Feature Films 2020 – The Best of the Rest of What I Saw

Here are the best of the rest of what I saw last year, 18 films in alphabetical order. As I said in my intro to last year’s “Best of the Rest” post, I don’t claim that all of these are great films (though some of them are), but they all got my attention and engaged me in one way or another. Sometimes it’s just a performance, a feeling, more often it’s the whole package.

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Bacurau Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonca Fihlo, directors & writers). Available on Amazon Prime.

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Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, director & co-writer). Available on Amazon Prime.

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Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, director). Available on Amazon Prime.

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Emma (Autumn de Wilde, director). Anya Taylor-Joy, who scored so strongly in The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix), is excellent as the title character. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of her. And any film that has Bill Nighy in it gains points just for that.  Available on HBO Max.

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, director & writer). Beyond strange, I don’t think the individual scenes and radical shifting of gears add up to a whole, but I found it very compelling nonetheless, even as I kept wondering “What the hell?” Available on Netflix.

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The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell, director & writer). Elizabeth Moss brings a lot of intensity to this very effective sci-fi thriller that’s mainly about getting out of an abusive marriage. But make no mistake, it has nothing to do with the H. G. Wells novel or classic film, other than sharing the title and having a guy who’s invisible in it. But it’s really tense. Available on HBO Max.

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Lost Bullet (Guillaume Pierret, director & co-writer). This film and Sputnik are the two films on this list that got me the most energized and excited. The familiar and quite flexible premise of a good cop vs. bad cops is given an inventive spin that is part Mad Max, part Serpico, and every car chase movie you’ve ever seen. The forward momentum is relentless. Lost Bullet is probably not very credible, but when did that ever get in the way? I enjoyed it a lot. Available on Netflix.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe, director).  Viola Davis is great as Ma Rainey, but the main attraction is Chadwick Boseman in his final film before his death last year at age 43. His blistering performance is overwhelming and tragic, and probably gets an extra charge from our knowing that he’s gone. I’d hoped for more music, but it’s really about the characters and race. Available on Netflix.

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Mank (David Fincher, director). For me, David Fincher (along with Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, and Ridley Scott) is one of the best living film directors. Mank may not be his best film — that would be Zodiac — but it’s one hell of an achievement. Per numerous profiles and interviews, it’s clear that Fincher exerts total control over every aspect of any film he’s making, and it shows. Mank may be more of a film for film buffs, but it’s stunning in its look and sound and meticulous recreation of its 1940s Hollywood milieu. The casting of Gary Oldman has been criticized because his actual age is much older than Herman Mankiewicz was at the time. I didn’t know that, and anyway, so what? Oldman is a terrific actor and it’s a terrific performance. Available on Netflix.

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Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, director & co-writer). Available on Kino Marquee/Kino Now.

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On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola, director & writer). Delicate, funny, and insightful. And a great performance by Bill Murray, who’s never been better. Rashida Jones is excellent as his daughter. This moves ever so smoothly. Available on Apple TV.

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The Quarry (Scott Teams, director & co-writer). A slow-burning neo-noir with Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham. That was enough for me. I wish the ending had been stronger, but the performances and tone carry it a long way. Available on Amazon Prime.

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Radioactive (Marjane Satrapi, director). Rosamund Pike is very convincing as Marie Curie, whose discovery of radium and radioactivity resulted in the two Nobel Prizes (Physics and Chemistry) and eventually her own death from radiation poisoning. Pike has been excellent in films that include David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014), Scott Cooper’s Hostiles (2017), and most especially Matthew Heineman’s A Private War (2018). I hadn’t known that she endured a lot of prejudice in France due to her Polish background. Radioactive also features Anya Taylor-Joy as Curie’s daughter Irene. Available on Amazon Prime.

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The Rhythm Section (Reed Morano, director). This is a familiar premise. A man or woman seeks revenge because of a loss — family, friends, job, etc. — and has to first learn the skills to do so. But it’s all in the telling, and this film pulls it off  with style and feeling. Blake Lively is very good as a young woman intent on avenging the deaths of her parents and brother at the hands of a terrorist bomb maker. Jude Law is her reluctant mentor in the ways of killing and survival. Available on Amazon Prime.

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Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, director). An astronaut returns to earth, but he’s not alone, something has come with him. We’ve seen this before, too, but seldom as inventively done as in this Russian film. Alien (1979) is an influence here, as it has been on just about everything since, but Sputnik is its own thing, literally. It’s pretty creepy and feels very concrete, very physical, and very scary. It’s not for everyone, but then, anything good seldom is. Available on Amazon Prime.

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Tenet (Christopher Nolan, director & writer). I’ve basically recovered from having to see this the first time on a 41″ television set instead of the IMAX screen at Lincoln Square. Though I hope to be able to do that at some point in the post-pandemic future, whenever we get there. Meanwhile, seeing it smaller was better than not seeing it at all. John David Washington is excellent as the unnamed main character. I especially liked Robert Pattinson as Washington’s partner of sorts. The narrative is incredibly complex and has to do with time travel or time shifting or inversion, something like that. I had a feeling for what was going on, but I don’t pretend to understand it. That will require a few more viewings, hopefully one of which will be in IMAX. Available on Amazon Prime.

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The Traitor  (Marco Bellochio, director). Available on STARZ.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, director & writer). This is a very engaging telling of the famous (and infamous) trial of a group of men accused of conspiring to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Since I was around at the time, most of the people involved were familiar to me. Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, and Mark Rylance are excellent as (respectively) Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, and defense lawyer William Kuntsler. Frank Langella is properly loathsome as Judge Julius Hoffman. But the standout for me is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. For anyone who thinks of him as only Borat, and doubts his acting ability beyond that, I refer them to this film, and even more so to the Netflix series Spy, in which he plays an undercover agent in Syria spying for Israel. Available on Netflix.

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That about wraps up this installment. I’m going to take a break now to watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), then do a final edit and post this later today. I’ll post supplemental materials for a few of these titles tomorrow. In the meantime, stay tuned and be safe! — Ted Hicks

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About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
This entry was posted in Books, Feature films, Film posters, History, Home Video, Music, Streaming, TV & Cable. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Feature Films 2020 – The Best of the Rest of What I Saw

  1. David M Fromm says:

    I only saw one of the films you noted, so now I have even more to catch up on.

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