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


Oh, Hillbilly Elegy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Honor Nomadland


The Alliance of Women Film Journalists have announced that their pick for the best of 2020 is Nomadland.  Just as the AWFJ did with their nominations, they announced the winners in an exclusive for Variety.  Fear not, though — my picks for the best of 2020 will be released exclusively to this site.  Two can play at this game.

(I joke, of course.  Ever since Clayton Davis took over, Variety’s Oscar coverage has been wonderful and the AWFJ deserves a lot of credit for having categories that are a bit more interesting than the usual stuff.)

Anyway, here’s the winners!

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS

(These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration)

Best Film

  • “Minari” (A24)
  • “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
  • “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – WINNER
  • “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
  • “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

Best Director 

  • Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
  • Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
  • Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24)
  • Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
  • Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – WINNER

Best Actor

  • Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios)
  • Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix) – WINNER
  • Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix)

Best Actress 

  • Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
  • Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
  • Frances McDormand, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – WINNER
  • Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role 

  • Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
  • Bill Murray, “On the Rocks” (A24/Apple TV Plus)
  • Leslie Odom Jr, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – WINNER

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios)
  • Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
  • Amanda Seyfried, “Mank” (Netflix)
  • Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari” (A24) – WINNER

Best Screenplay, Original 

  • “Mank” (Netflix) – Jack Fincher
  • “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) – Emerald Fennell – WINNER
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Aaron Sorkin

Best Screenplay, Adapted

  • “First Cow” (A24) – Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
  • “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Chloé Zhao – WINNER
  • “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Kemp Powers

Best Animated Film

  • “Over the Moon” (Netflix)
  • “Soul” (Pixar) – WINNER
  • “Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS)

Best Cinematography 

  • “Mank” (Netflix) – Erik Messerschmidt
  • “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Joshua James Richards – WINNER
  • “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Tami Reiker

Best Editing 

  • “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Tariq Anwar
  • “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Chloé Zhao – WINNER
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Alan Baumgarten

Best Documentary 

  • “All In: The Fight for Democracy” (Amazon Studios) – WINNER (tie)
  • “Athlete A” (Netflix)
  • “Crip Camp” (Netflix)
  • “The Painter and the Thief” (Neon) – WINNER (tie)
  • “Time” (Amazon Studios)

Best Non-English-Language Film

  • “Another Round” – Denmark – WINNER
  • “Beanpole” – Russia
  • “The Mole Agent” – Chile
  • “The Painted Bird” – Czech Republic

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director

  • “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix) – Kim Coleman
  • “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Kimberly Hardin – WINNER (tie)
  • “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Francine Maisler – WINNER (tie)

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS

(These awards honor WOMEN only, excluding women who’ve won the category in the Best Of Awards.

Best Woman Director 

  • Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) – WINNER
  • Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
  • Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
  • Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment)
  • Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24)
  • Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Woman Screenwriter 

  • Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix) – WINNER
  • Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
  • Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
  • Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Animated Female 

  • “22” in “Soul” (Pixar) – portrayed by Tina Fey – WINNER
  • “Mebh Óg MacTíre” in “Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS) – portrayed by Eva Whittaker
  • “Robyn Goodfellowe” in “Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS) – portrayed by Honor Kneafsey

Best Woman’s Breakthrough Performance 

  • Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix)
  • Sidney Flanigan, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features) – WINNER
  • Helena Zengel, “News of the World” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in the Film Industry 

  • All female heads of film festivals who successfully transitioned from live to online events to sustain festival culture through the pandemic.
  • All indie female writers and directors who normalized abortion as a vital element in the cultural conversation in films such as “Saint Frances,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” “Sister of the Groom,” “Once Upon a River,” The Glorias” and others. – WINNER
  • Emerald Fennell for creating a film that forces empathy to put an end to the toxic sexist rape culture pervasive through modern history.
  • Sophia Loren for a brilliant comeback at age 86 in “The Life Ahead,” the latest in her record-setting career. Loren won a Best Actress Oscar in 1962 for “Two Women” and was the first actor to win for a foreign language movie. She was also nominated in 1965 for “Marriage Italian Style.” If she’s nominated in 2021, it will be a 56-year span between her two most recent nominations – the current record is held by Henry Fonda, who had a 41-year gap between nominations.

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Grand Dame Award for defying ageism.

  • Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
  • Tsai Chin, “Lucky Grandma” (Good Deed Entertainment)
  • Sophia Loren, “The Life Ahead” (Netflix) – WINNER
  • Frances McDormand, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Most Egregious Lovers’ Age Difference Award 

  • “The Burnt Orange Heresy” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang (23 years)
  • “Devil All the Time” (Netflix) – Riley Keough and Jason Clarke (20 years)
  • “Mank” – Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance (39 years), Gary Oldman (27 years)
  • “Tenet” – Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh (30 years) – WINNER

She Deserves A New Agent Award 

  • Rose Byrne, “Like a Boss” (Paramount Pictures)
  • Tiffany Haddish, “Like a Boss” (Paramount Pictures)
  • Katie Holmes, “Dare to Dream” (Gravitas Ventures)
  • Uma Thurman, “The War with Grandpa” (101 Studios) – WINNER

Most Daring Performance Award 

  • Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ (Amazon Studios) – WINNER
  • Haley Bennett, “Swallow” (IFC Films)
  • Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
  • Elisabeth Moss, “The Invisible Man” (Universal Pictures)
  • Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

Time Waster Remake or Sequel Award 

  • “The Croods: A New Age” (DreamWorks Animation)
  • “Doolittle” (Universal Pictures) – WINNER
  • “Rebecca” (Netflix)

Here Are The 2020 Nominations of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists!


Earlier on Wednesday, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists announced their nominations for the best and the worst of 2020.  The nominations were announced in the pages of Variety and you can read more about them by clicking here.

Nomadland led with the most nominations which seems to be the way that the awards season is going to go.  Personally, when it comes to the AWFJ, I’m always more interested in the snarky nominations than in the serious ones.  For instance, the nominees for the She Deserves A New Agent award always leave me thinking.

The nominations are below.  The winners will be announced on January 4th.

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS
(These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration)

Best Film
“Minari” (A24)
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

Best Director
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24)
Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios)
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix)

Best Actress
Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix)
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
Bill Murray, “On the Rocks” (A24/Apple TV Plus)
Leslie Odom Jr, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios)
Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
Amanda Seyfried, “Mank” (Netflix)
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari” (A24)

Best Screenplay, Original
“Mank” (Netflix) – Jack Fincher
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) – Emerald Fennell
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Aaron Sorkin

Best Screenplay, Adapted
“First Cow” (A24) – Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Chloé Zhao
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Kemp Powers

Best Animated Film
“Over the Moon” (Netflix)
“Soul” (Pixar)
“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS)

Best Cinematography
“Mank” (Netflix) – Erik Messerschmidt
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Joshua James Richards
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Tami Reiker

Best Editing
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Tariq Anwar
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) – Chloé Zhao
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Alan Baumgarten

Best Documentary
“All In: The Fight for Democracy” (Amazon Studios)
“Athlete A” (Netflix)
“Crip Camp” (Netflix)
“The Painter and the Thief” (Neon)
“Time” (Amazon Studios)

Best Non-English-Language Film
“Another Round” – Denmark
“Beanpole” – Russia
“The Mole Agent” – Chile
“The Painted Bird” – Czech Republic

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director
“Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix) – Kim Coleman
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Kimberly Hardin
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Francine Maisler

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS
(These awards honor WOMEN only)

Best Woman Director
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment)
Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24)
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Woman Screenwriter
Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix)
Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Best Animated Female
“22” in “Soul” (Pixar) – portrayed by Tina Fey
“Mebh Óg MacTíre” in “Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS) – portrayed by Eva Whittaker
“Robyn Goodfellowe” in “Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV Plus/GKIDS) – portrayed by Honor Kneafsey

Best Woman’s Breakthrough Performance
Radha Blank, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix)
Sidney Flanigan, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features)
Helena Zengel, “News of the World” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in the Film Industry
All female heads of film festivals who successfully transitioned from live to online events to sustain festival culture through the pandemic.
All indie female writers and directors who normalized abortion as a vital element in the cultural conversation in films such as “Saint Frances,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” “Sister of the Groom,” “Once Upon a River,” “The Glorias” and others.
Emerald Fennell for creating a film that forces empathy to put an end to the toxic sexist rape culture pervasive through modern history.
Sophia Loren for a brilliant comeback at age 86 in “The Life Ahead,” the latest in her record-setting career. Loren won a Best Actress Oscar in 1962 for “Two Women” and was the first actor to win for a foreign language movie. She was also nominated in 1965 for “Marriage Italian Style.” If she’s nominated in 2021, it will be a 56-year span between her two most recent nominations – the current record is held by Henry Fonda, who had a 41-year gap between nominations.

