My Top Ten Films of 2019 — And My Worst

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 12:20 pm

My top ten list for 2019, in alphabetical order and with runners-up:

Copyright A24 2019

“1917”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“Amazing Grace”
“Bombshell”
“Booksmart”
“The Irishman”
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

Runners-up: “Apollo 11,” “Blinded by the Light,” “The Farewell,” “Hail Satan?,” “Honeyland,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Parts You Lose,” “The Mustang,” and “The Laundromat”

And on television/streaming: Unbelievable, Russian Doll

My colleagues at rogerebert.com and I wrote about the best performances of 2019, too. I got to write about Jonathan Majors in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Any good actor can play characters who have great speeches and witty dialogue, who express extreme and expressive emotions like passion, fury, shock, and who determine the direction of the storyline. But Jonathan Majors had to find a way to play Mont, a character who is quiet, gentle, and observant, literally along for the ride—he and his best friend Jimmie Fails ride one skateboard, holding on to each other. Majors showed us who Mont was with the subtlest expressions and gestures, all within the context of the film’s delicate, poetic lyricism.

Co-writer/director Joe Talbot told me that Majors improvised one of the movie’s most striking scenes, when Mont approaches a group of men standing on a sidewalk taunting those who walk by. They are a sharp contrast to Jimmie and Mont, who may not be realistic in their plans but who are always focused and active. Their constant commentary also functions like a Greek chorus. In the initial script, Mont was supposed to distract the group with a magic trick. But Majors suggested that Mont surprise the group by critiquing them as though they were in an advanced acting seminar with a shared vocabulary of dramaturgy. This reveals a lot about what Mont has been thinking and the way he sees the world. And it beautifully sets up a climactic moment near the end of the film. Mont finally speaks up, fittingly, first through a play and then directly, with a message he knew would be devastating for Jimmie. Majors shows us that Mont knows he risks ending the most important relationship he had, but knows it is essential for Jimmie’s well-being. Majors made Mont more than a sidekick, a fully-realized character of his own, ultimately someone we care about and root for—and perhaps wish we could be lucky enough to have as a friend ourselves.

And the movies I really suffered through in 2019, including (inevitably) some that turned up on some top ten lists from other critics this year but really did not work for me:

Copyright 2019 Universal
Souvenir
Serenity
Dark Phoenix
Lucy in the Sky
Joker
The Goldfinch
Playing With Fire
Last Christmas
Cats

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Lists

Queen & Slim Leads 2019 Black Reel Awards Nominees

Posted on December 11, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Copyright 2019 Universal Pictures
The gripping story of a couple on the run from the law following a traffic stop gone wrong, Queen and Slim, received 14 nominations and in the process became the third film in Black Reel Awards history to be so honored.

Director Melina Matsoukas’ piercing examination of race and justice tied both Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, scoring multiple nominations. They included Outstanding Motion Picture, Outstanding Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female (Jodie Turner-Smith), Outstanding Screenplay (Original or Adapted) and Outstanding First Screenplay for Lena Waithe, as well as Outstanding Director and Outstanding Emerging Director for Matsoukas.

In addition, the film received multiple nominations in the Outstanding Song category, for Collide (Tiana Major9 & EARTH GANGO) and Guarding the Gates (Lauryn Hill), Outstanding Score and nods in every technical category, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Costume Design and Outstanding Production Design.

Director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his Black Reel Award winning film, Get Out, Us thrilled voters as well on the way to 12 nominations. Led by its visionary director, who garnered a record-tying four nominations including Outstanding Director, Outstanding Screenplay, Original or Adapted, and Outstanding Motion Picture. Peele also was recognized for Outstanding Voice Performer for Toy Story 4. Us also secured an Outstanding Motion Picture nomination as well as Outstanding Actress for Black Reel Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female for newcomer Shahadi Wright Joseph, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Score, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Costume Design, and Outstanding Production Design.

The story of underground cult comedian Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite Is My Name also scored double-digit nominations with 11. Led by Outstanding Actor nominee Eddie Murphy, the film received multiple nominations for its talented cast including Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female for newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Outstanding Supporting Actor for Black Reel Award winner Wesley Snipes, Outstanding Breakthrough Actor, Male for Titus Burgess. The film also garnered noms for Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Score, as well as Outstanding Costume Design for last year’s winner, Ruth E. Carter.

