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Joel Mayward

2018 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury: Nominations and Discussion

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Hello All - I'm happy to be a part of this group again. I've been having some log in issues combined with family medical challenges - we're in action now though. My list for dialogue is below -and it includes some that were already seconded:

 

A Quiet Place

A Star Is Born

Bad Times at the El Royale

Black Panther

Christopher Robin

Eighth Grade

First Reformed

Free Solo

Green Book

The Hate U Give

Isle of Dogs

Leave No Trace

The Mercy

The Old Man and the Gun

The Other Side of the Wind

Paddington 2

Ready Player One

Roma

Searching

What They Had

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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Great to see your nominations here, Kevin and Noel!

I will second Josh Larsen's nomination for Chosen: Custody of the Eyes. Some of the best blocking and framing of 2018 is shot on a handheld camera by a novitiate nun, Sister Amata. There's a perfectly framed shot here of a teacup as nuns eat a meal in silence, Sister Amata sweeping up bread crumbs. It reminds me of the scene in Three Colors: Blue with the sugar cube in the tea, beautifully patient and emphasizing the wonder of ordinary things. Modest in its form and content, Chosen is an intriguing coming-of-age story and an exploration of documentary ethics--does the presence of a video camera change the culture of a group of cloistered nuns whose lives are intended to be hidden as a key part of their spiritual vocation? If you want to have contact info for a screener, DM or email me and I'll put you in touch with Abbie Reese, the filmmaker.

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Hope I'm not too late. We're in the thick of finals here at SPU. I'm stressed.

Here are a few I don't see on our current list that I would recommend adding, although I am afraid several might qualify as 2017 films, by our standards. (I haven't had time to look up the details.)

24 Frames

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc 

November

Private Life

Puzzle

The Sisters Brothers

 

 

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2 hours ago, Overstreet said:

Hope I'm not too late. We're in the thick of finals here at SPU. I'm stressed.

Here are a few I don't see on our current list that I would recommend adding, although I am afraid several might qualify as 2017 films, by our standards. (I haven't had time to look up the details.)

24 Frames

 

Heartily second 24 Frames (if it qualifies)! 

For anyone interested, my review is here: https://seattlescreenscene.com/2017/10/19/viff-2017-24-frames-abbas-kiarostami-2017/ 

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While 24 Frames was nominated last year and was Melissa's Honorable Mention, it was released theatrically in the US in February according to IMDB, and thus qualifies for our list this year. It will be released via Criterion (as a 2017 film) on January 8, 2019.

For Jeff's other nominees:

Jeannette: limited US release in April 2018 - qualifies

November: US release in February 2018 - qualifies

Private Life: Netflix release in October 2018 - qualifies

Puzzle: limited US release in June 2018 after Sundance premiere in January - qualifies

The Sisters Brothers: September limited release, October wide release in US - qualifies. Also, produced by the Dardenne brothers. (Sadly, I haven't seen this.)

And by way of clarification, here is our wording for qualifications: "a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year." Tacitly, this means a US and/or Canada release, not UK or elsewhere.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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7 hours ago, Overstreet said:

Puzzle

 

 

I will give a soft second to Puzzle, for which I added a thread here

The skeptic in me worries that the film is too conventional, not opaque enough for jury (or forum) tastes, but it's quite well done, and I do long to see a couple more accessible movies on our list mixed in with art-house fare and world cinema. I suppose the thing I like most about it is that it allows Agnes to grow out of or away from traditional roles associated with organized religion without totaling repudiating it.  That's  unfortunately rare these days.

Also, a soft second for Green Book, which a lot of people are arguing about in my neck of the woods.  It seems like a polarizing film, but I think it is better than the more snide dismissals of it tend to be even if it not as complex as race commentary sometimes is. The film it reminds me most of is actually Hidden Figures in that its automatically achieved goal is telling a story that ought to be better known so that we have a variety of stories about race and not just one meta-story. That said, I'm struggling to articulate exactly why I like it (or don't) for this list. I guess it is because rather than make a total bigot redemption arc story, it insists that most of us have a mix of good and bad -- sometimes grace and acceptance comes from unexpected places. I don't want to say more because...well, spoilers. 

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5 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

The Sisters Brothers: September limited release, October wide release in US - qualifies. Also, produced by the Dardenne brothers. (Sadly, I haven't seen this.)

