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Finally, the biggest blemish is the depiction of Roma?s central character the family?s maid, Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, and despite her glowing reviews, I think it is quite obvious from her poker-faced performance that she never acted before). Again, the camera literally and figuratively never gets close enough to provide insight into her character. Other than her unplanned pregnancy, what do we know about her? Where is she from? What are her motivations in life? Why does she meander from one quotidian episode to another in her life? (This article from the NewYorker expresses my concern quite well.)
And then Roma abruptly ends, not because it has reached the end of a story arc, but because it has run out of anything to say. These are not what I consider to be elements of a ?Best Film.? I have no doubt that Roma will clean up this Sunday at the Oscars. I also predict we will look back on it in a few years and wonder what the big deal was.
That is why BlacKkKlansman is such a revelatory film. Lee takes a true but absurd premise ? an African American policeman actually became a member of the Ku Klux Klan? ? and produces a film that is both funny and thought-provoking on the issue of race relations in our country today. That is why I chose it as the best of this year?s Oscar-nominated films.
BlacKkKlansman opens with Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, trying to find a meaningful assignment within the department. Over time, he manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch, and get a membership card. Due to complications caused by a crucial mistake by Stallworth, he must employ the help of a Jewish back-up (ably played by Adam Driver) to play him in person.
The conceit that works most effectively is how the film?s style models the TV crime shows of the 1970s, which is when the film takes place. Everything from the production design, the costuming, even the score by Terence Blanchard, evoke that era. Deeper still is the portrayal of the burgeoning civil rights turmoil of that time in all its underlying rage. Stallworth (played serviceably by Jon David Washington) finds his own identity in the course of the film.
Lee?s work at the helm is exceptional here, and I think it?s his best film since Do the Right Thing. The screenplay (for which Lee is one of four contributors) moves briskly through a tangled set of events, keeping the various loose ends in play, but never becoming confusing. As a director, he gets uniformly good performances from his players, a difficult task with a cast as large as this. One standout is Topher Grace, who is unexpectedly effective in the role of David Duke. Most significant is Lee?s sense of pacing. There is a complication with mistaken identity that sets in motion a threat to the safety of several major characters. Without giving it away, I was on the edge of my seat wondering how it would turn out. (Kudos to editor Barry Alexander Brown for his Oscar-nominated contribution to the taut and suspenseful rhythms of BlacKkKlansman.)
For the ability to take a long-ago incident and turn it into a film that is entertaining while remaining relevant to today?s zeitgeist, I pick BlacKkKlansman as the best of the nominated films of 2018.