By Sean Boelman
In recent years, foreign language categories at awards shows have come under intense scrutiny, and for good reason. Intended to highlight the finest in cinema from other countries, these honors have become problematic because of convoluted guidelines and selections processes.
The Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film is especially troublesome. Calls have been made for the category to follow AMPAS in changing the category to one recognizing international films rather than “foreign language films”, as current guidelines restrict American films made in another language (such as this year’s Minari) to this category.
Regardless, awards such as this do offer an amazing opportunity for us to discuss some films from across the world that might not have otherwise gotten onto audiences’ radars. We at disappointment media have gotten the opportunity to screen all of the films nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best International Feature. Here are some of our thoughts on the best international films of 2020! Our full personal ranking of all of the International Feature submissions we have seen (shortlisted or not) can be found here.
Our least favorite of the films nominated for the Golden Globe is the Sophia Loren vehicle The Life Ahead. Although Loren is great in her first feature film performance in over a decade, this is otherwise a very straightforward drama. Italy didn’t even submit this one for Academy Award consideration, instead opting to submit documentary Notturno, which didn’t make the shortlist.
Next up is the French submission for the Academy Award (and one that made the shortlist), Filippo Meneghetti’s lesbian romance Two of Us. It’s a really lovely film, even if it doesn’t offer much in terms of a surprise. Excellent chemistry between lead actresses Barbara Sukowka and Martine Chevallier is what sets this apart and likely earned its place in the race.
The definitively American film Minari got a nomination in the Golden Globes category because its dialogue is almost all in Korean, but this isn’t even a factor in the Oscars race since it isn’t an international film. As great as it is as a portrait of the American Dream, it would be a shame to see this set a disturbing precedent of having a U.S.-produced film win in this category.
Jayro Bustamante’s supernatural horror/political thriller La Llorona is probably the most daring of the nominees. It was a pleasant surprise to see Guatemala’s entry get both a Globes nomination and a spot on the Oscar shortlist despite its genre roots, but it’s just that damn good and offers a powerful political message.
Currently the frontrunner is the Danish film Another Round, the newest from director Thomas Vinterberg (whose 2012 film The Hunt got nominated in the same categories for both the Globes and the Oscars). A party movie on its surface, but containing a much deeper message about alcoholism, this treads the line between crowd-pleasing and hard-hitting extremely well. It will likely take home the Golden Globe and almost certainly earn a nomination in the Oscars.
However, with two of the films nominated for the Golden Globes not in the running for the Oscar, there are at least two spots left, and that’s assuming the three others all get a double nomination (which is far from a guarantee). What does that leave to round out the remainder of the batch?
Last year, distributor NEON took Parasite to a win, not only in the International Feature category but also for Best Picture. Although they will be sitting out the main race this year, they do have two films on the International Feature shortlist: Ivory Coast’s Night of the Kings and Russia’s Dear Comrades. The former, a poetic ode to the power of storytelling, feels like the more likely nominee, but don’t count out the latter because of its highly political nature.
The winner from the 91st Oscars, Netflix, hopes to reclaim dominance in the category, now having two players in the game. Taiwan’s entry A Sun has gained a lot of late-season heat from the critic community, but it feels a bit too off-kilter to be a serious player. Mexico’s entry I’m No Longer Here seems like a much safer play, a moving coming-of-age tale and brilliant exploration of a different culture.
Two documentaries made the cut for the shortlist this year. Chile’s entry The Mole Agent is an endearing and surprisingly funny watch, but it lacks the show-stopping quality that one generally associates with this category. And despite its flaws, Romania’s Collective, a strongly-crafted investigative documentary, seems like it has a better shot but still feels unlikely to show up outside of the main nonfiction competition.
The single worst film on this year’s shortlist is Iran’s contender Sun Children. Although it’s understandable why this found some fans, it has some distractingly ineffective child acting that makes it feel like a failed attempt at a grittier version of The Goonies. Quite frankly, it’s annoying, and there are much better films that deserved its spot.
Tunisia’s entry The Man Who Sold His Skin is a film that is more effective on paper than it is in execution. Kaouther Ben Hania’s commentary on the commoditization of human life is insanely timely, but the narrative that surrounds it isn’t quite as compelling as one would hope. Still, voters may jump on the film for the political value of its content alone.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry Quo Vadis, Aida? has gained a lot of support from the film community, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it slip into the five. There are some really harrowing moments in the film, but for the most part, it’s watching a bunch of people talk about protocol. Still, the ending is so powerful that this will stick in viewers’ minds more than most.
