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The beginning of CODA has the feel of one of those inspirational, feel good films where a kid rises out of poverty because they win a poetry competition, or because their all-American horse wins the Triple Crown.
This heartwarming film however, only uses those common tropes to tell a more thoughtful story revolving around a girl who loves to sing and her deaf family. CODA, which is also a musical term, stands for Child of Deaf Adult, and the film explores both the struggles of the hearing-impaired in the workforce and in the home through emotional performances of ASL.
CODA won big at Sundance this year, taking home the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award, Best Ensemble, and Best Director. According to Deadline, Apple just bought it for a Sundance record high of $25m.
On the Count of Three
Directed by comedian Jerrod Carmichael and starring Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J. B. Smoove, and Henry Winkler, On the Count of Three is a dark comedy/drama that fits right at home with Safdie Brother thrillers like Good Time. Carmichael and Abbott play two friends who are resigned to kill themselves in an assisted-suicide but decide to have one last day to tie up loose ends.
I once had an idea for a podcast where I would interview celebrities by slamming a gun on the table and asking them “Why Shouldn’t I Kill Myself Right Here Right Now?,” which was also the title of the podcast. This was if that idea was a dramatized movie.
The Pink Cloud (A Nuvem Rosa)
The Pink Cloud has the best chance at being the only good movie about the pandemic since it was written in 2017. I haven’t seen Lockdown yet, but I did see How It Ends‘ premiere at Sundance and let me just say that I do not look forward to pandemic movie stories.
Directed by Brazilian filmmaker Iuli Gerbase, and entirely conceived with no knowledge of “how it actually happened” (or the possibility to discount ideas by saying “it wasn’t like that,” etc.), The Pink Cloud gets to be artful and sit in emotional impact instead of dwelling on pandemic logistics. That it got so much right just makes it that much more impressive.
Aside from starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, Rebecca Hall’s Passing still has a lot going for it. The intimate story follows two mixed-race childhood friends who are coincidentally reunited and become entangled in each other’s lives. Thompson’s character, lives in Harlem and is married to a Black doctor, while Negga’s character, is pretending to be white to live a lavish lifestyle with her rich, albeit racist, white husband John (played by Alexander Skarsgard).
Passing doesn’t have a lot of energy, and it’s quite a quiet film save for some light piano scoring from Devonte Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), but the themes and practice of racial passing provide for a compelling story.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix just acquired it for $15m, and will probably release it as a potential Oscar contender closer to Awards season.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
In 1969, the same year as Woodstock, a Black Cultural Festival took place in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park featuring the music of Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Sly and the Family Stone, David Ruffin, Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Nina Simone.
Somehow, footage of this event was lost in some guy’s basement for fifty years, erasing almost all memory of its happening. Directed by The Roots’ drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, this documentary not only unearths performances from an amazing lost festival, but a handful of the crying faces from the over 300,000 attendees who thought that the greatest day of their lives would never surface to stand the test of time. Highlights include an appearance from Jesse Jackson, and reactions from a crowd who couldn’t care less that the Moon Landing happened during the festival.
Winning the Grand Jury Prize for US Documentary, Summer of Soul is expected for a wider release sometime later in the year.
Taming the Garden
For the past couple of years, former Georgian prime minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has been paying poor Georgians pennies to uproot their ancient trees for his own private garden of eden—destroying their land and ravaging the country in order to bring those trees out of the ground, through their neighborhoods, and across the sea.
In the process, Ivanishvili ends up almost killing the trees and upsetting the residents with months of construction, just to have his little freakish garden. Residents start questioning: Was the money enough for what he did to my land? Do I only think that old tree I see everyday is beautiful now because some crazy billionaire will do whatever it takes to have it? This isn’t fiction, this is documentary.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Though not in competition at Sundance, Judas and the Black Messiah had its official premiere at this year’s festival, and let’s just say that even though it’s only February, we’ve got a strong film of the year contender right here.
Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s, has been. permeating the film world, from Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 to Sundance’s Summer of Soul above. Judas and the Black Messiah, starring Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and Lakieth Stanfield, details the party’s demise, and the FBI informant that betrayed him.
Luckily you wont have to wait long to view this one, as Warner Bros. will release Judas and the Black Messiah in theaters and on HBO Max next Friday, Feb 12.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.