Welcome to the 2019 CIRCUIT CONSIDERATIONS series. Highlighting the very best in film, acting, and technical achievements for the past 12 months that awards voters may need help remembering. Each day a different writer will make their plea for a specific film in a respective category. If you miss one, click the tag “Circuit Considerations 2019,” and if you have some suggestions, include them in the comments below!
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is about to have a major oversight problem this year if it doesn’t nominate Jonathan Majors for his staggering performance in Joe Talbot’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” Less a scene-stealer than a frame fixation, Majors exemplifies the most admirable qualities of a best friend, fearless artist, and historical preserver. As Montgomery “Mont” Allen, Majors aids childhood friend Jimmie on his fervent mission to hold on to his abandoned childhood home in a neighborhood since gentrified. Navigating the oppressive and disappointing nature of past and present while never losing his light, Majors’ Mont is inspiration personified. Uninhibited by archetype or limited “supporting” contributions, Majors produces one of the most multi-faceted character creations of the decade.
Majors proves that the truth of oneself is best revealed from the observant eyes of those who love you the most. Protagonist Jimmie Fails (playing himself in fictitious re-imagining) shields his remorse surrounding an unavoidable secret to maintain a foothold of socioeconomic control. His comfortable upbringing was robbed by rising infrastructure and a shifting class imbalance in the Bay Area. It’s through the sincere bond of Mont’s friendship — which soothes Jimmie’s pain like a warm salve — that allows him to let the past die and forge a new livelihood.
Black men are rarely given the onscreen opportunity to show a tender side, especially among male relationships. That isn’t the case in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” Majors glides across every frame with an outpouring of raw emotion, tears at the ready and compassion everlasting. He never bucks to the cultural and societal pressures of masculine conformity. This courageousness of emotional transparency among the hardest of hardened men yields internal release. Majors plows through everyone’s defenses with intensity and passion, galvanizing those around him to affirm their justified anger. In a way, Majors monologues with the grace of a sermon, yet nothing about his words ring hollow or doctrinal.
There’s no better example of Majors’ talent than during his one-man play where he loses his patience with Jimmie and the audience for viewing the world from a self-serving perspective and not how it truly operates. Majors’ meltdown ironically demonstrates a complete mastery of control; his histrionics serve the character and jolt audiences into recognizing their own wall of self-deceit. Majors is a hurricane of truth and fragility as Mont, sometimes so caught up in the hardships of others than he forgets to take care of his own. What makes this such a powerful supporting performance is that Majors takes the role of the voracious artist who adds vibrancy and color to a figure he already adores: Jimmie. Nearly every moment is devoted to uplifting Jimmie – his success provides hope for other impoverished black men in the Bay Area.
Majors takes on the sidekick role and makes it evolve and flourish. Audiences leave the film devastated by Jimmie’s story of metropolitan rejection, but it’s Mont who stirs their emotions into a flurry of heartache. Because he’s not a veteran actor and starred in an acclaimed film that came out too early in the year to be remembered by awards groups, Majors faces an unfair uphill battle to score an Oscar nomination. Yet, his brilliance continues to land him prolific work. Majors has already booked his next gig as the lead in Jordan Peele’s upcoming HBO adaptation of Matt Ruff’s “Lovecraft County.” Few performers in a year are as undeniably powerful as Jonathan Majors, a titan among thespians who gives in to the grace of the craft.