Hello, everyone! I know that it has been a very long time since I have written, but 2020 has obviously been…odd, to say the least, and writing hasn’t been a top priority for any number of reasons. That said, I do want to get back into it, even if only for a couple quick summary posts for this unique year in film.
A couple of years ago, the first full year I had my blog (and the only year I was truly active with it), I finished the year with two posts, a ranking of my 20 favorite films from 2018 and a second post, where I found a nice thing to say about every other movie that I saw. I wanted to do this because the idea of a Worst Of list is…well it’s gross to me. Obviously, I’m not worried about hurting people’s feelings, because nobody who worked on any of these movies will ever see this nothing of a blog talk about their movies, nor am I so arrogant to think if they did somehow stumble on it, that my opinions would hold any weight. But, at the same time, people put a lot of time and effort into their craft, and calling any kind of art, let alone art I could never dream of achieving, one of The Worst would honestly make me The Worst. So, instead, I do this. It had a different name when I originally posted it, but then, weeks later, I came up with the much better “Be Kind Rewind” and changed it behind the scenes because I do what I want. Now, this year, a year where any number of people, organizations, diseases, etc. have been incredibly cruel, I wanted to be sure I brought some level of kindness to this year’s proceedings. So, I’m pushing myself to be sure I actually write these year’s post (and subsequent rankings), in hopes that the kindness might put good energy into 2021. Or, we can just hold onto something pleasant while everything continues to be Unfortunate.
So this is my Be Kind Rewind for 2020
Black is King
Objectively, this is easily one of the best films that is on this list. A much better live action version of The Lion King than the one we actually got in 2019, Beyonce’s visual album is much more abstract, telling the story through what basically amounts to a series of extremely artistic music videos. Utilizing the music from The Gift, the album she curated in 2019, with music inspired by The Lion King. as well as dialogue from the film, Beyonce directs an impressive cast through modern, human versions of major sections of the famous story, with single shots in this being more interesting and compelling than the totality of the previous year’s film. This film is also a strong example of how not every film is made with a white audience in mind, and how that is a good thing. Other groups deserve to have films that are made with their eye as the primary audience, and white folk can stand to use those films as a learning experience for how our lives are not remotely universal. So, while this movie might not have worked for me, since I am not well-read on the themes it analyses (Afrofuturism, Pan-Africanism, etc.), it remains gorgeously crafted and it helps me remember that the experience of my life is not universal, and that I should remain open and empathetic to what that might mean to the diverse world around me.
Anya Taylor-Joy had quite the year. Before I dive into this, which I personally think is the high point of her year, she starred in The Queen’s Gambit what was probably the biggest new show that Netflix has had in some time, which has also helped interest in chess sky rocket, which is extremely cool to think about. She also was one of the leads of The New Mutants, a movie she filmed, like, five years ago, which, was…well it’s on this list and I don’t have a whole lot to say about it, which you will see. However, her best performance (which is saying something, as I think she is even able to elevate a very frustrating character to be something worthwhile in that previously mentioned film) came from a bright and lively adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name. Bringing to life Austen’s titular character, Taylor-Joy has a lively charm that is often supported by Isobel Waller-Bridge’s amusing score in a way that makes even scenes of walking and talking around a fabric shop bounce with wit.
Another example of a film that is objectively better than most everything else on this list, director Kelly Reichardt’s deliberate pace is not one that an unfortunately basic filmgoer, like myself, can easily mesh with and enjoy. The film begins with a three minute shot of a barge entering, crossing, and exiting frame, and that mostly just acts as an introduction to the setting of the opening, which is set in the present day before the bulk of the film takes place in the 1820s. That said, the relationship at the heart of the movie, between two friends, an American cook who is working with a group of fur trappers, and the Chinese immigrant he protects from the man hunting him (who is never really mentioned again), is an extremely positive male friendship and working partnership between men with vastly different experiences, both which feel atypical for what is normally seen on film. It’s a generally pleasant film, even if its pacing is not exactly the most engaging for a typical audience.
