Film Review: All The King’s Men (dir by Steven Zaillian)


On September 10th, 1935, a Senator named Huey Long was shot and killed at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rogue.

While it’s generally agreed that Carl Weiss, the son-in-law of a political opponent, approached Long, there’s still some debate as to whether or not Weiss was the one who shot Long. Did Weiss fire one shot at Long or was Long himself accidentally shot by his many bodyguards, all of whom opened fire on Weiss? (Weiss died at the scene, having been wounded at least 60 times.) There’s even some who argue that Weiss didn’t even have a gun on him when he approached Long and that Long’s bodyguards misinterpreted Weiss’s intentions. Or, as some more conspiracy-minded historians have suggested, perhaps Long’s bodyguards were themselves paid off by one of Long’s many enemies. With Huey Long, anything was possible.

Huey Long has been described as being an American dictator, a man who ran for office as a populist and who, as governor and then senator, ruled Louisiana with an iron fist. His slogan was “Every man a king,” and he promoted a platform that mixed Socialism with redneck resentment. (In modern terms, he mixed the vapid but crowd-pleasing rhetroic of AOC with the bombastic but calculated personal style of Donald Trump.) He often played the flamboyant buffoon but he also knew how to reward his friends and punish his enemies. At the time of his death, he was planning to run for President against FDR. It’s said that, in typical Long fashion, he planned to run as a third party candidate and draw away enough votes from Roosevelt to allow Republican Alf Landon to win. Then, in 1940, Long would run for the Democratic nomination and send President Landon back to Kansas.

Huey-Long-radio-3000-3x2gty-5c2934d246e0fb00012da4a1

Whether his plan was feasible or not, they came to an end with his death. However, his legacy continued as members of the Long family dominated Louisiana politics for decades to come. Huey’s brother, Earl, served as governor of Louisiana for several contentious terms. Huey’s son, Russell, spent nearly 40 years in the Senate and, as chairman of the Finance Committee, was one of the most powerful men in the country. As late at 2020, Huey’s third cousin was serving in the Louisiana Senate. In the past few years, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been compared to Huey Long. Of course, if Huey were alive today, he’d probably be very popular online. Political Twitter has never met an authoritarian that it couldn’t make excuses for.

Among those who were fascinated by the life and death of Huey Long was a Southern poet and novelist named Robert Penn Warren. Warren used Long as the basis for Willie Stark, the man at the center of the novel All The King’s Men. In the novel, Stark is a classic and tragic American archetype, the man of the people who loses his way after coming to power. Stark starts the book as an idealist who wants to make life better for the poor but who, as he works his way up the political ladder, loses sight of why he first entered politics in the first place. He goes from fighting for the people to fighting only for himself. The book was controversial but popular and won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize. In later interviews, Warren often said that All The King’s Men was never meant to be a book about politics but instead a book about two men, Willie Stark and reporter Jack Burden, losing their way during the tumult of the Great Depression.  Regardless of Warren’s intentions, most readers and critics have focused on the book as a cynical look at American politics and the authoritarian impulse.

All-the-Kings-Men-1949

Considering the book’s popularity, it’s not surprising that All The King’s Men was turned into a movie just three years after it was published.  Directed by Robert Rossen and starring a perfectly cast Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark, the film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1949.  Just as with the book, the film was considered to be controversial.  Many claimed that the film’s cynical portrayal of American politics was the equivalent of supporting communism, despite the fact that both the novel and the original film present Stark as being the epitome of the hypocritical Marxist dictator.  Indeed, if any character would have inspired audiences in 1949 to distrust socialism, it would have been a faux populist like Willie Stark.  Still, John Wayne was so offended by the book and the script that he very publicly turned down the role of Willie Stark.  That was all the better for Broderick Crawford, who won an Oscar playing the role.  When seen today, the original All The King’s Men holds up surprisingly well, as does Crawford’s lead performance.  Filmed in harsh black-and-white and featuring a cast of cynical, tough-talking characters, it’s a political noir.

Those who found the 1949 version of All The King’s Men to be dangerously subversive obviously had no idea what was in store for them and the country over the next couple of decades.  There’s a reason why the best-known book about the downfall of Richard Nixon was called All The President’s Men.  By the start of the current century, with all of the political corruption that was happening in the real world, the flaws and crimes of Willie Stark seemed almost quaint by comparison.  In 2006, with George W. Bush serving his second term, America embroiled in two unpopular wars, and the economy looking shaky, it was decided that it was time for a new version of the story of Willie Stark.

