[#2019oscardeathrace] Free Solo (2018)

Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Cast: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Sanni McCandless

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what the term Free Solo meant before I saw this movie.

Free Solo is the documentary covering Alex Honnold’s unprecedented climb of El Capitan Wall in Yosemite. The climb, over 3,000 feet high, was completed without ropes or any safety gear at all, hence the term Free Solo. That means is Alex were to slip or fall, he’s a dead man. A documentary crew followed him on this incredible trek, a dangerous idea adding more stress to the climb.

I’ll put it as simply as I can: Free Solo is one of the most intense and exhilarating experiences I have had in the theater in quite some time. Everything leading up to the big event is shown with such gorgeously captivating cinematography. There were times I felt a little light-headed because you feel like you are up there with Alex. That’s the magic of this cinematic experience. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru) depict this insane sport and the toll it has on those around the climbers. They took me on the climb with them. I felt like a fly on the wall.

I really liked what time they spent diving into Alex’s childhood leading to his decision to become a climber and, eventually, a free solo climber, but I do wish we got some more of that in the film. It’s my one nitpick because I really wanted to study the mind of these daredevils and what makes them do what they do. The surface is merely scratched in the film, and I would have liked more.

The most centralized relationship in the film is between Alex and girlfriend Sanni, and it’s really nicely detailed. I felt for her as she tried to reach him and make him understand what this sport was doing to her, and it’s a great emotional argument of the film.

Free Solo’s striking visuals and its intense personal story is a powerful combination, making it one of the strongest documentary features of the year. I feel bad for you if you missed this one in IMAX, but seek it out when you can and experience this incredible feat for yourself.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Oscar Shortlists All Hit Monday

For those of you that do not know, the Academy usually releases short lists for some of their awards, listing the films currently in contention for those final nominations. Usually this process is done over time, and we eager film fans learn about the potential nominations for:

  • Best Documentary Feature
  • Best Foreign Language Feature
  • Best Original Song
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Documentary Short
  • Best Animated Short
  • Best Live-Action Short

For the first time, though, these short lists are all hitting the internet on one day: Monday, December 17th.

So on Monday, we will know the names of roughly 101 individual films vying for those nominations. There are pros and cons to each strategy. This way kind of muddles all the commentary for these potential winners and doesn’t give enough time for analysis of these lists and their films. For me, however, it kind of makes it like a holiday of its own. I’ll be going through the lists on Monday and checking to see which films I have screeners for and which ones I’ll have to hunt to find.

I like checking out as many potential Oscar films as possible before the big night so that my heart and soul are as much in the awards as possible.

So I’m excited for Monday. It’s like opening a gift up before the holiday. I’ll be paging through lists up to my eyeballs, and I’ll keep you posted as I uncover anything new.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2016oscardeathrace] What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

 whathappenedmisssimone2015a

Director: Liz Garbus

Cast: Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite, Lisa Simone Kelly

101 mins. Not Rated

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

whathappenedmisssimone2015c

Netflix certainly has their documentary game down. This is the third consecutive year where Netflix has a doc in the Academy Award race.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the 2015 look at the life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone and lifelong journey she takes. The film is packed with performances and interviews with Nina and her family/friends/acquaintances alongside previously unseen footage from the entertainer’s life. It paints a mixed portrait, sometimes uplifting, often tragic, of Miss Simone’s world.

I’ve known about Nina Simone’s music for some time, and I’ve often found her to be a terrific musician. I did not know much about her from a personal standpoint. Much of the documentary is interesting but I did find it to drag at times trying to get the most out of its runtime. The pacing is off, and the film does suffer because of it. The look at Simone’s career and activism does remain unbiased, though, in areas where it would be all too easy to drag in one direction.

whathappenedmisssimone2015b

Looking back on it now, it seems an all-too-fitting film to be a part of the Oscar race. In an Oscar race where people look to the #OscarsStillSoWhite actors but fail to see the powerful documentary about the African-American activist and the ethnicity of the people behind the cameras of some of the best films of the year, and while I didn’t exactly love this picture, I agree that it is an important film for our time and very fitting for such a world that we live in.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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