Maciej at the Movies: Recapping One of the Craziest Years in Film History (Part II)

| April 23rd, 2021

Maciej Kasperowicz is a special cinematic correspondent for DaBearsBlog. He’s also a good friend, a dedicated Bears fan/Josie Woods loyalist and the voice I trust most when it comes to all things movies.

This is his follow-up to yesterday’s column. (Just scroll down and read it.) 

Best Picture

Whoo boy.

Minari is pretty handily my favorite of these. Granted, I’m a sucker for immigrant family stuff, but it’s as good an old-fashioned family drama as I can recall. It’s almost like a great novel in all the ways that the five main characters are allowed to disappoint, surprise, forgive, and love each other. The movie never seems long, but when I think about how much real emotion and character development is packed into the fact that it’s under 2 hours long seems astounding. I can’t bring myself to think that something this good might win the year after Parasite, but there’s a world where the Amazon stuff gets enough of the progressive wing of the Academy off of Nomadland, it turns out that many people don’t actually like Chicago 7, and this both exciting and traditional movie has enough 2nd and 3rd place votes to actually win.

I am actually picking the favorite, Nomadland, to win, though, and I’ll be relatively happy when it does. Between Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, this has been a great year for totally fair and well-written criticism of movies I still rather like. If you haven’t been keeping up, Nomadland has a scene towards the beginning filmed at an Amazon facility, and mentions that evil megacorporation a few times off-hand, all without really taking any sort of stand on them (it has been pointed out that the book the movie is based on is less afraid to have people voice criticism).

I think that’s a fair reading, though I read Fern’s off-hand remark about how well Amazon pays more as a sad reflection on the available options than any sort of endorsement. Setting all that aside, Nomadland is absolutely gorgeous-looking. And, especially when it takes time to focus on the characters Fern meets along the way, I think it does a beautiful job portraying the search for some kind of freedom and control in a harsh society while allowing for glimpses of beauty and joy. Chloe Zhao rules. 

If you’re the type of reader that enjoys a thorough evisceration, I’d recommend Ayesha Siddiqi’s shredding of Promising Young Woman, much like Nomadland, a movie I quite like while totally sympathizing with many criticisms of it. Indeed, it’s very much not the satisfying rape-revenge movie that its trailer promises (and that many people do still seem to be treating it as). If anything, it’s a deeply sad movie about repeated attempts to grab onto some kind of power or happiness that offers very little solace. I think the acting by Mulligan and a cavalcade of well-cast nice guys really carries it to something unique and good (though I don’t think the ending works).

While I totally see how Promising Young Woman isn’t for everyone, Judas and the Black Messiah seems an easy recommendation no matter what your tastes are. It both works great as a Departed/Infernal Affairs style undercover cop thriller and as a quick primer about the politics of the Black Panthers and the racism of the FBI. One caveat, specifically applicable to readers of this blog, is that you’ll have to tune out how much Cleveland, where the movie was shot, really doesn’t look like Chicago all that much.

I’m not quite as in love with Sound of Metal, but it’s also a really easy movie to like, with the approachable structure of an easily frustrated main character trying to overcome adversity, largely for love (of both music and a woman). The movie really strikes a chord (thanks Sandy Kenyon, I assume) when it questions what “adversity” really means in this case and again, as expected) in its sound design.

The Father, I wouldn’t recommend to everyone, as I know several people for whom movies about dementia and Alzheimer’s are a no go, but damn, it’s actually really good. Neither a Still Alice-style straightforward weepie nor a straight play adaptation, The Father plays some Lynch-y character tricks, and it really feels like it’s playing them on us and on Anthony Hopkins’ aging Anthony at the same time. The rest of the cast is superb, the production design is excellent, I was shocked at how much I liked it (though, again, I’m not quite sure it sticks the landing).

Mank, I dunno, a few scenes, mainly the outdoor scenes, look great, though I’m way more impressed with the staging and sets than with the cinematography. I think it sounds terrible, and not in a fun or novel way. Whatever, it’s fine. If nothing else it’s worth existing for how fun it is to say “Mank!” and taking a drink (of something no stronger than a lager if you know what’s good for you) anytime someone in the movie says “Mank” is how I would recommend watching it.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, man, I don’t know if I’m getting to be some sort of boring stickler for historical accuracy as I age, but how shitty of a screenwriter do you have to be, with a story as interesting as the Chicago 7, to invent a scene where David Dellinger, a real life ultra-committed pacifist, punches a bailiff. How much do you have to love nationalism to take the real life scene of Dellinger reading the names of people killed in Vietnam and take out the Vietnamese names (and, less importantly, give that speech to another character)? Tommy Wiseau would have made a less embarrassing movie from this material. I almost want to bet on Chicago 7 to win Best Picture, because if Nomadland loses any steam, who’s to say the more conservative and centrist members of the Academy who still want to make themselves feel good about voting for something with a pro-social message won’t unite behind this one enough to push it across the line. I’m still gonna check Nomadland in the ol’ Oscar Pool, not wanting to over-adjust for my own pessimism, but I’m scared.


