Continuing my rundown from last week, I’ll be taking a quick look at two more films from last year, as well as listing some films to look out for.
American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee, is a concert film fronted by ex-lead singer of the Talking Heads David Byrne. It’s a filmed Broadway performance of a modified version of Byrne’s album, ‘American Utopia’, which combines some of his older work, some of his newest, and some covers.
Byrne performs alongside eleven other musicians, Chris Giarmo, Tendayi Kuumba, Karl Mansfield, Stephanie San Juan, Daniel Freedman, Jacqueline Acevedo, Gustavo Di Dalva, Tim Keiper, Mauro Refosco, Bobby Wooten III and Angie Swan, each extremely talented.
Similar to Byrne’s previous concert film, Stop Making Sense (1984), American Utopia is non-stop joy and excitement. Often Byrne will stop the music and begin to spout his thoughts on people and things; his most pertinent assessment is that people are more interesting to look at than things, which explains why the entire show is just people preforming the music on an empty stage.
Everything from the energy of the performers to the fantastic music make this film standout amongst all other releases from last year. I’m a big Talking Heads guy, so I might be a little bias, however, I’ve rarely felt more spiritual than when I watched American Utopia. (5/5)
The second-to-last entry in the Small Axe collection is Alex Wheatle, it follows the true story of Alex Wheatle, from a young boy to his early adolescence.
Alex, having spent most of his childhood in an unloving, white care home, has finally found a sense of community and passion when he discovers his love for music and DJ-ing. Unfortunately, during the Brixton Uprising, he’s thrown into prison and is forced to confront his past.
Similar to Lover’s Rock, I didn’t jive with this one too well. Sheyi Cole gives a great lead performance as adult Alex, but nothing else stands out too much. The story is one of identity, as Alex is searching for a purpose, which he eventually finds. Steve McQueen, again, does a great job at directing, and the script, co-written by McQueen and Alastair Siddons, is good, but it never reaches the heights of Mangrove or Red, White, and Blue. (3.5/5)
There are two big films that haven’t fully released yet, but critics are raving about: Nomadland and Minari.
Nomadland is about A woman (Frances McDormand), living in a van acting as a modern-day nomad, as she embarks on a journey through the Western United States after losing everything in the Great Recession.
Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, who also directed one of the next Marvel movies The Eternals (2021), it’s based on a book by Jessica Bruder called ‘Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century’. And it appears that Zhao may be in the running for Best Picture and Best Director. Nomadland is to be released February 19, 2021.
Minari, set in the 1980s’, is about a Korean family that moves to Arkansas to start a farm; written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung and starring Steve Yeun, most famous for his role as Glen on The Walking Dead. Similar to Nomadland, it’s getting a lot of buzz about being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s set to be released February 12, 2021.
The last film to look out for is One Night in Miami, directed by Regina King and based off a play written by Kemp Powers, who also worked on the filmed version and Pixar’s Soul (2020). The film is a fictional account of a real night, February 25th 1964, and it follows the lives of four prominent Black American icons, Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. The men meet up for the night to celebrate Clay’s win over Sunny Liston but they end up discussing and dissecting the politics of the time.
Personally, I’m most excited for this film to see how they portray some of my favorite people, Ali is a hero of mine, Cooke is one of my favorite singers, and the words of Malcolm X are awe-inspiring (Watch Spike Lee’s Malcom X!!!). The film is to be released this Friday, January 15th 2020.
Next week, I’ll be reviewing two films: Mank and Wonder Woman 1984