Friday, March 19, 2021

Exploding Teens, Promising Young Women, and Borat, Oh My! The Best Films of 2020

2020 was certainly an anomaly when it came to movies. Films got releases throughout the year but you had to sort of look extra hard to find the good stuff. But it was also easier than ever to gain access to a world of great movies from the comfort of your own home. I literally only got to see THREE movies in the theater last year. That is an all-time low for me. It’s bizarre to think that most of the films that got released this year were of the smaller, indie variety. There weren’t many big blockbusters and Tenet was really the only major studio film to get a full theatrical release in the midst of the pandemic. While overall I would consider 2020 to be a “weak” year there was an eclectic mix of fun stuff. So here’s my list of the best movies of 2020. Better late than never!

1) Promising Young Woman

A delightfully savage, dark comedy about a woman seeking vengeance. It’s probably not quite what you’re expecting going into it. It’s not a violent exploitation flick. But is sort of has the aspirations to be one. It’s a lot of different movies rolled into one and really wowed me when I saw it. The film’s twisted script always kept me guessing and the outstanding cast of familiar faces is simply wonderful. Care Mulligan is magnificent and charming as is her onscreen chemistry with co-star Bo Burnham. Writer/director Emerald Fennell has crafted a simply exquisite piece of cinema that is feminist, dark, funny, tragic, and mind-blowing. I’ve watched this over and over again and I just wanna watch it again.

2) The Invisible Man

This was my favorite movie of the year until Promising Young Woman came along. Another feminist masterpiece this time the genre is flat-out horror. Another dip into Universal Monster well seemed like a bad idea at the time but this is unconnected to the disastrous Tom Cruise Mummy movie and instead is a wildly different take on the material. Elisabeth Moss gives a stunning performance as a gaslit woman who tries to escape an abusive relationship with a brilliant scientist who is able to turn himself invisible and drive her crazy. Frightening, with stunning special effects, sound design, and music score, The Invisible Man from Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell is another instant classic horror flick from the almost always reliable Blumhouse.

3) Sound of Metal

Watching this was a wonderful experience. I thought I wouldn’t relate to a story about a heavy metal drummer but I found this story to be extremely moving. Riz Ahmed gives a terrific performance as a heavy metal drummer who begins to experience serious hearing loss. The way director Darius Marder throws you into the situation with the main character is truly amazing. The sound design is terrific. The supporting cast is wonderful. This is a surprisingly emotional and kinetic watch.

4) Freaky

Blumhouse does it again! Yet another body swap movie but this time with a horror bend. What a freaking delight this was. Director Christopher Landon who made the equally enjoyable Happy Death Day is firing on all cylinders here. Blockers’ Kathryn Newton is a high school girl who swaps bodies with a serial killer played by Vince Vaughn. Hilarity and gory deaths ensue! A wonderful script, characterizations, and a flat-out wonderful ode to the slasher genre highlight this silly romp and it’s pretty darn graphic. I think if we were in the “normal times” this would have been a HUGE box office hit.

5) Tenet

Watching Tenet on the big screen was awesome. Christopher Nolan rarely fails to creative a wonderfully immersive cinematic experience. Another time-bending story with good guys and bad guys and the threat of World War III. Kinda sounds like 2020 in a nutshell.

6) Love & Monsters

I’m so happy to call this an Oscar nominated film. Dylan O’Brien stars in this sci-fi adventure about a post-apocalyptic world in which giant monsters have taken over the planet. Yeah is basically Zombieland with big bugs but it has a lot heart and humor to spare and one of the best onscreen duos of the year: O’Brien and his dog Boy.

7) Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

I love the Borat movies. I love how progressive and political they are even though on the surface they seem like silly frat house comedies. Sure a lot of the humor is gross and juvenile but it works. Sacha Baron Cohen is freaking brilliant and his young new co-star (and Oscar nominee!) Maria Bakalova is just as hilarious. The fact that they were able to make this during the pandemic and weave that into the storyline is absolutely bonkers and genius. I sat on my couch laughing hysterically at this and I’m not ashamed.

8) Minari

What a lovely film. The ultimate story of the American dream. A Korean family move to Arkansas in the 80s and dad Steven Yeun wants to start a vegetable farm must to the dismay of his wife. Meanwhile there is this delightful buddy comedy subplot going on between grandma (Youn Yuh-jung) and grandson (Alan Kim). Moving, gorgeous, simple, emotional.