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Grand Dame Award for defying ageism.
Ellen Burstyn, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
Tsai Chin, “Lucky Grandma” (Good Deed Entertainment)
Sophia Loren, “The Life Ahead” (Netflix)
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

Most Egregious Lovers’ Age Difference Award
“The Burnt Orange Heresy” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Elizabeth Debicki and Claes Bang (23 years)
“The Devil All the Time” (Netflix) – Riley Keough and Jason Clarke (20 years)
“Mank” – Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance (39 years), Gary Oldman (27 years)
“Tenet” – Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh (30 years)

She Deserves A New Agent Award
Rose Byrne, “Like a Boss” (Paramount Pictures)
Tiffany Haddish, “Like a Boss” (Paramount Pictures)
Katie Holmes, “Dare to Dream” (Gravitas Ventures)
Uma Thurman, “The War with Grandpa” (101 Studios)

Most Daring Performance Award
Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios)
Haley Bennett, “Swallow” (IFC Films)
Vanessa Kirby, “Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix)
Elisabeth Moss, “The Invisible Man” (Universal Pictures)
Carey Mulligan, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

Time Waster Remake or Sequel Award
“The Croods: A New Age” (DreamWorks Animation)
“Dolittle” (Universal Pictures)
“Rebecca” (Netflix)

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award
Shia LeBoeuf for his ongoing abusive behavior
Christopher Nolan for insisting that “Tenet” be screened exclusively in theaters during a pandemic.
Dallas Sonnier and Adam Donaghey at Cinestate for sexual harassment, abuse and cover-up.

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: The Girl On The Train (dir by Tate Taylor)


the-girl-on-the-train

Before I get around to talking about The Girl On The Train, I’m going to tell you a little story about myself.

A few years ago, I used to make a point of riding the DART train.  (DART stands for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.  Large sections of Upstream Color were filmed on a DART train.)  Every weekend, instead of driving out to the Dallas Angelika or the Dallas Museum of Art and contributing to climate change or whatever it was that I was supposedly doing whenever I drove my car, I would hop on the train.  It was a little inconvenient but I was saving the world.  Or something.

It was about a 30 minute ride from my local DART Station to downtown Dallas and I have to admit that I actually used to enjoy it.  I would always look out the window and watch as Dallas passed by.  I got to know all of the buildings and houses on the route pretty well.  Thanks to riding the DART train, I discovered that there’s a house on Forrest Lane that’s been boarded up for five years and counting.  Near Spring Creek, there’s a two-story house that I wouldn’t mind owning.  It’s a two-story glass house and it has a really nice deck that looks out over the creek.  I would always look at those houses and, in my mind, I would make up lurid stories about the people who lived there.  For a while, it was great fun.

(Unfortunately, it eventually stopped being fun but that’s a story that will have to wait for whenever I finally get around to reviewing Ms. 45…)

As I watched The Girl On The Train, I started to think about those times on the DART train.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every story that I came up with while sitting on my DART train was a hundred times more interesting than anything that happened in The Girl On The Train.

Emily Blunt stars as Rachel Watson.  Rachel is an alcoholic.  She got divorced from Tom (Justin Theroux) after she discovered that Tom was having an affair with their real estate agent, Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson).  Tom and Anna are now married and have a baby.  Rachel, meanwhile, is a blackout drunk who has been unemployed for a year.  She spends her time on a train, drinking and ride back and forth between Connecticut and New York.

Every night, the train stops near Rachel’s old house.  Rachel looks out the window and she stares at her former home.  Occasionally, she sees Tom and Anna celebrating their new life.  Rachel also finds herself obsessing on the house next door.  Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives at the house and works as Tom and Anna’s nanny.  As Rachel discovers from looking out the train’s window, Megan is cheating on her husband with a mysterious, bearded man (Edgar Ramirez).

(Rachel has a really good view from her window seat.  Admittedly, I’m notoriously near-sighted so I might not be the best judge, but I could never actually see what was happening inside any of the houses that I stared at.  Rachel, however, must have super vision.  Maybe she was Supergirl before she turned into an alcoholic.  Who knows?)

One day, a drunk-off-her-ass Rachel forces her way off of the train and stumbles towards her former home.  She thinks that she sees Anna jogging and chases after her.  “Whore!” Rachel yells before passing out.  When Rachel regains consciousness, she can’t remember anything that happened.  But she has vague memories of being involved in some sort of struggle…

Eventually, Rachel learns that Megan is missing and presumed murdered.  Even worse, Rachel is the number one suspect.  The main detective (who is somewhat inevitably played by Allison Janney) suspects that Rachel mistook Megan for Anna.  It turns out that Rachel has a history of erratic behavior.  She even tried to kidnap Tom and Anna’s baby!  Seriously, lock Rachel up!

Trying to figure out what happened and clear her name, Rachel approaches Megan’s husband, Scott (Luke Evans) and pretends to be a friend of Megan’s.  It turns out that Scott was an abusive husband.  Soon, he’s both confiding in Rachel and encouraging her to start drinking again.  Rachel starts spending more and more time with Scott and it becomes obvious that she’s trying to live the life that she once imagined that Megan and Scott had.  There’s an interesting subtext to both Rachel’s obsession with Megan and her attempt to start a new relationship with Scott but it’s never really explored.  Instead, it’s brought up and then abandoned a few scenes later.

