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Movies of the Year list: Part one

Favorite movies of 2020, best of the rest, dishonorable mentions

Favorite movies of 2020:

This is a list that I should have made, at some point, throughout 2021, but did not. Since 2020 was a year that I did not have the chance to see movies beyond what Netflix or other streaming services available to me had to offer, I decided to wait for the opportunity to catch up on some of those, but after I did there were other more pressing matters. So, long overdue, here are the five movies that I would have included in my 2020 list, had it not been just Netflix stuff; turns out, some of my favorite movies of recent memory released in 2020 and now I get to put them on a list with no particular order besides alphabetical.

It will have been almost a year since I saw 1917 in the theater when this article is published. That feels like longer, but as soon as I saw the title, I didn’t need a refresh or to look up what I felt when I wrote my review; I love this movie. It’s a technical achievement, a novel take in a historic genre, and an emotionally impactful movie that still goes unmatched. Seeing it at home a second time only solidifies that belief; when the speakers are at a normal volume and the screen is not the biggest or has the best resolution, impressively scaled and visually stunning movies usually lose something, but 1917 did not. I grew to appreciate its soundtrack, craft and acting even more, and firmly believe this is one of the best movies that came out in 2020.

Another Round might be the quickest “foreign” movie getting an American remake I’ve ever heard of as it already has a confirmed production; like most American remakes, it doesn’t really need one. It’s one of the best dramedies of recent memory and it has so many beautiful and nuanced parts that I worry how that remake will turn out. Regardless of remakes, Druk deserves a watch and it is a perfect movie to break that pesky barrier of “foreign” cinema for a lot of people; it’s effortlessly easy to connect with the subject matter, the writing, the performances, while the directing and pacing will not disappoint. I hope that when the remake is released, regardless of its quality, people will look up this gem of a movie and love it as much as I do.

Last year’s biggest surprise by a long margin. I had never heard of Palm Springs, only after researching the various movies that came out on streaming during 2020 was I made aware of its existence; even then, Andy Samberg and JK Simmons in the same movie was the thing that convinced me to take a chance with it. What Palm Springs ended being was one of the funniest, smartest, and charmingly emotional comedies of the decade; it’s a freaking rom-com that is not only genuinely hilarious but undeniably effective emotionally as well. Don’t skip this one.

One of those movies that seem to garner extreme reactions to it; either you hate or love it. Usually, regardless of which side I fall into, I can understand the other side as well, just not agree with them; I cannot understand what people dislike about this movie. It’s stylish, has great performances, was written and directed to almost perfection, and delivers a memorable experience. It is “trash-pop art” with appropriately painful covers of early 2000s pop music and is one of the most punk movies to come out recently. I loved it the first time I saw it and subsequent viewings only hardened my belief that it is one of the best movies of 2020.

One of the best premises followed up with stellar execution. Run is about a disabled teenager who is being controlled and overprotected by her mom, but there’s something sinister and off-putting about her that makes her feel she is not getting the whole truth and she intends to find out. One of the tensest thrillers of the year with excellent pacing, Kiera Allen’s breakthrough performance taking center stage alongside Sarah Paulson, beautiful directing and story-telling, all within 90 minutes.

Best of the rest:

2021 has been a relatively weak year in terms of highly impactful or extremely “targeted” movies. As I’ve said before, 2020 had some of my personal favorite movies of recent memory, but 2021 hasn’t lived up to that standard. Instead, it had a lot of good and great movies, and a lot of decent ones. So, I decided to make a list of good and great movies and narrow them down to 10 (that’s for next week), and make a list of decent movies and narrow them down to 5; obviously, some of the cut ones in one list could find their way unto this list, but that’s no fun! So, these are the best of the rest in no particular order besides alphabetical.

  • Copshop

Joe Carnahan is one of the most consistent directors that come to mind. His movies rarely get universal praise and are often lamented as poor, but if you like the style and vision he has, then he has not disappointed yet. Copshop is another movie that solidifies him as a great director of great movies that most people won’t see or won’t appreciate; a stylish, Tarantino-esque thriller, about a rookie cop locked in a police station with a con-man and the assassin, sent in to kill him. Not only does she not know who to trust and begin to make sense of the situation, she now needs to deal with the madmen that are trying to ‘finish the job’ on the conman and get the reward themselves; its silly, over-the-top, with a few neat twists, some great performances from Frank Grillo, Gerald Butler, Alexis Louder, and Toby Huss stealing the spotlight, alongside some good action and writing. It won’t blow people away, yet it’s another great addition to a filmography that keeps getting more diverse and more solid.

James Wan has made some of the best blockbuster/mainstream horror movies of the past decade; from The Conjuring to Insidious that is the type of movie horror fans expect from him. As he began to diversify his filmography with a Fast and Furious entry, as well as Aquaman, his horror franchises kept growing and fans eagerly awaited his return to the genre; the 5-year wait ended this year when Malignant came to theaters and…divided opinions. Some found its b-movie style to be a lame return to the genre; others, like me, quickly got what the movie was going for and went along for the ride. Malignant is a goofy, over-the-top, absurd premise that has no logic, no brakes, and a lot of fun; whether that is an intended homage to b-movies and a great experience of that ilk or a happy coincidence is up to you. For me, there are enough clear signs that the movie knows exactly what it is and even avoids, a lot of the pitfalls similar movies fall into, like going past winking to the audience and laughing alongside them. Regardless, if you understand that this is more about enjoying the moment and allowing yourself to enjoy the ride, Malignant is pretty fun, especially with the right company.