This version was directed by Steven Zaillian, the screenwriter whose credits included Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, Hannibal, and American Gangster.  The role of Willie Stark was played by Sean Penn, who was both an Academy Award winner and an outspoken critic of George Bush.  (And, make no mistake about it, the new version of Willie Stark would be as much based on Bush as he was on Huey Long.)  Jude Law played Jack Burden, the reporter who narrated the story of Stark’s rise and fall.  Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, and Kathy Baker all had supporting roles.  This was a cast full of Oscar nominees and, indeed, the film’s trailer had that portentous, “the movie is very important and award-worthy” feeling to it that studios go with whenever they’re trying to convince audiences that they have an obligation to see a film, regardless of how boring or annoying it may look.  Entertainment Weekly predicted that All The King’s Men would be an Academy Award contender. For nearly two months, one could not see a movie at the Dallas Angelika without also seeing thee trailer for All The King’s Men.  It was a movie that was due to arrive at any minute and it was coming with an awful lot of hype.

And then, the strangest thing happened.  The film itself kind of disappeared.  It arrived and then it promptly got lost.  The reviews were overwhelmingly negative.  Audiences did not turn out to see the film.  It was a box office bomb, one that pretty much ended Steven Zaillian’s career as a director.  The film played for a week in Dallas and then left the city’s movie screens.  Even if I had been planning on seeing the film when it was originally released, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity.  The Gods of cinema, politics, and Southern accents were conspiring to protect me from suffering through a bad movie and I guess I should be thankful.  There’s nothing that makes me cringe more than hearing a bad Southern accent in a movie and the trailer for All The King’s Men was full of them.

Way back in November of last year, I noticed that the 2006 version of All The King’s Men was available on Encore On Demand.  At the time, I had politics on my mind.  The Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections had bee held earlier that week.  Biden’s huge infrastructure bill had passed the House on the very same night that I came across the film.  Hell, I figured, could watching Sean Penn as Willie Stark be any worse than watching Joe Biden try to give a speech from the Oval Office?  So, I decided to give the movie a chance and I quickly discovered that watching Sean Penn’s Willie Stark was a lot worse.

In All The King’s Men, Sean Penn gives the type of bad performance that can only be given by a good actor.  Penn yells and grimaces and barks out order like the villain in a badly dubbed Bollywood movie.  When he watches a dancer, he doesn’t just look at her.  Instead, he stares with all the intensity of a cartoon wolf who has just spotted Little Red Riding Hood.  There’s nothing subtle about Penn’s performance, least of all his overbaked accent.  The only thing wilder than Penn’s accent is his hair, which often seems to be standing up straight as if he’s just removed his fingers from an electrical socket.  It’s a performance that is heavy on technique but empty on substance.  In both the book and the original film, Willie Stark is flamboyant in public but cool and calculating in private.  In the remake, Penn yells and sweats and jumps around and comes across as being so desperate that it’s hard to buy into the idea that anyone would believe a word that he said.  Broderick Crawford’s Willie Stark was believable because Crawford, with his bulky build and his plain-spoken manner, came across as being a real human being.  One could imagine voters looking at Crawford and believing that he was just like them.  Sean Penn, on the other hand, comes across like a rich man’s version of a poor man.  Penn is too obviously condescending to be an effective populist.  Voters will forgive a lot but they’ll never forgive a politician who openly talks down to them.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re a very talented group but not one of them is convincingly cast.  In fact, many of them give career-worst performances.  Anthony Hopkins does his usual eccentric routine but it doesn’t add up too much because the audience never sees him as being anything other than Anthony Hopkins using a rather spotty Southern accent.  When Hopkins’s character dies, it’s not a tragedy because the character himself never feels real.  Instead, you’re juts happy that Hopkins collected a paycheck.  Kate Winslet seems to be bored with the role of Stark’s mistress.  Mark Ruffalo is dazed in the role of Winslet’s brother.  As Jack Burden, Jude Law seems as lost as anyone, which wouldn’t be problem if not for the fact that Jack is the one narrating the film.  When your narrator is lost, you’re in trouble.