This movie’s cast is stacked, and the wide variety of talented actors in this movie all basically come to play, with nary a bad performance standing out. People should obviously hone in on the tremendous scene-stealing performances of Aubrey Plaza and Dan Levy, or even the smaller, wonderful performance that the film’s co-writer, Mary Holland, gives as the forgotten middle-child who has to do so much for the family with little to no real appreciation for how much she does. But, weirdly enough, I think Mackensie Davis might give the best performance of the movie, as Harper, the main character who is…well she’s terrible. She is just such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person. So bad that a movie with her as the lead could reasonably be expected to crumble, no matter how good the supporting cast is. Davis is able to give her enough heart and emotion that you are able to get through the nightmare person that she is and see the hurt she is feeling throughout the entire movie. I don’t like her character, and I don’t like that things seem to work out for her in the end. But I like how impressive Davis is in bringing the character to life.
Less than a year after his critically acclaimed turn in Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler was back on his bullshirt, playing a bumbling (but good-hearted) buffoon who loves Halloween but wants to make sure that it is celebrated peacefully. He is mocked for this by children and adults alike, and it’s all very Sandler. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if that’s your thing. It’s a mostly pleasant thing and a nice distraction from what this year was. Also, Academy Award nominee wears t-shirts that say things like “Bonor Donor,” “Muff’s Diving School,” and “I Shaved My Balls For This.” I will never forget those shirts.
If you’ve been following this blog at all over the last few years (well, not so much the last two because I’ve only written like 2 blog posts, but prior to that), it will come to no surprise to you that I unabashedly love musicals, especially ones that don’t feel the need to ground themselves in some overly serious sense of reality. (Does it make sense that these 35 strangers all know the same dance? No. Does that matter? No!!!) So when Netflix released a Christmas musical, you know I was all about it. Although it lacked the big names on-screen and behind-the-scenes of The Prom, Netflix’s other big musical that came out towards the end of the year (more on that in a bit), this celebration of wonder and joy blows Ryan Murphy’s film out of the water by being just that: wonderful and joyous. In true musical fashion, the film leaves the best song in the hands of the villain, Keegan Michael-Key’s nefarious toymaker Gustafson, who dances and bops his way through an unabashedly big ensemble number, as he unveils his newest toy, which ends up just full on trucking one of his customers into a new zip code. Or, if you are my wife, you can prefer the unrequired love song of a woman who is inexplicably horny for *checks notes* Forest Whitaker, who spends most of the movie Sad TM.
This film, a romantic comedy about a couple (Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae) framed for a murder (I swear this is a comedy lolz), was one of the first indicators of how different 2020 was going to be for film. Unlike like big name films like No Time To Die or Black Widow, Lovebirds was one of the first films set for a wide theatrical release that was sold to a streaming service (Netflix) due to the pandemic. The long term effects of decisions like this remains to be seen (WB’s decision to do simultaneous releases of their movies on HBO Max next year seems Bad, in my opinion), and the frequency with which these decisions impacted stories centered on people of color is disappointing, but I will admit it was nice to watch a romcom my wife and I looking forward to without having to find a babysitter (streaming lets us take advantage of baby naps a bit more easily). Nanjiani and Rae have both proven themselves to be strong comic actors over the last few years, and their chemistry here is tremendous. Also, it should be mentioned how rare it is to see two people of color star against each other in a romcom, so I hope production companies continue to do that (although, again, the frequency these stories got punted to streaming isn’t encouraging).
Disney’s most recent live action remake (or, as they call them, Reimagined Classic, which, get outta here with that shirt) was also their first major film to be punted to streaming, without any theatrical release (separating itself from Onward) after an initial delay (they technically did this with Artemis Fowl, a movie where Josh Gad farts a sandstorm or something, I don’t know, even I have my limits). Again, it is extremely disheartening that a film starring people of color is what is being used as a Streaming Guinea pig (which Disney continued with Soul and will do with Raya and The Last Dragon in March). Regardless, this movie is about on par with the rest of their ReImAgInEd ClAsSiCs, which, take that how you will (or remember what I said about Black Is King). This one at least wants to distance itself from its 90s original, for better or worse. One of the few times it effectively calls back to its source is when the score calls back to the banger that is “Reflection” as Mulan strips herself of her male armor and joins the fray of battle without any disguise.
