Friday, January 31, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Minari

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Minari
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Immigrants in America are a frequent focus of cinema, particularly when it comes to the Sundance Film Festival. Each country and culture brings with it different elements and challenges, highlighted ever so starkly when compared to the traditionally American way of doing things. Prosperity is assuredly not immediate, and those who have worked in well-paying and high-ranking jobs may be relegated to manual labor and basic tasks to earn a living. What they maintain of their old lives serves as a tether that keeps them going, determined to succeed, even if the road there is long and difficult.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Yeri) move from California to Arkansas with their children Annie (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim). Jacob plans to have a vast garden where he will grow Korean vegetables with the help of eccentric war veteran Paul (Will Patton), while both parents work at a local chicken hatchery. When Monica’s mother Soonja (Yuh Jung Youn) comes to America and joins them, David begins acting out because he doesn’t think she acts like a real grandmother. As the family lives together in close quarters with only distant neighbors, they begin to wonder whether the American dream is both attainable and worth it.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based much on this film on his own experience growing up in Arkansas as the child of Korean immigrants. The authenticity comes through in this endearing portrait of a family trying to adjust, plagued far more by boredom and isolation than any sort of discrimination. Jacob’s devotion to his big business idea also serves as a source of conflict between him and Monica, who spends more time on caring for David’s heart condition and working to be extremely efficient in a work environment that doesn’t demand the same speed and productivity she grew accustomed to in Korea.

The cast here is exceptional, led by Yeun, best known for “The Walking Dead” and “Burning,” who turns in a reserved performance as a patriarch committed to providing for his family. Youn is entertaining as Soonja, providing plenty of welcome humor in her commentary on the distinction between American and Korean valued. The real breakout is Kim, who steals all of his scenes as a selectively precocious child. This film is an affirming and affecting story of hard work and unpredictability, tied together compellingly by great characters and a very worthwhile story.

B+

Sundance with Abe: The Evening Hour

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Evening Hour
Directed by Braden King
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Living in a small town means that most people know each other, and secrets don’t usually get kept for long. In most cases, that which isn’t discussed or acknowledged is still known, permitted to occur because there are those who see the benefits along with few advantages of causing problems for others. Drug dealing is one such poorly-kept secret, with those who aren’t serving as customers keeping what they know to themselves either because they don’t want to bring trouble upon their own homes or because they know that whatever might replace it could be worse.

Cole (Philip Ettinger) lives in the mountains of West Virginia, where he works as an aide at a nursing home. He also buys and sells prescription pills all around town, making sure never to take from his day job and steering clear of Everett (Marc Menchaca), an ex-convict who traffics in hard drugs. When an old friend, Terry (Cosmo Jarvis), comes back to town looking to get into the drug business, Cole’s life becomes infinitely more complicated as he juggles his unpredictable girlfriend (Stacy Martin), a new romantic interest (Kerry Bishe), and the return of his absent mother (Lili Taylor).

This film is best described as a slow-burn dramatic thriller, presenting its events calmly and building tension and suspense as it becomes clear just how out of control Cole’s situation has become. He’s very well-liked and highly regarded in town, and the web of characters are so closely interconnected that his work colleague is dating a cop, putting the law just a short distance from him at all times. He’s also someone who does whatever he can for others, something that Terry knows and aims to utilize so that he can achieve what he wants. Cole’s kindness is his own undoing, and he knows that he’s the one who will have to clean up this mess.

Ettinger is a decent lead, and he’s well-supported by strong turns in the supporting cast from Jarvis, Martin, Bishe, Menchaca and Michael Trotter, who portrays Cole’s closest confidante and the comic relief of the film. This story feels familiar in many ways, but the pacing, cinematography, and specific plot help to set it apart and make it worthwhile. This feels like an immersive journey into a community far from big cities, where the things people do to stave off boredom can have dire consequences, as conveyed in this dark story.

B

Sundance with Abe: The Glorias

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Glorias
Directed by Julie Taymor
Premieres

Biopics are often made about people after they have accomplished monumental things or died a premature death in the process of trying to achieve change. There are many different recipes and formulas for how to create a cinematic portrait of a person’s life, with the option to focus on its sum total or just a small time period that was particularly influential. The notion is to capture the entire person and what they represented, or, in the case of someone still living and working, what has most defined them up until this point.

Gloria Steinem (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) grows up looking up to her entertainer father (Timothy Hutton), who is always on the road while she is at home taking care of her ailing mother. As she becomes a teenager (Lulu Wilson) and a young adult (Alicia Vikander), Gloria finds that being a female writer takes considerable extra effort. Inspired by her time abroad in India and the many proud female figures she encounters throughout her life, Gloria becomes a leader in a movement for change, to acknowledge women’s rights and see them put into action. Her causes are not all her own, as she hears the struggles of others and seeks to use her platform - and her very successful magazine - to boost their message.

The film’s title refers to the many identities Gloria has had over the course of her life, and casting four actresses to portray her proves to be an effective decision. Her younger selves embody curiosity and intelligence, while her older forms are less optimistic about the world but determined to see some of what they don’t like repaired. One device director Julie Taymor uses to tie the film together is that of a bus traveling on a seemingly endless highway, with all actresses aboard and conversing with each other about a crucial moment or decision. It doesn’t feel natural but serves to give some insight into Gloria’s growth and passion.

