As we enter the awards season, many Focus films are getting the recognition they so richly deserve. Two movies in particular—Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman—have stood out for the impact they have had on the American psyche as well as for being remarkable movies. Wildly popular when they came out, both films are now receiving critical and popular recognition in “best of” lists and critics’ awards. Barack Obama even put both movies on his celebrated “Best of 2018” Facebook list.
To kick off the new year, we wanted to salute the profound impact these two films made in the last year.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Love and kindness
When Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was first screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, We Live Entertainment exclaimed that it “isn’t just the best documentary of 2018 but one of the best documentaries ever made.” Neville’s touching look at Fred Rogers and his revolutionary show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood reminded many just how much they missed this kind-hearted avuncular showman. Critics and audiences have joined their voices to praise the film’s gentle reminder about the power of kindness and compassion. Entertainment Weekly prescribed the film’s “balm of kindness and empathy” as a remedy for our “troubled, divisive times.”
Nearly a year since its Sundance premiere, few have forgotten how the film made them feel. “Whatever nerve I was hoping the film would hit, it did so in a way that far exceeded my expectations,” Neville recently said. His documentary has already appeared on 25 “Best of” lists, including those by Time, Slate, and Los Angeles Times. After getting nominated by more than 55 different groups—with more yet to come—it has already been named Best Documentary by 31 of them, including winning the Gotham Awards' Audience Award. Morgan Neville was named Best Director by the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards. It now appears that the answer to the title’s question is an emphatic “Yes!”
BlacKkKlansman | What we need now
Time Magazine’s headline for their Cannes Film Festival review of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman called it “the movie we need now.” BlacKkKlansman brings to the screen the amazing real-life exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African American detective from Colorado Springs who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his colleague (played by Adam Driver). While Stallworth’s achievement took place in the ‘70s, The Los Angeles Times is quick to point out how the film “uses the past to explain where we are today.”
Six months after it was released, BlacKkKlansman still reverberates with audiences and critics. Huffington Post labeled it “The Most Frighteningly Accurate Movie Of 2018.” The film has been included in 34 “Top of the Year” lists, including those from The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone. Over 20 groups, including the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards, nominated it for Best Film. Critics and fans are also recognizing the specific achievements of the film's creative team. Spike Lee received 19 nominations for Best Director. Seventeen groups nominated John David Washington for Best Actor with Adam Driver receiving 18 nods for Best Supporting Actor. Twenty-three different groups, including the Writers Guild of America, nominated the film’s writers (Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee) for Best Adapted Screenplay. Others like costume designer Marci Rodgers and composer Terence Blanchard have been equally recognized and honored.