I don’t really care about Marvel or Spiderman; the fact that the new Spiderman movie is on my list should speak volumes to how good it is…for most people. I have been fatigued by Marvel offerings ever since Avengers: Infinity War, not in an “I don’t want to see another Marvel movie again” way, but in an “I’m here for a good time and to whine about the same thing” way. I wanted to see one thing from the movie and it gave me plenty of that, but it was also a good time; I loved the energy of a crowded theater reacting to what was happening and some of its ideas were thoroughly entertaining. In the end, I found it “safe” and I wanted it to be “risky”; it just was not meant for me and that’s fine because I still had a blast going along the ride.

When I originally wrote about this movie, I wasn’t expecting it to end up on any of my lists; not remarkable enough for the ‘favorites’ list, nowhere near bad enough to be on the less favorable lists. Yet, I warmed up to it as time passed; it feels like a movie from a bygone era that is slowly making a comeback through streaming services. Movies that have big stars like Gyllenhaal, passionate and exceptional directors like Antoine Fuqua, but are not trying to reach blockbuster heights or start a new franchise. It’s a remake, so it’s not an original IP, but it is well made, knows exactly what its strengths are, and plays to them in order to deliver a satisfying and entertaining evening for most audiences. With the failure of movies like “The Last Duel”, many have started beating the “streaming/audiences/millennials are destroying X genre of movies”, but, as always, the truth is not as hyperbolic as that, and “The guilty” is a reminder of that; you can have a mid-budget, high concept thriller, and with the right cast and crew, they can be a success. It also brought to my attention “Den Skyldige”, which is the original and – apparently – a superior movie so that should be an even better evening.

  • The harder they fall

One of those movies that I just enjoyed and never really wanted to talk about. Directed and co-written by Jeymes Samuel, starring a star-studded cast including LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Idris Elba, and Jonathan Majors, “The Harder they fall” is a stylish, action-western that is so fun to watch. It has everything needed to have a good time; stylish visuals, direction, sets, and costumes; great performances and good characterization; great and tense action scenes; a decent enough story to allow everything else room to breathe and time to have their moments. As is the theme of this list, it won’t blow you away, but it’s a good movie that delivers a good experience and deserves a viewing. 

Dishonorable mentions:

This year had a lot of movies that I didn’t particularly like, but to my surprise, it had very few examples of movies that I thought were “bad”. Movies like “The Dig” were boring and not that entertaining, but I found the decisions they made to be fascinating and kept me interested and thinking about them. Then, there were movies like “Security” and “The Whole Truth”, which were poor, but had enough crazy or silly moments that I got enough laughs out of them to enjoy the experience. I only found three movies that I feel warrant their inclusion on this list, but as always, this list is NOT me trying to dissuade you from watching them; I have my own tastes and expectations as do you, this is a list of movies that I found to have been irredeemable, but for all three of them I’ve heard and seen wildly different takes than mine and that’s fine.

The more time and distance I get from “Halloween Kills” the more I dislike it. This is a horror movie that I saw in theaters after another break from cinemas, due to the pandemic, which should have been in its favor; instead, that initial excitement of being back in the theaters only lasted a couple of hours. A sequel to a reboot/sequel that managed to feel warranted, “Halloween Kills” is a mess of a movie; it’s not that scary, it has grand ambitions that it simply does not live up to, and it feels really goofy without it being aware of that. In video games, we had the “chaos” meme, but in movies, we have the “evil dies tonight” meme, because of how silly this movie is and how it thinks it’s a lot deeper than it actually is. However, there are some good body-horror scenes, and people who don’t know what “Halloween” as a franchise is, will have an okay time; at that point though, just watch one of the myriads of better horror movies out this year instead.

My first controversial pick for this list, Sentinelle is a movie I despised the first time I saw it. Then, people I respected and found to have very similar tastes praised it, so I thought I’d give it another shot; I don’t despise it now, but I still find it bad. I appreciate the attempt to incorporate PTSD and character drama in an action thriller; I appreciate the attempts at making a movie with brutal action and impactful fights rather than flashy set pieces. I don’t think it achieves any of those goals. Olga Kurylenko is a great actor and she is capable of so much better, and I hope this and “Black Widow” are just the beginning of her action roles (let’s not talk about “Quantum of Solace”), but not even her can rescue this movie from poor decisions, terrible editing, and blunt and underwhelming fight scenes.

Ah, Netflix; the place where troubled movies go to get a paycheck instead of flopping hard in the box office. No movie better exemplifies this than “The woman in the window”, a well-made, well-acted, boring, whodunnit that went through extensive reshoots and had the original writer exposed as a copycat of the movie “Copycat”. As I said in my original review, there is nothing of value here and nothing to pique anyone’s interest besides the great cast and director. Unfortunately, not even the cast and director can save this movie from being uninteresting.

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