There are a few moments where reality is abandoned altogether and this film takes a wild dive into special effects and visual interpretations of the rage and injustice felt by its protagonist. Those don’t work terribly well, jarring the audience out of an otherwise perfectly decent narrative film. Gloria’s identities are well cast with four talented actresses, and contributions in the supporting cast are most felt by Janelle Monae and Lorraine Toussaint as fellow activists. This film finishes powerfully, capping a 139-minute saga that can’t possibly cover everything about its formidable main character but presents a stirring summary.

B

Sundance with Abe: Ema

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


I'm writing up some of the films I see for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on "Ema," the latest film from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, last at Sundance in 2013 with the film "No."

Sundance with Abe: Ema

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Horse Girl

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Horse Girl
Directed by Jeff Baena
Premieres

Some people see the world in pretty wild ways. They may not convey their openness to the unusual to others, and their beliefs only become apparent when a major life event happens that gets them thinking or sends them on a particular course. What they hold to be true or possible may surprise those who know them best, unaware that they subscribe to such notions, and they can be quite jarring and alienating to friends and family who don’t agree or have their minds more closed off to the unknown and unlikely.

Sarah (Alison Brie) lives a low-key life, working at a crafts store with her kindly colleague Joan (Molly Shannon), hanging around the stables where the horse she used to ride as a child is now ridden by a new generation, and watching her favorite supernatural TV series each night. When Sarah starts to have strange dreams, she thinks back to her mother and her grandmother’s history of mental illness, and begins to wonder whether they were actually crazy or just more aware of something else - like, say, an alien abduction. Sarah’s life begins to spin out of control, inviting support from a new potential love interest, Darren (John Reynolds), and condemnation from her roommate (Debby Ryan).

This is the kind of film that starts out as one thing and then mutates entirely into something else. Sarah is quirky and hopelessly nice, immune to negative thoughts and to the reality of how others perceive her. She comes to the stables offering to take care of her horse and can’t comprehend that her presence isn’t welcome, but she exudes such a genuine desire to help both there and when she’s at her job. Meeting Darren opens up something she’s never experienced before, and his willingness to accept what she says makes her feel even more hopeful, until things come crashing down and she realizes that her out-there beliefs seem crazy to everyone else.

Brie, who co-wrote this film with director Jeff Baena, is undoubtedly the right choice to play this part, bringing sweetness and sincerity to Sarah and then an intensity that serves the character well. Shannon and Reynolds fit their parts exactly as they should, with none of the rest of the supporting cast standing out all that much. This film is intriguing and inviting at its start but then spirals downwards with its main character, indulging her unique perspective in a way that’s mystifying in an unsatisfying way. There’s something interesting to be explored here, but this film goes overboard in its determination to find it.

B-

Sundance with Abe: Nine Days

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Wendy

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Sundance with Abe: Wander Darkly

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Sundance with Abe: Miss Juneteenth

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Sundance with Abe: Save Yourselves

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Sundance with Abe: The Father

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Father
Directed by Florian Zeller
Premieres

One of the most tragic aspects of memory loss is that the person experiencing is often not aware that they are starting to forget things. It’s not uncommon to find those with dementia insisting that they know what is going on and that they don’t need any help while simultaneously confusing events, people, and location. Those who care for them are doubly burdened by having to watch their loved ones lose part of themselves and get yelled at in the process for trying to do what they know to be best for them. This subject matter is, unfortunately, all too familiar to many people.

Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is visited by his daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman), who comes to tell him that she is moving to Paris with her boyfriend and needs to arrange for a new caregiver after he fired the last one. When next he sees her, Anne (Olivia Williams) looks different, and has a husband (Mark Gattis), with no plans of any kind to move to Paris. As he meets a new caregiver (Imogen Poots) who reminds him of his other daughter and another man claiming to be Anne’s husband (Rufus Sewell), Anthony struggles to comprehend what’s real and if his mind is indeed playing tricks on him.

This film, originally staged as a play by director Florian Zeller and adapted with Christopher Hampton, makes extraordinary use of its sets to enhance the disorienting nature of Anthony’s experience. Each new room he walks into may introduce new faces and erase others, and, though he believes the entire time that he is living in his own flat, that isn’t the case every time he begins a new conversation. Casting multiple actors in the same parts helps the audience connect with Anthony’s confusion and understand his insistence that what he saw moments earlier couldn’t be entirely within his own mind.

Hopkins, an Oscar nominee for “The Two Popes,” delivers an energetic turn as a man unwilling to have his life and his independence taken away from him, alternating between cruel anger and genuine dismay at the changing reality around him. Colman, not playing a queen, is sympathetic and representative of audience members with far too much personal experience with this phenomenon, and Poots, in a small role, embodies a sweetness that comes with approaching a situation like this from the outside. This film will surely be an emotional experience for those who find it relatable, and those who haven’t yet been through it should also find it compelling.

B+

Sundance with Abe: The Killing of Two Lovers

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Killing of Two Lovers
Directed by Robert Machoian
NEXT

A trial separation can mean many things. It’s often an opportunity for a couple to see what life looks like without their relationship being front and center. Undertaking that decision is a complicated matter, and both parties may not be completely in sync about why they’re doing it and whether or not to go forward with it. Once that period begins, both partners move in separate directions, and one hoping to get back together may be devastated by the other’s ease at moving on.

