Injustice, inequality fuel two angry films

A disguised Cassie (Carrie Milligan) is on the prowl for sexual predators in Promising Young Woman.

By Richard Ades

Righteous anger has been such an overwhelming force in society recently that it’s not surprising it sometimes makes its way into the movies. One of the prime examples was released to theaters in late 2020 and subsequently was named the best film of that year by my colleagues in the Columbus Film Critics Association.

Promising Young Woman is the sad and provocative tale of Cassie (Carrie Milligan), a 30-ish coffee shop clerk who lives with her parents and has long since abandoned her career goal of becoming a doctor. Her reason for doing so isn’t revealed until well after we see the dangerous charade it’s led her into. Hitting the local bars and acting like she’s drunk herself into oblivion, she methodically fools men into thinking they can take advantage of her “helpless” condition—only to discover otherwise after they’ve taken her home.

Written and directed by Emerald Fenner, Promising Young Woman has been called a “Me Too” revenge tale, but that’s somewhat misleading. Cassie isn’t out for blood as much as she’s in search of justice and relief from the sorrow she feels over a long-ago sexual assault. Just how she goes about that search, and the psychological cost she pays in the process, is revealed so slyly and powerfully that Columbus critics also gave the film four additional citations, including nods for best actress (for Milligan) and best original screenplay (for Fenner).

Oscar nominations are likewise predicted to be in store for this offbeat thriller. Luckily for the curious but safety-minded, it is now being made available through VOD outlets.

Balram (Adarsh Gourav) has dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur in The White Tiger.

Even angrier than Promising Young Woman is The White Tiger, an India-set tale that American director Ramin Bahrani adapted from a book by Aravind Adiga. Its plucky protagonist is Balram (played with ferocious wit by Adarsh Gourav), who was born into poverty but is committed to becoming a successful entrepreneur by any means necessary. He narrates the story of his efforts in the form of a letter he’s writing to a Chinese official who’s expected to visit India.

Balram believes his main problem is the servile attitude he shares with other Indians who weren’t born into wealth. As he sees it, this leads them to spend all their energy serving masters who often repay them with abuse and inadequate wages. Balram is determined to break this curse by finding a master who is worthy of his service and can help him better himself.

His choice is Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), a young businessman who’s just returned from the U.S. with his Indian American wife, Pinky (Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra). Balram has observed that Ashok is more decent than either his wealthy father (Mahesh Manjrekar) or older brother, who’s nicknamed the Mongoose (Vijay Maurya). Unfortunately, though, old habits die hard. Neither Ashok nor Balram is immune to the proclivities of his respective class, leading to an uncomfortable situation that threatens to derail Balram’s quest to move up in society.  

With an amoral and ruthless “hero,” a keen awareness of social injustice and a tendency toward dark humor mixed with tragedy, The White Tiger will remind many of 2019’s Oscar-winning South Korean film, Parasite. The newer work isn’t quite that sublime, but it does entertain and challenge viewers in the process of venting its righteous anger.   

Promising Young Woman: 4½ stars (out of 5)

The White Tiger: 3½ stars (out of 5)

Promising Young Woman can be viewed at select theaters and is available through VOD outlets beginning Jan. 15. The White Tiger was released to theaters (including Columbus’s Marcus Crosswoods Cinema) on Jan. 13 and will be available through Netflix beginning Jan. 22. Both films are rated R.

‘Parasite’ occupies top spot at 18th annual Columbus Film Critics Association awards

Columbus Film Critics Association logo

Director/co-writer Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (Gisaengchung) has been named Best Film in the Columbus Film Critics Association’s 18th annual awards, which recognize excellence in the film industry for 2019. The thrilling film about a struggling family that schemes to obtain lucrative jobs in a wealthy household also claimed three other awards. Parasite was named Best Foreign Language Film, and Bong was honored as Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay with his co-writer Han Jin-won.

Two other individuals won multiple awards. Adam Driver was named Best Actor for Marriage Story and Actor of the Year, which recognizes his exemplary 2019 body of work that also consists of The Dead Don’t Die, The Report and Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Florence Pugh was tabbed as Best Supporting Actress for Little Women and Breakthrough Film Artist for her performance in that film as well as in Fighting With My Family and Midsommar.

Columbus-area critics lauded Best Film runner-up Knives Out with Best Ensemble and Bob Ducsay for Best Film Editing. Us also won two awards with Lupita Nyong’o selected as Best Actress and Michael Abels honored for Best Score. In addition to Pugh’s Best Supporting Actress win, Little Women’s other prize went to Greta Gerwig for Best Adapted Screenplay. Other individuals commended for their achievements include Best Supporting Actor Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse) and Roger Deakins (1917) for Best Cinematography.

Other winners were: Best Documentary Apollo 11; Best Animated Film Toy Story 4; and Best Overlooked Film The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

Founded in 2002, the Columbus Film Critics Association, formerly the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, comprises film critics based in Columbus, Ohio, and its surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 28 print, radio, television and online critics. COFCA’s official website at contains links to member reviews and past award winners.

Winners were announced at a private party on Jan. 2.

Complete list of awards:

Best Film
1. Parasite (Gisaengchung)
2. Knives Out
3. 1917
4. Little Women
5. Marriage Story
6. The Farewell
7. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
8. The Irishman
9. Uncut Gems
10. Jojo Rabbit

Best Director
-Bong Joon-ho, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Runner-up: Sam Mendes, 1917

Best Actor
-Adam Driver, Marriage Story
-Runner-up: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Best Actress
-Lupita Nyong’o, Us
-Runner-up: Florence Pugh, Midsommar

Best Supporting Actor
-Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
-Runner-up: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Best Supporting Actress
-Florence Pugh, Little Women
-Runner-up: Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

Best Ensemble
Knives Out
-Runner-up: Parasite (Gisaengchung)

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Adam Driver (The Dead Don’t Die, Marriage Story, The Report and Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker)
-Runner-up: Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family, Little Women and Midsommar)

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family, Little Women and Midsommar) – (for acting)
-Runner-up: Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco – (for directing, producing and screenwriting)

Best Cinematography
-Roger Deakins, 1917
-Runner-up: Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse

Best Film Editing
-Bob Ducsay, Knives Out
-Runner-up: Lee Smith, 1917

Best Adapted Screenplay
-Greta Gerwig, Little Women
-Runner-up: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Best Original Screenplay
-Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Runner-up: Rian Johnson, Knives Out

Best Score
-Michael Abels, Us
-Runner-up: Thomas Newman, 1917

Best Documentary
Apollo 11
-Runner-up: American Factory

Best Foreign Language Film
Parasite (Gisaengchung)
-Runner-up: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu)

Best Animated Film
Toy Story 4
-Runner-up: I Lost My Body (J’ai perdu mon corps)

Best Overlooked Film
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
-Runner-up: Ready or Not

COFCA offers its congratulations to the winners.

Previous Best Film winners:

2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: A History of Violence
2006: Children of Men
2007: No Country for Old Men
2008: WALL·E
2009: Up in the Air
2010: Inception
2011: Drive
2012: Moonrise Kingdom
2013: Gravity
2014: Selma
2015: Spotlight
2016: La La Land
2017: Lady Bird
2018: If Beale Street Could Talk

For more information about the Columbus Film Critics Association, please visit www.cofca.orgor e-mail