To use the old term we seem to employ on a daily basis right now, 2020 was a really f-up year. So many important issues at stake in the world from health to systemic racism to removing a wannabe dictator from presidency. This was a year that will go down in history. And when one adds in the homegrown terrorists storming our nations capital plus more than 3,000 Americans still dying per day due to the Covid-19 virus it feels like 2020 will not end. The worst part for me personally was my true passion being stripped away, going to the cinema. I cannot remember a time when more than two weeks passed that I did not see a film on the big screen. Then Covid flew in and I couldn’t go to the movies for over 8 months. The only chance I had was visiting family in Texas during the holidays and I got to watch the screen light up twice! It was amazing! The year 2020 did not allow many of us to see planned films in the way we are accustomed to. It required us to adapt towards appreciating the little things. The few excellent films I was able to enjoy, mostly through streaming services, were littered with female, minority, and LGBTQ characters. Groups I support all day and was enamored to view being recognized on a more consistent basis in the world of Hollywood. Here are 10 Films I absolutely loved during a year I absolutely hated. Only two movies in 2020 received a perfect 0 SUCKS! score on my personal scale this year when my average is 4-5 receiving that rating. As to be expected in the year of lockdown.
10: “The Invisible Man” (Director Leigh Whannell):
How awesome it was to see the “Universal Monsters Universe” planned series fail so hard after just one terrible Tom Cruise movie that was “The Mummy”. Perhaps the big budget star driven machine should have taken an approach similar to what director Leigh Whannell did for his fresh take on a different classic monster. Many iterations have been done since the 1933 original. Other than the first “Invisible Man” they all SUCK! That was until we got this skillfully crafted 2020 shock fest. Led by a brilliant performance by Elisabeth Moss, the atmosphere takes a much darker tone and ramps up the slasher movie style to eleven. Turns out the idea of being invisible that appears idiotic on paper really can be captivating. “The Invisible Man” finds all kinds of tricks to maneuver within the basic concept and is guaranteed to have you jumping out of your seat. The key is that it takes what is being shown during the movie seriously and refuses to allow becoming a joke of itself. This film captures how terrifying an invisible stalker haunting you on a daily basis would be like from a mental perspective.
9. “The Vast of Night” (Director Andrew Patterson):
There are three levels that separate the various types of independently produced movies fortunate enough to find an audience. You have the greats ala a “Pulp Fiction” or “Do the Right Thing” for example. You have the overrated garbage such as “Boondock Saints” or “Donnie Darko”. In the final category you will find a lot of excellent material that would not be considered an all-timer but also finds a way to provide content that is without questions well done. Enter “The Vast of Night”. As a whole this look at the potential existence of alien lifeforms is not a groundbreaking concept. But “Night” has quite a clever way of viewing the potential fallout of how a group of people would be impacted while facing the unknown. Sierra McCormick stars as Fay, a 1950’s switchboard operator working in New Mexico (Area 51 conspiracy anyone?). Fay has a strange relationship with the popular local radio DJ Everett Sloan (Jake Horowitz). In light of an unexplainable event one night during Fay’s standard shift the two realize that maybe, just maybe, there is more in the universe than one would think. “The Vast of Night” is all about the atmosphere of what could or could not be real, a perfect strategy for a cleverly put together indie. You never fully get the definitive answers, but sometimes the journey is much more of a satisfying conclusion.
8. “Happiest Season” (Director Clea DuVall):
I fell in love with this picture from the start. Of course I can see why some people would be turned off by the Christmas movie charm genre which is something I typically am not the biggest supporter of as well. There is something about “Happiest Season” that resonates, particularly by challenging the old norms and continuing to embrace the new generation of millennials that are a far more inclusive society to those that are ‘different’. Similar to her former co-star Robert Pattinson, Kirsten Stewart has proven she can act at a far higher level than what was shown in the “Twilight” movies. Director Clea DuVall gives us a story centered around homosexuals who are ashamed of their god given lifestyle with “Happiest Season”. Things becomes awkward fast as Stewart’s character Abby, a staunch hater of Christmas in general, agrees to go with the love of her life Harper (Mackenzie Davis) to spend the holidays with her P.C. level parents and all-the-while pops is running for Mayor. To make the situation even more complicated, Harper has still not admitted she is a lesbian to what on paper appears to be the prototypical perfect white American family. Whoops! “Happiest Season” no doubt runs through the gamut of standard romantic comedy fluff, but it does so with class. The story is easy to find a sense of empathy towards while also combining the element of having fun watching a movie on the couch. “Happiest Season” is yet another example of a completely cliche movie that works without becoming cheap. A feet that is much more difficult than one would think.
