Friday, January 22, 2021

If I Could Choose The Nominations (OSCARS 2020)

I don't know if anybody has ever thought this, but I wonder how many film fans have ever wondered what they'd do if they got the chance to choose the Oscars.

I'm not talking predictions. It can be fairly easy to try and get inside the head of a pompous Hollywood snob and try and act like you can see the future. But honestly, if you ever asked yourself, what would you pick for the Oscars if it were up to you? What would you do if The Academy came to your door tomorrow and said "We need YOU to determine Oscar Nominations, all by yourself, have at it?" What would you do with such power?

This isn't meant to be a list of predictions, and if I end up getting some right, well that's cool and all, but it's merely a bonus. This is who I would hope and love gets all the love from the Oscars this year.

Lead Actor

Delroy Lindo- “Da 5 Bloods”

Kingsley Ben-Air- “One Night In Miami”

Pete Davidson- "The King of Staten Island"

Riz Ahmed- “Sound of Metal”

Chadwick Boseman- “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

 

Lead Actress

Carey Mulligan- “Promising Young Woman”

Vanessa Kirby- “Pieces of A Woman”

Viola Davis- “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Radha Blank- “The 40-Year-Old Version”

Jessie Buckley- “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

 

Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen- “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Leslie Odom Jr.- “One Night In Miami”

Bill Murray- “On The Rocks”

Charles Dance- “Mank”

Orion Lee- “First Cow”

 

Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova- “Borat Subsequent MovieFilm”

Amanda Seyfried- “Mank”

Glenn Close- “Hillbilly Elergy”

Olivia Cooke- “Sound of Metal”

Talia Ryder- “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”

 

Adapted Screenplay

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

First Cow

One Night In Miami

Shirley

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

 

Original Screenplay

Da 5 Bloods

The King of Staten Island

On The Rocks

Promising Young Woman

Mank

 

Animated Feature

Soul

Wolfwalkers

Trolls World Tour

The Croods 2

Onward

 

Visual Effects

Wonder Woman 1984

Greenland

The Midnight Sky

Tenet

The Invisible Man

 

Make-Up and Hairstyling

Wonder Woman 1984

Birds of Prey And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Mank

First Cow

Borat Subsequent MovieFilm

 

Costume Design

Emma.

Mank

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Possessor

Mulan

 

Sound Editing

Sound of Metal

(I don’t know who else to nominate)

 

Sound Mixing

Sound of Metal

(I don’t know who else to nominate)

 

Cinematography

Tenet

First Cow

She Dies Tomorrow

Da 5 Bloods

The King of Staten Island

 

Documentary Feature

The Beastie Boys Story

Boys State

My Darling Vivian

The Painter and the Thief

Dick Johnson is Dead

 

Original Song

“Speak Now” One Night In Miami

“Wuhan Flu” Borat Subsequent MovieFilm

“Just Sing” Trolls: World Tour

“Green” Sound of Metal

“Only The Young” Miss Americana

 

Original Score

Soul

She Dies Tomorrow

Palm Springs

The Forty Year Old Version

Possessor

 

Production Design

First Cow

Greyhound

The Christmas Chronicles 2

Possessor

Mank

 

Best Picture

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The King of Staten Island

Da 5 Bloods

She Dies Tomorrow

On The Rocks

Promising Young Woman

One Night In Miami

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Sound of Metal

 

Best Director

Amy Seimetz- “She Dies Tomorrow”

Sofia Coppola- “On The Rocks”

Spike Lee- “Da 5 Bloods”

Regina King- “One Night In Miami”

Judd Apatow- “The King of Staten Island”



 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Look At "One Night In Miami" & "Promising Young Woman"

My film years usually take on the same shape. I don't do this professionally. This is just a hobby I do when I have free time. Due to the way release dates, film festivals and such work, it can sometimes take longer than usual for people to see something. A movie can be a Sundance sensation in January but may not get a national release date until December. Sometimes that's just how the calendar works. Since I am not a professional critic, I don't get to see anything early. But honestly, the release dates aren't important. I just want to watch what looks interesting to me and hope I like it. 

It's a great weekend for movies if you play your cards right. One film in particular is free on Amazon Prime, if that's a streaming service you have. Another is available to rent on VOD right now. Each film is worth your time and attention. Both of these movies were hotly talked about as the year came to a close, and I was so happy to finally lay eyes on them. I am talking about "One Night In Miami..." and "Promising Young Woman."

I figured I'd like "One Night In Miami." It's based off a popular stage play, it involves some actors I really dig, and let me say, these young men display profound performances here. "One Night In Miami" also happens to be the directorial debut of Regina King. King is an actress who has starred in things as varied as "Friday," "Daddy Day Care," "Watchmen," "Boys N The Hood," and "Enemy of the State." So she does a little of everything, and she's someone I've admired for years now. I thought for sure it would be good, and I am happy to report that it didn't disappoint. "Promising Young Woman" was more of a mystery to me, and I have to say that its a film that definitely will fool its audience if you've only seen the trailers. It's not at all the movie you think it is, and I feel any time I say that, you are in for a good time.

"One Night In Miami" tells the story of real life friends Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke meeting in Miami to celebrate the surprise title win by Ali over Sonny Liston. These iconic men were friends in real life, and the stage play in which the film is based on was a true story. Over the course of the evening, they will laugh together, make fun of each other, challenge each other, get mad at each other and simply get each other to see life in a different way. What ensues is a movie that is just plain electrifying to listen to. 

What I was most impressed by with "One Night In Miami" is how Regina King was able to avoid making the movie feel like a stage play. I know it sounds easier said than done, but how many of you have seen movies based on stage plays? Simply by design and circumstance, most movies based on plays kind of feel like they still plays, just recorded and starring big name actors. With "One Night in Miami," the set up of scenes, the careful consideration of the direction both contribute to the film feeling cinematic. Even though most of the film still takes place in a hotel room, the way the movie moves feels natural and not awkward as if on some kind of stage. If this is the eye Regina is working with, then I will be very excited to see what movies she has in her future.

"One Night In Miami" is a drama you may call "talky," but what keeps you watching is the absolutely revelatory performances by the main actors. Leslie Odom Jr. plays Sam Cooke, Aldris Hodge plays Jim Brown, Eli Goree plays Muhammad Ali and Kingsley Ben-Adir plays Malcolm X and honestly I don't know who you nominate for the Oscars this year. They all give such astounding performances that its hard to even rank them...Well...hmmm....maybe...I take that back. I think the most talked about performance of the bunch will definitely be Ben Adir's work as Malcolm X. because it feels less like a performance and more like somebody invented a time machine and brought the man here to make the movie. His speech, the way he carries himself, his demeanor, you're gonna mistake him for the real guy over and over again. Between the performances, the costumes, the choices of direction, "One Night In Miami" is going to be a movie you positively get lost in.


I may not feel completely comfortable with who should get nominated for "One Night In Miami," but I absolutely feel comfortable giving a shoutout to Cary Mulligan for her work in "Promising Young Woman," because holy crap this is her as I've never seen her before. While there are movies with her in them that I've enjoyed, I can't say I've ever been a Mulligan fan. I never disliked her, she never ruined a movie by her mere presence. I guess I was just waiting for her to really burst off the screen for me. Well, she absolutely did that with her incredible work in "Promising Young Woman."

You may watch the first teaser trailer on YouTube for "Promising Young Woman" and think "Oh, its another rape-revenge fantasy in the vein of 'I Spit On Your Grave' or something." The first trailer certainly makes the film look like a woman is going out in the night, pretending to get drunk at the club, seeing if a guy will try to take her home and take advantage of her while she's intoxicated. Then she'll reveal she's not really drunk and kill them. That's what the trailer looks like, but that's not "Promising Young Woman." 

