in Top Ten

Happy New President Day everybody! I know it’s too early tell how much of a difference that’ll make in our daily lives but come on, HUGE STEP UP from the last guy. Riding on those good vibes let me tell you about some of da movies I liked.

It was a rough year for da movies. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in a theater and I had to spend $20+ to watch Tenet while raccoons loudly munched on cat food outside our sliding glass door. That being said every time a new release did come out it was special. My brother and I made a ritual out of Saturday nights. We would pop that corn, sit in a darkened living room, and put on whatever 2020 movie had limped its way to a streaming service. Not all of the films were great and it never quite matched the feeling of a movie theater, but I cherished that weekly experience. So thank you 2020 movies that did come out. You helped me get through one hell of a year. Hell in the bad way. We are in Hell.

Honorable Mentions
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Boys State
Never Rarely Sometimes Always

10. Beastie Boys Story

This documentary/school project is perfect for a casual Beastie Boys fan like me. I haven’t heard every album. I haven’t read that book they wrote. What was it called? “Pizza”? But I have admiration for the Beastie Boys as pioneers of rap, music videos, and as philanthropists. I wasn’t sure about the format of Mike D and Ad-Rock speaking in front of a slideshow but the format is oddly compelling. It helps that you’re getting the story directly from the artists with minimal interference. Only the occasional cutaway to help illustrate and elaborate on a story.

The shame is that the late MCA couldn’t participate. Though he was the most soft-spoken of the group you get the sense he was the strongest creative force in the band. He directed a lot of their music videos under his Nathaniel Hornblower pseudonym and was a prominent figure in the Free Tibet movement. Fortunately, director Spike Jonze and the boys do a fine job honoring his memory. Ch-Check it Out!

9. Palm Springs

It’s treat to sit down and watch a new comedy that’s actually good. They just don’t make traditional comedies these days. Yeah, I know this is also a movie with a sci-fi time loop (and that stuff is fun) but it’s the jokes I like the best.

I’ve heard criticism of Palm Springs “stealing” the Groundhog Day concept but I don’t mind. Time loops are a fun space to play in with limitless possibilities. Palm Springs, Happy Death Day, and Edge of Tomorrow are all time loop films and each one couldn’t be more different from each other. There’s plenty of room for the slacker cousin that is Palm Springs. Also, it’s a solid rom com. Not often I find a good one of those. The film is light entertainment for sure, but sometimes you just wanna feel good. Especially when every day in real life feels like the same old shit.

8. First Cow

A great man (who is Jack Black) once sang “Friendship is rare” and that’s what First Cow is about. Set in 1820’s Oregon Country, First Cow is the story of two outsiders (John Magaro and Orion Lee) who bond over a cow they use to make baked goods to sell to local frontiersmen. It’s heartwarming, even if you know from the beginning it’s not going to end well (I won’t spoil that for anyone who hasn’t seen it). Also, that cow ain’t their cow! It’s such an odd thing to build your conflict around and yet it works. Not all films have to be about guys shooting each other.

I also love that Kelly Reichardt is so enamored with the beauty of Oregon (as am I) and I hope to explore more of her northwest set films this year. Check back here when we do Criterion month in July. Until then, maybe I’ll fry up some oily cakes.

7. Freaky

Vince Vaughn has done such a good job reestablishing himself as a dramatic actor, it’s easy to forget how funny he can still be. What works in Freaky is how the film uses Vince’s Vaughn’s physicality. The bulky 6’5” leading man is just as effective as a brooding serial killer as he is an awkward teen girl. Never thought I’d have to type that.

If you don’t know the premise, the film is about a teen girl (Kathryn Newton) who is stabbed by a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) with a stolen ancient dagger. The dagger makes the two switch bodies and they only have 24 hours to reverse the curse or be trapped forever. The results are another high concept horror comedy gem from Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day). Not since Scream have I seen such an enjoyable blend of meta horror and coming of age teen comedy. Not to mention this film has some of the best kills in a slasher movie since the ‘80s. It’s a classic slasher with a killer new look.

6. Sound of Metal

I was afraid to watch this because I was afraid it would be too sad. It is sad but I think there’s a lot to learn. I haven’t seen many films about the deaf community but to see how these kinds of communities work together is inspiring. Sound of Metal through amazing sound work and a lifetime performance from Riz Ahmed as Ruben shows the devastation of hearing loss. To the point where you’re like “How could anyone live like this?” Only to show you later that he in many ways can live a more fulfilling life after connecting with a deaf community led by Joe (Paul Raci in the best supporting performance of the year.)

