Now that we’ve got the bad movies out of the way, it’s time for us to focus on what was good because despite EVERYTHING that went oh so wrong this year, there were more than enough highlights to help us get through it all. With hope (and a lot of hard work) on the horizon, we’ll take one last look at the films that made 2020 more than just a dumpster fire before jumping into 2021 with renewed vigor and a spring in our step (and a few prosecutions against the outgoing administration wouldn’t go amiss either)! Let’s get started!!
Honorable Mention: MOVIES IN THEATERS
In the US we got about three months of movies before everything shut down, and while there were some absolutely DREADFUL ones (particularly in January), it was actually shaping up to be a pretty darn good year! There were movies that looked good and lived up to those expectations like The Gentlemen and Birds of Prey, but we had a LOT of surprises; not in terms of movies that turned out to be five star classics, but movies that SHOULD have been terrible but were actually pretty decent! I mean think about it, can you imagine a world prior to 2020 where a Sonic the Hedgehog movie WASN’T going to be in everyone’s worst list or that a Vin Diesel vehicle would have decent writing? Sadly the COVID pandemic cut everything short; not just the big blockbusters we know about like No Time to Die, Black Widow, or Dune, but all the other movies that don’t get months of buildup and turn out to be great regardless. For years I had been seeing two to three movies a week and while a lot of them weren’t great there were more than enough to make it all worthwhile. Now that everything is either streaming or pushed back, it’s difficult for me to find that passion to just try and watch everything when I could just as easily watch reruns of It’s Always Sunny or The Simpsons with just as much effort and without spending an extra penny. Maybe the days of rushing to the theater every other day are gone for good and I won’t be returning to it even after this is all over, but that’s how I saw a lot of the movies I still love to this day and that’s how I saw some pretty darn good movies this year!
5. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
If you haven’t seen Lindsey Ellis’s recent video on the movie I highly recommend it as it puts into context a lot of what works about this movie despite everything about it seeming like a bad idea. It’s a sequel made many years after the first one stopped being relevant and Sacha Baron Cohen’s own pseudo sequels never caught that lightening again despite being made while the first one WAS still a big deal. So what changed between then and now? Well… EVERYTHING changed. Cohen, like many of us, seem to have been genuinely shaken by the Trump era and where that first film kinda floats along as disparate set pieces without much of a point besides shining a light on awful behavior, this one definitely wants to say something and is very emphatically doing so with righteous indignation. Not so much that it overtakes the movie as the central storyline between him and his daughter Tutar is the true heart of the movie, but where Borat felt like a collection of REALLY great bits, this one feels like something with a purpose and that sense of weight to it really gives it the edge that makes Borat feel relevant once again. It does plod along a LITTLE bit in the second act as I think everything around the plastic surgery subplot feels a bit redundant, but that’s also where it gets its genuine sense of heart as Tutar’s babysitter Jeanise does an amazing job showing us what people can genuinely be like when they put others above themselves; that all these selfish monsters at the COVID rally aren’t FORCE into being this way and that a small amount of effort towards kindness and empathy would do a lot to fix whatever is broken inside of them. The situation involving Jeanise is somewhat of a difficult subject considering how annoyed she was to learn that it was all ultimately a gag that no one let her in on, but it looks like much of that has been worked out and she really did add so much to the movie. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste and there were definitely parts of it that didn’t work for me, but the fact that Borat was still relevant in 2020 was one of the few bright spots in this overwhelmingly awful year.
I never reviewed a documentary before this very strange year, and thankfully the one that caught my attention turned out to be quite excellent! Not only does it do a brilliant job of building such a nerve-wracking narrative; it manages to pay off all that suspense in an explosive finale that is mostly well done reenactments that could have been part of a cinematic version of this story. There are so many movies out there that try to accomplish what this movie does. Joker, The Turning, even Fight Club; none of which to my mind does as good a job as this film does in getting into the mindset of someone utterly broken by their own sadness and insecurities. Marvin Heemeyer is not around to face justice for what he did or to answer for his behavior, but when the world has so many Heemeyers out there (a lot of whom showed up in that Borat movie) it doesn’t take much digging to understand what’s going on and how distressingly pervasive this kind of attitude is. For all of Joker’s posturing, it can’t even fathom the depths of loneliness and fragility that has infected so much of the world in the last few decades, but Tread not only understands it, it explores it from beginning to end; perhaps not at the very start of Heemeyer’s personal issues, but how it built up in this community and how his rage eventually became the destructive force we see at the end of the film. Of course, being a documentary there are things that shouldn’t be taken at face value, particularly the interviews of people who were there and are recounting events LONG after Heemeyer’s rampage, so perhaps there are SOME things that are omitted to give a bit of distance between themselves and Heeymeyer, but regardless of that it’s a stunning portrait of a man who may not be with us any longer but who is not alone in feeling that the world is working against him and is more than willing to take it out on others. Just days ago, some fool blew himself up in Nashville for reasons that aren’t looking too different from Heemeyer’s, and while this movie isn’t exactly going to FIX anything, it’s certainly a good way of contextualizing (and most importantly demystifying) these acts of wanton destruction that have become all too pervasive.
3. Bill & Ted Face the Music
Speaking of years’ later sequels AND something that shouldn’t be relevant but is! I’ll admit that I probably had higher hopes for the third movie in the illustrious Bill & Ted saga, but a lot of that was perhaps unrealistic and it’s hard to argue that the movie still delivers on everything we wanted it to as well as everything we didn’t even realize we wanted it to. The final hurrah for Bill & Ted is not unlike Luke Skywalker’s ending in The Last Jedi in that it surprises you by making something better than you would have expected if perhaps more bittersweet than you hoped. Bill & Ted being their own worst enemies was a brilliant twist on the series which until then had remained rather uncritical of their silliness and incompetence, and yet the fact that they were willing to step aside and let the spotlight shine on someone else despite being told THEIR ENTIRE LIVES that they were the best around (no one was EVER gonna keep THEM down!), well I think that’s a pretty relevant topic these days where we’ve seen over and over again the older generation making decisions for everyone else; and downright HARMFUL ones at that. I wasn’t a big fan of how much they retconned from the other films and the depiction of the future feels completely out of line with the unique aesthetic the franchise has built for itself, but the ending of the movie and the post credits sequences are two of the most affecting moments I saw in any film this year, and being able to say goodbye to these two after one last adventure was definitely the bright ray of sunshine I needed at just the right moment.
2. Bad Boys for Life
In a year where the few big blockbusters that deigned to show themselves turned out to be HUGE disappointments (I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman!) this is probably the best out of all them; mostly because it ACTUALLY came out when it was supposed to and had it been set for a summer release it probably would have been held back with everything else. Great action, perfect pacing, and just a well told story about two friends that I never expected from this franchise. I found those first two movies utterly insufferable and it was just so refreshing to see this movie not just rebuke it’s more despicable aspects but to improve upon what they got right, and age is truly the key here as everything about it seems wiser, more seasoned, and opting for heart instead of flash. That’s not to say there’s any shortage of witty banter or silly action nonsense, but it all works so much better now that there’s an actual purpose behind it all instead of just a series of disconnected nonsense set pieces. Sure, this is probably not the BEST year for a cop movie to be getting such high honors from me as police reform and abolition have been pushed for after a truly heinous series of murders by police, but if nothing else the Bad Boys universe is so far removed from reality that they might as well be super heroes instead of the kind of police officers we see harassing protestors and shielding white supremacists; and even Mike’s worst moments that mimic bad cop behavior are framed as character flaws rather than outright glorified as they were in the last two films. Maybe it won’t be to everyone’s taste and perhaps fans of the first two films won’t appreciate things being scaled back the way they are, but I found this compelling from start to finish and was overjoyed that a series that had so much potential finally found a way to live up to it.
1. The Invisible Man
It’s hard to get much creepier than to put a literal creeper in your movie as this movie brilliantly finds a way to make this classic setup feel fresh and vital for a new generation. I could sit here and just list off all the aspects they nail like the cinematography, acting, pacing, and creative setups, but what puts this one over the top and makes it not just a fantastic movie but easily the best one this year is the relationship between our main character and her stalker; the utterly disturbing way he is ceaselessly MOTIVATED to ruin this woman’s life simply for trying to get away from him. It’s terrifying and sadly completely believable as gas lighting and harassment have become go to tools that anyone with even the smallest axe to grind can employ with little to no effort and to devastating effect. He is just always THERE; taking up space in Elizabeth Moss’s mind as well as physically being there so that she can never be safe or free from his influence, and the movie finds some very dark places to take this premise that is downright heartbreaking. Still, it’s not all doom and gloom as they avoid the mistake of Moss becoming a clichéd MOVIE VICTIM and it’s her performance more so than the Invisible Man’s shenanigans that make this movie work as a genuine thriller with excitement and levity in between the crushing sense of oppressive atmosphere. In a year that has literally had a plague and any number of real world horrors, this still manages to stick in my brain as a brilliantly unnerving masterpiece and even if it’s not the easiest thing to sit through it’s something I’ll definitely remember fondly about this otherwise rotten twelve months.
And that’s it! My last word on 2020 was to end things on a positive note, and I hope you have some great movies to watch if you missed out on them the first time! Think my picks are a whole bunch of nonsense? You’re probably right, but make sure to let me know in the comments below!!