A scene from Ari Folman's anti-war animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir.
By John Esther
The James Agee Cinema Circle have announced the nominees for the 2008 “Progie” Awards.
The Progies recognize features, documentaries and filmmakers for their outstanding achievement in promoting human rights and providing a voice for people of color, the working class, women, immigrants, gays, and the environment, and against war, censorship and political repression.
Below is a list of the award accompanied by a brief description and the nominees. Some are also accompanied by personal comments.
The Trumbo -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Picture is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform on others. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for Spartacus and Exodus in 1960.
This year’s Trumbo nominees are Battle in Seattle, Che, Milk, The Visitor, Waltz with Bashir, and Wendy and Lucy.
Wendy and Lucy, a story about a woman (Michelle Williams) and the dog she loses while driving to Alaska, as Best Progressive Picture is a joke. For all of its intents and efforts Che does not really belong here either. Better choices than these two would have been Chicago 10 or Hunger or Nothing But the Truth. Even the politically safe Doubt and Frost/Nixon are superior films.
A scene from Battle in Seattle.
The Garfield -- Progie Award for Best Actor is named after John Garfield, who rose from the proletarian theater to star in progressive pictures such as Gentleman's Agreement and Force of Evil, only to run afoul of the Hollywood Blacklist.
This year’s Garfield nominees are Josh Brolin (W), Benicio Del Toro (Che), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), and Sean Penn (Milk).
Karen Morley Award -- Progie Award for Best Actress is named for Karen Morley, who was driven out of Hollywood in the 1930s for her leftist views, but who maintained her militant political activism for the rest of her life. This year’s Morley nominees are Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Michelle Williams (Wendy and Lucy), and Kate Winslet (Revolutionary Road; The Reader).
If progressive politics and fine acting are the basis for the Morley Award then this is a sad indictment on contemporary cinema. Leo, who plays a working-class women caught up in an illegal immigrant smuggling ring in Frozen River, is the only one here who meets both qualifications. Jolie’s melodramatic middle-class performance is the worse thing about Changeling. I expect the studio whores to be impressed, not people authentically for progress. Hawkin’s character does not have a political bone to pick in her quick-witted head. I have not seen Revolutionary Road as of this writing, but picking Winslet for her performance in the reactionary film, The Reader, is bewildering. Williams, why? Notably absent is Kate Beckinsale for Nothing But the Truth, which I suspect many of my fellow JACC members have not seen.
A scene from Frozen River.
The Renoir -- Progie Award for Best Anti-War Film is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece The Grand Illusion.
This year’s Renoir nominees are Body of War, The Lucky One’s, Stop-Loss, Waltz with Bashir, and War, Inc.
In this category, non-fiction films Body of War and Waltz with Bashir compete with fiction films The Lucky Ones, Stop-Loss, and War, Inc.
The Gillo -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Foreign Film is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who shot the 1960s classics The Battle of Algiers and Burn!
This year’s Gillo nominees are Che, The Edge of Heaven, Take Out, and Waltz with Bashir.
The Dziga -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Documentary is named after Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the Kino Pravda series and The Man With the Movie Camera.
This year’s Dziga nominees are Body of War, Religulous, Standard Operating Procedure, Trouble the Water, and Trumbo.
Adrienne Shelly Award -- Named after the actor and director, Adrienne Shelly, who was brutally murdered in 2006, the Progie Award is dedicated to a movie opposing violence against women.
This year’s Adrienne Shelly nominees are Before the Rain, Changeling, Gran Torino, and Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
These are very weak choices. Where is A Walk to Beautiful, Funny Games, Brick Lane, Battle in Seattle, etc?
A scene from Funny Games.
La Passionara Award -- Progie Award for positive female images in a movie, and in light of the historically demeaning portrayal of women in movies.
This year’s Passionara nominees are Changeling, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, Nothing But the Truth, and Trouble the Water.
Our Daily Bread Award -- Progie Award for the film with the most positive and inspiring working-class images in a movie this year.
This year’s Daily Bread nominees are Battle in Seattle, The Garden, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Profit and the Whispering Wind, Take Out, and The Wrestler.
