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)

The Gothams Honor Nomadland


The Gotham Awards were handed out last night, honoring the best in independent film.  In the past, the Gothams have been awarded at the starts of awards season but this year, they’re happening right in the middle.  It’s a weird awards season but apparently, Nomadland either winning or being a serious contender is the one thing that you can depend upon.  Admittedly, it’s debatable how much of influence the Gothams really have on the Oscars.  Many films that Oscar-eligible are not considered to be Gotham-eligible.  For instance, the big-budgeted, studio-backed blockbusters that are often mentioned as possible Oscar nominees are not Gotham eligible.  There’s a kind of nice justice to that, I think.

That said, every victory helps.  Nomadland has kind of been an obvious Oscar contender for several months now but it never hurts to notch another victory on the wall.

Here’s are the nominees and the winners, with the winners in bold:

Best Feature
The Assistant
First Cow
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
Relic

Best Documentary
76 Days
City Hall
Our Time Machine
A Thousand Cuts (TIE)
Time (TIE)

Best International Feature
Bacurau
Beanpole
Cuties (Mignonnes)
Identifying Features
Martin Eden
Wolfwalkers

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Radha Blank – The Forty-Year-Old Version
Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Alex Thompson – Saint Frances
Carlo Mirabella-Davis – Swallow
Andrew Patterson – The Vast of Night

Best Screenplay
Bad Education – Mike Makowsky
First Cow – Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
The Forty-Year-Old Version – Radha Blank (TIE)
Fourteen – Dan Sallitt (TIE)
The Vast of Night – James Montague, Craig Sanger

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Jude Law – The Nest
John Magaro – First Cow
Jesse Plemons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Best Actress
Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth
Jessie Buckley – I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Frances McDormand – Nomadland

Breakthrough Actor
Jasmine Batchelor – The Surrogate
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami…
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Orion Lee – First Cow
Kelly O’Sullivan – Saint Frances

Breakthrough Series – Long Format (over 40 minutes)
The Great
Immigration Nation
P-Valley
Unorthodox
Watchmen

Breakthrough Series – Short Format (under 40 minutes)
Betty
Dave
I May Destroy You
Taste the Nation
Work in Progress

Keeping in mind that I haven’t seen all of the nominees yet, I guess my favorite winner is Andrew Patterson as Breakthrough Director for The Vast of Night.  The Vast of Night was one of my favorite films last year and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Patterson does in the future.

Along with these awards, the Gothams also paid special tribute to: Steve McQueen, Ryan Murphy, actors Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman and the ensemble cast of The Trial Of The Chicago 7.  A tip of the hat to Next Best Picture for that information.  I did consider watching the Gothams last night but …. well, The Bachelor was on and then after that, I was really tired.  To be honest, I would probably have watched if the awards had been presented by people dressed up like Batman.  Y’know, Gothams.  Gotham City.  All of that.  Anyway….

Congrats to the winners!

The Florida Film Critics Circle Honors First Cow!


The Florida Film Critics Circle today announced their picks for the best of 2020!  You can check out a full list of nominees here.  Meanwhile, the winners are below!

Best Picture: First Cow

Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins in The Father  (Runner-Up: John Magaro in First Cow)

Best Actress: Frances McDormand in Nomadland (Runner-up: Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Raci in the Sound of Metal (Runner-up: Brian Dennehy in Driveways)

Best Supporting Actress: Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Movie Film (Runner-up: Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari)

Best Ensemble: Mangrove (Runner-Up: The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Best Director: Chloe Zhao for Nomand Land (runner-up: Kelley Reichardt for First Cow and Aaron Sorkin The Trial of the Chicago 7)

Best Original Screenplay: Lee Isaac Chung for Minari (runner-up: Sorkin)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman for I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Runners-up: Chloe Zhao for Nomadland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Best Cinematography — Erik Messerschmidt for Mank (Runner-up: Shabier Kirchner for Lovers Rock)

Best Visual Effects: Murray Barber for Possessor (runner-up: Andrew Jackson for Tenet)

Best Art Direction: Dan Webster for Mank (Runner-up: Adam Marshall for Lovers Rock)

Best Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste for Soul (runner-up: Ludwig Goransson for Tenet)

Best Documentary: You Don’t Nomi (Runner-up: Dick Johnson is Dead)

Best Foreign Language Film: Los Fuertes (runner-up: Minari)

Best Animated Film: Soul (runner-up: Wolfwalkers)

Best First Film: Promising Young Woman (runner-up: The Father)

Breakout Award: Sidney Flanigan for Never Rarely Sometimes Always (runner-up: Maria Bakalova for that Borat movie)

The Golden Orange Award: Enzian Theater

Here Are The 2020 Florida Film Critics Circle Nominations!


