All posts by Ben Sears

Top 10 Films of 2021

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):

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Indiana Film Journalists Association 2021 Awards

The Indiana Film Journalists Association has named Mass, an intimate and harrowing drama about two sets of parents facing off over a shared tragedy, as Best Film of the Year. It won four awards total, including Best Original Screenplay for Fran Kranz, the first-time writer/director who also was named Breakout of the Year, and Best Ensemble Acting for the cast of Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton.

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10 Best Television of 2021

First, a disclaimer: I still have yet to see some of the bigger television releases of the year. Juggernauts like Succession, Mare of Eastown, WandaVision, Squid Game, and The Crown (and more) will be notably absent from this list, not because they’re not great, but because I simply haven’t watched them yet. Judge the following list accordingly.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth – Movie Review

The Tragedy of Macbeth

  • Director: Joel Coen
  • Writer: Joel Coen
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson, Kathryn Hunter

Grade: A-

Denzel Washington is 66 years old (67 shortly after this film hits theaters on Christmas Day). Frances McDormand is 64. It’s rare when an actors’ age makes such a distinct difference in an interpretation of a film, but such is just one of the many unique choices that writer and director Joel Coen has made in his Shakespeare adaptation, The Tragedy of Macbeth.

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Red Rocket – Movie Review

Red Rocket

  • Director: Sean Baker
  • Writer: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
  • Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss

Grade: B+

It’s a shame that there’s already a 2021 film called The Worst Person In the World because it would be an apt title for Sean Baker’s newest film. Baker has become a master since 2015’s Tangerine, his breakout hit, at showcasing slices of American life that often go under-represented or unfairly depicted in film. In those films, Baker has shown a unique skill at showing the humanity of people just trying to scrape by in the unforgiving modern American landscape. Red Rocket takes that undercurrent of empathy inherent in his protagonists and rips it to shreds.

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Best and Worst of the 2022 Golden Globe Nominations

Note: This post will only reflect the film nominations for the 2022 Golden Globes.

Yesterday the nominations for the 2022 Golden Globes were announced. Since NBC terminated its relationship with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, many assumed the awards wouldn’t be handed out at all. It’s still unclear exactly how the winners will be announced, but it’s safe to say that the Golden Globes’ unbroken streak came as a surprise. Below are just a few of the surprises and snubs throughout the film and TV award nominations.

Perhaps the most shocking element of the nominations is how utterly normal they are overall. The Globes have always been criticized for valuing a good show over awarding worthwhile achievements in film and television, nominating A-list celebrities in lesser films when more difficult were just as deserving. We all remember where we were when The Tourist received three nominations.

To that end, there aren’t a ton of surprises in the Best Picture – Drama or Best Picture – Comedy or Musical categories. Though it’s racked up serious awards buzz since it premiered at Sundance, the only outlier amongst the two categories would be CODA because it doesn’t have any big-name stars amongst its cast. Mass had a chance to take its spot since it’s widely more beloved amongst those that have seen it, but I don’t think too many awards watchers are terribly surprised. Mass comes from a smaller studio and is dealing with a much less rosy subject matter than CODA. Given my general disdain for Don’t Look Up, I’m still not foolish enough to believe the HFPA would pass up the opportunity to nominate it in the bigger categories. It is disheartening to see In the Heights be all but forgotten around awards season, but with a loaded slate of musicals this year, and given its early release in the year, it’s not terribly surprising.

That being said, Anthony Ramos completely deserves his spot at the table amongst the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy nominees. Of all the Lead Actor nominees in both Drama and Musical/Comedy, Mahershala Ali stands out simply because Swan Song hasn’t been as heavily promoted as, say, C’mon C’mon or The Harder They Fall. And not that the Globes would ever go for a movie like Pig, but Nicolas Cage gave perhaps his best performance of his career this year and would be a great face to see amongst the crowd of nominees. Since the Globes don’t differentiate between genres when it comes to Best Supporting Actor, some bigger names are bound to be left out. Nevertheless, the HFPA seems to have just thrown its hands up and doubled-down on love for Belfast by nominating both Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds when David Martinez could have easily taken a spot for West Side Story.

