized for the film but actually, Jesse and Luz Long did become good friends during the 1936 Olympics.

Race is uneven but it’s not bad.  Stephan James gives a good performance as Jesse and, if nothing else, the film provides a worthy history lesson.