Quel deluge! The awards season scramble is upon us. Every day it would seem a new “important” film opens in New York City. The march to Academy Award nominations is in high step motion. Understand that the setup is to qualify for the IFC Spirit nominations (the independent film movement of approximately 6000 voters), the newly merged SAG-AFTRA Awards (this is the biggest voting bloc with approximately 60,000 paid up members with a ballot to cast) and on the opposite side of relevance, the glitzy Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press members (approximately 135 actual voters who are fiercely wooed in all manners imaginable). Yet the Oscar remains the most coveted film award in the world and a film that wins will see box office revenue increase worldwide. So, media buys will alert the public to the stars in big movies and these campaigns (and that is what they are) are more about catching voters’ attention. Once again, as good as some of these well publicized features are, and there are a number of them of merit which I will write about online, I will again bring some smaller films that will be harder to see once they leave the theaters that I think equally merit your consideration for the Reel Deal: Movies that Matter awards.
LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES !
Concussion dir Stacie Passon
Concussion was one of the big buzz competition films at Sundance this year. Audiences loved it and critics, usually along gender lines, were divided. Its storyline is a familiar one: what happens to a married couple with kids when the sizzle disappears under the covers. How the story is told is what divided people. The stay at home mom (Robin Weigert) with the two kids and the workaholic career driven provider are both women. A same sex marriage rooted in the suburbs with the same problem of restoring the sizzle in the relationship when both are dog tired from day jobs crawling into bed. Couples everywhere should be able to identify. They are 15 years in.
The stay-at-home mom does have a part time career as a real estate flipper of downtown Manhattan lofts, relieving her of the parenting corner she has painted herself in. When she is hit in the head with a softball at a Little League, her concussion moment changes everything (bingo!). Through her younger, straight, hot, loft handyman (Jonathan Tchaikovsky) she learns about a world she never knew existed – high-priced female |escorts for women. She plunges in has a couple of good and bad experiences. In this world of no commitment paid-for pleasure, she discovers what gay men have known for years. As Frankie sang: “Relax. Go to it. When you want to come …” She finally decides to stop being a client and with an almost therapist zeal services needy women of all ages and at an expensive therapist rate. It’s a terrific twist on how to save a relationship and be a happy mom. I think Passon, egged on by producer Rose Troche (L WORD) decided she would bring her own experience as a lesbian mom in a long term relationship with kids to the table and add the delicious and disruptive escort story line to what universal couples question: how to keep the sizzle in a loving long tern relationship.
Concussion is serious and simply hilarious. It’s bad girl feminism at its sensitive best. Her actors, recognizable from the best of adult TV – Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy – with courage and humanity, have a ball bringing a richness of character development to their roles that in male-centered comedies would have been played for every bit of lascivious low humor possible. What serious fun!
Newlyweeds dir Shaka King
We are in a rich moment of black contemporary story-telling. What Mother of George, Happy Sad and now NewlyWeeds have in common is the authenticity that is brought to the screen in the writing and directing. King, a recent NYU Film School graduate, locates his film in the new Bohemia of Brooklyn, Bed Sty. No thugs, no ghetto crack dealers, just young black people caught up in the exuberance of life that education and a middle class upbringing centers on. Yes, it is about how smoking pot does affect your life. Yet it is not an anti or pro pot film.
Newlyweeds is a story of how a young woman more in the mode of the Obama girls than Little Kim has to discover the hard way how to set boundaries and when to get and when to get and not get high. A young couple in love are navigating growing up. He (Amari Cheatom) is a former bad boy trying to straighten up and be responsible in the relationship. She (Trae Harris) is a black Holly Golightly. A middle class princess in search of her African roots who works as a children’s docent at a local museum. She is exuberant and fancy free and smokes pot almost all the time. They both do. This gets in the way of their relationship and dealing with reality. Shaka King insightfully looks into the couple’s life, which reflects the lives of many young people. A slice of life drama with a sense of beauty and expectation. It surely will have tongues wagging as it brings a reality check into these two people’s lives and ask what is love and how do you know it and what is the role of pot smoking in romance .
Five Dances dir Alan Brown.
AIDS killed queer cinema with its emphasis on transgression and in your face sexuality. However, it did not kill queer sensibility in film. A new generation of award winning filmmakers has emerged including Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On), Andrew Haigh (Weekend), Travis Mathew (I Want Your Love), and Kyle Henry (Fourplay). All put the reality of same sex attraction, the erotic desire and sexuality and the possibility of love and let them intersect on a landscape of human behavior that welcomes with no shame both the difference and the common threads with heterosexual life.
Alan Brown is a part of this generation of filmmakers. Since his first award winning film O Beautiful, Brown has refused to pander to stereotype and has set his sights on an art-driven, intellectually-seeded look at human relationships. Five Dances is a contemporary coming of age love story centered on the lives of four dancers. What sets Five Dances apart is how Brown actually uses dance as a character in the film to move the plot along with the camera like a shadow dancer ever present. Chip, an 18 year old leaves his dysfunctional family and comes to New York to dance. He becomes a member of a classically trained modern dance company and finally finds a home he never really had. How Brown found a dancer who could act is a wonder. Jonah Bokaer, a formerMerc Cunninghamdancer, superbly creates the five dances that move the film from beginning to end. Brown integrates the dance sequences in way that they become character driven.Ryan Steel, a Broadway performer is indelible as Chip. He can dance! He can act! He is also a beauty that will have many a heart throbbing. Alan Brown’s Five Dancers manages to be a beautiful dance film and a very compelling love story. See it!