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I don’t know what I need more, sleep or hydration, but I do know that I’m in dire need of both after only the first jam-packed day of what is generally known around town as “Golden Globes Weekend,” encompassing the Friday, Saturday and Sunday leading up to the Golden Globe Awards. That’s because, with tons of talent in town ahead of Sunday’s 76th edition of the Globes, and a week of Oscar nomination voting beginning on Monday, everyone promoting an awards hopeful is pulling out all the stops, around the clock, to ensure that no stone is left unturned, no voter is left ungladhanded and no media opportunity is left uncapitalized.
Some of these opportunities come to the contenders — such as Saturday’s BAFTA Tea gathering at the Four Seasons, where talent and voters will mingle over finger sandwiches and, well, tea. Others are held by the contenders themselves — for example, Focus Features is throwing a Jordan Peele-hosted party celebrating the team behind BlacKkKlansman on Friday night; Netflix is throwing an Angelina Jolie-hosted reception for the team behind Roma on Saturday night (on top of reviving “The Roma Experience,” an exhibition of stuff that appears in Netflix’s top contender, at the Four Seasons throughout the weekend); and Netflix, Amazon, Universal (which encompasses Focus, and also NBC), Fox (with Hulu), and Warner Bros. (with InStyle) are among those hosting Golden Globes afterparties on Sunday night.
The roller coaster kicked off Friday morning with the announcement of the nominees for the 30th Producers Guild of America Awards’ Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures — also known as the PGA Award, and reflecting the will of the largest association of producers out there. Producers tend to like movies that make money, which is why it was not particularly surprising to see blockbusters like Crazy Rich Asians and Bohemian Rhapsody join the universally agreed upon top-tier contenders, some of which are box office hits (A Star Is Born, Black Panther, A Quiet Place and, in the specialty market, BlacKkKlansman) and some of which are not — at least not yet (Green Book, The Favourite, Vice and Roma).
My main takeaway from the PGA’s list has more to do with the titles that didn’t find a spot on it than those that did. For art house fare like If Beale Street Could Talk, Eighth Grade, First Reformed and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it’s not the end of the world to come up short with the PGA — these were not films designed to resonate with that group. (To be sure, the same is true of that celebrated black-and-white Spanish-language movie with no stars, even if it is on Netflix.) However, for big studio movies like First Man, Mary Poppins Returns and Widows, it is not an encouraging sign to be left off the PGA list. Anyway, moving forward, A Star Is Born is the film to beat at the PGA Awards — although those awards will be preceded by not only the Golden Globes, but also the Critics’ Choice Awards the following weekend, and by that time the tide could, conceivably, have changed.
With little time to digest the PGA announcement, I headed over to the Four Seasons to cover the 19th annual AFI Awards luncheon. Hosted by the American Film Institute, the ceremony, as always, was largely defined by the classiness of its emcee, AFI president Bob Gazzale, and the quality of its clip packages, which are put together by AFI Productions guru Chris Merrill. Like the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG awards ceremonies, but few others, the AFI Awards ceremony toasts both film and TV work. And unlike almost any other awards ceremony, as Gazzale likes to remind attendees, everyone who attends the AFI Awards does so knowing they — or at least their project — has already won.
AFI honors the year’s top 10 films and top 10 TV shows, in no particular order. This year’s film honorees were Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mary Poppins Returns, A Quiet Place and A Star Is Born — with a special award for Roma, even though it is not American, a rare honor previously accorded to The Artist when it was en route to its best picture Oscar win seven years ago. On the TV side, the honorees were The Americans, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Atlanta, Barry, Better Call Saul, The Kominsky Method, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Pose, Succession and This Is Us.
You may have noticed that these lists include multiple projects involving Ryan Murphy (Gianni Versace and Pose), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns and A Quiet Place) and Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk and Atlanta). Gazzale, for his part, proudly noted that more than 30 AFI Conservatory alums were integrally involved with the making of this year’s honorees, including Black Panther cinematographer Rachel Morrison, A Star Is Born film editor Jay Cassidy and First Reformed writer-director Paul Schrader, who was a member of the school’s first class and received a standing ovation. (One of the funnier moments of the affair: when Gazzale commented that BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee was wearing an NYU hat, and Lee playfully shouted back, “I applied to AFI! I didn’t get in — my GRE wasn’t high enough!” Gazzale responded that AFI did give him an honorary degree in 2011.)