“I’m extremely thrilled with the choices that our Voting Academy made this year,” said Black Reel Awards founder and President, Tim Gordon. ”As we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, it is both humbling to reminisce about the journey, yet refreshing to see and experience so much new talent that graced the screen for the first time.”

Other highlights include Waves receiving nine nominations followed by the indie darling, The Last Black Man in San Francisco that scored eight nominations. Seven nominations went to the prison drama, Clemency, while both Harriet and Luce each took home six nods. In addition, three directors each received four nominations, Chinoye Chukwu, Julius Onah, and Peele.

The 20th Annual Black Reel Awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, February 6, 2020, live streamed on BlogTalkRadio.

20TH ANNUAL BLACK REEL AWARDS NOMINEES
(Digital Nomination Copy)

Outstanding Motion Picture

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Eddie Murphy, John Fox & John Davis

JUST MERCY (Warner Bros.)
Asher Goldstein & Gil Netter

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Pamela Addy, Andrew Coles, James Frey, Michelle Knudsen, Melina Matsoukas, Lena Waithe & Brad Weston

US (Universal Pictures)
Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Ian Cooper & Sean McKittrick

WAVES (A24)
Trey Edward Schultz, Kevin Turen & James Wilson

Copyright A24 2019

Outstanding Actor

JIMMIE FAILS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Luce (Neon)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Waves (A24)

DANIEL KALUUYA
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

EDDIE MURPHY
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

Outstanding Actress

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

CYNTHIA ERIVO
Harriet (Focus Features)

GUGU MBATHA-RAW
Fast Color (Lionsgate/Codeblack)

LUPITA NYONG’O
Us (Universal Pictures)

JODIE TURNER-SMITH
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

ALFRE WOODARD
Clemency (Neon)

Outstanding Director

MATI DIOP
Atlantics (Netflix)

KASI LEMMONS
Harriet (Focus Features)

MELINA MATSOUKAS
Queen & Slim (Universal Pictures)

JULIUS ONAH
Luce (Neon)

JORDAN PEELE
Us (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actor

STERLING K. BROWN
Waves (A24)

ALDIS HODGE
Clemency (Neon)

JAMIE FOXX
Just Mercy (Warner Bros.)

JONATHAN MAJORS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

WESLEY SNIPES
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Actress

SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH
Us (Universal Pictures)

JANELLE MONAE
Harriet (Focus Features)

DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

TAYLOR RUSSELL
Waves (A24)

OCTAVIA SPENCER
Luce (Neon)

Outstanding Screenplay

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinonye Chukwu

LES MISERABLES (Amazon Studios)
Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini & Alexis Manenti

LUCE (Neon)
J.C. Lee & Julius Onah

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Lena Waithe

US (Universal Pictures)
Jordan Peele

Outstanding Documentary Feature

THE APOLLO (HBO Documentary)
Roger Ross Williams, director

THE BLACK GODFATHER (Netflix)
Reginald Hudlin, director

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE (Netflix)
Rachel Lears, director

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL (Abramorama)
Stanley Nelson, director

TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM (Magnolia Pictures)
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, director

Outstanding International Film

ATLANTICS (Netflix)
Senegal

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Netflix)
United Kingdom

FARMING (Momentum Pictures)
United Kingdom

IN FABRIC (A24)
United Kingdom

LES MISERABLES (Amazon Studios)
France

Outstanding Ensemble

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Lindsay Graham & Mary Vernieu, casting directors

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Julia Kim, casting director

JUST MERCY (Warner Bros.)
Carmen Cuba, casting director

US (Universal Pictures)
Terri Taylor, casting director

WAVES (A24)
Avy Kaufman, casting director

Outstanding Voice Performance

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR (Scar)
The Lion King (Disney)

DONALD GLOVER (Simba)
The Lion King (Disney)

JAMES EARL JONES (Mufasa)
The Lion King (Disney)

KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY (Ducky)
Toy Story 4 (Disney)

JORDAN PEELE (Bunny)
Toy Story 4 (Disney)

Outstanding Score

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Scott Bomar

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Emile Mosseri

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Devonte Hynes

US (Universal Pictures)
Michael Abels

WAVES (A24)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Outstanding Original Song

“COLLIDE” (QUEEN & SLIM)
Tiana Major9 & EARTH GANG, performers

“DON’T TURN BACK” (THE APOLLO)
Robert Glasper & Ledisi, performers

“GUARDING THE GATES” (QUEEN & SLIM)
Lauryn Hill, performer

“IT’S NOT OVER” (BRIAN BANKS)
Gizzle & Sam Fisher, performers

“SPIRIT” (THE LION KING)
Beyonce Knowles-Carter, performer

Outstanding Independent Feature – Awarded to the Director & Producers

BURNING CANE (ARRAY)
Phillip Youmans, director
Ojo Akinlana, Wendell Pierce, Mose Mayer, Isaac Webb, Cassandra Youmans Jakob Johnson & Karen Kaia Livers, producers

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinonye Chukwu, director
Timur Bekbosunov, Julian Cautherley, Bronwyn Cornelius & Peter Wong, producers

GUAVA ISLAND (Amazon Studios)
Hiro Murai, director
Donald Glover, Carmen Cuba, Jennifer Roth & Fam Udeorji, producers

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Joe Talbot, director/producer
Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh & Khaliah Neal, producers

LUCE (Neon)
Julius Onah, director/producer
John Baker & Andrew Yang, producers

Outstanding Short Film

AMERICA
Garrett Bradley, director

HAIR LOVE (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Matthew A. Cherry, director

IT’S NOT ABOUT JIMMY KEENE
Caleb Jaffe, director

SUICIDE BY SUNLIGHT
Nikyatu Jusu, director

ZAHRA AND THE OIL MAN
Yucef Mayes, director

Outstanding Independent Documentary

16 BARS
Sam Bathrick, director

NO LYE: AN AMERICAN BEAUTY STORY
Bayer Mack, director

THE REMIX: HIP HOP X FASHION
Lisa Cortes & Farah Khalid, director

Outstanding Emerging Director

CHINONYE CHUKWU
Clemency (Neon)

NIA DACOSTA
Little Woods (Neon)

MATI DIOP
Atlantics (Netflix)

MELINA MATSOUKAS
Queen & Slim (Universal)

JULIUS ONAH
Luce (Neon)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male

TITUSS BURGESS
Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)

JIMMIE FAILS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

KELVIN HARRISON JR.
Waves (A24)

ALDIS HODGE
Clemency (Neon)

JONATHAN MAJORS
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female

MAME BINETA SANE
Atlantics (Netflix)

SHAHADI WRIGHT JOSEPH
Us (Universal Pictures)

DA’VINE JOY RANDOLPH
Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)

TAYLOR RUSSELL
Waves (A24)

JODIE TURNER-SMITH
Queen & Slim (Universal)

Outstanding First Screenplay

ATLANTICS (Netflix)
Mati Diop & Olivier Demangel

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND (Netflix)
Chiwetel Ejiofor

BURNING CANE (ARRAY)
Phillip Youmans

CLEMENCY (Neon)
Chinoye Chukwu

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Lena Waithe

Outstanding Cinematography

HARRIET (Focus Features)
John Toll

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (A24)
Adam Newport-Berra

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Tad Radcliffe

US (Universal Pictures)
Mike Gioulakis

WAVES (A24)
Drew Daniels

Outstanding Costume Design

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Ruth E. Carter

HARRIET (Focus Features)
Paul Tazewell

HUSTLERS (STX Entertainment)
Mitchell Travers

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Shiona Turini

US (Universal Pictures)
Kym Barrett

Outstanding Production Design

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Netflix)
Clay A. Griffith

HARRIET (Focus Features)
Warren Alan Young

THE LION KING (Disney)
James Chinlund

QUEEN & SLIM (Universal Pictures)
Karen Murphy

US (Universal Pictures)
Ruth De Jong

Nominations Per Film

14 nominations
Queen & Slim

11 nominations
Us

10 nominations
Dolemite is My Name

9 nominations
Waves

8 nominations
The Last Black Man in San Francisco

7 nominations
Clemency

6 nominations
Harriet
Luce

5 nominations
Atlantics
The Lion King

3 nominations
Just Mercy

2 nominations
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Burning Cane
Les Miserables
Toy Story 4

