Saturday, March 13, 2021

AWARDS ROUNDUP: AAFCA, Critics Choice & Golden Globe Winners



Best Picture: Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Director: Regina King, One Night In Miami
Best Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom 
Best Actress: Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Best Supporting Actress: Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah 
Best Screenplay: Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami
Best Ensemble: One Night In Miami
Best Foreign Film: Night of the Kings
Best Documentary: All In: The Fight For Democracy 
Best Animation: Soul 
Breakout Performance: Radha Blank
Breakout Director: Shaka King

Critics Choice

BEST PICTURE: Nomadland 
BEST DIRECTOR: ChloĆ© Zhao – Nomadland  
BEST ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
BEST ACTRESS: Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah 
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 

Golden Globe

BEST PICTURE - COMEDY/MUSICAL: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
BEST DIRECTOR: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
BEST ACTOR - DRAMA: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
BEST ACTRESS - DRAMA: Andra Day, United States vs Billie Holliday
BEST ACTOR - COMEDY/MUSICAL: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian

Full list at Awards Radar

Thursday, February 25, 2021

AWARDS ROUNDUP: Indie Spirit, Golden Globe, SAG & Critics Choice Nominations


Independent Spirit

Best Feature
First Cow
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Director
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Kelly Reichardt, First Cow
ChloĆ© Zhao, Nomadland

Best Female Lead
Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner, The Assistant
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Best Male Lead
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Adarsh Gourav, The White Tiger
Rob Morgan, Bull
Steven Yeun, Minari

Best Supporting Female
Alexis Chikaeze, Miss Juneteenth
Yeri Han, Minari
Valerie Mahaffey, French Exit
Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Yuh-jung Youn, Minari

Best Supporting Male
Colman Domingo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Orion Lee, First Cow
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Benedict Wong, Nine Days

Golden Globe

The Father
Promising Young Woman
Trial of the Chicago 7

Palm Springs
The Prom

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
David Fincher, Mank
Regina King, One Night in Miami
Aaron Sorkin, the Trial of the Chicago 7
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Andra Day, United States vs Billie Holliday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
James Corden, The Prom
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Dev Patel, Personal History of David Copperfield
Andy Samberg, Palm Springs

Maria Bakalova, Subsequent Moviefilm
Kate Hudson, Music
Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit
Rosamund Pike, I Care A Lot
Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma.

Sacha Baron Cohen, Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Jared Leto, The Little Things
Bill Murray, On the Rocks
Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Helena Zengel, News of the World

Full list at Awards Radar

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Sundance 2021: Wrapping up the Festival

As a film festival enthusiast, the Sundance Film Festival has been on my bucket list for a number of years. But for a humble critic from the Caribbean, the cost and climate always seemed intimidating. If there's a silver lining to the pandemic, however, it's that many of the top festivals have become more accessible to audiences by going online. 

With the generous support of the festival's Press Inclusion Initiative, my Sundance dream therefore became a reality in 2021. Over the course of 7 days, I screened 20 films across 7 programmed sections and wrote articles for 3 outlets - Awards Radar, The Spool and That Shelf. Looking back on the past week, it was certainly a demanding experience but was ultimately rewarding. 

As always, the documentaries were among the best of the Sundance lineup this year, with three distinctly compelling non-fiction films emerging as my favorites. In Questlove's "Summer of Soul," the musician makes an exhilarating directorial debut as he uncovers the untold story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a vibrant celebration of Black music in the 1960s. From a more contemporary perspective, Camilla Nielsson's "President" turns an unflinching eye towards Zimbabwe's troubled democracy in the aftermath of Mugabe's ousting. And in Jonas Poher Rasmussen's extraordinary animation hybrid "Flee", the past and present converge as a gay Afghan man reflects on his experiences as a refugee. All three films deservedly won awards during Tuesday night's ceremony and will surely be heavily discussed upon general release. 

There were memorable moments from the narrative features too, including the black-and-white elegance of Rebecca Hall's "Passing," the gut-punch chamber piece that is "Mass" and the riveting performances that fuel Shaka King's Oscar contender "Judas and the Black Messiah". Nearly every film I watched contained something to recommend. Though I may not have gotten the full experience of the Park City atmosphere, the films certainly delivered the fresh, innovative visions that Sundance is known for.

Sundance Top 10:

  1. Flee
  2. President
  3. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
  4. Mass
  5. In the Same Breath
  6. Prime Time
  7. Judas and the Black Messiah
  8. Writing With Fire
  9. Jockey
  10. The Pink Cloud
Best of the Fest:

Best Film: Flee
Best Director: Rebecca Hall, Passing
Best Screenplay: Mass
Best Performance: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Best of 2020: Top 10 Films of the Year

There's a common notion that audiences naturally gravitate towards more optimistic movies during challenging times. But as I reflect on 2020's best films, the stories that stood out were ones which reflected our contemporary lives in a myriad of ways. Indeed, rather than turning to escapism, I was compelled by documentaries, true stories and naturalistic films that felt like real life. As the world looks to a post-COVID-19, post-Trump future, I believe these fine works of cinematic art will stand the test of time, acting as time capsules for one of the most significant years in our collective memories. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Films of 2020.