7. “Sound of Metal” (Director Darius Marder):
Man, actor Riz Ahmed is on fire right now! Starting with his scene stealing role in the British dramady “Four Lions” to blowing up on HBO with the excellent limited series “The Night Of” to co-starring in both “Star Wars” and “Marvel” movies. This guy is either really good or just has good representation. After watching “Sound of Metal” it is impossible to deny the simple truth that yes, Ahmed is really damn good as an actor. He’s my pick for the acting performance of the year. Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, a brilliant drummer currently performing as part of a rock duo with his singer/girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). The band appears to be on their way towards stardom when suddenly Ruben begins to lose his hearing at an alarming rate. The man tries to the point of infuriating all those around him, but drumming does require a certain sense to do despite how badly one wants to succeed at it. Losing a battle you never had a shot at is tough. From there Ruben’s life becomes less about the big stage in the proverbial sense of the term and more about stepping up to the bigger stage that is life in its totality. How would you react when the thing you love most is inexplicably ripped away from you?
6. “Da 5 Bloods” (Director Spike Lee):
As i’ve said before, Spike Lee is without question an a-hole egotist, despite the fact that his societal conceptions I agree with for the most part. It is simply that Spike goes off the deep end. Calling Clint Eastwood racist for making “Letters from Iwo Jima” because there were not black characters was so ridiculous. It was centered around Japanese soldiers man! And on top of that Spike’s first attempt at making a black war movie, “Miracle at St. Anna”, was abysmal with little going for it. Thank the lord Spike got back to what he is amazing at, complex character stories that involve multiple generations. “Da 5 Bloods” is the good version of what happens when an unquestioned talent speaks with his voice and not his ego. The harrowing events that took place during the Vietnam war have shown a multitude of different haunting stories for all involved no matter your side or race. Decades after living on the battle field, four vets revisit the old battlefield. Led by Delroy Lindo, in an Oscar caliber performance, the men return to a place filled with so much pain in the hearts of these army brothers. Their mission, to recover the remains of the troupe’s fallen leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Throw in Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) pushing for this trip without knowing the mental complications and “Da 5 Bloods” slowly molds into a look at how it is possible to heal while never dodging the pains of the past along the way.
5. “Sylvie’s Love” (Director Eugene Ashe):
This one is simply a charmer of the highest order. Nothing happens in “Sylvie’s Love” that remotely attempts to be revolutionary story wise. We all know how this is going to end. What makes “Sylvie” such a joy is that it does so with a level of intelligence that places the Hallmark Channel crowd far off from the lead when we’re talking the good stuff finish line. Tessa Thompson does some real work here as the titular character when she falls in love with Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha). Not the best timing to connect with a handsome, talented jazz player when you are supposed to be saving yourself for an army man. One of the most genuine elements in this film is a simple idea. You cannot explain true love, and trying to do so is such a waste of time from the outsiders perspective. Combined with the roots of jazz music and excellent production design, “Sylvie’s Love” will at minimum light up the heart of the biggest cynic just a little bit. What a miracle that is…
4. “His House” (Director Remi Weekes):
“His House” is one crazy journey. The idea of hopeful immigrants believing moving to a country that is not war-torn sure sounds like a positive experience correct? Everyone deserves a good shot at having a happy life right? Unfortunately that is not how stuff works. “His House” creates a strange universe that seems like a haven for a couple struggling to escape the vicious militia that is a cancer for those living in rural Sudan, Africa. This normal couple played by Sope Dirisui and Wunmi Mosaku have a closet full of demons themselves. These demons surface in horrific ways and can only be combatted with the hopes of survival. “His House” is not centered around the idea of systemic racism, which is an obvious backdrop. “His House” is about two individuals that refuse to give in no matter how much violence takes place. This couple did everything right, maybe, and they’re still being terrified by these spirits from their past. Both figuratively and literally. They do in a way somewhat deserve it, and I emphasize somewhat as well. And I cannot forget to mention, this movie is scary as hell with an ending that will rip your heart into pieces. Creating a movie about the gray areas of life can often showcase the meat of a great story.
3. “Promising Young Woman” (Director Emerald Fennell):
I do my best to not support revenge theories because, as Gandhi famously said, an eye for an eye leaves the world blind. But man if there was any group in society that deserves payback the most it would be privileged white men. Being rich and famous in whatever societal status given is one thing when done with class. “Grabbing them by the pussy” because you think you are entitled is complete bullshit. Money can make life much easier. It has nothing to do with being a good person. Director Emerald Fennell explores that concept with his controversial new picture “Promising Young Woman”. Why this story is controversial is beyond me. Maybe it’s because I never celebrated pulling off an ‘Eiffel Tower’ move at some innocent girl with a crew of dick-holding wankers in college. At its core this is a simple tale of a woman out for revenge. But oh boy is there much more going on here. While I cannot begin to understand what women go through on a daily basis when it comes to being harassed, I do understand that some “DECENT GUYS” do not respect the opposite sex. The #metoo movement took place on Facebook, yet this Harvey Weinstein type of behavior is still happening. How does mutual consent continue to be a concept dudes cannot understand? I do not wholly support the actions of Carey Mulligan’s character in “Promising Young Woman” on paper as it is very much anti-Gandhi mentality. At the same time, if any demographic deserves sweet revenge it is definitely privileged white dudes who claim to be good people. A character you don’t totally agree with but also completely understand their motives often makes for great cinema. In the words of Mulligan while attempting to mutilate a rich kid; “CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT A WOMAN’s WORST NIGHTMARE IS?”
