I’ve been a fan of Rotten Tomatoes since it started in 1998 and began adding my reviews to it shortly after. I check it several times every day. So it is one of the greatest honors of my life that I have been designated a “top critic!” That means my reviews will be highlighted on the site, along with those of so many of my favorite critics and friends. My deepest thanks to everyone at Rotten Tomatoes, especially those working so hard to make the site more inclusive and diverse.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving This is the one with the famous episode about Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy keeps snatching away from him. And Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving and he is too kind-hearted to tell her that he won’t be there because his family is going to his grandmother’s. When the Peanuts gang comes over for a feast prepared by Charlie Brown himself, Patty gets angry at being served toast and jelly beans. But when she realizes how hard her friend tried to be hospitable, she learns what gratitude really means.
Squanto and the First Thanksgiving , Native American actor Graham Greene and musician Paul McCandless tell the story of Squanto’s extraordinary generosity and leadership in reaching out to the Pilgrims after he had been sold into slavery by earlier European arrivals in the New World.
We’re going to have to come up with a better term than POV to describe “Sound of Metal,” the story of a drummer who loses his hearing. POV describes a subjective portrayal, where we see just what the character sees instead of what an outsider can see. But “see” is the operative word. Much of “Sound of Metal” is subjective, so that we hear only what Ruben (brilliantly played by Riz Ahmed) is hearing. Many of the sounds are muted or distorted. Some of the movie is in silence. Sometimes we get a brief chance to hear what he cannot. There are subtitles in some moments but not in others so we can experience Ruben’s sense of confusion and isolation.
This is a remarkably assured debut from co-writer/director Darius Marder and his co-writer/composer/brother Abraham Marder. In an interview with me and a small group of other journalists, Darius Marder said making music the center of Ruben’s life was appealing because music connects people and because hearing loss is both a personal and professionally devastating for a musician. But he also said that music serves as a metaphor for relationships. We all have our own place within a relationship,” Darius said. “I play the drums and you play guitar and together we make this music. But what are we if we start pulling those sounds apart? If you leave, what is left? Abraham and I were both inspired by the concept of using this two-person band as a metaphor for a relationship. Even though it is steeped in a very specific music world, the intention was for it to be universal in
The Marders trust the audience to lean in to the film, to not need to have every detail explained in advance. So we gradually learn that Ruben is a former heroin addict, who has been clean for four years with the support of his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) and his utter devotion to music. We can see from the performance that leads off the film that Ruben gives everything he has to the raw emotion of the punk/metal music he and Lou play.
And then, suddenly, he hears a pop and then sounds are muffled and distorted. A doctor tells him it may be a result of the heroin use and that it isn’t coming back.
It’s just like the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages for impending death. The first stage is denial. Ruben plays another gig. He is sure he can fix this. But he can’t. Lou takes him to a rehab program for addicts with hearing loss led by Joe (played by Paul Raci, the son of Deaf parents). The program is attached to a school for Deaf children and at first Ruben is put in class with them to learn to sign.
The Marders show us in an understated way that Ruben’s addictive personality has just transferred from drugs to music and Lou. Away from both, he is lost. He learns to sign and begins to be a part of the new community but he is determined to get back what he lost, at any cost.
Ahmed, Cooke, and Raci all give understated, natural performances that draw us into the story even more than the immersive sound design. Much of Ahmed’s performance is in his deep, expressive eyes, making Ruben one of the most memorable characters on screen this year.
Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and discussion of substance abuse. There are some graphic images in a scene of an operation.
Family discussion: What will Ruben do next? Did he make the right decision about the operation? Why does Joe insist that Deaf people do not need to be “fixed?”
This has been a great year for documentaries and it was very hard to decide on my ballot for the Critics Choice Awards. I salute all of this year’s nominees and awardees.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
BEST FIRST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Melissa Haizlip, “Mr. SOUL!” (Shoes in the Bed Productions)
Roger Horrocks, “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)
Lindy Jankura, Alexis Johnson and Alex Keipper, “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Buck Sanders, “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”(Netflix)
David Attenborough, Narrator
David Attenborough, Writer
BEST ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARY
“MLK/FBI” (Field of Vision/IFC Films)
BEST HISTORICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY
“John Lewis: Good Trouble” (Magnolia Pictures/Participant)
BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Beastie Boys Story” (Apple)
“The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY
“Boys State” (Apple)
BEST SCIENCE/NATURE DOCUMENTARY
“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)
BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes” (HBO)
“Athlete A” (Netflix)
BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY
“St. Louis Superman” (MTV Documentary Films)
(Directors and Producers: Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra. Producer: Poh Si Teng)
MOST COMPELLING LIVING SUBJECTS OF A DOCUMENTARY (HONOR)
Dr. Rick Bright – “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Steven Garza – “Boys State” (Apple)
The Go-Go’s – “The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
Judith Heumann – “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (Netflix)
Dick Johnson – “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher – “Athlete A” (Netflix)
Fox Rich – “Time” (Amazon)
Pete Souza – “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
Taylor Swift – “Miss Americana” (Netflix)
Greta Thunberg – “I Am Greta” (Hulu)
The history of air combat in Europe during WWII is grippingly described by a man who was there and who has had decades of experience and research to put his experiences in perspective. Focusing on the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force and the Luftwaffe, the book covers how the WW II air campaign in Western Europe unfolded, how it ended, and its cost in terms of human life – not only for the aircrews in those unfriendly skies, but the innumerable innocents who suffered through the carnage in European cities caused by bombing. The aircraft and equipment, the battles, the strategy, and the people are all described by Bernard Nolan with the insight of an insider and the expertise of a scholar, and with detailed illustrations from aviation artist Matt Holness. From Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain to D-Day, B-17s, B-24s, P-47s, P-51s, and Spitfires, this book takes the reader inside the air battles that played a decisive role in WWII. Chapters sections include: The Bomber Will Always Get Through, The Schneider Trophy , The Messerschmitt Bf 109, Dunkirk, Unternehmen Seeloeven (Operation Sea Lion), Adlerangriff (Eagle Offensive), Chain Home Radar System, Adlertag (Eagle Day), Bombs Fall On London, Goering Blinks, The Hardest Day, Blitzkrieg, Hitler “Postpones” The Invasion The Battle Of Britain Ends, RAF Bomber Command, The Butt Study, The Casablanca Conference, Happy Valley, The Dam Busters, The Battle Of Berlin, Dresden, The Norden Bombsight, Superchargers, The B-24, The Fw 190, Regensburg-Schweinfurt
Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. John Holway’s Bloody Ground is the only oral history of American Black soldiers in the Korean War, our last segregated armed conflict.
This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way.
This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.