1 nomination
16 Bars
America
The Black Godfather
Brian Banks
Guava Island
Farming
Fast Color
Hair Love
Hustlers
In Fabric
It’s Not About Jimmy Keene
Knock Down the House
Little Woods
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
No Lye: An American Beauty Story
The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion
Suicide by the Sunlight
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Zahra and the Oil Man

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Awards Race and Diversity

Interview: Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails of The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Posted on June 22, 2019 at 9:13 pm

Copyright A24 2019
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is stunning debut film from director/co-writer/co-producer Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails, who co-wrote the story, based on incidents in his own life, and who plays a character named Jimmie Fails in the film.

The exquisite lyricism and meditative, poetic images give a grand, elegiac quality to the story about Jimmie’s dream of returning to the grand Victorian mansion that was once his family’s home in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco that is making it impossible for lower-income and middle class residents, especially non-whites, to continue to live there. Fails, with Jonathan Majors has his character’s closest friend, Montgomery, give deeply moving performances of quiet power, and it is one of my favorite films of the year.

In interviews, Talbot and Fails, lifelong friends, talked about what their home city means to them and why it was as important to them to tell the story of a friendship as it was to present loss and longing for the home.

Something we don’t see very often in movies is such a beautiful portrayal of a friendship so tell me a little bit about why that was something that you really wanted to have front and center in this story?

JF: I think it was important to see two males being gentle with each other and especially for black men because we always feel like you have to be this masculine tough guy or something or you can’t show your feelings to your friend so I think more particularly with black men that was important to show a friendship like that.

What inspired the beautiful, lush images of the film?

JT: I grew up watching a lot of old Hollywood films, pre-code and noir, with a particular interest in films in San Francisco from the 40’s and then obviously into the 70’s with movies like The Conversation. Actually sort of in getting ready for this film I dug for some lesser-known San Francisco movies that I hadn’t seen like Petulia, one that I love.

There is something about San Francisco that I think lives nationally in the imagination of filmgoers because it is a place that has been filmed for a very long time. But Jimmie and I felt like our side of San Francisco didn’t get that same cinematic treatment in film. We spent what feels like a lifetime walking around the streets of San Francisco. It’s strange because a lot of that’s disappearing. Our favorite places that Jimmie and I would go on these walks through the mission and Bernal and along those routes. Some of our favorite spots have been bulldozed and there have been new condos erected in their place and so as much as we wanted to make it a sort of valentine to San Francisco, the beauty of the city both in the architecture and the people, it was also just trying to document what we loved about it before it was all gone.

That obviously had a big impact on our approach to the way we wanted to show it as being sort of a magical place, and that also came from Jimmie and his character. He loved San Francisco very much and I think in his mind particularly when you meet him in the film it’s going to hold a certain romance for him as much as it can feel like it doesn’t love him back.

It was important to show the city as being lush and having these saturated rich colors partly just because that’s to me what the city feels like, what it looks like. The Victorians lend themselves to that and there’s also a regal quality.

When Jimmie and I first started talking about it we would say sometimes it felt like it’s the story of a deposed prince trying to get back the family throne and he’s on this odyssey-like journey. Every so often, he and Mont, as we see them do in the beginning, they take this journey from the outskirts of San Francisco, literally the furthest corner of the furthest point back into the heart of the city, to the old castle that he once lived in. That’s part of why we shot the scene when Jimmie’s yelling at the Segway tour led by Jello Biafra because that was supposed to show how he’s restored to the throne. Jonathan in his brilliance, when he comes out on the balcony and he says to him you look like King Jimmie each time he waved; that was all improvised by Jonathan but he really understood that scene on a deep level and it comes out in improv moments like that.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Mont essentially directs the guys who hang out on the corner all the time and essentially act as a counterpoint or Greek chorus in the film. He talks to them as though he’s a director giving actors notes on a scene.

