By Sean Boelman
The Hot Docs festival is returning again in 2021 with another massive slate of documentary films to be watched virtually by cinephiles and buyers across Canada. Stay-at-home festival-goers can expect to be delighted by nonfiction cinema from across the world, from new films by established masters to exciting prospects from up-and-coming voices. Below are some of the films we at disappointment media think you should check out:
In the Same Breath
There are more than a few documentaries about the COVID-19 pandemic playing at this year’s festival, but none is likely to be better than Nanfu Wang’s In the Same Breath. After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January, this film about how the Chinese government used propaganda to spin the story about the coronavirus in their favor has been touring the festival circuit to great acclaim. It’s probably the most eye-opening documentary I have seen yet about the topic as of yet, and viewers are almost certainly going to be shocked by what they see.
The Sparks Brothers
The first documentary by fan-favorite filmmaker Edgar Wright, The Sparks Brothers tells the story of one of the most underappreciated bands in all history. Wright and Sparks honestly seem to be a match made in heaven, as the quirky style of the former aligns brilliantly with the idiosyncratic music of the latter. Even at over two hours in length, it moves along very quickly and is one of the most tremendously enjoyable films you could see at the festival. For those of you who can’t wait to see Annette this summer, this is an amazing opportunity to learn about the guys behind its music.
Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Questlove is perhaps best known as the drummer for The Roots, but he is a phenomenally talented multi-hyphenate, and now he can add filmmaker to his list of skills. An archival music documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival (referred to some endearingly as the “Black Woodstock”), this contains some excellent performance footage from some of the most iconic musicians of all time. It’s a fascinating dive into the culture of the time, but if nothing else, it serves as an excellent excuse to listen to some great tunes for nearly two hours.
Although it is also about COVID-19, Udi Nir and Sagi Bornstein’s film Viral couldn’t be more different than the other film featured on this list about the same issue. Exploring how a group of individuals struggled their way through the pandemic with the help of their online lives, it’s a much more hopeful film than many of the documentaries we have seen come out of this period so far. Nir and Bornstein do an excellent job of investing the audience in the lives of their subjects, resulting in some genuinely funny and surprisingly touching moments that remind us of the humanity that unites us.
Writing with Fire
Winner of the Audience Award and a Special Jury Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Writing with Fire is one of the most inspiring films audiences will have the pleasure of seeing in this year’s Hot Docs lineup. Following a newspaper in India run completely by women, this is a really powerful film about the role that journalism has in society. Anyone who loves to see stories about extraordinary women busting down walls will be floored by this moving film.
The 2021 Hot Docs Film Festival runs virtually April 29 through May 9.
By Dan Skip Allen
This year's Academy Awards were the most drawn out of any year in recent memory. After all the COVID-19 precautions, the Academy pushed back the availability window to the last day in February. As a result, the voting window was also pushed back which pushed the ceremony back to April 25th. Even though the show was filled with unexpected moments, the fact that Nomadland won was not. It represented the country and what it was going through in this difficult time. Fern represented the average everyday American and their struggle throughout the country. It had the right message.
That being said, a handful of films won two awards on the night. That was the big news of the night. Let's start with Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Father, based on Zeller's play. That was the first surprise of the night. Later on, the bigger surprise was Sir Anthony Hopkins winning Best Actor, his second Oscar in his career. Everybody thought that Chadwick Boseman would win because he had won all the precursor awards leading up to the Academy Awards, except for the Indie Spirit Award, which Riz Ahmed won.
Soul won for both Animated Feature with Pete Doctor and Dana Murray accepting the award and Original Score for Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor, and Jon Batiste. Soul was the projected winner of these awards, having won them both at previous award shows in recent months.
Sound of Metal won the Best Sound and Editing Categories. The sound was a forgone conclusion because it had won everywhere it was nominated for this award. Sound is synonymous with this film. The editing category was a bit more contentious because all the best picture nominees were in that category. It could have gone to any of the five films. They all had great editing in them. Especially The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Father, and Promising Young Woman.