There’s really only two members of the cast who escape the film unscathed.  Jackie Earle Haley is properly intimidating as Stark’s devoted bodyguard.  Haley doesn’t get many lines but one look at his disturbed eyes tells you all you need to know about how far he’ll go to protect his boss.  On the other hand, James Gandolfini gets several lines and he does such a good job of delivering them and he plays the role of a corrupt political boss with such a perfect combination of good humor and cold pragmatism that you have to wonder just how much All The King’s Men would have been improved if Gandolfini had played Willie Stark instead of Sean Penn.

Steve Zaillian’s direction involves a lot of soft-focused flashbacks and several visual references to the Nuremberg rallies.  Just as with Penn’s performance, there’s nothing subtle about Zaillian’s direction, despite the fact that the story itself is so melodramatic that it calls for the opposite of a heavy-handed approach.  One wonders what exactly Zaillian was trying to say with his version of All The King’s Men, which presents Willie Stark as being a monster but still as the audacity to end with a clip of him giving a rousing campaign speech.  Again, the problem is that we never buy into the idea that Willie Stark was ever sincere in his desire to help the common man.  Everything about both Penn’s performance and Zaillian’s direction serves to suggest that, from the start, Stark viewed them as just being a means to an end.  Ending the film with a flashback of Willie giving a campaign speech is about as moving as a friend from high school contacting you on Facebook and then trying to get you to take part in a pyramid scheme.  There’s no sincerity to be found in any of it.

In the end, it’s a film of overheated performances and meticulously shot scenes that all add up to very little.  There are a few moments where Sean Penn’s body language and his vocal inflections suggest that he’s trying to channel George W. Bush but there’s nothing particularly shocking or subversive about that.  In 2006, every movie and TV show had to find a way to take a swipe at Bush and Penn’s never been particularly reticent when it comes to broadcasting his politics.  Though All The King’s Men was executive produced by political consultant James Carville, there’s very few moment in the film that feel authentic.  It’s like a high school senior’s view of politics.

All The King’s Men came and went quickly.  Fortunately, everyone was able to move on.  Steven Zaillian has not directed another film but remains an in-demand scriptwriter.  Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, and Kate Winslet all won Oscars after appearing in this film (though, it should be noted, none of them won for this film).  Mark Ruffalo and Jude Law went on to join the Marvel Universe.  Jackie Earle Haley continues to be a much-respected character actor.  Tragically, James Gandolfini is no longer with us but his performance as Tony Soprano will never be forgotten.  The second version of All The King’s Men wasted a lot of talent but, fortunately, talent always finds a way to survive.

Nomadland Wins At The Satellite Awards


Here’s what won at the Satellite Awards on the 15th.  I apologize for being a bit late in posting this but the weather conspired to keep me from watching the Satellite Awards.

Actually, did anyone watch the Satellite Awards?  Does anyone even know who is even giving these things out?

Well, regardless, here’s what won in the film categories:

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENTS

Mary Pickford Award: Tilda Swinton
Tesla Award: Dick Pope
Auteur Award: Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Best First Feature: Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Stunt Performance Award: Gaëlle Cohen
Humanitarian Award: Mark Wahlberg
Ensemble Motion Picture: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Ensemble Television: The Good Lord Bird

Actress in a Motion Picture Drama
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Kate Winslet – Ammonite
Sophia Loren – The Life Ahead

Actor in a Motion Picture Drama 
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Steven Yeun – Minari
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Gary Oldman – Mank

Actress in Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical 
Meryl Streep – The Prom
Rashida Jones – On the Rocks
Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey
Michelle Pfeiffer – French Exit
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma

Actor in Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton
Dev Patel – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Leslie Odom Jr. – Hamilton

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Olivia Colman – The Father
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
Nicole Kidman – The Prom
Helena Zengel – News of the World

Actor in a Supporting Role
Brian Dennehy – Driveways
David Strathairn – Nomadland
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Bill Murray – On the Rocks

Motion Picture, Drama
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Father
Promising Young Woman
Minari
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Tenet
Sound of Metal
One Night in Miami
Miss Juneteenth

Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical 
On the Rocks
Hamilton
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Forty-Year-Old Version

Motion Picture, International
Another Round
Tove
A Sun
Two of Us
Jallikattu
I’m No Longer Here
Atlantis
My Little Sister
La Llorona