JT: It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s another scene that was entirely improvised. Jonathan is wonderful to work with. He really studied the script and he’d quote it back to me, when I would try to change a line. He’d say, “No, we can’t change that line and this is why we can’t change it.” He really absorbs every word. Everything has so much conviction; every line he reads, and he gets very particular about them. But that was a scene where we felt like it just wasn’t working.

Originally he was supposed to cross the street and perform a magic trick as a distraction and on some level he did essentially the same thing. He took on the energy that was coming to Kofi but he always felt like Montgomery is observing the world as theater; everything is theatrical to him and of course an hour and a half of observations throughout the film all of that comes out then finally and expressed by him in his play.

I think in that moment it was a beautiful idea that Jonathan had that what if he cross the street and he treated them like performers because in a way we all in our own ways are performing something and in that moment it’s a toughness. I think those guys have more layers than what we see in that moment even though the guys were sort of leading the bullying of Kofi all have complicated feelings about that inside. Some of that confusion by them was somewhat genuine because there was no script to look to about what he might be doing.

Jimmie, your character wears pretty much the same clothes throughout the film. What does that hat and shirt tell us about the character?

JF: Joe made it. It grew on me. I didn’t necessarily like it but it was supposed to be reminiscent of a different era a little bit like kind of the old school sort of thing. I was very inspired by Brando in On the Waterfront with the beanie hat, the kind of longshoreman sort of look and there were a lot of longshoreman in San Francisco, black longshoreman, so it was kind of supposed to be like that sort of thing.

The magnificent Victorian house is so important to the film, really a character in the film. What was it like to be inside it?

JF: From the moment you step into that house it’s like everything outside doesn’t even exist. We were trying to find Victorian because we couldn’t use mine (the actual house the story was based on). It took us a while to find the house because all the places we went would be like Victorians on the outside and we go inside it would just look all new and it didn’t have the old sort of Victorian style inside. S o when we found that one and the owner was so nice to let us in.

Did you have a favorite room in the house or a favorite detail?

JF: The library for sure. The books he has in there — it’s insane. He has National Geographics that go back to like 1800 and something, like he literally has it’s insane what he has in there; I think it was like some of the original copies.

It must have been a challenge to take a story that is in part based on the real life of the person who is writing and performing it and then say, “Well, that may have happened but we can’t do it that way in the movie.” How did you navigate that?

JT: It’s interesting because I feel like everything I’ve ever made even going back to our first movies as teenagers came from something that happened in our lives. One of the first movies that Jimmie and I made with my younger brother Nat was about two friends who wind up in the suburbs for the weekend and they are lured out to the suburbs by two girls that they meet and I’m in it and Jimmie’s in it and it starts to go very wrong very fast.

It’s about two city kids who were very weirded out by the suburbs and we end up fleeing back to San Francisco in the end but that was basically something that had happened to me. So in a way it’s all natural that we would be talking about Jimmie’s life as we often did or with my life and then that would somehow end up being turned into a movie.

I think for this in particular some of the stories are pulled directly from Jimmie’s life; the scene with his mother is something that actually happened when he saw her on the bus after having not seen her for a long time and the character Mike Epps plays, Bobby, was a guy who drove off with the car that Jimmie and his dad was living in, they didn’t really acknowledge it.

Through a collective imagination, part of the film was not just retelling things that had actually happened but imagining different ways to tell them or to elaborate on them so thinking, “What if this guy drove off with Jimmie’s car never really acknowledged it even years later and still sort of said that he was just borrowing it and even if he picked Jimmy up and drove around town?” It was funny to think, “Who could do that so well?” Mike Epps is one of the funniest people in the world.

Even for the scene with Jimmie and his mom, it was like wanting to shoot that in a way that both felt honest and real. That was his real mother playing his mother in the movie. Part of what’s important about that is they look so much alike, he’s really his mother’s son in some ways, but also wanting to show in the way we shot them like that, shot reverse shot, a very stylized look, that there’s a distance between them as the world is sort of whirring past them both.

