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Indie Focus: Holiday movies to look forward to

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week we unveiled the Holiday Movie Sneaks package, looking at what will be getting us all through into next year. Justin Chang and Glenn Whipp surveyed this hard-to-understand moment, with a release calendar in flux and an awards season that promises to be like no other.

Among the titles they are looking forward to are “Mank,” “Soul,” “Another Round” and “One Night in Miami.” There is also the rather astonishing run of “I’m Your Woman,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Pieces of a Woman” and “Wonder Woman 1984.”

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Jen Yamato spoke with Viola Davis about her role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” an adaptation of the August Wilson play directed by George C. Wolfe. Davis, who has won two Tonys and an Oscar for her performances in Wilson’s work, discussed the playwright’s significance in telling Black stories.

“August Wilson was basically a griot, which in Africa were historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets, who kept the history alive in the tribes. They kept our stories alive,” she said. “What makes him powerful is that he’s ours. He belongs to the African American community. He wrote to elevate us. To elevate our humor. To elevate our beauty. To elevate our pain. To elevate our complexity, and to elevate ultimately who we were in every decade of life. ... He introduced us to the world.”

Sonaiya Kelley talked to codirectors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers about “Soul,” the first Black-led film from animation powerhouse Pixar. It’s the story of a 40-something jazz musician (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who dies and is trying to return his soul to his body. “I’m hoping this film affects different audience members in different ways,” Powers said. “For the Black audience, I hope that when they see it, it’s evident that someone like them had a hand in creating it. That’s really important to me.”

Ryan Faughnder took a look at how Universal’s “The Croods: A New Age” could be an unlikely harbinger of changes to theatrical release windows for movies and to the dynamics between studios and theaters. As producer Jason Blum put it, “The question is: ‘Would you rather have a three-week window or have everything go straight to streaming?’”

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And I wrote about how “Happiest Season,” “Godmothered” and “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two” bring some newfound holiday spirit to this most unusual of holiday seasons.

“It feels like a very good time to put something like this out into the world,” Clea DuVall, director and cowriter of “Happiest Season,” said of releasing a feel-good LGBTQ holiday rom-com to a streaming service now. “It’s uplifting, and I think after the year we’ve had we all need that. That’s what I’m searching for every single time I turn on the TV — what’s going to make me feel happy.”

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‘Sound of Metal’

The feature directing debut for Darius Marder, who also cowrote the screenplay with his brother Abraham Marder, “Sound of Metal” is an intense, immersive tale of what happens when the life you envisioned for yourself might no longer be possible. A young rock drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), also a recovering drug addict, suddenly loses his hearing, sending him into a tailspin. Released by Amazon Studios, the film is playing now at the Vineland Drive-in and on Amazon Prime Video starting Dec. 4.

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For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “For its part, ‘Sound of Metal’ often seems to be figuring out its own identity, and I mean that in the best possible sense. It’s often a knock to say that a movie doesn’t know what it wants to be, but this one — a profoundly intersectional story about addiction and deafness, defiance and acceptance — turns that indecision into its own kind of strength. It’s conventional, but it also breaks ground: Angsty addiction dramas may be overrepresented in the movies, but sensitive, lived-in portraits of Deaf culture and community have always been in short supply.”

For the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis wrote, “Though underwritten and dramatically muted, this unusual movie diverts with an extraordinarily intricate sound design that allows us to borrow Ruben’s ears. From the sonic assault of his music to the hisses and crackles of his newly implanted devices — like an imperfectly tuned radio station — what Ruben hears seems as indistinct as his future.”

Back when the film premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Eric Kohn at IndieWire declared that the film had “the best use of sound design in recent memory.” He added, “For much of the movie Ruben exudes the desperation of a man willing to restore his hearing at all costs; the emotional weight of this poignant drama stems from his ability to arrive at a new revelation. ‘Sound of Metal’ is ultimately about what it means to march to the beat of a different drum when the familiar music stops for good.”

