Friday, April 23, 2021

The Best Movies of 2020 (So Far)

From skin-crawling horror movies to hard-hitting documentaries, there should be something on this list. Something to satisfy your highly specialized cinematic cravings as the year goes on. We recognize that you’re busy. There’s also a lot of forces fighting for your attention at the moment. So we pledge not to waste your time. These are the best movies of 2020.

The Vast of Night

Release date: May 29
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis
Director: Andrew Patterson
Why it’s great: This low-budget debut feature is a UFO movie that takes time to achieve lift off. In addition to saddling the story with a mostly unnecessary framing device, which underlines the already obvious echoes of The Twilight Zone , director Andrew Patterson and the film’s writers open the 1950s New Mexico-set story with a handful of overly precious exchanges. Featuring the two main characters, chatty DJ Everett (Horowitz) and young switchboard operator Fay (McCormick).

In the beginning, these two might get on your nerves. But once the movie locks them in place, tampering down the acrobatic camerawork and letting the sound design take control, the material finds a more natural rhythm. Drawing on the hushed intimacy of old-fashioned radio drama. Like many of the best UFO yarns, The Vast of Night taps into a deep sense of yearning. Wanting to believe is half the battle.

 
Where to watch:  Stream on Amazon Prime  

Bad Boys For Life

Release date: January 17
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez 
Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Black )
Why it’s worth watching:  In what hasn’t exactly been a great year for action movies so far, Bad Boys for Life has to be the biggest surprise. Given its lengthy production history, its January release date, and the departure of series director Michael Bay. The action auteur gets a winking cameo here, perhaps taking a break from shooting Netflix’s 6 Underground —this movie could’ve been a disaster. Instead, Smith and Lawrence easily slip back into the roles that made them action movie icons in the ’90s. Also the writers find a way to update the garish, over-the-top aesthetic of the series for the franchise era.

In a wise decision, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah don’t even bother trying to top the excess and mayhem of Bay’s Bad Boys II. Bad Boys For Life is a gentler, sillier movie than its predecessor. Less interested in moments of vulgarity than in scenes of sitcom-like human connection and familial melodrama. There are explosions and car chases through the streets of Miami. Also jokes about getting too old for this shit, but the material is given a light touch that lets the two stars do what they do best. 
Where to watch:  Rent on Amazon , iTunes , Vudu , HULU

Palm Springs

Release date: July 10 
Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J. K. Simmons, Camila Mendes 
Director: Max Barbakow
Why it’s great: Arriving on streaming in the middle of a pandemic, a time when many lives have fallen into unceasing loops of quarantine-related repetition and tedium, the Lonely Island produced comedy Palm Springs  perhaps resonated differently than when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year . Jokes about doing the same shit over and over just hit harder now. Tracking a romance between a goofball wedding guest (Andy Samberg) and the bride’s self-destructive sister (Cristin Milioti.)

Writer Andy Siara’s clever script combines Groundhog Day existentialism with a quippy take on quantum physics. Doling out inspirational life lessons and math cram sessions at a clipped pace. In the same way Tom Cruise had to battle aliens in Edge of Tomorrow , the two must relive a wedding over and over. Struggling to escape from an Instagram-ready, celebratory hell. It might not be as purely funny as Samberg’s other big screen adventures Hot Rod and Popstar. But Palm Springs finds its own winning spin on a surprisingly robust micro-genre.
Where to watch: Stream on Hulu 

Related; Wonder Woman 1984 will be released on HBO Max the same day.

The Way Back

Release date: March 6
Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar
Director: Gavin O’Connor (The Accountant ) 
Why it’s great: Disciplined in its approach and unapologetic about its contrivances, Ben Affleck’s basketball coach in crisis drama. The Way Back is a sports movie that understands the fundamentals. What it lacks in flashiness or ingenuity—the underdog narrative of a crappy team hitting its stride under the leadership of a gruff coach hits all the requisite Hoosiers notes. It makes up for with an oddly enthralling downbeat craftsmanship. Little details, like the freeze-frame when the scores of games pop up on screen. Also the click-clack percussion-heavy music, accumulate emotional power over the film’s brisk runtime.

