Bright Spots: The Best Movies of 2020



Article written by:CMTomlin
Listen, I don't know if anyone's mentioned this to you, or made a meme about it, or tweeted incessantly about it, or said it to you on Facebook or the phone or over FaceTime or by text -- but this year has been terrible. Like, "one of the worst of all of our lives" terrible. Being cooped up in our homes for months in 2020 made us all forced introverts, but it wasn't all bad in terms of media consumption. And with some sound movies already in the can, we were still able to get a decent -- if smaller than usual -- feed of films to keep us occupied while the world crumbled. Here were some of my own favorites this year (your results may vary, though I encourage you to add your own recommendations in the comments). Freaky Vince Vaughn's Vice Versa-esque body-swap-slasher flick sounded great in premise, and worked just as well in execution. It's both a highly entertaining slasher movie throwback AND a great opportunity for the Wedding Crashers star to chew scenery. A cursed dagger forces the soul-switching of a serial killer and a sixteen year-old girl, allowing Vaughn to spend the bulk of the film channeling a high schooler -- which is already a great idea, made even better when you see his commitment to the bit. (Available on VOD) Trial of the Chicago 7 Once you get past Sascha Baron Cohen's inexplicably New England(?) accent, Sorkin's courtroom drama about a collection of protesting miscreants hauled in and charged with inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention plays out just as snappy and well-written as you'd hope. Historians have debated his take on things, but it doesn't take away from the film's crafty ensemble, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Frank Langella, among others. I put this one off for a long time thinking I "wasn't in the mood for something like this," and when I finally watched it I realized it's a different animal than I thought it would be. You might, too. (Available on Netflix) Minari The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun anchors this mostly-Korean language film about a poor Asian family who purchases a plot of land in Arkansas in hopes of turning it into the family farm that will realize their promised-land potential. At turns funny, tragic and heartwarming, it's a stellar depiction of the attempt at the "American dream" and my favorite movie of the year. (released at Sundance in January, nationwide in February 2021) Palm Springs While I'd argue that the Lonely Island team's Palm Springs doesn't completely reinvent the "we're stuck in a time loop" trope, as some critics would argue, it tweaks it enough to be a lot of fun. Andy Samberg plays a wedding guest stuck reliving the same desert resort day over and over again, so much so that life's lost all meaning -- until another guest finds herself in the same loop. Truth be told, Palm Springs -- of all the movies on this list -- best benefitted from "lockdown culture," where many of us similarly felt like we were living the same day repeatedly. (Available on Hulu) The Beastie Boys Story This one's going to really depend on your affinity for the Beastie Boys. I'm a lifelong fan, so the Apple+ documentary featuring a Ted Talk-like presentation by Mike D and Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) was right up my alley. The guys have a great take on things, self-effacing and funny about the trio's rise to rap power in the 80's and 90's, and the film especially herald's the musical genius and untimely death of third member Adam Yauch (MCA). Bright, fun and a great scrapbook of a musical career. (Available on Apple+) Class Action Park The documentary retelling of an infamously dangerous real-life "theme park" in New Jersey in the early eighties is both hypnotically horrifying and extremely funny, with commentary from those who lived through the era (including Jimmy Kimmel, Johnny Knoxville and Chris Gethard). It's a quick watch and never dull, and has the good sense to celebrate the terrifying threat of some very poorly-thought out "rides," point out the lawlessness of the early eighties for kids and impart the dark repercussions suffered by some. (Available on HBO Max) Da 5 Bloods Spike Lee is a puzzling filmmaker to me; he's generally a two-meh/one-good director. But when he's good, man is he good. The biggest compliment to Da 5 Bloods -- a tale of four veterans who return to modern day Viet Nam to find the remains of their squad leader and a lost treasure -- is that it's a film that demands you watch it. In a turbulent year, it's a film that in many ways reflected the urgency of confrontation, and for that it truly belongs on the slate in 2020. (Available on Netflix) The Gentlemen Love Guy Ritchie but wish these days he was less Aladdin and more Snatch? Then by all means enjoy The Gentlemen, which features Matthew McConaughey as an American with an underground network of marijuana farms in rural England and a rogue's gallery of criminals who want to take it from him. In true, old school Ritchie style, double-crossers and would-be blackmailers all comically cross paths in route to the grand conclusion. Consider this one a solid Saturday night rental with a couple of bourbons. (Available on VOD or Showtime Anytime) Borat Subsequent Moviefilm If you were going to watch this movie, you've already watched it by now. If you haven't, you should definitely watch the original first -- but know that if you're just a political animal curious about the tie-ins to current events (cough cough, Rudolph Giuliani) you can enjoy it without the complete backstory. It's worth it just to see the chops of Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, who steals the movie right out from under Cohen. Plus, a scene where Cohen and Bakalova visit an anti-abortion clinic involving the baby figurine from a king cake is among the hardest I've laughed all year. (Available on Amazon Prime) 1BR Horror fans might be surprised by the potency of the slight but effective 1BR, in which a young woman moves into an L.A. apartment complex and finds it has a nefarious undercurrent. I'm not going to tell you too much about what happens, because that would ruin a lot of the intrigue, but I will warn you not to be put off by the clear low-budgetness of the production (and it IS low-budget) -- you'd be selling yourself short on a pretty decently M. Night Shyamalan-esque story.  (Available on Netflix) The Fight A documentary focusing on the daily struggles of ACLU lawyers could be enraging and bleak; instead, The Fight exists as an underdog story following four separate cases being tried by the organization's attorneys. While that may sound heavyhanded, it never is thanks to the personalities of the film's lawyer subjects, nearly all of them easily to root for, funny and quick-witted. You won't know the outcomes of their cases until the film's third act, but watching the process makes for an informative and enjoyable time. (Available on VOD, but only for ninety-nine cents) Soul One of the greatest reasons to watch Pixar's Soul is the music. Another is the great voice acting from Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. Another is the fact that the animation blends real-looking streets of New York with esoteric, art-infused conceptual animation. And the BEST is that if you've seen the trailer you actually haven't seen a great deal of the film, nor really know the true premise. If you think this is simply an Inside Out-style tearjerker meant to pry itself into your heart and pull your strings you're both right and wrong; it will get you misty, but it's never as overt as Inside Out and in a completely different way. Watch it with the family; like, right now. It'll give you a rare good feeling in this otherwise awful year.

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