A little later than usual this year, but it is time to talk about the Academy Awards. The Oscars will be given out on April 25th this year, which is a full two months later than usual to give more films the chance for a qualifying theatrical/streaming run before voting commenced. I typically like to spend my review that month on my choice from among the nominees, but this year’s crop is so tightly bunched for me that I will talk about a little bit about a lot of films while singling out my favorite of the year, which was One Night in Miami… (2020, dir. Regina King).
As you will note from my rankings below, I was not blown away by any film this year. (The previous year with the top film ranking so low for me is 1983.) My ninth rated film of the year (Promising Young Woman) comes in at 393, however. That is how closely the top group lines up. They all have something to love about them and something to dislike. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings, let’s discuss this acting showcase.
One Night in Miami… is based on the play of the same name by Kemp Powers (who also wrote the screenplay). It is a fictionalized account of a meeting in a hotel room in Miami with four of black America’s most significant figures of the time – namely Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in the immediate aftermath of Ali’s groundbreaking title win over Sonny Liston. They discuss things as far reaching as ice cream and the responsibilities Ali has as a black man in America now that he is known by everyone.
All four performances are remarkable, though only Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke was recognized with an Oscar nomination. It almost feels cruel to single him out as the work of Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), and Eli Goree (Muhammad Ali) all warrant mention in their likeness to their real-life counterpart and their multi-layered performances throughout, moving from the extreme tension of race relations in the 1960s to the relatively laid-back bravado of Ali with ease. The dialogue clips as you would expect from a stage play. I could not help but be struck with the thought that this material would work better as a play while watching it. What is likely thrilling to watch in the immediacy of the theatre sometimes tended to drag with the relative distance of film. I find this frequently happens with film adaptations of stage masterpieces. (My number 2 film from the year, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, also suffers from this.) The performances make it all worthwhile. Regina King does the film a great service by getting out of the way and letting those performances marinate for us. Too many directors try to do too much with quieter films and end up ruining them. That does not happen here, which is even more impressive when you note this is her feature film directorial debut.
Clearly One Night in Miami… cannot win Best Picture as it was not nominated. (That honor will likely go to Nomadland, my 4th rated film of the year.) However, I highly recommend it for anyone who values great acting and solid writing over more electric film elements such as you would find in action films.
FUN FACT – Leslie Odom Jr. continued a very unique trend this year by being nominated for an acting award and Best Song in the same year for the 4th consecutive year, following Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) the previous years.
Just Watch says that One Night in Miami… is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.