Mulligan plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old woman still living with her parents working a dead-end job at a random, nameless coffee shop. Every night she goes out, pretends to be intoxicated, waits for a guy to try and take her home to see if they can get lucky with a drunk girl. She then reveals she isn't drunk. This isn't a slasher film though, she's not offing these guys, she is attempting to talk sense into them, to make sure they don't try and pull anything like this again. Cassie keeps a miniature notebook, which has many marks in them representing the many men she's done this to. She feels obligated to do this because back when Cassie was in med school, she found out her childhood friend Nina (who was also in the same med school as Cassie) was raped while she was drunk. Nina then dropped out of school and eventually committed suicide, while her attacker graduated top of the class. 

Yes, "Promising Young Woman" is a movie that definitely takes advantage of the recent #MeToo movement. There is definitely a percentage of the audience that will scoff at this film and accuse it of being "woke bullshit." But that's precisely the point the movie is trying to make. Without getting into the rest of the plot, there are definitely some creative decisions made that I think will only fuel that groups opinion, and that's a shame. Because overall, the movie does a great job conveying why this is such a hot topic. The problem of rape and consent is very real, and has this film highlights, many people work as enablers that allow this behavior to keep going and that stacks the deck for the attackers against the victims. It's a real problem that if we don't change our cultural thinking entirely, this will sadly never change. 

The whole movie isn't just Cassie trying to talk sense into men the whole time. There are very specific people Cassie is targeting here and like I said, this isn't some kind of slasher movie. Cassie is the type of threat where she is several steps ahead of everyone and the ways she gets some form of revenge is honestly very clever. Sure, the club scenes are darkly funny, and I think its clever that actors like Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Max Greenfield play some of her victims. Rapists from clubs don't look like Hollywood supervillains, they look like regular people. They look like "nice guys." That's the joke. Yes, "Promising Young Woman" is, much like "The Hunt" a very serious dark comedy. It's got some very strict and stern points to make, but how the film is able to shake a laugh out of you is also shockingly wicked.

I'll be interested to see how audiences really react to this because I think the ending is very polarizing. I don't want to get into spoilers right now. And I'm thinking of maybe writing a more in-depth piece on the movie in a couple weeks. I'm not sure I was the target audience for this movie but I can't help but admit that I'm completely smitten with this film. It affected me more than I ever thought possible. But it doesn't have the conventional happy ending and like I alluded to above, the only flaw I recognized is just how cynical the worldview the movie features. I don't know if everyone will dig this film's ending, but the way justice is served in these cases, perhaps this was the only ending possible.

So you've got two great movies to choose from this weekend. Two great movies. But great for very different reasons. Choose wisely. Or watch both. Fair thee well.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Most Anticipated 2021 Films?


Every year I discuss how after I post my Best of lists, I always say that after I look at the year that just ended, it's fun to look at what is ahead. I then get into a list of films for the new year. I will give release dates, show pictures and trailers (if a trailer is available) and I let you guys know what I am most looking forward to. Last year, I talked about a ton of films that I am over-the-moon excited for.

Then basically none of those movies came out. 

Nobody could have seen just how serious and how dangerous the COVID-19 would become. But it was so serious that it closed movie theaters and it forced studios to quickly retool their entire release year. 2020 was a different for many people for long list of reasons. But for those seeking entertainment, we didn't get many of the big Hollywood blockbusters in 2020, which made 2020 a year of the indie. It felt like a nice departure if you ask me. But I've discussed this pretty extensively at this point. I am not going to discuss my woes of the business and I am not trying to get political with COVID talk (we've had more than enough of that already). But I am going to be kind of cautions when approaching this list. While I think its great that a COVID vaccine is slowly making its way out to the masses, it's still making its way slowly to the masses. 2021 is still going to be a weird year, as some are still predicting that it could still take until the Spring in order for everyone to get the vaccine. 

And even once a large enough portion of the population are vaccinated, I doubt that people are just going to rush back to the theaters once they can.

As much as I want to tell you how excited I am to finally see "No Time To Die," "Bob's Burgers" and "A Quiet Place II" in April. Or "Black Widow" in May. Or "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" in June. Or Top Gun: Maverick in July. I am still a bit skeptical whether or not those get released then. I mean "Morbius" got scooched AGAIN to October 2021. Will the release date game happen again in 2021? It's hard to say.

Some studios are doing their best to accommodate the weird year. Trying to roll with the punches and I can respect that. It was big news when Warner Bros announced they will be releasing pretty much their entire 2021 slate on HBOMax (same day as theaters) and it looks like they will treat it as they are doing for "Wonder Woman 1984" and the movies will be available on the streaming service for one month. The movies being released this year on HBOMax include "Mortal Kombat," "The Suicide Squad," "Matrix 4," "Space Jam: A New Legacy," "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," "Godzilla vs. Kong," "Tom and Jerry," "Judas and the Black Messiah," "Dune" and the Soprano's prequel "The Many Saint's of Newark."

What am I excited for based on the list above? Well it kills me that "Dune" was ready to go in December, then the virus hit and they took it off the release schedule, just to release in OCTOBER! Seriously, we couldn't get "Dune" in January or February? I'm curious for "Mortal Kombat." Hiroyuki Sanada is my favorite Japanese actor, and he's playing Scorpion. A character who not only is one of the most popular Mortal Kombat characters, but one of the faces of the franchise. I'll watch just for him. I think other than the MCU, the Godzilla/King Kong cinematic universe has been the second most successful cineamtic universe so far, so I do want to see "Godzilla vs. Kong." Because of writer/director James Gunn, I am 100% absolutely on board for "The Suicide Squad."

Netflix also will apparently be releasing a new movie every week. Now, because Netflix was the first revolutionize the streaming service, they don't own any big brands or anything (other than Millarworld comics, and I can't believe they've done jack shit with it), but Netflix is finally getting better getting cool stuff made. Science fiction action film "Outside The Wire" will be released tomorrow, it stars Anthony Mackie. The dramatic comedy "The White Tiger," coming January 22nd. "Penguin Bloom" with Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln will be released on the 27th. 

Other streaming services will continue to be an avenue for new releases and exciting content for 2021. "Nomadland" was one of the most lauded films of 2020 and it will hit Hulu on February 19th and I am really excited for that. The biopic film "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" features a loaded cast and will be released on Hulu on February 26th.  "Coming 2 America" will release on Amazon Prime on March 5th. Then there is AppleTV+, a service that I have to say positively blindsided me this year. Tom Holland's "Cherry" looks kind of interesting, and that will be released on AppleTV+ also on February 26th. "Raya and the Last Dragon" was announced by Disney at their recent stockholder meeting and the movie will be released March 5th and will also appear simultaneously on Disney+. "Flora & Ulysses" will release on Disney+ on February 19th. So you'll have some at-home family stuff to enjoy early this year.

As of right now, the other major Disney releases this year, "Encanto," "Jungle Cruise," "Luca" and "Cruella" (Yep, a movie about THAT Cruella, it's starring Emma Stone) have no plans for any sort of Disney+ release, although who knows what could change.

These are all the movies of the year I know for sure are coming out. It's tough to predict the year out as far as other releases go. I hope to see "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" on June 25th, simply because I love the idea of Woody Harrelson playing Carnage. I hope "Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings" and "The Eternals" are big hits for Marvel, because I've been missing me some MCU. I hope "The Green Knight" is another indie sensation for A24, which is becoming my favorite studio in the business now. I hope we get to sit in a movie theater again this year, and I hope we all can enjoy "The Hitman Wife's Bodyguard," "Hotel Transylvania 4," "Candyman," "Halloween Kills," "Mission: Impossible 7," "Sing 2," Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" and that completely crazy third "Spider-Man" movie coming in December. I hope we get these movies this year. I hope we can at least, start to see a hint normalcy again this year.

