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Film Review: Selma (★★★★)

Ava DuVernay’s passion pours from the screen with a history making performance from David Oyelowo…

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selma posterPassionate, informative, and tenderly told, Ava DuVernay‘s vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for voters’ rights is fully realized in her newest film “Selma.” Written by Paul Webb, the film is ambitious, moving, and features a performance fit for the history books from David Oyelowo.  It’s one of the single best things you can see in 2014.

In a time where the state of our country is in disarray over race and politics, “Selma” hits our doorsteps at the right time for both sides of the coin to indulge and see how far we’ve come, or how little we actually have.  “Selma” shows the good and the bad, the perfect and imperfect characteristics of one of the most important figures in the fight for civil rights.  There’s respect, which goes without question, but there’s an emotional and raw honesty that DuVernay and Webb choose to tell us about the man who was Dr. King.  She doesn’t paint the rosey picture you’d come to expect from standard biopics these days.  She lays it out, leaving us to decide for ourselves if something outside of what he contributed to our country is great enough to look passed.  DuVernay offers in many ways, the single best direction of the year.

Invigorating from beginning to end, David Oyelowo owns every frame of the picture.  You don’t see performances like this too often especially of a real-life figure like MLK.  I go back to works like Denzel Washington (“Malcolm X”), Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi”), and George C. Scott (“Patton”) to find a more jaw-dropping or complex acting performance.  Something like this only seems to come around once a decade.  This may be our decade’s.  It’s more than just the embodiment, it’s the decisions in the silence that makes Oyelowo so amazing.  You will remember this performance forever.

The entire cast does an admirable to amazing job in their respective roles.  Carmen Ejogo is simply electrifying as Coretta Scott King.  An impeccable example of wearing the emotions and feelings at the brim without letting go.  Just sensational top to bottom.

Despite some hiccups in the accent department, Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth are serviced well as Lyndon B. Johnson and George Wallace.  Both have their opportunities to stand out in their respective scenes but ultimately stand as reminders that we are eagerly waiting to get back to Dr. King.

DuVernay’s triumph comes from the extras and smaller name cast she utilizes as sprinkles in every instance that they appear.  Stan Houston as the treacherous Sherriff Clark is superbly focused and embodies the mindset of every unfortunate person of hate during the time.  Henry G. Sanders and Keith Stanfield in many ways become the heart and soul of the film without no more than just a few moments of screen time.  Oprah Winfrey and Lorraine Toussaint also execute their roles proficiently.

The slick and vivacious manner in which “Selma” is assembled is thanks to the genius people behind the camera.  Cinematographer Bradford Young is just too great at what he does at this point in his career.  With another stunning framing form in J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” he rises in the ranks to join Roger Deakins and Emmanuel Lubezki as one of the most exciting DP’s.  Spencer Averick’s editing keeps “Selma” on pace, and engaging 100% of the time.  Jason Moran’s score is palpable and justified in every sense of its usage.

Selma” is just a joy to behold, a magnificent example of passionate filmmaking that lacked sorely in 2014.  It propels DuVernay among the ranks of the best filmmakers working today.  Naturally brought to tears, it’s a gut-wrenching and honest look into our history.  Fulfilling, promised, and profound.  One of the year’s best films.

Selma” opens in limited release on Christmas Day and goes wide on January 9.  It is distributed by Paramount Pictures.

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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.

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Austin Kemprowski

Do you think DuVernay is catapulted to the directing “A-list” with this film?

Tom

Saw this today with a friend in the city. Amazing, one of those special movies that don’t come around that often. Definitely One of The Best I’ve Seen in a Long, Long Time

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