And by way of clarification, here is our wording for qualifications: "a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year." Tacitly, this means a US and/or Canada release, not UK or elsewhere.

3

Historically this has more or less taken care of itself, as if one critic was too far ahead of the curve -- I think I nominated First Reformed last year too -- the film doesn't get viewed by enough critics to make the list but is on our radar for next year. Silence and Selma were both films that got late releases and were hurt by not enough people having screened them even though they got limited releases to be Oscar eligible. Sometimes we push for those late inclusions, sometimes we wait for next year. But our list is rarely one that simply repeats Oscars or critic-based awards, so it's unlikely that that target audience will look at a film that didn't get much coverage but picked up traction in DVD release and say, "Why didn't they nominate that last year?"  

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11 hours ago, Josh Larsen said:

Jeffrey, do you know of any way of seeing 24 Frames?

Nope. Not at the moment. The Criterion release is coming on January 8.

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On 11/25/2018 at 1:52 PM, Evan C said:

And while I was less enthusiastic than some people, I think Wildlife merits consideration not only as a coming of age story, but also as a story of how families depend on one another, and how the selfish actions of one family member affect the other members, so I nominate that too.

I didn't see Wildlife listed on the first page, so I thought I'd repost the above.

I also nominate Can You Ever Forgive Me? - a searing mockery not just of criminal enterprises, but also of greed and celebrity obsession which creates a void for said enterprises to fill. I thought the film did a fantastic job of balancing sympathy for its unethical protagonists while never failing to remind us how corrupt they were. And there's a late scene in which the characters discuss writing as a vocation, which acknowledges the misuse of Lee Israel's talents but also her humanity.

And a strong second for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

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1 hour ago, Evan C said:

I didn't see Wildlife listed on the first page, so I thought I'd repost the above.

Thanks Evan! I had missed it in the A&F post, even though I have it listed as a nominee in the personal Word document I have. I'm trying to update the nominations post daily, so there may be some delays. Still, a good reminder to all that if there's been a nomination or second and I haven't recorded it yet, please don't hesitate to point it out!

I will second Searching. John Cho gives quite the performance via on-screen furrowed brow stares, and this is the film I'd hoped Unfriended would be.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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kenmorefield wrote:
: Historically this has more or less taken care of itself, as if one critic was too far ahead of the curve -- I think I nominated First Reformed last year too -- the film doesn't get viewed by enough critics to make the list but is on our radar for next year. Silence and Selma were both films that got late releases and were hurt by not enough people having screened them even though they got limited releases to be Oscar eligible. Sometimes we push for those late inclusions, sometimes we wait for next year. But our list is rarely one that simply repeats Oscars or critic-based awards, so it's unlikely that that target audience will look at a film that didn't get much coverage but picked up traction in DVD release and say, "Why didn't they nominate that last year?"

The upshot of this seems to be that some films are eligible for *two* years and not just one. The wording of "a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year" would seem to suggest that they should be eligible for *one* year only.

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On 11/25/2018 at 12:03 PM, Joel Mayward said:

I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that Monrovia, Indiana has not been seconded yet, and this is a travesty. ;) Anyone else seen it yet?

Just finished it up this morning. Seconded! Also a big second for the mighty November and the lovely, ultimately moving (and, dare I say, kind of gentle?) The Sisters Brothers.

Edited by Christian

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Ken and Joel,

I will happily take the screener link or publicist contact for Chosen: Custody of the Eyes and Monrovia, Indiana. Email or message is fine.

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6 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

 

The upshot of this seems to be that some films are eligible for *two* years and not just one. The wording of "a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year" would seem to suggest that they should be eligible for *one* year only.

 

Three actually, if a film gets a festival run one year followed by a theatrical the next and DVD the next. Though realistically it ends up being the year of its theatrical release is a usually when we nominate it (if we do at all) because that is when the majority see it. But the original intent was to cast rules broadly. 

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6 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

The upshot of this seems to be that some films are eligible for *two* years and not just one. The wording of "a first-time theatrical, DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, or festival release in the 2018 calendar year" would seem to suggest that they should be eligible for *one* year only.

