Entertainment, awards and the pandemic
Hollywood’s drastic shift to keep up with the changing times
On February 28, 2021, the 78th annual Golden Globes awards were held, virtually, from Los Angeles and New York. Funny ladies Amy Poehler and Tina Fey did their best to usher the 3-plus hour telecast through a rash of technical difficulties associated with modern communications, resulting in one of the lowest rated broadcasts in their history. Down 68%, only 5.4 million people watched, indicating the upcoming SAG awards (April 4) and The Academy Awards (April 25) may continue the struggle to find audiences. Remember when the Oscars were always the most popular broadcast of the year? In 1998, the year Titanic won, 57.25 million people watched. In 2020, when Parasite was the surprise winner, only 23.6 million, an all-time low.
The finger pointing continues as to why there is such declining interest in award shows. Hollywood and the entertainment industry have a long tradition of celebrating and congratulating themselves, could it be that that level of self-indulgence, especially during a pandemic, is a tone deaf one? Perhaps, but I’m taking the opposite critique. When the nominated movies are not seen by wide audiences, typically there’s a lessened interest, no matter the big star nominees. If the work is not viewed on a large scale, why tune in to see if it wins or not? This extraordinary year we’ve all experienced and hopefully survived, has shown the importance of entertainment in society. Going out to be entertained has been largely prohibited and that continues, but so does creativity. The films made over the last year and a half to be eligible for consideration are no less captivating. They are also available to most audiences around the world who have internet or on-demand access, so, going to a theatre is not necessary. I’m blessed and fortunate to be in the union, SAG/AFTRA, which allows its members to view the films and television shows nominated to be fully informed before voting in late March. The last 2 weeks have had me watching 2, sometimes 3 films a day, doing my research. I thought I’d share my recommendations with you.
10 Films to watch this awards season
The tagline “Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” says it all. Director Chloe Zhao will hopefully become only the 2nd female in Oscar history to win Best Director for this beautiful film. It’s simple, purposefully unrushed, and filled with identifications and fears that reflect in us all. Frances McDormand gives another performance worthy of her third Oscar and it’s the film that has lived with me the most since I saw it. (available on Hulu and where theaters are open)
An American story, with the protagonists being an immigrant family from South Korea who move to the Midwest to start a farm, is an emotional and moving experience. Director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical portrayal of a family trying to stay together amidst insurmountable odds, is universal in its theme and must-see viewing. A spectacular work, one of my favorite films of the year. (available on Amazon Prime Video and on-demand at Google play and Apple stores)
3. Judas and the Black Messiah
Daniel Kaluuya is surely to see his second Oscar nomination for this electrifying performance in Director/Writer Shaka King’s instant classic, deserving a unique place in the annuls of films devoted to the history of the civil rights movement. Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are 2 actors of boundless charisma at the tops of their games. I also want to shout out actor Jesse Plemons, underrated and yet one of the industry’s best actors. (available on HBO Max)
4. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Aaron Sorkin is one of Hollywood’s most prolific writers (A Few Good Men, The West Wing). His expertise in the courtroom drama has provided, once again, with gripping prowess that makes you feel on the edge of your seat. Or couch. Based on the 1969 trial of 7 defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention which transfixed the nation. The acting is high A-level with the best in the business chewing Aaron’s dialogue like a 5-star Michelin restaurant meal. Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, among others, commit perfectly making this one of the best ensembles of the year. (Netflix)
5. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Watching Chadwick Boseman in this brilliant performance affirms to me that this will, sadly, be his year to win the Oscar. Well deserved, as I watched him go I could see him performing the role of Levee Green 8 shows a week in New York on Broadway at the theatre named for the legendary playwright, August Wilson. Alongside theatre royalty Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a masterclass in acting under George C Wolfe’s direction. (Netflix)
6. The Father
This heartbreaking work of staggering brilliance left me feeling emotional and grateful. Dementia is so hard to deal with and Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as Father and Daughter make the audience laugh and cry as if they’re members of a family we’re all so familiar with. It’s a movie that unfolds, under Florian Zeller’s Direction, like a precious and rare flower. Have tissue handy or watch it alone. (available March 24 on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, iTunes and on demand)
7. One Night in Miami
First time Director and industry favorite Regina King hits it out of the park with this riveting film. Brilliantly cast, she takes 4 very accomplished actors through an almost theatrical-like ride on a night in a Miami motel in 1964. Never once did I feel them impersonating some of the most well-known figures in Black history, more of a complete ensemble meshing perfectly like an orchestra. Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr., as Sam Cooke, is a standout amongst the above the boards cast. (Amazon Prime Video)
When growing up Black in America, all you long for is to see representation of yourself in film and the media, in a positive light. Disney gives kids of all ages and colors that chance in Soul. The voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey and the magnificent animators at Pixar have unveiled another classic. Renowned musician Jon Batiste composes some of his original jazz tunes to this great story of discovery and what’s really important in life. (available on Disney+)
Another film that’s great for the family, this look at friendship in a time of superstition and magic, is a terrific adventure. Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, this the third and final installment in Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy”, the 2 previous being The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Not enough family films and comedies are recognized by the Academy, they should be. (Apple TV)
10. Da 5 Bloods
I feel like Spike Lee is like a fine wine that gets better with age. He has meant so much to film and the Black community, each outing of late seems to leapfrog each other to the top shelf of 4 acres and a Mule (Spike’s production company). Da 5 Bloods features the tightest cast of actors in the business, with another brilliant performance from Chadwick Boseman. This chaotic, engaging and often humorous look at 4 Black veterans returning to Vietnam is a bit jumpy in tonal shifting, but, I think Spike meant for it to be that way and no one is better at ‘the slice of Black life’ than Spike. (Netflix)
Andra Day in The United States vs Billie Holliday
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman
Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal
Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried in Mank
Jared Leto in The Little Things
I was late to this party, and didn’t discover it until the 3rd lockdown. First on PopTv and now on Netflix, 6 seasons of side-splitting comedy are just now being recognized by the industry as ground breaking and one of the all time greats. It’s sweeping awards season as well it should. So many comedy genius’ hail from Canada and having greats Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara bang at my funny bone episode after episode has caused me to become OCD on this show. Perfect pandemic viewing.
Awards shows, during these extraordinary times, seem as tone-deaf as Oprah’s latest interview with 2 very wealthy celebrity/royals, from their Santa Barbara estate, complaining about mistreatment and lack of privacy. Nobody reads the room anymore. I’ve always appreciated movies for escapism and going to the theatre, often in the middle of the day and alone, is deeply missed (Los Angeles movie theatres may reopen in this or next month, sparking hopes). Being in movies was never something I thought would ever happen to me and my gratitude is eternal. I know that film makers and creatives give their all to tell the best story to the best of their and the creative process abilities with hopes that the escapism transforms all viewers, albeit for a brief moment in time. Little thought is given to awards when the creative process is allowed to thrive and the need for such product is necessary now more than ever. Support for the Arts is vital and crucial to all societies worldwide and we must continue to prioritize that support as we move out of this and into another new world of relations and communications. The Arts have a powerful ability to bring us together though we may be separated by distance, socially or otherwise. We cannot take this for granted.
What’s your favorite film of the season?
Will you watch the awards shows?