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.
By Sean Boelman
Every year, ShortsTV releases the Oscar-nominated short films in theaters, giving audiences the opportunity to see them before the ceremony and pick their favorites for the big night. As expected, this year’s batch of nominated documentaries spans from highly relevant and political to more personal stories of human interest. Below is our personal ranking of the films.
5. Hunger Ward
It seems that there has to be at least one documentary short nominated that is oppressively bleak to the point of being outright unpleasant to watch, and this year, that is Hunger Ward. Although the topic — starving children in war-torn third-world countries — is one that needs to be discussed, forty minutes of unflinching footage is just too much to bear after a certain point. Granted, this means it did accomplish its goal of horrifying the audience, but shock value alone does not make a powerful documentary.
Anthony Giacchino’s Colette offers an interesting biography of an extraordinary subject, but admittedly, it doesn’t do enough to set itself apart from the other documentaries we have seen about those fighting in the Resistance during WWII. It’s an interesting watch thanks to the fact that it has such a compelling story, but even at a mere twenty-four minutes, it ultimately feels like it stretches on for a bit too long. It holds its own among the nominees, but lacks that special factor to send it above and beyond.
3. A Concerto is a Conversation
Telling the story of co-director Kris Bowers, who is a successful film composer, A Concerto is a Conversation is a magnificent documentary that feels like it could be a winner if this year’s crop wasn’t so strong. Connecting personal experience with artistic expression, this is an intimate and poetic film that is probably the most beautiful of the five nominees. Additionally, the blend of a film-centric story with issues of racial identity are sure to earn this a lot of fans among viewers and voters.
2. A Love Song for Latasha
A Love Song for Latasha is the most ambitious of the five documentary shorts nominated this year, and also probably the most important. An experimental nonfiction film telling the story of a Black teenager who was murdered in a convenience store, one of the inciting factors of the L.A. riots of 1992, this is a soul-crushing film, but in a way that is thought-provoking. Particularly resonant given the recent surge in racially-motivated violence, it seems as if this has a good chance of winning thanks to its timeliness.
1. Do Not Split
There have been some good documentaries about the protests in Hong Kong and the shocking reaction that the Chinese government had to them, and Do Not Split adds another harrowing entry onto that list. There is some absolutely disgusting footage in this film, making it quite hard to watch, but it is still important to have discussions about this type of global event. Anders Hammer made this film very effectively, telling the story of these protestors in a way that is equal parts compelling and frustrating.
The 2021 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films are now in theaters and virtual cinemas.
By Sean Boelman
Every year, ShortsTV releases the Oscar-nominated short films in theaters, giving audiences the opportunity to see them before the ceremony and pick their favorites for the big night. While the animated selections are usually the most agreeable program, this year’s batch offers a good mix of crowd-pleasing and more experimental shorts. Below is our personal ranking of the films.
Every year, there is at least one nominee in one category that leaves viewers asking why and how it even got nominated in the first place. This year, that film is the Icelandic short Yes-People. Without any linguistic content, the film simply feels like watching a bunch of people doing random things in their day. Although this could theoretically be charming, a lackluster animation style and a lack of character development prevent this from being anything special. It’s almost an insult to the other films in the category that this was included.
4. Genius Loci
Genius Loci is one of the more abstract nominees this year, and while it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, at least it seems to have more of a point. There are some really wonderfully-animated scenes in the film, and the level of artistry on display from filmmaker Adrien Mérigeau shows that he has an exciting level of potential. At best, it’s a bit too much, and at worst, it’s altogether overwhelming, but it is consistently entertaining.
Every year, the Animated nominees include an obligatory Disney/Pixar short, but this year, Burrow isn’t the strongest contender. This cute exercise in world-building will win over some fans with its absolutely adorable animal protagonist, but it lacks the emotional impact that sets apart the best of the studio’s work. There were other films in the SparkShorts series this year, and they seem to have been more acclaimed and focus on more important issues, so why they went with this one is questionable. Still, it’s an easy and accessible watch.
