Netflix leads the list of for the American Film Institute’s AFI Movies of the Year with four films, a record haul for them or any streamer in this annual prestigious list that often mirrors the lion’s share of future Oscar Best Picture nominees.
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, David Fincher’s Mank, George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Aaron Sorkin’s ever-relevant The Trial of the Chicago 7 made the cut for Netflix in this pandemic-affected year Among other streamers Amazon Studios also had an impressive showing with two films including Sound of Metal and Regina King’s directorial debut One Night In Miami. Disney+ scored with Pixar’s animated Soul, while the Mouse House studio’s Fox acquisition Searchlight is there with Nomadland.
In a sign of these times, or at least the delayed potential contenders from what we would call major studio releases, is a spot for Warner Bros with Judas and the Black Messiah, but that will be day-and-dating next month on WarnerMedia’s new streamer HBO Max. Also making the cut today is A24’s Minari, the story of a Korean American family trying to make it on a farm in Arkansas.
The AFI list is notable also for its sheer diversity including the aforementioned Minari, and fully half of the films with majority Black casts (including the voice-over cast for Soul). Among movies not among the AFI choices are Universal’s News of the World, A24’s First Cow (named best film by the New York Film Critics), Warner Bros’ excellent The Little Things and Focus Features’ acclaimed Promising Young Woman. Foreign-language films are not eligible, which might explain the absence of Netflix’s Italian Sophia Loren drama The Life Ahead.
AFI also revealed its TV winners for 2020 and recognized Hamilton with an AFI Special Award, designated for a work of excellence outside the Institute’s criteria for American film and television.
“For 20 years, AFI Awards has been a moment to gather artists in one room with a singular goal – to create community over competition,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI president and CEO. “This year we cannot gather but will instead celebrate each honoree by creating exclusive content to be shared with a global audience through AFI Movie Club, shining a proper light on excellence.”
On February 26, the AFI Awards tributes will culminate with a virtual benediction premiering on YouTube.com/AFI and AFI.com. The select films will be highlighted on all AFI platforms leading up to the event. Normally they would be showcased at a hot-ticket luncheon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, but the pandemic has made that impossible this year.
The AFI states that celebrating film and television arts’ collaborative nature, AFI Awards is the only national program that honors creative teams as a whole, recognizing those in front of and behind the camera. Honorees annually include 10 outstanding films and 10 outstanding TV programs deemed culturally and artistically representative of this year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image.
AFI also states that “all of the honored works advance the art of the moving image, inspire audiences and artists alike, enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form and make a mark on American society. When placed in an historical context, these stories provide a complex and rich visual record of our modern world.” It is hard to think of a more “American” film release this year than the Tom Hanks Western from Paul Greengrass, News of the World, or even another Hanks possibility, the WWII-set Greyhound from Apple TV +, but neither are on the list.
AFI Awards selections are made through a jury process where AFI Trustees, artists, critics and scholars determine the year’s most outstanding achievements and provide artistic and cultural context for the selection of each honoree. This year’s jury featured Debbie Allen, Cynthia Erivo, Rian Johnson, David Mandel, Marlee Matlin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Wes Studi and Lulu Wang; authors and scholars representing prestigious universities with recognized motion picture arts and television programs; film historians Mark Harris, Molly Haskell and Leonard Maltin; the AFI Board of Trustees; and film and television critics. The jury was chaired by AFI Board of Directors member Jeanine Basinger (Chair Emerita and Founder of the Film Studies Department, Wesleyan University) and AFI Board of Trustees Vice Chair Richard Frank (former Chairman of Walt Disney Television, President of Walt Disney Studios, President of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences).
Here is the official list:
AFI MOVIES OF THE YEAR
DA 5 BLOODS
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…
SOUND OF METAL
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7