David (Clayne Crawford) is living with his father in the house he grew up in, just down the street from his wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) and their four children. He stops by often and takes them to school, and they occasionally schedule a date night to check in with each other. While he maintains a positive front, he is disturbed by the fact that she is apparently dating someone else (Chris Coy). His children express displeasure at that reality as well, supporting their father’s presence in their family but hardly helping his case with Nikki.

This film begins with David standing over Nikki as she sleeps in bed with a gun pointed at her head before he jumps out the window and jogs back down the street to where he’s supposed to be. That disconcerting start leaves a cloud hanging over the entire film as tensions build, particularly when David is confronted by the man who he believes is actively working to break up his family. The cinematography by Oscar Ignacio Jimenez preserves a tight focus on the film’s characters, often zooming in to show their faces up close as they navigate uncertain conversations and problematic emotions.

Crawford, best known for his roles on the TV series “Rectify” and “Lethal Weapon,” turns in a powerhouse performance as David, conveying deep pain and fury and bottling it up when he must show a brave face to his kids. Moafi, recently seen on “The L Word: Generation Q,” is terrific opposite him, making Nikki imperfect and compelling. Coy and the young actors playing David and Nikki’s children round out an excellent cast. This film, which takes place in rural Utah and has a sober, isolated feel to it, is a surprising and extremely captivating look at rich characters and the highs and lows of relationships, and everything in between.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Blast Beat

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Blast Beat
Directed by Esteban Arango
U.S. Dramatic Competition

People moving to the United States look forward to different things. For many, the American dream represents a chance to start fresh and achieve anything, with boundless opportunities and optimism to be found around every corner. While that isn’t always the case, especially for those who don’t “look” like the typical American or can’t speak the language, a move is usually met with excitement. Those within the same family, however, may disagree based on what they want to do with their lives and where they think offers them the brightest possibilities.

As a result of unrest and threats, Ernesto (Wilmer Valderrama) departs Colombia to start a life for his family in Atlanta. Soon after, his sons Carly (Mateo Arias) and Mateo (Moises Arias) follow with his wife (Diane Guerrero). Carly is ecstatic about the chance to apply to a scientific institute in Georgia so that he can pursue a career at NASA, while Mateo misses his friend at home and expresses sarcastic excitement at the idea of becoming obese. The two brothers clash with each other and those who look down on them, struggling to adjust to a new life.

This film is a compelling portrait of the immigrant experience, with classmates at the boys’ new school dismissing their confirmation of their home country as just a part of Mexico and taunting them because of the shade of their skin. But this film is also laced with humor and personality, with Carly and Mateo still acting like kids in certain respects while focusing on their true ambitions, science for Carly and drawing for Mateo. Their parents are supportive and kind but also rely on their children to make an effort, something they don’t always do, especially when they pick fights with each other.

This film’s greatest success is casting real-life brothers as its protagonists. Though Moises plays Mateo and is actually older, their onscreen chemistry is fantastic, and both bring such entertaining energy to their performances. Their roles feel lived-in, and their interactions with others are just as terrific as with each other. They should both have long and worthwhile careers ahead of them if anyone with authority over casting sees this movie. The impressive debut of director Esteban Arango is funny, unique, and memorable, showcasing what it means to be a family and to go through major changes both apart and together, mixing comedy and drama in a seamless, captivating way.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Lost Girls

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Farewell Amor

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Sundance with Abe: Sergio

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Wendy

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


I'm writing up some of the films I see for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on "Wendy," Benh Zeitlin's wondrous reimagining of Peter Pan that serves as a superb follow-up to "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Sundance with Abe: The Nest

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Nest
Directed by Sean Durkin
Premieres

Any marriage or relationship requires compromise, and both parties must have an appreciation of the other’s needs and desires. A couple may decide to move for a job for one of them or to be nearer to family. There should be a fairness and balance to such decisions, with concessions made and possibilities discussed rather than just being stated as fact. Relationships can survive big, and even multiple, changes, but only if communication remains open and a mutual sense of respect is preserved.

Rory (Jude Law) convinces his wife Allison (Carrie Coon) to move with their two children (Oona Roche and Charlie Shotwell) from New York to London so that he can pursue a business opportunity he believes will pay off tremendously with the shifting economy of the 1980s. His lease of a giant manor seems excessive, and Rory quickly learns that not all his grand ideas will work as well as he had hoped. Resentful of his impulsiveness and failure to deliver, Allison attempts to get back to her work as a horse trainer and find some sense of purpose in a life dictated by her spouse unable to see his own shortcomings.

This is a film that deals with what it means to feel at home, something that Allison and her children struggle with as soon as they arrive in London, while Rory immediately embraces a reprieve from American sensibilities he doesn’t much like. When he brings Allison along to dinners and parties, his tendency to exaggerate and say what he believes other people want to hear rather than being honest becomes apparent, and his ambition is revealed as his ultimate crutch. Through biting retorts and calculated actions, Allison expresses her displeasure, both with her irresponsible husband and societal conventions that she deems archaic and inane.