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
Over the Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers
Demon Slayer-Kimetsu No Yaiba-The Movie: Mugen Train
Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus
No. 7 Cherry Lane

Motion Picture, Documentary
Collective
Crip Camp
MLK / FBI
The Dissident
A Most Beautiful Thing
The Truffle Hunters
Acasa, My Home
Coup 53
Gunda
Circus of Books

Director
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
David Fincher – Mank
Darius Marder – Sound of Metal
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Florian Zeller – The Father

Screenplay, Original
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Jack Fincher – Mank
Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers – Soul
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Screenplay, Adapted
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller – The Father
Jessica Bruder & Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Edoardo Ponti – The Life Ahead
Luke Davies & Paul Greengrass – News of the World

Original Score
Ludwig Goransson – Tenet
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Mank
Alexandre Desplat – The Midnight Sky
James Newton Howard – News of the World
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami

Original Song
“Io Si” – The Life Ahead
“Hear My Voice” – The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Rocket to the Moon” – Over the Moon
“Speak Now” – One Night in Miami
“Everybody Cries” – The Outpost
“The Other Side” – Trolls World Tour

Cinematography
The Midnight Sky
Nomadland
Mank 
News of the World
One Night in Miami
Tenet

Film Editing
Nomadland
The Father
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Mank
One Night in Miami
Minari

Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Sound of Metal
Tenet
Mank
The Prom
The Midnight Sky
Nomadland

Visual Effects
The Midnight Sky
Mank
Tenet    
Birds of Prey
Greyhound
Mulan

Art Direction and Production Design
The Personal History of David Copperfield
One Night in Miami
Mank
The Midnight Sky
The Prom
Mulan

Costume Design
Mulan
Emma
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
The Personal History of David Copperfield
One Night in Miami

Here Are the 2020 Satellite Nominations!


If the Golden Globes are the bastard children of the Oscars than the Satellites are the bastard children of the Golden Globes.  And if there’s anything that will always hold true, it’s that bastard children can eventually be accepted but bastard grandchildren are always going to struggle.  That’s my fancy way of saying that the Satellites have been around for 25 years and still, it doesn’t seem like anyone pays them much attention.  It’s also an excuse to use the word bastard 4 times in one paragraph.

Anyway, the Satellites announced their nominees earlier today.  Their film nominees can be found below!  If you want to see what they nominated in the television categories, check it out for yourself at their site!

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD RECIPIENTS

Mary Pickford Award: Tilda Swinton
Tesla Award: Dick Pope
Auteur Award: Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Best First Feature: Channing Godfrey Peoples – Miss Juneteenth
Stunt Performance Award: Gaëlle Cohen
Humanitarian Award: Mark Wahlberg
Ensemble Motion Picture: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Ensemble Television: The Good Lord Bird

NOMINEES FOR MOTION PICTURE

Actress in a Motion Picture Drama
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Kate Winslet – Ammonite
Sophia Loren – The Life Ahead

Actor in a Motion Picture Drama
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Steven Yeun – Minari
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Gary Oldman – Mank

Actress in Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
Meryl Streep – The Prom
Rashida Jones – On the Rocks
Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey
Michelle Pfeiffer – French Exit
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma

Actor in Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton
Dev Patel – The Personal History of David Copperfield
Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Leslie Odom Jr. – Hamilton

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Olivia Colman – The Father
Yuh-Jung Youn – Minari
Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
Nicole Kidman – The Prom
Helena Zengel – News of the World

Actor in a Supporting Role
Brian Dennehy – Driveways
David Strathairn – Nomadland
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Bill Murray – On the Rocks

Motion Picture, Drama
Nomadland
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The Father
Promising Young Woman
Minari
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Tenet
Sound of Metal
One Night in Miami
Miss Juneteenth

Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
On the Rocks
Hamilton
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Palm Springs
The Personal History of David Copperfield
The Forty-Year-Old Version

Motion Picture, International
Another Round
Tove
A Sun
Two of Us
Jallikattu
I’m No Longer Here
Atlantis
My Little Sister
La Llorona

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
Over the Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers
Demon Slayer-Kimetsu No Yaiba-The Movie: Mugen Train
Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus
No. 7 Cherry Lane

Motion Picture, Documentary
Collective
Crip Camp
MLK / FBI
The Dissident
A Most Beautiful Thing
The Truffle Hunters
Acasa, My Home
Coup 53
Gunda
Circus of Books