Prolific filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s newest film Charlatan is representing the Czech Republic on the shortlist, and it is arguably the best film of the bunch. A wonderful and unorthodox biopic about a natural healer who was accused of lying about his abilities, this is the most captivating of any of the films, but might struggle to prove its relevance.
There are two more films on the shortlist that are both very good but don’t seem to have much of a chance to make a splash. Norway’s film Hope is a moving cancer drama with stellar performances from Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellan Skarsgård, but is probably too low-key to get enough votes. Hong Kong’s Better Days is superb, but its melodramatic leanings mean it was shocking to see it even end up in the fifteen picks for the shortlist.
Of course, we also want to highlight some of the excellent films that didn’t make the cut for the shortlist, but are still worthy of a mention. Poland’s Never Gonna Snow Again is beautiful and poetic, and thankfully will make its way to audiences in the U.S. soon despite not having gotten the recognition it deserves. Ukraine’s representative, Atlantis, is one of the most compelling dystopian pictures in recent memory. And Serbia’s Dara of Jasenovac is an absolutely harrowing Holocaust drama.
Although there are so many great films in the lineup, it’s the unfortunate truth that only five will be able to get an actual nomination. That said, the International Feature category is particularly volatile in terms of predictions, as there is almost always at least one big surprise. This is how we think the votes are going to fall after all is said and done:
By Adam Donato
Let’s establish something right from the start: There is no bad Muppet movie — even the lesser entries in the franchise. The lowest Rotten Tomatoes score belongs to Muppets From Space at 63%, followed by Muppet Treasure Island at 73%. Absolute insanity. The nineties were great because they just decided to make Gonzo the most featured character, rivaling even Kermit for screen time. While Treasure Island isn’t a whole movie about him, like Muppets From Space, it is akin to The Muppet Christmas Carol wherein he is constantly with the lead cracking jokes, always, of course, accompanied by his best pal, Rizzo The Rat. Muppet Treasure Island is special because every Muppet movie has Muppets, but only one Muppet movie has Tim Curry.
The Muppets are known for having celebrity guest talent in everything they do. Standouts include Michael Caine and Jason Segel, but nobody comes close to how at home Tim Curry feels in Muppet Treasure Island. He’s so animated, he makes the Muppets look life-like. By the way, who doesn’t love a great villain that enjoys being evil? Curry absolutely nails Long John Silver in a way that some adaptations can’t live up to. He’s so charismatic and hammy in a way that almost makes you want to root for him. The most essential aspect of the Treasure Island story is the relationship between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver. It’s complex because you can tell that Jim is simultaneously vibing with Silver, but can be intimidated on a dime as Silver manipulates him throughout the movie. Their final standoff at the end of the movie is a testament to how well built up their relationship was and how important it is to have an actor seriously commit to such a comical role. While perfectly balancing between threatening villain and comedic genius, his song "Professional Pirate" is an absolute banger and just might be the best in the movie.
Speaking of the songs, Muppet Treasure Island does a great job living up to its predecessors by having some very memorable musical numbers. As stated, "Professional Pirate" is a great villain song, but the crown jewel of the movie is "Love Led Us Here". Kermit and Piggy are hanging off the edge of a cliff tied to a rope that is being slowly lit on fire as they sing about the silver lining to their ultimate demise, they are reunited. All the while, Silver and company celebrate discovering the treasure as if they just won the Super Bowl. One of the most fun sequences in the movie is when the crew gets "Cabin Fever". It’s zanny and wacky fun in a way that only the Muppets can pull off. "Shiver My Timbers" does a good job setting the darker tone for a children’s movie that is not shy about death. "Something Better" is a solid “I want” song from Jim, Rizzo, and Gonzo. Of course, "Sailing for Adventure" is the premiere whole-cast number, where everybody on the Hispaniola gets a chance to shine.
The humor in this movie is simultaneously darker and dumber than previous Muppets content. As stated before, Rizzo breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge Billy Connolly as the first character to die in a Muppet movie. On the other end of the spectrum, Fozzie Bear has a man living in his finger named Mr. Bimbo, who has been to the moon twice. Even Frank Oz took awhile to come around on that joke. Speaking of dark humor, this is where Sam Eagle shines. Interestingly enough, this is the first Muppet movie where he plays a prominent role, which is great as he acts as a good foil to the chaos of the Muppets.
As an adaptation, it’s a very faithful movie. It understands what the core of the story is about and puts its best player right in the center of all the action. For a genre that is dead (Nobody tell Johnny Depp!), Muppet Treasure Island shines as another entry in the pirate genre. A balanced sense of humor, an array of different musical numbers, and Tim Curry are the main ingredients to this recipe for success. The 25 year anniversary is a perfect reason to check this one out again, for you can never go wrong with the Muppets.
