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Great Movies You Won’t Hear About at the Academy Awards
In a sharp departure from establishment Hollywood, two films that weren’t even nominated for Oscars or Golden Globes have won “Progies” -- awards for best progressive films and filmmakers -- in major categories.
The winner for Best Progressive Picture is “Fruitvale Station.” German actress Barbara Sukowa scored Best Progressive Actress Award for portraying the title role in “Hannah Arendt,” which also won” for Best Anti-Fascist Film. Longtime independent filmmaker John Sayles plus Hollywood legend and indie stalwart Robert Redford tied for the Lifetime Progressive Achievement Award.
The Progies are annually awarded to films and filmmakers of conscience and consciousness by the James Agee Cinema Circle, an international group of lefty film critics, historians and scholars. Based on a true story, Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station,” details the New Year’s Eve 2008/9 killing of Oscar Grant, a young African American, in a case of police brutality. Michael B. Jordan portrays the 22-year-old ex-con and father with dignity, with Octavia Spencer playing his concerned mother and Melonie Diaz as the girlfriend of the young man.
The Best Progressive Actor went to Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave,” the biopic based on the memoir by Solomon Northup, a free Black man in New York State who was kidnapped and enslaved in the pre-Civil War South. The epic’s depiction of the cruelty and terror of slavery shocks the conscience as a necessary historical reminder of the brutal bondage inflicted upon millions of people as a means of coercing forced labor. Director Steve McQueen’s epic stands in stark contrast to Hollywood blockbusters such as 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation” and 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”, which romanticized the antebellum South. “12 Years a Slave” also won for Best Portrayal of People of Color.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s inventive exploration of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia of up to 1 million people believed to be communists, “The Act of Killing,” won for Best Anti-War Film and for Best Progressive Documentary.
Three movies tied for Best Progressive Foreign Film: China’s “A Touch of Sin,” Italy’s “The Great Beauty” and Slovenia’s “Class Enemy.” Veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach, who previously helmed 1995’s Spanish Civil War drama, “Land and Freedom” and 2006’s Irish Rebellion epic, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” directed “The Angels’ Share,” which won the “Our Daily Bread” Progie for Best Working Class Image. In this comedy-drama ne’er-do-well proletarian Robbie (Paul Brannigan) turns his life around through his expertise in whiskey tasting -- a valuable skill in Scotland.
“The Angels’ Share” was written by longtime Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, who also wrote 2010’s “Even the Rain,” about Bolivians rebelling against water privatization, which won three Progies that year. With its “greed is good” ethos gone berserk, Martin Scorsese’s epic farce “The Wolf of Wall Street” lampooned the financial sector and earned the award for Best Subversive Satirical Film.
The award for Best Gay Rights Picture is shared this year by little and big screen productions. “Behind the Candelabra” -- with Michael Douglas as flamboyant pianist Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover -- was an HBO made for TV movie. “Reaching for the Moon” was a theatrically released biopic about American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and her love affair with architect Lota de Macedo, set against the backdrop of the 1960s military coup in Brazil.
Since 1979’s “The Return of the Secaucus Seven” -- a look back at ’60s student radicalism -- writer/director John Sayles has displayed a singular, independent vision. 1983’s “Lianna” dealt with lesbianism long before it was chic to do so; 1984’s “The Brother From Another Planet” tackled racism; while 1987’s “Matewan” was a hard hitting epic about class struggle. The feisty Sayles continues to maintain his autonomy from the Hollywood studio system (although he occasionally writes commercial scripts). His 2010 “Amigo” depicts Filipinos’ struggle for independence (the quality Sayles has always admired) against occupying Americans around 1900 in a rumination on U.S. empire with a contemporary resonance. The freewheeling Sayles shares his Lifetime Achievement Award with an actor/director/producer who has made his mark in Hollywood with blockbusters such as 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and 1973’s “The Sting,” both co-starring Paul Newman.