But whether we can go back to the theater again, or whether we enjoy movies from home again this year or heck maybe a little bit of both. I am just hoping for another good year of movies in 2021. 

What are you most excited for?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_films_of_2021

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I Joined Letterboxd!


I recently joined the Facebook for Film Fans. Yep, I decided to give Letterboxd a try and now I am officially addicted.

I decided to join for a couple different reasons. I have always wondered how many movies I actually watch in a year. Including new releases I review on this site, favorites I re-watch and stuff from the past that I am watching for the first time. Letterboxd has a cool diary feature where you can log the movie you see in a day. You can date the movies you watch, so you can see all you've seen in a given year. It may seem easy but sometimes I forget. So it's a cool feature to log and see what all you see in a given year.

I like the list feature on Letterboxd much better than I did on IMDB. I still like IMDB, it's a good source of information and I will still use IMDB's list feature to keep track of TV shows I am watching, but they changed how list making works and it hasn't appealed to me in years. The way to make lists on Letterboxd is much easier to use and it makes sure you don't add the same movies twice. I've been using the list making features on Letterboxd because I want to really see how many movies I've seen in my life and I've been breaking some lists down by decade to help count. I've always wondered how many I've seen and now I am on my way to find out. I've also reposted my Top 1000 movies from the summer and it's been slightly...only slightly...modified since its publication in the summer.

Man, I got a little ahead of myself. What is Letterboxd? In case you are unaware, Letterboxd is just as I described, its Facebook for Film Fans. You can track what you've seen, make lists, connect to other fans through the movies you watch, post reviews, look up information. It's a cool resource and just fun to use. If you like movies you should check it out.

While You, Me and Movies is my baby and I ain't quitting around here, I will post mini reviews on Letterboxd, hoping to also use Letterboxd as a source to see if I can spread the word on my writings a bit. If not, oh well. Just seeing what comes of it.

If you are on Letterboxd, here is a link to my profile, follow me! This will be my 2021 hobby!

 https://letterboxd.com/bloggershawn/

Monday, January 11, 2021

Best TV of 2020

 I've been a little late bringing you this list.

As the movie studios were hustling trying to figure out how they were going to release their movies, and trying to decide which movies would get moved to next year, TV productions (some of them, at least) were stalled, and some shows got pushed to later in the year due to COVID. Since many people were in, you had a steady stream of content to watch and there was still plenty of new (returning and "new"
 new shows) to watch while everyone was hunkered down in their homes waiting COVID-19 out. There was actually a tremendous surge of new shows. I could have easily made an entire 20 list of new shows. But some of my favorite shows delivered as well, and some even ended their entire runs with all barrels blazing (something that is hard to come by in the TV world). The 2010's definitely changed TV in a big way, TV has never been treated as seriously as it has been ever before (You can argue that this actually started in the late 2000's) and we'll have to hope that the streak continues for the unforeseeable future. As I said though, LOTS of great potential in 2020, so I think this era of great TV isn't slowing down for anything.

As always, I will give you my ten favorite new shows from 2020. Everything that just got started or a new miniseries. Then I will give you my ten favorite returning shows of 2020. Veteran TV that had strong seasons, shows I still can't get enough of.

THE TEN BEST NEW SHOWS

1. The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)

All the hype you've heard about this one is real. "The Queen's Gambit" is fast-paced, engaging entertainment. For someone who never got into chess and never understood the fascination of it, this is a miniseries that kept me on the edge of my seat. Anya Taylor-Joy is quickly becoming one of my very favorite actresses, and she delivers here. Her Beth Harmon was one of the most unique TV heroes of the year and her journey through this miniseries was a delight.


2. Lovecraft Country (HBO)

The African American journey through the history of our nation is a horror movie. Easily the coolest and strangest show to hit the small screen this year was this wicked little gem. Based upon a novel by Matt Ruff, the series follows Jonathon Majors' Atticus as he travels across 1950's segregated America in search of his missing father. On his journey, he comes across a mysterious town and finds out his lineage is full of secrets, the dark kind. I don't know what Ruff saw in H.P. Lovecraft's writings that he could use to tell metaphors about how we've treated African Americans in this country, but the show is delightfully haunting and crazy weird in the best possible way. I can't wait for more.

3. Ted Lasso (AppleTV+)

The world needed Ted Lasso in 2020.

"Ted Lasso" tells the story of the title character played by Jason Sudeikis. A college football coach who takes a job as head coach an English Premiere League team. He moves to England to coach, the townfolk don't really believe in him, he has no experience coaching soccer, and the league itself needed to fill the spot out of desperation, and view Lasso as disposable. Lasso represents the best possible type of American, someone we all should strive to be. Nothing ever stresses him out, he sees the good in every person, in every situation. He tries to make everyone around him as comfortable as possible, and not in a creepy way but in a sincere way. He's basically Steve Rogers without the super soldier serum and who is much more passive. He's able to get to the heart of everyone around him simply by being his thoughtful, aw-shucks self. It's a reminder of what America can be when its at its best, and this is a show every American owes themselves to watch.

4. How To With John Wilson (HBO)

One show that I desperately fell in love with in the 2010's was "Nathan For You." I know based upon the type of humor that show featured, it wasn't for everyone. I'm not sure awkward humor is something that appeals to the masses, but it certainly worked for me. Nathan Fielder returned as producer on the #4 show on this list. "How To With John Wilson" was exactly how it sounds. A documentarian focuses on a different subject each episode, and teaches you how to do things. From proper scaffolding to cooking risotto, each topic is pretty random but ties into Wilson's hometown of New York City in goofy ways. It has that awkward humor you remember from "Nathan For You," but its not nearly as cringey as the humor from that show. I hope we get a second season of this.

5. The Last Dance (ESPN/Netflix)

I must be a pretty hardcore Millennial for including this but I remember just how remarkable it was to watch the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era. When Phil Jackson was coaching and Jordan had Pippen and Rodman in his corner. It didn't seem like basketball, it seemed like performance art. Watching Jordan, Rodman, Pippen, Jackson, and even Steve Kerr, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc and others reflect on the 1990's Bulls getting their dynasty was a delight and it was one of those cool time machine moments that felt better than it really had any business being. (It has also been source of some pretty funny memes) Also, a nice send-off to Kobe Bryant was very nice as well.

6. Dave (FX)

If awkward humor isn't your cup of tea, perhaps you may like some oddball, dramedy style instead? "Dave" tells a fictional story (which could be self-autobiographical) about a fictional version of the rapper Lil Dicky. Lil Dicky is convinced he's to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, and this first season represents the first steps in that odyssey. FX may be adopting a certain type and style of television show at this point, but its hard to argue against the catalog they're building. I can't wait to see much more of "Dave."

7. I'm Not Okay With This (Neflix)

Shame on Netflix. Seriously, shame on Netflix. I am sincerely sorry if this show didn't reach its audience. Or that maybe they didn't see the value in continuing this particular story. But I am sincerely going to miss "I'm Not Okay With This" after one season. This is was a crazy mixture of a John Hughes teen comedy mixed with a comic book superhero story, but with a 21st Century touch. It was smart, it was funny, it was heartfelt. And I am going to be forever butthurt we didn't get more of this story. Maybe if everybody starts tuning in now we can shame Netflix into a revival!