The Robeson award –- Progie Award named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson. The award is for the movie that best expresses the people-of-color experience in America, in light of the historical distortions and caricatures in films.
This year’s Robeson nominees are Ballast, Cadillac Records, Exiles, Miracle at St. Anna and Trouble the Water.
A scene from Miracle at St. Anna.
Tomas Gutierrez Alea Award -- Progie Award named after the late legendary Cuban filmmaker for the film best depicting mass popular uprising or revolutionary transformation in a movie.
This year’s nominees are Battle in Seattle, Che, Chicago 10, Defiance, and Hunger.
The Lawson -- Progie Award for Best Anti-Fascist Film is named after screenwriter John Howard Lawson, one of the Hollywood Ten, who wrote Hollywood's first feature about the Spanish Civil War, Blockade, with Henry Fonda, and anti-Nazi movies such as Sahara, starring Humphrey Bogart.
This year’s Lawson nominees are The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Defiance, Good, The Reader, and Valkyrie.
What do we have here? A bunch of bourgeois films set in Germany in mid-20th century, made by, mostly, non-Germans and told in English. A small exception is Defiance, which is set in Byelorussia during WWII, but it is still in English. How Hollywood of the JACC. Good and The Reader are really not anti-fascist. Good is about the plight of one man (Viggo Mortensen) who does nothing to resist the fascist tide, and The Reader makes a concentration camp guard (Kate Winslet) look sympathetic during her “retirement” years. On another hand, The Boy with the Striped Pajamas packs a wallop with its conclusion.
The Modern Times -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Film Satire is named after Charlie Chaplin, who made Modern Times and The Great Dictator.
This year’s Modern nominees are Frost/Nixon, Religulous, W, Wall-E, and War, Inc.
Okay, what is satirical about Frost/Nixon?
The Orson -- Progie Award for Best Overlooked Progressive Film (with restrictions) is named after actor-director Orson Welles. After he directed the masterpiece Citizen Kane Welles had difficulty getting most of his other movies made.
This year’s Orson nominees are Fields of Fuel, The Real Great Debaters, A Time to Stir, 24 City, and Wings of Defeat.
The Lorentz -- Progie Award for Best Environmentalist Film is named after Pare Lorentz, who directed Depression era classic documentaries The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River.
This year’s Lorentz nominees are The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flow: For the Love of Water, The Garden, The Happening, Wall-E.
The Pasolini -- Progie Award for Best Pro-Gay Rights Film is named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Decameron: The Canterbury Tales) a gay man who was murdered by fascists.
This year’s Pasolini’s nominees are Chris & Don, Milk, No Regret, Save Me and The Secrets.
The Lennon -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Musical or Film About Music is named after slain peace activist and musician John Lennon, who co-starred in the 1967 satire How I Won the War and the 2006 doc The U.S. vs. John Lennon.
This year’s Lennon nominees are Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, Cadillac Records, The Gits, Patti Smith: The Dream of Life, and War Dance.
The Brando -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Film Activist is named after Marlon Brando, who starred in movies such as the Black power-themed Burn! and the anti-apartheid A Dry White Season, while championing underdogs like the American Indian Movement off the screen.
The Brando nominees this year are John Cusack, Danny Glover, Robert Greenwald, Spike Lee, and Sean Penn.
Danny Glover and the activism of art.
The Sergei -- Progie Award for Best Progressive Lifetime Achievement is named after the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who created Russian revolutionary classics such as Potemkin and 10 Days That Shook the World. This year’s Segei nominees are Harry Belafonte, Jean-Luc Godard, Danny Glover, Ken Loach, and the late Paul Newman.
The Progie Awards will be announced in February as an oppositional principled cultural force running counter to the Oscars.
The James Agee Cinema Circle is named for the late esteemed film critic for The Nation. JACC participants include myself; Ed Rampell; Dan Bessie, culture critic and son of one of the Hollywood Ten; Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, co-authors of Radical Hollywood; Gerald Horne, author of The Final Victim of the Blacklist and Class Struggle in Hollywood; Luis Reyes, co-author of Hispanics in Hollywood; Jack Shaheen, author of Reel Bad Arabs and Guilty, and others.