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)
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.
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.
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.