By Sean Boelman and the disappointment media Staff
Last Updated: 2/25/2021
Note: Commentary does not include films not yet screened.
One of the safest bets right now seems to be Chloe Zhao’s road movie Nomadland (Searchlight). Gaining support in the directing, screenplay, and Best Actress categories, in addition to a slew of below-the-line plays, the film seems likely to pick up a lot of nominations, and likely even win a few trophies. However, it is possible that the Academy may go for something a little less subtle for its highest honor. Additionally, the push to Hulu means that it lost its position as one of the few major studio releases in contention.
Also a major player is Regina King’s feature directorial debut One Night in Miami (Amazon). The film picked up a lot of initial steam in the acting categories after its festival debut but seems to have lost most of it since, apart from supporting actor Leslie Odom Jr. and a long-shot nomination for Kingsley Ben-Adir. However, we can expect this to easily lock in a Best Picture nomination, in addition to directing and screenwriting nods (and possibly wins).
Netflix has a sure-fire nominee in David Fincher’s Mank, if only from goodwill for the director and the industry-centric nature of the film. That said, this seems like the type of film that will rack up a bunch of nominations but strike out with the exception of one or two minor wins. And since Netflix has such a robust awards slate this year, this is one of the tougher sells for the big win.
Other Netflix titles that seem pretty likely to get a nomination are The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Aaron Sorkin still has plenty enough goodwill for his newest film to get a nod, even if there are also other films about civil rights in play this year. As for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, love for the work of playwright August Wilson in addition to support for the late Chadwick Boseman’s performance make it a likely contender.
Perhaps the most unlikely frontrunner is Emerald Fennell’s darkly comedic thriller Promising Young Woman (Focus). At first glance, one wouldn’t expect this to make that much of a splash, but it is gaining a lot of support from the screenwriting and acting branches. It may not have enough buzz to win, but with the preferential ballot system, it should get the required mentions to get a nomination.
Those six films seem like the most likely to be in play for the big honor. However, with the way the category is set up, there could be anywhere from five to ten nominees. In this unorthodox year, it’s possible that there is a diverse enough crop of films to get a full slate, but it seems more likely that there will only be eight or nine players. But what will get those last few spots?
There seems to be a lot of support for Spike Lee’s latest, Da 5 Bloods. Delroy Lindo is becoming quite the underdog in the Actor race. Yet with an early summer release date, and the fact that Netflix has a bunch of other releases that they seem to be pushing harder, it’s entirely possible that this one gets lost in the shuffle.
Warner Bros. has their strongest contender in Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah. Although the Academy is likely to go for one of the more palatable films about the Civil Rights to come out this year, this extremely unorthodox biopic is more than good enough to pick up a nomination. However, with the decision widely-maligned by the industry to release their films on HBO Max at the same time as theaters, it's not quite the lock that it should be.
The sole contender from Sony Pictures Classics, who has been one of the few studios supporting theaters during the pandemic, is Florian Zeller’s The Father. It’s all but guaranteed to get a nomination in Actor, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay, but will that be enough to push it towards the top of the pack?
Another studio with only one player is STX. Unfortunately for the political thriller The Mauritanian, though, STX is pretty new to the awards game. Last year, there seemed to be a campaign for Jennifer Lopez ramping up for Hustlers, but it lost steam at the last minute. The Mauritanian is good, maybe enough so to get that ninth or tenth spot, but that inexperience could let the film down.
Indie studio A24 has two contenders after sitting out most of the year, but both seem to be fighting for a tenth spot that probably won’t exist. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari and Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow are both very good films that have gotten a lot of critical praise, but they seem to be too low-key to really connect with voters, especially when another quiet film (Nomadland) is getting more buzz.
Other possible contenders include Amazon’s Sound of Metal, which will pick up some technical and acting nods but doesn’t have the widespread support to get a spot, Universal’s News of the World, which is one of the few contenders from a major studio but is utterly forgettable, and Disney’s Soul, which has a lot of support but isn’t likely to get much attention outside of the Animated and Score categories.
Netflix also has two long shot contenders that could be in the running, but have a better chance in other categories. Sam Levinson's Malcolm & Marie seems like a contender in the acting categories and possibly Original Screenplay, but may not be able to squeeze in to the main race. Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger is pretty excellent and has a small chance of making it in should the right people connect with it. Its best shot is likely in Adapted Screenplay.
