Nothing went as planned in 2020, and that holds true for Hollywood, Inc.
We’re currently at the peak of movie awards season yet it hardly feels that way. The usual star campaigns are happening virtually, while the Oscars ceremony itself won’t happen until the end of April of 2021.
It’s also the time critics are asked to produce their “Best of the Year” movie lists. So why did this critic dread a normally joyful task?
It was a very, very bad year for movies, starting with the obvious -- the theatrical experience all but went away in 2020 and the next 12 months suggest more of the same. Yes, some theaters are still open as the year wraps, but many remain shuttered and fans are mostly staying home.
No matter what you think of “Wonder Woman 1984” there’s no way a movie like that should generate a mere $16.7 million in its opening weekend.
The movies that slipped through the cracks were either overrated (“Promising Young Woman”), hopelessly woke (“Black Christmas“) or blockbusters that exploded on arrival (“Wonder Woman 1984”).
The following films, though, were more than worth your while. They delivered on what makes movies essential. They pricked our imaginations, made us crawl closer to our significant others and took our minds off the steady stream of terrible headlines.
One year, two films with the same, simple title. This critic missed the “Alone” featuring yet another zombie apocalypse. The “Alone” referred to here follows a young woman being hunted by a serial killer.
Nothing extraordinary about the set up. It’s the precision on display that grabs your attention, plus the gritty turns by the film’s heroine (Jules Willcox) and its unconventional monster (Marc Menchaca).
Their battle is one of the for ages, elevating the film far above its genre trappings. It’s the most fun, a word used advisedly given the genre trappings, this critic had watching a movie in 2020.
What Killed Michael Brown?
It’s the documentary Amazon dubbed too amateurish to stream until right-leaning media outlets shamed the company into the truth.
It’s an outstanding film that could change progressive hearts and minds regarding race relations. That’s why Amazon temporarily blocked it, and all the more reason for audiences to seek it out.
Author Shelby Steele walks us through the death of a Ferguson, Missouri man that changed the culture. How did it happen? What did the police investigation reveal? And why does the Michael Brown template keep repeating itself while hurting the communities who need the most help?
It’s all here, and even if you disagree with the film’s arguments it’s impossible to deny they should be aired.
Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight
A Polish slasher movie with a clunky title you’ll quickly forget? Doesn’t this belong on the “worst” of 2020 list?
Kidding aside, this Netflix import gave us the biggest shock of the year. It’s a terrific horror movie teeming with genuine scares, gore and the best kind of ’80s vibe. Sure, we all genuflect at the altar of the Reagan decade’s horror, but many of those films were awful.
“Woods” could slip in snugly within the decade’s best thrillers, except the grisly FX would give away its futuristic roots.
The movie grabs us during the opening scene and never threatens to let us go. Boy, is “Woods” a terrific find for horror film fanatics.
Chloe Zhao is moving on up from the indie leagues to the MCU next year with “The Eternals.” She more than earned the gig given films like “The Rider,” but watching her latest will make you wish she turned down the big studio cash.
Who else tells authentic stories quite like Zhao?
“Nomadland” is pure Zhao -- a story brimming with authenticity right down to its casting. The great Frances McDormand plays a woman who leaves society behind for life in her ramshackle van.
Zhao once again taps real people to flesh out her cast, aided by a wondrous McDormand and co-star David Strathairn.
“Nomadland” holds back vital details about the main character’s life, but when they finally arrive the film flowers in magical ways.
Two straight white males battle, bicker and remind themselves why they became friends in the first place. How in the world did this movie make it through the industry’s woke filter?
No matter. It did, and it’s wonderful.
Co-stars/co-creators Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin bring wit, insight and empathy to a story that threatens to push us away from the opening conflict.
Instead, we get to know these flawed characters, appreciate their flickering bond and recognize their universal, masculinity sans apology.
Again, how did this movie make it to theaters again?