With the exception of a table of journalists, virtually every person in the room at the AFI Awards is closely associated with the making of one of the honored films or TV shows — in other words, the ratio of stars to riffraff is about as marked as it is at any event of the awards season, making for a special feel to the room. Moreover, AFI does a great job of conveying a sense of historical significance about the honor of being included on its lists — the ceremony kicks off with a montage of great films and TV shows from years ending in the same digit as this one (meaning, this year, titles like 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, 1958’s Vertigo, 1978’s The Deer Hunter and 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, all played to the tune, this year, of “I Want to Be in America”) before transitioning to 2018’s honorees (opening with Roma‘s beach scene and closing with Chadwick Boseman shouting “Wakanda forever!” in Black Panther), and the luncheon ends with a benediction from a legend (this year, the great Angela Lansbury, who most recently appeared in Mary Poppins Returns and was greeted with a massive standing ovation).
In between, representatives of the film and TV juries that chose the honorees read the “rationales” for each of their selections that will forever be immortalized in the AFI Almanac. (These are interspersed with clips from each project; the loudest response in the room this year, to my ear, was reserved for A Star Is Born following a clip of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga performing the song “Shallow” together for the first time in the film; “Now that is a movie,” gushed Eight Grade writer-director Bo Burnham, who was sitting at the table beside mine.) This year, AFI TV jury chair Rich Frank and AFI film jury member Ann Hornaday did the honors, stating the following…
BLACK PANTHER roars with a power that shatters and reshapes cultural mythology. Ryan Coogler’s super-heroic vision opens the world’s eyes to the wonders of Wakanda — creating a rich and revolutionary celebration of unprecedented empowerment. Chadwick Boseman stands every inch a king — leading a proud and powerful retinue that includes regal turns by Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Michael B. Jordan, who shines as one of today’s brightest stars. Wakanda forever!
BLACKKKLANSMAN raises a defiant fist against the racism and bigotry that defines modern day America. Spike Lee’s masterful telling of this true tale leaves audiences breathless — both for its interplay of hope and hate — and the realization that the world we live in has not progressed far from the birth of our nation. John David Washington and Adam Driver lead an extraordinary ensemble that transcends identity to shine a light in dark corners, exposing institutions that still allow intolerance to dim the dream of all power to all people.
EIGHTH GRADE opens a shoebox of emotion — exposing the crippling discomfort that arrives at a time few wish to remember. Bo Burnham’s brilliant writing and directing produce wince-inducing insights into adolescence — the horrors of pool parties, indifferent peers and well-meaning parents all the more shame-filled in a world awash in the isolation of social media. The beating heart of the film is embodied by Elsie Fisher, a transcendent talent whose performance opens old wounds while celebrating the triumph of facing one’s fears — and being yourself.
THE FAVOURITE ascends the throne by capturing the sumptuous insanity of life behind castle walls and then raising a scepter to smash each scene with wicked laughs, an air of erotica, revenge and rabbits. Yorgos Lanthimos’ brilliantly warped vision of history crowns a royal cast, including Olivia Colman’s towering take on the fickle and frail Queen Anne. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz leave a mark as cousins warring for the heart and hand of the queen, with audiences blissfully bloodied in the struggle between survival and a ravenous reach for power.
FIRST REFORMED asks no forgiveness as it embraces the most complex issues of our day in an exalted, explosive search for redemption. Paul Schrader’s indelible influence on modern cinema continues its mighty reach with otherworldly ambition and equally ethereal achievement — bringing heart-pounding suspense to a film that asks, “Who can know the mind of God?” At the center of his own tempest is Ethan Hawke, whose miraculous performance marries introspection and expression in a manner that affirms his place as one of the nation’s artistic treasures.
GREEN BOOK tears a page from American history and presents it as a moving picture of hope in the road ahead. With Peter Farrelly at the wheel and all-in performances by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, the film crosses a divide that remains all too prevalent in the nation today, uniting viewers with a potent reminder that the seeds of empathy are planted in sharing the simple joys of life — a hand-written letter, music of all kinds and a drink between friends.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is a lush and lyrical ode to romance that soars amidst the dark clouds of an unjust America. It’s a film that springs to life from Barry Jenkins’ symphonic mastery of emotion and inequality — adapted with affection and insight from the poetic words of James Baldwin. Stand-out performances by KiKi Layne and Stephan James transcend the film’s time period and demand attention be paid today, with Regina King’s fiercely sympathetic embodiment of family and community reminding audiences “to trust love all the way.”
MARY POPPINS RETURNS descends from the cinematic heavens to serve up a joyously exuberant tonic for our times. Embracing the challenge of creating a new musical by expanding upon a beloved classic, Rob Marshall’s candy-colored extravaganza soars with song and spirit that taps the power of film past to insist that the investment in a child’s imagination is our world’s most precious hope for the future. Emily Blunt’s turn as the iconic nanny is indubitably extraordinary, Lin-Manuel Miranda glows with light and love, and an all-star cast makes this a treat as magical — and healing — as a spoonful of sugar.