Meanwhile, Lead Actress had much stiffer competition in both categories, and there’s much less to complain about overall. Could Frances McDormand have taken a spot in the Drama category for her role in The Tragedy of Macbeth, especially since she was nominated in the category last year? Sure, but good luck deciding whose spot she would take. Hulu seems to have essentially forgotten that Barb and Star Go To Vista del Mar but could have easily campaigned for Kristen Wiig in Comedy – can you imagine her acceptance speech?? – but it’s hardly surprising that the Globes would rather see Emma Stone over her. Parallel Mothers remains a mystery to just about everyone that didn’t see it at one of the fall festivals, but by all accounts, Penelope Cruz gives one of her best performances ever and could have received a spot in Best Lead Actress – Drama. Never mind the film’s inclusion in the Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language could simply be box-checking since it’s directed by Pedro Almodovar, a well-known, well-liked director. When it comes to the Best Supporting Actress category, it’s surprising that Jessie Buckley was snubbed for her performance in The Lost Daughter, given its love in other categories, but at least Ruth Negga rightfully shows up here to show that Passing wasn’t completely forgotten.

Best Director, is always a crowded field where several talented contenders are left off. It’s very possible that the Globes nominees could be matched on Oscar nomination morning. Though the film ultimately received four nominations, Paul Thomas Anderson’s snub in the category stings a little extra hard. Given its love in other categories, if the HFPA simply wanted to nominate a big star, it could have gone with Lin-Manuel Miranda for tick, tick… BOOM!. The Best Screenplay category is probably the Globes-iest category overall, opting for lesser offerings from mainstays like Adam McKay and Aaron Sorkin. This is another spot where Mass or even CODA could have made some noise.

There aren’t too many complaints to be made in the Best Animated or Foreign Language Feature categories, with a fairly limited slate in the former. Encanto was always going to be Disney’s big push for awards play over Luca, in the same way that Soul ate Onward‘s lunch last year. Still, it’s hard to complain when they still found room for an outside-the-box film like Flee. That it was shut out of the Foreign Language category is interesting, especially with a head-scratcher like Compartment No. 6 taking its place.

It was only earlier this year when the world learned of – and quickly forgot about – the existence of Sia’s Music. That the HFPA has avoided any nonsense like those nominations (at least on the film side of things) perhaps speaks to its newly changed outlook. Will we begin to take the Golden Globes as a serious predictor of quality film and television going forward, or will this year be a temporary blip? And how much does the lack of a televised broadcast have to do with the normality of this year’s nominees? There are a lot of factors at play, but this is at least a step in the right direction for the awards body.

At least they had the good sense to leave Dear Evan Hansen out in the cold.

Licorice Pizza – Movie Review

Licorice Pizza

  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie

Grade: A

The San Fernando valley in the 1970s is the setting of Paul Thomas Anderson’s breakout hit, Boogie Nights. For his latest original creation, he returns to the time and setting to tell a coming-of-age tale that transcends the genre’s familiar trappings. Anderson is at his best when exploring the inner workings of his protagonists – usually grown men – as they’re thrust into situations that upend their rigidly-focused lives. And while he’s dipped his toes into the romantic comedy genre in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love, that film was ultimately about a neurotically isolated man as he accepts a new possibility for himself. Licorice Pizza concerns itself with the feeling of young love, and about discovering the difficulties of figuring out the rest of your life when you’re still so young.

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Don’t Look Up – Movie Review

Don’t Look Up

  • Director: Adam McKay
  • Writer: Adam McKay,
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet

Grade: C

Don’t Look Up is billed as director Adam McKay’s return to straight-up comedy after the Oscar-bait offerings of The Big Short and Vice. While it’s true that the film has more lighthearted bits of comedy than his most recent films, it continues the downward trajectory of his career as a maker of satire aimed at the easiest of targets. There’s plenty of satire to be mined from the end of the world – in this case an impending asteroid – but Don’t Look Up limps around for 145 minutes trotting out the same lazy observations without having anything new or interesting to say.

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West Side Story – Movie Review

West Side Story

  • Director: Steven Spielberg
  • Writer: Tony Kushner
  • Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist

Grade: B+

Steven Spielberg has conquered nearly every genre throughout his illustrious career: from horror to comedy, from kid-friendly adventures to sci-fi, from Oscar bait dramas to summer blockbusters. Yet somehow he’s never tackled a Broadway musical. His adaptation of West Side Story is finally seeing theaters after being delayed in 2020, and the wait has paid off. Of all the musicals coming to theaters and streaming this year, Speilberg’s latest was one of the most anticipated. But why would the celebrated director choose to remake one of the most celebrated musicals of all time, one that won 10 of the 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture, in 1961? Spielberg has stated his desire to adapt one of Broadway’s musicals and that the West Side Story soundtrack was a staple in his home when growing up. Ever the source of the nostalgia of his childhood, the film feels like a natural choice for him under that lens (the end credits even reveal that the film is dedicated to his father, who died in 2020)

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