I'm selecting one obscure movie from every year since I was born to watch and recommend.
The list of 2020 movies that I saw, ranked by my preference from best down to worst. This is gonna be a considerably shorter list than previous years due to you-know-what.
Click the movie titles to go to their Wikipedia pages.
Pixar nails it again. The first act is perfect, the second act is very good, and the last act is perfect again. And honestly, I’d rather not explain why it’s great or what I liked so much. This is one of those movies that is best seen knowing very little about what it’s going to be. For one thing, it must have been an artist and animator’s dream to work on. I’ll just leave the fact that Soul is my favorite movie of the year as an indicator of how much I enjoyed it.
Promising Young Woman (10)
Now this is a dark and twisted little surprise of a movie. It’s definitely not one for everybody (particularly the easily offended), what with its devious tonal shifts and gutsy sense of humor and wild plot twists. It’s also a daring approach to a touchy subject that isn’t afraid to cross the line in a very direct manner. The ending is surely polarizing for some, but it worked for me. The great Carey Mulligan is in top form. The rest of the cast is great as well, with an unexpected little reunion of a couple Veronica Mars cast members.
As a World War II history nerd, I had a natural inclination towards this one. It’s nice to see an underrepresented aspect of the war get some quality attention. The many, many North Atlantic supply runs were a challenging thing, and an unfortunately thankless part of the war. This matter-of-fact approach to
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (9)
A small slice of history gets the Aaron Sorkin treatment, and becomes highly entertaining in the process. An excellent cast (including an interesting performance from Sacha Baron Cohen) brings Sorkin’s stylistic and sharp dialog to life with seeming ease. The period setting helps give it the extra bit of stylistic flair.
News Of The World (9)
An excellent period piece that touches on a number of interesting details of the period and the region, from post-Civil War issues to the way of life in the “old west”. Tom Hans is, of course, excellent in the lead. A big discovery is Helena Zengel as the young girl that Hanks’ character befriends. Solid direction from Paul Greengrass makes it all work nicely. And hey, it finally took a period piece for Greengrass to FINALLY stop his shaky-cam crap.
Palm Springs (9)
This could have been an absolute classic, if it would have been brave enough to do a totally nihilistic ending. Up to that point, it’s such a hilariously devious and oddly twisted take on Groundhog Day. Honestly, I’m starting to think that they should make all the different genre versions of Groundhog Day, now that we’ve gotten the fun horror movie take via the Happy Death Day movies, and now this wonderfully dark romantic comedy take.
This was one of those great movie-going experiences where I sat down in the theater knowing almost nothing about it. I ended up pleasantly surprised. It’s one of those high concept movies that figures out how to put its limited budget in the right places. An inventive script is nailed by a talented cast.
A simple movie that requires a raw, uncomplicated performance from the lead actress. Every once in a while there is a role that is just so easy to cast, that you watch the final product as a viewer and say, “of course it would be Frances McDormand in that role”. Add in a nice little bonus bit of great casting with David Strathairn, and you can’t lose.
Certainly an odd plot for a movie, but the Pixar genius find a bunch of fun ways of making it work. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt work very well together in their voice performances – particularly Pratt. And the blending of genres makes it that extra bit more fun, both in plot and production design.
The tentpole Christopher Nolan movie that got caught in the movie release trap that was 2020. This is absolutely an ambitious movie, with tons of stuff in it that I love. It is, however, hampered by a few issues. First, it has a little bit of trouble conveying its complicated plot, which having seen it 5 times, I’m still trying to completely figure out. It’s the last act that doesn’t completely work and is the main weak point. It has some exposition difficulties that are compounded by a terrible audio mix for the dialog. Not Nolan’s greatest film, but still plenty enjoyable.
The Invisible Man (8)
This movie has a couple flaws and plot elements that don’t work well, but otherwise it is a fun surprise with lots of stuff that works great. The cast is good, the production is great and it features a moment of editing perfection (the dinner table scene). Finally, Universal manages to pull of an update to one of its classic horror franchise that works.
Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (8)
It figures that Warner’s finally makes a very fun DCEU movie and it’s one that doesn’t do well. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was pretty much the only good thing to come out of the epic disaster of Suicide Squad, and she takes it to another level here. The rest of the cast fits in well, particularly Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress. Ewan McGregor is also quite fun as the bad guy. I know this movie isn’t particularly loved by most, and that I enjoyed it much more than most. Oh well, so be it.
So, confession time. I’m so-so on Citizen Kane. It has some good moments, sure. And it has some groundbreaking style. But as a thinly disguised hot take on William Randolph Hearst, it doesn’t really do much for me. Were this not made by one of the greatest living directors, David Fincher, and performed by such a fantastic cast (including Gary Oldman in top form), I would probably have the same opinion. It’s an interesting peak into vintage Hollywood, and it has its moments of excellent style. It certainly works and is definitely enjoyable.
Enola Holmes (8)
Millie Bobby Brown is well cast in this playful and fun entry into the Holmes film universe(s). The production has fun with the old-school London settings. The script is inventive and fun. And the cast is great. Other than Brown, the highlight is definitely Henry Cavill as Sherlock.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (8)
While not everything in this movie works, enough of it does for it to be very entertaining. It has more of a plot than the first film, and uses that plot nicely. Which brings me to the real surprise highlight: unknown Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova in the role of Borat’s daughter.
The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee (8)
This movie operates in a very odd meta world that is highly fictionalized, with people playing themselves. Sort of. It has plenty of fun material and Paul Hogan is having plenty of fun with it. As a fan of the Dundee franchise, it was a fun little capper after all these years.
Wasn’t this a welcome surprise. A new Gerard Butler action movie, and it’s actually good. As an added bonus, it’s got Morena Baccarin and even Scott Glenn. Plot’s good, production is solid, VFX are good, and it works. A movie that puts the budget it has in the right places.
Honest Thief (8)
For a movie like this, you kinda need Liam Neeson to make it work, which he does manage to do. A few supporting performances help quite a bit, including Robert Patrick, Anhony Ramon and Kate Walsh. But the real surprise here is that Jai Courtney managed to get a role in a movie that doesn’t suck! Now that’s a miracle. :)
A nice “coming to America” immigrant story as a mild period piece set in the early-to-mid 80s. It’s not a groundbreaking movie (if you’ll pardon the pun to the farming topic of the film), but it does do a nice job with character writing, performed by a solid cast. A solid movie that pulls off what it sets out to portray.
The Call Of The Wild (7)
After seeing the trailers, I almost didn’t bother seeing this one. Thankfully, they picked out the worst bits and stuffed the trailer with those. The rest of the movie is a bit of a watered down version of the book, but it holds true enough to it to work. And while Harrison Ford isn’t going to win any awards for his performance, he’s still got enough charisma in the role to make it work, particularly when acting against his furry CGI buddy.
Bill & Ted Face The Music (7)
OK, so I don’t love the original two Bill & Ted movies as many others do. I mean, they’re OK and fun enough, but not great movies. This is pretty much par for the course. At the very least, it was fun to have the franchise brought back for a check-in. And while the stuff with the daughters was predictable, it still somehow works.
A solidly produced movie with a good cast that is what it sets out to be. While it makes up a lot of what’s possible and what kind of reality it wants to exist in, it does at least stay consistent to that universe it creates, and it generally works. It’s a better movie than I was expecting.
Sonic The Hedgehog (7)
Who would have thought that this movie would end up working? Not me. But here we have a a final product that somehow does. And even more interestingly, it manages to do it in pretty obvious ways. Jim Carrey is doing his classic shtick. Sonic is pretty much by-the-numbers, but charming enough to work. And James Marsden is playing it all right down the middle, and it works, too. Sure, it may not be the greatest movie of the year, but it’s surprisingly entertaining.
The Old Guard (6)
Some decent ideas are at play in this one. And you’ve got Charlize Theron, so that’s always a big plus. But it looses something in the mix. Something kinda obvious and generic. It’s setting up a franchise, but I would rather see Theron focus on a different project than trying to continue this one.
