By Ed Rampell
Starting on July 28, 1914, a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand...
by Ed Rampell
Welcome to The Progressive’s 7th annual Progie Awards, recognizing the best progressive films and filmmakers of last year! This year’s list of nominees run the gamut of genres, but a great many of them follow the theme of black people struggling for freedom and civil rights. Many are based on true stories as well, including feature biopics about Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Oscar Grant, Muhammad Ali, as well as a documentary about the 1985 aerial bombing of the Philadelphia Black nationalist group MOVE. Other notable mentions include a film about the anti-fascist philosopher Hannah Arendt, Jeremy Scahill’s scathing look at U.S. special military operations in “Dirty Wars,” the animal rights documentary “Blackfish,” and an astounding six nominees in our gay rights category. Winners of the 7th annual Progie Awards are decided by the James Agee Cinema Circle, an international group of left-leaning film critics, historians and scholars. The nominations and awards are given in a variety of categories named after great lefty filmmakers and movies of conscience and creativity. Up to five nominees are selected per category, except in case of a tie. Also, any motion picture nominated for the Langlois, an award for the best progressive picture deserving theatrical release in the U.S., is listed in order to shine a light on these deserving films.
***And the nominees are***
For THE TRUMBO, aka BEST PROGRESSIVE PICTURE: This award is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten who were imprisoned for their beliefs during the McCarthy era and refused to inform on others. Trumbo helped break Hollywood’s infamous anti-communist blacklist when he received screen credit for “Spartacus” and “Exodus” in 1960. “12 Years A Slave”: Based on a true story set in pre-Civil War America, Solomon Northrup, a free Black man living in New York, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. This gripping, epic tale of the struggle for survival and freedom is directed by Steve McQueen, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Michael Fassbender.
"Fruitvale Station”: Based on a true story. Set in 2008 on New Year’s Eve, Oscar Grant, a young Black man in Oakland is killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer at the Fruitvale train station. Directed by by Ryan Coogler, starring Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz.
”Philomena”: Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life character Philomena, a woman who tries to find a long-lost son who was taken away from her. Along the way, she is aided by a political journalist. Directed by Stephen Frears, Dench co-stars with Steve Coogan and Mare Winningham.
”Elysium”: This sci-fi drama takes place in a dystopian society afflicted by inequality on steroids. In other words, “Elysium” is the familiar struggle of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, but with a futuristic flair. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Diego Luna.
”42”: Jackie Robinson’s struggle to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier is retold in this entertaining film. And while Jackie may steal bases, Harrison Ford steals the show as Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, somewhere between an archetypal white liberal and a businessman with his eye on the bottom line. Directed by Brian Helgeland, starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie, Nicole Beharie as his wife, Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher and Ford, delivering one of the best performances of his career.
”The Angels’ Share”: In another of Ken Loach’s incisive looks at the downtrodden, the English director of the 1995 Spanish Civil War epic “Land and Freedom” aims his camera at Brits and a Scottish whiskey distillery. Written by Loach’s longtime collaborator Paul Laverty, “The Angels' Share” is full of working-class wit and wisdom, co-staring Paul Brannigan, John Henshaw and Siobhan Reilly.
”Blackfish”: Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s harrowing, hard-hitting documentary about the killer whale Tilikum and other marine life held captive in amusement parks is must-see cinema.
”Dallas Buyers Club”: After the real life Ron Woodroof, a heterosexual and rodeo performer, contracts AIDS during the early days of the epidemic, he helps others get the medication they need by smuggling drugs that haven’t been approved by the FDA across the U.S. border. Director Jean-Marc Vallee’s pro-LGBTQ feature stars Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto and Steve Zahn.
”The Act of Killing”: Joshua Oppenheimer’s gripping documentary examines the mass murder that swept Indonesia during the anti-communist coup of 1965. This genocide of 1 million-plus Indonesians is gruesomely re-enacted in the format of various Hollywood genre movies by some of the actual perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
For THE GARFIELD, aka BEST ACTOR in a progressive picture: This award is named after John Garfield, who rose from the proletarian theatre to star in progressive pictures such as “Gentleman's Agreement” and “Force of Evil,” only to run afoul of the Hollywood blacklist. CHIWETEL EJIOFOR in “12 Years A Slave”
MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY for “Dallas Buyers Club”
MICHAEL B. JORDAN for “Fruitvale Station”
IDRIS ELBA for “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
SHANNON HARPER for “Welcome to Pine Hill”
For the KAREN MORLEY AWARD, aka BEST ACTRESS: This award is named for Karen Morley, co-star of 1932’s “Scarface” and 1934’s “Our Daily Bread.” Morley was driven out of Hollywood in the 1930s due to her leftist views, but remained a militant political activist for the rest of her life, and even ran for the office of New York’s Lieutenant Governor on the American Labor Party ticket in 1954. She passed away in 2003, unrepentant to the end, at the age of 93. BARBARA SUKOWA for “Hannah Arendt”
CATE BLANCHETT for “Blue Jasmine”
LUPITA NYONG'O for “12 Years A Slave”
OCTAVIA SPENCER for “Fruitvale Station”
JUDI DENCH for “Philomena”
DANAI GURIRA for “Mother of George”
For THE RENOIR, aka BEST ANTI-WAR FILM: This award is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece “Grand Illusion.” ”Dirty Wars”: In this Rick Rowley documentary, investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill is hot on the trail of America’s clandestine warfare unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, as they conduct covert missions in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond, perpetrating war crimes, torture and more.
”The Act of Killing”:
See nominees for the other categories here. The James Agee Cinema Circle’s participants will select the award winners from the nominees around mid-February, and the results will be announced shortly before the Academy Awards ceremony on March 2. Until then, see you in the left aisle at the movies! ------