In 2020, I reviewed a ton of films along with books, theater, and short films. I ended up seeing way more movies than I reviewed, because I enjoy spending whatever free time I have avoiding maskless COVIDiots while walking my cute doggy. To make up for it, I’ve written capsules for some of the remaining bunch, complete with my pun-tastic titles and 1 to 5 star ratings.
The Berkley School Of Movies – Capsule Review: You Don’t Nomi ★★★★
This scholarly dissection of the 90s disaster/camp classic, Showgirls, looks back at the work of director Paul Verhoeven to demonstrate the DNA they share with his most unfairly reviled film. By employing disembodied voices of various experts, Jeffrey McHale’s documentary goes a long way in proving that as trashy, gaudy, cruel, and over-the-top the world which Verhoeven depicted was, it cannot hold a candle to the dumpster fire in which we currently reside. We are all Elizabeth Berkley now, throwing french fries at the wind, kicking our oppressors in the balls, and hoping to get our luggage back.
Available to rent or buy at the usual streaming outlets.
Represent! – Capsule Review: Disclosure ★★★★
A potent overview of trans representation in film and television, Sam Feder’s documentary uses a mountain of footage and fantastic interviews from a large swath of the trans community to demonstrate how far we’ve come yet how far we have yet to go. Jen Richards’ nearly walks away with the entire film with her stunning realization that she wanted to be seen the way she saw someone else’s father see them. Beautiful, heartfelt, and gut-wrenching.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Newspaper Moon – Capsule Review: News Of The World ★★★1/2
Where have I seen this before? A man travels with a young girl across the country in order to reunited her with relatives. Holy Tatum O’Neal! Tom Hanks brings his America’s Dad vibe to this slow, meandering, somewhat conventional story of a post-Civil War news reader who delivers the headlines to simple townsfolk while navigating the dangers of the Wild West with a young girl raised by her Kiowa kidnappers. He may not owe her $200 by the end, but the Paper Moon beats are all over this fine but somewhat forgettable film.
Opened theatrically December 25th 2020.
Goodnight Vietnam – Capsule Review: Da 5 Bloods ★★★★
Spike Lee drops The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre into the Vietnamese jungle for this emotionally powerful exploration of loyalty, greed, and how to cope with PTSD decades after a trauma. Delroy Lindo dominates with his magnetic performance in a film which beautifully walks a fine line between exploitation, comedy and powerful drama. When all is said and done, its incisive look at Black male friendship and for that jaw-dropping scene I’ll call “Chekhov’s Mine Explosion” will stick with me the most.
Now streaming on Netflix.
It’s Been A Long Time Coming – Capsule Review: One Night In Miami ★★★★
Is there anything Regina King can’t do? With her feature directing debut, King takes on the challenge of keeping a film primarily performed on one set cinematically interesting. It helps that this account, based on an actual 1964 event, of four famous Black men meeting in a motel room to figure out their place in the civil rights movement, features exciting performances from its stars. Kingsley Ben-Adir especially gives a mesmerizing and layered portrayal of Malcolm X. The actors strip away the egos of their characters to find their true sense of purpose. Like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, it may feel like a filmed play, but when it’s this captivating, who cares?
Opened theatrically December 25th 2020. Streaming on Prime Video January 15th 2021.
What The Dickens! – Capsule Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield ★★★★
Veep creator Armando Iannucci applies his rapid fire pace but tones down his savage sensibility to bring to the screen this condensed yet hugely engaging adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most personal work. Dev Patel made me cry in the title role and the diverse, talented cast, which includes fantastic work by Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, and Ben Wishaw, keeps this kind-hearted, inspirational film afloat. Visually creative and filled with hilarious dialogue, Iannucci aims for the heart instead of the jugular in honoring a tale about storytelling and how it can save us all.
Available on demand.
East Meets South – Capsule Review: Minari ★★★★
A warm, often hilarious, soulful film about a South Korean immigrant and his family who move to Arkansas in the 1980s to start a farm, the film features a quiet, gorgeous performance from Steven Yeun and an unexpectedly scabrous turn by Youn Yuh-jung as the Grandma. It breaks no new cinematic ground, feeling very much like what I call a “Sundancey Indie”, but it deserves high praise for its unique premise and thoughtful, contemplative tone.
Opens theatrically February 12th 2021.
Freedom Of The Pres-ident – Capsule Review: A Thousand Cuts ★★★★
Press freedoms are under attack in the Philippines by an authoritarian regime bent on extrajudicial killings and taking political prisoners. This harrowing documentary follows Maria Ressa, a brave journalist who dares to question President Rodrigo Duterte’s tactics and pays a very heavy price for it. Similarities to the current POTUS abound as this film astutely captures the national mood and how Duterte lines up various candidates to support his administration. It’s so painful watching this sexist, homophobic, misogynist stare down a reporter and tell her he will make sure she goes to prison for questioning his authority, it makes you consider we’re in the exact same place here in this country.
Currently playing in virtual cinemas and airs January 18th 2021 on PBS Frontline.
London Falling – Capsule Review: Small Axe ★★★★1/2
Steve McQueen’s anthology series set amongst London’s West Indian immigrant community in the 70s and 80s can’t really benefit from a capsule review. A courtroom drama, a dance party, a police procedural, a tough journey of a writer, and a challenged young student’s coming of age make up the five separate stories, but the experience proves inspirational as we watch a community bond in the face of overwhelming discrimination and hatred. Essential viewing.
Currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Spotlight On Journalists – Capsule Review: Collective ★★★★
This gripping documentary covers the aftermath of the deadly 2015 Bucharest concert fire which led to many deaths, and victims suffering minor burns. A local sports newspaper investigates and methodically uncovers enough corruption to topple a government. Told without any sit-down interviews or narration, the film plays like a gripping exposé along the lines of Spotlight or All The President’s Men, yet it’s entirely real. Moreover, much like the paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, this documentary, which I count among the year’s best, takes us to a point of such despair and hopelessness, exposing the endless cycles which prevent us from truly executing any substantial change.
Available to rent at the usual streaming outlets.
All That Jazzing – Capsule Review: Soul ★★★★
Pixar has brought us a winning story about death with this gorgeously animated, beautifully scored charmer about an aspiring pianist who experiences a traumatic event just before he gets his big break. Although I’m not sure children are the best demographic for the film, it’s a heartwarming and touching (OK, I’ll admit I ugly cried at the end) story about the dreamers of the world who don’t always achieve their goals. Although I didn’t connect with the animation of the afterlife characters, which I felt looked like Picasso outline doodles, it didn’t prevent me from falling under its sublime spell. Jamie Foxx provides stellar voice work as the main character, Joe.
Currently streaming on Disney+.
Broadway, Indiana – Capsule Review: The Prom ★★★1/2
It’s hard to find fault with a colorful, fun joy machine like The Prom when you’re giggling at the clever lyrics or shedding a tear for the lesbian teen couple at the heart of the film. Truth be told, I had a good time. Yes, like Glee, Ryan Murphy seems to view the Midwest through a studio lens, never once convincing us we’re not on a soundstage in Hollywood, but that old-fashioned glam hits the right deliciously campy spot with its game cast and eye-popping design. It feels, however, like Murphy ran out of steam with his over-reliance on setting steadicam and crane operators free to swirl around the cast for many of the musical numbers. Still, this bright confection, which blends the narcissism of Broadway actors with a story about equality, ending in a Hairspray-esque big finish is just the tonic we needed to lift us up out of the late 2020 doldrums. Bonus points go to Nicole Kidman brightening up her “Roxie” knockoff of a number.
Currently streaming on Netflix.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic