Few films engender absolute aesthetic devotion on a widespread scale, pure love for a singular cinematic perspective that conjures a sense of ride-or-die allegiance from its viewers to the creators. In 2016, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits were two of the most fervently beloved films of the year and luckily for fans of both they have converged in an orgiastic ballet that’s short enough to enjoy on your coffee break. In a feat of unexpected Persona-esque mind melding, Holmer and Moonlight’s Academy Award-nominated composer Nicholas Britell have crafted a dance tribute to Jenkins’ triptych of yearned identity with New York City’s Alvin Ailey Dance Theater: Just Dance: Moonlight x Alvin Ailey. In retrospect, the films have much more in common than meets the eye; after all, each visually explore – with absorbing and diamond-cut grace – the explosive unease that arises when you break out of the shell that your community expects you to inhabit. This is where Holmer's dance interpretation begins. It’s certainly thrilling to see Moonlight presented on a stage, where Tarell Alvin McCraney’s original roots began. Take a look for yourself and let us know how you feel: has Holmer captured Chiron’s transformative evolution through this physically formational medium?
Entries in The Fits (7)
Nominations have been announced for the 20th annual Film Independent Spirit Awards, which we generally abbreviate as "Indie Spirits" or "Spirits". American Honey and Moonlight, two idiosyncratic visions, lead with six nominations each. Moonlight, which takes the ensemble prize (but wasn't nominated for individual performances) will also presumably be hot with Oscars. The two other Oscar Best Picture contenders that did very well at the Spirits today were Jackie and Manchester by the Sea. Other People, the cancer dramedy loosely based on the directors own life, can also be very happy about its nomination showing. Other buzzy titles like Hell or High Water, 20th Century Women, and Loving had mixed success, picking up some key nods but not others despite their high profiles.
And here are two big reasons to celebrate -- Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Isabelle Huppert (Elle) were both nominated. Oscar nominations are hardly done deals for either of those exquisite performances so any attention that can be drawn is worth celebrating. The full list with commentary after the jump (titles links go to our reviews)...
Each year one of our awards traditions is to help fellow BFCA members choose more wisely when it comes to the "Young Performer" category by sharing an eligibility list. The lazy nominations each year prove that help is needed. Here's the thing: it can be difficult to even think of who is eligible when you're filling out a ballot because you don't get a list of choices and it's not a category people campaign for or one that the internet talks about. So we solve that problem right here. Our other belief, which is why we do this, is that if you actually pay attention there are enough worthy performances each year to divvy this category up into male and female as the other acting categories are divvied up. But, yes, you have to be paying attention beyond 5 or 6 movies and leading roles to notice the truly special work.
Ballots go out to the BFCA soon so here's a cheat sheet to help them vote. The category is UNDER 21... (it should obviously be adjusted to 17 and under but that's a fight for another day). Please FYC your favorites in the comments!
ELIGIBLE "YOUNG PERFORMERS" IN 2016 FILMS
Ella Anderson (11) as "Rachel" in The Boss
Ruby Barnhill (12) as "Sophie" in The BFG DEBUT
Annalise Basso (18) as "Vespyr" in Captain Fantastic
Elle Fanning (18) as "Julie" in 20th Century Women OR as "Jesse" in Neon Demon (3 previous nods in this category)
Royalty Hightower (11) as "Toni" in The Fits DEBUT
Samantha Isler (18) as "Keilyr" in Captain Fantastic
Avin Manshadi (?) as "Dorsa" in Under the Shadow DEBUT
Madina Nalwanga (?) as "Phiona" in Queen of Katwe DEBUT
Alexis Nebblet (11) as "Beezy" in The Fits DEBUT
Eva Peterson (18?) as "Crystal" in The Boss DEBUT
Ella Purnell (20) as "Emma Bloom" in Miss Peregrine's Home...
Angourie Rice (15) as "Holly March" in The Nice Guys
Hailee Steinfeld (19) as "Nadine" in Edge of Seventeen (previous winner of this category)
Anya Taylor-Joy (20) as "Thomasin" in The Witch DEBUT
Madison Wolfe (14) as "Janet" in The Conjuring 2
Michael Barbieri (14) as "Tony Calvelli" in Little Men DEBUT
Asa Butterfield (19) as "Jake" in Miss Peregrine's Home... (two previous nods in this category)
Markees Christmas (17) as "Morris" in Morris From America DEBUT
Julian Dennison (14) as "Ricky" in Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Devin Druid (?) as "Conrad" in Louder than Bombs
Oakes Fegley (11?) as "Pete" in Pete's Dragon
Nicholas Hamilton (16) as "Rellian" in Captain Fantastic
Alex R Hibbert (?) as "Little" in Moonlight DEBUT
Lucas Hedges (20) as "Patrick" in Manchester by the Sea
Tom Holland (20) as "Peter Parker" in Captain America: Civil War (previous nominee in this category)
Jharrel Jerome (19) as "Kevin (16)" in Moonlight DEBUT
Jaeden Lieberher (13) as "Alton" in Midnight Special (previous nominee in this category)
Lewis MacDougall (14) as "Conor" in A Monster Calls
Sunny Pawar (?) as "Young Saroo" in Lion DEBUT
Ashton Sanders (20) as "Chiron" in Moonlight
Harvey Scrimshaw (14) as "Caleb" in The Witch
Neel Sethi (12) as "Mowgli" in The Jungle Book DEBUT
Theo Taplitz (13) as "Jake Jardine" in Little Men DEBUT
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (17) as "Cosmo" in Sing Street DEBUT
Lucas Jade Zumann (15) as "Jamie" in 20th Century Women
Who would you vote for?
