SELMA

Much has been made of SELMA’s “snubs” after this year’s Academy Award nominations. I’m not going to get into that here. I’m just going to give you my review of the movie as it stands, not comparing it to anything else (but my opinion may become apparent). Rarely does a film move you to tears. Move you from joy to sadness without being obvious about what it is trying to do. The best films do that just by telling compelling stories in an honest way. SELMA one of those films. The story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for the passage of the Voting Rights act is history. That means we all know what happened, or at least most of it. Ava DuVernay’s film taps into stories from those where were there like Andrew Young and John Lewis and the FBI’s records of wiretaps on King and other civil rights leaders. That makes for a film that feels historically accurate. It shows Dr. King as a righteous man who is also troubled and flawed. In other words, a man. Not a deity or larger than life legend. He is calculating, but in the service of his cause. He also spends too much time away from his family and seems to have cheated on his wife Coretta. All of this is perfectly portrayed in the nuanced, sensitive and timeless performance of David Oyelowo. Even writing this I feel emotional about his performance. When he delivers speeches in Selma church or in front of the state capitol in Montgomery, it’s as if you are listening to Dr. King. He delivers the historic words with power and meaning and emotion that stirs and troubles your soul. Oyelowo was the best thing in THE BUTLER, but he was merely a supporting player. Here he is allowed to shine and put the full palate of acting skills on display. It’s acting so good, you can’t tell that he is acting. I cannot put into words how good a performance this is. It will stick with me for a long time. But, the movie around Oyelowo is just fantastic. DuVernay makes all the right choices. Every shot, every frame brings you into the struggle, the frustration and the brutality. There isn’t a false or wrong note in the entire movie. it’s not bloated. It lingers on history just long enough to make its point then it moves on to the next piece of outrage or treachery. A lot was made of how Lyndon Johnson is portrayed, more as an adversary forced to action by Dr. King rather than as a willing partner. From my research, Johnson was a lot more willing participant than DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb portray here. but he is not evil, not intentionally blocking Dr. King. He seems to really struggle with his decision to focus on legislation to fix poverty before clearing the way for voting rights. He’s a politician, trying to serve all constituencies equally. He’s making choices. Granted he is forced to make the right one, but h does come around. Tom Wilkinson plays it well, especially in one Oval Office scene where he confronts Gov. George Wallace (another great performance from Tim Roth). After the final credits I sat in the theater for a few minutes, not wanting the experience to be over (but alas, they had to set up for TAKEN 3.. draw your own conclusions about that image). That’s how much this film moved me. How much it has pounded into my brain. This is no question in my mind the best film of 2014. — Alan Yudman

One update: I completely forgot to mention “Glory” by John Legend and Common. It is a perfect song for this movie and well done. Deserves nomination for Best Song.

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