This is a role that Law has played before, but he’s well-suited for it and demonstrates both a tremendous exhilaration with hitting it big and a disastrous spiral when things fall apart. Coon, a formidable part of “The Leftovers,” dominates all of her scenes opposite Law, ensuring that Allison is heard even if she really isn’t seen. Roche and Shotwell are both good, filling their subplots as they experiment with what this new place means for them. The film, while intriguing, never reaches a point of true resonance, settling instead for a bleak portrait of two people who may just be miserable for the rest of their lives.

B-

Sundance with Abe: Uncle Frank

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Uncle Frank
Directed by Alan Ball
Premieres

Following his extraordinary Oscar-winning screenwriting debut with “American Beauty” in 1999, Alan Ball has made projects that deal largely with underrepresented groups and their interpersonal experiences in the world. “Six Feet Under” was a mesmerizing take on what it means to die - and to live - and “True Blood” used vampires as a metaphor for other minorities. His directorial debut film, “Towelhead,” looked at being Lebanese in Texas. Now, twelve years later, Ball is back with his second film, examining being gay in the 1970s and coming from a southern family, all as seen through the impressionable eyes of a college student.

Beth (Sophie Lilllis) departs her small South Carolina hometown to go to college in New York City, where she has the opportunity to get to know her Uncle Frank (Paul Brittany), who inspired her as a teenager to pursue her dreams. She quickly learns that Frank is gay and living with his boyfriend Wally (Peter Macdissi). When her grandfather dies, Frank and Beth begin a road trip back home which allows her to discover a good deal about her uncle as he grapples with horrible memories of what his father thought of him and how that shaped his life.

This film is rightfully titled with Frank’s name since Beth doesn’t play a huge part in the overall story, despite her helpful presence in framing it. Lillis deserves tremendous praise for standing out in each scene, determined to be heard and to give herself a voice, unhappy with the culturally accepted norms of the time that subjugate women. Bettany is excellent as well, making Frank layered and complex, crumbling as the final confrontation with his father brings him back to truly disturbing formative moments. Ball regular Macdissi provides superb comic relief and serves as a comforting, kind presence, and, in a small role as Beth’s mother, Judy Greer delights in each scene.

This film’s narrative isn’t entirely original, but the touches that Ball puts on it are recognizable and appreciated. The curiosity Beth expresses helps to make Frank all the more mysterious and alluring, and there’s a true humanity and sincerity to Wally that makes him very endearing, particularly as he copes with his partner not wanting him at his father’s funeral since he couldn’t possibly explain who he was to his family. This is a stirring, emotional film that affirms that Ball should continue making passion projects, bringing a sensitivity and understanding of his material each time.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Kajillionaire

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Kajillionaire
Directed by Miranda July
Premieres

Miranda July is a filmmaker known for her fascinating approach to storytelling. Her 2005 film “Me and You and Everyone We Know” presented a unique vision of interpersonal relationships and the way the world works. Her 2011 follow-up, “The Future,” was more intimate but just as peculiar, less satisfying overall due to its failure to match the wonder of her debut. Now, nine years later, she’s back, this time only behind the camera and not also in front of it, with a theoretically more normative fable about value and what it means to be rich, which, unsurprisingly, is both incredibly alluring and deeply bizarre.

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) lives with her parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) in a small building whose walls leak foam on a nightly basis. They spend all their time planning cons and trying to trade what they have for anything better, splitting everything three ways. When they win a trip to New York, Old Dolio devises a scheme to file a missing bag claim to collect a travel insurance payout so that they can make their much-delayed rent. What she doesn’t account for is a talkative stranger, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), who Robert eagerly invites to join them in the con, making Old Dolio question her role in the family.

It’s hard to imagine that these three people could walk through life as they do and not arouse a considerable degree of suspicion, particularly because they never change their clothes and, in Old Dolio’s case, she wears many layers under an impossibly baggy jumpsuit so that she can have a costume change ready at a moment’s notice for her latest deception. At times, they seem to delight so much in what it is they’re doing, while at others they slip out of character and reveal their base natures when haggling for a fair reward proves unsuccessful. Melanie is all too trusting, but she also seems to get some joy from feeling useful and getting to be a part of the game. These characters, at least to this degree, couldn’t actually exist and be real, but that’s just the nature of the wild world presented in this film.

Wood, who has been seen most recently as a calm, polished host on “Westworld,” transforms incredibly into the dry, lanky Old Dolio, whose vast knowledge of random things dwarfs her very poor social skills. Jenkins and Winger are superb as always, and Rodriguez proves to be a great fit as well, shedding her clean “Jane the Virgin” image to play someone with less clear motivations and less pure intentions. This film, while immensely watchable, doesn’t manage to be overly satisfying since it’s impossible to distinguish between reality and imagination. That may be the point here, but the magic isn’t entirely effective.

B-

Sundance with Abe: Herself

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Herself
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Premieres

There are many questions people ask when relationships are revealed to be abusive, and the answers are never easy or simple. It’s difficult for someone on the outside to understand what it’s truly like and to put themselves in the shoes of the victim, who may feel a sense of sheer terror that any attempt to get away could result in even harsher consequences. Those that do have a plan to get out may find their efforts foiled by circumstances beyond their control, and even if they are able to make an escape, they aren’t completely out of harm’s way.