Previously at the Halfway Mark:
• 5 Favorite Pictures and imaginary Oscar scenario
• 11 Costume Design Honors from couture to the puritanical with swimwear on the side
• Cinematography & Production Design Sunset Song, etc...
• Heroes & Villains from Deadpool to Shere Khan
• 23 Male Actor Honorees in 5 categories
Cue fireworks. It's the grand finale. Our brief Halfway Mark Review honoring the best of the 50+ movies we've seen that have been released between January 1st and June 30th, is now at its end. But don't worry. The listing impulse fully never goes away and there's more excitement soon as we'll start updating the Oscar charts tomorrow. Naturally we're ending with BEST ACTRESS if five categories -- the same categories we previously did for the men.
If I had a ballot (hey, I do... albeit not an AMPAS ballot) here's what I'd honor from the year thus far -- January through June releases only though I've seen some July & August titles. [Disclaimer: The most noticeably actress-led film I haven't yet seen this year is The Meddler so please dont read anything into the absence of Susan Sarandon.]
Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Sally Field as "Doris" in Hello My Name is Doris
Doris is a CHARACTER but Sally never fails to humanize her written eccentricities making sure that she's the endearing source of the laughter rather than its target.
- Tilda Swinton as "Marianne Lane" in A Bigger Splash
The "vocal rest" was her idea -- imagine an actor purposefully losing all their lines! -- and the result is you see Tilda's face and body alone capturing and reflecting the drama and auteurist impulses
- Anya Taylor-Joy as "Thomasin" in The VVitch
That angelic face is sensually attentive and her behavior innocent but mischievious. So many possible Masters (God, Lucifer, Herself, General Teen Hormones, and Restlessness)
- Rachel Weisz as "Short Sighted Woman" The Lobster
What a tricky tone to master, but she's in control. Her voiceover is beautifully at odds with her meekly submissive than overtly romantic screen self
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead as "Michelle" in 10 Cloverfield Lane
Sells shifting (dis)belief in this strange new reality while doing right by primal horror. Nails the only real in-script details about this character -- whip-smart instincts and a "Flight or Flight" response
Choices in 4 more categories after the jump...
The Fits has been on the festival circuit since last year, including a trip to the Nashville Film Festival that has Nathaniel singing its praises. Well, add me to the fan club, because I found myself even more taken by this ferocious and emotionally intelligent debut.
Set in and around a recreation center for Cincinnati youths, the film follows Toni (captivating newcomer Royalty Hightower) as she transitions from her brother's boxing studio into the militaristic, successful all-girl dance crew down the hall, without any dance ability to her credit. As Toni begins to improve her skill, her sense of otherness is further enervated by the growing outbreak of unexplained seizures on the team. Blending themes of gender performance, isolation, and feminity, The Fits packs a huge punch in a brisk 72 minutes unlike anything you've experienced this year.
Not every movie has a white straight male protagonist. It just seems like that since that's Hollywood's default and also the preferred proxy of most (white straight male) auteurs.
But the times are finally a-changing. This weekend features the platform release of a mesmerizing new indie called The Fits -- please see it as soon as it opens near you. I was so proud to push for honoring it on my jury at the Nashville Film Festival. Fresh perspectives on the screen can be so exhilarating. That's especially true when the execution is this confident. Remember the debut director's name, Anna Rose Holmer, since we're hoping for more great movies to come.
In the meantime, let's take a trip back through other features with young black girls as the lead character. I haven't seen the first or the last movie on this list of nine below but the rest all fall somewhere on the spectrum of good to great.
How many have you seen?
• Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992)
• Eve's Bayou (1997) - Really need to watch this again as previously earlier this week. It was the breakthrough role for Jurnee Smollett-Bell who went on to series regular gigs in Friday Night Lights, True Blood, and The Underground.
• Our Song (2000) - When it comes to superstar Kerry Washington, it's important to remember that I saw her first. Articles from the early Aughts are no longer online but trust that I gave her a rave review when I saw this teeny tiny indie in theaters and was startled by her total naturalism onscreen.
If you can think of other films with a child or teenage black girl as the lead character, please do share them so our list is more complete.
One day I will figure out to keep up with the cinematic madness but April contained none of those days. A week ago the Nashville Film Festival wrapped and I have yet to share with you the prizes my jury bestowed! Not that you've been clamoring to read about films you've never heard of but one of the joys of film festivals is in the discoveries. Hence my great thrill to be asked to sit on the "New Directors Jury". Let's survey a handful of the competitors starting with the two winners, both of which made one step closer to theaters this week.
HONORABLE MENTION The Fits (2016)
I'm starting with this one because it's out very soon (June 3rd in NYC / June 10th in Los Angeles) and you absolutely shouldn't miss it. I'm already eager to see it again. We need directors with fresh voices and a unique gaze and we've got one in Anna Rose Helmer. The Fits follows a young girl named Toni (Royalty Hightower, pretty great) who spends her days helping her older brother with his job cleaning a boxing gym. She's fascinated by the boy rituals and the girl rituals which are happening just down the hall where a local dance squad rehearses in another gymnasium. Just when you think you've figured out the film's theme (there's certainly much to ponder in its gender dynamics) one of the dancers has a violent fit and faints and you realize Helmer has a lot more yet on her mind. There's no easy allegories here and maybe it's a little opaque but there's much to ponder in its metaphysical poetry, thoughtful camera work and editing and, above all else, its persistent fly-on-the-wall curiosity, the camera a soulful twin to Toni's ever-searching eyes. B+ (A-?)
Breaking News: The Fits got a poster (left) and a perfect moody trailer this week from Oscilloscope Pictures.
More after the jump including an awards magnet which keeps winning festivals...