With the Academy Awards set to air tonight, I figured this was the perfect time to wrap up my reviews from the Best Picture nominees this year. If you’d like to hear my thoughts on Minari, Promising Young Woman, and the odds-on favourite Nomadland you can do so here, as well as my review of Sound of Metal here. That leaves us with other nominees Judas and the Black Messiah, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Father, and since I’d like to save Mank for a future idea and talk about Best International Feature Film favourite Another Round on its own, I will discuss Chadwick Boseman’s final curtain call in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom instead. That was a lot of titles. At the end, I will quickly recap my thoughts on the Best Picture category this year, as well as my pick and predictions for the award.
Judas and the Black Messiah — Directed by: Shaka King
“You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”
Premise: Based on historical events, an FBI informant infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.
So much can be said about this film. I’m not an overly political person, so I wasn’t expecting to love this due to its subject matter. But it feels like it was almost made for me in that sense. Its main character Bill O’Neale (LaKeith Stanfield) is an apolitical person who, over the course of the film, organically develops into a man with a voice. The film explores its characters from multiple political perspectives in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Many of them are painted differently as the film progresses and it really makes for a memorable experience.
Speaking of memorable, I have to shed light on the acting in this movie. I’m no acting coach or claim to be an expert, but I don’t think it requires one to realize that Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are award-worthy in this. Kaluuya has the supporting actor award in the bag and why not? He’s incredible. Honestly, their performances here cemented them in my eyes as some of the best actors working today. They’re that good. Lakeith Stanfield makes every movie he’s in instantly better, and he’s so good at acting quietly and timid but also good in dramatic and emotional highs too. With regards to Daniel Kaluuya, his delivery and impression of Fred Hampton is astonishing. There’s archival footage at the end of the real Fred Hampton and if you were to close your eyes, you’d think Kaluuya was still the one talking. Even for someone with an American accent it would be impressive, let alone a British actor.
I could go on and on about both of their performances but I’d regret to omit that Dominique Fishback and Jesse Plemons are also great. Plemons was perfect casting for his role plain and simple.
The acting lays a great foundation for this film, but it’s direction, camera work and score are also important building blocks. I’m a little surprised Shaka King didn’t get a directing nod for this film. The cinematography is so engaging with some long takes that immerse the viewer and relay story beats in an interesting way. There was one shot where when a driver is parking— unaware he’s going to a place he had an earlier altercation in, sees the reflection of the bar sign through his window. It’s pretty awesome. The score is also strong. It’s not overly present and adds tension effectively.
Whether you’re someone like me who doesn’t like to get mixed up in politics, or someone with a strong political stance, we all can take powerful messages away from this film and connect with its characters. It is a must watch from this year’s nominees.
Score: 4.5/5 — Available for rent on Prime Video and HBO Max
The Trial of the Chicago 7 — Directed by: Aaron Sorkin
“The whole world is watching.”
Premise: Based on a true story, the movie captures the infamous 1969 trial regarding seven defendants charged with conspiracy stemming from countercultural protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
As a courtroom drama, this film plays out pretty well for what it is. However, as an Aaron Sorkin fan, I can’t say I’m not disappointed with this.
First, the good. I think that it’s very rare and special that a screenwriter can draw so much appeal to a movie rather than say an actor/actress or director, and for that reason, I’m happy to watch this on that alone. It has one thing you’d expect from Sorkin— great dialogue. There’s a lot of it in this that’s for sure, but having another courtroom drama in A Few Good Mean under his belt, you’d expect nothing less from Sorkin and it definitely delivers. It also features a stacked ensemble cast. For me, it was a mixed bag on the performances but overall I think the cast is very strong in this. Mark Rylance and Frank Langella in particular for me were the two standouts. Both of them had perfect delivery and when each of them gets their spotlight, it had me the most captivated.
Now for the not so good. Staying on the topic of performances, Sasha Baron Conan is good in this doing what he does best — cracking jokes, but he’s kind of distracting for me. Also, I may be the only one here, but Eddie Redmayne just annoys me lol. He’s a good actor and thats still true in this film, but I just feel he tries too hard to outshine other actors in his scenes.
