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.
By Dan Skip Allen
The Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) at long last announced their awards on a one-hour broadcast on TNT & TBS simultaneously. The show was pre-recorded Wednesday and surprisingly there weren't any leaks, with the one exception being Wonder Woman 1984 being leaked as Best Stunt Ensemble, an award its predecessor won two years ago.
The show was littered with actor interviews and commentaries throughout the broadcast. The actors were gushing about the films they had seen and the other actors in the various categories other than themselves. This helped the one-hour broadcast go by very fast, but not as fast as if they had only announced the nominees and winners instead. This goes with the tradition of the SAG's having a few actors doing the "I Am An Actor" bit at the beginning of the broadcast each year. It helps to know a little bit about where these people come from and who they are as people before they were actors. I always like this cold opening on previous broadcasts.
The big winner on the night was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom pulling in the two leading actor awards out of a potential 4 awards it could have gotten. Chadwick Boseman won for the best performance by a leading actor in a movie for his role of Levy and Viola Davis won for best performance by a female in a movie. Boseman won posthumously and his widow accepted on his behalf. Does this bode well for these actors at the Academy Awards? Who knows? It's a good sign, though.
The other big award of the night was given to the huge cast of Trial of the Chicago 7, as it won the award for best ensemble in a movie. The cast made it the obvious choice to win, but the Academy Awards might have something different to say on the matter. They don't nominate because of the cast, they nominate because of the quality of the film as a whole. Aaron Sorkin and Sacha Baron Cohen both still have a chance to win as well at the Oscars.
The Best Supporting Actor and Actress Awards went to Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah as Fred Hampton and Youn Yuh-jung for Minari as the feisty grandmother in the beautiful family drama. This might put a monkey wrench into an already confusing best-supporting actress race because somebody different has won at every awards ceremony so far: Maria Bakalova at the Critics Choice Awards, Jodie Foster at the Golden Globe Awards, and now Youn at the SAGs. Is this a good sign for Glenn Close? We will see.
If my predictions are to be believed on Gold Derby, the race in some of these categories isn't over yet. I went 2 for 6, and that's not very good. Boseman, Kaluuya, Zhao and Nomadland, and Soul seem like the only certainties going into the Academy Awards in three weeks. Maybe the BAFTAS can shine a little more light on this already confusing awards season so far.
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 Dan Skip Allen
Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon have taken things back to the day of classic hand-drawn animation with their three films in the last decade: Song of the Sea, The Secret of the Kells, and Wolfwalkers, challenging the dominance of major studios like Disney and DreamWorks.
Disney has cornered the market on hand-drawn animated films for decades. They even had a renaissance in the '90s to secure themselves as the best animation studio ever. Then the age of computer animation started with Pixar. Disney eventually bought them to secure their place at the top of the animation mountain once again.
Over the past two decades, Illumination Media, Blue Sky, Studio Ghibli, Laika, and DreamWorks Animation have leveled the playing field. Cartoon Saloon hopes to take a bite out of that apple (pun intended) with their latest film Wolfwalkers, which is currently available to watch on Apple TV+.
The Secret of the Kells was the first of the Cartoon Saloon Films that came out in 2009. It's a story that takes place in the remote Irish woods, Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) prepares a fortress for an impending attack by a Viking war party. Unbeknown to Cellach, his young nephew Brendan (Evan McGuire) who has no taste for battle works secretly as an apprentice in the scriptorium of the local monastery, learning the ancient art of calligraphy. As the Vikings approach, revered illuminator Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives at the monastery and recruits Brendan to complete a series of dangerous, magical tasks. Tomm Moore and Mora Twomey directed this one from a script by Moore and Fabrice Ziolkowski.
The second film from Cartoon Saloon was Song of the Sea in 2014. An Irish youth, Ben (David Rawle), discovers that his mute sister Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell) is a selkie who must find her voice and free supernatural creatures from the spell of a Celtic goddess (Fionnula Flanagan). Directed by Moore and Written by Moore and Will Collins.
This past year, Wolfwalkers came out, making it the third film from Moore and Cartoon Saloon. In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), comes to Ireland with her father Bill Goodfellow (Sean Bean) to wipe out the last pack. But when Robyn saves a wild native girl, Mesh(Ava Whitaker), their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transform her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy. This one was written and directed by Moore and Ross Stewart.
Moore, the writer, director, and producer of these films is a native of Newry, Ireland. It makes sense that all his films are set in times and locations throughout Irish history. He has a lot of Irish lore to pull from to come up with these fantastic stories of his. They are set in a world of fantasy and imagination. Kids and adults of all ages can get behind these incredible movies.
As a bonus, all three of Moore's films have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It's always great when your peers honor you and your work with awards or nominations for awards. Along with Moore's films, Mora Twomey's The Breadwinner from 2017 (another Cartoon Saloon film) was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category.
As a fan of great animated films from decades past, I can say Moore and Cartoon Saloon are doing a great job bringing back this long-forgotten artform. The hand-drawn animated film is something that is an amazing achievement when done right. Cartoon Saloon and Moore should be applauded for the great films they've created and the imagination they have created on screens of all sizes through the last decade.
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.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.