2.”Uncle Frank” (Director Alan Ball):
Writer/director Alan Ball is mostly known for two biggies in his career. The Oscar winning film “American Beauty” and the sensation that was HBO’s “True Blood” series. I cannot stand either in so many ways. But Ball is not an idiot in any sense of the word. The man can create material with real substance once he removes himself from sensationalism that has no substantial content. Look at how great his other series “Six Feet Under” was. An actual good HBO show as opposed to a ridiculous vampire series for women to get their jollies off. Now Alan Ball is back with his best work yet. “Uncle Frank” is a perfectly timed movie as the LGBTQ community is seeing how society is realizing brushing things aside that are taboo for some stupid reasons is not the answer. What goes on in the bedroom is the exact same in terms of gross or natural no matter who you decide to hump within the sheets. But that is not what makes “Uncle Frank” such a miracle of a movie. It is the relationship between the titular character played by the excellent Paul Bettany and his niece Beth (Sophia Lillis). These two represent the second and third generation of a mostly close-minded family environment living in 1970’s South Carolina. Frank and Beth have a connection. The main reason being Frank is the only one in the family to move away from, at the time, the highly bigoted South. He is educated, a college professor, and completely alienated from his siblings except for Beth who is beginning to feel she does not belong in this world either. For very different reasons I might add. Things change in an instant when both have to deal with Beth finding out her uncle is gay and Frank having to travel with his niece to attend his disgusting as a person father’s funeral. Yet, it is his father dying. There have been other excellent films on this subject, but it’s hard to beat a movie like “Uncle Frank”. The ‘gay’ thing will always be a thing for some stupid reason. The more important element with “Uncle Frank” is how we can all learn from each other positively despite being 30 plus years apart as far as age is concerned.
1. “I’m Your Woman” (Director Julia Hart):
What better year than 2020 to have my favorite picture be a film that critics liked across the board but is not considered great by most. I have for the most part been spot on with films that will age well. To be fair I always get a few wrong. Just ask the other Greg (Maier) about how I thought “Gravity” would change cinema. Whoops. Admittedly I am not 100% sure “I’m Your Woman” will stand the test of time. It could be the next “Children of Men” in which people watch again and say ‘DAMN, THAT WAS WAY BETTER THAN I REMEMBERED!” Maybe not and I will eat my words if that is the case. Either way, this is my list. From the opening sequences involving Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) being suddenly handed her supposed child, despite never being pregnant, it becomes clear this is a gangster picture you are not going to be able to guess based on the standard genre tropes. You are watching a collection of powerhouse performances that takes off when Jean meets a stranger named Cal (Arinze Kene) who is tasked with protecting the woman with a bounty on her head because of her husband that has disappeared. Plus she never did anything wrong. Nothing standard is going to happen from there, and we’re talking just 10 minutes in. Elements from top to bottom when discussing production design in its entirety are flawless. The cinematography by Bryce Fortner has zero holes in her work. The images slowly delve into visual layers of somewhat unstable life to a bit of chaos before finally coming out with our main character becoming an absolute boss. I hope that “I’m Your Woman” does not become lost in the history books as it is special filmmaking.
The legendary Italian actress Sophia Loren came out of retirement to star in a film directed by her son. “The Life Ahead” is an exquisite piece involving a former Holocaust survivor that decides to help a struggling 12-year-old street rat named Momo, who robbed her during their first meeting, in hopes of showing the child a better life. When it comes to pure entertainment for the entire family, two movies stuck out for me. Pixar was at it again with the delightful “Soul”, a movie about coming to terms with death and realizing the “big moments” are not the key and to instead appreciate every aspect of our time given in this world. Second, Netflix put out a fun new take centered on the most famous detective in literary history. Instead of focusing on old Sherlock, we meet his kid sister “Enola Holmes”. Played by the charming Millie Bobby Brown, the emerging young detective is on the hunt to solve a mystery involving her mother going missing. The hardcore film nerd crew, which to be fair I am a part of, that has not seen enough movies in their time at school about how awesome Hollywood is are absolutely gushing over David Fincher’s latest film “Mank”. Surprisingly it was much better than I had anticipated as it analyzes the subject from a unique angle with the always terrific Gary Oldman leading the way as an alcoholic writer trying to finish up the script for “Citizen Kane”. Obviously we all know how that movie turned out. Finally, I must give credit to a movie that was sure to be garbage from the trailers. Wrong! A cliche sports movie coming out in the dreadful month for cinema that is February? Turns out Ben Affleck and director Gavin O’Connor made a gem with “The Way Back”, a sports movie filled with real content far beyond what the genre normally provides for audiences.
Top 5 Worst Movies of 2020
I am all in and stand by my SUCK FACTOR, but I am attempting to be more positive after 2020. So I will not be slamming these following five disasters with a write up per movie. These pictures accomplished that for us critics from the opening frame. Here are 5 movies that unquestionably SUCKED! No point in piling it on.
5. “Fantasy Island” (Director Jeff Wadlow):
4. “The Midnight Sky” (Director George Clooney):
3. “Extractrion” (Director Sam Hargrave):
2. “Bloodshot” (Director Dave Wilson):
1. “Dolittle” (Director Stephen Gaghan):