Additionally, Sorkin’s dialogue might be great, but his creative impact in the director’s chair is pretty nonexistent. He first directed Molly’s Game, which I have yet to see, but his direction in this movie is pretty stale. The cinematography doesn’t completely fall on him necessarily, but it’s so bland and bleh. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. It’s a courtroom drama at the end of the day. But honestly, if this was the vision, any placeholder director could’ve pieced this thing together.
I didn’t love Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s character. He’s not bad or anything, but I felt the decision to humanize him was weird and really used as more of a setup for the weak ass ending. And oh, that ending. It’s not even the fact that it’s completely fictional that annoys me, but how unbelievably cheesy it is. If you love great dialogue, this movie delivers. But it doesn’t do much else besides that and some good performances.
Score: 2.5/5 — Available on Netflix
The Father — Directed by: Florian Zeller
Premise: A woman struggles to maintain support of her father, who is slipping further into dementia.
This movie is heartbreaking. I was definitely expecting less going in since on the surface it gives off a lot of “Oscar bait” vibes, but this movie does a lot more creatively than I anticipated. It’s presented in a way we’re familiar with in other films — an untrustworthy “narrator” telling the story. Only in this film, it’s used to give the audience a heartbreaking but honest perspective on the deteriorated human psyche and illustrates what it might be like to live with dementia. The “everything is not what it seems” phrase is an absolute understatement. It applies not only to what’s being said, but whom it’s being said by, when it’s being said, and where it is being said. It’s as confusing to the viewer as it is to Anthony, and that’s what makes it so heartbreaking. Right as soon as your reaction is “Wait, what the fuck?”, you almost immediately switch into sadness because it’s meant to trigger that doubt the same way it triggers it in people with dementia. It’s frightening.
Anthony Hopkins is award-worthy and Olivia Colman is also amazing. However, the film is very performance-driven, so outside of that I found it wasn’t able to really hit as hard as it should’ve. Maybe it’s just that it wasn’t my cup of tea (no pun intended), but it’s just one of those movies I walk away not having a lot of bad things to say, but still also not loving it. Ya know?
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — Directed by: George C. Wolfe
“They don’t care nothing about me. All they want is my voice.”
Premise: Blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927 as tensions (and the temperature) are high.
Like The Father, this movie does suffer a bit from being too performance-driven, but the ensemble in this is terrific with the chemistry between the bandmates a highlight. Both movies were adapted from plays so its performance-heavy structure is understandable, but I think it’s better that this feels like a play with much of the film taking place in two rooms essentially with a lot of long drawn-out dialogue scenes.
Speaking of those long dialogue scenes, they don’t always hit, but most of them do. They’re at its best when the bandmates are shooting shit with each other because their chemistry is just so good. Levee’s monologue about his upbringing and Ma’s about her voice were two scenes that also really stand out. Speaking of those two…
Chadwick Boseman’s final performance is award-WINNING. I am speaking it into existence. I was a little worried going into this that his performance would be good, not great, and that his posthumous nomination might’ve mattered too much. Rest assured, everything he gets from this performance is well-deserved. He breathes so much life into his character and shows so much range in this role. He’s charismatic, charming, ambitious, angry, and emotional all in just a supporting role in a 90 minute film. He really does leave it all on the field and gives everything he has. Rest in peace.
Viola Davis too is award-winning in my opinion. Though her category carries a lot of equally deserving nominees I just think Viola is too badass in this film to not win. She walks like she got a bottom to sing about, and she is not to be fucked with. She just embodies the full diva persona and owns the room whenever she speaks. And would someone PLEASE get Ma her damn Coke.
Score: 3.5/5 — Available on Netflix
Having seen all but one of the Best Picture nominees, I can say that while the category does feature some strong films, the overall category feels a bit weaker this year compared to last year’s.
I wasn’t in love with Nomadland, but with all the buzz surrounding it, it’s hard for me to be super excited given its likelihood to take home the award. If you loved it, great. I’m just more disappointed that films I did enjoy like Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah and Minari seem to be getting little to no consideration for the award.
Each of these films provide a message that I think has a lot of relevance today and while you can say the same about Nomadland, I just felt their messages were executed better and for that reason I’d want one of them to represent this year’s films instead.
If one of them pulls off the upset I’ll be overjoyed, but I’m not holding my breath.
My Pick: Sound of Metal
My Prediction: Nomadland