Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

I had time to see only one more Oscar contender before tonight's ceremony and I believe my choice was the right one. Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah is a compelling study of the intersecting paths following Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), whose passionate speeches in opposition to government oppression and racism have placed a target on his back, and William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a Chicagoan whose tendencies toward petty crime would have landed him in jail if not for a solution presented by FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons): become a confidential informant and infiltrate the Panthers, providing intel that the bureau can use against Hampton and his party members.

King's film is fueled by Kaluuya and Stanfield's powerhouse performances, as well as the supporting work done by Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Darell Britt-Gibson and a scene-stealing appearance by Lil Rel Howery. If there are slip-ups in JATBM, it's that Martin Sheen is too flashy in his J. Edgar Hoover makeup/prosthetics and (more significantly) the narrative doesn't allow as much development for Bill O'Neal as it does for Fred Hampton outside of the meetings, generally showing Bill either on his undercover assignment or in talks with Mitchell without much else in between. These two young stars are so great, though, and there is so much to absorb from the story, cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, costume design by Charlese Antoinette Jones and the score by Craig Harris and Mark Isham that the film's triumphs are ultimately far more important and memorable than its faults, holding me rapt until the very end. And in case you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend furthering your education on the subject with Howard Alk's documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971), a crucial historical record that should never be forgotten.

Incidentally, this is the first year in a really long time that I haven't paid close attention to Oscar pundits. In fact, I barely read or listened to much prognostication at all and didn't watch any of the usual lead-up shows like the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and BAFTAs. Typically, I would have prepared a list of my predicted winners well before the night of the big ceremony, but in 2021, I'm just going to watch the show and maybe be pleasantly surprised on occasion.

On a related note, here's my official list of all the 2020/2021 releases I've seen, ranked so far:
1. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
2. Minari
3. Athlete A
4. Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
5. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
6. Judas and the Black Messiah
7. Lingua Franca
8. The Assistant
9. Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace
10. Totally Under Control
11. Project Power
12. Framing Britney Spears
13. Yes, God, Yes
14. Miss Americana
15. One Night in Miami...
16. Skin: A History of Nudity in the Movies
17. Land
18. Then Came You
19. The Father
20. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
21. Tenet
22. Promising Young Woman
23. The Devil All the Time
24. The Trial of the Chicago 7
25. Dangerous Lies
26. The Last Blockbuster
27. Underwater

I don't necessarily have too many horses in the race, but as long as Minari, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Judas and the Black Messiah receive the love that I think they will tonight, I'll be happy.

2021 in Film and TV: Ranked (So Far)

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