This is a conclusion to a series of observations on films I’ve seen in 2020 year. While writing this, I did see a similar list on a financial blog by a writer who does a good job succinctly summarizing 30+ films. The sub-goals were to finish the list of 19 films from 2019, and 20 films from 2020, while rewatching five films from earlier in the year.
Movie #194/ New Film #112/ 1970s Movie #18: Mad Max
George Miller and Mel Gibson’s debut is pretty different from what the franchise has become. The post-apocalyptic details are rather vague, so it’s almost like a period piece in a part of Australia where crime got really bad. It takes a while for Mad Max to become the character we’re used to, although it’s an interesting journey.
Movie #195/ New Film #113/ 2020 Movie #11: The Trial of the Chicago Seven
For a guy who has only directed one other film, and who hasn’t even directed any episode of his TV shows, Sorkin handles his duties here pretty well. The material fits his wheelhouse, with an impressive cast playing colorful characters in a trial that gets to some big questions (How do we make change? How responsible are we for unintended consequences of trying to do the right thing?)
Movie #196/ New Film #114/ 1930s Movie #14/ German Film #3/ Criterion Film #34: Kameradschaft/ Comradeship
It’s a decent concept well-executed as miners in two countries unite to save lives in the aftermath of a serious accident. It’s a bit preachy, although the world of the film in which the Germans work with the French in the 1930s is better than the one we got. The individual stories are pretty good, as is the sense of danger and claustrophobia.
Movie #197/ New Film #115/ 1970s Movie #19/ Criterion Film #35: Town Bloody Hall
The documentary captured what might be the most bonkers panel discussion ever, as Norman Mailer addresses female critics representing different strands of feminism, ranging from old-school to loopy. It’s an interesting time capsule, although somewhat frustrating in that I keep hoping for the people to make better arguments. But that’s part of what makes it interesting.
Movie #198/ New Film #116/ 1970s Movie #20/ Criterion Film #36: Lady Snowblood
It’s a beautifully (if cheaply) shot revenge drama that bridges the gap between Lone Wolf & Cub (made by the same comics creators) and Kill Bill.
Movie #199/ New Film #117/ 2020 Movie #12: Enola Holmes
It’s a charming take on Holmes, which reminds me a lot of Steven Moffat’s work so much that I’m surprised there aren’t major creative links. The story is sometimes predictable, although there are some good twists.
Movie #200/ New Film #118/ 1970s Movie #21/ Criterion Film #37: Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
The sequel has made Lady Snowblood a bit too tough in her ability to overwhelm entire police forces, and removes much of her motivation, until she gets involved in a plot involving an anarchist with a legitimate case against the government.
Movie #201/ New Film #119/ 1940s Movie #14 The Senator Was Indiscreet
George S. Kaufman’s sole directorial effort is ahead of its time in its depiction of the sketchy side of politics as William Powell plays an incompetent Senator making BS promises while running for President. It’s a solid political satire, even if it’s no longer as bold.
Movie #202/ New Film #120/ 1970s Movie #22: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
Argento’s directing debut shows some of the themes that interest him in later work (how a witness may miss a crucial detail), and really demonstrates his debt to Hitchcock.
Movie #203/ New Movie #121/ 2019 Movie #16: Aladdin
The live action remake has some decent changes and set pieces, but it’s hurt by a bland lead, cliched love interest, and mediocre villain. It’s a weaker version of a story that’s been done well before. Will Smith’s genie is okay.
Movie #204/ New Movie #122/ 2019 Movie #17: High-Flying Bird
This cleverly shot relatively short film about a sports agent who sees a basketball strike as a potential opportunity to change the world is an intriguing take on sports, the media and racial issues.
Movie #205/ New Movie #123/ 2020 Movie #13: An American Pickle
The HBO Max comedy about an early 20th century Jewish immigrant becoming roommates with his sole descendant in modern Brooklyn is a decent showcase for Seth Rogen, as well as an examination of what’s changed and what’s possible in America.
Movie #206/ New Movie #124/ 2020 Movie #14: Emma.
It’s a clever take on one of the most successful English novels ever, with impressive country sets and Anya Taylor-Joy depicting Emma’s lack of self-awareness and growth rather well.
Movie #207/ New Movie #125/ 2019 Movie #18: Nova Lituania
It might be difficult to understand without some background knowledge of the pre-World War 2 Baltic states, which adds weight to the college politics, and the otherwise uncomfortable family drama.
Movie #208/ New Movie #126/ 2020 Movie #15: She Dies Tomorrow
It has an odd split with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score, and a 5.1 score on imdb, although I can understand why critics would find much to appreciate, and audiences would be perplexed. The genre is weird to figure out, as a young woman’s belief that she is going to die the next day spreads to others around her. The relationships between characters are very specific and fully realized, and even if a choice the filmmaker makes isn’t satisfying, it is very deliberate.
Movie #209/ New Movie #127/ 2020 Movie #16: Bloodshot
The Valiant superhero movie universe is not off to a great start, which does highlight how lucky we are to get all the good superhero movies mainly from Marvel. The twist at the end of the first act has been spoiled in the trailers, and the film just isn’t that much fun after that.
Rewatch #1: Hamilton
Watching it again hasn’t diminished my response. Now, I’ve got an even better appreciation of the deftness with which the work reveals new facets to supporting characters, from one of the greatest unrequited love revelations ever, to Burr’s “lie in wait” song revealing the reason for his apparent inaction, the perfect entrance of another rival in the beginning of the second act, and the final moments hinting that someone else is the real hero.
Movie #210/ 1990s Movie #13: The Godfather Coda- The Death of Michael Corleone
I’m not going to count this as a 2020 film, even if it was finally edited this year. I saw the original cut a few years ago, and can’t really evaluate if this is radically different. It’s a decent crime movie that happens to star characters from much better films. Newcomer to the series Andy Garcia has a great arc, going from loose cannon to a new Corelone.