Director
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
David Fincher – Mank
Darius Marder – Sound of Metal
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Florian Zeller – The Father

Screenplay, Original
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Jack Fincher – Mank
Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers – Soul
Andy Siara – Palm Springs
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Screenplay, Adapted
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller – The Father
Jessica Bruder & Chloe Zhao – Nomadland
Kemp Powers – One Night in Miami
Edoardo Ponti – The Life Ahead
Luke Davies & Paul Greengrass – News of the World

Original Score
Ludwig Goransson – Tenet
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Mank
Alexandre Desplat – The Midnight Sky
James Newton Howard – News of the World
Emile Mosseri – Minari
Terence Blanchard – One Night in Miami

Original Song
“Io Si” – The Life Ahead
“Hear My Voice” – The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Rocket to the Moon” – Over the Moon
“Speak Now” – One Night in Miami
“Everybody Cries” – The Outpost
“The Other Side” – Trolls World Tour

Cinematography
The Midnight Sky
Nomadland
Mank
News of the World
One Night in Miami
Tenet

Film Editing
Nomadland
The Father
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Mank
One Night in Miami
Minari

Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Sound of Metal
Tenet
Mank
The Prom
The Midnight Sky
Nomadland

Visual Effects
The Midnight Sky
Mank
Tenet
Birds of Prey
Greyhound
Mulan

Art Direction and Production Design
The Personal History of David Copperfield
One Night in Miami
Mank
The Midnight Sky
The Prom
Mulan

Costume Design
Mulan
Emma
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Mank
The Personal History of David Copperfield
One Night in Miami

Nomadland Wins In North Dakota


The North Dakota Film Society announced its picks for the best of 2020 earlier today.  All of the usual suspects won.  Nomadland took best picture.  Chloe Zhao took best director.  Frances McDormand picked up yet another best actress awards.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a complaint.  It’s just that, by this point, I’m so used to Nomadland, Zhao, and McDormand winning that I’m struggling to find a new way to announce their victories.

Nomadland is definitely the Oscar front runner right now.  To be honest, though, it’s sometimes better to be the underdog.  A lot of front runners have fallen to the side — The Social Network, La La Land, A Star is Born, Joker, 1917.  In other words — nothing has been determined yet and there’s still a whole month to go before we even know what’s been nominated for the Oscars.  In other words, don’t give up on Money Plane just yet!

Here are the winners from North Dakota:

Best Picture
FIRST COW (RUNNER UP)
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (RUNNER UP)
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
NOMADLAND (WINNER)
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Best Director
Emerald Fennell – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
David Fincher – MANK (RUNNER UP)
Charlie Kaufman – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Kelly Reichardt – FIRST COW
Chloé Zhao – NOMADLAND (WINNER)

Best Actress
Viola Davis – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Sophia Loren – THE LIFE AHEAD
Frances McDormand – NOMADLAND (WINNER)
Carey Mulligan – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (RUNNER UP)
Kate Winslet – AMMONITE

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL (WINNER)
Chadwick Boseman – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Delroy Lindo – DA 5 BLOODS (RUNNER UP)
Gary Oldman – MANK
Steven Yeun – MINARI

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM (WINNER)
Ellen Burstyn – PIECES OF A WOMAN (RUNNER UP TIE)
Saoirse Ronan – AMMONITE
Amanda Seyfried – MANK (RUNNER UP TIE)
Yuh-Jung Youn – MINARI (RUNNER UP TIE)

Best Supporting Actor
Bo Burnham – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Sacha Baron Cohen – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (WINNER)
Orion Lee – FIRST COW (RUNNER UP)
Paul Raci – SOUND OF METAL
David Strathairn – NOMADLAND

Best Screenplay
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (RUNNER UP)
MANK
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (WINNER)
SOUND OF METAL

Best Production Design
EMMA.
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
MANK (WINNER)
NEWS OF THE WORLD
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (RUNNER UP)

Best Cinematography
EMMA.
FIRST COW
MANK (RUNNER UP)
NOMADLAND (WINNER)
TENET

Best Film Editing
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
MANK
NOMADLAND (WINNER)
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
TENET (RUNNER UP)

Best Original Score
AMMONITE
THE INVISIBLE MAN
MANK (WINNER)
SOUL (RUNNER UP)
TENET

