The Best of 2020 (Or At Least What I Was Able to See)
Not your typical year, cinematically, politically, or socially. The Coronavirus Pandemic took center stage in March and made us realize there was more to life than just going to the movies. And yet, in a year brimming with dread what better way to try to escape our circumstance then trying to enjoy any film or streamed entertainment available. Despite the opportunity to watch an endless parade of flicks via cable, On Demand and growing number of service providers, I was not always in the mood for a movie.
So, here’s my list that which I was able to enjoy thoroughly. Unlike past years, they are not ranked numerically but alphabetically. In my book, they all equally succeeded in keeping my mind off our troubles and reminding me that movies will always be an inescapable passion in my life. Enjoy:
Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – Often overlooked, sometimes ridiculed, and mostly underestimated, this eye-opening documentary is a testament to one of the best selling and most talented music groups of all-time. Through countless interviews, past and present, as well as little seen concert footage, we get the breadth and staying power of the music created by Aussie brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin, as well as the short-lived talent of youngest brother Andy. A must-see for any music lover, regardless of genre.
Birds of Prey – Easily the best of the new DC cinematic universe, director Cathy Yan engineers a non-stop powder keg of a film brimming with wild action, witty one-liners, and irrefutable proof that the women of Gotham are undeniably kick-ass. Margot Robbie lights up the screen as Harley Quinn (making one forget the apocryphal Suicide Squad) and Ewan McGregor is mesmerizingly sinister as mega-villain Roman Sionis.
Borat: Subsequent Movie Film – Say what you will about Sacha Baron Cohen, it takes a very smart comedic mind to make so many Americans look dumb. The funniest film of the year finds Kazakhstan’s least favorite son looking for redemption on another U.S. tour of our cultural hypocrisy and idiocy. But the real find this time around is Maria Bakalova as Borat’s estranged daughter. She succeeds in the most daunting of challenges: upstaging Sacha Baron Cohen.
David Byrne’s American Utopia – Thirty-six years after Stop Making Sense comes another visionary concert from Talking Heads’ former front man. Spike Lee’s timely direction enhances Byrne’s musical novella that chronicles both his life in music as well as the current state of life in America. Think Hamilton meets New Wave.
Mank – From the director of Seven, Fight Club, and The Social Network of all people comes this tribute/expose to Hollywood of the past. Gary Oldman shines as revered screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he crafts his mostly lasting legacy, the screenplay for Citizen Kane. With a screenplay by his father Jack Fincher, director David Fincher spins a fascinating behind the scenes saga of how “Mank” turned his own firsthand experiences with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) into the genesis of Orson Welles’ masterpiece. Additionally, Amanda Seyfried is captivating as actress turned philanthropist Marion Davies.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom - An exceptional cast brings Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson's work to vibrant life. Viola Davis is a showstopper as the titular diva, full of talent, sass, and opinions. And in his final screen performance, Chadwick Boseman is mesmerizing as an up-and-coming trumpet player whose passion for music is only matched by his seething rage. His monologue detailing a horrific childhood incident is award-worthy and then some.
One Night in Miami – In a year ripe with impressive directorial debuts, the most accomplished may be this offering from Oscar Winner Regina King. Based on a play by Kemp Power (who also co-wrote Soul), Ms. King delivers a powerhouse of a film recounting a fictionalized meeting between Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odoms, Jr) and Malcom X (Kingsley Ben Adir). The performances are uniformly excellent, giving us nuanced takes on these legendary figures and Regina King’s direction is assured and confident.
Palm Springs – So much more than just a new take on Groundhog Day, here’s a goofy and guffaw inducing tale of romance and quantum physics. Andy Samberg and Cristin Miloti are winning as a pair of wedding guests that get caught in a “time loopy thing.” Their adventure is surprisingly original and philosophically intriguing.
Pieces of a Woman – As far as I’m concerned, go ahead and engrave the name Vanessa Kirby on this year’s Best Actress Oscar. In a film vibrating with unflinching honesty, Ms. Kirby is exceptional as a woman suffering every new parent’s worst nightmare. Shia LeBouf and Ellen Burstyn are also first-rate in this portrait of grief and what else is needed besides time to heal wounds.
Soul – Another year, another Pixar gem that tickles the funny bone and tests the tear ducts. Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is the engaging lead voice of this journey that finds his aspiring jazz musician Joe Gardner trying to reclaim his life and body. Along the way, he meets an “unborn” soul (charmingly voiced by Tina Fey) who tests his patience and wits. The film is part Heaven Can Wait, part All of Me and 100% pure Pixar magic.