Rewatch #2: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
This mishmash of several Edgar Allan Poe stories (The Fall of the House of Usher, and “The Oval Portrait”) has a great atmosphere of nightmarish desperation. It’s responsible for Ebert’s great observation “There are times when I think that of all the genres, the horror film most misses silence.”
Movie #211/ 2000s Movie #14: Speed Racer
I can understand why this movie flopped and why it has its fans. There’s a serious mismatch in the combination of source material (a cartoon about a teenage racer) and the subject matter (secret cartel fixes car races to manipulate the stock market) combined with a convoluted narrative where the main bad guy is a middle aged Englishman in a suit.
Movie #212/ New Movie #128/ 2019 Movie #19: Knock Down the House
The documentary on progressive US House candidates has only gotten more relevant with the high profile of subject Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the election of Cora Bush. I’ll have some quibbles with omissions, but it does get to the nitty-gritty and uncertainty of activism, while showing some major insights into politics and campaigning.
Movie #213/ New Movie #129/ 2020 Movie #17: Soul
The story of a middle-aged music teacher trying to get out of the afterlife just after he gets his first big break may be the least child-friendly Pixar film ever. At times, it feels a bit derivative of some of their other projects (Coco‘s exploration of one version of the afterlife, Inside Out‘s take on personality, Ratatouille on artistic expression) but other times it feels like a continued and worthwhile exploration of themes the Pixar team finds to be important. There are also quite a few moments of genius, as a reminder that no one is better today in making clever animated film.
Rewatch #3: One Hour With You
On a second watch, this Lubitsch/ Chevalier collaboration remains slight, but I do appreciate the clever dialogue. There’s a bit of a charm to a film made so early in the sound era they’re trying to figure out stuff like how well rhyming can work if characters are just speaking.
Movie #214/ New Movie #130/ 2020 Movie #18: Antebellum
From the reviews, it seemed worth exploring to see just why critics really disliked it, and how the largely unknown writer/directors screwed up so badly with the cast and budget (to be fair, the budget was pretty low but they used it well.) And to be clear, they screwed up. It’s a fascinating ambitious failure, and worth studying for what not to do, and why it bothered critics so much. Part of it is that in order to get a twist at the end of the second act, they leave out potentially the most interesting part of a protagonist’s story.
Movie #215/ New Movie #131/ 2000s Movie #15: Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade
It’s a decent but not essential documentary about what made Peckinpah’s best films work, and why he couldn’t go further as a director. On the Wild Bunch blu-ray, it was overshadowed by a feature in which the cast and crew went back to the original location.
Movie #216/ New Movie #130/ 2020 Movie #19: Onward
It’s Pixar, so of course it’s well-made and has great little details about a world that conveys a central idea very well (fantasy creatures have stopped using magic because it’s hard.) The quest is a bit ridiculous (two brothers briefly resurrect the bottom half of their father) although it does have some good payoff.
Rewatch #4: Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors
The second time I’m watching this, I have a real appreciation for how Sergei Parajanov conveys the specifics of the Ukranian Hutsul culture, and the Carpathian environment. The costumes, sets, landscapes and glimpses into the musical culture are astounding.
Movie #217/ 1960s Movie #22: The Wild Bunch
The great anti-Western has strong performances from a cast with multiple Oscar winners (William Holden, Ben Johnson, Ernest Borgnine) in a film that’s just about the bad guys, and refreshing for it. That aspect of it might never have been surpassed
Rewatch #5: Mad Max
Seeing it again with an awareness of the beats, I have a better appreciation for Max’s character arc, the specific details of the outlaw band, and Director George Miller’s skill at conveying forward momentum, to be fully realized generations later in Fury Road.
Movie #218/ 1950s Film #13: The Curse of Frankenstein
Hammer’s take on Frankenstein is quite different from the Universal Horror film, or the book for that matter, a version where the monster isn’t as bad as the man who created him. It’s easy to underrate Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein, as one of the best takes on the common trope of the mad scientist. The production is nice, although it is sometimes slow and the direction can be dull.
Movie #219/ New Movie #131/ 2020 Movie #20: Black Bear
This is a weird film to describe because it takes a major turn halfway through. The lead actors are astounding, conveying a secluded trio who get into some vicious arguments in a modern Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? way that goes to some dark places. The new direction shows their range, although it can also make everything seem insincere while exploring the themes artistic inspiration and betrayal.
Movie #220/ New Movie #132/ 2020 Movie #21: Bill & Ted Face the Music
The Bill & Ted sequel explores the duo as middle-aged has-beens, who aren’t in the position to do what they’re supposed to do and save the world. It’s a charming time travel comedy, with decent cast additions in the daughters and the band of the greatest musicians ever.
- Best Movie of 2020: Hamilton
- Best Movie I’ve Seen From 2020 if Hamilton doesn’t count: Soul
- Notable 2020 movies I still need to see: The Father, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Hillbilly Elegy, Martin Eden, Pieces of a Woman, Da 5 Bloods, Tenet, Minari, Time, American Utopia, Small Axe, Nomadland, Bacura, Mank, Collective, News of the World, One Night in Miami, Wonder Woman 1984 (even if it’s unlikely to be as good as the others), City Hall (It’s on PBS for another two weeks; that will be a challenge)
- Favorite 2019 Movie (seen in 2020): 1917
- Ten Best Movies I Haven’t Seen Before: Soul, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, The Match Factory Girl, The Lovers, Little Women, Battle of Algiers, Truth & Justice, A Man Escapes, Army of Shadows, Hamilton
- Worst 2020 Movie I’ve Seen: Bloodshot