Erick Oh’s short Opera is probably the most ambitious animated short nominated this year, but it isn’t a complete home run. There are some really interesting things happening in this intricate and detailed world in a mere nine minutes, so much so that viewers (and voters) may find themselves confused and overwhelmed after seeing it for the first time. That said, this is certainly a memorable film, and it demands repeat viewings and is conducive to discussion, which bodes well for people paying attention to it.
1. If Anything Happens I Love You
The best film in the category by a long shot, even if it isn’t perfect, If Anything Happens I Love You is a beautifully-made film telling a soul-crushing story. Although some will understandably accuse it of tear-jerking for the sake of it, this film will really resonate with audiences in a way that none of the other animated shorts do. And on top of that, it has the support of Netflix behind it, which can go a long way in marketing something in a lower-profile category like this.
The 2021 Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films hit theaters and virtual cinemas on April 2.
By Sean Boelman
Every year, ShortsTV releases the Oscar-nominated short films in theaters, giving audiences the opportunity to see them before the ceremony and pick their favorites for the big night. This year’s crop of live action short films is interesting, with a focus on timely and topical films. Below is our personal ranking of the films.
5. Two Distant Strangers
Although it deals with some very important subject matter, Two Distant Strangers is undeniably the weakest film in the bunch. Taking a Groundhog Day approach to police brutality, the film follows a young Black man who finds himself reliving the same deadly encounter over and over again. It’s a well-intentioned short, but the somewhat exploitative nature of the execution prevents it from ever resonating as it should. Although it is nice to see the Academy recognizing the necessity to talk about this topic, there are definitely better ways that this issue can be approached in film.
4. The Present
There is always at least one short that is absolutely heartbreaking, and this year, it is The Present. Thankfully, the film mostly treads the line between emotional and tear-jerking quite well, but by the end, it ends up feeling like altogether too much. A majority of the film is spent building to a climax that, while effective, is also very to-the-point. It would have been nice to see this short go deeper into some of its political implications.
3. White Eye
The Israeli film White Eye has the most wasted potential of the bunch of short films. It’s a well-made film with a compelling message, but like too many political shorts, it ends up feeling rather one-note. There are some interesting things happening in the character development, but the conflict feels a little bit too on-the-nose for it to be a slam dunk. The highlight of the film is undeniably a layered performance by lead actor Daniel Gad, but this is the type of short film that doesn’t feel like a fully cohesive whole.
2. The Letter Room
The Letter Room has an immediate advantage in the category, and that is the fact that it has a big star as the lead in Oscar Isaac. However, even though this is the film that will probably catch viewers’ (and voters’) immediate attention most easily, it is also probably the least likely to stick with viewers. Compared to the other four films in the category, what it has to say is less important. It is also the longest of the five films, and it is not paced well enough to accommodate.
1. Feeling Through
The clear standout in this year’s batch is Feeling Through, an uplifting film about a disadvantaged teen befriending a deafblind man. It’s a bit melodramatic, but it’s also undeniably sweet and moving. Great performances by Steven Prescod and Robert Tarango ground the film despite its occasionally maudlin elements, and writer-director Doug Roland’s empathetic hand is much welcome. It won’t be hard to get people behind this message of inclusivity, so don’t be surprised to see this one take home the statue come Oscar night.
The 2021 Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films hit theaters and virtual cinemas on April 2.
By Sean Boelman
After being forced to take a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SXSW Film Festival came back in 2021, this time in a virtual format. Presenting some exciting new independent cinema, the festival took place over five days, almost too short of a time to catch everything that one would want to see. Below are some of the films that we at disappointment media got the opportunity to screen and you should keep on your radar!
Alien on Stage
Alien on Stage is a fun little documentary following a group of bus drivers who get together to pursue their creative dreams. The idea of an unintentionally comedic stage adaptation of the sci-fi horror classic film Alien is ingenious, and we have filmmakers Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer to thank for bringing it to the world. And while it definitely would have been nice to see more in terms of the actors’ personal lives, the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the homage and the glimpses of the recorded production we get to see are very entertaining.
