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Celebrate Independent Film With Film Threat’s “Award This!”

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S.F. IndieFest’s Up The Oscars offers a two-fer benefit to attendees.  One is a chance to publicly make fun of the glamor and the often reactionary nature of the Oscars.  The other benefit for attendees is helping to keep alive the S.F. cinematic treasure known as the Roxie Theatre.  

But what if there was a way to constructively show your disdain for the Oscars’ aesthetic conservatism?  Such an opportunity presented itself thanks to the proverbial mad geniuses at Film Threat with “Award This!” 

“Award This” Logo

Now in its second year, this event celebrated independent and alternative film as well as the new distribution modes for seeing film such as VOD and streaming. Film Threat founder Chris Gore does not see his event as the Another Hole In The Head of award ceremonies. Awards help draw attention to valuable films on the fringes of public awareness. What this event offered was another chance for the Film Threat writers and editors to point out worthy work in genres the Oscars treat as beneath them. Film Threat’s editors and advisory board (a mix of media figures and film-making luminaries) selected the winners in seventeen different categories.

For Broke-Ass readers positioned in the Bay Area, odds are they weren’t be able to see in person the actual ceremony and the post-event party for Award This!  Yes, tickets were open to the general public at $40 a pop. And yes, mundanes could mingle with filmmakers and people connected with the nominees at the after-party. But unless you were able to get to Glendale’s Movie Studio Grill in Los Angeles on the evening of February 5, 2020, you were out of luck.  Fortunately, the ceremony was filmed and put up on YouTube here.  

Meanwhile, you can see who and what got nominated for this year’s Award This!  The go-to place is www.awardthis.com/2020-nominees.  So what will the interested reader find?     

The category most familiar (and emotionally satisfying) to Broke-Ass readers will be the Oscar Snubs category.  Hated that the Oscars nominated only white males for Best Director Oscars? The Oscar Snubs list singles out Greta Gerwig for her work on “Little Women” and Lulu Wang for directing “The Farewell.”  Felt Robert De Niro made “The Irishman” work? He’s here. Felt actresses of color got screwed over again this year by the Oscars So White phenomenon? The Film Threat guys agree, which is why they nominated Awkwafina for her central performance in “The Farewell” and Jennifer Lopez for her unforgettable turn in “Hustlers.”

Lulu Wang (L), nominee in the Oscar Snubs category

Other breaks from the Oscars’ stodginess can be found in the nomination categories of Ensemble Cast, Director, and Directress.  Instead of just one or two actors, sometimes it takes a proverbial village of actors to make a film work. Having separate categories for best male and best female directors gets around the boys’ club problem of the Oscars’ Best Director nominations.

The apples and oranges effects of the Oscar nomination categories are avoided by what Film Threat does with its nomination categories.  Instead of just Documentaries, there are categories for Sports Documentary, Socially Relevant Documentary, and Pop Culture Documentary. Making feature films in a particular genre proves worthy of recognition as opposed to the Oscars’ bias towards “prestige” filmmaking.  In Award This!, there are such categories as LGBTQ+ Themed Film, Horror, and Comedy. But Film Threat’s real finger in Oscar’s eye comes with the categories of WTF Indie and Indie Made For Less Than The Contents Of An Oscar Gift Bag.

Viewers who’ve diligently haunted the local art/indie film venues as well as the farther reaches of well-known streaming services will recognize several of the titles nominated here.  “Sword Of Trust,” “Greener Grass,” “Fast Color,” “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” “Daddy Issues,” “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” “Tell Me Who I Am,” and “The Russian Five” are films whose names will ring a few bells with dedicated viewers.

“Greener Grass,” the most nominated film at the 2020 Award This!

Yet there are still good if unfamiliar names and titles among the nominees for this year’s Award This!  In Film Threat’s spirit of drawing attention to worthy but relatively unknown independent films, here are ten short films and feature films that jump out of this year’s nominees list.  

Adams–Fred Armisen plays the short film’s title character, a really weird next-door neighbor.  Roger (Patton Oswalt) grudgingly tolerates Adams’ antics. Then there comes the day when a naked except for his underwear Adams apparently breaks into Roger’s home and stands in the middle of his kitchen while Roger’s kids are upstairs.  The angry homeowner/parent thinks he’s retaliating against Adams, but is he really?

Harpoon–Hot-headed rich kid Richard, his best friend Jonah, and Richard’s girlfriend Sasha are stuck on a broken-down boat in the middle of the ocean.  The trio originally planned for a day trip on the sea to spread the ashes of Jonah’s parents. But really bad decisions, stupid fights, and a constant correcting of the use of the titular “H word” soon turns the marooned trio’s situation into a nautical version of Sartre’s “No Exit.”  Needless to say, this is a dark and very twisted comedy.

We Vanish–Modern day Mexico is plagued by way too frequent cases of “feminicidios” (the kidnapping and murder of young women).  In this short film, single mother Rocio constantly worries about her daughter Mia becoming yet another feminicidio. The younger woman thinks her parental unit is overreacting.  But when Mia disappears, Rocio must fight both her own anxieties as well as the local cops and criminal elements to learn the final fate of her missing daughter.

Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man

Mr. Toilet:  The World’s #2 Man–Meet friendly Singapore businessman Jack Sim.  His life’s passion is bringing and maintaining clean restrooms to everyone in the world.  Poo and pee jokes aside, Sim’s work is serious business. Growing up in Singapore’s slums showed Sim firsthand how poorly maintained public toilets helped spread sickness and disease.  Can Sim’s charm and humor change every person’s public bathroom habits for the better?  (This writer wonders if Mr. Toilet had thought of using other media to spread his message.  A videogame could be created where the player wins by installing and keeping up the most loos in a metropolis…and it could be called “Sim S__tty.”)   

Lost Angelas–Are aspiring screenwriter Jake Hart’s L.A. fortunes finally looking up?  He’s engaged to aspiring actress Angela Rose. Important movie producer Walt Warshaw is interested in Jake’s latest script, a drama about the disappearance of former actress Angie Malone.  Greenlighting the film and casting Angela as Malone is facilitated by Jake’s helping Warshaw dispose of the corpses of two men he just murdered. However, critical and award season love for the film isn’t the same as audience love.  To drum up audience interest in his film, Jake convinces Angela to publicly disappear. But what happens when things start looking as if Angela’s repeating Malone’s fate?

Satanic Panic–Pizza delivery driver Sam’s first day on the job has been six shades of crappy.  None of her delivery customers left her any sort of tip. She finally snaps after she gets screwed out of a tip from a customer living in the wealthy part of town.  Her hunting down the short-changing jerk leads to her accidentally discovering the customer happens to be part of a coven of Satanists. The devil worshippers hope to bring Baphomet to Earth.  However, they’re short one sacrificial virgin. Fortunately, this tip-seeking peon who just walked in on them happens to be a virgin. Unfortunately for the Satanists, Sam’s not about to lie down and be sacrificed.   

Apex: The Secret Race Across America–The U.S. Express has replaced the fabled Cannonball Run.  Like its predecessor, the Express is an underground cross-country race across America.   Participants have to drive from New York City to Santa Monica in the fastest time possible.  But such problems as weather, mental fatigue, and the cops in particular could prevent entrants from completing a race.  This documentary follows one team’s efforts in the 1983 race to break the existing cross-country record. Why the decades-long delay in seeing this footage?  Welll, driving 100 MPH (which the U.S. Express drivers do a lot) is a felony in many states. This film footage would provide prime material for ambitious prosecutors hoping to bust the Express participants’ asses.  Fortunately, the expiration of the statute of limitations now allows this footage to be publicly shown without anyone being worried about seeing the insides of several prison cells.  

Long Lost–Seth has come to stay at Richard’s manor for a few days.  Neither man knew they were the other’s brother until a few days ago.  But if the aim of the visit is to build ties with a lost brother, there are several things hinky about this supposed family reunion.  Richard’s significant other Abby is present at this allegedly private gathering. Seth is bullied by Richard about any sexual interest he has in Abby.  Despite the lack of pets around the rich man’s place, where are the sounds of a dog running around coming from? Why is Richard more interested in browbeating and belittling both Seth and Abby?  What big secret is the richer brother ultimately hiding?

Possum

Possum–Hate spiders and/or puppets?  Then you’ll love Matthew Holness’ disturbing directorial debut.  Phillip is a psychologically damaged teacher who lives on coastal Britain.  Part of Phillip’s problems come from the emotional scars left by a childhood under his cruel Uncle Maurice’s wing.  The title character is Phillip’s other big problem. It can be described as a puppet which looks like a giant spider with a large human head.  Phillip has tried to dispose of Possum for years. But despite the teacher’s best efforts, Possum keeps coming back…

The typical Broke-Ass reader can probably only attend in spirit Award This!  But they can help what Gore et al. are trying to do by tracking down whatever films in the nominee list intrigues them.  A new if not heavily advertised favorite film might be discovered that way.

(Guess what’s the official website for Award This!  It’s www.awardthis.com, duh.) 

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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