Judas and the Black Messiah also took home two gold trophies on the night. One of them is Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya for playing Fred Hampton, The leader of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and '70s. Kaluuya has swept this similar award at all the previous awards shows. The other award it won on the night was Best Song, "Fight For You" by H.E.R, D'Mile, and Tiara Thomas. This was a difficult award to predict because different songs had won similar awards at previous awards shows. The favorite going in was "Speak Now" from One Night in Miami by Leslie Odom Jr.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom took home two awards on the night as well. With it winning for both Make-Up & Hairstyling and Costumes. This film was a period piece so the clothes and hair and make-up were a big part of bringing the viewer into the world of these 1920s musicians, based on the August Wilson play.
Mank took home two trophies for below-the-line categories. It won Best Cinematography, which it also won at the cinematographer's awards previously. This one is considered a small upset since most pundits still thought Nomadland would take home this award at the Oscars. The other gold trophy Mank took home was for Production Design. David Fincher and crew had to make this film and its locations look like old Hollywood sets and places. This was an easy win for Mank. It had previously swept similar awards leading up to the Academy Awards.
For some of the other awards, the winners were Another Round directed by Thomas Vinterberg for International Feature. This film has cleaned up at previous awards shows for the same category. My Octopus Teacher had started moving to the front of the line in the Best Documentary Feature category in recent weeks. It had won the BAFTA leading up to last night's ceremony and was the favorite to win on the night.
Youn Yuh-Yung won the lone award on the night for Minari for Best Supporting Actress. Youn also gave a funny and heartfelt speech while accepting her award. Tenet won Best Visual effects for the Christopher Nolan-directed film. Emerald Fennell won the lone trophy for Original Screenplay for her directorial debut Promising Young Woman. This was previously thought to take home more trophies than this on the night. The prognosticators were wrong on this point.
The shorts, not usually easy to predict, were relatively ho-hum categories on the night with Two Distant Strangers winning for Best Live Action Short, If Anything Happens I Love You, from Netflix, winning Animated Short, and the surprise, Colette, winning Documentary Short Film.
The big winner on the night was Nomadland taking home three Academy Awards. Along with its win for Best Picture, it won for Best Director for Chloe Zhao, making her the first woman of color to take home this award, and Best Actress for Frances McDormand, making this the third Best Actress trophy she's taken home in her long and storied career. Her performance as Fern was a little more reserved than her other two performances, but she won again nonetheless, bringing her one away from Kathryn Hepburn's record of four wins. Nomadland was also the fifth winner for Searchlight for Best Picture in the last thirteen years.
The ceremony as a whole was a pretty good one. It had some funny moments, one being Lil Rel Howery playing music trivia with some of the nominees. Glenn Close was pretty knowledgeable and funny on her account of one song played by Questlove. The speeches were allowed to go on without the annoyance of the house orchestra playing them off. This led to more genuine moments from the winners including Tyler Perry accepting the Irving G. Thalberg Award for Humanitarian efforts.
Everybody will be talking about how the show ended, though, so this needs to be addressed. Steven Soderbergh was the producer of the ceremony on the night and did an admirable job in that regard, but he decided to change the order of what awards were given out, gambling that the actor awards would bring more drama at the end of the night instead of Best Picture, Nomadland having been considered a forgone conclusion. This backfired as McDormand had already given a heartwarming funny speech involving a howl at the podium during the Best Picture win acceptance. And Anthony Hopkins is not available to accept his award. Joaquin Phoenix just had to end the show on that note. People thought Boseman would win and his widow would make a very emotional speech and everyone would go home happy. That didn't happen and people went home in shock and awe. On the whole, it was a good show and a good night.
By Dan Skip Allen
The Film Independent Spirit Awards are a little different than other awards shows. The awarded films have been made for under 30 million dollars. These are considered independent films in the film industry. Usually, they are made with money from donations and not big studios such as Disney, Warner Brothers, or Universal Pictures. A24 and Amazon are companies that buy up small movies and release them under their labels. These small films are the ones that get nominated for Indie Spirit awards.