Broadcast Signal Intrusion
Every midnight movie section has a spot for a dark and gritty thriller, and at this year’s SXSW, that is Broadcast Signal Intrusion. Following a video archivist who becomes obsessed with a conspiracy involving sinister broadcasts, the atmosphere and aesthetic of the film is very effective, although the story does leave a lot to be desired. Harry Shum Jr. gives an excellent performance in the leading role, capturing that descent into madness quite well. But for the most part, it feels rather empty, a big mistake for a neo-noir like this.
The new TBS series Chad has an interesting premise, but the first two episodes do not bode well for the quality of the show. Starring Nasim Pedrad as a teenage boy, this isn’t an average coming-of-age story, but rather, an exercise in outright cringe humor. The first episode is one big joke about sexual assault, and the second is one big joke about race. There are a few moments that get laughs, but for the most part, it feels really tone-deaf and is often a struggle to get through.
William Basinski’s experimental composition The Disintegration Loops is undeniably one of the most magnificent avant-garde musical works ever made. And while the documentary Disintegration Loops offers some interesting insight into Basinski’s process, this is more a reflection of how the messages and nature of the piece mirrors what we are experiencing today in the COVID-19 pandemic. One would expect this to be a moving watch given that it is centered around one of the most beautiful odes to that tragedy, but it still feels like it is missing something.
The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson
Written, directed by, and starring Leah Purcell from her stage play (itself inspired by a classic short story), The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is the latest in a line of Australian revisionist Westerns to offer a spin on the history of the Down Under. Yet despite strong performances, this tale of a mother who will go to any lengths to protect her family is overwhelmingly familiar and heavy-handed. There are some beautiful shots, but as a whole, it’s an altogether average indie in need of an added dose of originality.
Fucking with Nobody
Finnish comedy Fucking with Nobody is probably the film at this year’s SXSW with the biggest amount of wasted potential. Following a woman who decides to engage in a fake social media relationship, the film has a lot to say about the online ecosystem, modern dating, and sex. However, the film ultimately feels overwhelmingly dry and academic, almost as if someone took their thesis paper and turned it into a screenplay, and as a result, these ideas never pay off in a particularly cinematic way.
Here Before is probably the most ambiguously marketed film at this year’s festival, with a logline that tells you basically nothing about the story, but that’s because it’s an exercise in atmosphere above everything else. Andrea Riseborough is strong in her leading turn, but there’s not enough happening in the storyline that is exciting or interesting to even sustain a mere eighty minutes. It looks nice, but quite frankly, it’s also very boring, making this one of the biggest disappointments of this year’s festival.
The Hunt for Planet B
The thing about space documentaries is that they have a built-in audience, and while Nathaniel Kahn’s film The Hunt for Planet B may not be the best entry in the genre, it’s still a pretty fascinating discussion of the search for life beyond Earth. The story of the Webb Space Telescope is fascinating, and while it was a peculiar choice to rush the film out rather than following the project to completion, these brilliant women make wonderful documentary subjects. The philosophical stuff isn’t as deep as it could be, but it’s still interesting nevertheless.
Introducing, Selma Blair
Telling the story of actress Selma Blair and her struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, the documentary Introducing, Selma Blair was one of the more emotional watches at this year’s SXSW. It’s an intimate and compassionate look into Blair’s personal life, with some impressively personal access. It’s not a biographical documentary in a traditional sense, but it’s more effective at making the audience appreciate Blair and her resilience than any general survey of her work ever could. This is one of the best documentary discoveries of the festival.
Travis Stevens’s horror flick Jakob’s Wife is the type of movie that is tailor-built for a cult following. A campy vampire movie starring cult icons Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden, this may not be a very good film, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. With plenty of great throwbacks to the greats of the genre from the ‘80s, this is the type of midnight picture that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Admittedly, even casual fans may have a hard time getting behind this one, but hardcore horror buffs will dig it.
Jasmine Stodel’s documentary Kid Candidate offers an interesting premise, following a young candidate running for City Council after his joke campaign turns into something real, but it doesn’t seem to understand how to explore its political implications. Stodel is unable to find a balance between exploring a meme and tracing a political campaign, and while the result is mostly entertaining, it also doesn’t leave much of an impact at all. With a significant re-edit, or maybe a different director at the helm, Hayden Pedigo’s story could have made for a compelling watch, but this documentary is too uneven to work.