As for non-starters, Netflix has quite a few. Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy is not a very good film and will be fighting for a sole Best Supporting Actress nod for Glenn Close. The Dig is surprisingly good, but too slight to make much of a splash above-the-line. Pieces of a Woman may pick up nominations for Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn, but had its overall hopes quashed by controversy. And The Midnight Sky and The Prom are both entertaining, but don’t seem to have the praise that they’d need to make a showing.
Apple TV+ has three films that feel like awards bait, but will likely be ignored in this socially-conscious year. The best chance for Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks is a Supporting Actor nod for Bill Murray, but even that seems unlikely as it is her worst film in years. The Justin Timberlake-starring Palmer is good, but little more than a sentimental crowd-pleaser. Still, it deserves to be in the conversation more than Hillbilly Elegy. The Russo Brothers' Cherry wants to be great, but it's ultimately very mediocre.
Hulu hoped to get their foot in the race when they picked up The United States vs. Billie Holiday from Paramount, but Lee Daniels's newest film (his first in eight years) is pretty messy. There's still a chance for the film to pick up a Best Acting and/or a Best Original Song nomination, but it's dead-on-arrival in the main competition.
NEON will almost certainly be completely absent from the Best Picture race this year after bringing Parasite to a win. Their only legitimate contender is Ammonite, a pretty but otherwise mediocre period piece that is unlikely to turn any heads. Palm Springs (co-distributed with Hulu) is fun, and might be a long-shot for Original Screenplay, but doesn’t seem like a serious player.
Of course, there are also films submitted for consideration that everyone knows won’t have a shot. Warner Bros. is mounting campaigns for Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, but their chances are virtually nonexistent outside of some spare below-the-line nods. The Little Things (also WB) will be a dud above-the-line, but Thomas Newman's excellent score could make it in. Other films, like Lionsgate’s Antebellum and Fatale seem to be getting FYC campaigns out of contractual obligation.
Yes, it is shaping up to be one of the more predictable Best Picture races in recent memory. At this point, it’s starting to become relatively clear what will and won’t be in contention after all is said and done. After those last few wild cards end up screening, it should be easy to call where everything is going to land.
Sean Boelman's Picks
1. One Night in Miami
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
5. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
6. Promising Young Woman
7. Judas and the Black Messiah
8. Da 5 Bloods
9. The Father
10. The Mauritanian
12. Sound of Metal
13. Malcolm & Marie
14. News of the World
15. First Cow
Camden Ferrell's Picks
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. One Night in Miami
6. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
7. Promising Young Woman
8. Da 5 Bloods
10. First Cow
11. Sound of Metal
Dan Skip Allen's Picks
2. One Night in Miami
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. Promising Young Woman
5. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
7. The Father
9. Pieces of a Woman
10. News of the World
11. Sound of Metal
12. First Cow
By Sean Boelman
On February 10, 2021, the SXSW Film Festival announced the remainder of the lineup for its 2021 online edition. Last month, highlights from the program were announced including opening night headliner Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil and other exciting selections including Violet and Jakob’s Wife.
The Headliners section this year is focused entirely on music documentaries. In addition to the aforementioned Demi Lovato documentary, the festival will also feature Alone Together, a documentary about popstar Charli XCX, and Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free, about the legendary rocker.
The eight films in the narrative feature competition include Here Before, I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), Islands, Our Father, Potato Dreams of America, The End of Us, The Fallout, and Women is Losers. Of the bunch, Stacey Gregg’s psychological thriller Here Before sounds most intriguing and stars Andrea Riseborough.
The documentary feature competition includes Introducing, Selma Blair, Kid Candidate, Lily Topples the World, Not Going Quietly, The Oxy Kingpins, The Return: Life After ISIS, Subjects of Desire, and United States vs. Reality Winner. The Kelly Marie Tran-produced Lily Topples the World sounds like an uplifting treat.
In the Narrative Spotlight section are The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, Language Lessons, Ludi, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, Recovery (previously announced), See You Then, and Swan Song. Written by and starring Mark Duplass, Language Lessons will be one of the hotter tickets of this year’s festival, and the Udo Kier vehicle Swan Song sounds absolutely wonderful.
The Documentary Spotlight section features Alien on Stage, Fruits of Labor, The Hunt for Planet B (previously announced), Hysterical (previously announced), The Lost Sons, Mau, Spring Valley, WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, When Claude Got Shot, and Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America. We find ourselves most intrigued by Alien on Stage.
