The Oscars 2017! or, something like that


Ugh, these Oscars… the Best Picture nominees (except for Moonlight) this year are boring. The individual acting and directing nominees (except for Moonlight’s cast and director) are uninteresting and tired. The show is just going to be a sling of overused jokes about a toupeed orangutan all of us are tired of thinking about . I frankly care less about who wins or loses this year (but Moonlight is great, it should win) more than any year in the past.

So here’s just ONE THING you should keep in the back of your troubled minds while you’re sitting on your couch watching this charade thinking about the 6th Mass Extinction that scientists keep mentioning and wondering when it will finally take all of humanity with it:


I just made 3 straight not-subtle references to Moonlight if you were paying attention, but even that movie is nothing compared to the merciless bitch-slap across the face the Best Documentary category has in store for you. These movies are challenging, frustrating, the “I want to throw my computer against the wall because what I just watched pissed me off to no end” sort of great realistic, unapologetic and volcanic documentation of LIFE.
I mentioned in my Best Films of 2016 list that O.J.: Made in America was the #1 movie of last year. That hasn’t changed, and I wrote enough about it here to not have to go into an explanation:

But look at the other 4.

The 13th is a film by Ana DuVernay in multiple parts on the epidemic of unlawful and dangerous incarceration of black people throughout American history. There is zero excuse for you not to watch it considering it is on Netflix right now and I know all of you send them $7 straight out of your paycheck every month. Stop wasting that money watching F.R.E.I.N.D.S. for the millionth fucking time and support the voice of a filmmaker in DuVernay who is doing important work.

I Am Not Your Negro is probably the best title for a movie since Leos Carax’s Pola X (the explanation for that film title is here). On the manuscripts of James Baldwin, the film runs through his thoughts on and furious anger over the civil rights violations of a nation coming to grips with its own horrifically racist past, present, and if nothing changes, future.

The Italian documentary winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Gianfranco Rossi’s Fucoammare (Fire at Sea), showcases the lives of immigrants from Northern Africa who sail to find solace in Europe. The film’s raw footage gives the depth, danger, and peril of the journey of many of these individuals who understand the risks of death and proceed at all costs.

The final film is the least political, but still important. Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated showcases the coming of age a young boy with autism, who escapes the isolation and discrimination from society and learns to cope with his disability through his love for Disney movies. Most of our childhoods were defined by the Disney Renaissance, but for some, it wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia. This doc is a great testament to how cinema can change a life.

Watch these movies. If you have watched ANYTHING from the year 2016, makes sure you watch these:

OJ: Made in America (on WatchESPN for free)

The 13th (on Netflix)

I Am Not Your Negro (on Netflix)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) (on Netflix)

Life, Animated (on Amazon Prime)


O.J. Made in America


OJ: Made in America positions itself as a media-on-media critique. It uses interviews, news broadcasts, movie scenes, commercials, sports clips and analysis, and political speeches and reactions to recreate the aura and mythology of its central character, O.J. Simpson. As a black kid from the projects turned football star turned American icon, he was the living, walking, and talking embodiment of the American Dream, and exhibit A for proof that capitalism worked. A man whose figure in the American pop culture diaspora was so magnanimous, it defied definition. As Jay-Z put it, “Not a businessman, but a business… man.” However, all of this was shattered through a court trial that ended up finding him innocent, but fallout that rendered him an outcast of American society. In this, Edelman paints an America comprised of two sides that were always at odds in the fight for O.J. Simpson. A white America who embraced his rise and turned un-apologetically to relish in his fall, and a black America who felt neglected by his apathy towards their social struggle yet embellished in the opportunity to use his trial as a means of social justice. As a documentary, a piece of visual media, it turns its lens in every direction and points it back at us in 2016, facing a similar racially fractured situation which all but intensified post a seminal verdict in the court that is the American presidential election. It points it back at its own storytelling form, the overexposure of an individual, a normalization of his dangerous behavior, a treatment of him as a victim of unwarranted harsh criticism rather than recognizing his actions as inviting and justifying it.


The social and cultural shifts of American history through time shape and are shaped by its most powerful citizens. Race relations brewed through O.J.’s life, even if he tried his hardest to avoid them. We perceive race as a binary entity. You are either racist or you are not. However, like most ideologies or worldviews, it exists in a blended spectrum that makes it harder for us to judge, and dangerously, harder to detect or realize. Many instances in O.J. Made in America showcase blatant examples of racism. Use of the n-word, beating of black individuals by police, direct violence against blacks by whites. However, there is also deeply rooted systemic racism that the documentary taps into and it is revealed not only in the laws and policies of the nation, but in the everyday lives of people, perhaps unwittingly. As they say, the system isn’t broken, it’s meant to work this way and it ingrained itself in the American psyche to the point of second nature… subconscious reaction to visual signals. Mark Cuban mentioned in an interview several years ago that if he was out at night in the city and saw a black kid in a hoodie he would feel the need to go to the other side of the street(1). We don’t know where such a mental reaction originated from and that’s exactly the issue. Preconceived notions on race are omnipresent in American media as well. In OJ, majority of the violent news footage is consisted of black individuals in urban areas attacking and being “handled” by police officers. These biases exist in everyone and they exist to different degrees. They existed within the rich white circles O.J. Simpson surrounded himself with and then was discarded from once they couldn’t use his stature to their benefit anymore. They existed within Johnny Cochran and his team, who used race-baiting tactics to overcome hard evidence and let a murderer go free. They existed within Simpson himself, who claimed he “never saw race” yet, upon seeing a commotion outside his mansion following his chase down the highway remarked to a white police officer “what are all these n—— doing here?”