Honorable Mentions: Athlete A, Boys State, Premature and Wolfwalkers

Best of 2020: Top 10 Foreign Language Films

In the now iconic words of Bong Joon-ho, once you overcome the barrier one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films. And in 2020, that statement continued to be true with a slate of extraordinary cinematic works from around the world. From wartime dramas to forbidden romances, world cinema made us laugh, cry and open our eyes to fresh perspectives. With the bountiful array of international films produced in the past year, this list is hardly exhaustive. But from what I’ve seen, here are my picks for the Top 10 Non-English Language Films of 2020. 

Honorable Mention: Night of the Kings 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Best of 2020: Top 20 Acting Performances

In true Norma Desmond fashion, 2020 was marked by small films with big performances. Indeed, while most of the year's best acting was unfortunately confined to our humble screens at home, they shone with talent and charisma. From new takes on the damsel in distress, to sensational interpretations of historical figures, here are my picks for the Top 20 Acting Performances of 2020:

Best of 2020: Top 10 Documentaries

Documentary aficionados perhaps make this claim every year, but 2020 truly felt like a standout year for non-fiction filmmaking. As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered theaters worldwide and the blockbuster films that pack them, documentaries were able to shine brighter than ever before. And in this historic year of social and political change, documentaries complimented the news cycle brilliantly. Indeed, the year’s best documentaries tapped into the zeitgeist, exploring topics surrounding the prison-industrial complex, police brutality, sexual abuse and existential reflections on the meaning of life. These outstanding works of non-fiction storytelling are presented below in our Top 10 Documentaries of 2020.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

REVIEW: News of the World

If you thought the film industry would put a halt to the traditional period epic Oscar contender in the wake of widespread theater closures, think again. Paul Greengrass' 19th century western "News of the World" arrives in the nick of time for the December holiday season. And yet, it could also be appropriate to say that it arrives too late, representing entertaining but old-fashioned filmmaking that feels like an outdated throwback to the prestige films of the past.

Set in the post-civil war South, "News of the World" follows Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a war veteran who now makes a living from touring through small towns to read the latest newspapers to captive audiences. During one such trip through Texas, he stumbles on a young girl (Helena Zengel) alone in the wild who is unable to speak English. Upon reviewing documents accompanying her, Captain Kidd learns that she is of German descent but was taken by the native Kiowan people after her family was murdered. Further instructions reveal a surviving aunt and uncle, her only remaining family. Feeling obligated to protect her, Kidd embarks on a journey to brave hostile terrain and humans alike to restore her to civilization.

Adapted from a novel and mounted on a grand scale with a lovable movie star, "News of the World" is indeed a throwback to the classic adventures of yesteryear. From Dariusz Wolski's glorious wide shots, to James Newton Howard's heartstring-tugging score, to its unchallenging screenplay, there's a familiarity to its storytelling. And with Greengrass at the helm, the requisite shootouts and environmental dangers are depicted with his trademark intensity.

While the virtuosity of the production values will leave you feeling nostalgic for the Golden Age epics, the film is perhaps even more resonant as another relic of old Hollywood - the star vehicle. In her first American role, Helena Zengel's tenacity will surely be praised as a revelation (despite recalling the same unruliness displayed in 2019's "System Crasher"). But it is Tom Hanks' noble screen presence that will captivate audiences and smooths over some of the screenplay's flaws. Namely, there's a simplistic morality of the screenplay that leads to predictability and a lack of complexity to the film's obvious heroes and villains. Furthermore, it fails to fully reckon with the economic and racial tensions of the time period and setting.

And yet, there's a sense of comfort that comes from witnessing a story so carefully crafted around an actor's persona. From the very first scene, you know he'll do the right thing and win your heart. Heroic westerns may be going out of style, but a good Tom Hanks performance is timeless.

Monday, December 21, 2020

REVIEW: Promising Young Woman

There are some films so original and daring in their concept and execution, that it takes a while to process what you've just seen. Emerald Fennell's "Promising Young Woman" is one such film. In this debut feature from actress-turned-director Emerald Fennell, the #MeToo movement gets one of its most provocative cinematic statements, mixing scathing social critique with irreverent, cheeky wit. 

"Promising Young Woman" is the story of Cassie, a former medical school student with a bright future ahead of her. In the aftermath of a traumatic experience, however, she has left her big dreams behind. But while she is now seemingly drifting through life without purpose - to the chagrin of her parents with whom she lives - she has secretly committed herself to an unusual path to recovery. By day, she works in a humble coffee shop. But at night, she masterminds salacious encounters with men, thus transforming into a conniving femme fatale. 

