New This Week
The Mauritanian first captured year-end 2020 awards attention with nominations for Best Film, Director (Kevin Macdonald), and Actor (Tahar Rahim) from the London Film Critics Circle. Both Rahim and Jodie Foster were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. Foster even managed to pull off a surprise win, a feat she duplicated with a win from the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards. BAFTA followed with nominations for Best Film, Best British Film, Actor, Screenplay, and Cinematography. Oscar, however, failed to nominate it for anything.
Macdonald’s most acclaimed film since 2006’s The Last King of Scotland succeeds where 2019’s The Report failed as an interesting film about the Donald Rumsfeld approved horrors of GITMO. Less gruesome than 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, it saves most of its torture scenes until we’re so well into the film that they don’t overwhelm it.
Tahar Rahim (Gomorrah) gives one of the year’s great performances as the real life Mohamedou Ould Slahi who fought for freedom after being detained and imprisoned in Guantanamo Naval Base at the southeastern end of Cuba without charge by the U.S. Government for years. His was easily the best performance by any actor last year not nominated for an Oscar.
Based on Slahi’s N.Y. Times best-selling memoir, “Guantanamo Diary,” the alone and afraid Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen, finds allies in his appointed American defense attorney, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), and her associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), who battle the U.S. government in their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by the disgusted military prosecutor (Benedict Cumberbatch) eventually leads to his freedom, a battle that took fourteen years.
Two-time Oscar winner Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) delivers her best performance since Lambs thirty years ago as Hollander. While she doesn’t have a bravura moment that cries out “Oscar,” she’s steady as she goes as the no-nonsense lawyer, which should have been enough to have secured her a nomination. Woodley and Cumberbatch are also good, but their roles are not as well defined.
The Mauritanian is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Another film in 2020 awards contention that didn’t make it to the Oscars is Land, the first film directed by producer-star Robin Wright (A Most Wanted Man). The film’s highest profile awards recognition came from the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards which nominated Wright for Best Actress and gave their Best Supporting Actor award to Demian Bichir (A Better Life),
Wright plays a bereaved woman who seeks out a new life off the grid in isolation in the wilds of Wyoming. Bichir plays a passerby who, having passed her house on the way into town, noticed smoke coming out the chimney indicating someone lived there. On the way back, he notices there is no steam coming from the chimney in the dead of winter. He breaks into the house and saves her from near death, after which he teaches her how to survive in the wilderness.
As the film progresses, we see bits of Wright’s happier days with her husband and son in flashback. It’s obvious that they have died, but the cause of their death is not revealed until the end of the film when Wright feels comfortable in revealing it after learning Bichir’s secret, which gives her the strength to end her isolation and enter back into society.
Although it wasn’t intended as such, having been made before the COVID-19 pandemic, the film is a perfect metaphor for the isolation we were all subjected to during the last year and a half.
Filmed in the Canadian Rockies, the film’s cinematography is breathtaking. It’s a counterpoint to Nomadland in which the characters couldn’t sit still. Here, they can barely do anything else.
Land is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Warner Archive has released a beautifully restored Blu-ray of Clarence Brown’s 1946 masterwork, The Yearling, from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, the film deservedly won for its stunning Art Direction and Cinematography while Claude Jarman, Jr. (Intruder in the Dust, Rio Grande) won a richly deserved honorary award for his portrayal of the young post-Civil War Florida Everglades boy who, like his pet deer of the title, is very much a yearling growing into a young adult in this classic coming-of-age film.
Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman were both nominated for Oscars for portraying Jarman’s parents. Peck had been nominated the year before for The Keys of the Kingdom and would be nominated three more times, finally winning on his fifth nomination for playing another father in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Wyman, who received her first nomination here, would win on her second two years later as the deafmute rape victim in Johnny Belinda and go on to receive two more nominations, her last for 1954’s Magnificent Obsession.
Warner Archive has also released Blu-ray upgrades of 1947’s They Won’t Believe Me and 1961’s Bachelor in Paradise.
They Won’t Believe Me is a well-regarded film noir in which Robert Young (Crossfire) plays against type as a cad who betrays three women, gold-digger Susan Hayward (I Want to Live! ), journalist Jane Greer (Out of the Past), and wife Rita Johnson (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), whose murder he’s on trial for. The surprises keep coming, right up to the last minute.
There are no surprises in Bachelor in Paradise, but it is an amiable comedy, easily the best of Bob Hope’s later career in which he plays a writer of sleazy novels hiding out incognito in a newly developed tract home community whose fellow residents include Lana Turner, Janis Paige, Jim Hutton, and Paula Prentiss. The film’s title song was nominated for an Oscar.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Madame Rosa and The Father.