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« Soundtracking: Cold War | Main | Doc Corner: How much has the changing Academy changed the Best Documentary category ? »
Tuesday
Feb052019

Murtada's Sundance Awards

Murtada Elfadl closing out his Sundance coverage. Thanks, Murtada!

My first ever Sundance was a blast. So much so I’m already making tentative plans to return next year. Please indulge my 'jury of one' as I hand out awards in traditional categories and ones made up just for your reading pleasure. Please note that I only had time to see 23 movies. Some of the more popular ones I missed included the documentary One Child Nation , Shia LaBeouf's vehicle Honey Boy and the popular comedy Brittany Runs A Marathon. So take all this with a grain of salt...

Best Film: The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Unabashedly loved this one. A whimsical paean to friendship and to the history and beauty of San Francisco. It was so appropriate that it won a special award for artistic collaboration - in addition to best director - because Jimmie Fails, the lead actor, and Joe Talbot, the director, wrote it together and were inspired by their friendship.

Best Actress: Alfre Woodard, Clemency
This is was the first film I added to my schedule solely because it featured Woodard in a leading role. And boy does she deliver. Whole scenes are played just on her face. And words were never less necessary. Simply marvelous.

Best Actor: Jonathan Majors, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Majors treds the fine line between quirky and real. He takes an idiosyncratic character that could have become a collection of tics in a lesser actor’s hands, and gives him layers of pathos. He’s so good he might win an Oscar.

Best Screenplay: Lulu Wang, The Farewell
All the characters are finely and fully drawn. All the situations are authentic. It's funny, it’s wistful. It breaks our hearts and mends them right back. Despite leaving Sundance with no prizes, I think it has the best chance of breaking out. 

Most Subversive: This is Not Berlin
A story about a teenage pansexual who is part of a queer activist artistic collective in 1986 Mexico City. They march, they dance, they fuck and they protest the World Cup which is taking place in their city. Need I say more? This was exhilarating, sexy and so much fun.

The Next Blockbuster: Late Night
This is the sort of polished broad but well-made comedy that should make a killing at the box office. And what a treat it is to see Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson lead a movie, trade barbs and pointed one liners at each other while entertaining us.

A Meme in Waiting: Annette Bening, The Report
Bening has so many reaction shots and purses her lips so many times as Senator Dianne Feinstein that she is bound to become a meme once The Report is released and can be gif-ed. In the meantime behold that smirk and that wig.

When Great Acting Saves the Day: Luce - Octavia Spencer, Kelvin Harrison Jr and Naomi Watts
Luce is provocative, dealing with issues of race, privilege, identity and social injustice. It is also a sorta thriller but one that takes its time explaining every single motive while its characters sit around and tell us what’s happening. However Spencer  (in her best role ever), Harrison and Watts are attuned to the truth of who they are playing and manage to make these characters believable even if they sometimes do not talk like real people do.

When Great Acting is Not Enough: Them That Follow - Alice Englert, Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Lewis Pullman, Walton Goggins
The community of Pentecostals who worship Jesus through snakes in this film, are drawn broad, big and at 150% overheating. I mean Colman’s character is literally called “Slaughter Sister.” But the actors find just the right restrained temperament to carve out reasonably believable people out of them. Still the film around them has an air of cultural tourism and contains utterly predictable situations we see a mile away.

Not What it Seemed Like: Hail Satan!
This is not a documentary about Satan worshippers. It is... but once documentarian Penny Lane fixes her camera at them we discover them for what they really are. They are rebellious free thinkers who are leading the political protest to keep religion and state separated in the US and around the world. I’ve found myself agreeing with most of what they preach. Even the nutty rituals seem like fun.

Best Lyft Driver Story
I’ve taken more cars to get around in a few days at Park City, than I have all year in New York. Those of course come with meeting lovely people and a bit of chatter. Shout out to Kenneth who told me that he spent a night “between the satin sheets in Raquel Welch's bed.

Alas, he was house sitting for a few days for the legendary movie star, way back in 1980s. He knew her  through a friend who worked for her at the time. But what a good punchline!

 

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Reader Comments (17)

Happy to see Alfre and Octavia in meaty roles.

February 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMya

Thanks for this, you made me want to see the san francisco and octavia spencer movie now

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Woodard has that Janney/Simmons-esque 'worked and beloved by most' respect in spades, hopefully that sort of thing can also help in the Lead category.

Bit sad Bening is not amazing (or else great performance that is meme-able would have been written). She still is an oscar winner inevitably though.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBloop

I have so much respect for Octavia Spencer, her acting and her choices.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

Octavia Spencer on the road to another Oscar nomination?

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterV.

V -- sure sounds like it!

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

V and Nathaniel - she is an academy favorite and is GREAT so it coud happen. But the film would have to find fire in other categories first because as Chalamet and Kidman this year and Hong Chau last year found out; it's impossible to be your film's sole nominee in the supporting categories.

February 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

Murtada -- yeah, makes sense. Jacki Weaver in ANIMAL KINGDOM managed it 9 years ago but it's not common.

February 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Annette Bening winning a supporting Oscar after the pending win for Close and established win for Moore in Best Actress feels so defeating on paper. Like can they Michael Caine the situation by giving her two in the category? Or will she Jessica Lange it and still return for a sophomore win in Best Actress because she shouldn't be stuck with a supporting win as a sole consolation for those Swank batterings.

Octavia Spencer becoming an Oscar perennial makes zero sense based on her skill set as an actress. But Herpburn won four statuettes for acting and she was never versatile so Spencer can be her nonwhite equivalent in supporting actress.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

/3rtful, them's the breaks, deal hunny.

Spencer's range is debatable, but the lady knows how to connect with major audiences right in the emotions.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterImani

I don't know, guys. The praise for Bening feels rather muted (compared to, say, the praise for Woodard or even the praise for Chalamet 2 years ago). But if she can win an Oscar in any category, I'm all for it.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Is it just me or do there seem to be a plethora of potential Oscar contenders that premiered at Sundance this year? Woodard in Clemency is looking really strong as are multiple nominations for The Last Man in San Fransisco. I have heard great things about The Report and Late Night as well. Murtada, can Awkafina possibly score a Best Actress nomination? Her reviews have been incredible and the narrative is there for her to grab a historic nomination...

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I know it's only February but it feels like a lot of these films could hang in there all season. Maybe I am just succombing to festival hype.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

Since when did range matter for winning an Oscar? It's even less important for being a movie star. The important thing I think to becoming a movie star is to have that appealing or intriguing personality and then to find great roles to show it off.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

Michael R - I think The Farewell's strongest shot is in screenplay. But if it breaks out big Awkwafina can be swept in too. The GG better nominate her in comedy to build her momentum.

February 6, 2019 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

This is Not Berlin sounds most interesting of all of these. Does it stand a chance at being Mexico's official entry in the foreign language category?

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

No nominee in any category will have more of an overdue narrative than Annette Bening. That may not ultimately equate to a win but it's hard to imagine there not being a spot in the 5 for her.

February 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

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