The Florida Film Critics Circle announced their nominees for the best of 2020 earlier today!

All I can say is “Thank you, Florida, for doing the right thing!”  Seriously, the best films of 2020 should be announced in December of 2020 and January of 2021.  This whole extended eligibility window that a lot of groups are doing because of the pandemic is idiotic.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that the late Brian Dennehy has been getting some critical support for his final performance in Driveways.  (I’ll be seeing Driveways next week.)  It would be interesting if both Denney and Chadwick Boseman landed nominations.  I’m not sure which year holds the record for the most posthumous nominations but, if both Boseman and Denney were nominated for Oscars, it would be the first time that there was more than one posthumous acting nominee.

Here’s the nominees.  The winners will be announced on the 21st!

BEST PICTURE
First Cow
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Minari

BEST ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
John Magaro – First Cow
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal

BEST ACTRESS
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Carrie Coon – The Nest
Elisabeth Moss – Shirley
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
Brian Dennehy – Driveways
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Bill Murray – On the Rocks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Swankie – Nomadland
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Jane Adams – She Dies Tomorrow

BEST ENSEMBLE
Mangrove
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Minari

BEST DIRECTOR
Florian Zeller – The Father
Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Peter Docter/ Kemp Powers/Mike Jones – Soul
Jack Fincher – Mank
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Jon Raymond/ Kelly Reichardt – First Cow
Florian Zeller/Christopher Hampton – The Father
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Charlie Kaufman – I’m Thinking of Ending Things

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Shabier Kirchner – Lovers Rock
Hoyte van Hoytema – Tenet
Victor Kossakovsky/Egil Håskjold Larsen – Gunda
Erik Messerschmidt – Mank
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Andrew Jackson – Tenet
Mark Bakowski – The Midnight Sky
Murray Barber – Possessor

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTIOIN
Dan Webster – Mank
Kirby Feagan – Shirley
Adam Marshall – Lovers Rock

BEST SCORE
Ludwig Göransson – Tenet
William Tyler – First Cow
Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross/Jon Batiste – Soul
Alexandre Desplat – The Midnight Sky

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Dick Johnson is Dead
Gunda
You Don’t Nomi
Time
David Byrne’s American Utopia

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Los Fuertes
Those Who Remained
Minari
The Painted Bird
Dry Wind

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Wolfwalkers
Soul
Ride Your Wave
The Wolf House
Over the Moon

BEST FIRST FILM
Promising Young Woman
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Relic
The Father
Some Kind of Heaven

BREAKOUT AWARD
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Odessa Young – Shirley
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Marin Ireland – The Dark and the Wicked
Lucas Jaye – Driveways

THE GOLDEN ORANGE AWARD
ENZIAN Theater
Keisha Rae Witherspoon
Amy Seimetz

Belatedly, Here Are The Gotham Award Nominations!


The Gotham nominations were announced on Thursday and I totally missed them!

Seriously, that’s how crazy this year has been.

Anyway, with so much up in the air, it’s probably debatable how much anything can be gleaned about the state of the Oscar race from these nominations.  In fact, even in a normal year, the Gothams aren’t exactly known for being Oscar precursors.  However, they do honor worthy independent films and often, they encourage us to track down films that we may have otherwise missed.

Only film with a budget under $35 million were eligible for a Gotham nomination.  So, don’t look at this list and go, “OH MY GOD, WHERE’S MANK!?  WHERE’S TENENT!?”  They’re not eligible.