In fact, as a film, The Girl On The Train never really explores anything.  (It only grudgingly hints at the complexity of the book on which it was based.)  As opposed to similar films like Gone Girl or Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, there’s not much depth or insight to The Girl On The Train.  I’ve read some reviews that have complained that The Girl On The Train is “melodramatic” or “trashy,” but, if that were the case, it would at least be a fun movie to watch.  This is one of those films that thinks it’s a lot deeper than it actually is.

The Girl On The Train was probably doomed as soon as Tate Taylor was hired to direct it.  Taylor previously directed both The Help and a musical biopic called Get On Up.  Tate Taylor is one of those directors who goes out of his way not to challenge his audience (The Help is one of the most positive films about systemic racism that I’ve ever seen) but The Girl On The Train needed a director with more of a subversive edge.  The Girl On The Train needed a director who would embrace the film’s pulpy sensibility as opposed to one who would go out of his way to sand away the story’s rough edges and create an inoffensive and bland product that would be perfect for mass consumption.

And then you’ve got the film’s cast, which is full of talented performers who all seem to be uniquely uninspired by the material that they have to work with.  Emily Blunt did such good work in Looper and Sicario so why is she so boring here?  Why does Justin Theroux seem to be eagerly awaiting the end of the movie?  Why are both Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson reduced to playing characters who feel as if they’ve sprung out of a misogynist’s daydream?  What is Edgar Ramirez even doing in the movie?  Or Lisa Kudrow?  Or Laura Prepon?  Why is it that every world-weary female authority figure has to be played by Allison Janney?  Why?  Why?  Why!?

So, I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with The Girl On The Train.  I think I would have been more entertained if I had just hopped on the DART train and let my imagination do the rest of the work.

Let’s Play Hardcore Henry (2016, directed by Ilya Naishuller)


Hardcore_(2015_film)If you ever wondered whether a movie would ever be able to capture the excitement of watching a total stranger silently play an uninspired video game, Hardcore Henry is here to answer your question.

Filmed with a GoPro Hero 3 camera that used a specially-built rig that could be worn as a mask, Hardcore Henry is an action film that, from beginning to end, is told from a first-person perspective.  You are Henry.  When the film starts, you are having a dream where Tim Roth calls you a “pussy.”  When you wake up, a beautiful woman named Estelle (Haley Bennett) says that you are her husband and that you have amnesia because of a horrible accident.  You also lost your left arm and left leg but Estelle replaces your missing limbs with cybernetic ones.  Just before Estelle can give you a new voice, the laboratory is attacked by a telekinetic albino named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), leaving you as mute at GTA III‘s Claude.  You spend the rest of the movie running through the streets of Moscow, trying to rescue Estelle and getting advice and side missions from Jimmy (Sharlto Copely).  Jimmy was my favorite part of the movie because every time he was killed, he would return in a different version.  Cocaine Jimmy was the best of the Jimmys.

There are a few times when the stunt work is awe-inspiring but too often watching Hardcore Henry felt like watching a Let’s Play video on YouTube, the only difference being that at least the YouTube vid would have featured a joke or two.  The problem is not that Hardcore Henry feels like a video game.  The problem is that doesn’t feel like a good video game.  It feels like a clichéd and uninspired first person shooter, right down to the scenes were Estelle and Jimmy train you on how to use your new abilities and weapons.  (When Henry visits a brothel, it’s as if he figured out how to unlock the hidden rooms in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.)  If Hardcore Henry had a plot that was as interesting as the first person gimmick, it would be a great action film.  But, as it is, Hardcore Henry is just an intriguing experiment that does not really work.

This trailer is HARDCORE


Hardcore

Gamers have been clamoring for some of their favorite games to be made into full-length feature films. Whether it be rpgs, adventure or first-person shooters the games that have had a film adaptation were usually not very good. Even the classic first-person shooter Doom got it’s own film with even a gimmicky sequence near the end that put the action in first-person perspective just like the game. In the end, the film didn’t end up being very good.

Last year, there was a crowdfunding for a project that would take that first-person perspective and build a film around it. At first, it sounded like another take on the found footage craze, but this time around it’s not a film using the found footage narrative, but a film that was from the point of view of the protagonist. The film from start to finish will not stop and we’d only see things from the lead’s viewpoint.

This was done to great effect with the remake of the horror from Maniac. Now we shall see how well it works in an action genre that looks to blur the lines what’s film and what’s video game. Just from the released trailer alone this looks quite like some of the first-person shooters gamers have been eating up for the past decade. Having the film also stay in first-person could also make for many audiences to lose their mind or their lunches or both.

Hardcore just had it’s premiere on September 12, 2015 over at the Toronto International Film Festival.