By Alex McPherson
Based on the 14th-century Arthurian tale “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” director David Lowery’s film, aptly titled “The Green Knight,” is an impeccably constructed fantasy epic with bizarre imagery and dense themes begging to be mulled over for years to come. 

The story begins in Camelot, with Gawain (Dev Patel), an aimless young warrior and nephew to King Arthur himself (Sean Harris), getting the chance to finally give his life purpose beyond drinking and cavorting his days away. During a Christmas gathering, the aging King and his wife, Queen Guinnevere (Kate Dickie), draw attention to the fact that Gawain doesn’t have any stories to tell — not yet, at least — and a mysterious, bark-covered giant shows up, calling himself the Green Knight (voiced by Ralph Ineson with imposing gusto).

The gritty medieval Groot offers a challenge to the Round Table — he will allow anyone brave enough to strike a blow against him, so long as they agree to receive the same treatment in one year. Gawain, careless as ever and wanting to impress his company and his suspicious mother, Morgan Le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), agrees to the challenge when nobody else will, promptly decapitating the Knight. He immediately regrets his decision, as the Knight, holding his severed head, gallops away on his horse laughing maniacally. In one year, Gawain must complete his end of the agreement. Oops. 

The clock begins ticking, and once the year passes, Gawain sets out on his journey across a fantastical land to reach the Green Chapel and fulfill his pact. Unsurprisingly, the quest is grueling, and the self-doubting Gawain encounters a variety of strange entities — mischievous themes, a mournful spirit, and a fox companion, among others — that require him to confront his supposedly heroic ideals and his own mortality in the pursuit of becoming a legend. 

Absolutely brimming with cinematic artistry and featuring a magnificent performance from Dev Patel, “The Green Knight” won’t appeal to viewers seeking a more traditional, action-packed epic that spoon-feeds them what to think or how to feel. Rather, Lowery’s masterpiece embraces all the sensory qualities of the film medium to fully transport viewers into Gawain’s journey, which winds up being far more existential than some viewers may be prepared for. There are certainly physical threats to be found along the way, but “The Green Knight” renders most of Gawain’s conflicts internal, as he grapples with his self-imposed burden and slowly but surely grows not only as a warrior, but as a human being, with imperfection to match his courage.

From its opening frames, “The Green Knight” is devoted to walking its own path and being undeniably weird while doing so. There’s tons to feast on stylistically — evocative, period-accurate costuming, lighting that evolves from decorated interiors to fog-drenched forests and blood red lakes, deliciously tactile sound design, and mystical yet lived-in environments, with a score by Daniel Hart fitting for a horror film in its off-kilter, slightly crazed rhythms. All of this is complemented by sweeping, at-times mind-boggling cinematography that flows through the royal interiors and vast landscapes that Gawain traverses, becoming ever-stupefying as Gawain treks onwards, further into his own soul. This is a film that demands to be watched on the biggest screen possible and with limited distractions. 

Of course, Lowery’s film isn’t pure style over substance, and there’s plenty to contemplate in terms of storytelling and characters here. Gawain is a naive and reckless individual who isn’t initially easy to care about but develops in a significant fashion by the end. He’s forced to consider the sacrifices necessary for greatness, the notion of honor itself, and the fallibility of human nature despite illusions of superiority. Like Lowery’s other films, especially “A Ghost Story,” “The Green Knight” is focused on the concept of death, mortality, and Nature’s grip over us all. Indeed, the proceedings are depicted so ambiguously that some viewers may become frustrated with the film’s opaqueness. For this critic, however, the events — especially a nightmarish, darkly poetic sequence late in the film — haven’t left my mind, and keep revealing additional thematic layers the more I ponder them.

Lending “The Green Knight” an emotionally grounded core despite its vagueness, though, is Patel. A subversive casting choice for a story typically dominated by white men, he portrays the warrior’s growing insecurities in a subtle fashion that endears us to him from his first appearance onwards. Alicia Vikander also does excellent work playing dual roles, as Gawain’s lower-class girlfriend, Essel, and as a seductive temptress later on. Ineson, as the Green Knight, is intimidating, but has an aura of warmth and amusing self-awareness nevertheless. Barry Keoghan and Joel Edgerton give memorable turns as a creepy brigand and an uneasily jovial lad that Gawain encounters near the finale. 