8. We Are Who We Are (HBO)

A common theme in this latter half of the list could be described as child actors who all starred in "IT" together come of age. Sophie Lillis and Wyett Olef both starred in "I'm Not Okay With This" and Jack Dylan Grazer absolutely electrifies in "We Are Who We Are." Grazer as Fraser. A boy whose mother is in the military and they move to a military base town in Italy in 2016. If you ever forgot what its like being a teenager, this show immerses you in the wild roller-coaster that is being a teenager. It's about friendship, first love, and most of all, figuring out who you are. Told in such a delicate, elegant fashion that feels like great storytelling. Oh, and all the "IT" kids are going to be famous for many years to come. Yep.

9. The Midnight Gospel (Netflix)

Pendleton Ward first hit my radar with "Adventure Time" and I've liked all the "Distant Lands" specials on HBOMax so far. Ward shifts gears quite a bit with "The Midnight Gospel" which he created with comedian Duncan Trussell. It's a unique adult animated show where actual recorded interviews from Trussell's podcasts are set to some very wild animated adventures. The show is set in the dimension called the Chromatic Ribbon and Trussell plays Clancy Gilroy who owns an "unlicensed multiverse" and travels to different world within said multiverse to interview people for his spacecast. It's silly and strange and wild and it's just what I needed for a crazy year. I hope this isn't our only visit to the Chromatic Ribbon.

10. Normal People (Hulu)

Sometimes, love is complicated. Sometimes, it may even be forbidden. No matter what though, all of our decisions create consequences and those consequences can either be good or bad. This Irish romance debuted on BBC One in April and eventually made onto Hulu. It follows the lives of Marianne and Connell. Connell is a popular boy in school and Marianne is an outsider, and they secretly meet with each other for romantic time. They eventually begin to really fall for each other, but due to high school politics, nobody can know they are together. Connell's friends make fun of Marianne, mostly in front of Connell, which eventually strains their relationship, not just after high school but further on in their lives. The smallest actions can affect your entire future, and that came brutally clear in this riveting drama.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
(Again, it was a year full of great NEW TV, and if 2020 was any indicator, we are in for a great decade of TV. Also check out the following)

HBO's "The Flight Attendant," Netflix's "Sweet Home," HBO's "I May Destroy You," FX's "A Teacher," AppleTV+'s "Central Park," HBO's "Raised By Wolves," Hulu's "Little Fires Everywhere," Netflix's "#blackAF," FOX's "LEGO Masters"
 
The Ten Best Returning Shows

Here is a list of the best shows that had a previous season.

1. Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
The saddest entertainment moment of 2020 was saying goodbye to BoJack for the last time.

2. The Mandalorian (Disney+)
That finale though. All the feels.

3. Better Things (FX)
I continue to enjoy the upside down life of Sam Fox

4. The Good Place (NBC)
Okay, it was really sad saying goodbye to the Good Place for the last time.

5. Harley Quinn (DCUniverse)
If there is any show that needs about ten spin-offs, its Harley Quinn. I want to spend as much time as possible in this warped DC Universe.

6. Modern Family (ABC)
Okay, Okay. saying goodbye to BoJack and the Good Place was hard. But man, so was saying goodbye to the Pritchett's and the Dunphy's for the last time. Sheesh.

7. After Life (Netflix)
Losing a loved one is devastating and Ricky Gervase is an English treasure.

8. Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
Any year when Rick Sanchez gives a random alien a gift box featuring an anus-hole that farts out a middle finger, is a good year indeed.

9. Superstore (NBC)
The COVID-19 jokes were good in this show.

10. Fargo (FX)
I don't know if I liked season four as much as the previous seasons, but it's still a ton of fun. It also features the best work Chris Rock has done so far.

That's it for me. My Top Films and TV lists are published. I can put a stick in 2020 now. It's done. Time to engage completely in the entertainment of 2021! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Review: "Pieces of A Woman" is devastating entertainment

 Pieces of A Woman Review


"Pieces of A Woman" features one of the most devastating first twenty minutes of any movie I can remember. It may be one of the very best first twenty minutes I've seen in modern movies. Remember the fun introduction of characters from 2006's "The Departed?" You meet all the players, the stakes are set and then as music by Dropkick Murphy's begins to sucker punch your brain, we see the title font reading "The Departed." It's an exhilarating first twenty minutes. Now, "Pieces of A Woman" has a first twenty minutes may rival those of "The Departed." Or maybe they aren't comparable, given the subject matter of each film. All I know is that after those first twenty minutes of "Pieces of A Woman," I was absolutely hooked.

We meet Martha, played by Vanessa Kirby. She's pregnant, looking as if she's going to be a new mother very, very soon. (Any woman who has ever given birth for a child and any dad's will probably know what I mean) She and her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf), Martha's mother buys them a minivan, Sean gives Martha a framed picture of their baby's sonogram photos. They seem to care for each other very much. As we are seeing just the lives of these people as early evening turns into night, it's clear that Martha is going to have a home birth. They reach out to their midwife, who is out of town, so she sends someone she trusts, a midwife named Eva (Molly Parker). She gives birth, but things are not what they seem. Sean and Martha lose the baby and Martha gives birth.

The rest of the movie is the raw fallout of such an event. The decisions to several events come up that Martha must face. Martha wants to give the baby's body to science, her mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) wants to properly bury the child. There is a trial to see Eva intentionally had the baby killed, and whether Martha will go through with it for compensation. Martha and Sean are not married and their relationship is tested mightly afterward. And just the sadness that comes with losing a child that young. All of these things come to ahead by the end of the movie and the result is a devastating character piece and what we do when we are faced with impossible situations and what we really want from ourselves afterward.

The cast all around is just amazing. I think Vanessa Kirby could be nominated for an Oscar for her work here. While I liked her very much in the recent "Mission: Impossible" movies, she really upgrades as a performer and she delivers a profound performance. Shia LaBeouf, as I've said before, is beginning to build a great recent filmography and he has grown much as an actor. You can say this or that about his wild personal life, but its clear that when he's on set he has a laser focus. He is creating an amazing chorus line of memorable characters and I hope that streak continues. Ellen Burstyn is, as always, delectable. There's even some unexpectedly great supporting work here. Benny Safdie, co-director of "Uncut Gems" and "Good Time," does good work here. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger is great, yes Iliza Shlesinger does some really, really good work here. The women in this movie are so deglamorized, playing raw humans instead of typical Hollywood characters that I was taken aback by the power of their performance.

In just the last few years, movies have been doing a really good job of tapping into the power of grief in movies. "She Dies Tomorrow" was a movie from last year that ended up on my Top 20 of 2020 list, a movie that is very much about the way grief works like an infection that we can't shake. Grief is powerful and even personally this year I've learned just how powerful grief truly is. It's a horrible motherfucker and what I've been blown away by is how elegantly grief is portrayed here and how you can tell a depressing story and still get something worthwhile out of it. "Pieces of A Woman" destroyed me, but through the darkness was came something joyous.

FINAL GRADE: A

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

My 2020 TV Mash-up

As I said in my original post, I made a supercut of 2020 in film. I also afterward made a supercut of 2020 TV. I am still at work writing up my year end list for television and there was plenty to talk about as far as films are concerned for 2020. But before we get into that, here is a supercut I did of 2020 TV.

my 2020 movie mash-up

 Hey everybody,

For the first few months of 2020, I was absorbed on YouTube watching several mash up videos of the 2010's decade. There are a lot of these mash ups or supercuts on YouTube that I thought were really well done. I began following many of the people who made them and they made all sorts of other supercuts as the year progressed. I thought to myself, you know that looks like a lot of fun. So I decided to give it a try myself.

