Despite some theater chains being closed and many big-budget Hollywood releases still on hold, new films are still coming out each week. With the Golden Globes, the Oscars and others all pushed to early spring, most films that were already gunning for awards consideration are debuting as planned.
Some films will make their way to you via streaming services while others will be on screen in the few theaters that remain open this muted Thanksgiving holiday.
Two of the films opening this week are centered around music careers. One follows a young man coping with the sudden loss of his hearing, another takes us back to the late ’20s to meet the mother of the bues.
“Sound of Metal” debuted at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to stellar, better than expected reviews for a little indie film starring Riz Ahmed (“Nightcrawler,” “Venom”). Amazon bought the film in hopes of pushing Ahmed into the Best Actor race, which is a strong possibility.
Ahmed, who won an Emmy for “The Night Of” in 2017, doesn’t give exactly the type of “rage against the disability” performance you might expect but rather something quieter and more cerebral. Darius Marder’s directorial debut is a little loose around the edges, but the vision is intact even if the emotion, alluded to in the trailer, isn’t always present.
Despite centering around a drummer in a heavy metal band, the film is highly relatable as someone coping with the loss of a sense that’s paramount not only to their passion and career but to who they are as a person.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” isn’t actually a musical, but the Golden Globes will likely fall over backward to categorize it that way. It’s the second adaptation of an August Wilson play featuring Viola Davis. Denzel Washington produced “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and directed “Fences,” which won Davis the Oscar.
Davis, proving there are no limits or boundaries to her work as a performer, is monumental in every way as Ma Rainey. With the bold makeup, artificial weight, gold teeth and commanding voice, the film moves at a different pace when Davis is on screen.
Despite her performance, the best chance for award accolades for this one lies with Chadwick Boseman’s in his final performance as the ambitious trumpet player, the thorn in Ma Rainey’s side.
Davis might play the title character, but she is off-screen more than she is on. You could argue her scenes count as double, because of their impact. It’s Boseman (“Black Panther,” “Da 5 Bloods”) who drives much of the narrative, using Wilson’s long narrative speeches to bounce off every corner of the story. It feels more like a play and less like a film every time Davis is off-screen.
The entire film takes place in a recording studio and certainly won’t appeal to all audiences. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is an excellent performance vehicle for the two lead actors. It’s a classic story in part about a new generation overtaking the older one.
Dramatic closeups lend even more weight to performances, especially Boseman who has a moment that’s not only the likely clip for award ceremonies but one of the strongest scenes in his career.
Neither film is wholly satisfying for one reason or another, and while Ahmed’s likely nomination will be his real prize, it will be quite moving when and if Boseman wins Best Actor. It will mark the first time since Heath Ledger’s death that an actor has won a posthumous Academy Award.
“Sound of Metal” is playing in limited theaters now and premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, Dec. 4. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” premieres on select theaters Thanksgiving weekend and on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 18.
If you are looking for other soon-to-be-award contenders, check out “The Life Ahead” on Netflix, with a performance likely to be Sophia Loren’s first Oscar nomination since 1965. The film, directed by her son Edoardo Ponti also may be Italy’s submission to the International Film category.
Netflix also has “Hillbilly Elegy” with Glenn Close in what will likely be her eighth Oscar-nominated role, and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which may land Sacha Baron Cohen his first acting nomination.
Awards contention aside, these films are likely to reward viewers with some of the best acting of the year in the coming weeks.