So I think that was actually from me and Jimmie as kids that first bonded on telling stories to each other, that was one of the most fun parts of this, how to take these real events and spin them into something that was partially fiction and partially true.

Jimmie always says for him every scene was emotionally true, even if the events and the characters were changed.

What has been the most gratifying of the reactions that you got from the film?

JF: Just people saying, “Thank you for being vulnerable.” It’s the best thing I could hear. People say a lot of beautiful things about the cinematography, about the actual art of it but when people thank me for that it means everything. It was hard for me to put myself out there, so that means everything to me.

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Actors Directors Interview Writers

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Posted on June 13, 2019 at 5:34 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug abuse
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2019
Date Released to DVD: August 26, 2019

Copyright A24 2019
The Last Man in San Francisco” is an exquisitely filmed story about love and loss, beauty and pain. The star of the film is a young black man named Jimmie Fails, played by a writer and actor named Jimmie Fails, and the script is based on a story by Fails and director Joe Talbot, friends since childhood, based on incidents in Fails’ life.

The movie Jimmie has a best friend named Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) who lives with his blind grandfather (Danny Glover). Jimmie has been sleeping on the floor next to Mont’s bed. Every two weeks, they visit the Victorian home Jimmie’s family once lived in. Over the strong objections of the middle-aged white resident couple (she objects more than he does, but she seems to be the one with a real ownership stake), they perform small touch-ups to maintain the trim, fixtures, and garden. The middle-aged white owners see it as intrusive (and possibly as criticism). But for Jimmie, who is determined to live there again some day, it is a chance to care for the house that is a legend in his family, built by his grandfather, and a symbol of an idea of home that seems to be gone for good.

The film creates a poetic, dreamlike mood that almost floats over the story, an astonishingly assured debut that trusts the story and trusts the audience to let us fill in the details and come to our own conclusions, especially refreshing in an era of multi-national financing where specifics are smoothed over and everything has to be explained two or three times to meet the expectations of an international audience.

Instead, here, we have the infinitely expressive faces of Fails and Majors, as eloquent as any performances you will see this year. We first see them waiting for a bus that never comes, as telling a moment as the entire text of “Waiting for Godot.” So they hop on Jimmie’s ever-present skateboard, the perfect freedom of their ride in tandem in sharp contrast to the restrictions they face everywhere else. We get glimpses of what has made the house so important to Jimmie in his encounters with his father and mother, each disconnected and making clear that those relationships are not able to give him any sense of home. We see Jimmie and Mont talking to a group of guys who hang out on the street tossing insults at each other and everyone else, their only way to create a sense of camaraderie and belonging. In one of the film’s highlights, he approaches the group with his own version of the dozens — some directorial notes about the meta-impact of what is quite literally their performances.

The residents have to move out of the house and, like the characters in the film, it falls into a kind of limbo. Jimmie knows this is his moment. He retrieves his family’s furniture from his aunt, who has been storing it, and returns to what he will always think of as his home.

In a film like this, the house itself has to be a character in the story, and this one is, a grand old place with a witch’s hat roof, a library filled with vintage leather-bound classics, an organ and a piano, and all of the original architectural finishings of the era perfectly preserved. We see a Segway tour go by (led by Jello Biafra), and Jimmie correcting him about the history of the house. This is a place for dreams to come true, including Mont’s dream of writing a play. Jimmie tells him the play will be performed in the house, and they invite everyone they know.

But a treasure like this house must go to someone who can afford it, and that is not the only terrible loss in the film. While Jimmie mourns what is gone, Mont mourns with him. The depiction of a deep and tender friendship between two men who are always sad, sometimes lost, seldom angry, and always open to love and beauty, echoes movingly throughout the story and the story-telling in this unquestionable cinematic masterpiece.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, some violence, family tensions and dysfunction, and graphic non-sexual nudity.

Family discussion: Why are Jimmie and Mont friends? How can communities prosper without pushing out lower-income residents? What do we learn from the guys on the street? Where will Jimmie go?

If you like this, try: “Blindspotting” and “Sorry to Bother You”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Race and Diversity
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