In 2019, Dave Bautista was supposed to star in two movies where he plays a police officer/government agent who ends up with a deeply mismatched partner. The first, Stuber, placed him with Kumail Nanjiani’s Uber driver, and the second, this film, placing him against a small child (Chloe Coleman) was pushed to early 2020 to avoid confusion with Stuber (but also we get like 30 superhero movies a year, so, I don’t know, maybe trust people can tell the difference between a man in his late 30s and a preteen, I don’t know, maybe I’m just weird like that). Then COVID happened and the movie got quietly, unceremoniously dropped to Amazon Prime. The movie, like a lot of art that got released this year, works best as a pleasant distraction from the year. Coleman is wonderfully paired with Bautista and I would pay good money to continue to watch Bautista steer into his comedic abilities against almost anyone or anything.
This movie might be the only positive example of a movie ending up on streaming. Released on March 6, this is one of the last notable movies to hit the theaters before it was crystal clear that COVID wasn’t to be trifled with (for reference, March 11 was the day the NBA shut down after a player tested positive, as well as when it became public that Tom Hanks had tested positive). Disney’s decision to push the film to Disney+ on March 20 was wise, as state governments began to shut things down, and gave a glimmer of happiness to families and individuals hunkering down, unsure of what the year would bring. The fact this movie is about dealing with the grief of losing a family member and recognizing the love we have around us after that loss was unfortunately prescient for many people in the country. It’s Pixar doing what Pixar does best: making me cry and feel deep love for what I have around me. More on that tomorrow.
Over The Moon
This alphabetically coming after Onward is strangely fortuitous, as the films are thematically quite alike. Although Onward is entirely fantastical, Over The Moon starts out grounded before literally taking off into space, as a young girl seeks to deal with the grief of losing her mother by rocketing to space to speak to the moon goddess Chang’e, whose legend tells of her own lost love. The two eventually confront their grief together and learn that although it is hard to lose a loved one, love still exists around them if they are willing to open up their hearts and mind to it. So, yeah, Onward, but Ken Jeong plays a moon dog and Eliza from Hamilton sings a certified bop.
Biopics are tricky, because it is easy to fall into this very by the numbers look at a famous person’s life, compounded by the fact that those by the numbers films often lead to awards season success (look at Rami Malek winning Best Actor while lip syncing his way through Bohemian Rhapsody) while movies that try to do something different end up being mostly forgotten (look at Taron Egerton’s genuinely moving performance as Elton John in Rocket Man, which earned zero real awards buzz). This film, blessedly, is more of the latter, with it focusing in on a very short (and, also, mostly made up) time period in author Shirley Jackson’s life, when her professor husband and she a newlywed couple into their home while the young groom begins his tutelage under Jackson’s husband. There are sequences of the film that play more like one of Jackson’s horror stories, with dark settings being startled to life with lightning flashes, while the dramatic climax of the film mirrors the author’s novel Hangsaman (which she is writing over the course of the film) in some key ways. Add in a strong performance from the reliably talented Elisabeth Moss, and this biopic is able to stand out among a genre crowded with generic clones of each other, which, weirdly, means it will likely end up forgotten in the long run.