Anyway, here are the Gotham nominations:

Best Feature
“The Assistant”
“First Cow”
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
“Nomadland”
“Relic”

Best Documentary
“76 Days”
“City Hall”
“Our Time Machine”
“A Thousand Cuts”
“Time”

Best International Feature
“Bacurau”
“Beanpole”
“Cuties (Mignonnes)”
“Identifying Features”
“Martin Eden”
“Wolfwalkers”

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Carlo Mirabella-Davis, “Swallow”
Rhada Blank, “The Forty Year Old Version”
Andrew Patterson, “Vast of Night”
Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth”
Alex Thompson, “Saint Frances”

Best Screenplay
“Bad Education,” Mike Makowsky
“First Cow,” Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
“The Forty-Year-Old Version,” Radha Blank
“Fourteen,” Dan Sallitt
“The Vast of Night,” James Montague and Craig Sanger

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Jude Law, “The Nest”
John Magaro, “First Cow”
Jesse Plemons, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Best Actress
Nicole Beharie, “Miss Juneteenth”
Jessie Buckley, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
Carrie Coon, “The Nest”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

Breakthrough Actor
Sidney Flanigan, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Jasmine Batchelor, “The Surrogate”
Kelly O’Sullivan, “Saint Frances”
Orion Lee, “First Cow”
Kingsley Ben-Adir, “One Night in Miami”

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“The Great”
“Immigration Nation”
“P-Valley”
“Unorthodox”
“Watchmen”

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Betty”
“Dave”
“I May Destroy You”
“Taste the Nation”
“Work in Progress”

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Marshall (dir by Reginald Hudlin)


So, here I am.  January is nearly over.  The Oscar nominations have already been announced.  2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on.  At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies.  But, that’s okay.  I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.

On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October.  A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere.  The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film.  (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be.  Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.)  The film’s reviews were respectable.  Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.

And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office.  On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place.  I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that.  Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December.  In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman.  Who knows?  As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.

Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be.  It takes place in 1940.  After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson).  It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice.  A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court.  Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).  All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on.  However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.

Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make.  Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic.  Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying.  And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero.  Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together.  Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun.  As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place.  He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it.  Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.

Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable.  The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.

Playing Catch-Up: Carol (dir by Todd Haynes)


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(Minor Spoilers Below)

Carol is the best film of 2015.

I say that without a hint of hesitation or doubt.  2015 was a wonderful year for movies and I would say that there were at least 20 film released that I would call great.  And, out of those 20, Carol is the best.

Carol opens in 1952.  Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is young, lonely, and living in New York City.  She’s an aspiring photographer who can’t afford a decent camera, a secret bohemian living in a world where morality and culture are defined by the bourgeoisie.  She has a boyfriend named Richard (Jake Lacey) and he’s eager to marry her and move to France but, try as she might, Therese simply cannot bring herself to feel the same way about him that he feels about her.  Though she lives with him, she refuses to have sex with him.  At one point, she asks him if he’s ever heard of men being attracted to other men and she asks if he thinks the same can be true of women.  Richard says sure, before adding that it’s always the result of “something wrong” psychologically.

It’s Christmas.  Therese gets a temporary job, working at a department store in Manhattan.  From the moment we see Therese surrounded by the Christmas crowds, we realize that she feels totally out-of-place among the rest of the world.  She is withdrawn and quiet and rarely looks anyone in the eye.  That is until she meets Carol (Cate Blanchett).

Carol is searching for a gift for her daughter and accidentally leaves her gloves behind at the store.  When Therese arranges for the gloves to be returned to Carol, Carol thanks her by taking her out to lunch.  Soon, Carol is inviting Therese to spend Christmas at her house in New Jersey and a jealous Richard is complaining that Therese has a “crush” on the older woman.

Carol is going through a difficult divorce.  Her alcoholic husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), is demanding full custody of their children.  Harge knows that years ago, Carol had a brief affair with her best friend, Abby (Sarah Paulson), and he can’t handle it.  When he stops by, drunk and belligerent, on Christmas, he discovers Therese visiting Carol and he freaks out even more.

(With all the attention being paid to the exquisite performances of Blanchett and Mara, now would be good place to mention that Kyle Chandler does a great job playing a loathsome character.  With his performance here and his role in The Spectacular Now, Chandler has cornered the market on playing abusive alcoholics.)