Sandra (Clare Dunne) is brutally attacked by her husband when he finds money she has been hiding, and a prepared plan with her eldest daughter results in the police being called. Placed in city housing, Sandra yearns for more stability and security for her two daughters. She finds a video tutorial online that tells her that she can build a house on her own for €35,000, and thanks to the kindness of the woman who employs her as a house cleaner, she has a lot on which to build. With a crack team of volunteers, work begins on this dream house as the threat of Sandra’s husband remains all too strong, particularly when one of her daughters repeatedly refuses to go with him on his assigned custody days.

This film opens violently, with Sandra’s hand injured maliciously by the man who seeks to exert control over her. Watching Sandra develop strength and conviction is an inspiring process, though the journey is full of deeply upsetting moments. This is not a film about a woman finding herself and coasting to a pleasant existence, but rather about someone pulled in so many directions intent on putting the livelihood of her children above all. There is comedy to be found in the scope of her undertaking and the responses of her volunteers both when she asks them and during the project, which is sincerely welcome given the need for some levity in a grave situation.

Dunne is simply incredible as Sandra, conveying so much emotion with every look and such passion when she speaks in defense of her family. It’s a formidable performance indicative of a long and successful career to come. The ensemble around her is very solid too, including Conleth Hill as a contractor and Harriet Walter as the sponsor of her new home. Director Phyllida Lloyd, best known for “Mamma Mia” and “The Iron Lady,” delivers an excellent, important film that tells a difficult story with an extraordinarily compelling protagonist.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Ironbark

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Ironbark
Directed by Dominic Cooke
Premieres

Some people just aren’t cut out to be spies, and, at least as the world of cinema would have you believe, that precise lack of qualification is often what makes the best recruits. The ability to go undetected when operating on behalf of a government agency or other organization is invaluable, and being beyond suspicion is crucial for the successful completion of a job. Having the perfect cover is exponentially more effective if it’s not a cover at all but an actual business or identity, one that is supplemented and enhanced by a side mission that, if executed properly, will never be known.

Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a businessman in England in the early 1960s. He is approached by agents from MI-6 (Angus Wright) and the CIA (Rachel Brosnahan) and asked to travel to Moscow under the guise of doing business. When he arrives, he meets Oleg (Merab Ninidze), a Soviet colonel who wants to pass military intelligence to the Americans in the hopes of averting nuclear war. Acting solely as a courier with no knowledge of what Oleg is giving him to bring home, Greville forms a genuine friendship with his contact as his wife (Jessie Buckley) grows suspicious of his frequent travel, believing that he may be having an affair. Told that he cannot tell anyone what he’s doing, Greville keeps his secret and does what he can to keep the lines of communication open so that Oleg and his family will eventually be permitted to defect.

This film bears a lot of similarities to “The Catcher Was a Spy,” mirroring the humor it uses to convey its protagonist’s excitement for this work and his clear lack of preexisting knowledge that necessitates a good deal of training. The stakes don’t seem all that high when it’s only Wynne’s marriage on the line, but reminders of the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union serve to reinforce the grave danger in which Oleg and by extension Wynne are in should their meetings, which are always closely monitored by informants and lip-readers, be found out for what they are. This film becomes more compelling and engaging as it goes on, setting up with lighthearted exposition before truly reaching its serious and powerful content.

Cumberbatch is a good fit for this role, even if it doesn’t demand much of him the way something like “The Imitation Game” did. The same goes for Brosnahan, who doesn’t steal too much of the spotlight the way her “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” character would. The true standout of the film is Ninidze, who conveys the stress Oleg feels as he repeatedly calculates the consequences he and his family would face if exposed. This film begins as a standard political thriller and evolves into something more resounding in its account of this intense true story.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Four Good Days

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Four Good Days
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Premieres

Drug addiction is a common theme in movies, and such stories usually begin with a renewed connection between an addict and someone they used to know, reunited after a long period apart. The time since they last saw each other is filled in either through flashbacks or conversation that explains what happened between them, with the other party doubting whether the addict’s intentions to get clean and remain sober are indeed sincere. To feel relevant and worthwhile, a film about this subject needs to portray its characters with depth and add something to this template that distinguishes it.

Molly (Mila Kunis) shows up at the home of her mother Deb (Glenn Close), hiding her ruined teeth as she begs to be let inside. Deb, who installed an alarm that beeps every time a door is open after Molly’s last visit, is wary of Molly’s desire to wean herself off the drugs she has been using for years. Convinced that this time is different, Deb checks her into detox and learns that there is a shot which can be given once a month that will negate the effect of opioids - as long as there are no drugs in the person’s system when they get the shot. Both Deb and Molly are unsure if she can make it through a few days without getting high, and Deb’s hawkish supervision of her daughter threatens to drive them even further apart.

This film is extremely reminiscent of “Ben is Back” and “Beautiful Boy,” two films with strong casts that were released in 2018 and dealt with a child coming back into his parent’s life and struggling to get clean. Though Deb is married, her husband stays out of all matters related to his stepdaughter, so Deb is essentially a single parent for the purposes of this film. Much of the material covered in those other two projects is featured here as well, though the presentation in this case is less overtly cinematic or nostalgic, remaining in the present with the time until the shot serving as the main anchor. It’s passable, but there’s nothing remarkable or unique about this approach.

