Tablet has been nominated for a National Magazine Award in the Columns and Commentary category for the work of our film columnist J. Hoberman. We’re thrilled for Hoberman, whose monthly columns combine a sharp sense of wit and sophistication, often offering insight into far more than just the films themselves.
Here are the three columns recognized by the nomination:
It’s not every week that you get to see a movie about an intellectual contretemps, let alone one that rocked the Jewish world. Indeed, in a way, Von Trotta and screenwriter Pamela Katz have attempted something far more difficult and potentially absurd than making a documentary, namely setting out to dramatize an upheaval in the life of the mind. The only filmmaker who has ever really turned the trick is Roberto Rossellini in his early-’70s telefilms Socrates, Descartes, and Blaise Pascal. (Would that he had also essayed Spinoza!)
Crashing on couches, mooching meals, and obtusely refusing to “sell out,” poor Llewyn is one more hapless Coen protagonist. The folk singer is alternately sullen and pugnacious; having just put out an album titled Inside Llewyn Davis that no one seems interested in buying, he doggedly pursues an apparently hopeless career in a dead-end scene, amply stocked with colorful grotesques, not a few of them Jews. The Coens have characterized Inside Llewyn Davis as an exercise in futility, “an odyssey in which the main character doesn’t go anywhere.” The movie is in fact a prolonged flashback to the protagonist’s moment of triumph and the ignominious defeat that inevitably follows.
The Act of Killing begins by quoting Voltaire’s Encyclopédie entry on “Rights”—“it is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”—but also demonstrates the truism, attributed variously to Napoleon and Winston Churchill, that history is written by the victors. The movie was filmed mainly in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra and Indonesia’s fourth-largest city, where Anwar and even the clownish Herman are local heroes and figures of respect. Onlookers applaud Herman’s attempt to recruit elderly women to play “communist mothers” in one choreographed massacre; an even more gruesome scene staged out in the countryside elicits laughter from local spectators, many of whom are clapping (even as their terrified children cry).
Also nominated were Witold Rybczynski for columns at Architect, Ta-Nehisi Coates for Atlantic blog posts, Emily Nussbaum for columns at the New Yorker, and David Auerbach for columns at Slate. Congratulations to all the nominees—you can see the full list of here.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.