I started small, and I created a 2020 movie mash-up. Most of these I saw. But some I did not see, but I hope you enjoy what I created.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020: Year In Movies (PART TWO)

 Not going to spend too much time on a preamble now, I think I exhausted that all in my first piece. The first half of my look back of 2020 was yesterday. Where I am writing about the 20 films from 2020 that spoke to me deepest and stuck with me the most-est! Here’s the next twenty films!

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

If you gave me test on “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” right this moment, I think I’d probably fail. That’s always been the beauty of a Charlie Kaufman movie. You definitely feel his movies as they are unfolding, instead of just watching a standard story play out in front of you. He makes dense movies full of surrealism, so even if you may not know what “Being John Malkovitch” or “Adaptation.” Or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Anomalisa” right away, but its hard to argue that they do seem to stick with you in a way, even if I love some of those movies more than others on that list. Through all the surreal passages through Kaufman’s films, he still gets down to the meat and bones of who we are as people and what we want and need from this world.

Underneath it all, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a movie about love, loss and life. The things most precious to us all and how the people we run into in our lives affect us for good and bad. At least, I think that’s what its about. It’s got a slue of wonderful actors, including Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis and a great lead performance by Jessie Buckley, who made quite the impression this year with this movie coupled with Fargo Season 4. No matter what you think of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” in the end, I’ll be hard-pressed not to believe that moments or images in this movie will linger for many weeks to come, it certainly had an impression on me.

She Dies Tomorrow (Hulu)

If any two movies could be perfectly paired together for a double-feature on this list, look at “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” along with this. “She Dies Tomorrow” was directed by Amy Seimetz, who has done pretty well for herself in the independent film scene. She scared the crap out of me with her performance in “The Sacrament” in 2013. The most high profile things you probably saw her in were “Pet Semetary” and “Alien: Covenant.” She’s made a hefty list of short films and other independent works, but she’s definitely levled up as an artist with “She Dies Tomorrow” which ironically features some of her “Sacrament” co-stars, including an incredible lead performance by Kate Lyn Sheil

Grief and pain are two of the toughest feelings we deal with as human beings. Sometimes those two powers can be so overwhelming that they infect those around us. “She Dies Tomorrow” is a movie that deals in the abstract and essentially follows a woman who believes with every fathom of her being that she is going to die the next day. Her fear of death is so powerful and profound that it begins to “infect” others like a sickness. Why you ask? Well, the answer may be clearer than we think. There is much of “She Dies Tomorrow” that is kind of open-ended. But you could interpret it in many ways. Maybe it’s a movie about how we feel fear. How we feel pain? How we recover from addictions? I think Seimetz says much more than we originally think in this profoundly original film.

 

On The Rocks (AppleTV+)

Movies about children estranged from their parents are nothing new to this business. Honestly, a goofy older father estranged from his successful adult daughter and them going on an adventure to see if his daughter’s husband is cheating almost feels like a plot to some kind of Hallmark movie. In the hands of the very talented Sofia Coppola and with the lead roles featuring Rasheeda Jones and Bill Murray, this is the furthest thing from a Hallmark movie you could imagine. Bill Murray may have the same voice and the same charming demeanor, but how he’s able to create completely new characters time after time is rather remarkable.

Part of what makes “On The Rocks” feel so fresh is how relatable it can be to have an estranged parent and how you still have a bond with those people in times of crisis. It’s also a movie that doesn’t end with the easy “Hollywood Ending” and that there is a bit more to it then just what you’d be expecting. More than any other time, I commend and reward the unexpected.

 

The Painter and The Thief (Hulu)

Barbora Kysilkova is a real Czech artist. Not a artist as in someone who makes movies, but a legit artist who has made some amazing paintings and does well for herself in her country. Karl Bertil-Nordland is a man who stole two of Barbora’s paintings. “The Painter and The Thief” is a documentary about the unlikely friendship Barbora strikes up with Karl. Weird, right? Here in America, we probably wouldn’t go anywhere near someone who tried to steal our stuff. In fact, we’d probably try to shoot them instead of trying to be their friend, right?


I was completely surprised and blown away by this layered story. It pulls you in unexpectedly and the pacing is perfect. I love the compassion she shows him. He begins for the first time to have someone that doesn't abandon him because he's so tortured. It's uncertain for a while whether he'll see her for the gift she is as he slowly realizes how much they have in common. I really enjoyed how this was shot and feel as if all was natural.
 


My Darling Vivian (VOD)
Great documentaries can sometimes change your entire view on a subject, a business, an individual. Vivian Cash, the wife of Johnny Cash has always been someone who was shrouded in mystery. She has always been made to look a certain way in the public eye. She’s always been the woman who left the legend Johnny Cash. How could she? How dare she? How could anyone begin to even think about leaving a life with such a legend of music? That’s at least what we tell ourselves. We usually have a hard time fathoming, even though this is nothing new, our celebrities let us down all the time and somehow we are always shocked by their behavior.
 
A first rate, detailed history of Vivian and John from their first meeting and their wedding to when the Good Lord called this precious woman home. Without the presence of Roseanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara with their stories, memories and vivid explanations, the film would not of have been as it was meant to be. The story is as much about those four beautiful ladies as it is about their Mother. Their life, their parents, their struggles and the pressures that they endured during this time in their life are at times heartbreaking, lovable, comical and shows the enormous strength that they inherited from their Mother and Father as both Vivian and John had a great and enormous amount of strength and endurance in their lives. If you are a fan or if you are not, this is a must see film as it deals with family and personal issues that are prevalent in today's society.
 

The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix)
No matter who you are. No matter how old you are. No matter where you are in life currently. No matter how much money you have in your bank account. You should never, ever stop giving up on your dreams. If we never took risks in life, we wouldn’t have artists, we wouldn’t have politians, we wouldn’t have business people. Risk is part of the equation of success, and sometimes success takes quite a long time to reach some of us. So does that make it okay to give up after a while?
 
A recent hit at this year’s Sundance Festival finds its way to Netflix. Written, directed & starring Radha Blank, Blank plays herself (maybe since she shares the same name), a woman who was hot a decade ago as a playwright to watch but now on the cusp of the big 4 - 0, she finds herself in a bit of an artistic quandary (she’s teaching writing to a motley crew of high school students, she wants to get a play going but is torn between choosing an established producer who she may have to compromise her vision to or another backer who she doesn’t particularly like). Wrapped up in this mess is her school era bestie (a gay man who she helped along during those cruel times back in the day), who has complete faith in her vision & talent but feels she made have to bend a little to get things done but then she hears of a hot producer in Brooklyn known for his sick beats which inspires her to possibly put out a mix tape (she use to be quite the rapper once upon a time) so she puts pen to paper & makes her way to the DJ’s spot & they’re both surprised to see that she has something to say. Shot confidently in black & white (reminiscent of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It) without healthy length that gives even the side characters their own space to shine, this is a winner from head to toe without talent that hopefully will not get lost in the mix in the years to come. I'm talking to you Darnell Martin.


Mank (Netflix)
David Fincher has a long list of classics he has made over the years. Gary Oldman is a veteran actor who seemingly does absolutely no wrong. Together, with a script about old Hollywood co-written by David Fincher’s own father, who was never a screenwriter to my knowledge, good things can come from this work. And not just nostalgia.
 