Playing a washed-up ex-athlete with an immediately apparent drinking problem. This is in addition to a number of strategically hidden personal demons. Affleck delivers a weary performance that resonates with his off-screen persona in ways both obvious and surprising. In brief stretches, director Gavin O’Connor, who helmed the similarly intense melodramas Miracle and Warrior , pulls off the ultimate sports movie trick of making you believe the character’s redemption isn’t inevitable. Every win is a battle—even if you know the results going in.
Where to watch:  Rent on Amazon , iTunes , Vudu 

Bad Education

Release date: April 25
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan 
Director: Cory Finley (Thoroughbreads )
Why it’s great: A chronicle of greed, status, and vanity, Bad Education shares more than a few qualities with Martin Scorsese’s financial crimes epic The Wolf of Wall Street , the story of another Long Island striver with slicked-back hair. Trading the stock market for the public education system, director Cory Finley’s wry docudrama, which takes its inspiration from a wild New York Magazine feature from 2004 , charts the tragi-comic downfall of Roslyn School District superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a charming and beloved administrator in a rising wealthy area.

When his assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janey) gets caught allowing family members to make personal charges using the school’s credit cards, Frank’s world of healthy smoothies, expensive suits, and gleeful deception begins to unravel. Using a high school newspaper reporter as an audience surrogate (Geraldine Viswanathan), the script withholds key details of Frank’s life for large sections of the runtime, allowing Jackman to give a performance that gradually reveals new layers of emotional complexity and moral emptiness. Like the tweezers Frank uses to dutifully pluck his nose hairs, the movie takes a surgical approach to its subject.
Where to watch:  Stream on HBO/HBO Max

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Release date: September 4
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis 
Director: Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa ) 
Why it’s great: A snowy road trip, which finds a young woman (Buckley) traveling with her new boyfriend (Plemons) to the remote farm owned by his eccentric parents (Collette and Thewlis), turns into a journey into the hard problem of consciousness in the latest movie from Charlie Kaufman, the filmmaker who first emerged as the screenwriter behind brain-teasing comedies like Being John Malkovich , Adaptation , and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind . Older and gentler in some respects, Kaufman remains plagued by life’s biggest questions.

In addition to tickled by occasional bursts of the surreal. Like the previous features he’s directed. This new one, adapted from a novel by Iain Reid, is a less outwardly comic affair. Riddled with references and quotations. Including bits of Pauline Kael and William Wordsworth, the movie resists a single reading or an elegant interpretation, embracing neurosis as a subject and a style. As the characters think and talk themselves in circles, the ideas pile up like mounds of fresh powder. Best to bring your brain’s tire chains.
Where to watch: Stream via Netflix

Sorry We Missed You

Release date: March 6
Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor
Director: Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake )
Why it’s great: The modern gig economy is set up so that the customer rarely has to think about the person delivering a package to their door. Sorry We Missed You , the latest working class social drama from 83-year-old English filmmaker Ken Loach. It is a harsh reminder that those piles of cardboard Amazon boxes have a human cost. The film follows married couple Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbi (Debbie Honeywood.) As they attempt to raise their two kids, keep their humble home in Newcastle. This is all in addition to holding down jobs stripped of conventional protections.

As Ricky’s domineering boss tells him at the beginning of the movie, he’s not an “employee.” No, he’s his own small business owner and independent contractor. Loach finds dark laughs and absurdity in the the convoluted language of precarity, particularly the way management attempts to sell poor working conditions as a form of empowerment, but he also captures the tender, intimate moments that occur in even the most soul-sucking jobs.