For New Year’s, Carol and Therese go on a trip and they finally consummate their relationship (in Iowa, of all places).  But what they don’t know is that Harge has hired men to follow them and to get proof of their relationship.  If Carol wants to see her daughter again, she knows that it means seeing a psychotherapist for help with her “problem” and never seeing Therese again…

Carol is an amazing and beautiful film, a portrait of both forbidden love and the struggle to survive in a society that demands total and complete conformity.  In many scenes, director Todd Haynes pays homage to the masters of 50s melodrama, filmmakers like Mark Robson, Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray.  The film’s lushly vibrant colors and attention to detail feels reminiscent of the films that Sirk made for MGM, with Cate Blanchett often made up to resemble Lana Turner.  Meanwhile, Rooney Mara often resembles Natalie Wood from Rebel Without A Cause.  One shot in particular, with the shadows of a window bar falling across Blanchett’s face like the bars of a prison cell, immediately brought to mind the end of Ray’s Bigger Than Life.

For the longest time, I have complained about Rooney Mara’s performance in David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Well, I’m prepared to stop complaining because Mara is brilliant in Carol.  Her blossoming as an actress mirrors Therese’s blossoming as a woman.  Rooney Mara is being promoted for best supporting actress but make no mistake.  There’s nothing “supporting” about Rooney Mara’s performance.  Carol is all about Therese and it works because of Mara’s wonderful performance.

Regardless of what may or may not happen with the Oscar nominations on Thursday, Carol is the best film of 2015.  It’s a film that we will still be talking about decades from now.

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Playing Catch-Up: The Big Short (dir by Adam McKay)


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The Big Short is a film that is so critically acclaimed and that has been so passionately embraced by those who enjoyed it that it’s a bit intimidating to admit that it really didn’t do much for me.  (It’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I nearly included it on my list of the 16 worst films of 2015.)  It’s a big, angry movie and, even though it’s not really that good, it definitely taps into the zeitgeist.  It captures the anger, the frustration, and the fears that people (including me) are feeling right now.  It didn’t do much for me but I can understand why others have so passionately embraced it.

As for the film itself, it’s about the housing collapse and the financial crisis of 2008.  The main characters are all people who realized that the economy was about to collapse and who managed to make a profit off of the crisis.  For the most part, everyone gets at least two scenes where they get to rail about how angry they are that they’re making a profit off of other people’s misery.  However, they all still collect their money at the end of the film.

For the most part, our main characters are the type of quirky eccentrics who always tend to pop up in ensemble films like this.  They’re all played by recognizable actors and they all have an identifiable trait or two so we can keep them straight.  For instance, Christian Bale has trouble relating to people socially, plays drums, and looks like he probably has terrible body odor.  Steve Carell has a bad haircut and spends a lot of time yelling at people.  He’s also haunted by the suicide of his brother and he’s married to Marisa Tomei but she only gets to appear in two scenes and doesn’t really do much because this is a film about menfolk, dagnabit.  (I love Steve Carell but this is probably the least interesting performance that he’s ever given.)  John Magaro and Finn Wittrock are two young investors and they especially get upset when they realize that the economy is about to collapse.  Their mentor is played by Brad Pitt.  Since this is an important film, Brad Pitt plays his role with his important actor beard.

And then there’s Ryan Gosling.  Gosling plays a trader and he also narrates the film.  And really, Gosling probably gives the best performance in the film, perhaps because his character is the only one who is actually allowed to enjoy making money.  I think we’re supposed to be outraged when he brags about making money while people lose their houses but Gosling’s so charismatic and the character is so cheerful that it’s hard to dislike him.

(Of course, listening to Gosling’s narration, it’s impossible not to be reminded of The Wolf of Wall Street.  And it’s appropriate because The Big Short is kind of like The Wolf of Wall Street for people who don’t want to have to deal with ambiguity or nuance.)

The film has gotten a lot of attention for Adam McKay’s direction, which is flashy and always watchable but, at the same time, also rather shallow.  For the most part, McKay’s directorial tricks only served to remind me of other movies.  The narration, of course, made me think about The Wolf of Wall Street.  The scenes where characters look straight at the camera and say, “This isn’t the way it really happened,” only reminded me of how much more effective it was when the same thing happened in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People.