There are a lot of films featured in this year’s SXSW lineup that are made in spite (or as a result) of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Natalie Morales’s feature debut Language Lessons stands out for being a pandemic film not about the pandemic. It’s a cute buddy comedy about a mourning man and a Spanish tutor who form an unexpected friendship, and while it does become repetitive after a certain point, it’s a mostly lovely film grounded by strong dialogue and great performances by Morales and Mark Duplass.
The Lost Sons
The Lost Sons tells a story that should be compelling — that of a man trying to discover who he is after an identity crisis that is both literal and figurative — but director Ursula Macfarlane is unable to find the core emotion of the film. The twists and turns are there, but what is missing is the hook. There have been much more compelling documentaries about people who were switched at birth, and Macfarlane fails to find a way to adequately differentiate her film’s story from those.
The documentary Luchadoras may be about female wrestlers at its core, but in reality, it’s a greater portrait of Mexican society and the misogyny that permeates it. Filmmakers Paola Calvo and Patrick Jasim tell these women’s individual stories and experiences and use them in a way to provide commentary on the issues facing the country and world on a greater scale. It’s a documentary that has a little bit to offer for everyone, from sports fans to those looking for a provocative thinkpiece.
The thing that is most surprising about Ninjababy is that it is unexpectedly sweet. Yngvild Sve Flikke’s film about a woman who suddenly discovers that she is six months pregnant struggles to find the right balance between dark humor and genuine heart, but it does some really interesting things along the way. Viewers will be left wishing that the film did more with its animated elements, but the emotion in the script and Kristine Kujath Thorp’s excellent performance allow this to be mostly effective.
Mickey Keating is an interesting filmmaker for sure, but his newest film, Offseason, didn’t work very well at all. The visual style is interesting, creating a moody and dreamy atmosphere, but the story is very basic and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Keating should be given props for not going Lovecraftian with his coastal horror like so many recent flicks have, but his approach isn’t all that much more entertaining. Occasionally creepy and never scary, this film is likely to leave viewers scratching their heads and asking why they just watched it.
Potato Dreams of America
Wes Hurley’s autobiographical coming out comedy Potato Dreams of America is authentic at its core, but this is buried beneath so many layers of tropes that it is an hour and a half of pure cheesiness. The aesthetic is terrible, feeling like a low-budget period piece that opted for campiness out of necessity rather than choice, and the script is inconsistent, with significant gaps that are never explored. Perhaps the only thing worth seeing here is a funny performance by Jonathan Bennett as a gay Jesus, but it’s too small a role to sit through the whole thing.
As a portrait of the phenomenally talented Cuban vocal quartet Vocal Vidas, Ivaylo Getov and Jeremy Ungar’s Soy Cubana is very entertaining and effective. However, it’s clear from the beginning that there is a lot more potential to this story than the average road trip music documentary. There are some subtle messages about Cuban-American relations that are interesting, even if they aren’t the focus of the film. Still, it’s a wholly inspiring and uplifting documentary celebrating Latina culture, and it’s lovely.
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free
Documentary filmmaker Mary Wharton is extremely talented at taking archive footage and turning it into something compelling and entertaining, but her newest work isn’t up to par. Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free offers some decent insight on the eponymous rocker’s songwriting process but it’s really more of an analysis of his album Wildflowers than a true music bio-doc. Fans will love the opportunity to hear some of Petty’s greatest hits, but those who aren’t hardcore devotees of his music probably won’t find much to enjoy in this surprisingly niche affair.
Under the Volcano
The documentary Under the Volcano benefits from featuring some of the greatest musical artists of all time, but otherwise, it’s a very by-the-numbers music documentary. Quite a few of the stories told in the film about the origins of these classic songs are really entertaining, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth to this doc. Clocking in at a lean ninety minutes, this is a film that musicophiles will definitely want to check out, but otherwise, it isn’t much to call home about.