But by establishing the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford has also provided an invaluable platform for indie filmmaking. In addition, his work on and offscreen has often evinced a keen social conscience: In 1972’s “The Candidate” Redford played a Bobby Kennedy-type liberal running for the U.S. Senate. 1973’s “The Way We Were” attacks the Hollywood Blacklist, with Redford playing a Waspy war hero and screenwriter who weds Barbra Streisand’s Jewish Communist character Katie. 1975’s “Three Days of the Condor” critiqued the CIA, as did 2001’s “Spy Game.”
Shortly after Pres. Nixon resigned in disgrace, Redford produced and acted in the 1976 Woodward and Bernstein investigative reporting classic about Watergate, “All the President’s Men.” Redford produced the 1992 documentary “Incident at Oglala,” about the 1975 shootout between the American Indian Movement and FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation (involving political prisoner Leonard Peltier) and the 2004 Che Guevara road picture “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Redford directed and co-starred in the 2007 Afghan War drama “Lions for Lambs,” and so on. Redford is truly one of cinema’s great progressives.
2013 PROGIE WINNERS FOR BEST PROGRESSIVE FILMS & ARTISTS
1. THE TRUMBO: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE PICTURE is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for “Spartacus” and “Exodus” in 1960. “Fruitvale Station” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkDr6RmQnOU.)
2. THE GARFIELD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTOR in a progressive picture 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 for “12 Years a Slave” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg.)
3. KAREN MORLEY AWARD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTRESS in a film portraying women in a progressive picture 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 for her leftist views, but maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life, running for 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.” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTQNWgZVctM.)
4. THE RENOIR: The Progie Award for BEST ANTI-WAR FILM is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece “Grand Illusion.” “The Act of Killing” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD5oMxbMcHM.)
5. THE GILLO: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE FOREIGN FILM is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who lensed the 1960s classics “The Battle of Algiers” and “Burn!” Three-way tie: China’s “A Touch of Sin” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUJt_kf7uKQ.) Italy’s “The Great Beauty” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dyt430YkQn0.) Slovenia’s “Class Enemy” (See trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsOsFByeR0U.)
6. THE DZIGA: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARY is named after the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the “Kino Pravda” (“Film Truth”) series and “The Man With the Movie Camera.” “The Act of Killing”
7. OUR DAILY BREAD AWARD: The Progie Award for the MOST POSITIVE AND INSPIRING WORKING CLASS SCREEN IMAGE. “The Angels’ Share” See trailer:
8. THE ROBESON: The Progie Award for the BEST PORTRAYAL OF PEOPLE OF COLOR that shatters cinema stereotypes, in light of their historically demeaning depictions onscreen. It is named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson, who starred in 1936’s “Song of Freedom” and 1940’s “The Proud Valley,” and narrated 1942’s “Native Land.” “12 Years a Slave”
9. THE SERGEI: The Progie Award for LIFETIME PROGRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENT ON- OR OFFSCREEN is named after Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet director of masterpieces such as “Potemkin” and “10 Days That Shook the World.” John Sayles See a “Matewan” clip with James Earl Jones and Chris Cooper:
Robert Redford See “The Way We Were” trailer:
10. THE BUNUEL: The Progie Award for the MOST SLYLY SUBVERSIVE SATIRICAL CINEMATIC FILM in terms of form, style and content is named after Luis Bunuel, the Spanish surrealist who directed 1929’s “The Andalusian Dog,” 1967’s “Belle de Jour” and 1972’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.” “The Wolf of Wall Street” See the trailer:
11. THE PASOLINI: The Progie Award for BEST PRO-GAY RIGHTS film is named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed 1964's “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” and “The Decameron” and “The Canterbury Tales” in the 1970s. TV movie: “Behind the Candelabra” See the trailer:
Theatrical Release: “Reaching for the Moon” See the trailer:
12. THE LAWSON: The Progie Award for BEST ANTI-FASCIST FILM is named after John Howard Lawson, screenwriter of 1938’s anti-Franco “Blockade” and the 1940s anti-Nazi films “Four Sons,” “Action in the North Atlantic,” “Sahara” and “Counter-Attack,” and one of the Hollywood Ten. “Hannah Arendt” For a complete list of the 2013 Progie nominees see: http://hollywoodprogressive.com/progie-nominations/.