TIFF 2020 People's Choice Award

Nomadland, the best movie I saw at the online version of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and one of the best films of the year, is on its way to awards season consideration. The film won big at TIFF, taking home the TIFF People’s Choice Award – usually a strong indicator of future Oscar attention. The introspective drama from director Chloe Zhao follows a homeless woman, played by Frances McDormand, as she travels the country while living out of her van.

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The Water Man Review

“Anything that basically is overtly celebrating darkness and to be perfectly honest, sanctioning it,” David Oyelowo told NPR in 2015, “that’s something I can’t personally do […] I know that films affect and shape culture, and I want to put stuff in the world that I feel is edifying as opposed to stuff that is detrimental.”

As Oyelowo steps behind the camera for his feature directorial debut, it’s helpful to keep the star’s words in mind. The Water Man is nothing if not a brand extension for his humane, compassionate touch. Even if it’s not a particularly distinguished charge out of the gate for him as a director, the film’s gentle and caring embrace of the audience still feels warm all the same.

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As far as ‘80s-set, sun-soaked European summer romances where a young gay man comes to understand his sexuality, Call Me By Your Name still reigns supreme. (A high bar, to be clear!) But if this extremely specific subgenre is to become a thing, François Ozon’s Summer of 85 is a worthy entry. While the film does struggle a bit with some jumbled tonality, the latest work from the famously prolific French filmmaker strikes a new and surprisingly stirring combination of steamy and sweet thanks to the love story at its core.

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shadow in the cloud review

Shadow in the Cloud kicks-off with an amusing Looney Toons-style cartoon about a lazy, drunken World War II pilot blaming “gremlins” for all his problems. It’s cheeky and funny, and it starts things off on the right foot. “Ah-ha!” you think. “This movie is going to be fun!” Spoiler alert: it’s not. Sure, there are attempts at fun here. There are long, implausible action beats (one character actually falls out of a plane only to be blasted back into the plane by an explosion below – an explosion that doesn’t hurt said person in the slightest). And there’s a pulsing synth-based score that feels incredibly weird in a movie set during the Second World War. But none of this is enough to save Shadow in the Cloud from its own worse impulses.

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violation review

Rage, betrayal, confusion, and bloodshed are the driving factors of Violation, an unflinchingly brutal, often quite gruesome story of a woman who goes to extreme lengths following a terrible incident. Writer-directors Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli do not shy away from the violence, employing meticulously crafted practical effects to portray a jaw-dropping series of events. But while there’s genuine dreamy-nightmarish artistry on display here, there’s also a scattershot approach that, while intentional, does more harm than good.

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concrete cowboy review

Outside of overpriced carriage rides through historic areas, you might not expect to see horses galloping through the streets of Philadelphia. But there’s a century-long tradition of Black horsemanship in the City of Brotherly Love, primarily in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood located east of Fairmount Park in North Philadelphia that persists to this day. This relatively unknown, but very real scenario is the backdrop for Concrete CowboyRicky Staub‘s somewhat by-the-numbers, but still sharp drama about an estranged father and son bonding over one summer in the city.

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mlk/fbi review

There’s a dark shadow cast over the life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous FBI Director who created the G-Man persona and ruled the Bureau with an iron fist for over four decades. Even if you want to overlook the unconfirmed rumors, the fact remains that for all his righteousness, Hoover did not do things by the book. He made the rules up as he went along, and bent them to suit his own needs. And when it comes to Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s common knowledge that Hoover despised the Civil Rights leader and his mission.

But in the years since King and Hoover’s deaths, a presumption has sprung-up that Hoover was acting on his own, independently, and that the much of the power structure of the U.S. government was oblivious to his actions. But as Sam Pollard‘s excellent documentary MLK/FBI reveals, that’s simply not the case. Hoover wasn’t a rogue actor. People in power knew what Hoover was doing – and they were fine with it. As one interview subject puts it, “The FBI was part of the mainstream political order.”

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Good Joe Bell Review

Towards the end of Good Joe Bell, Mark Wahlberg’s titular character takes a load off his feet from his cross-country walk to condemn homophobic bullying. He sits down at a police station underneath pictures of Barack Obama and Joe Biden hanging on the wall. This bit of art direction reveals what should have been obvious from the film’s overall comportment: this is a period piece.

America at large has experienced a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community even since the Obama era. (Heck, during Joe Bell’s walk in 2013, the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional!) While homophobia remains a present threat, particularly among young people in schools, to act like there’s not significant awareness of the issue is just at odds with reality. People largely know the bullying of gay youth is a problem. And, to be clear, even a single instance of it occurring is a stain on society. But the persistence of the threat exists not out of ignorance but out of malevolence and immaturity.

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pieces of a woman review

How do we begin to put ourselves back together after everything falls apart? After our hopes and dreams suddenly go up in smoke? That’s the sort of question that lies at the heart of the often painful Pieces of a Woman, a stark tragedy awash in the harsh coldness of a Massachusetts winter. From director Kornél Mundruczó and writer Kata Wéber, this character study benefits from a career-best performance from Vanessa Kirby as Martha, a woman undone after the death of her baby.

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Class conflict in cinema is nothing new. Though after Bong Joon-ho’s Best Picture-winning Parasite became a global phenomenon, there’s perhaps never been a more receptive audience for films depicting a breakdown of unsustainable social contracts. (The ever-growing chasm of worldwide economic inequality unfortunately does not hurt, either.)

Enter Mexican writer and director Michel Franco with New Order, a taut 88-minute dystopian drama about a country thrown into disarray amidst societal upheaval. Where Franco might lack Bong’s knack for clever plotting, he compensates with sharper knives in his class commentary. New Order presents a ruthlessly barbaric vision of social breakdown with melt-your-face-off intensity, one made all the more potent and difficult to shake given Franco’s stark realism about where platitudes like “eat the rich” would inevitably lead.

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