A lot of the Indie Spirit awards don't translate to the academy awards because they aren't compatible with the Academy Awards categories. And sometimes people are nominated for Indie Spirit awards and vice versa for Oscars that don't have a crossover. There are a handful of categories that do crossover though. These could give some clues on what the Academy Awards might do come Sunday night.
The Best Lead Actress Award went to Carey Mulligan which is a good precursor because both Viola Davis and Frances McDormand were nominated beside her in that category. Riz Ahmed won the Best Lead Actor award. This was interesting because Chadwick Boseman was also nominated with him and he had previously won all the similar awards leading up to this point in awards season. Steven Yeun was also nominated in this category.
The two supporting actor awards went to Youn Juh-Yung and Paul Raci. This is the third award of this caliber Yuh-Yung won this awards season, making her the odds on favorite to win the Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actress category. Paul Raci's win just proves the Indie Spirit voters loved Sound of Metal because it won both male acting awards. This may not translate into Oscar wins, but you never know. Stranger things have happened.
Nomadland once again swept the best feature and director categories at another award show making a sure bet to win both categories at the Oscars. It also added the best cinematography and editing. These two categories will be two to watch because they could go to other films. My bet would be Nomadland wins cinematography, but not editing. That could go to Sound of Metal or The Trial of the Chicago 7.
The screenplay awards went to Promising Young Woman and Palm Springs. This may be the award that put that film and its writer/director Emerald Fennel. Sound of Metal also won the first feature for its director Darius Marder.
Quo Vadis Aida? won the Best International feature, but Another Round wasn't nominated in this category, so this probably won't happen at the Oscars. Another Round has won this award everywhere leading up to this point. Crip Camp won the best documentary in a category that had four of the five Academy Award nominees in it, but not My Octopus Teacher. That could be a telling sign of why it won.
The Indie Spirit Awards were like a lot of the other ceremonies. They got a lot right and some things wrong based on industry pundits and predictions people have been making. They usually award films that aren't involved in the academy awards as a whole. This year is different because there are so many indies nominated. This year some of its winners make more sense and could come home with Oscars. This is the last awards ceremony before the Academy Awards broadcast on April 25th. All will be revealed on Sunday night on ABC.
By Dan Skip Allen
The BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards are the last precursor before the Academy Awards on April 25th. They usually have some crossover with the Oscars, but they also have their own awards that have no connection to the Oscars at all. The big awards — acting, directing, and writing — are the ones prognosticators are paying attention to in order to help determine possible winners at the Oscars.
One of the awards that cross over with the Academy Awards is Best Actor. Anthony Hopkins won this one, which makes the best actor race a little more interesting. Previously to the BAFTAs, Chadwick Boseman had won all the other awards leading up to the baftas. Best Actress, another crossover with the Oscars, went to Frances McDormand. This makes the fourth different actress in four different awards shows to have won Best Actress. This makes for a bonafide race in this category at the Oscars.
It is a little bit more clear-cut in the supporting actor and actress categories, two more categories with crossover Oscars. Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-Jung won their respective categories. This makes a sweep for Kaluuya in all four of the major awards shows and the second for Youn Yuh-Jung. Where previously the Supporting Actress Category was up in the air, it now seems clear that Youn is the frontrunner at the Oscars.
Two more crossover categories are Best Picture and Director, both going to Chloe Zhao and her film Nomadland. This makes it a clear-cut case for Zhao and Nomadland to be the apparent winner come to the Academy Awards. No mincing words here because these two have won everywhere and now are just waiting for April 25th to come to claim their prizes for best picture and director respectively.
In some of the below-the-line categories, there might be some clarity. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom took home both awards for Costumes and Makeup and Hairstyling. Sound of Metal took home Best Sound and Editing. Nomadland scooped up the trophy for cinematography and Production Design went to Mank. These seem like logical choices come Oscar day as well.
