News to Me: Critics Circles, Sundance 2020, and Todd Haynes
Elisabeth Moss and Odessa Young appear in Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020) an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Thatcher Keats
1) We kick things off this week by retracing some recent awards news, beginning with this morning’s announcement of the 2020 Golden Globes nominations. The British Independent Film Awards were handed on out Sunday night, with For Sama taking home three major prizes—Best British Independent Film, Best Documentary, and Best Director. The National Board of Review rewarded mostly heavy hitters, with The Irishman winning Best Film, Quentin Tarantino Best Director, and reclusive Stanislavskian Adam Sandler taking home Best Actor. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded similar winners, with slight surprises in Lupita Nyong’o and Joe Pesci winning awards for supporting roles. Parasite meanwhile triumphed in L.A. and Toronto. (A bonus: Farran Smith Nehme recently posted her 2016 piece, which begins with a bit of NYFCC drama.)
2) Since Scorsese is yet again looking like an awards season frontrunner, TIFF has put together a short history of his life over on their YouTube channel. Alicia Malone narrates Marty’s rise from asthmatic kid to king of New York: “Poised between Europe and America, between the sacred and the profane, between pure entertainment and his own personal passions, Scorsese remains a singular voice in our cinematic landscape. It may never again be possible for such a figure to emerge.”
3) More on the awards landscape: Vanessa Erazo, Film & Television editor for Remezcla, recently assigned coverage for every Latin American film submitted for the Oscars’ Best International Film category (including Belgium’s entry, Our Mothers). The list, which includes festival favorites The Chambermaid and Monos (winner of London Film Festival’s top prize), will be pruned to a shortlist of ten midway through this month, with Academy members voting to select five as official nominees.
4) Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—co-frontman of The Roots and the sting-man behind every bad Jimmy Fallon gag—is set to make his filmmaking debut. Black Woodstock tells the story of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival at Mount Morris Park, which featured performances from Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Nina Simone, and many more. Comprised of 40-hours of never-before-seen footage, the film sheds light on a little-covered event that nevertheless boasted 300,000 people in attendance during the same summer as Woodstock. As part of our regular series of free talks, we sat down with Questlove and Boots Riley last year, following the release of Riley’s debut film Sorry to Bother You.
5) Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life recently played at the Vatican, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Vatican Film Library. Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Vatican Ministry of Communications, stated that the film “challenges our souls, our consciences, our fears and our sense of responsibility.” A Hidden Life, in theaters at the end of this week, joins a rarified group of films to have screened for Vatican Dignitaries, including Silence, The Passion of the Christ, and Pokémon: The First Movie. More on A Hidden Life from LARB’s Sam Buckland, subverting Hannah Arendt: “Malick complicates that picture by showing how ordinary it can be to exercise courage in the face of injustice. The sacrifice that Franz makes is, at one and the same time, exceptional and banal.” (Worth reading also is this 2017 piece on revisiting Arendt’s work.)
6) Yet another great read at LARB: Eric Gudas offers a sad farewell to LACMA’s Bing Theatre, reading its imminent destruction alongside its final screening of Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon: “Perhaps the film . . . was screened last to encourage the attendees’ ‘dignified resignation’ to the Bing’s demise. To me, it seemed like a film about how architecture determines human identity.”
7) In development for years now, Lav Diaz’s latest, When the Waves Are Gone, has picked up another boost in funding from Thailand’s Purin Pictures. Epicmedia, a production studio based in Manila, describes the film as a “classic film-noir” and “re-interpretation of The Count of Monte Cristo,” with the story centered on a recently-released prisoner seeking revenge. We spoke to Diaz at the Berlin International Film Festival last year, following the premiere of his self-described “rock opera” Season of the Devil.
8) The lineup for next year’s Sundance Film Festival has just been announced, featuring such familiar names as Josephine Decker, Dee Rees, and Michael Almereyda. The 2020 edition, boasting 118 films in total, will be Festival Director John Cooper’s last at the helm. Also notable is the news that—following somewhat in the footsteps of last year’s inclusion of Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir—Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Verela will screen at the festival in the New Frontiers program. For more on the film, read Jordan Cronk’s excerpt from a forthcoming interview with Costa here.
9) “There’s been no actual clean-up of this material outside of that Washington Works plant at DuPont. There’s been no active attempts to go out and start removing it or cleaning it up. Water filters have been put in to stop the exposure, but not environmental remediation.” Over at The Film Stage, Jenna Raup discusses the true story behind Todd Haynes’s Dark Waters with the film’s protagonist, Rob Bilott (portrayed by Mark Ruffalo). And for a sense of how all this environmental horror was rendered on-screen, check out this Filmmaker interview with cinematographer Ed Lachman: “[Haynes] was drawn to the project by how we’re all being contaminated, both figuratively and literally, by political, social, and ecological issues, and in our health.”
10) A short and sweet number ten this week, offering two essential lists (we’re cutting down after last week’s manifesto): Cahiers du Cinema has released their best of the decade, which isn’t as provocative as you might suspect; and Bleeding Skull! have unveiled their best DIY films of the year, including an “Egyptian rip-off of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
We leave you this week with the sad news of Thomas Elsaesser’s unexpected passing. Elsaesser “belongs to the first generation of film scholars who pioneered the creation of film and media studies as an academic discipline,” and has contributed an unfathomable amount to the field. (Patricia Pisters’ full eulogy is available here.) Before his death, Elsaesser had been touring his essay film, The Sun Island—a personal history of WWII and the green movement. Some excess footage, of the island on a sunny day, is available here.