• Adam Johnson

The Winners of 2019: The 3rd AFCAs

On Monday, I shared my nominees for the 3rd Adam's Final Cut Awards. If you haven't seen them yet, you can find them here. Again, make sure you add all of the nominees to your watchlist, especially if you're looking for some new things to watch during COVID-19. Tonight, let's reveal the winners, who will probably never see this but I still want to talk about.

The winner for Best Performance of an Animated Character, Traditional is Kristen Bell for her performance as Anna in Frozen II. While fellow nominees Ashley Boettcher, Tom Hanks, and Lee Pace all gave great vocal performances in their films - especially considering the challenges of English dubs and the passivity that can set in 25 years into a series - Kristen Bell stood out to me by giving Anna emotional layers, selling every line, and doing more than just complementing the animation, but making Anna feel real in a way I haven't seen in animation in a long time.

The winner for Best Performance of an Animated Character, Performance/Motion Capture is Rosa Salazar for her performance as Alita in Alita: Battle Angel. Though her film was rocky in the script department and the focus of the film leaned heavy toward 3D effect spectacle, Salazar still managed to be the most memorable part of the film and, in my book, of the year, not letting her serious, all-in performance get buried in digital makeup and computer environments. While her fellow nominees Brolin, Gunn & Cooper, and Reynolds all sold their computerized characters, Salazar, like Bell, went beyond that and delivered one of the better and more underappreciated performances of 2019.

The winner for Best Young Actor is Kyleigh Curran for her role as Abra Stone, the precocious psychic prodigy, in Doctor Sleep, not only holding her own with Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, but rising to the challenge of the story throughout the film. The winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role is Sam Rockwell for his role as Captain Klenzendorf, the trigger-happy, deeply embittered, and yet somehow empathetic and hilarious Nazi officer in Jojo Rabbit. While the movie as a whole wasn't my cup of tea, it's clear that Taika Waititi's movies encourage the best from his actors, which made the already consistent Rockwell one of my favorite performances of the year. The winner for Best Actress in a Supporting Role is Billie Lourd as Gigi in Booksmart. While 2019 was a competitive year for actresses, Lourd's sublime, heightened comedy performance should go down as one of the classics. Months later, I still haven't forgotten it.

The winner for Best Adapted Screenplay is Greta Gerwig for Little Women. I loved Gerwig's Lady Bird film and screenplay in 2017, and while I couldn't appreciate the intertextual relationship it had with the novel (having not read the novel), Gerwig's Little Women was successfully something different for the auteur while building on her strengths in character, story structure, and dialogue.

The winner for Best Original Screenplay is Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story. While easily one of the sharpest and fine-tuned scripts in 2019, the stage-like fineness didn't take me out to think, "This is good dialogue," like in a Tarantino or Sorkin movie, but instead drew me more into the characters and their drama in a way that felt real, heartbreaking, funny, and excellently paced.

The winner for Best Original Song is the absolutely beautiful, chill-inducing, and inspiring "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)" from the little-seen Wild Rose. The winner for Best Original Score is Thomas Newman for 1917, a beautifully minimal but nevertheless hauntingly epic musical piece. The winner for Best Visual Effects is Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which blended its classic pocket monsters perfectly with a live-action environment in a way that all fantastical live-action adaptations should take a page from.

The winner for Best Cinematography is Roger Deakins for 1917. The winner for Best Editing is Yang Jin-mo for Parasite. The winner for Best Director is Bong Joon-Ho for Parasite, a film that is superlative in every way, much thanks to the creative, disciplined, and impactful arrangement by its director.

The winner for Best Horror Movie is Ari Aster's graphic, disturbing, and visceral break-up story Midsommar, which I cannot stop thinking about. The winner for Best Superhero Movie is, of course, the exciting, epic, and emotional culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first decade of storytelling, Avengers: Endgame. The winner for Most Unexpected Delight goes to Stephen Merchant's WWE biopic Fighting with My Family, featuring the incomparable Florence Pugh as historic wrestling superstar Paige.

Speaking of incomparable, the winner for Best Actress in a Leading Role is Florence Pugh for her role as Dany in Midsommar. Horror performances seem to not get as much notice outside of critical and genre circles. Florence Pugh gave three great and varied performances in 2019, the best of which is her raw and devastating turn in the shocking daylight horror. That it got virtually no notice is criminal.

The winner for Best Actor in a Leading Role is Adam Driver as Charlie Barber in Marriage Story. Over the past few years, Adam Driver has not only built a reputation as a genuine fella but also as one of the finest actors working today. His understated and human take in Noah Baumbach's drama only solidifies that rep, and he (with his tremendous co-stars) fleshes out an already three-dimensional script into something really special and empathetic.

The winner for Best Animated Feature Film is Frozen II, which took us on an emotional, character-centered journey into the unknown as our heroes learn to accept who they are, accept change, and accept that to do the next right thing, we have to be willing to make changes ourselves... and sing some of the Disney Canon's best songs along the way.

Before we get into Best Picture, let's cover some special awards.