And then there’s the celebrity cameos.  These are the scenes where a special guest celebrity is brought on screen to explain to us how Wall Street actually works.  The first time, it’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and it works well because it admits the debt that The Big Short owes to Wolf of Wall Street.  (Plus, it ends with Robbie telling the viewers to “fuck off,” which is probably what I would do if a huge group of strangers interrupted my bubble bath.)  If McKay had limited himself to just doing it once, it would have been brilliant.  But McKay drags out three more celebs and, with repeated use, the technique gets less and less interesting.

But I guess it’s debatable whether any of that matters.  The Big Short taps into the way people are feeling now.  It’s a zeitgeist film.  People are rightfully angry and The Big Short is all about that anger.  A decade from now, it’ll probably be as forgotten as Gabriel Over The White House.  But for now, it’s definitely the film of the moment.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #108: The Brave One (dir by Neil Jordan)


Brave_one_2007For our next entry in Embracing the Melodrama Part II, we take a look at Jodie Foster in the 2007 film The Brave One.  And…

Well, how to put this delicately?

I hate hate hate hate HATE this movie, with every last fiber of my being.  I hated it the first time that I saw it and I hated it when I recently rewatched it and right now, I’m hating the fact that I even decided to review this damn film because it means that I’m going to have to think about it.  I’m going to try to get this review over with quickly because, with each minute that I think about this film, I doubt my commitment to cinema.  That’s how much I hate this movie.  If I’m not careful, I’m going to end up joining a nunnery before I finish this review…

So, in The Brave One, Jodie Foster plays Erica Bain.  Erica lives in New York and hosts one of those pretentious late night radio shows that are always popular in movies like this but which, in real life, nobody in their right mind would waste a second listening to.  Erica spends her time musing about life in the big city and hoping that we can all just love one another and expressing a lot of other thoughts that sound like they’ve been stolen from an automated twitter account.

Erica also has a boyfriend.  His name is David and he’s played by Naveen Andrews.  That means that he looks good and he has a sexy accent and when he first shows up, you hope that he’ll stick around for a while because otherwise, you’re going to have to listen to move of Erica’s radio monologues.  But nope — one night, while walking through Central Park, David and Erica are attacked.  David is killed.  Erica is raped.  And their dog is taken by the gang!

(And the film doesn’t seem to know which it thinks is worse…)

When Erica gets out of the hospital, she is, at first, terrified to leave her apartment.  Or, at least, she’s terrified to leave her apartment for about five minutes.  But then she does find the courage to go outside and, of course, the first thing she does is buy a gun.  At first, she’s buying the gun for her own state of mind but, almost immediately after purchasing her firearms, she happens to stumble across a convenience store robbery.

Bang!  Bang!  Erica’s a vigilante now!

But, of course, she’s not really sure if that’s what she wants to be.  Even though she eventually ends up sitting on a subway and waiting for a guy to approach her so she can shoot him, Erica is still never really that comfortable with the idea of seeking vengeance.  And this is why I hated The Brave One.  The film is so damned wishy washy about Erica’s motivations.  Instead of allowing Erica to get any sort of satisfaction or emotional fulfillment out of her actions, The Brave One has her constantly doubting whether or not violence is the answer.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that violence is the answer.  But if you’re going to make a film about a female vigilante who is out looking for vengeance, why don’t you at least allow her to get some sort of empowerment out of her actions?  That doesn’t mean that the film itself can’t be ambiguous about what she’s doing.  But by having Erica constantly questioning her actions, it makes her into a weak character and it lets the men who raped her and the ones who subsequently threaten to do the same off the hook.  It allows them to be seen as victims, as opposed to products of a society where men are raised to believe that women will never fight back.

There’s a far superior New York-set film that has almost the same plot as The Brave One.  The title of that film was Ms. 45.  It was made for a hundred times less money than The Brave One and, at the same time, it was and remains a hundred times better.  (I previously wrote about Ms. 45 and The Brave One in my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.)

