…breathes new life into the romantic comedy with a rich bouquet of emotion – from belly laughs to broken hearts and back again. Director Michael Showalter adapts the real-life to reel-life story of co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, who inject the insight of personal experience into commitment across cultural boundaries and mortal horizons. Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan glow amidst their on-screen sparks, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are impeccable as parents stretched thin with worry, yet embracing the complexities of love in modern day.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
…urges the world to stop – to revel in the beauty of art and food and nature – and to experience the overwhelming emotion of first love. It’s in this world that Luca Guadagnino has crafted a living poem – one flush with desire and passion – and captured in time for the monumental performances of Timoth&eactue;e Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Together, along with the achingly empathetic Michael Stuhlbarg, the story celebrates the joy of awakening while inspiring audiences to treasure these feelings each day.
…fills the screen with pure cinema – a triumphant achievement that pulses with both clockwork precision and the beating heart of heroism. Framing indelible images between unsettling silences and the cacophony of war’s horror, Christopher Nolan’s deconstructed narrative is so viscerally immersive, so creatively meticulous and so profoundly poetic that it elevates the art of storytelling to a priceless personal experience.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
…knocks on the door of those living in the shadow of “happily ever after.” Sean Baker’s roving lens not only invites us in, but celebrates the hyper-colorful humanity between the high-stakes struggles of adults and the untethered innocence of childhood. Brooklynn Prince channels Hal Roach’s Little Rascals in a performance for the ages, and Willem Dafoe demands to be heard as the beleaguered motel manager whose purple palace stands as a monument to dreams deferred and an America ignored.
…is a cinematic primal scream – one that echoes today with epic power and an urgency that resonates. Jordan Peele’s pitch-black social satire is a damning examination of the contemporary discourse on race – brought to life with breathtaking brilliance by Daniel Kaluuya and a cast of eerie liberal allies in Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. Bold and brave, the film shakes us awake to say the nightmare is now.
…soars through the emotional hurricane of adolescence with details so rich and insightful they demand we consider this time in our lives anew. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut finds strength in this specificity – hatching moments both unique and universal. Saoirse Ronan is luminescent in her embodiment of angst while Laurie Metcalf’s remarkable turn as her mother fuels this affectionate and affecting valentine to what it takes to fly.
…demands America remember a time when heroism was the headline. Steven Spielberg’s inarguable place in the pantheon is further etched in granite by the mastery of craft exhibited in this heart-pounding ode to journalism. Guided by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer’s words in print and Tom Hanks’ embodiment of Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep captures the insightful ferociousness of Katharine Graham, proving that the fight for truth, justice and the American way is not the purview of superheroes, but fearless women and men willing to do what is just – for without them, democracy dies in darkness.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
…bursts with humanity at its best in a story awash in the inhuman treatment of those who are different. Guillermo del Toro marshals memories of American film – from silent classics to 1930s musicals to 1950s horror films – to create a visually stunning, phantasmagorical romance that is both astonishingly new and echoes as a tale as old as time. Sally Hawkins delivers a tour de force performance without uttering a word, reminding that cinema at its finest can express the purest form of love.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
..is a wicked, winding tale for our times – one that explodes in the complexity of characters who live in a world of equal parts humor and horror. Martin McDonagh’s mastery of language fuels the endlessly inventive narrative, and the extraordinary talents of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell have audiences ever questioning the invisible line between hope and despair and the modern-day mantra that “anger begets anger.”
…smashes the stratosphere of status quo by giving the world what it needs most – a heroine whose heart beats with strength, hope and the power of love. Patty Jenkins’ masterful take on the iconic DC Comics character blasts beyond the walls of popcorn entertainment and lands firmly – and proudly – in the cultural zeitgeist. Gal Gadot’s embodiment of Diana Prince stands as an American icon for this moment in time – a superhero whose driving sentiment is, “Only love can save this world.”
AFI TELEVISION PROGRAMS OF THE YEAR
BIG LITTLE LIES
scratches at the surface of suburban illusion, revealing a dark heart beating beneath fairy tale appearances. David E. Kelley and Jean-Marc Vallée’s sophisticated whodunit exposes truths both cruel and cathartic, demanding an answer to the price of perfection. The cathartic response is delivered by the transcendent ensemble of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern.
invites audiences into the private chamber of one of the world’s most public figures. It’s there we kneel to the majestic performance of Claire Foy, whose Queen Elizabeth is both powerful and personable. This second year of Peter Morgan’s sumptuous series deepens the drama of England’s transition to modern times – memorably catalyzed by a clash with an America claiming Camelot as its own.
FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN
sinks its teeth into a deliciously vicious tale of Hollywood glamour gone by. Ryan Murphy’s ambitious series revels in the toxic rivalry between real-life American film icons Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, but reserves its most biting judgments for a system fueled by ageism and misogyny. Modern day maestras Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange step into the spotlight of these fading stars with an artistry that illuminates both the screen legends’ indelible place in film history and the bruising reality of relevance.
GAME OF THRONES
marches into its seventh year like an army of artists invading the global cultural consciousness. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss lead the charge on what endures as an unparalleled fantasy for television, but now lives beyond the screen and thrives in the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Family and foe – light and dark – fire and ice – all elements that fuel our imaginations with a cinematic spectacle unrivaled in modern day dreams.
THE GOOD PLACE
ascends to the comedy heavens on the wing of a candy-coated existentialism that inspires its audiences to think beyond the laughter. Creator Michael Schur imagines an afterlife that lives among the spirits of Jean-Paul Sartre and Rod Serling, but one that stands apart for its insightful silliness. Expertly balancing tone and timbre are Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, who lead a talented ensemble in this year’s Promised Land of perverted eternity.
THE HANDMAID'S TALE
imagines a dystopian world too timely to dismiss as fiction. Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel planted the seeds for Bruce Miller’s haunting cautionary tale, and the rich, red flowers that bloom are poisoned with power dynamics all too real in our world today. What resonates with a booming echo in this waking nightmare is the indomitable will of the women who resist – a heroism embodied in a towering performance by Elisabeth Moss.
exudes confidence as it steps into its second year – growing more tenacious with each brilliant episode. Creator, writer, producer and star Issa Rae is a wonder to behold – a supernova of personality that shines bright in this diary of daily life. From commitment to career – friendships to relationships – her aggressive self-assurance in the face of hapless misadventures make this hella great television.
MASTER OF NONE
proves itself expert in all as it employs endlessly inventive storytelling without ever losing the joyously unique voices of its creators, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. From black-and-white fantasies inspired by Antonioni and De Sica to storylines that foretell the #metoo of present day, the series captures the madcap essence of now with a romantic appreciation of times past.
STRANGER THINGS 2
opens a portal into even more fantastical storytelling as the Duffer Brothers dream up even greater horrors for the people of Hawkins, Indiana. Aglow in signature nostalgia, the series finds its true force in the power of parenthood and the undeniably inspired performances of its young heroes; but when it comes to ultimate kudos – this one goes to Eleven.
THIS IS US
revels in pure emotion. Unique in its ability to find humanity in the noise of modern day, Dan Fogelman’s affecting symphony of images, words and music reminds that it’s our connection to others that fuel a life well-lived and create memories that defy mortality. The inviting arms outstretched in this embrace are from a stellar ensemble led by Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz and Milo Ventimiglia.
AFI SPECIAL AWARD
THE VIETNAM WAR
stands as a monument to the complexity of war – rising above party politics by digging beneath stories spun by people in power. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created a living document of intensely personal stories from sides once at odds. Veterans, protestors and citizens from both North and South Vietnam unite here to examine wounds inflicted by righteousness and regret, and beg audiences to challenge what they are told today and demand to know why war is ever the answer.
AFI AWARDS was created in 2000 to recognize the films and television programs which contribute to our collective cultural legacy. When placed in an historical context, these stories provide a complex, rich, visual record of our modern world. Since then, AFI AWARDS has honored 10 outstanding films and 10 outstanding TV programs deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image.
Collectively celebrating the most outstanding film and television programs of the year, AFI AWARDS 2021 honorees will be announced in December 2021.
Unique in its celebration of the art form’s collaborative nature, AFI AWARDS is the only national program that honors creative teams as a whole – recognizing those in front of and behind the camera.
Honorees are selected based on works which:
Advance the art of the moving image
Inspire audiences and artists alike
Enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form
A UNIQUE JURY PROCESS
AFI AWARDS selections are made through AFI’s unique jury process – in which scholars, artists, critics and AFI Trustees determine the most outstanding achievements of the year.
For additional information about AFI AWARDS, contact Josh Kushins at [email protected]
AFI is a 501c3 non-profit advancing the art of the moving image by empowering storytellers and inspiring audiences
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