9) Spontaneous

A teen rom-com with exploding teens. It’s moving and horrifying. Think The Fault in Our Stars except instead of teens dying of cancer, they randomly explode without warning. This is actually a disturbingly relevant, covid-appropriate flick that is about fear of the unknown. There is even a whole sequence in which the teens are quarantined. Love Simon’s Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer make wonderful, charismatic leads. This movie is a punch to the gut.

10) Birds of Prey

If you told me that I’d have a DC movie on this list and no Marvel movies I’d call you crazy. But here we are. Birds of Prey, featuring a wonderful cast of great female actors kicks ass and is a candy-colored feast for the eyes. Margot Robbie is fantastic as Harley Quinn and she will make you want a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich like NOW. This is definitely one the most flat-out fun DC movies.

11) Judas and the Black Messiah

A great and powerful movie about Black Panther party chairman Fred Hampton and his friend who is actually an FBI informant. Sort of Malcolm X meets The Departed. This movie has two fantastic central performances from LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya who were both deservedly Oscar nominated.

12) Soul

Another winning, existential Pixar gem about an aspiring jazz musician who learns a life lesson after dying.

13) Happiest Season

A delightful lesbian Christmas rom-com with characters who always don’t make the right decision. In other words, it’s relatable.

14) Dating Amber

A cute Irish import about two outcast teens who fake a straight relationship to ward off the bullies.

15) The Trial of the Chicago 7

I enjoyed this entry in the “based on a true story” political docudrama entry.

16) I Care A Lot

Horrible people, doing horrible things and yet so enjoyable to watch. Rosamund Pike is wonderful.

17) Pieces of a Woman

A breathtaking, panic-inducing (and ultimately tragic) long take opens this heartbreaking and hard-to-watch flick about the pain of grief. I never want to watch it again.

18) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Electric performances from a nearly unrecognizable Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. There’s a reason Boseman is the Best Actor frontrunner: he’s incredible.

19) Nomadland

Melodic tale of a woman embracing the nomad lifestyle; filled with local, non-professional actors. Beautiful and meditative, but as someone who loves technology and my possessions, hard to relate to.

20) The Prom

Say what you want about Ryan Murphy and his garish production this was an absolute blast to watch.

Great Docs Spotlight:

Circus of Books (on Netflix!)

Disclosure (on Netflix!)

All In: The Fight for Democracy (on Prime Video!)

Totally Under Control (on Hulu!)

Class Action Park (on HBO Max!)

You Don’t Nomi (digital purchase/rental)

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Oscar Nomination Predictions 2021

Contrary to popular belief there were actually a lot of movies that came out in 2020. A lot of them just didn’t get released in theaters but they do still quality for Oscars. In fact, it was easier than ever to see the buzzed about potential Oscar nominees. Frontrunner Nomadland debuted on Hulu. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is on Netflix as is Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Da 5 Bloods. Promising Young Woman, Minari, and News of the World can be rented or bought on your favorite digital platform. One Night in Miami, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and Sound of Metal are all on Amazon’s Prime Video. Judas and the Black Messiah is in theaters and available on HBO Max until March 14. The Father is in theaters now and will be available to rent on streaming platforms starting March 26. Personally, I think this year’s crop of potential nominees are fine. There are a few that I really love but overall it’s arguably one of the "weaker" years because so many films were pushed from the schedule so the films feel more obscure and random. Further proof of this can be seen in the craft categories where bigger budgeted summer films usually dominate but are nowhere to be found except for films like Tenet and Mulan. But the Oscars must go on so let’s do this!

Best Picture



The Trial of the Chicago 7

Promising Young Woman


One Night in Miami…

The Father

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Sound of Metal

Judas and the Black Messiah

Alternates: News of the World, Da 5 Bloods; Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

A decent slate this year of some very good films but overall I still find this year to be one of the weakest in recent memory. My personal horse is easily Promising Young Woman which blew away the competition in my humble opinion. I’m curious how many nominees there will be this year I’m gathering either 8 or 9 nominees and I’d be surprised if any of them aren’t made up of these 13 films that I’ve listed.

