Guest Review by Jonathan Dorst
Many movie theaters are reopening today. For how long, nobody knows, but hopefully for good. I last saw a movie in a theater in early March, so I’m ready (I think) to go back to seeing new releases on the big screen. And there are a number of tantalizing films set to come out in the last four-plus months of this year, including The Personal History of David Copperfield (8/28), Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (9/3), Quiet Place Part II (9/4), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix 9/4), Antebellum (9/18), Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (October), David Fincher’s Mank (October), Wonder Woman 1984 (10/2), Trial of the Chicago 7 (10/16), Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (10/16?), The Courier (10/16), Black Widow (11/6), Pixar’s Soul (11/20), Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (12/18), Coming 2 America (12/18), and Spielberg’s West Side Story (12/18).
But, if you think there haven’t been any good movies that have been released up to this point in 2020, you haven’t been paying attention. Some came out before the pandemic, some went to streamers or VOD when theaters were not an option, and some were released as planned through a streamer. One note: Although some multi-episode documentaries (like OJ: Made In America) have won Oscars and been considered a ‘feature,’ I chose not to include them on this list, so Tiger King and The Last Dance would be part of a top television list instead. One more note: As always, don’t take the inclusion of a film as a blanket endorsement of its content; you are responsible to research the content and determine if certain movies are appropriate for you.
20. Bad Education– Hugh Jackman shows off his versatility in this telling of a true story of embezzlement in the public school system.
19. Radioactive– A good biopic that makes the interesting decision to show the downside (in jarring flash-forwards) of the protagonist’s historical contribution.
18. Downhill– A not-as-good-as-the-original remake of a very good Danish film, still Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus give good performances in this serious comedy.
17. The Truth– A bit of a cliched premise about an actress mother and her flawed relationship with her daughter, but it’s Juliette Binoche and Catherine Denueve, so it’s a must see.
16. Tigertail– A thoughtful film that tells the story of an immigrant’s struggle to connect in his new land while reconciling what he’s lost back in his homeland.
15. The Vast of Night– An interesting, slow-burn of a film about strange happenings in the sky in New Mexico in the 50’s that I suspect will get better with repeated viewings.
14. Arkansas– A minor, but enjoyable entry in the ‘loveable loser drug dealer’ genre; Liam Hemsworth is terrific playing against type.
13. The Invisible Man– An effective thriller that is a not-too-subtle metaphor for the psychological oppression that powerful men can administer on women.
12. The Old Guard– A superhero film that takes consequences seriously.
11. Da 5 Bloods– Spike Lee’s exploration of the Vietnam War and its effects, as well as his continued exploration of America’s racial history- the acting is great, but the tone and pacing is all over the place.
10. Young Ahmed– The Dardenne brothers’ latest about a young teenaged boy being influenced by a radical Islamic imam.
9. To the Stars– A movie about small-town Oklahoma in the ‘50s that tells the age-old tale of the shy, bullied kid who gets courage from the extroverted, courageous friend, but with some twists that keep it fresh.
8. Ordinary Love– Two great actors (Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson) telling a slice-of-life story that made me want to watch more of their life together.
7. Palm Springs– A very funny take on the Groundhog Day premise that doesn’t quite earn its happy ending but is still very memorable and enjoyable.
6. Athlete A– The emotional story of how USA Gymnastics failed to protect its female gymnasts from predators like Larry Nassar.
5. The Assistant– A day in the life of an administrative assistant who serves her unnamed boss in a Weinstein-like film production company; we see how powerful men got away with so much for so long as we watch her try to raise a red flag in an atmosphere where no one is motivated to change anything.
4. The Trip To Greece– The 4th film in the ‘Trip’ series, this is the most poignant as Rob and Steve follow in the footsteps of Odysseus and ponder their mortality.
3. Driveways– A beautiful film about people in different stages of life connecting and making the best of their situation.
2. Sorry We Missed You- British filmmaker Ken Loach has been making great social commentary films for a long time, and this one takes aim at companies taking advantage of workers in this ‘gig economy’ while telling an affecting story of a family trying to thrive, or at least survive.
1. Hamilton– I know this really came out as a musical in 2015, but it’s not the first play to be filmed and released as a movie (consider Bergman’s The Magic Flute and Powell’s The Tales of Hoffman), and everything about this production is just. so. good.
Bonus: Worst Movie of the Year (so far, that I’ve seen)- Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey