The venerable institution that is the Austin Film Critics Association (AFCA) unveiled their selections for the Austin Film Award 2016 today. Disclaimer, several people on the Cinapse team are members of the AFCA, myself included, and take great pride in the cinematic output of our weird little city. The Austin Film Award is a special honor given to a film made by an Austin-based director. This year’s nominees are:
Loving (dir. Jeff Nichols)
Midnight Special (dir. Jeff Nichols)
Slash (dir. Clay Liford)
Tower (dir. Keith Maitland)
Transpecos (dir. Greg Kwedar)
This winner will be announced on December 27th, along with the rest of the associations top award picks for 2016. Read on for a brief comment on each of the nominated films, as well as links to full reviews for each of the very worthy nominees.
LOVING- Jon Partridge
already feels like a seminal contribution to American history. The Lovings were not alone in this, and by connecting to their struggle we can in some small way better understand all those oppressed and denied equal rights for so long, and indeed still today. These people weren’t activists; they were just following their heart. This is where the title picks up its resonance beyond their surname. To use a current political phrase, love trumps hate. Despite the fear and bigotry, the Lovings and many others like them followed their hearts despite the hardships that were before them. Embracing the better parts of our nature can be a force for change, even if we don’t realize it. Loving
honors that, and all those who pursue it. Loving – Full Review
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – Alex Williams
With every film, Jeff Nichols becomes an increasingly natural storyteller, and Midnight Special
finds him operating on a new plane of confidence, seamlessly juggling more moving pieces than ever before. The film plunges us right into the story of Roy (Michael Shannon), a man on the run after kidnapping his super-powered son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a cult compound, and Nichols brings plentiful tension and his usual sparse, delicate style to the film, cementing his position as one of the best, most soulful filmmakers working today.
With this supernatural tale planted in the sweet spot between myth and authenticity, Nichols is practically inviting comparisons to Steven Spielberg, and he fares better than many directors who have used the father of blockbuster cinema as a point of comparison. However, he’s working in an entirely different pitch, telling stories so specific, personal, and powerful that it feels wrong to compare him to other filmmakers. In fact, if Jeff Nichols continues producing work of this quality, soon enough he’ll be the metric that younger filmmakers are measuring themselves against. He’s that good, and so is the transcendent, moving, and tremendous Midnight Special. Midnight Special – Full Review.
SLASH- Justin Harlan
At its core, Slash
is an awkward and unconventional love story about awkward and unconventional teens. The slash fiction itself is simply a vehicle for creating a distinction between the “normal” people and the outsiders. Slash fiction could be replaced with any number of hobbies and pastimes frowned upon in the public eye. However, the genius of the use of slash as the world in which our core duo is living is that it creates a second subcategory of being the outcast, in that Julia and Neil are seen as too young to participate in the 18+ age limit of slash sites and slash events.
When the film ends, you may be left scratching your head a bit or you may be swooning with adoration; but one thing is certain, you won’t be walking away thinking that you just saw another generic indie film. The offbeat nature of the film alone should prove endearing. This film gets a ringing endorsement and recommendation for fans of the quirky and nerdy, as well as anyone who has struggled to figure out where they belong. Slash – Full Review.
TOWER – Justin Harlan
is a must see gem that chronicles an American tragedy through showing the bright light shining within the very people being attacked in that tragedy. From a historical standpoint and from an understanding that we, as humans, need to band together to find against injustice and evil, this film is as important as any other released this year. Teachers, show your students. Parents, show your children. Everyone who can should watch this film and remember what this life is really all about and how we can all help each other through this grand journey. Tower – Full Review
TRANSPECOS – Frank Cavillo
As a thriller, Transpecos is a welcomed breath of fresh air within the genre. Being an avid lover of all kinds of thrillers, it naturally becomes easy to spot the conventions. This guy is going to do this and that. Such and such will eventually happen. With Transpecos however, the mechanics of the plot are so sharp and finely tuned, that calling out such elements becomes virtually impossible. Director Greg Kwedar and screenwriter Clint Bentley have crafted a film which sweeps you up with solid characterization before unleashing a number of unexpected twists in the plot. The film’s setting helps immensely, with the vast (and gorgeously shot) desert landscapes acting as the characters’ virtual captor, leaving them trapped and helpless throughout.
There’s a final scene toward the end of Transpecos which, to go into great detail on would be revealing far too much. However, suffice it to say that it is perhaps one of the film’s most touching moments and truly speaks to the personal conflict and sacrifice made by those who perhaps never expected to be faced with such decisions. It was an honest and touching moment where ideas of culture, loyalty and brotherhood were all swimming around at once. My hope is that people discover Transpecos and recognize it as both a taut thriller as well as a look into a world many know close to nothing about. Transpecos – Full Review.