A QUIET PLACE demands audiences stifle their natural instinct to scream – creating a tension so visceral that one can only wonder if there is any escape from the film’s silent terror. John Krasinski masters the cinematic senses as actor and director in this intimate family saga that doubles as a desperate fight for survival. In a world where the lightest footstep can herald instant death, the fears here are founded in the atavistic anxieties for the safety of loved ones — a truth personified in the strength and conviction of Emily Blunt’s indomitable maternal performance. A QUIET PLACE may beg for silence, but it demands to be seen.
A STAR IS BORN arrives a fully-evolved supernova — sparkling as a valentine to film history, while emanating a brilliance so bright that it shines as a stellar achievement in its own universe. This timely take on the battle between dreams and addiction should be heralded on high for Bradley Cooper’s complete dedication to his roles as director, producer, writer, actor, singer and performer — as should the arrival of Lady Gaga on the big screen, as she etches her name in the firmament of Hollywood with the performance of a lifetime.
THE AMERICANS brings an iron curtain down on Joe Weisberg’s Cold War masterpiece with a finale so fitting that it stands as a monument to the power of serialized storytelling. As this American epic unspools its taut thread of family, deception and the conflicting demands of patriotism, AFI says “??????????!” to the stellar creative ensemble led by the dynamic duo of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY fashions tragic events into an aria about America. Ryan Murphy and his extraordinary collaborators tell a tale with both flamboyant grandeur and quiet restraint — one that masterfully travels back in time to expose the violent contortions of homophobia and the horrors of a culture unchecked in its addiction to fame.
ATLANTA proves the power of pushing the envelope and, in the process, elevates comedy to a savage art form. Donald Glover’s endlessly inventive storytelling creates subversive stories that simmer with cultural claustrophobia and the insight of unfiltered African American identity. What results is at turns stark, shocking, uncomfortable and laugh-out-loud funny — a combustive cocktail served up by one of the imperative voices of our times.
BARRY is killer entertainment — a brutally funny hit on the melancholies of an assassin and aspiring actor. Co-creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg take deadpan aim at the ever-moving target between isolation and ambition, while Hader’s transcendent turn as the year’s most deliriously distinctive anti-hero and the iconic presence of Henry Winkler fuse these worlds into one that “kills it” with each new episode.
BETTER CALL SAUL continues to soar as television’s most lovable low-life continues to fall. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould expertly imagine the endless trials of seeking validation as a bittersweet meditation on the perils of ambition without conscience. The butt of this tragic joke is the slickest of shysters, played with a complexity beyond compare by the masterful Bob Odenkirk.
THE KOMINSKY METHOD shines a spotlight on the indignities of aging with razor wit and incomparable insights delivered by two American masters — Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. Their bravura performances bring a defiant energy to Chuck Lorre’s hilariously empathetic musings on the inevitabilities of life’s journey.
THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL takes the stage to herald that cultural revolution demands personal revelation. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s rich and radiant 1950s time piece doubles as a timeless manifesto — that women will be heard. In the spotlight of a dazzling creative ensemble, Rachel Brosnahan shines bright, effortlessly delivering bubbling banter that infuses the show with an uproarious spirit of reflection and rebellion.
POSE is a heart filled with love — and with each beat — music, dance and joy fill a house where all are embraced as family. This rapturous triumph from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals stars a transcendent ensemble that brings electric life to late ‘80s New York and the enduring celebration of hope inherent in our individual sense of self.
SUCCESSION summons the spirit of Shakespeare to elevate this fusion of family and finances to a stage worthy of the globe. Jesse Armstrong’s reimagining of King Lear in a modern world is, itself, sharper than a serpent’s tooth, with Brian Cox howling at the center of the storm. Here he commands this high-spirited look at money, power and humor that proves “In jest, there is truth.”
THIS IS US takes audiences in its arms and offers a rich reminder that television — at its very best — is a portal to humanity. Dan Fogelman’s affecting celebration of what connects us revels in the deepening tangles of its family ties — bonds brought to life by an all-star cast that often leaves viewers breathless in the balance between love, laughter and loss.
AFI SPECIAL AWARD RATIONALE
ROMA is an ode to life, love and loss — a monument to the power of film to inspire empathy across the walls of geography, class and culture. Alfonso Cuarón’s personal tour de force deftly captures the emotional balance of intimacy and opera — recalling the poetic power of Fellini and Buñuel while creating a film of striking originality and vaulting ambition. Emblazoned in memory by its hypnotic cinematography and bravura sound design, with a heart that beats from Yalitza Aparicio’s radiant humanity, ROMA is a work of art so powerful that audiences will feel transported to a world they may have never visited, but have lived forever.
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