Riz Ahmed in "Sound of Metal."
(Amazon Studios)
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‘Run’

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, who cowrote the screenplay with Sev Ohanian, “Run” is the followup to their 2018 low-budget hit “Searching.” In the new film, a young woman who uses a wheelchair (Kiera Allen, herself a wheelchair user) begins to suspect her mother (Sarah Paulson) might be doing her more harm than good. The film is streaming now on Hulu.

For The Times, Michael Ordoña wrote, “Chloe’s determination and smarts make ‘Run’ much more enjoyable to watch than the vast majority of specimens of the genre. She credibly thinks her way through problems. When things are dire, she ratchets up her courage — and Allen sells us on it all. Her performance is also finely modulated emotionally, rather than going from zero to 100. As the new information becomes progressively freakier, she reacts appropriately. … No spoilers here, but Chaganty and Ohanian also reward viewers with one of the better endings of a movie this year.”

For Vulture, Alison Willmore wrote, “‘Run’ isn’t always a clever film, but it is a film in which the characters are clever, and it seems determined to avoid the kind of moments that leave you yelling at the screen in frustration about how terrible someone’s choices are. If it ultimately falls a bit flat, it might be because it’s all a little too sensible. … Whenever Paulson is on screen, she gives ‘Run’ a much-needed jolt of vitality as this Munchausen’s-by-proxy monster in catalog knitwear. Her character’s devotion is as terrible as it is unshakeable, but what makes the turn so enjoyable is that it’s grounded in something recognizable — a soul-deep dread of being abandoned, hidden under a nurturer’s smile.”

Sarah Paulson cups Kiera Allen's face in the thriller "Run."
Sarah Paulson, left, is a devoted mom and Kiera Allen is her whip-smart, wheelchair-using daughter in the thriller “Run.”
(Allen Fraser / Hulu)
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‘Collective’

Directed by Alexander Nanau, the documentary “Collective” will be Romania’s entry for the Oscar for international feature film. The film tells the harrowing story not only of a fire that engulfed a Bucharest nightclub but also of how people continued to die even from seemingly non-life-threatening injuries and how a group of investigative reporters uncovered a web of corruption and mismanagement throughout the healthcare system. Released by Magnolia Pictures and Participant, the film is available on digital and VOD.

For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “You might recognize some of its symptoms in your own government: In systems that prioritize profits over patients’ well-being, in blasts of nationalist rhetoric and in high-stakes elections whose outcomes suggest that some voters have an awfully selective relationship with the truth. As one subject notes with all-too-relatable weariness: ‘It’s like we are living in separate worlds.’ The horrors of ‘Collective’ are sickeningly specific; the implications, as suggested by its comprehensive indictment of a title, are universal.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Some documentaries reassure you that the world is better when they’re over (inequity has been exposed); others insist it could be better (call the number in the credits to see how). ‘Collective’ offers no such palliatives. Instead, it sketches out an honest, affecting, somewhat old-fashioned utopian example of what it takes to make the world better, or at least a little less awful. The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice. But as ‘Collective’ lays out with anguished detail and a profound, moving sense of decency, it takes stubborn, angry people — journalists, politicians, artists, activists — to hammer at that arc until it starts bending, maybe, in the right direction.”

For the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday wrote, “As a tragedy that became a national trauma in Romania, the fire was dramatic enough. But it’s not the central subject of ‘Collective,’ an engrossing and, at times, astonishingly candid chronicle of what happened next. Directed by Alexander Nanau with an alert eye for character and detail, this alternately illuminating and infuriating portrait of everyday bureaucratic corruption becomes a much larger, and more disturbing, portrayal of structural incompetence, indifference and moral rot.”

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For Tribune News Service, Katie Walsh wrote, “‘Collective’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and screened at Sundance in January. Even earlier this year, the film felt urgent, expressing an essential truth in the zeitgeist about political corruption and the role of the press in holding federal agencies and corporations accountable for endangering lives. But in November 2020, eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the United States, there’s no denying that this film about the very real dangers of a government lying to its citizens about a health care crisis is almost unbelievably prescient, and a grave cautionary tale. Gripping, incisive and shockingly powerful, ‘Collective’ is easily the documentary of the year.”

Vlad Voiculescu in the documentary "Collective."
(Magnolia Pictures)


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