Best Original Song
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM – ”Wuhan Flu” (WINNER)
MISS AMERICANA – ”Only the Young”
ON THE ROCKS – ”Identical”
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI – ”Speak Now”
OVER THE MOON – ”Rocket to the Moon” (RUNNER UP)

Best International Feature
AND THEN WE DANCED (WINNER)
ANOTHER ROUND
BEANPOLE (RUNNER UP TIE)
COLLECTIVE (RUNNER UP TIE)
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Best Documentary Feature
ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY (WINNER)
BOYS STATE
COLLECTIVE
DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD (RUNNER UP)
TIME
THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS

Best Animated Feature
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE
ONWARD
OVER THE MOON
SOUL (WINNER)
WOLFWALKERS (RUNNER UP)

Here Are The 2020 Nominations of the North Dakota Film Society!


The North Dakota Film Society has announced their nominations for the best of 2020!  They’ll announce their winners a week from now, on January 15th.

I have to say that I kind of love the fact that we have so many different regional critics groups.  I mean, yes — it can be difficult to keep up with all of them once award seasons kicks into full gear.  (It’s been a little bit easier this year, with so many groups deciding to hold off on announcing their picks so that they can suck up to the Academy.)  But, seriously, why shouldn’t the film critics of North Dakota make their voice heard?  Why should we act like only New York, Los Angles, and the National Board of Review matter?  Personally, I like seeing how different regional groups react to different films.  For instance, the North Dakota Critics showed some love to Ammonite, a film that’s kind of fallen off the radar as far as the Oscar race is concerned.  They also gave a best picture nomination to I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a fascinating film that might be too strange for the Academy but which still deserves some recognition.  Regional groups are important because they remind us that Nomadland and Minari weren’t the only good films released in 2020.

My point is that — despite what Film Twitter might tell you — it’s good to have a lot of voices and opinions out there.  Anything that challenge group think is a good thing, I believe.

Here are the nominations from North Dakota:

Best Picture
FIRST COW
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
NOMADLAND
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

Best Director
Emerald Fennell – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
David Fincher – MANK
Charlie Kaufman – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Kelly Reichardt – FIRST COW
Chloé Zhao – NOMADLAND

Best Actress
Viola Davis – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Sophia Loren – THE LIFE AHEAD
Frances McDormand – NOMADLAND
Carey Mulligan – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Kate Winslet – AMMONITE

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed – SOUND OF METAL
Chadwick Boseman – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
Delroy Lindo – DA 5 BLOODS
Gary Oldman – MANK
Steven Yeun – MINARI

Best Supporting Actress
Maria Bakalova – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Ellen Burstyn – PIECES OF A WOMAN
Saoirse Ronan – AMMONITE
Amanda Seyfried – MANK
Yuh-Jung Youn – MINARI

Best Supporting Actor
Bo Burnham – PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
Sacha Baron Cohen – THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Orion Lee – FIRST COW
Paul Raci – SOUND OF METAL
David Strathairn – NOMADLAND

Best Screenplay
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
MANK
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
SOUND OF METAL

Best Production Design
EMMA.
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
MANK
NEWS OF THE WORLD
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD

Best Cinematography
EMMA.
FIRST COW
MANK
NOMADLAND
TENET

Best Film Editing
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
MANK
NOMADLAND
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN
TENET

Best Original Score
AMMONITE
THE INVISIBLE MAN
MANK
SOUL
TENET

Best Original Song
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM – ”Wuhan Flu”
MISS AMERICANA – ”Only the Young”
ON THE ROCKS – ”Identical”
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI – ”Speak Now”
OVER THE MOON – ”Rocket to the Moon”

Best International Feature
AND THEN WE DANCED
ANOTHER ROUND
BEANPOLE
COLLECTIVE
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Best Documentary Feature
ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY
BOYS STATE
COLLECTIVE
DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD
TIME
THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS

Best Animated Feature
THE CROODS: A NEW AGE
ONWARD
OVER THE MOON
SOUL
WOLFWALKERS

Holiday Film Review: Collateral Beauty (dir by David Frankel)


Occasionally, you see a film that is so misjudged and so poorly executed that it leaves you wondering whether or not the entire production was meant to be some sort of elaborate practical joke.  Perhaps not surprisingly, these films are usually a mix of comedy and drama and they tend to try to deal with the big issues — life, death, love, and all the rest.  These films are fueled by a mix of ambition, sincerity, and a total inability to understand how people actually think and live.  Invevitably, these films come out at Oscar time and they tend to have surprising twists that are designed to tug at the heart strings but to also make you think.  They’re usually have titles that sound good but don’t make much sense and they often feature the type of talented actors who really should know better.  Audiences should also know better but all of these films have devoted fans who insist that the rest of us are just too cynical or jaded to really appreciate a good story.