Mank is a biographical drama about Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane (1941). The movie revolves around how Herman developed his script in the happenings and circumstances during that time. Rather than discussing the entire plot of this movie, I would really suggest you all to watch Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles to really understand the motive of Mank in a better way. Talking about the other aspects of the film, Fincher has masterfully made a nostalgic film which revels in grey and is spiteful. It is a technically astounding movie. Each shot is perfectly captured and intelligently directed. The recreation of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood is done brilliantly, its timeless and authentic. Fincher’s structuring of the ‘present’ and the ‘flashbacks’ gives a bold and race like effect. The filming techniques, production design and the musical score are all worth the appreciation. As the opening score of Mank is similar to the Citizen Kane’s score, it gives you the same exact feeling and keeps you hooked.
 
First Cow (VOD)
A24 is seemingly unstoppable at this point.
 
A slow but smoothly moving ahead of a movie with a minimum of sound depicting very realistically the surroundings of a still wild Oregon state territory in 1820 of the early white settlers when the indigenous tribes also had a sizable presence. The whole story is of two men (a baker from Boston & a "chinaman" entrepreneur) as a flashback of someone in the present day discovering their side-by-side skeletons buried shallowly in the ground. The film then goes back to how they met and helped each other and their transitory phase of earning some money illegitimately by means of the first milk-giving cow brought into the area.
 

Boys State (AppleTV+)
You know why politics is so wacky in this country. Because we are bringing our youth up in the wackiness while they are young, while their minds are still rubber. “Boys State” is about an annual competition to hone your political skills, to help pave a future for the future politicians of the world. What really shouldn’t be surprising is how a fun competition at a politics-style summer camp goes to real life in a hurry. And just how damaging it can be to the boys as a result.
 
Excellent documentary. Interesting to see how some of the boys assert themselves as leaders and what draws other boys to follow them, how the boys grow themselves and as a group, how they respond to the fast-paced challenge that they face. Raw creation of politics from nothing to achieving elected leaders.
 

Charm City Kings (HBOmax)
Based upon people I’ve talked to, this movie was very realistic as far as what really goes on in urban societies. You have a smart teenager who has talent and the potential to make something of himself but he is pulled into the streets due to certain circumstances. It is a very disheartening thing to see when you have someone with so much potential go the wrong way because of obstacles out of their control. You see it all the time; a group of friends who grow apart only because of the environment they face and the choices they are forced to make. I would definitely recommend this movie especially for someone who is not familiar with this type of environment. There are people in this country whose stories need to get heard. Only then will people understand.
 
This moving drama allows strong Black men to be both tough and vulnerable, and it offers space for disenfranchised inner-city kids to be innocent, wild, and free. It provides a non-judgemental glimpse into the real lives of Black kids, letting them make mistakes and have flaws, yet giving them the opportunity to decide to start over as seen most clearly in the character of Mouse, played with great subtlety and nuance by Winston. “Charm City Kings” is a candid look at the subculture of Black riding crews, showing how the freedom that accompanies "riding free"/without inhibition helps those who often feel trapped by systemic oppression. The film captures the softer side of the inner city in an empathetic way. Many of its nuances are intended for voices too often left out of mainstream narratives. Though not perfect, Kings deliberately serves as a form of agency for marginalized voices.
 
And if that’s not enough for you; you could check out any of these other good movies that made the year memorable. 2020 may have been a tough year, but its great so many great aritsts stepped up to the plate to allow us some escapism.
 

Affurmative Action
Bill and Ted Face The Music
Bird of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Blocks
Dick Johnson is Dead
Freaky
Love & Monsters
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Miss Americana
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Palm Springs
Shirley
The Invisible Man
The Way Back
What Would Jack Do?
Wolfwalkers
Wonder Woman 1984
 
Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020: Year In Movies (PART ONE)

2020 has finished and the understatement of the year would be to say how weird the year has been.

 It was a year of turmoil and turbulence, a year where everyone in the country was tested at the same time, and it was the type of test where your teacher made different copies so you couldn’t cheat. The COVID-19 pandemic through a wrench in everyone’s life, as well as everyone’s plans for the year. Vacations, weddings, and parties were swiftly swept under the rug with fast precision. Of course, that didn’t stop everyone from doing the things they wanted to do, we all just had to have patience and also get creative. It also didn’t stop a summer of racial strife from occurring, where many took to the streets, begging for justice. Oh, and also, a bird pulled a shark out of the ocean. Yep, that’s the type of year 2020 was.

 It was a good year to sit in front of your TV. With people out of work, there wasn’t too much to do in quarantine, and the studios stepped up to challenge to entertain us, while they also pulled all major releases from the schedules since movie theaters closed and they wanted those films to have a shot getting the “Theater Money.” Gone was the idea of seeing movies like “Dune,” “Coming 2 America” and The Next Big Marvel Movie in a movie theater, many of those films got pushed back to 2021, which will no doubt be a year that breaks records due to the sheer number of new releases. The biggest story was definitely the war for releasing “Tenet” in a theater. How it was going to be the movie that saved movie theaters. And how Christopher Nolan’s film HAD TO BE RELEASED IN A MOVIE THEATER BECAUSE IT’S A CHRISTOPHER NOLAN FILM AND THAT’S THAT. I could easily write an entire piece on Nolan and how 2020 treated him personally, but that will all be for another time. 

Streaming services shined bright this year. Some new releases ended up on these services, Video On Demand shined for movies this year. HBO made some of their content free for a month. Pieces of the South By Southwest Film Festival were shown on Amazon Prime for a week and a half. You may have been bummed to not see some Hollywood blockbusters on an Imax screen this year, but the studios definitely gave us things to watch, and new content to soak up. Because the major releases got pushed back a year, 2020 paved the way for several not-so-likely movies to the forefront. It was the year of the indie in a big way. A year where intellectual property didn’t rule every conversation, and honestly, I feel we were richer for it. The modern blockbuster is fun, it certainly has its place in anyone’s cinematic diet, and I’ve definitely put those types of films in my year-end lists. With that said, I think IP has made the industry lazy. 

 When I published my 100 Best of the Decade List this time last year, I complained about the state of movies by 2019. Last decade was essentially a decade of well-funded fan-fiction. Every studio gathered up every bit of nostalgic IP and tried to make something out of it. At the beginning of 2020, it looked like the year was going to be more of the same. When the pandemic hit, and the big franchise movies were getting taken off the calendar, I figured it would motivate the studios to try other things, to take risks again.

 Sadly, that isn’t the case. It’s going to be business as usual circa 2021, whether this pandemic ends or not. Sure, I get excited for new Star Wars. But when Disney announces that they are going release 10 nostalgic-based shows in the Star Wars universe, that’s not as exciting to me. When Sony announces that they are going to look to their Playstation gaming rights for inspiration for franchises, that’s not exciting to me. A “Space Jam 2” that has zero to do with aliens or space, but will feature every character WB owns isn’t exciting to me. Please don’t get me started on a Buzz Lightyear movie “about the character that inspired the action figure.” Come on, that sounds like an inside joke that got out of control.

 The year 2020 was interesting to me because so much of it felt fresh. The new, provocative takes were the things that got pushed in our faces. Sure, we got a sequel here, an adaptation there, but it didn’t overwhelm the market this year. As a movie-lover, I’ll give everything a try, but when I will always admire the new. I appreciate stories that feature a beginning, a middle and an end. I crave things I haven’t seen before, even if it doesn’t always work. I can say with honesty that it was exactly what you got in 2020 if you went looking. 

