Here’s HE’s latest Best Picture chart. I’m honestly split 50/50 on the merits of Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland and David Fincher‘s Mank, and so they’re tied for second place. (At least for the time being.) They’re both excellent films, and in a Mangrove-free world either could easily occupy the #1 slot. But Steve McQueen’s film happened, and there’s no question it’s 2020’s finest.
Curious as it may seem to some, I regard Roman Polanski‘s J’Accuse (i.e., An Officer and a Spy) as a 2020 feature, even though it never opened (and probably never will open) stateside.
It had its world premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, and began to illegally stream earlier this year. In my book that makes it a necessary 2020 release, as there was no other way to see it. The Polanski stamp demanded the attention of film mavens the world over. Even if J’Accuse was streaming right now on Amazon, Netflix or HBO Max, would most critics ignore it all the same? Probably. The applicable terms are “fear” and “cowardice.” Or, if you will, “playing it safe.”
I have nothing but disgust and condemnation for any sexual abuser in any realm, but in this instance it’s also unconscionable, I feel, to not separate Polanski the artist from Polanski the flawed individual. Brilliant filmmaking is brilliant filmmaking, and it’s completely derelict for critics to ignore this film, as almost all of them have over the last year or so.
I had to give J’Accuse the third place slot — it’s too mesmerizing, too exacting and too searing to be designated any other way.
The Mangrove irony, of course, is that Amazon has decided not to go for Oscars but Emmys, which I regard, due respect, as a mistake. If I’d been in Amazon’s shoes I would have submitted the other four Small Axe films — Lovers Rock, Education, Alex Wheatle and Red, White and Blue — for Emmy consideration while declaring Mangrove to be a theatrical, Oscar-qualifying, stand-alone feature.
There’s no theatrical realm to speak of these days so any half-decent streamer can (and in Mangrove‘s case, definitely should) be regarded as a Best Picture contender. If any 2020 film deserves to be so regarded, it’s Mangrove.
If not for the pandemic Mangrove would have premiered in Cannes last May, perhaps played a couple of early fall festivals besides NYFF ’20, and gone on to a semblance of theatrical glory. It would’ve certainly emerged as a top-ten favorite on all the lists. Academy and guild voters would’ve had no choice but bestow a Best Picture nomination, as they did six years ago with McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave.
Mangrove is not a Small Axe facet…not some interesting but modest 128-minute segment from McQueen’s British miniseries. Not in my book. It’s a sturdy adult drama, and pumped full of irony, suspense, rooting factors and all-around brilliance. It’s an emotionally rooted, engaging, perfectly sculpted political drama that climaxes in an Old Bailey courtroom in a just-right fashion.
Perhaps when cancel-culture tyranny gradually eases up (possibly from the nascent anti-wokester pushback gaining strength in a year or two), Criterion should issue a J’Accuse Bluray with all the trimmings.