2016’s Collateral Beauty is one such film.

Set during the Christmas season, Collateral Beauty tells the story of Howard Inlet (Will Smith).  Howard was an advertising genius but then his daughter died and he sunk into a deep depression.  In this film, being clinically depressed means that you ride your bicycle a lot.  It also means that you spend a lot of time building domino chains.  Because Howard is too depressed to do anything, his advertising firm is on the verge of going bankrupt.  His partners — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) — all want to sell the firm but they have to get Howard to sign off on it and Howard refuses to talk to anyone.

However, his three business partners come across letters that Howard wrote to the abstract concepts of Death, Time, and Love.  And, realizing that Howard had some issues with those concepts, they decided to hire three actors to pretend to be those concepts so that they can film Howard talking to them.  The plan is to film Howard talking to the actors and then use digital technology to erase the actors from the footage so that Howard will look like he’s talking to himself, which will make it easier to prove that Howard is not mentally stable enough to run the company and….

What?  Yes, that’s the plot.  Undoubtedly, it seems like there should be an easier way to prove that Howard is not mentally fit to run his company but the three business partners decided to go with the plan that makes absolutely no sense and the film applauds them for doing so.  It does seem like, if they really cared about Howard, they would have instructed the actors to provide some sort of comfort to Howard but apparently, no one in this movie has seen It’s A Wonderful Life or read A Christmas Carol.  The film assures us that making a suicidal man think that he’s gone legitimately insane is definitely the humane way to deal with this situation.

Anyway, the three actors are played by Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore, and Keira Knightley.  And, in order to study Howard, each spends time with his business partners and we learn about everyone’s life.  For instance, Whit has a daughter that he needs to connect with.  Claire is depressed because she wants a child.  Simon is dying, which means that he spends the entire movie vomiting.  Amazingly, no one but Helen Mirren notices.  Not only does the actors help Howard but they help his partners as well.  Awwwww!

After the actors all visit him, Howard is so upset by the encounters that he goes to a support group that’s run by Madeline (Naomie Harris), who lost a daughter (just like Howard!) and who is divorced (just like Howard!) and who has a note from her ex-husband in which he says that he wishes they could act like strangers again and hey, guess who her ex-husband is!?  (Yes, it’s Howard.)  Anyway, some mysterious woman once told Madeline that, even as her daughter was dying, she should always celebrate the “collateral beauty of it all” and I have no idea what that was supposed to mean but Madeline sure does talk about it a lot.

I like to think that Collateral Beauty shares the same cinematic universe as The Book of Henry and Life Itself.  It’s a universe where simplistic thoughts are held up as being extremely profound and where no one actually does anything that makes sense.  Just as The Book of Henry asks us to be touched by an annoying little brat insisting (from beyond the grave, no less) that his mother to assassinate their neighbor, Collateral Beauty asks us to appreciate all the effort that goes into tormenting an already seriously depressed human being.  Just as Life Itself insists that life being an unreliable narrator is somehow a mind-blowing concept, Collateral Beauty insists that everything will be okay as long as we appreciate the “collateral beauty of it all.”  It may feel like a parody but Collateral Beauty not only takes itself seriously but it also seems to be convinced that you’ll take it seriously as well.  There’s something rather presumptuous about the film’s insistence that it actually has something unique or interesting to say.

Amazingly enough, a truly great cast signed up to appear in this film.  Most of them turn in performances that are either forgettable or regrettable.  Edward Norton gives a performance that is so annoyingly mannered that it’s hard not to be reminded of the rumors that he was basically playing himself in Birdman.  Considering that she’s one of the greatest actresses around, Kate Winslet is shockingly bad.  Helen Mirren appears to be having a laugh.  Will Smith actually gives a good performance but it’s a waste to cast such a great talker as someone who barely speaks.

