Megan McLachlan is in Savannah, Ga., for SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.
We’ve reached the end of the 2019 SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and I loved getting to see some of the best films of the year, all in one week.
The festival loaded some of the most buzzed-about Oscar contenders toward the end, including Parasite, which played to a packed Lucas Theatre for the Arts on Friday night. Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg even tweeted that it was the “hottest ticket” of the festival.
But that wasn’t the only hot ticket. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood also performed to a packed house on the final night and had people moved to tears over it, including Rotten Tomatoes Awards Editor Jacqueline Coley, who during a Q&A following the film admitted that she’d seen it twice and cried each time.
Here’s a look at the films showcased during the final nights of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.
Based on the incredible true story, Just Mercy (directed by Destin Daniel Cretton) recalls how civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) took on the case of inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was put on death row a year before his case even went to trial (yes, really). Naturally, with heavy-hitters like Jordan and Foxx, one would think this would be these two going head to head in every scene, but there are two supporting players who are scene-stealers.
First is Rob Morgan, whose character Herbert Richardson is a Vietnam vet suffering from post-traumatic stress. On death row like McMillian, Richardson admits to his crime (he planted a bomb on a woman’s doorstep), but he was never given adequate law support when his case went to trial and admittedly should have been placed in an institution. Morgan stutters and stammers and clearly appears to be a man shook by events in his past. His story culminates in one of the most unforgettable scenes of the year.
The second memorable supporting player is Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers, an inmate whose story provides the whole basis for McMillian’s original trial. Nelson (who also appears in The Report) puckers his face and twists his body, and while for some part of the movie he serves as a villain, he proves to be a victim of the justice system like inmates Richardson and McMillian, a system rigged against the poor and people of color (or both).
Also in the cast is Brie Larson as Stevenson’s assistant Eva Ansley, a part that’s terribly underwritten, with Larson mostly reserved for flabbergasted swears in a Southern accent. Martin Scorsese recently came under fire on Twitter for not having enough female characters in his movies, but when it’s done like this, I think it’s OK to leave them out.
Overall, Just Mercy continues this year’s festival theme of wrongfully imprisoned (see Clemency, The Report), and I’m glad I saw it after the other films because it provides hope and leaves you on a high note.
Writer/director Trey Edward Schults follows up 2017’s It Comes At Night, a post-apocalyptic family drama starring Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott, with a modern-day family drama set in South Florida starring Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Taylor Russell. Putting them side by side, I would have never guessed it came from the same director, even if the themes are similar in the complexities of relationships.
Waves sneaks up on you, and the trailer for it definitely doesn’t do it justice. In fact, the trailer wisely leaves you in the dark on what the film is truly about. It took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. Without getting spoiler-y, Waves works in two parts and pivots to a different point of view halfway through the movie. Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Tyler plays a high school student under a lot of pressure, to be a top athlete in wrestling and to be better in the eyes of his father. And yet, another key component of this story is virtually missing from the first half of the film, and only later do we get to see that side of the story.
While the film will definitely conjure up comparisons to Moonlight, in its South Florida setting and focus on a black family, the comparisons stop there, because Waves stands on its own as a thoughtful study into a devastating family dynamic.
I get nervous when a movie has hype, because that buildup sometimes becomes so exponential that my expectations can never reach it. But Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite lives up to the hype across the board.
The premise of the film almost starts out like a sitcom. A poor family (the Kims), living in filth in a basement apartment, infiltrates a wealthy family (the Parks) by landing jobs as members of their staff, including English tutor, art therapist, driver, and housekeeper—all under the guise that they are not related to each other and based simply on recommendation. In addition to observations about the haves and have-nots, Parasite makes sharp commentary on “review” culture, with Mrs. Park (Yeo-jeong Jo) blindly appointing strangers to be alone with her children and in her house simply based on domino-like recommendations from each staff member, without using her own experience and intelligence to trust in her own sound judgment.
Then something truly strange happens that completely twists this story. And even though Parasite takes place outside of the United States, the themes are universal for any audience. While watching, I wondered what director might want to do an “American” remake with “white trash” hicks infiltrating an affluent family, but then I realized The Simpsons kind of already did this in the episode “Bart Carny,” so maybe that will deter an American remake, because this film should stand alone in the sewage water it rose up from.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
I’ll admit it. As a Pittsburgher, I was a little skeptical when I first saw Tom Hanks in that promo photo as Mister Rogers, because no one can be Mister Rogers. Period. No one looks like him, sounds like him, or acts like him. But director Marielle Heller wisely told the two-time Academy Award winner not to do an impression, and instead, he captures Fred Rogers’s essence and tone in a way I never thought he could (although, c’mon, it’s Tom Hanks! How could I have doubted him?).
Hanks truly astounds in this performance. We’re so used to seeing him in parts where he dominates every scene (think Castaway, his last Oscar-nominated role, the fact of which is completely absurd). Here, he takes a backseat (well, maybe a passenger seat) to Matthew Rhys’s Lloyd Vogel, even if Fred Rogers’s presence is still felt throughout. Rhys is also excellent and should not get lost in the Oscar conversation, even if this year’s Best Actor race is congested.
Not only is this a love letter to Mister Rogers, but Marielle Heller’s direction also pays homage to the iconic direction of the show. The film even acts as an episode of the series, with Rogers (or “Roge” as Joanne Rogers calls him) teaching a lesson about, and to, Lloyd Vogel. This inventive approach can also be credited to writers Noah Harpster (who also has a part in the film) and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, who take what could be a saccharine script and ground it with humanity (even Fred Rogers himself makes mistakes).
I’m glad I went to see it with a crowd of non-Pittsburghers, because as a resident, I didn’t have to deal with people cheering every time someone said “Pittsburgh,” even though I internally laughed when Hanks said, “La-trobe” instead of “Lay-trobe.” It was a great film to end the festival on, with the idea that the world could still use a little more Mister Rogers in it.
What a great fest! See you next year.