Because it has been a weird year, this will be a weird list. I have twenty movies below. I will not rank them; I will not tell you which movie I love most. This is simply a list of the twenty movies that meant the most to me. The twenty movies from 2020 that I think you should see the most. These are the twenty movies from 2020 I will definitely watch the most. They are also the movies in which I will gladly sit down with anyone and watch anywhere, no matter what mood I’m in. That’s what a great movie can do for you, and even though it felt like nothing came out this year, plenty came out. I saw 150+ movies from 2020, so plenty came out, and pretty much all of it was at your fingertips. So, as I list the movies, I will also list the streaming services in which you can find these movies. They deserve your attention. 

Alright, I think I’ve kept you waiting long enough. Let’s dive in! 

The Trial of the Chicago Seven (Netflix) 
When a movie packs several A-Listers and recognizable actors, sometimes it can feel more like an actor runway show instead of an actual movie. Looking at the cast of “The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” you will surely recognize Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, and Frank Langella. Pretty strong cast so far, huh? Well, Michael Keaton cameos. Then we also have Jeremy Strong (Hey, isn’t he that one guy from “Succession?!”) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Hey, wasn’t that guy in that one episode of “Black Mirror?!”) John Carroll Lynch (Hey, wasn’t he the husband in “Fargo?”) and J.C. MacKenzie (Hey, I know I know him from somewhere!) Sometimes that much star power can be a distraction. Sometimes throwing a bunch of stars at a movie doesn’t help, in fact it can mean danger in some instances (We all remember “Rat Race,” right?) Maybe that’s why so many studios have turned to brands, because actors themselves maybe don’t sell like they use to. No matter who you do or don’t cast in your movie, one thing is paramount. You have GOT to have a story worth telling. 

 The story of the Chicago Seven is not only a story worth telling, its something that is shockingly relevant by today’s standards. According to the film, there is no way you could call that trial “fair” at all. The law system failed these men by stacking the deck against what could and could not be heard by the jury. Kind of like what media in general does. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, Americans have a bad habit of listening to people because they think what they say sounds good. Or maybe we listen to people who like the same politics we do or some other superficial level. Instead of questioning everything and doubling back on sources. Even though many claims to be “woke” or “in the know,” we don’t tend to question things as much as we probably should. Which is why “The Trial of the Chicago Seven” is so important. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, it’s extremely well-acted. 

 Da Five Bloods (Netflix)
 When someone like Spike Lee has been making movies for as long as he has, and is as acclaimed as he is, can it truly be possible to have Best Film? Personally, its hard for me to determine. With auteurs like Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino…thinking about their filmographies as a whole, I don’t know what I’d give top honors to. It’s easier to point at a Best Film by a director when their career is a little rockier, but when someone who has been on their game for as long as Spike Lee has? The question of coming up with their Best Film is hard for me. Especially when Lee just recently blew me away with “BlackKklansman,” which was only 2018. Some have already said that “Da Five Bloods” is Spike Lee’s best film. That’s certainly their prerogative. 

I honestly don’t know if “Da Five Bloods” is Spike Lee’s best film personally, but I can tell why people are so smitten with it. For the first time in his career, he’s very subtle about how critique of America in this new movie. Usually, Spike Lee holds no punches when doing his dissection of our country. But how he still makes his points in such a subtle way may feel rather sophisticated for Lee. He still packs a massively incredible ensemble of actors. I would hope Delroy Lindo gets nominated for his work in this movie for this years’ Oscars. I never hold my breath because The Academy makes mistakes on an annual basis, but I hope he gets nominated. He’s phenomenal here. Not only does Lindo shine here, but the film features one of the last, great performances by Chadwick Boseman, an actor I know I am going to miss terribly as the years roll on. But the neatest stuff is how Lee does more here than just his regular dissection of our fine country. He explores themes of friendship and setting old wrongs right that I just had to get up and applaud. I will have to re-watch the rest of his library before I crown this the greatest of Spike Lee’s joints, but it will certainly rank high on my list and he’s proven once again why he’s such an important voice in our film culture. 

 The King of Staten Island (VOD) 
I’ve begun to wonder if there is some kind of science to when an actor levels up as a performer. I know just as many people who hate Pete Davidson as people who love him. Me? I guess I’ve been a fan. There’s actually a list of actors I downright don’t find talented at all, it’s a surprisingly small list. He’s fine, but I don’t watch SNL nearly as often as I did growing up. I saw “Big Time Adolescence” earlier this year which was good. But I’ve waiting for Pete Davidson to blow me away now for a bit. Perhaps it was the always reliable direction by Judd Apatow. Maybe it was knowing in the back of my mind that there was a little truth to the story being told. Maybe it was a combination of different things that rolled into the magic trick of bringing any movie to life. Who knows? The big takeaway here is that Pete Davidson shines in a way here that I had simply never seen before. 

 Not only is “The King of Staten Island entertaining and funny, but actually very revealing. While Pete Davidson’s character Scott lost his firefighter father to a hotel fire, Davidson’s real father was also a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11. Davidson has also had his own battles with mental illness. Not only is Davidson performing here, he’s baring his soul in this film. Anytime an actor is that willing to get that personal with you, it’s an act of shear art. If you don’t need to know the behind-the-scenes facts of all your movies, that’s okay too. “The King of Staten Island” is filled with big laughs and meaningful moments and a brilliant performance by an actor who has officially leveled up as a performer. 

The Hunt (VOD) 
After Decision 2020, I feel like “The Hunt” just got a tad more relevant. Right now, we are in the middle of a second American Civil War. Sure, nobody is shooting and nobody is dying. It isn’t a hot Civil War, but I’d argue that its definitely a cold Civil War. We are battling it out for the soul of our nation right now. The funny thing is, if everyone stopped arguing, took a deep breath, listened to each other, and stopped trying to be right all the time, we’d be able to sort through our problems with a massive amount of ease. But it’s better to trust our gut then to trust other people. That’s the American way, isn’t it? 

“The Hunt” was originally slated to be a 2019 release. But President Donald Trump heard a supposed synopsis. He took what he heard “The Hunt” was about and he ran with it. His base believed him, because of course they did. A “controversy” was formed out of nothing. The studio panicked, and it was shelved for a year. I don’t remember Trump’s exact words, and I am not going to waste time looking them up right now, but essentially, he boiled “The Hunt” down to being a movie about a group of rich, snobbish Liberals who kidnapped Conservatives to kill them. Funny, how you can have an entire movie figured out after a short, vague trailer. What’s extra comical is how Trump’s behavior that led to “The Hunt” being shelved for a year is the exact thing director Craig Zobel is making fun of in his film. So many Americans in this country, despite political affiliations, are reactionary dummies. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but it’s the truth. We take “truth” from people simply because we like them, or they think like us, and doesn’t matter at the end of the day what the truth is. “The Hunt” is a prank. It’s a movie that’s fucking with you. It is very much the 2020 update of “Team America: World Police.” We are nuts when it comes to our politics, and Zobel simply held a mirror to us when we are at our worst, which we’ve been since 2016. 

 You may not like the joke, but it is indeed, a joke.

 Host (Shudder) 
One of my favorite things I did this year was take a chance on the streaming service Shudder. It’s simply a wonderful service and a must-have for any and all horror fans out there. A streaming app that specializes in horror and thrillers, for an annual price which equates to under $5 a month, what kind of horror fan could resist. The thing is, they’ve made some pretty good Shudder Originals of their own. “Cursed Films” was a great docu-series that explored the making of some of the best horror films, movies that may or may not be really haunted while being made. Then there was “Host,” the first film which tackled COVID-19 anxiety dead-on. Even thought he recent “Songbird,” is being advertised as the first COVID movie, that’s a load of malarky. “Host” was first and “Host” was amazing, while “Songbird” was dumb on arrival. 

