The delay of the Oscars until April 25 was one of many changes in the movie industry in the past year; movies released in the U. S. through February 28 are deemed eligible if there was an intention to have released them theatrically.
The standard-bearers opening this week include Shaka King’s sleek Chicago-set marvel, “Judas & The Black Messiah,” an assured, stirringly acted, now-understated, now-urgent telling of the ascent of Black Panthers chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and the infiltrator (Lakeith Stanfield) who observes his drive and idealism at close hand even as he is pressured to provide more information to take down the man who says to resist “the candy coated facade of gradual reform” and that “No individual creates a rebellion, it is created out of conditions.” Fiery and too, too topical. With Dominique Fishback as Hampton’s heart and heart of the picture. [For local background, Chicago Film Archive has the documentary of their 35mm restoration of the activist documentary exemplar “The Murder Of Fred Hampton” (1971) free to watch at their site.] Theaters and HBO Max for thirty-one days.
Robin Wright’s mournful, underplayed “Land” has the misfortune of opening alongside awards favorite “Nomadland,” which is also about a woman who lets herself loose in the wilds of contemporary America. (“Nomadland” is scheduled to play in Chicago theaters this week before its February 19 addition to Hulu.) After directing ten episodes of “House of Cards,” Wright makes her superb feature directorial debut with an eye for beauty and a sense of time as her lead character escapes to the Rockies, including the time needed to grieve, finding inner turmoil, the great outdoors and Demián Bichir. “Land” opens in theaters, including the River East, Davis, Landmark Century and suburban locales.
The awards wild card could be writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” an emotionally rich, detailed American coming-of-age story, which includes a rich ensemble of performances, playing Korean-American children, fathers, elders in the South. Available for two weeks with limited showtimes via A24 Direct [link] and through theaters including Siskel. Theaters include the Davis and Landmark Century.
Jodie Foster takes a rare role, playing a defense attorney in “The Mauritanian,” contesting the case of an alleged 9/11 terrorist at Guantanamo Bay who has been held for six years. Adapted by versatile director of documentaries and features, Kevin Macdonald (“One Day in September,” “The Last King of Scotland”) from Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s 2015 memoir “Guantánamo Diary,” it’s a reminder of how Foster not only burns a hole in the screen, but lifts the rest of the cast up with her. Tahar Rahim, is, as always, a marvel. Theaters include River East.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s fourth feature, the haunting memory collage “The Mirror” (1975), has been digitally restored, and opens via Music Box Direct on Friday, February 12.
Awards and nominations accelerate as well for “Another Round” from Thomas Vinterberg (“Celebration,” “The Hunt”), a cool, bruising comedy parable about addiction and self-worth within a band of hellbent, performative Danish drinking buddies led by the criminally charismatic and savagely empathetic Mads Mikkelsen. Music Box, Siskel virtual cinema.
Viggo Mortensen’s writing-directing debut “Falling,” follows an estranged son (Mortensen) facing the diminishing mental and emotional capacities of his isolated, bitter rural father (Lance Henriksen). The conflicts are fiery and the storytelling rich in detail and redemptive character. Video-on-demand via most providers.
During Black History Month, Full Spectrum Features presents “Our Right to Gaze: Black Film Identities,” a short film collection and artist development program for Black filmmakers. The collection shows virtually with over thirty cinema partners on February 14. The program is a partnership between Full Spectrum Features (Chicago), The Luminal Theater (New York City), Northwest Film Forum (Seattle), and Circle Collective (New York City), supported in part by the Arts Work Fund. Information and tickets here.
“Mike Nichols: A Life,” the exceptionally well-reviewed biography drawn from dozens of interviews by journalist and film historian Mark Harris (“Five Came Back,” “Pictures at a Revolution”) has a brief excerpt about the making of “The Graduate” at CBS News and a longer one set in a crisis period in the EGOT’s creative life around the time of “Heartburn” at Vulture. After a screening of the not-then-beloved Nora Ephron self-self-realization roman à clef, Harris relates, “That night, he was rattled. ‘There was a dinner afterward,’ recalls Tracey Jackson, a young woman with whom Nichols had become friendly and occasionally flirtatious. ‘It was clear it hadn’t gone well, and nobody wanted to talk about the movie. Afterward, we were crossing Central Park, and he said, “You know, people think that because I’m Mike Nichols, I don’t need praise. I need a lot. Nobody gets that.” He just seemed so bereft and alone, more than I had ever seen.'”
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.