Collateral Beauty came out in December of 2016.  Before it was released, it had Oscar buzz.  After it was released …. well, let’s just say that it didn’t.  Critics hated the film but it did well at the box office and it has its fans.  I’m not one of them but perhaps someday, I’ll appreciate the collateral beauty of it all.

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for November


Oh, why not?

Here are my Oscar predictions for November!

If want to see how my thinking has evolved, check out my predictions of January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October!  You’ll probably notice that the main evolution in my thinking this month is that I’ve dropped Hillbilly Elegy from my predictions and I’ve added Meryl Streep because she gets nominated for everything.

Best Picture

The Father

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

Pieces of a Woman

Soul

Sound of Metal

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung for Minari

David Fincher for Mank

Regina King for One Night in Miami

Florian Zeller for The Father

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Ben Affleck in The Way Back

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Gary Oldman in Mank

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Meryl Streep in The Prom

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Shia LeBeouf in Pieces of a Woman

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night in Miami

Best Supporting Actress

Olivia Colman in The Father

Olivia Cooke in Sound of Metal

Saoirse Ronan in Ammmonite

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Helena Zengel in News of the World

 

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions For October


The big news this month is that Respect will no longer be getting released in January.  It’s been moved back so drop it from your Oscar predictions.

Here are my current predictions.  Take them with grain of salt and all the rest.  The more and more I think about it, the more annoyed I am with the Academy extending the eligibility window.  With all of the biggest contenders delaying their opening for a year, that extension seems more and more silly.

To be honest, I’m starting to have my doubts whether the film industry, as we know it, will even exist in another year or so.  I think eventually, we’ll just have a propaganda industry with the government subsidizing Hollywood on the condition that Hollywood only make certain types of films.  It’s going to suck.  The worst part is that most of the people who should speak out against that sort of thing won’t.  So many critics have down the partisan rabbit hole that they’re now more concerned with keeping the politicians happy than with actually writing about movies.

After looking at these, please check out my predictions for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July, August, and September!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

On the Rocks

The Trial of the Chicago 7

 

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Regina King for One Night in Miami

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

 

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Steven Yeun in Minari

 

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

 

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami

David Strathairn in Nomandland

 

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Here’s The Second Trailer For Ammonite!


Yesterday, the second trailer for Ammonite dropped.

Up until a few months ago, Ammonite was getting a lot of buzz as a possible best picture nominee.  That buzz has died down a bit and it seems like, whenever I read anything about the Oscar race, Ammonite is kind of getting overshadowed by the acclaim that’s greeted Nomadland and One Night In Miami.  One thing that I’ve repeatedly seen is people who have seen the film saying that it doesn’t quite work but that’s it’s beautifully acted by Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.  Probably not coincidentally, Winslet and Ronan are both still very much a part of the current Oscar speculation even if Ammonite is no longer the Best Picture favorite that it once was.

Myself, I’m still looking forward to seeing the film.  Winslet is one of the greatest actress of her generation and Ronan is one of the greatest of her’s.  Anything that brings these two together should be worth watching.

Here’s the second trailer for Ammonite:

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for September


As of a few weeks ago, West Side Story is now officially out of this year’s Oscar race.  Steven Spielberg’s musical was one of the many major studio productions to be moved all the way back to late 2021.  So, scratch West Side Story from your lists, everyone.  It’s gone for now.

The more I think about it, the more I think the Academy made a mistake extending the eligibility window.  As you may remember, this year’s eligibility window now extends to February of 2021.  When this was first announced, I felt that it was the Academy’s way of keeping the big studios happy.  “You folks don’t want the Oscars to be dominated by streaming films,” the Academy seemed to be saying, “so we’ll just give you some extra time to get your movies out into the theaters.”  Well, joke’s on the Academy because, even with the extended time period, it still looks like the Oscar race is going to be dominated by streaming titles.

Personally, I wish that the Academy would just admit they made a mistake and go back to the old eligibility window.  Or, at the very least, just answer the question as to whether or not the 2021’s Oscar eligibility period is going to end at the end of December of that year or in February of 2022.  I’m a big believer in having a set schedule so all this uncertainty is annoying the Hell out of me.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here are my updated predictions for September.  After looking at these, feel free to check out my predictions for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July, and August!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

Respect

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami

David Strathairn in Nomandland

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Debra Winger in Kajillionaire

Helena Zengel in News of the World