Justine Bateman’s Violet is probably one of the most ambitious and unique films that played at this year’s SXSW, and it’s sure to be divisive among audiences. Following a film executive who has a conflict with the voice inside her head, it’s a somewhat straightforward story told in a way that is anything but. The film’s experimentations with form and structure make up for the fact that it is somewhat heavy-handed with its message. And on top of that, Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux carry this film extremely well.
WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
Jed Rothstein has made some very effective documentaries, but his newest, WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, falls victim to trying to be too much like other successful films. The biggest issue here is that the story of WeWork — a coworking start-up that became hugely successful before falling from grace — isn’t that compelling. So in trying to make it into a story of an entertaining colossal failure a la Fyre, Rothstein is trying to create a tension that isn’t there, and the result isn’t gripping enough to work.
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
A documentary version of civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson’s talk on the history of anti-Black racism in the United States, Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America is an eye-opening experience. Through interviews, archive materials, and personal testimony, Robinson paints a picture of how our country’s history is fundamentally tied to institutional racism. It’s a gripping call to action that needs to be heard, especially given how much things have escalated in the country in the past few years.
Elle Callahan’s Witch Hunt is perhaps the most marketable film to debut at this year’s festival. Set in an alternate present in which witchcraft is persecuted, this film benefits from its insanely cool concept, even if its execution isn’t always consistent. Callahan’s script signals the arrival of an exciting voice in the genre, with plenty of fresh ideas and a good way to say them. This is the entertaining, thoughtful, and exciting midnight movie that audiences love to see coming out of the festival circuit.
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror
For horror fans, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is sure to be a treat. An extensive exploration of the genre in its various forms, this is a heavily academic affair that looks at films from around the world, some familiar and others more obscure, and dissects the ways in which they reflect the cultures in which they were made. It’s fascinating stuff for cinephiles thanks to lots of great clips and informative interviews, but the more than three hour runtime is likely to keep this a fans-only prospect.
The online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival ran March 16-20.
By Sean Boelman
The Miami Film Festival serves the South Florida community every year with the best in cinema from around the world, but this year, the hybrid format allowed them to expand to audiences throughout the United States. With a lineup including submissions and shortlisted films for the Academy Award for Best International Film, plus great independent cinema from the U.S. and abroad, there was a bit of something for everyone at this year’s fest. Below are some of the films that we at disappointment media had the opportunity to screen at this year’s festival!
The disappointing thing about Hotel Coppelia is that it had the potential to be something special, but instead it settles for being a paint-by-numbers historical fiction melodrama about sex workers during the Dominican Civil War. More often than not, the film seems afraid to push any political buttons, and so it feels extremely soft. The production values are definitely impressive, but the lackluster script will keep the viewer from being immersed in this world. It’s a bunch of predictable and tear-jerking beats that come together into a bloated and uninteresting swing-and-a-miss.
Andreas Apostolidis’s documentary Latin Noir sets out to explore the connection between the political turmoil throughout Latin America and the genre of crime novels that it has inspired through the stories of five prolific authors. It’s an interesting and ambitious experiment, although its runtime of a mere fifty-four minutes keeps it from exploring every idea that is introduced in the film. The film either needed to be longer or streamlined as to focus on only two or three of the interviewees in more depth to make this a great documentary.
The Russian crime thriller Masha obviously wants to be an art house film when it’s really just a standard mobster movie. First-time filmmaker Anastasiya Palchikova shows a lot of promise, especially as a director, as there are some moments of harrowing brilliance. However, her script struggles to move beyond its familiar beats and mostly telegraphed emotion. Child actress Polina Gukhman gives a strong performance that keeps the film afloat, but otherwise, this competent but unexceptional flick largely fails to connect on a level beyond basic entertainment.
Although the comparisons to the (admittedly superior) Sound of Metal are inevitable, Riz Ahmed delivers yet another phenomenal and empathetic performance in Mogul Mowgli, which he also co-wrote. The film does have some of the typical shortcomings of directorial debuts in that much of the film in an aesthetic sense is spent trying to find a consistent style, but there are some absolutely brilliant moments here. The rap sequences are exceptional, but what really stands out about this film is the emotion of the script and performances.