Kunis and Close are both excellent actors who have had great roles in the past. Kunis delivers a lived-in, committed performance, one that resonates strongly even if her most of the dialogue she utters and the things she does are expected. Close can’t match the impact of her most recent turn in “The Wife,” and doesn’t elevate the part as she could have. Director Rodrigo Garcia has made family dramas before, with “In Treatment” and “Mother and Child,” but there’s something that doesn’t feel three-dimensional about his adaptation with reporter Eli Saslow of his Washington Post article about the opioid crisis. Its message may be important, but this film’s depiction is simply mediocre.

B-

Sundance with Abe: The Glorias

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: The Evening Hour

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Sundance with Abe: The Nest

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Horse Girl

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: The Father

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Dream Horse

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


I'm writing up some of the films I see for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on "Dream Horse," an entertaining story of a syndicate supporting a racehorse in Wales.

Sundance with Abe: The Killing of Two Lovers

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Blast Beat

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Uncle Frank

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Kajillionaire

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Four Good Days

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Worth

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Worth
Directed by Sara Colangelo
Premieres

Putting a value on a person’s life is an inherently impossible task. Presuming that someone’s worth can be calculated using a formula and that any form of monetary disbursement will make up for the loss of their physical presence is almost inhumane, yet it’s something that life insurance companies do all the time. Determining how much victims of a tragedy should be awarded is a job sure to inspire anger and resentment from all parties involved, but there are those who see that, cold and robotic as it may seem, ensuring some sort of compensation is preferable to spending years on a lawsuit with the possibility of receiving nothing at its end.

After terrorist attacks shake the United States on September 11th, 2001, family members of those killed in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC reel from their losses and struggle to figure out how to make ends meet. Lawyer Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) is appointed as the Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, charged with creating a formula to create payout amounts for all victims to stave off expected lawsuits that could cripple the American economy. As he works with partner Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and a dedicated team, Feinberg encounters pushback from those who believe he doesn’t care about them, including a man (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife in the World Trade Center and highlights problems with the fund and a mother (Laura Benanti) whose firefighter husband was killed.

Feinberg was the subject of a 2017 documentary called “Playing God” that showed at DOC NYC and dealt with his work in many sorts of compensation funds for other terrorist attacks and mass shootings. This dramatized version is very affecting due to the stories of those who last heard from their loved ones on September 11th and aren’t eager for a simple payout to force them to move on. Composite characters and other cinematic devices are helpful in exploring additional layers, like corporations unhappy that bonuses and inflation aren’t factored in to their sky-high numbers and undocumented immigrants overwhelmed by the generosity of each individual settlement.

Keaton dons a thick Boston accent to play Feinberg, one that was immediately confirmed as entirely accurate when the real Feinberg spoke into a microphone on the Sundance stage following the premiere screening. It’s an energetic but appropriately understated performance, and Keaton is particularly well-matched by Tucci, who plays his character as blunt and straightforward, unwilling to mince words in his criticism of how Feinberg operates. It’s a complicated subject, one sensitively and compelling handled in this involving and poignant film.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Worth

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Zola

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Zola
Directed by Janicza Bravo
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Social media has become so prominent that many young people spend most of each day with their phones in their hands, paying attention to nothing happening in the outside world. This trend has led to a wave of films that seek to portray the experience of social media on a cinematic scale, taking tweets, abbreviations, and chimes and presenting them as if they were actually occurring in the real world. Such efforts are usually interesting but often just as irritating, since no sane person would want to do away with legitimate human contact so that life could be lived more efficiently in under 140 characters.

Zola (Taylour Paige) meets Stefani (Riley Keough) while waitressing and is immediately drawn to her. When they discover their shared talent and love for pole dancing, Stefani invites Zola on a road trip to Florida so that they can earn some extra money. Accompanied by Stefani’s hapless boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and her mysterious roommate (Colman Dolmingo), they set out on a misadventure that quickly spirals out of control, trapping Zola in an inescapable nightmare with no seeming end.

This film is based on a real-life series of 144 tweets sent by A’ziah King in 2015 that attracted a tremendous amount of attention at the time. The fallout between Zola and Stefani is introduced comically as a framing device, choosing moments in which Stefani and other negative influences in Zola’s life are at their most unattractive to freeze the frame. Love symbols and notification sounds are presented inconsistently, in pursuit of a digitized story that never materializes. What results, instead, is excess. This film is so interested in making this story as fantastical as it apparently was, at least in tweeted form, that it lets its characters and its filmmaking style run wild in a way that feels highly unfocused, similar in attention span to those who can’t take their eyes off their screens.

Paige is a relative newcomer who is capable of giving attitude when she’s riled up, but she’s the calm one compared to Keough, from “American Honey” and “The Girlfriend Experience,” who hams up everything about Stefani to make her such a caricature that she couldn’t possibly exist. This film is a far-gone version of “Hustlers” that’s far less tolerable, more disturbing, and ultimately pointless. If the aim is to give credence and legitimacy to everything posted on social media, this film may achieve that. But as a film, it’s an unbearable exercise in oversaturation.