Is it too over-the-top? Yeah, sure. But it has enough fun playing with some stereotypes (including a fun twist on the generic action movie revenge plot), and the cast is clearly enjoying the challenge and fun of it all. Overall, a bit better than I was expecting. It is what it is. If it weren’t for the particularly ridiculous ending, I would have marked it a point or two higher.
The Hunt (6)
The political overtones are pretty ridiculous and a muddled mess, but I guess that’s kind of appropriate. This one definitely got a good number of laughs from me just for its audaciousness to actually do some of the things it did. This one certainly won’t be for everybody, as I’m sure it’ll offend a great many people – and I’m not just talking about the usual methods of offensive language, sexual material or violence this time.
Bad Boys For Life (5)
A decent follow up to a fun first film and a stupid second film. It kinda splits the different, with a good amount of fun for the first and second acts, but a lame final act. Yeah, tons of it is predictable, but the humor makes up for much of it.
The Father (5)
OK, so I get what they are going for with this movie. It has some universal themes that should resonate and work, but it just doesn’t as a viewer, at least not for me. I guess I don’t mind spoiling the plot, as it’s kinda clear what they are doing pretty early on in the film. The basic idea is simple enough – tell the narrative of a old man going through the loss of memory and the indignity of never knowing what’s going on. The way they do it is to subject the viewer to things from his point of view, with what is always an unreliable narrator (minus having any actual narrator). The end result is a jumbled up mess, intentionally so, with the only “real” moments to be found in the final 10 minutes, or so its presented as such. But there in lies the problem. If having this experience is so bewildering and frustrating for the man going through it, why should it be any different for the viewer. Still, what keeps it from completely falling down is the talented cast, particularly Anthony Hopkins – without whom the tenuous narrative wouldn’t work at all.
The Witches (3)
Oh, Robert Zemeckis, you’re better than this. Could you have at least attempted to make this more of a general audience movie and not targeted so generically at kids? A great cast and production effort squandered on a bland script with limited demographics.
What happens when you base an entire movie around awkwardness? This is what happens.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2)
After a generally good first movie, I had hopes that Warner’s had broken free of their DC funk. But alas, they have not. It was a fluke. I thought that giving it the 1984 setting, and the fact they had been playing with that in the trailers, gave hope that their insistence on mucky visual design would be gone. But also alas, nope. The first movie had a reason for it: World War I. This one does not. But flat visual design isn’t this movie’s problem. That problem is the fact it’s written like a cartoon, but not in a good way. Everything is reductive to the extreme. You need to get from DC to Cairo? Well, one of the two characters works at The Smithsonian, the other was a World War I pilot. 2+2 means you walk into a door at the museum with a pass, pick out a vintage jet fighter and fly it from DC to Cairo (There are WAY too many problems to even count). And that’s a MINOR example of it. It builds and builds like that until the thinly-veiled bad guy (strike that, there’s no veil) is presented with an evil take-over-the-world plot from a Pinky & The Brain episode, but NOT in an intentionally stupid and satirical way. This movie takes a few fun concepts (and even a bit of a Quantum Leap riff) and utterly wastes them with incredibly generic or downright idiotic writing. Absolutely none of it exists in reality, in any way. Also, what are the rules of the whip, again? Can it, like, extend infinitely? Can it attach to anything? Can it do anything? Exactly what level of ex machina is it, exactly? Anyway, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine just can’t save this turkey. This next sentence comes with a spoiler alert……………………. At least Lynda Carter gets to put in an appearance mid-end credits.
Fantasy Island (1)
A VERY loose reboot of the classic show, done as a horror movie, absolutely terribly. Let’s just put it this way: the one horror success this movie does achieve is that it tortures you with how it seems like it’s never going to end, just going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Even having Ryan Hansen in it, or a score by Bear McCreary, can’t help it.
Hillbilly Elegy (0)
I made it a little over a half hour into this one and had to stop it. Absolutely could not make it any further. Yuck. This one gets the very rare 0 out of 10.