Written by Victor DeBonis
2020 is a year that we can all agree that we’re immensely satisfied to have in the rear view mirror. For pandemic-related reasons and others, trying to make our way through that miserable, seemingly endless year could feel as though there was nothing but heartbreak, misery, and pain at any directions that we tried to take. The pandemic changed things (not necessarily for the better) for many industries, and the film industry, similar to others, was hit especially hard with all theaters being forced to close down for months and production for several shows and films being put on “pause.”
Through those difficulties, however, there were still some good movies, here and there, shown through streaming sites that amused us, moved us, and reminded us that, regardless of whatever situation we face, the power of films will still find its way to entertain others, tell good stories, and bring us some light or even epiphany in dark times, such as what we experienced and what we’re in the process of trying to recover from. Now, I wasn’t able to see as many films as I normally would, so my list is a little shorter than it would be during a normal year. Yet, I’d like to share which five movies earned my admiration the most and brought positivity to me for being able to watch them in a time where that joy from watching something new and satisfying was more than appreciated.
David Fincher has always been one of those directors who I have the highest amount of respect for, and, with “Mank,” he shifts gears away from many of the great serial murder mystery films that he’s often known for and focuses on making a film based (to an extent) on the true story of a screenwriter and his strange path to writing the script for one of the most revered films ever made, “Citizen Kane.” It’s an interesting movie that embraces its oddness of its characters and the fancy world of Hollywood that surrounds it.
The cinematography is stunning to admire, and the filmmakers do everything in the power with the crackling sound and sheer framing of the movie to create the illusion that this was something that could’ve come straight out of the 40’s. Everyone in the cast, particularly Gary Oldman, Charles Dance, and Amanda Seyfried, is terrific at capturing their eccentric roles, and “Mank” doesn’t hold back from poking fun at the absurd world of Hollywood in its time but also doesn’t flat-out bash it to pieces, either. Some of the discussions in the film linger a little bit longer than needed, but most of them are fascinating and entertaining to listen to, based heavily on the great talent of the actors playing these people.
“Mank” provides clever and humorous commentary on its environment, brims with amusing and well-defined characters, and delivers a good dose of dark comedy in a biographical film that definitely has its inaccuracies but stands strong with a clever smirk across its own face.
Brilliantly animated from top to bottom, “Wolfwalkers” is an enchanting tale that weaves a special type of magic and seriousness that is so rare to find from many animated movies these days. This film takes the much underappreciated art of hand-drawn animation and crafts a world and time that deliberately uses its excellent linework to create a world that’s part confining and part wondrous, and all of this beautifully animated world made me almost want to be lost in it, particularly the woods, and never find my way back again. On top of that, the voice acting is excellent, the characters are incredibly charming and likable, and the story is a heartfelt and even daring one that doesn’t back away from some tough themes, such as isolation, prejudice, fanatic behaviors of specific people or groups, and feminism trying to find its way and stand strong in a vicious setting and time, such as this one.
The sheer intensity of scenes reminded me of Don Bluth’s earliest works, and, similar to those great flicks, the uneasy conflict and increasingly painful situations only made me root even more for this film’s unique, strong heroines even more than I already was. Additionally, the bond between the two wolf-girls is moving and completely believable. The bond between the two girls here is a genuine sisterly one that is at times playful, painful, but overall, caring and compassionate. This is the closest that I’ve felt to watching something that reminded me of one of Miyazaki’s movies in years, and I crave for more imaginative and unique movies, such as this one, to be made.
3. “The Trial of the Chicago Seven”
An excellent ensemble cast helps lead a truly electrifying film that walks a good balance between being hilarious in one scene and then ferociously serious a few moments later without causing tonal awkwardness. Writer-director Aaron Sorkin, someone who I still applaud and hold a solid amount of respect for creating “The West Wing” and writing some of my favorite movies, such as “The Social Network” maintains the witty banter and great sense of character that has often defined his work, and he leaves you with one of the most colorful casts of characters that I’ve seen in a film this year. Eddie Redmayne, John Carroll Lynch, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen (odd accent and all) and other great actors all work superbly off of each other and make for excellent chemistry with their odd roles.
They bicker, quietly plot together, and present all types of interesting interactions in a story that made me ponder over how far someone is willing to go to make their point or defend their side as well as the sheer debacle of what can occur when people from the justice system do a miserable job of representing the honor and fairness that they’re supposed to. The movie has great writing, memorable characters, and an intriguing story that left me hooked from start to finish. It’s easily one of the most entertaining movies that I’ve seen all year, and I’m still stunned that a true trial, which this movie is based on, underwent the questionable circumstances that it did. This movie’s spirit resonates with me just that much.
It takes a special type of movie to not only tackle abstract and clever ideas for both adults and kids but to also accomplish it in a way that feels very different, humorous, and resonant to your spirit and life in a way that still sticks with you. “Soul” is such a powerful movie, and I couldn’t count how many times I literally felt my jaw drop in amazement when I was watching this. It’s clear that the makers of this movie did their research on what helps create a personality or brings someone to greatly connect with their inner soul, and all of it is illustrated with some beautiful backgrounds that, similar to “Wolfwalkers” made me feel as if I wanted to stay there myself through just how incredible everything appeared. This film holds some of Pixar’s finest animation (And, yes, I know that’s saying something.) with the lighting, vivid colors, and incredible textures that practically make certain things, such as metal, feel as though they’re actually there.
The scenes involving music are a special treat to hold, practically making you feel as though you’re swept away in a manner that’s similar to the characters, and the music score itself, composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from “Nine Inch Nails” is atmospheric and spellbinding. Plus, it’s such a smart movie, too, that has much to say about finding one’s passion, developing one’s inner spirit and purpose, and the beauty of experiencing one’s journey in life itself that doesn’t feel the least bit preachy or hammered over the head. At one particular scene towards the climax, I was sobbing so hard not only because of how much I and others that I know could relate to this film’s ideas and what it was discussing but from the sheer hopefulness that such a moment was expressing, too. This is easily one of Pixar’s best movies, and, in a year that was sorely lacking joy and hope, this film lifted my own soul and inner in a way that was hard to experience from so many other films this year.
- “Da 5 Bloods”
Director Spike Lee takes the audience on a mesmerizing and shocking experience through Vietnam’s wilderness in order to illustrate the trek of four African-American Vietnam War veterans attempting to find gold, honor the remains of their fallen war leader and hero, and ultimately find solace from their present scars and those left behind by their pasts in and out of the war. “Da 5 Bloods” is a gut-wrenching masterpiece that doesn’t hold back from its vicious violence and brutally honest view on how racism and senseless violence has left the veterans and others, including minorities, severely wounded in ways that don’t need to be seen to be believed.
Lee’s incredible filmmaking skills are on full display here as he masterfully tells this chilling story that deals with themes, such as PTSD, hardship following war, racism, the struggle of determining what it means to fight in a war, and the arduous search for inner peace and understanding in a world that can sometimes lose itself through the selfishness and senseless violence of many people. All of the actors are terrific in the movie.
Yet, in particular, late-great Chadwick Boseman mesmerizes with awe in one of his final roles as a passionate war hero who his friends looked up to in an almost spiritual sense, and you can sense that through the sheer calmness and devotion that he brings to his moments. Watching him really reminds you just how much it hurts that such an incredible talent was taken in such an awful year. And, yes, Delroy Lindo practically steals the show in every scene that he’s in, never seeming to feel completely at peace and practically pleading with his big eyes and spirit to find something to ease his incredibly conflicted soul. His incredible performance deserves all the recognition that he’s received, and it’s definitely one of my favorite performances of the year. Easily one of Lee’s best films, “Da 5 Bloods” is a truthful, gut-wrenching flick that made me reflect and cry multiple times throughout its running time, and, in a year where the cinema industry was severely hurt, this masterpiece came along and reminded me of the sheer power that movies can have.