My Heart Goes Boom!
Based on the music of Raffaella Carrá, the musical My Heart Goes Boom! serves as a much welcome reprieve from the generally darker tone of a lot of the festival’s selections. Although this rom-com following a dancer who gets wrapped up in a love triangle is predictable, it's more than cute enough to hold its own. The music is obviously great, and a few dance sequences that are purposefully unimpressive aside, most of the numbers are quite ambitious. It’s a wholesome and enjoyable crowd-pleaser, and festivals don’t often showcase those.
Pigeon Drop has an intriguing crime comedy premise, but it is executed in a way that is monotonous to the point of being unpleasant. Although the performances are consistently strong, the performances are written in a way that makes them thoroughly annoying. But on top of the fact that that film isn’t very entertaining, the film is outright offensive at points, using characters with learning disabilities as the butt of multiple jokes. It’s a strong idea that simply doesn’t amount to much at all.
Sin La Habana
Sin La Habana offers an intriguing premise, but its messages are frustratingly mixed. Following a Cuban dancer whose plan to get out of Cuba via a green card marriage goes awry, filmmaker Kaveh Nabatian’s film can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a hard-hitting immigration drama or a standard love triangle, and so it settles somewhere in-between that isn’t particularly satisfying. There are a few moments that show glimpses of potential, but it ends up being unintentionally toxic due to its subtext.
The 2021 Miami Film Festival runs in person and online from March 5-14, 2021.
By Sean Boelman
As is the case with so many film festivals these days, the Miami Film Festival is having to change its approach this year, adopting a hybrid model with virtual and select in-person screenings. This year’s lineup contains a wide variety of films, with a particular emphasis on international films. Viewers can expect to see some great flicks from around the world, including some phenomenal Ibero-American pictures. We at disappointment media have gotten the chance to see some of the film’s playing this year’s festival, and here are some of our favorites that you should be looking forward to:
Prolific filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s newest film Charlatan is representing the Czech Republic on the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, and it is absolutely wonderful. Part unorthodox biopic about a natural healer and part gay romance, this is a beautiful film, both narratively and visually. It’s a shame that this film won’t be able to screen as part of the in-person activities of this year’s hybrid festival, but it’s still worth checking out virtually as it is simply such a powerful watch.
The Boy From Medellín
Reggaeton superstar J Balvin makes for an interesting music documentary subject in Matthew Heineman’s The Boy from Medellín. However, even though this does feature plenty of excellent performance footage and backstage access, it is the political implications of the film that will really stick with viewers. The film says a lot about what it means to be a Latino in today's society and explores how violence is a fundamental part of Latin American history whether we like it or not. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly thought-provoking documentary.
The Pink Cloud
Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase’s quarantine-themed romance The Pink Cloud was filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic was even a threat, but its themes obviously ring very true given what we have experienced in the past year. Following two people who just met and find themselves stuck together when a toxic pink cloud appears, this is an eerie but surprisingly sweet and romantic drama, combined with what is perhaps one of the most effective examples of worldbuilding you will see this year.
Tracy Deer’s film Beans may fall victim to a few coming-of-age cliches in its runtime, but that doesn’t make its story any less resonant. Set against the backdrop of the Oka Crisis is 1990, the film tells the story of a young girl who struggles to come to terms with her Indigenous identity. It’s the type of film that sneaks up on you and packs a phenomenal emotional punch by the end. And young actress Kiawentiio’s lead performance as the eponymous teen is absolutely excellent.
Ludi is this year’s Opening Night Selection for the festival, and it is not surprising given the film’s local connection. This story of a Haitian-American nurse struggling to make ends meet starts out very strong, and even though it turns into something a bit more conventional in the second half, it still has a wonderful message. Shein Mompremier’s performance as the protagonist is very nuanced, bringing out the emotion in the script. Despite its flaws, it’s a mostly moving film that is sure to connect with viewers locally and nationally.
The 2021 Miami Film Festival runs in person and online from March 5-14, 2021.
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 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.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.