There’s a lot to digest once the credits roll — make sure to stay through them —  that I’m eager to dive back into this wondrous, often frightening world to decipher all the symbolism and peculiar characters to unearth more meaning. I haven’t felt this way about many other films released in 2021 so far, but “The Green Knight” stands head and shoulders above most of them in terms of pure intellectual engagement and eye-popping creativity. Cinephiles shouldn’t expect anything less from A24, and viewers should go in knowing that “The Green Knight” engages the mind just as much as the senses, even if multiple viewings are all but required to fully appreciate it.

“The Green Knight” is a 2021 historical drama directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel, Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander. Rated R for violence, some sexuality and graphic nudity, it has a runtime of 2 hours, 10 minutes. The movie opened in theaters on July 30. Alex’s Grade: A+ 

By Lynn Venhaus
A road trip from hell, as documented on a viral Twitter thread six years ago, is the starting point for this unusual film.

The genesis of “Zola” is a 148-count tweetstorm by A’ziah King in 2015. Known as Zola, she was working as a Hooters waitress in Detroit, when a customer, an exotic dancer named Stefani (Riley Keough), convinces her to dance for some quick cash – then invites her for a weekend in Florida, also to strip, with the promise of easy money.

But the trip becomes a nightmarish 48-hour odyssey with Stefani prostituting herself while Zola is expected to be an “escort” too. Along for the ride is Stefani’s idiot boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) and her dangerous pimp X (Colman Domingo).

After 86 minutes, I felt like my I.Q. had dropped 50 points and I wanted to take a shower. But like a bad car wreck on the highway, you can’t quit staring at it in disbelief.

The film deals with increasingly dangerous and desperate situations, and when it involves the sex industry, that is to be expected. The film’s subject matter is sleazy, yes, but director Janicza Bravo doesn’t treat it in an overly erotic way, but rather realistically. The transactions are about survival — a way of life in a scuzzy underworld of sex and violence.

However, you are warned –  the graphic sexual content includes close-ups of male genitalia – although less female nudity than one might expect.

While the cast excels at creating these outrageous characters, they really are a sad lot – and if you have seen “The Florida Project” and “Hustlers,” folks without life’s advantages. There’s also similarities to “Spring Breakers,” but really a singular situation.

Riley Keough plays Stefani, a character like the one she played in “American Honey,” only with less of a conscience and a soul. She lives out loud, on stage, and doesn’t give it a second thought. She affects a ‘street’ accent that she might think is cool or tough, but it instead pathetic.

Her doofus of a boyfriend, Derrek, hilariously played by Nicholas Braun (brilliant as Cousin Greg in “Succession,” watches YouTube.com videos and aspires to monetize such videos one day. He is clueless.

While Stefani and Derrek appear to be sorry specimens of the public school system, Zola has street smarts and learned through the school of hard knocks. She refuses to partake in X’s plan and holds her ground. But even she can’t prevent this walk on the wild side.

Just a withering look from Taylour Paige’s Zola, and you know exactly how she feels. Paige, a trained dancer, is a revelation here. Most known for a TV show, “Hit the Floor,” as Zola, she does more in one look than most people do in a string of sentences – and her side-eye is genius. You feel what she’s feeling just on body language alone.

X, as played by the sublime Colman Domingo, is a low-level con artist and morally bankrupt guy shrouded in mystery. Domingo plays him as a man used to living on the edge – but prefers to control the circus. If you saw Morgan Freeman in “Street Smart,” then you know the territory X covers.

Domingo, one of our finest actors, was memorable in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Selma” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” as Regina King’s husband. You see his name in the credits, and you know he’ll deliver. He is explosive in a long-simmering threatening way.

What parts are embellished and what areas stick to the truth aren’t clear – unless you read the 148 tweets, which are no longer on Twitter, but available on different sites.

Zola had something to say, and she let it out. This is the first film, as I recall, based on short unfiltered bursts of exasperation, frustration and just ‘let me tell you what happened to me.’

With social media so extensive in everyone’s lives, of course, we’re here now. But the film is also based on David Kushner’s article in Rolling Stone. Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, who wrote “Slave Play,” adapted it all for the screen.

The filmmaker has made some interesting choices, most of it fresh and different, which signals that an innovative artist is just getting started. She helmed another unusual indie, “Lemon,” which also opened at Sundance.

“Zola” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival – not this year – and the distributors held it for a big-screen experience. A crowd viewing is the definite way to go.

