Thursday, 24 December 2020

2020 in Review: Top 10 Movies

It seems a bit unfair and one-sided to say that no other industry had been hit by the pandemic as hard as the movie industry was this past year, but it sure feels that way right now. Looking back at my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies for 2020, only 4 of those movies managed to get released in theaters, two of which had adopted the hybrid/simultaneously release model that seems might become "the new normal" heading into 2021. That's less than half, with the remaining getting pushed to next year.

There are even some movie pundits that believe the Oscars should be postponed next year, in light of the situation. But to say that we haven't gotten enough quality movies to fill out such a ceremony would be somewhat shortsighted. Not after we've had video-on-demand and streaming platforms come to the rescue of those movies in need of new homes in the absence of theaters. So out of all those movies we did managed to get this year, here are my Top 10 favorite ones.

10. TENET


The movie that was supposed to save theaters ended up barely making a dent at the US box office. None of that was reflective of the quality of TENET though, which had Christopher Nolan's penchant for high-concept science fiction fair. The director once again proved why he remained a visionary, weaving yet another complex tale that required multiple viewings to fully piece together. Unfortunately, it was released at a time that most viewers were already skeptical of going to see it once, not to speak of multiple times. Here's hoping it fares better now that it is out on Blu-Ray.

9. Onward

Released just when the pandemic was starting to take a hold of the larger world, Onward was one of the first films to feel its impact. I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening for the movie before our local cinemas were closed down, and it was a good thing that the theater I saw it in was largely empty, because I was a crying mess of a man that day. The writers at Pixar know how to elicit strong emotional responses from viewers, and I found Onward to be particularly heartfelt and relatable. 

8. Wonder Woman 1984

After going through several delays, Wonder Woman 1984 was finally released in international territories last week. And it was a relatively soft international debut too, according to its lower-than-expected box office results in China. But much like with TENET, this is not a reflection on the movie itself, as the DCEU sequel was packed with enough superhero action and high stakes to satisfy fans. And while it wasn't quite as strong an outing as the previous film, it is definitely worth watching on HBO Max when it gets a simultaneous release with US theaters on Christmas Day.

7. Mank

So I finally got around to seeing Citizen Kane this past year, after hearing nothing but good things about the classic 1941 film for most of my movie-watching years. And boy did it live up to expectations. None of that was in preparation for Mank though, a film I didn't even know was in the works until I caught a trailer for it. So you can imagine my delight when I did. And while the biopic is not quite "the best film since Citizen Kane," it is still one of the better ones we'd gotten this year.

6. His House


While 2020 could be considered its own horror film, there were plenty actual ones released throughout the year. From the stellar The Invisible Man, to the usually January and October duds we seem to get every year. His House was easily my favorite one of all the ones I saw, a film by first-time feature film director, Remi Weekes. His movie masterfully mixes traditional horror film elements with the refugee experience in the UK, and was according by a pair of great performances by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku.

5. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Speaking of great performances, the late Chadwick Boseman had given one of the very best of his career in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film about the real-life blues singer, Gertrude Rainey. Viola Davis stars in the title role, and together the pair had given two of the most Oscar-worthy performances we have gotten this year. Nominations for the ceremony won't be announced until sometime before the ceremony in April, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, we can expect nods for both actors in either of the acting categories.

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7


Another film you can expect to see at next year's Oscars is The Trial of the Chicago 7. The latest film by Aaron Sorkin tells the true-life story of the men that were persecuted for their alleged involvement in inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It marks the acclaimed screenwriter's second outing as a director, and features a strong acting ensemble that includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and others. Despite spending many years in development hell, the film is today heralded by most for the timeliness of its message. 

3. The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie returned to his crime comedy roots this year with the release of The Gentlemen, a movie he'd developed in the spirit of earlier works like Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In the film, Matthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearsons, an American drug dealer trying to get out of the British drug trade after building an empire for himself. The film was one of the funniest I'd seen all year, and it has all the action, fast dialogue and quirky characters that fans have come to expect from such works by the director.

2. Black is King


Beyoncé is no stranger to making visual albums, having released the self-titled Beyoncé and Lemonade in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Black is King is easily her strongest one yet. The film serves as a companion to the music she'd curated for the 2019 remake of The Lion King, and it retells the same story of redemption from that other film, but in a contemporary African setting. It showcases both her flair for stunning visuals and her growing competence as a director, and helped to breathe new life into what was already an awesome collection of songs.

1. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee is one of the few directors today that can be regarded as a true visionary. The acclaimed director had received some considerable Oscar love for his previous film, BlacKkKlansman, so expectations were indeed high for his next project. And that project was of course Da 5 Bloods, a film about a group of Vietnam veterans returning to the country to retrieve some buried treasure.

Released during the height of protests against police brutality in the US, the film proved to be indicative of current world situations. But more than that fact was the captivating performance of Delroy Lindo as a troubled vet dealing with a bad case of PTSD. His acting more than elevated the material. Then there's the director's decision not to de-age the actors in flashbacks, which were shot in 4:3 ratio.

The craftsmanship on display, the strength of the performances, and the timeliness of its message all come together to make Da 5 Bloods my favorite movie for 2020.

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