Ricky and his daughter find joy in knocking on doors and leaving notes; Abbi, who works as a nurse, genuinely cares for her patients like her own family. Even if the company she works for refuses to pay for her transportation. Though the script leans too hard on melodrama in its final stretch, setting up scenes that don’t always deliver on their dramatic potential. Loach never loses his moral grasp on the material.
Where to watch:  Rent on Amazon , iTunes , Vudu

Color Out of Space

Release date: January 24
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer
Director: Richard Stanley (Hardware )
Why it’s great: For a certain type of moviegoer, any film where Nicolas Cage says the word “alpacas” multiple times is worth seeking out. Luckily, Color Out of Space , a psychedelic adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story from 1927, offers more than just furry animals and unhinged Cage theatrics. Mixing hints of science-fiction intrigue and bursts horror movie excess. Along with a couple splashes of stoner-friendly comedy, Richard Stanley’s proudly weird B-movie vibrates on its own peculiar frequency.

Cage’s Nathan, a chatty farmer with a loving wife (Joely Richardson) and a pair of mildly rebellious kids. They must contend with a meteoroid that crashes in his front yard. Shooting purple light all over his property and infecting the local water supply. Is it some space invader? A demonic spirit? A biological force indiscriminately wreaking havoc on the fabric of reality itself? The squishy unknowability of the evil is precisely the point. Also, Stanley melds Evil Dead -like gore showdowns with Pink Floyd laser light freak-outs to thrilling effect. Achieving a moving and disquieting type of genre alchemy that should appeal to fans of Cage’s out-there turn in the similarly odd hybrid Mandy . Again, you’ll know if this is in your wheelhouse or not. 
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon , iTunes , Vudu 

Da 5 Bloods

Release date: June 12 
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis
Director: Spike Lee (BlackKklansman )
Why it’s great: Exploding with historical references, directorial flourishes, and flashes of combat action. Spike Lee’s war epic Da 5 Bloods is a movie that embraces the inherent messiness of its subject matter. At first, the story sounds simple enough. Four elderly Black veterans regroup and travel to Vietnam to recover the remains of their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman.) They also search for a shipment of gold they buried in the jungle decades ago.

But Lee, refuses to approach the Treasure of Sierra Madre -like set-up in a straight-forward manner. Instead, the movie pings between the MAGA-hat speckled present and the bullet-ridden past. Using his older actors in the flashbacks as their younger selves to underline the strangeness of time’s passage. While some of the detours might test your patience, particularly once the men discover the gold and start arguing over what to do with it, the powerful ending, which becomes a moving showcase for the great Delroy Lindo, makes this a long journey worth embarking on.
Where to watch it: Stream via Netflix

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Release date: March 13
Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold
Director: Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats )
Why it’s great:  The Port Authority bus terminal provides the backdrop for a good deal of the drama. The waiting in Eliza Hittman’s powerful portrait of a teenager traveling from Pennsylvania to New York to have an abortion, a procedure she can’t receive in her home state. Quiet and watchful, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) observes the world around her from benches, bus seats, and doctor’s office chairs, dragging an enormous suitcase through the drab interiors of various midtown locations. She doesn’t tell her parents about her pregnancy or her trip. She’s joined by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who wants to be a supportive friend and sounding board. Still, the two don’t talk much.

The movie’s most striking image shows the two holding hands in a moment of shared vulnerability. As though, their bond transcends language. As a filmmaker, Hittman is most interested in behavior and gesture. Approaching her story with the type of careful rigor that allows for poetic moments to emerge in unexpected places. It’s a style that’s especially suited to the challenging emotional terrain of the material. 
Where to watch:  Rent on Amazon , iTunes , Vudu

Time

Release date: October 9 
Director: Garrett Bradley
Why it’s great: Phrases like “time is what you make of it, time flies and time heals all wounds.” All these get turned inside out by this exquisitely constructed documentary. Time chronicles the life of entrepreneur and activist Sibil “Fox” Rich. As she lobbies for the release of her husband, Robert Richardson, from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola. (The prison is shown from the sky in a chilling drone shot, emphasizing the enormous scale of the facility.)

Filmmaker Garrett Bradley blends modern footage of Rich—taking care of her children, delivering moving speeches, and running her business—with intimate home video archives shot by Rich over the span of a lifetime. In one moment, you might see a giggling child; in the next shot, that child is a watchful teenager. Few movies display such a total command of craft, summoning complex ideas and grappling with fundamental truths, while telling such a profoundly moving story.
Where to watch: Stream on Amazon Prime 

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