The Best International Feature has been swept by the Thomas Vinterberg film Another Round throughout awards season. It seems like the inevitable winner of the Oscar. My Octopus Teacher takes home its second Best Documentary award this awards season as well, seemingly cementing it as the favorite on April 25th. Soul took home two BAFTAs — for Best Score and Animated Feature — making it the lock in these two categories at the Oscars.
The Screenplay Awards may not be something that can be used to predict the Oscars. The Father and Promising Young Woman won, but they are both British Films so this might not make them obvious picks to win the Oscars. Other film writers could make that walk up to the podium come April 25th. Emerald Fennell has a better chance of pulling off the win because her film, Promising Young Woman, did win the writers guild award in this category.
The BAFTAs have their own Best Picture as well and Promising Young Woman won that. Bukky Bukray won the Rising Star Award, and debut British Writer, Director, and Producer Award, and Rami Weekes won for His House. Rocks won Best Casting. These have no connection to the Academy Awards at all.
The BAFTAs usually don't have a lot of correlation with the Academy Awards, but this year they do. It seems quite a few of the categories could predict the Oscars. There is finally some clarity in this unusual awards season, even though Best Actor might be competitive now.
By Sean Boelman
After having a hybrid edition in 2020, one of the first film festivals to attempt an in-person element in the face of the pandemic, the Florida Film Festival is back for its thirtieth anniversary, and the program is filled to the brim with unique and exciting films. We at disappointment media have gotten the chance to see some of them in advance, and here are a few of our favorites.
Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo is one of the weirder films in the Narrative Feature competition, but this trippy adult animated adventure is also one of the most ambitious and impressive films in the lineup. Like an Indiana Jones movie made by Wes Anderson on acid, this surreal fable with a voice cast including Lake Bell and Michael Cera isn’t quite like anything else you’ll see at the festival. Floridians won’t want to give up this early opportunity to see one of the very best films of the year so far, and on the big screen at that.
My Wonderful Wanda
The International Showcase section at the Florida Film Festival is always a highlight, and this year is no exception. Bettina Oberli’s Swiss melodrama My Wonderful Wanda may lean into the histrionic elements of its family drama, but it’s also far more intelligent than most films in the genre. Following a caregiver who forms a close and complicated relationship with the man for whom she works, the first third is arguably the best part of the film, exploring the dynamics between the upper and lower class, but the more character-driven final act is also compelling and surprisingly emotional.
Interestingly enough, two of the four films in the International Showcase sidebar are about an illegitimate pregnancy. Although the Canadian coming-of-age drama Our Own is the lesser film, it still has some very resonant elements. Ultimately, it needed to either be more subtle or less overt, straddling a weird line of ambiguity that isn’t quite satisfying. There are a lot of really good things here — Jeanne Leblanc shows a lot of talent in the director’s chair and Emilie Bierre gives an exceptional leading performance — but there are just a few too many inconsistencies for this to be a home run.
Riders of Justice
Mads Mikkelsen is quickly becoming an international superstar, and Riders of Justice provides ample opportunity for him to kick ass in a revenge thriller. And if it isn’t enough to watch Mikkelsen playing an ex-military father avenging the death of his wife by shooting up a biker gang, this is also a surprisingly interesting discussion of psychological trauma. Apart from a few moments of dark humor that don’t quite land, instead feeling somewhat insensitive, this is an entertaining watch from start to finish, with more than a few belly laughs and plenty of great action sequences.
Summer of 85
Filmmaker François Ozon has gotten quite the following for his LGBTQ-centric films, and his newest, Summer of 85, is a lovely summertime gay romance. With serious shades of Call Me By Your Name, this film overcomes its seeming lack of originality with Ozon’s wonderful sense of style and an overall air of fun that radiates throughout the film. It’s one of the more mainstream films in this year’s lineup, and it has what is probably the best soundtrack of any film playing at the festival, so festival-goers will definitely want to check this out.
The Florida Film Festival runs online and in-person in Orlando, Florida from April 9-22, 2021.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.