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

David Fincher, Mank

Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

alternates: Regina King, One Night in Miami; Florian Zeller, The Father

It’s actually possible there could be more than one woman nominated in this category for the first time in Oscar history. It’s even possible that there could be three but with this male dominated branch that feels highly unlikely. I still feel like Aaron Sorkin, known much more for being a screenwriter feels the most vulnerable here. This five is the same list as the DGA noms which rarely has perfect five for five crossover but weirder things have happened.

Best Actress

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Alternate: Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead; Zendaya, Malcolm and Marie

I’d be sort of surprised if this doesn’t end up being the final five. I guess Amy Adams could surprise for the critically maligned Hillbilly Elegy but they didn’t even nominate her for Arrival so who knows

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Gary Oldman, Mank

Steven Yeun, Minari

alternates: Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods; Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian

Delroy Lindo has been a critical favorite all season but he’s been constantly left off the precursor awards lists leading up to the Oscars so he seems like a longshot at this point. But there is always a surprise in these lead acting categories so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show up instead of Steven Yeun or even bumping out crotchety old white guy Gary Oldman.

Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman, The Father

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

alternates: Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian; Helena Zengel, News of the World

Maria Bakalova oddly enough feels like the frontrunner and the most likely to get snubbed at the same time. (Amiright Hustlers’ Jennifer Lopez?) This category has literally been BONKERS this entire awards season with so many random snubs and surprises along the way. Jodie Foster won this category at the Globes but isn’t even nominated at BAFTA or SAG (or Critics Choice) but Regina King was able to win here and at the Globes without BAFTA or SAG noms so who the hell knows what’s gonna happen here.

Best Supporting Actor

Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami…

Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

alternates: Jared Leto, The Little Things; Alan Kim, Minari

Jared Leto being nominated still feels like too much of a mainstream fluke and I think he’ll be replaced by a more critical favorite like Sound of Metal’s Paul Raci who is simply wonderful. The late Chadwick Boseman looks like he’ll be double nominated. I’m not sure any dead performer has ever been able to accomplish that. Daniel Kaluuya who gives a wonder (but lead) performance - in my opinion - feels like the locked in frontrunner here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

The Father


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

One Night in Miami…

Alternates: News of the World, The Mauritanian

They nominated the first Borat so why not the sequel which was even more outrageous and was a warm highlight of the horrible year that was 2020. The rest of the field will likely be more traditional stuff; your Mar Raineys and your One Night in Miamis. I’d be surprised if Nomadland doesn’t win this eventually.

Best Original Screenplay



Promising Young Woman

Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Alternates: Judas and the Black Messiah; Soul

More Best Picture hopefuls fill out this category. I’m pulling for the electric, witty, twisted Promising Young Woman.

And the rest:

Best Cinematography

Da 5 Bloods


News of the World



Alternates: Minari, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Costume Design



Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


News of the World

Alternates: The Personal History of David Copperfield; The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Best Editing

The Father



Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Alternates: Promising Young Woman, Minari

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Birds of Prey

Hillbilly Elegy

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom



Alternate: Emma

Best Production Design


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


News of the World


Alternates: Emma; The Midnight Sky

Best Original Song

“Turntables,” All In: The Fight for Democracy

“Husavik (My Hometown),” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Fight for You,” Judas and the Black Messiah

“Io Se (Seen),” The Life Ahead

“Speak Now,” One Night in Miami…

Alternates: Hear My Voice, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Wuhan Flu, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Original Score


The Midnight Sky

News of the World



Alternates: Minari; The Little Things

Best Sound


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


Sound of Metal


Alternates: News of the World, Greyhound

Best Visual Effects

Love and Monsters


The Midnight Sky



Alternates: Welcome to Chechnya, Birds of Prey

Best Animated Feature



Over the Moon


A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Alternates: The Croods: A New Age; Bombay Rose

Best Documentary Feature

Boys State


Crip Camp


Welcome to Chechnya

Alternates: All In: The Fight for Democracy; Dirk Johnson is Dead

Best International Feature

Another Round


La Llorona

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Two of Us

Alternates: Dear Comrades!; Night of the Kings

Best Animated Short


If Anything Happens I Love You




Alternates: The Snail and the Whale; Genius Loci

Best Documentary Short

A Love Song for Latasha


Hunger Ward

Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa

Do Not Split

Alternates: A Concerto Is a Conversation; The Speed Cubers

Best Live Action Short

Da Yie

The Human Voice

The Letter Room

The Present

Two Distant Strangers

Alternates: Feeling Through; White Eye