Odds & Ends

  • I don’t actually like Soul very much, but I can’t see how it loses Best Animated.
  • Hard to see how Another Round loses Best International Feature, with its Best Director nomination and international star. Also, it’s great, with one of the best endings of the year.

[Editor’s Note: Normally I see about 100 movies. Unlike Maciej, I couldn’t bring myself to do it this year because I hate watching movies in my house. But Another Round was an extreme exception, and it was stunning.]

  • Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing finally got combined this year, and it’s hard to see how Sound of Metal loses.
  • My Octopus Teacher is currently the betting favorite in Documentary Feature and aside from the shorts, this is the category I’m most likely to bet against the favorite, even in a small pool. Maybe the thinking is that in a rough year people want a comforting, pretty movie but, though I know I said early on that one’s own opinion isn’t the thing you should be betting on here, it’s wild to me that this movie about a dude that wants to fuck an octopus (not really? but maybe really?) is going to win over Time, the runaway critical favorite and an exceptionally made and edited doc about a woman trying to free her husband from prison or Crip Camp, a terrific doc about the disability rights movement from the Obama’s production company.
  • I think Trial of the Chicago 7 winning Best Editing for cutting a lot and quickly between its shitty trail scenes, its shitty protest scenes, and shitty scenes of Sacha doing a standup set seems like something I’ll bet on.
  • Chloe Zhao is going to win Best Director! That’s dope!


Movies I Actually Liked

There were a lot of terrific movies this year! Just like every year. Here are my ten favorite movies that came out in 2020 (Minari would def squeeze one of these out of the top 10 if it actually came out that year).

  • Anything But Jackson, a relatively low budget, one house horror about bereaved grandparents who turn to Satan straight up delighted me. It’s scary and moving without the oppressive sadness of something like a Hereditary.
  • I’m biased towards Bacurau because it’s the last thing I saw in theaters before COVID, but it is also one of the most fun movies of the year, a post-colonialist western with legends like Udo Kier and Sonia Braga going full throttle. It’s the kind of movie that you don’t want to hear too much about before diving in.
  • The Ross Brothers’ Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is a documentary about the last day of a bar in Vegas. Except that it’s cast with non-actors and shot in a bar in Louisiana. And I can’t imagine either a straight doc or a fully fictional film could have been better. The fact that I watched it at the end of a long summer where the idea that I’d be able to ever sit at my favorite bar again seemed incredibly uncertain definitely didn’t hurt.
  • Delroy Lindo gives the best performance in Da 5 Bloods, but the movie on the whole is more than worthy of him. Spike Lee (with his co-writers) re-writes like 5 different classic movies to suit his purposes, and the messiness is part of the point. The performances all hit, and it’s a great time at the movies.

  • Dick Johnson is Dead is another unusual documentary, in which Kristen Johnson, whose dad suffers from dementia, stages and restages his eventual death, with her father in the starting role. I cried pretty much nonstop the first time I watched it, but I watched it a second time and will probably watch it again.
  • The funniest, sweetest movie I saw all year was Extra Ordinary, an Irish comedy about a small town driving instructor (Maeve Higgins) who can see ghosts and falls in love with a man while helping him save his daughter from a Satanist one-hit wonder. That man’s ghost wife comes between them. The Satanist is Will Forte.
  • Kelly Reichardt is one of my favorite directors, and First Cow is her first movie with a beautiful cow as one of its stars, so that’s pretty great. I love that damn cow. It’s one of those movies that’s sad but also feels like a warm blanket.
  • The best New York City movie in years, Isabel Sandoval directs and stars in Lingua Franca as a trans woman in South Brooklyn facing an uncertain immigration status. It’s beautifully shot and at times wildly romantic, refusing to give in to misery without turning away from real material conditions.
  • If Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology is a TV show, it’s one of the best TV shows ever. But the second “episode,” Lover’s Rock, is one of the great party movies ever. I’ve watched the central “Silly Games” scene around 10 times. It’s just so joyful.
  • Miss Juneteenth is an indie movie about a struggling parent and a child who wants to get out of her considerable shadow, and there are many movies about that, but very few are as well acted, written, and shot as this one. Also, an entry into the sweaty movie canon alongside Cool Hand Luke, Stray Dog, and Do the Right Thing.


Another 10

La Casa Lobo, Time, Selah & the Spades, Birds of Prey, the Other Lamb, Vitalina Varela, She Dies Tomorrow, Relic, La Llorona, and Shirley.


Another 10

The Nest, We Are Little Zombies, the Empty Man, Martin Eden, the Kid Detective, Wild Goose Lake, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the Assistant, His House, Wolfwalkers.

See y’all next year!

Tagged: , , , ,