When I originally wrote this section, it was rather sarcastic as I voiced my frustrations with the way Christopher Nolan handled this film’s release amidst a pandemic, and laid some of the responsibility of AT&T’s decision to release all Warner Brothers’ 2021 movies simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, something that could plausibly act as a sort of death knell for the movie-going experience as we know it, on him. Although I still think those things are true (true enough to keep them here), that is not the point of this post, so I am walking it back a bit, and really trying to spend some time on what does work with this movie. The main thing that I think actually works with this effort are, non-surprisingly, the action sequences, as Nolan’s penchant for doing things practically leads to some truly mesmerizing chase sequences, including both just two men fighting each other, going different directions through time, or cars doing the same. Throw in a performance from Robert Pattinson that adds more evidence into the pile of “reasons Rob Pat is gonna make a great Rob Bat,” and this movie has enough going for it to be worth the ride, even if it could have waited until after the pandemic had passed.
The New Mutants
This movie was being exponentially delayed before COVID made it cool. Oroginally set to release in April of 2018, it was pushed back so other Marvel classics (like, uh, Deadpool 2 ,and, uhhh, Dark Phoenix) could be released. Then, Disney went all “I bought the airline, it seemed neater” on 20th Century Fox, causing another delay in release to April 2020. Then, pandemic pushed it to ???? which turned into August for some reason. The fact that this movie actually was released is a miracle in and of itself, so that’s enough to celebrate (read into this being the Kindness for this movie any way that you desire)
The Old Guard
Netflix original films are kind of an enigma. Most of them are pleasantly forgettable action flicks that inexplicably have a big name star that you either watch exactly once or never. Then sometimes they get Alfonso Cuaron or David Fincher doing some of their best work. Other times, Adam Sander makes The Ridiculous Six. It’s wild. This movie fits firmly in the first category, with Charlize Theron leading a group of immortal mercenaries. It’s fine! It’s two hours! Dudley Dursley gets tackled out of a high rise building and falls on a car, which owns! It’s a decently high budget action movie directed by Gina Prince-Byhewood, a black woman, and the action whips ass when you watch it! More minority women directing action movies please!
I have never been a huge fan of Ryan Murphy, even if I was an unironic fan of Glee (LEAVE ME BE, I WAS YOUNG AND STUPID AND LEA MICHELE WAS IN SPRING AWAKENING AND DARREN CRISS WAS THERE. NO, YOU’RE YELLING!) So, seeing him attached to an adaptation of a popular musical, wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, especially when the cast included James Corden (pass) playing a gay man (we must stop him) whose character is very much defined by his sexual orientation (how have we allowed him to become who he is?) I can go into more about issues I have with this movie, but, that defeats the purpose of this post. And, Murphy, despite my issues with him, knows how to shoot the hell out of a big musical number, and there are plenty of those here. The finale, in particular, had me tearing up in spite of myself, for its size and the heart behind it.
Wonder Woman 1984
When it was announced this movie would drop on Christmas Day, both in theaters and on HBO Max, it seemed a little odd, although also seemed like a one off decision, instead of a habinger of what was to come from WB and AT&T. Since then, it has become the most watched streamable film of 2020, besting Disney+’s highly-anticipated release of the filmed version of Hamilton, which will hardly discourage AT&T from seeing their short-sighted decision come to fruition next year. The movie does not live up to its predecessor, which is still the DCEU’s best film (although this year did bring a challenger to the title, more on that tomorrow). That said, there are glimpses of wonder, from the look and score of the firework sequence (turn off your brain, it’s pretty!) or even Pedro Pascal making the most of getting to be on set/not wearing a helmet and making a meal out of every line he is given as the villainous Max Lord. Even if I didn’t love this movie, I’ll probably think about it more frequently than most of Marvel’s mostly middling movies.
- Black is King- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Is_King
- Emma.- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_(2020_film)
- First Cow- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Cow
- Hubie Halloween Picture- https://letsplayadrinkinggame.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hubie-Halloween-shirt-fart-range.jpg
- Jingle Jangle- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jingle_Jangle:_A_Christmas_Journey
- Lovebirds- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lovebirds_(2020_film)
- Mulan- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulan_(2020_film)
- My Spy- https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/my-spy.jpg
- Onward- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onward_(film)
- Shirley- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_(2020_film)
- The New Mutants- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_(2020_film)
- The Old Guard- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Guard_(2020_film)