First, is the Suspiria Award for Singular Cinema. If you have not seen the 1977 giallo slasher film Suspiria, directed by Dario Argento, the most you need to know is that it shows enough contempt for story and enough of a liking for dream logic to be driven by impressions of horror and a unique smorgasbord of intense, bright color and become a piece of cinema unlike any other. The nominees in this category stood apart as singular pieces of cinema for one reason or another. Climax is a unforgettable, visceral one-take of a dance troupe's self-destruction after one of their own spikes the alcohol with LSD, perhaps serving as a microcosm of our world and its vanities. Midsommar was a unusually bright horror film that used its aesthetic and awfully disturbing imagery and sequences to physically represent the emotional violence of a dissolving toxic relationship.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu was neither visceral nor disturbing, but a charming family movie that went endearingly bonkers with its story while bringing its fictional world to life with the perfect aesthetic and passion. John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is an earnest children's variety special parody that is made for a certain kind of person that I can't define. It plays its zaniness and earnestness straight, with various elements that will appeal to kids while other elements will appeal almost exclusively to adults. Its adult cast seems formed from a very niche taste, and honestly, it leans into its nicheness so heavily, it just works, culminating in an unhinged musical performance with Jake Gyllenhaal. I don't know who it was made for, but I'm glad it exists.

But the Suspiria Award for Singular Cinema goes to the film that can only be described by invoking the name Suspiria. And friends, that movie is Cats. It's the worst movie in the best ways. It's nightmarish by also being a dream. It's unwatchable which makes it more watchable. It's beyond ridiculous while also having moments of ridiculous sincerity, thanks to the elder catsmen Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen. It shows such a contempt for anything that would probably make the movie work while leaning heavy into the things that guaranteed its catnip-induced doom (namely, questionable VFX choices, tone-deaf broad comedy, the thinnest of connective tissue, existing). Cats is the perfect storm of circumstances that gave many bad ideas a green light that had those circumstances not lined up perfectly, this movie would have never seen the light of day. In some ways, that might have been a good thing. But Tom Hooper went on to helm something the genre had lacked: Cats is the Suspiria of musicals, and for that, I am glad.

The award for Studio of the Year goes to Netflix. Though their business practices may not be ideal (going billions in debt to create and provide content), Netflix in 2019 made its biggest awards presence yet with nine of its movies garnering a total 24 nominations at the Academy Awards alone. For more than a few artists, Netflix became a home for daring projects other studios feared. And while financially there was probably good reason for that, Netflix undoubtedly made its artistic mark this year, receiving virtually less grumbling from the industry for being a streaming platform, with Dolemite is My Name, The Irishman, The Two Popes, Marriage Story, and American Factory often appearing in "Best Of" conversations along with its specials, stand-up, and series. As the streaming wars become more spread out, with Hulu playing adult support to Disney+, Prime Video working in tandem with free shipping, and HBO Max looking to offer the most expansive library yet, the one that practically started it all solidified a reputation as a home for those who love movies, for those master artists to share movies, and for those prestige movies you just can't miss or really get anywhere else.

The Special Award for Independent Filmmaking goes to a low-budget film made in my home state of Florida: The Architect. While I know the creator behind it and was close to a previous phase of the project, I would never say anything is great or a must-see for that reason alone. What I find inspiring about this film, disconnected from my relationship with it, is that it is a clear act of passion and talent and makes the most of its limited resources. Originally presented in episodes to a summer vacation Bible school, the film borrows an aesthetic from the likes of Sin City and Sky Captain, stylized to the point that is believable without needing to be realistic, packed with colorful characters that match a heightened story-world. Through all this, it never forgets to be emotional, sincere, and meaningful for all ages. From what I understand, the movie was made with a skeleton crew, a small cast, and only thousands of dollars - which for movies usually isn't a whole lot to work with. Nevertheless, the final product is something really special and I think worth your time. As independent films go, there is really nothing like this.

And finally, the award for Best Picture. There were so many great films I saw last year, I was challenged to keep the nominee count to below 15. From the seemingly effortless fine craft of Marriage Story to the unexpected reflection on whether bad people can be redeemed that was The Irishman, from the spiritual challenges Just Mercy and A Hidden Life to personal films like Little Women, The Farewell, and Wild Rose, and horror epics Doctor Sleep and Midsommar or technical marvels like 1917, 2019 was a remarkable year for the movies.

The most remarkable one of all, though, is the winner of Best Picture, which is Director Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite. The film makes me recall Hitchcock's pure cinema in its preciseness and construction, and it succeeds in every way. When one thinks of what a great movie should be, Parasite has it all - complex characters to empathize with, a thematic point, tension, humor, great performances, abundant creativity, and a passion overflowing from every department - without ever marrying itself to a single genre. There are rarely films this perfect, satisfying, and enjoyable, or that so transcend cultural barriers. As Director Bong said in one of his many acceptance speeches, "We use only one language: the cinema."

And so concludes this year's Adam's Final Cut Awards. I hope to talk more in-depth about these films at a later juncture since I didn't in the year they came out, and so many of these films warrant great conversation and analysis. It seems like, for a while, streaming will be the primary receiver of new movies, so this is a good time. If only the circumstances were different! What were your favorite films of 2019? What stands out from your movie-going (and movie-watching) experiences? In your Final Cut Awards, who and what would you have liked to see win the prizes?

Whatever you have to say about me or the movies, comment below, and until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, and visit www.CDC.gov for more ways you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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