selma

There are a multitude of reasons for the outrage that greeted the omission of Selma from key categories in this year’s Academy Award nominations. While some of the most compelling involve taking issue with the willful and arguably cowardly disregarding of its current political pertinence, my personal fierce disappointment is inspired by a far simpler reason: Ava DuVernay’s depiction of a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement is one of the great filmmaking achievements of the year, joined in my mind with only a couple other of releases as a pure triumph of directing. DuVernay delves into a portion of American history that is often stiffened by veneration and finds the lifeblood of a movement there, complete with debates about tactics, complicated strategizing, and human beings whose fundamental heroism is enhance by their flaws. In his depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr., David Oyelowo captures the forcefulness and punching intelligence of one of the great orators of recent times, but he resolutely refuses to indulge in cardboard lionization. King is a passionate individual who grapples with weariness, uncertainty, and his own failings in rallying his cohorts around a protest march in the state of Alabama. In the film’s portrait, he is man not icon, and DuVernay (working from a Paul Webb script that she reportedly had a strong hand in reworking) presses in with empathy and sharp analysis on how he operated, considering the equal parts inspiration and calculation he brought to everything he did. Even the film’s most controversial portion — that which portrays President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) as a more reluctant ally of the Civil Rights movement than is strictly correct — gets at an underlying illuminating truth, namely the difference between activism and politics, especially the privilege a toiler in trenches of fighting for change has to remain intensely focused on only their singular goal. This is the sort of true life material that can make directors feel cornered into staid, safe storytelling. DuVernay avoids that pitfall entirely, meticulously crafting unique, dynamic visuals and bravely recreating the base brutality that the protesters often faced at the hands of vicious bigots holding a Confederate flag in one hands and a truncheon in the other. Selma is powerful, provocative, emotional, and vividly intelligent. No matter how tepidly some key awards bodies have received it, Ava DuVernay’s film is one of the year’s uncompromising greats.

2 thoughts on “Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Two

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