Indeed, you've never seen Carey Mulligan like this before. After her breakout role as a naive schoolgirl in 2009's "An Education," the diminutive actress has become known for her delicate vulnerability. As Cassie, however, she is force to be reckoned with, weaponizing her beauty to thrilling ends. 

Challenging our expectations is truly the hallmark of Fennell's impressive filmmaking here, as she takes the kind of audacious risks that could make or break careers. In addition to Mulligan's against type casting, the opportunistic men she encounters are a recognizable array of unassuming "nice guy" personalities and nerds, including Superbad's Christopher Charles Mintz-Plasse and Sam Richardson of "Veep" fame. And as Mulligan's Cassie embroils them in your mysterious plot to right the wrongs of the past, an ingenious soundtrack of boy crazy pop anthems adds a touch of hilarious irony. The costume design further adds to the fantasy, with Cassie donning a slew of disguises like a shape-shifting superhero. 

Keeping us guessing and entertained all the way to its mindblowing ending, Fennell's stylistic choices would seem frivolous if it weren't for the trenchant social commentary embedded within the narrative. Under Cassie's well-adjusted veneer is a woman whose life is forever traumatized as a result of an experience with sexual abuse. And through her interactions with other characters, the script highlights the ways rape culture persists in society in the form of victim-blaming, wilful denial and the silence of women and men alike. Most importantly, it reminds us that the unbalanced power dynamic will almost always favor men, even in the face of formidable women like Cassie and the brilliant writer-director who envisioned her.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

REVIEW: Nomadland

Much ado has been made over the past decade about the supposed neglect of Middle America - or more condescendingly, "real America" - by the "coastal elites" and "liberal media". During his election campaigns and presidency, Donald Trump pandered to the beliefs that immigrants were stealing jobs and contributing to a culture of "immoral" progressive values over conservative tradition. And yet, one of the most beautifully empathetic films about the working class struggle was directed by a Chinese woman based in Los Angeles. In "Nomadland", Chloe Zhao takes audiences on a breathtaking journey into America's heartland, exploring the perspective of one woman and her newfound way of life.

Indeed, Fern (Frances McDormand) knows a thing or two about the blue-collar lifestyle. She spent much of her life in a factory town established around US Gypsum, a manufacturer of sheetrock and other construction materials. In the wake of the recession, however, the plant shuts down, leaving the residents of Empire, Nevada bereft. Exacerbated by the death of her husband, a company man, Fern thus finds herself unmoored. Fueled by her innate will to live and pick up the pieces, she then musters the courage to embark on adventure through the American West, living out of her van as a modern nomad.

The power and impact of large corporations is acutely felt through "Nomadland." Apart from US Gypsum, the historically successful Amazon company looms large over this story as one of the main sources of employment for Fern and some of the people she meets along the way. Drawing attention to Amazon and its recognizable signage - as opposed to an unnamed or fictional company - Zhao shrewdly places "Nomadland" within the present day. And if there is anything we learned in 2020, is that America prioritizes the economy and big businesses above all else.

What makes "Nomadland" so special therefore, is how it functions as a reclamation of America from its capitalist ideals and focuses instead on the people whose livelihoods often depend on the production line. Indeed, many of the nomads Fern encounters have been "workhorses" as one man puts it . Brimming with stories about their life experiences, we listen to them around campfires and chance meetings across the vast terrain of Fern's quest. 

"Nomadland" isn't the first film to center a narrative on people who have chosen an unconventional lifestyle. But Zhao's simple, yet profound vision outshines them through its relatability. Fern isn't trying to "find herself" or reject modern society and technology like a counterculture hippie. Her desire is to reconnect with other people and restore the pleasures of nature and friendship to her life. 

What results is a story that is both personal and universal, told with the heartfelt, plainspoken authenticity of a documentary approach. You don't need to do any research to learn that many of the supporting characters are non-actors and real life nomads. And their naturalism is shared by McDormand in an exceptionally lived-in performance. Effectively acting as a surrogate for Zhao and the audience, her performance is largely reactive, filled with moments of active listening. Completely lacking in vanity, she finds real depths of emotion and feeling.

Aside from the touching humanity on display, what elevates "Nomadland" into the realm of the sublime is the supplemental artistry that Zhao and her craftsmen lend to the narrative. Most notably, Ludovic Einaudi's serene music - taken from his album "Seven Days Walking" - and Joshua James Richards' majestic cinematography, which takes full advantage of natural light to accentuate the preciousness of community and the effortless beauty of the American landscape. "Nomadland" may not convince you to drop everything and become a wandering nomad, nor does it ask you to. But its exhortation to embrace the simple things in spite of the pain of grief and suffering is deeply moving.