End of the Year Round Up – Part 1

Although it appeared nothing great came out of 2020, at least movie-wise, appearances can be deceiving, you just have to look. A ton of great films came out in 2020. So far, I’ve seen over 25 films from last year. When we get closer to late-January to mid-February, I’ll post my rankings as I’ll have seen the films I’ve been meaning to.

Some films I’ve already talked about (Tenet, Small Axe) and others I’ve spoken briefly about in other articles (Dick Johnson is Dead), so this’ll be focused on releases that I haven’t spoken on.

Here are a few quick thoughts on some releases (in order of release)

One of the first new films I saw last year was Underwater, starring Kirsten Stewart.

It’s about an underwater research station, after being destroyed by an earthquake, six researchers must navigate the unknown depths of the ocean floor to make it to safety in a race against time.

It’s a decent underwater-monster-survival-horror film, in vain of Alien (1979). Stewart is competent as a Ripley-esque heroine. It’s nothing too exciting and fairly predictable. Surprisingly, the score was fantastic, and easily one of my favorite aspects. The creature designs were fantastic. I also really liked the underwater cinematography. The ending was a very neat surprise as a certain underwater creature of a famous horror writer from Arkham makes an appearance. (3/5)

The film is available to watch on HBO Max and rent on Amazon.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always was another one I saw early in the year, and even then I knew I saw something special. The film is about Autumn, who sneaks out to New York City with her friend after an unintended pregnancy.

Sidney Flanagan in her debut role as Autumn is marvelous. Director Eliza Hittman has a great eye for when moments should be silent. She really lets you absorb the film and mood. As Autumn and her friend journey through the treacherous New York, the film does get very tense.

However, easily the tensest scene in the film takes place in the safest place possible: a doctor’s office. Autumn is asked a series of questions, a scene which invokes the title of the film, and is easily one of the greatest film scenes of the year. The intense realism and naturalism is often overwhelming. If you watch only a handful of films from last year, make sure this is one of them. (5/5)

The film is available to watch on HBO Max and to rent on Amazon.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is really fun. Simple as that. Directed by Cathy Yan, the film is about Harley Quinn, after breaking up with the Joker and being targeted by some of Gotham’s most wanted, makes a deal with Black Mask, a notorious criminal, to search for a little girl in order to save her life, but she soon finds out she’s not the only one after this girl.

I’ve always been more of a DC guy when it came to everything, except for the DCEU. I loathe Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman (2016). The only efforts I’ve enjoyed have been the solo efforts, Shazam! (2019) and Wonder Woman (2017) (I’ll get to the sequel another time), and Birds of Prey ranks among my favorites.

Margot Robbie is great as Harley, she imbues the film and character with the same charism and power as her comic-counterpart. The supporting cast is also great; standouts like Ewan McGregor, who plays the central villain Black Mask and who hams up every scene like there’s no tomorrow, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, and Jurnee Smollett are all fantastic.

Unfortunately, I think the film falls apart in its pacing and structure. It’s constantly cutting back and forth between flashbacks to explain certain things and introduce characters; it really slows the film down and is the central flaw. I do think it’s all worth it as the final fight scene, set to Barracuda by Heart is glorious. (3.5/5)

The film is available to watch on HBO Max.

I’m a big fan of James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) and the original story by H. G. Wells, so I have to say that director Leigh Weighnall’s recent reimagining works well.

After Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life, he leaves her his fortune. But she suspects his death was a hoax and, after an unfortunate and deadly turn of events, she sets out to prove she’s being hunted by an invisible man.

Everyone’s 2nd Favorite Scientologist Elizabeth Moss plays Cecilia, and she really sells the horror of the film. I also really liked the recontextualization of the original story, from one of the dangers of science to that of the survival and aftermath of abuse.

The use of space and the camera is excellent. There are several points throughout the film where the camera shifts and moves around, making it seem like someone is watching our protagonist. It adds to the horror of the situation of a past abuser literally coming back to haunt.

I don’t think it’s a strong as it could’ve been and that some key plot moments felt forced and contrived. Overall, it’s a decently tense horror film with a great lead performance. (3.5/5)

Over the summer, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods came out, and if you haven’t seen it yet.. what are you doing? Go see Da 5 Bloods. The film is about four African American Vietnam veterans, who return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of buried treasure.

But, of course, it’s about so much more. Delroy Lindo play Paul, one of the veterans, in a year-defining performance. His character is a MAGA-hat wearing, ‘don’t tread on me’ spouting old man, yet, despite the hard exterior, on the inside is a broken man suffering and raging from guilt and PTSD. The spirit of the film lies within his character. If I had my bets for Best Actor, it’d be him.

Chadwick Boseman plays Stormin’ Norman, the fallen squad leader mentioned earlier. I cannot emphasize enough how different the film felt before and after his death. His character was already a ghost, who’s presence could be felt through the entire film, and now, the feeling has only amplified.

Spike Lee is one of the great directors. He has an amazing eye for visuals and creative storytelling. His recent efforts still make this idea very clear and present. Some slight pacing issues aside, Da 5 Bloods is one of the year’s bests. (4.5/5)

The film is available to watch on Netflix.

I’ve been a fan of Bill and Ted (both journeys) for a long time, and watching the third installment was a very joyous experience. Bill & Ted Face the Music is about middle-aged Bill and Ted, having yet to fulfill their prophesied destiny and suffering from a failed rock career, must travel through time again to save the world… again.

I really only recommend this to Bill and Ted fans, as if you haven’t seen the other two, you won’t really get this one. (4/5)

The film is available to rent on Amazon.

And that’s the first part of my ‘End of the Year Roundup’! The next half will be posted next week!

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