Release Date: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
Production Co: Cloud Eight Films, Celador Films, Harpo Films, Pathé, Plan B Entertainment
Country: United States
Genre: Biography | Drama | History
The story of the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for voting rights for black Americans is dramatized in this excellent biographical film. The film focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr. after he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) are invited to Selma, AL to help with their campaign to register black voters. In addition to the conflict with violent police and racist whites, the film captures the tensions between the SCLC and leaders of other groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), tensions within the SCLC leadership, tensions between King and President Lyndon Johnson, and tensions within King’s family. The brilliant acting in this film draws out how all these competing tensions affected the historic people and their motivations and desires. I was also impressed with the directing of the film, particularly in the unusual way the camera conversations among individuals. There has been criticism of this film for not being historically accurate, but while not being the documentary truth of the period of time it depicts, I think it compresses real historical truths for dramatic effect. For example, while Johnson may not have been has nakedly antagonistic to King’s plans in 1965, it is true that the President had conflicting goals and did not wish to move forward as swiftly as the Movement. I hope people will go and see this film which is both a work of art and an introduction to an important event in American history. And once you’ve seen Selma, check out the documentary Eyes on the Prize and the many excellent books about the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Biopic / Sport
This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship. Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play. The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men. One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United. If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds. The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team. The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film. The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor. I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.
Title: 24 Hour Party People
Release Date: 5 April 2002
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Production Co: Baby Cow Productions
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Biopic / Comedy / Music
This surreal, comic film tells the story of the Manchester music scene from the mid-1970’s to early-1990’s. Central to this story is Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) a TV news presenter who champions Manchester music scene by managing bands, starting a record label, and opening a night club. History and legend are gleefully mixed together as Wilson narrates his own story, often breaking the fourth wall to comment on events from a later perspective. Real people from Manchester bands appear in cameos sometimes commenting that the scenes in the movie aren’t how they remember them. The effect can be overly cutesy at times but mostly is rollicking good fun and Coogan really carries the film. Of central importance though is the music as bands like Joy Division (later New Order) and the Happy Mondays take center stage.