The difference between the two films can be summed up by the film’s tag lines.  The Brave One was advertised with, “How many wrongs to make it right?”  Ms. 45 was advertised with: “She was abused and violated … IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!”   Ms. 45 features a vigilante who never doubts her actions and, as a result, she becomes a symbol not of violence but of empowerment.  Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is so constantly wracked with guilt and doubt that the film almost seems to be criticizing her for not staying in her apartment and trusting the police (represented by Terrence Howard and Nicky Katt) to do their job.

Oh!  And, of course, at the end of the film, Erica gets her dog back.  Because nobody ever permanently loses their dog in a big budget studio film…

And really, that’s why The Brave One is such a failure.  It takes a subject that was tailor-made for the grindhouse and attempts to give it the slick and self-important studio approach.  And part of that approach is that no one can be offended.  This is a film that both wants to celebrate and condemn at the same time.

And that’s why I say, “Give me Ms. 45!”

At least that movie knows what it wants to say…

Film Review: Unbroken (dir by Angelina Jolie)


Ultimately, Unbroken is a victim of expectations.

From the start of last year, Oscar watchers and other film critics were united in fully expecting Unbroken to be a great film.  No sooner had 12 Years A Slave won best picture then we were all predicting that Unbroken would be named the best film of 2014 and that Angelina Jolie would be the 2nd woman to win an Oscar for best director.

And can you blame us?

Unbroken seemed to have everything that you would expect to add up to Oscar glory.  Not only was it directed by a celebrity (and, ever since Argo, everyone has been under the impression that all performers can also direct) but it starred an exciting and up-and-coming actor.  It was not only a war film but it was a war film that took place during the only war that everyone agrees was a good one, World War II.  It was based on a true story and what a story!  Louis Zamperini was an Olympic medalist whose athletic career was put on hold when he joined the U.S. Air Force.  After a plane crash, he and two other survivors spent 47 days floating in a lifeboat.  They were finally captured by the Japanese and Louis spent the rest of the war as POW.  During that time, he survived terrible torture.  When the war finally ended, Louis set aside his anger and publicly forgave those who had nearly killed him.  When he was 80 years old, he returned to Japan and carried the Olympic torch.  It’s an incredibly touching story and it should have made for a great movie.

And, ultimately, that’s Unbroken‘s downfall.  It has all the ingredients for being a great movie but instead, it’s only a good one.

That’s certainly not the fault of Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis and gives a strong and sympathetic performance.  Actually, the entire film is well-acted, with everyone fully inhabiting his role.  Perhaps the film’s best performance comes from Miyavi, who plays “The Bird,” the sadistic head of both of the POW camps where Louis is held prisoner.  The dynamic between The Bird and Louis is an interesting one, with the film emphasizing that The Bird is in many ways jealous of Louis’s previous fame and Miyavi plays the character as if he were a high school bully who has suddenly been left in charge of the classroom.

That the cast does well should not be a surprise.  Actors-turned-directors can usually get good performances but often times, they seem to struggle with shaping a narrative and this is where Unbroken struggles.  It’s not that Unbroken doesn’t tell a worthy story.  It’s just that it tells it in such a conventional and predictable way.  The entire film is full of scenes that seem like they were lifted out of other, more memorable movies.  The scenes with Louis growing up and competing in the Olympics feel like they could have come from any “inspiring” sports biopic.  (It doesn’t help that Louis’s brother and coach has been given dialogue that sounds like it should be surrounded by air quotes.)  When Louis is joking around with the guys in the plane, it feels like a hundred other war films.  When Louis is floating in the ocean, it’s hard not to compare the film’s static and draggy approach to what Ang Lee was able to do with Life of Pi or J.C. Chandor with All Is Lost.  Miyavi brings a feeling of real menace and danger to the POW scenes but it’s not enough.  Jolie’s direction is competent but there’s not a single moment that feels spontaneous or truly cinematic.

In fact, I sat through Unbroken totally dry-eyed, which is somewhat amazing considering how easily I cry at the movies.  However, towards the end of the film, there was a clip of the real-life, 80 year-old Louis running down the streets of Tokyo with the Olympic Torch and, at that moment, his story became real for me.  And that’s when the tears came.

I really wish Unbroken had been better because Louis Zamperini seems like someone who deserved to have a great film made about him.  Angelina Jolie’s heart was in the right place but, ultimately, it’s just not enough to make Unbroken the film that it deserves to be.