 A group of girlfriends all get together on a Zoom call, since they are in the midst of the pandemic and they literally have nothing better to do. This isn’t an ordinary Zoom call of course, because one of the friends has invited a Medium in order to perform a séance so the friends can talk to the dead. Like horror movies usually go, things don’t go so well. Primarily, because one of the friends doesn’t take the séance seriously. “Host” at first glance, may feel like a horror film simply cashing in on a momentary gimmick (yep, the vaccines are going to our great heroes right now, this is a momentary gimmick). But as I’ve enjoyed repeat viewings of the film, it’s also a striking commentary on how individuals have treated the COVID-19 pandemic. Who knew it really had so much to say? It’s just under an hour, so it’s a tight little movie. But any film that has THREE shocking jump scares that get me EVERY TIME I WATCH IT is definitely a horror film worth a look. 

 Soul (Disney+) 
Do you know why I fell in love with Pixar? Growing up, even at such a young age (I was five when I saw “Toy Story” in theaters with my mom and brother) I had fallen in love with my first studio. As the years wore on, I enjoyed every movie Pixar made. They made actual family films. When we think of a family film today, we think of any animated movie that is actually designed for kids while the adults kill some time in the theater after a hard day at the office. Movie theaters are nervous about their futures due to COVID-19, and one of their excuses for their demise is supposedly “kids.” The actual problem is that studios have now decided to think inside the box when coming up with family films, and that sadly includes Pixar. (Up until I saw Soul, of course!) Remember when Pixar movies had provocative stories that weren’t so on-the-nose simply because they were animated? Remember when they used to sneak a little adult humor here and there in their movies? Pixar used to feel like a studio that was constantly trying to outdo itself. Until they got lazy and started playing the sequel game, and in recent years it became just any other film studio. 

 With all that said, “Soul” feels like a miracle. It’s the best Pixar movie in years, simply because it feels like classic Pixar. This is a movie that is made for every member of the family. This is a piece of visual wonder mixed with a story that is moving, surprising, entertaining and very, very funny. This is probably my vote for one the funniest of the Pixar films because I don’t remember laughing this often at the other movies from this studio. It may follow the typical Pixar template, two complete opposites going on an adventure together, the look of the visuals is breathtaking. It creates a strange yet lived in world. Most of all, Pixar has returned to form in a big way, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s to them sticking to this plan for many years to come. 

 Possessor (VOD)
 “Possessor” was everything I was hoping “Tenet” would be. Sure, Christopher Nolan never makes boring movies. I’ve loved plenty of movies from him in the past and I’m sure I will again. There’s even plenty to love about “Tenet.” The thing is, “Tenet” felt like a bunch of ideas without a movie to actually support them. For the first time in Christopher Nolan’s career, it seemed like he finally made the movie his dissenters claim he makes each time he’s got a new film in release. “Possessor” is the brilliant, bizarre cerebral thriller of 2020. A movie that pretty much sums up the year nicely. “Possessor” is a movie that revolves around an organization of assassins who possess other people’s bodies in order to get close to targets, also without jeopardizing their freedom. Using the technology necessary to complete these tasks begins to take a toll on one assassin in particular. Not just physically but mentally. 

“Possessor” was directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the son of acclaimed filmmaker David Cronenberg. You’ve probably seen a David Cronenberg movie even if you don’t recognize the name. They are pretty unforgettable and probably make you feel a certain way about your body and/or humanity, sometimes even both. I mean the remake of “The Fly?” “Scanners?” “Naked Lunch?” “Videodrome?” These aren’t experiences you forget even if you tried. Looking at “Possessor,” its clear that Brandon is definitely his father’s son. But “Possessor” is also a piece of art that stands on its own. Brandon clearly has his own unique voice, and he’s curating his own brand of talent. I hope it’s a voice and a talent that I can enjoy for many years to come. 

 Beastie Boys Story (AppleTV+) 
Even if you don’t like rap, even if you’ve never heard a single piece of their music, there is no denying the raw power when people sit down and give you a complete defense about their lives. Musical biopics are easy. At least, Hollywood makes it seem like they are very easy. I wouldn’t claim that the people behind and in front of the camera work very hard to make movies like “Ray” or “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but they all seem so alike that musical biopics feel like they are built from a kit. While “Rocketman” from 2019 felt like a breath of fresh air, it still doesn’t change the fact that it kind of feels like a fluke when you look at all the ocean of musical biopics in the world. They all seem the same. 

 So it feels really flesh, and almost like punk rock to have Ad-Rock and Mike D sit down and go over their entire career in front of a live audience. While a big screen in the back showcases their music, their videos, their interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the band. Even as far as documentaries go, its pretty unconventional in terms of direction and feel. “Beastie Boys Story” feels like one of the comedy specials on your favorite streaming service. But the truth is, again, I have to use that R word. The movie is such a raw and real portrait of a band that its hard to shake off after you’ve watched it. Maybe Ad-Rock and Mike D are just great storytellers, but movies are just a form of storytelling. How you tell your story absolutely matters and for these guys to give such an unhinged portrait of themselves is probably some of the most brutal honesty of the entire year. 

 Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime) 
I don’t know how many of you watch award shows like I do. Some of you probably don’t understand while there are so many awards are “silly categories.” It seems like all the awards most people really care about are the those for actors, those for directors and Best Picture. Maybe a few nerds out there care about costumes or visuals or writing. I find value in awarding it all. Movies are magic tricks, it’s a miracle if any movie, any year really comes together. A director has to surround himself with people they trust, because a director sometimes isn’t in charge of every little thing. The actors usually shoot scenes out of order. You got to have the right costumes, the right locations, the right lighting. If you are dealing with a movie with special effects, that becomes even more of chore. That’s why the credits at the end of a movie are so long. It takes a whole village of people, each bringing their own skill and their task to the table in order to get the thing right.

 If you ever needed a great reason as to why we give awards to people who do the sound design for the movies, look no further than “Sound of Metal.” I haven’t looked up the team behind the sound for “Sound of Metal,” but I am confident that they should win all the awards this year for their work on this movie. It’s a film about a drummer (Riz Ahmed) for a metal band who slowly begins to lose his hearing, which puts his entire job in limbo. He goes on a personal odyssey in order to help himself to hear again and the whole movie feels like what it must be like being deaf. Sure, part of the charm of the movie is in the way its directed and Ahmed gives a great performance. But the sound effects kind of drive the whole thing home. It’s definitely not the only reason to see the movie, but a detail that I found quite profound. 

 Borat Subsequent MovieFilm (Amazon Prime) 
2020 was definitely a year full of surprises and there was no surprise more delightful than how much I enjoyed the triumphant return of Borat. This might shock some of you, but the first Borat from 2006 was just okay? I wasn’t always the biggest Sacha Baron Cohen fan, he definitely has a style that I had to get used to over the years. Or maybe he refined his voice in recent years that I finally get what he was trying for all these years. I thought his Showtime series “Who Is America?” was a wicked bit of dark humor and I wish badly we got more than a season of Cohen’s questionable American madness.

 Or maybe Borat just works better in 2020? Who knows! I do know that Cohen slandered our culture to the point that I was laughing so hard I hurt. Maybe Cohen helped himself by giving his movie more of a wrap around story this time. How the whole movie ties into Borat being a better father to his daughter, played by Maria Bakalova, its something that I felt very hard this year. It’s easy to make a cultural, social or political screed. It’s easy to throw them all together. But what makes the sequel to Borat stick out so much is how it tells a riveting story about family while also hitting the rest of its targets. No easy feat that, which is why I will commend Cohen for his work. 

 Here’s the first half of the list, the second is coming right up!