The subject, OJ, of Ezra Edelman’s documentary is amended with a predicate: Made in America. Here lies the power of the story. Where the onus is placed on a culture, a nation, and a history that perpetuated the rise of such an individual, and tore itself apart amidst his demise. The idol worship culture, where the concept of a person being bigger than a person, exists for better or for worse. We elevated Bill Cosby as an all-time comedian. We elevated Tom Cruise as a charismatic screen-stealing superstar. We elevated Donald Trump as a money-savvy outsider who could plausibly lead the most powerful nation in the world for four straight years. Through interviews and news clippings Edelman shows us how our (now social) media-obsessed culture feeds into the mythos of ultimate success and power. We say that America is the place where winners go. You’ll never become as successful and as wealthy and as powerful anywhere else in the world as you can in America. Well, that sword comes with two edges. Capitalism is always coupled with materialism. Fame is always coupled with greed. Power is always coupled with corruption. Only in America could an O.J. Simpson be made. We all made him because we all fed into his myth and his lie. The greatness of O.J. Made in America is in its ability to connect the evolution of a nation with the trajectory of one man’s fame, power, and wealth and the American people’s investment in that story. Something to think about for the next four years.


2015 Capsule Reviews Part V

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)

The antithesis of the uninteresting and chokingly sugar-loaded Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Famuyiwa’s Sundance favorite evoked the adjectives of “stylish” and “well-written” on the surface, but underneath, the density of this film lies in its disturbing depiction of being a non-black, black teen. What Shameik Moore’s Malcolm goes through in the film is what in real life would be a no-win situation. The film is fictional and it’s a hopeful account, so Malcolm comes through in the end, but his letter to Harvard University really dispells what a rock-and-hard place it is for black teens who actually thoroughly seek the opportunity to succeed and escape from poverty via their academics. We have developed this notion of urban black youth as alienated and suffering due to poor schools and neglect from their fathers and set up to a “professional athlete or bust” highway, but even those who overcome all of that to still shine academically are still searching for their voice to be heard… and this is not simply through the notion of a percieved racial bias towards black from white folks, but as Fumiwuya aslo nugdingly suggests, it is also the alienation via black “counterculture” that proves a detriment to these children, because getting good grades, liking rock music, and being a virgin doesn’t really fit the stereotype of a kid growing up in the projects. It’s everyone’s fault, and Dope is really about that, but to keep us watching and refrain from being a finger-pointing angry lecture, it also wraps and laces itself intelligently and slyly in a giddy, twisty, and downright cool-with-a-capital-C polish.


Everest (Baltazar Kormakur, 2015)

Everest is the type of summer popcorn flick that I like. Well, this movie released in September, but it should’ve really released during the summer to help drown out the horde of sequel-prequel-remakequel crap with something that manages to pack a punch in both thrills and storytelling, but also in its emotion. The Everest disaster was truly tragic, and that’s probably what stopped this film from hitting the real zeitgeist… it’s a depressing story, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from enjoying and taking in the arduous journey up the tallest mountain on Earth. Kormakur doesn’t waste his time with much overt melodrama here, instead, he quietly mounts a sizeable backstory on each of the characters through their conversations with each other and a sense of believable bonding from a team that could very well die together. It works well, because we root for the whole team’s journey up the mountain and as the disaster of the storm rains down on them and starts to pick them off one by one, we root for them individually and are reminded the unique circumstances and goals they are fighting for. Everest is a non-franchise Hollywood thriller with a soul, and our summers could use a bit more of that.


Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015)

Trumbo is Hollywood, and by that I mean that this film lays out all the tricks and turns you’d expect in a Hollywood drama. It’s formula like that which comes in a baby bottle and its fed to us piece by piece with not a single moment left to our imagination. I can’t say I expected much from Jay Roach in his first forray into Oscar-bait drama, but I can say that while the narrative is completely bereft of particularly memorable moments, at least for cinema-geeks the movie is laden with plenty of little gifts here and there… a sequence with King Bros. motion pictures (with an incredibly hilarious John Goodman as producer Frank King), a lunch meeting sequence where Trumbo’s anonymous script is revealed to be the classic Roman Holiday, and John Wayne being John Wayne.


Partisan (Ariel Kliemann, 2015)

This is the second film, after Chappie, this year which I liked a lot more than everyone else. So let me use this to dispell one common argument against this film: its ambiguity. I will warn, Kleimann doesn’t bother to explain anything. Why are these children being raised in a renegade counter-society by a ruthless patriarch who impregnates multiple women? Why are they sent out to murder people on a whim? The ambiguity is really what drew me into this film. Many times, the questions we ask for explanation of such blatant frustration and horrific violence and power are anyways unexplained. What we do unquestionably witness in the film is a rebellion, and like all rebellions it is formed via a sense of compassion of one upstart individual who seeks to find retribution for another individuals mistreatment. Partisan acts as the microcosm example of how leaders are overthrown, when they step outside their boundaries, when their smoke and mirror lies are ultimately taken away to reveal a most horrific truth.


Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

Before I get labelled an “uncultured swine”, I’d like to say that no… it’s not that Kurzel chose to use actual Shakesperean “speak” as all of the dialogue in the film that turned me off. Instead, what makes this film a completely forgettable Shakespear adaptation is that it offers absolutely nothing original from which to evoke new emotion on the bard’s work. Trailers are misleading in this case… it suggested from the way Kurzel marketed this film that he has instilled a thumping, legendary tag onto Macbeth, one which transformed the film close to a subtly artistic yet swashbuckling rendition like Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol. Rather, this movie takes Shakespear from Sparknotes and plasters it on screen with tons of voice-over and a visual canvas that mixes both the serene psychosis of Marketa Lazarova but draped with the self-indulgent slow-motion dicking-around of Zach Snyder.