C-

Sundance with Abe: Ironbark

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Black Bear

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Black Bear
Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine
NEXT

Any movie that begins with a few people spending a night in an isolated home in the woods is likely to spell doom - or, at least, sustained misery - for those poor characters. Not all such films are created equal, however, and some don’t result in full-fledged horror or gore. It’s perhaps a greater challenge to build suspense and a vivid, engaging narrative when the only real threats to anyone’s livelihood are their own self-destructive inclinations.

Filmmaker Allison (Aubrey Plaza) arrives at a home in the Adirondacks, where she is greeted by Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his pregnant girlfriend Blair (Sarah Gadon). Their shared dinner finds Gabe and Blair at each other’s throats, bickering and disagreeing while Allison watches and contributes minimally, keeping her identity guarded. As tensions rise, relationships are put to the test and these three have an opportunity to experience the night and their new dynamic in a wholly unexpected way.

This film competes in the NEXT category at Sundance, a fitting classification since its genre is difficult to assign. It’s clear that there is something amiss as soon as Allison shows up at her country getaway, but introductory titles about bears in the road and rustling sounds in the trees are red herrings. This is a thriller about people coming undone when left to their own devices, able to pick each other apart and fall prey to predictable impulses that cannot be reversed. It’s best compared to “Always Shine,” a film in which director Lawrence Michael Levine actually appeared in as an actor, though this film’s handling of its mind-bending journey is far superior.

What makes this film work best is the excellent cast. Plaza is often purposefully over-the-top, in projects like “Parks and Recreation” and “Legion,” and her more reserved demeanor works very well here, especially when she begins to unravel. Abbott was a formidable villain in “Sweet Virginia,” but this role marks a return to the kind of character he played on “Girls,” where his words and condescending attitude are most vicious. Gadon, who has impressed in projects like “11.22.63,” plays off both of them excellently, demonstrating her true talent. This film almost needs no plot once it allows its actors to start conversing. Yet its eagerness and commitment to stick with its characters is what makes it so fantastically unsettling, impossible to ignore while it’s happening and difficult to shake once it’s over.

B+

Sundance with Abe: Luxor

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


Luxor
Directed by Zeina Durra
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Spending time in a war zone can have traumatizing effects on anyone. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re on the front lines or there in a capacity that doesn’t always put you in immediate physical danger. Decompressing in a place that feels distinctly different can be crucial to a person’s wellbeing and emotional recovery, though memories of what they experienced won’t be erased by a simple change of scenery. Eventually, those affected will have to confront what they have endured and how it has changed them.

Hana (Andrea Riseborough), a British aid worker, has finished working at a clinic on the Jordanian-Syrian border. She returns to the familiar comfort of Luxor, Egypt, an ancient city where she lived years earlier. As she wonders at the architecture and the beauty of the place, she encounters Sultan (Karim Salem), an archeologist she used to date. A relaxing trip back to the past becomes more than just that as old memories come back and Hana must choose which decisions to make for her present, as well as when her time off needs to end and a return to reality might be in order.

The premise of someone like Hana yearning for a nostalgic past after living so close to death makes a lot of sense. From there, however, this film isn’t really sure where to go. The plot is thin and slow, and it’s mostly an opportunity to see Hana as she leans in to listen closely to the hieroglyphics on the walls, hearing murmuring voices of generations and civilizations long gone. The meaning of that is never explicitly addressed, and Hana doesn’t discuss much about what she went through during her most recent job. Her encounters with Sultan and with other travelers and locals are mildly interesting, but this film is much like one of Sultan’s archeological digs: long and tedious, with only the occasional worthwhile find.

Riseborough returns to Sundance with this film and “Possessor” after starring in an impressive four projects at the festival two years ago: “Burden,” “Mandy,” “Nancy,” and “The Death of Stalin.” She’s at her least energetic here, which doesn’t serve to enliven the pace of the film. This film feels like a moderately more optimistic version of “War Story,” a lackluster past Sundance entry. There could be something interesting and thought-provoking to be found within this story, but it must be buried deep within this forgettable film.

C+

Sundance with Abe: Summertime

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


I'm writing up some of the films I see for The Film Experience. Head over there to read my take on the first film I saw, which I loved - Carlos Lopez Estrada's "Summertime," his fantastic follow-up to a Sundance hit two years ago, "Blindspotting."

Sundance with Abe: Zola

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Friday, January 24, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Black Bear

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: Luxor

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Sundance with Abe: The Perfect Candidate

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.


The Perfect Candidate
Directed by Haifaa Al Mansour
Spotlight

Gender roles in society are shaped by many years of tradition, and often take a long time to evolve from systems that may seem archaic and highly sexist. There are interesting contradictions that come with change, like a woman being able to become a doctor but being treated as inferior to the male nurses who work under her or being permitted to run for office but not legally allowed to address a group of male constituents. Such misaligned values are frustrating and inherently make for very watchable and thought-provoking cinema.

Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) works at a local clinic in Saudi Arabia where some patients refuse to be treated by her or even to look her in the eye. She plans to attend a conference where she will be able to interview for a better position elsewhere, but when her travel permit is deemed expired, circumstances lead her to an unexpected path. Determined to get the broken and often unusable road to the clinic paved, she announces her candidacy for municipal council, well aware that she faces an uphill battle in a society where most men - and many women - believe that a woman’s place is undeniably in the home.