A good point and observation. The wording is intentionally ambiguous and a bit open to interpretation; the word "or" carries a lot of that ambiguity, and is meant to address the situation where a film is released at a festival one year and theatrically in wide release in a different year. A good example from this year is First Reformed. While we haven't yet made this a hard and fast rule, I would say that if a film was on our Top 10 list one year due to being a festival release and enough critics having seen it, then it wouldn't qualify for the following year if it had a wider theatrical or streaming release--it would be strange to have a film *twice* in our Top 10. So, if First Reformed or 24 Frames had been seen by enough jury members to be voted upon and make it into the Top 10 of 2017, then I would question its eligibility for this year's list. But I imagine First Reformed is going to be on a lot of folks' Top 2018 lists, not 2017 lists (even though, iirc, it was Ken's #1 of 2017 on his personal list); and First Reformed is winning awards in 2018 as a 2018 film, even though it also won an award at Venice in 2017 and was a Golden Lion nominee alongside The Shape of Water, Three Billboards, et al.

Ultimately, I tend to trust the jury's viewing habits and judgment in these things--what were we watching in 2018 that piqued our interest, the films from 2018 we think a Christian audience should check out? Those are the films I hope are on our ballots and final Top 10.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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I wish Ex Libris: The New York Public Library could qualify for this year. That is easily the most impressive documentary I've seen this year (and that includes Won't You Be My Neighbor?, much as I love it).

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Okay, all this talk of eligibility has made me decide to go ahead and nominate The Third Murder

Koreeda was in this clockwork pattern of festival circuit--US commercial release, so I was waiting to get this in the EOY screeners so I could revisit it. Then he had to go ahead and win the Palme d'Or and Shoplifters got all the love instead. Both are great films, but The Third Murder. It's not the domestic drama everyone expects from Koreeda, but it is an examination of the purpose of courts and the age-old conflict between caring about the truth and finding compromises between powerful interests. 

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On 11/24/2018 at 8:38 PM, Evan C said:

Does anyone want to weigh in on the merits or not of nominating The Hate U Give? It's first and foremost a heavy-handed sermon, although a very timely and very well made one. Starr (the protagonist) and her family are very well developed characters-both in terms of writing and acting-and their responses to a tragedy should be of interest to Christians, both in terms of depicting how people respond to traumatic events, and because said events are so prominent in 2018. At the same time, several of the supporting characters are one-dimensional archetypes who exist for Starr to punch down toxic ideologies that many people still harbour. There's nothing wrong with that, and in our current climate, I'd say it's necessary and a moral good. However, since we publish this list to provide a list of alternate titles to the usual message-movies of Christian cinema, I'm hesitant to nominate a film that has similar problems, just because it has better production quality and a message (I'd assume) most of us agree with. Thoughts?

2

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I "liked" (for lack of a better word) The Hate U Give even while being exasperated with it. I try to acknowledge that the things I don't like are products of the genre or current commercial trends than they are exclusive to the work itself. In particular, I sometimes feel like Black films, Christian films, and gay films all labor under this problematic expectation that White, secular, straight films don't: to be representative of the entirety of a class' existence when that class is varied, diverse, and sometimes in conflict with itself. 

I liked the first 20 minutes of the film, but then I felt like it either couldn't or wouldn't be about any one thing (the shooting, the family, Starr's coming-of-age). There has to be the basketball comment about the chicken and the discussion of whether or not her friends are worth having. Then the dad and his gang past. Then the white boyfriend and the discussion of white privilege. Any of these might have been the basis of a complex examination of race. All of them together come across like a NY Times editorial that bends over so far backwards to show it isn't demonizing the opposing view that it forgets to adopt one of its own. 

Some of this is, of course, indicative of its origins as a young-adult novel. I've been reading a half-dozen Black books about or addressed to Black youth (as part of an academic project) and there is this need to address topical events in some of them that I get but that also paradoxically makes it feel less universal and hence less urgent. That could just be me. I noticed in the screener that the pull quote from Forbes more or less acknowledges that the film isn't timeless so much as relevant and casts its campaign on that hope. 

It is relevant, and I think there is something appropriate and necessary about works addressed to young kids being less complex as far as their artistic presentation (even if their moral or emotional complexity recognizes young people's capabilities). Narnia or Harry Potter (Stephen King's endorsement notwithstanding) are neither morally nor artistically complex, but they do introduce readers to complex ideas at an age-appropriate level. If we wanted to nominate the themes rather than the movie, I think Black Panther would be a better choice or even Beale Street (which I recognize is a better movie even if Jenkins's lyricism has always left me cold). But I would certainly be willing to defend The Hate U Give on our list if it were part of a diverse selection that thoughtfully included recommendations for different audiences. Not sure I am going to nominate it or rate it very high, but I'm generally on board. 