Of course there’s still the struggle of how to continue his relationship with Lou (Olivia Cooke), how to keep playing music, and whether or not it’s worth getting his hearing back. There’s a lot to think on here. Definitely my tempo.

5. Kajillionaire

Imagine The Sting if Paul Newman and Robert Redford were a lot scummier and lived in a dialpidated office that filled with pink soap suds every day. From Indie icon Miranda July, Kajillionaire is the story of two broke and basically homeless con artists (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) living off the scraps of society along with their emotionally stunted daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood). Enter a beautiful and intelligent stranger, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) who wants in on the cons, only to throw their entire “operation” into disarray.

This movie was exactly what I wanted it to be. The insight into the world of con artists is interesting, the humor is dark, and the performances quirky without being cartoonish. The surprise is the budding relationship that happens between Old Dolio and Melanie. I wasn’t expecting a romantic subplot in this film but it works. This is Miranda July’s best yet. I give it a kajillion thumbs up.

4. Soul

Though the golden age of Pixar has likely passed there is still the occasional flash of genius. I’m not talking about the 2008 Greg Kinnear film Flash of Genius about the man who invented windshield wipers. I’m talking about Soul.

This time Pete Docter and Co. explore the concept of what drives us. What do we value in life and what (if anything) is our purpose on this pale blue dot? The animation is gorgeous, the realization of the “Great Before” and its inhabitants is inspired. It also has an amazing score with original jazz compositions from Jon Batiste and metaphysical synth music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. What a gift this movie was on Christmas Day.

3. The Vast of Night

This is my surprise pick! Gotcha! What is this film? Where did it come from? It’s so rare to see an indie debut (particularly a genre film) come out so fully formed. This film is like The Twilight Zone meets Richard Linklater with experimental camera shit all over the place. I don’t know where director Andrew Patterson came from but I have a feeling this won’t be the last we hear of him.

The Vast of Night is framed as if the whole movie is an episode of a -like TV show. Set in New Mexico in the 1950s, Everett (Jake Horowitz) is a late night disc jockey who notices something very strange happening in his small town. Bizarre signals and occurrences. Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator, starts getting strange calls about this signal and teams with Everett to try and uncover the mystery.

The premise is old school but the actual format is far more contemporary. The Vast of Night has huge blocks of dialogue scenes, often shown in impressive long takes. There are technical marvels all over the place. Check out the makers of the film describing this long tracking shot. This is the kind of ingenuity we need in low budget filmmaking.

2. Da 5 Bloods

I remember putting this off because it was long. I heard a lot of people say it was sloppy too. Like it was trying to do too many different things. Too many styles. Too many tones. But looking back those are all the aspects I love about this film. I love that Spike Lee uses historical footage. I love that he lets these older men play themselves as twentysomethings. I love all the filters and the eclectic soundtrack. Spike’s been making movies since the ‘80s but hasn’t lost a step creatively. He’ll try anything and everything. No matter how bold. That’s why this film is great.

The premise feels like a story ripped from a John Huston film. A group of former military vets going back to Vietnam to find the gold they hid during the war. Probably goes great right? Wrong! There are armed thieves out there and landmines. So many landmines. Probably the best use of a landmine in a film.

And dude, how crazy was it to hire Delroy Lindo to play a black Trump supporter? It’s a breakout performance but you’re so conflicted with the character. I like being challenged by my protagonists. And let’s not forget Chadwick Boseman who’s presence in this film is almost angelic considering he’s the friend and soldier they lost years ago. He’s great in this one. It’s a shame we won’t get to see him in more.

1. The Invisible Man

This was the last the movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic. I went with my bro Sean the day before my other bro Colin’s Birthday (in his honor) and had a blast. It feels so surreal now. Not long after that I dropped $20 to rent the film as an “Early Access” title so I could watch it with my brother on our Saturday movie night. Let me tell ya, The Invisible Man is a razor-sharp thriller no matter how big a screen it plays on.

It’s also impressive that writer/director Leigh Whannell delivers a story about domestic abuse without it feeling exploitative. We don’t see Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) abused at the beginning of the film. We hear about the abuse from her. Because that’s what this film is all about. It’s about listening to victims and their stories. Just because you didn’t see the terrible thing take place doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And just because you don’t see the Invisible Man doesn’t mean he’s not there. It’s a powerful message.

The film has a lot to say and show. Or maybe it’s what it doesn’t show? You’d be surprised how effective a shot of an empty room can be when you’re trying to see if someone’s there. The effects are incredible, the stakes high as hell, and Elisabeth Moss in what I consider at least a Golden Globe worthy nomination. I’d say Oscar but they don’t usually go for these kinds of movies. Then again, in 2020 who knows? Maybe Sonic the Hedgehog will win best picture.