Maryam experiences differing degrees of support for her endeavors from within her own family, representing the spectrum of liberal thinking within her culture. Her sister Selma (Dae Al Hilali), who works as a wedding videographer, embraces the chance to make campaign videos and arrange lavish fundraisers. Her teenage sister Sara (Nora Al Awadh) worries immediately about the gossip that will come from her candidacy. Her father Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulraheem), who is away touring with his band, combating other traditionalist objections to the performance of music, doesn’t believe it’s a smart idea but knows that he’s powerless to stop his daughter when she sets her mind to something. The four family members serve as effective emblems for what being open-minded and feminist in a religious society can mean.

Director Haifaa Al-Mansour, who recently made the English-language “Mary Shelley” and “Nappily Ever After,” returns to her Saudi roots with a film that showcases another trailblazing female, who in this case isn’t initially concerned with improving women’s status but focused instead on just one issue. Al-Mansour, best known for “Wadjda,” crafts a film that stays with its characters and watches as they discover things they didn’t know about themselves and their priorities. Saudi Arabia’s official 2019 submission for the Oscar for Best International Feature is a strong and resonant look at a place and way of life that may seem generations behind what most American audiences know and has plenty to say about the complexities of its existence.

B+

Sundance with Abe: The Perfect Candidate

I'm at the Sundance Film Festival and recording one-minute reviews of everything I see. Subscribe to the movieswithabe YouTube channel to catch them all!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

AFT Awards: Best Director


This is the twenty-sixth category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), Clint Eastwood (Richard Jewell), Lulu Wang (The Farewell)

Runners-up:
Tom Cullen (Pink Wall)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life)
Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

The winner:
Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) crafted a totally captivating and immersive film that worked on many different levels.

Other nominees:
Joe Talbot (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Justin Chon (Ms. Purple)
Alma Har’el (Honey Boy)

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble Cast


This is the twenty-fifth category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Avengers: Endgame, Downton Abbey, Little Women, The Irishman, Troop Zero

Runners-up:
Come As You Are
Monos
Late Night
Knives Out
Marriage Story


The winner:
Parasite assembled a marvelous group of performers who made this incredibly compelling experience all the more layered and powerful.

Other nominees:
Yes, God, Yes
Booksmart
Good Boys
Fighting with My Family

AFT Awards: Best Ending


This is the twenty-fourth category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click here to see previous years of this category. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Beware spoilers for the films pictured above.

The winner:
Parasite traveled an incredible road and suggested a hopeful, positive resolution only to return to the firm reality that perception and attitude can make all the difference.

Other nominees:
Queen and Slim finished with a powerful, haunting conclusion for its main characters and more transformative, lasting implications felt by those who knew and didn’t know them. The Tomorrow Man achieved some degree of serenity for its two protagonists, allowing them to accept the world in which they lived and embrace the unpredictable in a humorous and endearing way.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

AFT Awards: Best Opening


This is the twenty-third category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Click here to see previous years of this category. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.

The winner:
Booksmart introduced its two main characters as they danced to their own rhythm as they were headed to school, firmly identifying them as truly worthwhile and hilarious protagonists.

Other nominees:
Long Shot explained who one of its main characters was by showcasing his humorous unwillingness to even commit to the important undercover work of actively pretending to be a white supremacist, preparing audiences for a truly funny experience ahead. The Unorthodox combined historical photographs and anecdotes with a sentiment of frustration from a parent unhappy with the state of affairs, all accompanied by a superb score.

AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance – Female


This is the twenty-second category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category, which is sometimes split into male and female and sometimes been combined.

Honorable mentions: Allison Janney (Bombshell), Darci Shaw (Judy), Kate McKinnon (Bombshell), Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

The winner:
Caitlin McGee (Standing Up, Falling Down) brought a sweet sincerity to a character whose late appearance helped her film find a kind and endearing note on which to end.

Other nominees:
Liv Hewson (Bombshell)
Brigette Lundy-Paine (Bombshell)
Merritt Wever (Marriage Story)
Martha Kelly (Marriage Story)

AFT Awards: Best Limited Performance – Male


This is the twenty-first category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category, which is sometimes split into male and female and sometimes been combined.

Honorable mentions: Alec Baldwin (Before You Know It), Benedict Cumberbatch (1917), Colin Firth (1917)

The winner:
Ray Liotta (Marriage Story) burst onto the scene with a tremendous ferocity, demonstrating just how vicious divorce can be even for those not seeking to be at all contentious.

Other nominees:
Andrew Scott (1917)
Mark Strong (1917)
Jesse Plemons (The Irishman)
Richard Madden (1917)

AFT Awards: Best Breakthrough Performance


This is the twentieth category of the 13th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions: Stav Strashko (Flawless), Nicholas Alexander (Adam), Emily Granin (Redemption), Isabelle Barbier (CRSHD), Mckenna Grace (Troop Zero)

The winner:
Roman Griffin Davis (Jojo Rabbit) brought such energy and delightful zeal to his role as an eager young Nazi that his transformation into something better was a wonder to watch.

Other nominees:
Lucas Jaye (Driveways)
Luke Doyle (The Song of Names)
Honor Swinton Byrne (The Souvenir)
Avigail Kovari (Red Cow)