Nicholas Braun, Riley Keogh, Taylour Paige and Colman Domingo

Not wanting to come across as a snob or prude, this is my reaction to a seamy underbelly of society that we rarely glimpse of in such a revealing way, which is both frightening and troubling at the same time.

In the film business, we haven’t seen the last of any of the principals or the director. “Zola” is one of those zeitgeist movies people will buzz about, because, after all, those tweets went viral.

“Zola” is a 2020 drama-comedy directed by Janicza Bravo and Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo and Nicholas Braun.
Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, and violence, including a sexual assault, it runs 1 hour, 36 minutes. It is only in theaters beginning June 30. Lynn’s Grade: B-



The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced the winners of the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards LIVE on The CW during an in-person/virtual hybrid ceremony hosted for the third time by acclaimed film, television, and stage star Taye Diggs on Sunday, March 4.  The full list of winners can be found below. 

“Nomadland” led the winners in the film categories, taking home four awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chloé Zhao, and Best Cinematography for Joshua James Richards.  Zhao is the first Chinese woman to win as either director or writer. 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” followed closely behind, winning three categories including Best Actor for the late Chadwick Boseman, Best Costume Design, and Best Hair and Makeup.  Best Actress was awarded to Carey Mulligan for “Promising Young Woman,” which also earned a Best Original Screenplay win for Emerald Fennell.  Best Supporting Actor went to Daniel Kaluuya for “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and Best Supporting Actress to Maria Bakalova for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”   

In the series categories, “The Crown” took four categories, the most of the night, winning Best Drama Series, Best Actor in a Drama Series for Josh O’Connor, Best Actress in a Drama Series for Emma Corrin, and Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Gillian Anderson.  In the comedy genre, “Ted Lasso” won all three categories for which it was nominated: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Jason Sudeikis, and Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Hannah Waddingham.  “The Queen’s Gambit” took the prize for Best Limited Series, and its leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy won Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. 

The race for “Best Comedy Special,” which was dominated entirely by Netflix nominees, resulted in a tie between “Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill” and “Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia.” 

As was previously announced, John David Washington presented this year’s SeeHer Award to his “Malcolm & Marie” co-star, Zendaya.  The SeeHer Award recognizes a woman who embodies the values set forth by the SeeHer movement, to push boundaries, defy stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women across the entertainment landscape. 

After leading the nominations, Netflix also won the most awards of any studio/network with a total of 14.  Amazon Studios and Searchlight Pictures each won four. 

Critics Choice Awards are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement.  Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. 

The 26th annual Critics Choice Awards show was produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment.  The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig. 

Follow the 26th annual Critics Choice Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.  Join the conversation using #CriticsChoice and #CriticsChoiceAwards. 

FILM CATEGORIES 

BEST PICTURE 

Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ACTOR 

Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS 

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 

Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros.) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Amazon Studios) 

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS 

Alan Kim – Minari (A24) 

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

BEST DIRECTOR 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman (Focus Features) 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY 

Chloé Zhao – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY 

Joshua James Richards – Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) 

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN 

Donald Graham Burt, Jan Pascale – Mank (Netflix) 

BEST EDITING – TIE  

Alan Baumgarten – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix) 

Mikkel E. G. Nielsen – Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN 

Ann Roth – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS 

Tenet (Warner Bros.) 

BEST COMEDY 

Palm Springs (Hulu and NEON) 

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 

Minari (A24) 

BEST SONG  

Speak Now – One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios) 

BEST SCORE 

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste – Soul (Disney) 

SERIES CATEGORIES 

BEST DRAMA SERIES 

The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Josh O’Connor – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Emma Corrin – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES 

Gillian Anderson – The Crown (Netflix) 

BEST COMEDY SERIES 

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Jason Sudeikis – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Catherine O’Hara – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES  

Daniel Levy – Schitt’s Creek (Pop) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES 

Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) 

BEST LIMITED SERIES 

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Hamilton (Disney+) 

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

John Boyega – Small Axe (Amazon Studios) 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Anya Taylor-Joy – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION 

Donald Sutherland – The Undoing (HBO) 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION   

Uzo Aduba – Mrs. America (FX) 

BEST TALK SHOW 

Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC) 

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL – TIE  

Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill (Netflix) 

Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia (Netflix) 

BEST SHORT FORM SERIES 

Better Call Saul: Ethics Training with Kim Wexler (AMC/Youtube) 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)  

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.