As of the publishing of this post, the 88th annual Academy Awards are two days away. This means that a lot of people are either a) predicting who will win what, b) talking about who should have been nominated c) watching nominated movies they hadn’t gotten around to watching yet, or d) talking about why they aren’t going to watch the Oscars.
This article is not about any of those things.
This is about one of my favorite films of 2014, Top Five, which was overlooked by both the 2015 Academy Awards and audiences worldwide. The reason its relevant is because, one year before #OscarsSoWhite became a concept, it was another black movie (black writer, black director, black producers, black music, black cast, black soundtrack) completely ignored by the “Academy,” and because it was written and director by, and starred, this year’s Oscars host: comedian, actor, writer and director Chris Rock.
This is not going to be a long blog post. You’re almost halfway done reading it. But I urge you to watch this film. The film contains multitudes.
In honor of one of the film’s theme, these are the top five reasons you should watch it:
The cast is amazing.
This movie feels like a reward for watching quality television: Wee Bay from The Wire, JB Smoove from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ders from Workaholics, Carter from the first few seasons of Weeds. Plus Rosaria Dawson and Tracy Morgan. Oh, and small roles by comedians Cedric the Entertainer and Kevin Hart. And cameo performances (as themselves) by Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, and DMX.
And Chris Rock is in every scene.
The soundtrack is amazing.
It’s hard to believe that the soundtracks of Birdman and Whiplash both got the amount of attention they did, while Top Five received little-to-no attention for its soundtrack, when it was produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots. If you are looking for another reason to be disappointed in the Oscars, try this: the immediately-forgotten The Imitation Game and Mr. Turner both received nominations for The Best Original Score at the 87th Academy Awards, while Top Five received not a single mention.
Also, Jay-Z and Kanye West produced this movie.
The entire thing is a Woody Allen homage.
A non-linear story, jazz-heavy soundtrack, neurotic protagonist, Manhattan-centric setting, characters who discuss film obsessively, an ambiguous and bittersweet love story: this movie has all the making of a quintessential Woody Allen film, with African-American culture substituted for Judaism and Chris Rock substituted for Woody Allen.
What’s disappointing is that, without it literally being a Woody Allen film, we can’t look forward to annual Chris Rock films, as he apparently has not earned that in the way that Allen has.
Top Five asks uncomfortable questions and prompts challenging conversation.
Of course, this is something that we know Chris Rock does. There’s no question of that, including every one of his comedy specials, his roles in Kevin Smith films, his 2014 BET Awards opening monologue, posting selfies every time he is pulled over by the police, plus the time he called Jude Law a “low rent Tom Cruise” at the 2005 Oscars, et cetera et cetera.
Top Five does this, and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons that it didn’t do very well. Rock intentionally made a film that couldn’t be easily marketed, when films with 90% black casts are limited to being about the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, or directed by Tyler Perry. Of course, he knows this, as that’s one of the running themes in the film: his character is trying to break out of comedy and into serious film, making Uprize, a film about the Haitian slave revolution.
It’s very funny, and just a good movie.
Sure, the humor gets shockingly crude at times, including tampon jokes, an orgy involving Cedric the Entertainer, and Jerry Seinfeld not having fun at a strip club. But it’s more than that.
It’s a meditation on love and relationships, sobriety and materialism, race and politics, reality and fantasy. I have little doubt that it’s the best film Chris Rock has made. I’d also rather watch it five times than sit through Joy or American Sniper, two films that did receive Academy Award nominations.
So do yourself a favor and, instead of finally getting around to 45 Years or Steve Jobs, check out Top Five. You’ll get more out of it, and you’ll certainly laugh more. It will also prepare you to further appreciate the performance that Chris Rock will be providing, which is certain to be the most conversation-provoking and enlightening aspect of the 88th Academy Awards.