 

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I nominate Summer 1993, now streaming via Kanopy and Amazon Prime US. A memorial and a memoir, the film is about a six-year-old orphaned girl in Spain who must move in with her aunt and uncle after her mother dies of AIDS. It's a tender, warmhearted film, nearly entirely from the perspective of a child (the parallels to Ponette are certainly there), and incorporates a significant amount of Roman Catholic spirituality within its meandering narrative. It was Spain's entry for the Oscars last year, but didn't really have a wider release until this year, at least in the US and UK. I'm not sure why it's not getting more end-of-year awards attention; it's an astonishing feature-length debut from Carla Simón, and currently at 100% at Rotten Tomatoes. Josh Larsen, is it too late for Summer 1993 to be a 2018 Golden Brick candidate on Filmspotting?

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On 12/2/2018 at 7:19 PM, kenmorefield said:

I "liked" (for lack of a better word) The Hate U Give even while being exasperated with it.

This was my reaction to the film--it's a lengthy sermon preached through a bullhorn, but it's a *good* sermon, and undeniably affecting. Amandla Stenberg's performance is remarkable, lifting the film from after-school special territory into something much more interesting and powerful.

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Joel Mayward wrote:
: This was my reaction to the film--it's a lengthy sermon preached through a bullhorn, but it's a *good* sermon . . .

I dunno. There were moments where the bullhorn definitely overpowered what might have been good in the sermon, to borrow the metaphor. At times it was like watching a Twitter fight performed by actual people, with all the wilful mutual misunderstanding that that implies.

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I've been thinking about Dumplin', a winsome Netflix film about a "plus-size" teenager who bonds with her skinnier friend over the music of Dolly Parton. They both join a beauty pageant to sabotage it, but in doing so they inspire another plus-size teen to follow her dream of participating. 

During the talent show, the other plus-size teen sings the hymn "High and Mighty." The cynic in me almost immediately responded with, "Yay Texas, where the only thing they love more than hating people not like them is Jesus." That's not really fair to the film, though, and I kinda, sorta, think a film with positive representations of red-state religion is significant even if it is somewhat aspirational. 

As an aside, this is the second film this year (after A Star is Born) where being comfortable visiting a drag bar is a badge of moral tolerance. Here there is perhaps slightly more overt implications that both groups (drag queens, plus-size) are rejected by the status-quo and are consequently more tolerant of others outside the mainstream even if those others are outside in different ways. 

I suppose the film is open to the critique made above toward The Hate U Give that characters outside the principals exist to mouth hanging curveballs for the main characters to knock out of the park, but unlike that film, I never get the sense that the main character is all good or that those who surround her are all bad. There is a certain amount of introspection, and rather than presenting Dumplin' as perfectly okay with herself and those who surround her as hopelessly obtuse, the film does show her dealing with self-loathing rather than just other-loathing and it does others trying to actually incarnate the values they say they hold even when dealing with the fringe's hatred or rejection of them and those values.

So, anyway, I nominate Dumplin'. It's not the typical kind of film that we've historically had on this list, but I wonder if there might be room for it somewhere. 

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kenmorefield wrote:
: As an aside, this is the second film this year (after A Star is Born) where being comfortable visiting a drag bar is a badge of moral tolerance.

I've been toying with starting a thread on the way films increasingly use characters' attitudes towards sexuality to signify who the Good Guys and Bad Guys are (or at least to indicate which way our sympathies should be skewed). Come Sunday was billed as a film about a preacher who ceases to believe in Hell... but in many ways it's really a film about a preacher who comes to accept homosexuality. Green Book is a film about racism... but the Viggo Mortensen isn't *really* all that racist, and anyway, he's totally okay with homosexuality. And Vice... well, that one's still under embargo, so I won't say exactly what the film *does* do (and *doesn't* do) with the relationship between Dick Cheney and his gay daughter, but it's a thematically significant element.

Anyway, your "badge" terminology seems to dovetail with my own thoughts about this.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I nominate Shoplifters, a film consistent with Koreeda's affecting recent works exploring familial bonds, including a third act reveal which adds to the ethical complexity (and the weeping).

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