The Midnighters section includes Broadcast Signal Intrusion, The Feast, Gaia, Jakob’s Wife (previously announced), Offseason, Sound of Violence, The Spine of Night, and Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror. Although asking us to pick a most anticipated of this section is hard, we’re very excited for the star-studded adult animated film The Spine of Night.
This year’s Festival Favorites selections are Dear Mr. Brody, How It Ends, In the Same Breath, Ma Belle, Ma Beauty, R#J, and Violation. We’ve seen Violation, How It Ends, and In the Same Breath, and highly recommend the third, although the first two will also find their audience at the festival.
In the Visions section are Ayar, Delia Derbyshire - The Myths and the Legendary Tapes, Inbetween Girl, Through the Plexi-Glass: The Last Days of the San Jose, and Twyla Moves. Music movie section 24 Beats Per Second will screen Disintegration Loops, I Went to the Dance, Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (previously announced), Soy Cubana, and Under the Volcano. Global selections include Bantú Mama, Fucking with Nobody, Luchadoras (previously announced), Ninjababy, and Trapped. Although we know less about these films, Disintegration Loops and Ninjababy sound intriguing.
And featuring some of the films that were supposed to screen in the cancelled 2020 edition, the 2020 Spotlight includes Best Summer Ever, Chad, Clerk, Executive Order, Violet (previously announced), We Are as Gods, We Are the Thousand, Witch Hunt, and Without Getting Killed or Caught. Best Summer Ever and Clerk both screened for press last year and get a recommendation from us.
Also announced were the episodic premieres and competition, special events, and short programs. Although this year’s festival is going to look different under the circumstances, it is still going to be a wonderful celebration of film, and we can’t wait to see some of this year’s offerings.
The 2021 edition of SXSW runs online from March 16-20, 2021.
By Dan Skip Allen
Beginners is a film from 2010 starring Ewan McGregor as a man dealing with the loss of his father while also having relationship problems. The film jumps back and forth in time with a framing device. Directed and written by Mike Mills, it's an ode to father-son relationships. The McGregor and Plummer relationship is what drives this film. And it's beautiful and sad all at the same time. They anchor this beautiful film. It's a breath of fresh air to see something different.
Plummer's character comes out as gay in the first 5 minutes of the film. He wants to explore a different side of himself. So he joins a bunch of pride groups and gets a boyfriend, played by Goran Visnjic. Plummer's character goes to nightclubs and listens to new and interesting music. This is all a revelation for him because of his advanced age. Plummer won his first and only Academy Award for this role. He does so many different things with this character that he's never done before. He usually plays strong domineering characters such as General Chang in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and the role of Baron Von Trapp, the role he's most known for, in The Sound of Music. (Although he's not a big fan of that role himself.) He plays a more soft warm-hearted character in Beginners. It was nice to see him get recognized for doing something different in his career.
McGregor's character is also dealing with a new relationship as well. This new burgeoning relationship takes him away from his ailing father. Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds) plays a quiet woman, but she brings out a more adventurous side in Mcgregor's character. This helps him be freer, albeit not as free as his father though. All of this drama makes the film interesting and real.
As far as dramas go, Beginners is on the lighter side even though it has some serious subject matters, mainly dealing with the father's illness and eventual death. The romantic side of the film is nice as well. It has some quirky moments like at a costume party or when they meet at a bookstore picking out books together or eating tacos at a food cart. The relationship between Plummer's character and Visnjic is still an exploration because of the illness and hospitalization of Plummer's character.
Juggling multiple storylines in the film, Mills balances them all very nicely. Using photos to narrate parts of the backstory is an effective tool to talk about Plummers character's past, why he is the way he is, and what makes him tick today. Coming out was a thing he did early in life, but he had to close off this part of his life from an early age. Eventually, he got married, but that ended when his wife and Megregor's character's mother died. He was free once again.
Beginners has a different feel and look to it than other films. It has a little grain to it and a darker look. The cinematographer Kasper Tuxen doesn't have a flashy style like some of the greats, but it's a more real and raw style. It allows the film to look lived in, like this could be a real-world, with real people and real-world problems. The cinematography is a strength of the film. As well as the score or music. There is always music in the background or melancholy of light stringed instruments playing. This is nice to the ears while all the drama and romance is happening on screen.
Beginners isn't the most normal romantic film drama or the most interesting. It has a feel of something real. Anybody could be living in this world that transpired on screen. It's a little different, but that's good. All films shouldn't be the same. Mills did something different with two genres that are pretty straightforward most of the time. It's nice to see a different take on familiar tropes. Plummer is fantastic in a different role, but his relationship with his son doesn't feel forced or contrived. It just seems perfect. That is the real strength of this quirky film.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.