2020 has been a year to forget. To focus on the positive though, let us look back on the plethora of quality films that have been released, despite the workings of Hollywood coming to a halt in the early months of the pandemic. Many high-profile releases were delayed with the theater-going experience being placed on hold, but there was still much to enjoy. With 2020 having come to an end let us look through the best movies of the past year!
10) Extraction (3.5 Stars)
Extraction is an action-packed thrill ride led by a charismatic Chris Hemsworth at the center of the frame. The story follows Tyler Rake(Chris Hemsworth), a black market mercenary who is hired to retrieve the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord. The premise is a fairly basic one. With a script full of one-dimensional supporting characters, this is simply a generic action flick on most accounts. Where the film finds success, is in it’s cinematography and camera work. The fight choreography is top notch, with one scene of note that is likely the best action sequence in any movie this year. It also helps to have a notable figure like Hemsworth drive the story. He is solid here, playing his character with just enough depth to remain engaging between fight scenes. Any fan of action will find this one quite to their liking.
9) Bad Boys for Life (3.5 Stars)
Bad Boys for Life breathes new life into a previously dormant franchise with another round of entertaining performances by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. This time around the aging Miami detectives, Mike Lowry(Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett(Martin Lawrence), must face off against a mother-and-son pair of drug lords wreaking havoc on the city. The film brings back familiar faces and introduces new ones, all while injecting the story with something the franchise sorely needed... stakes. This time around the characters feel more authentic and grounded in reality. Will Smith gives a great performance as a detective forced to come to grips with the possibility of being past his prime. He is as charismatic as ever, continually reeling the viewer in with his charm and driving the plot forward with his actions. Additionally, Vanessa Hudgens and Alexander Ludwig are solid as new ancillary pieces, helping further heighten the enjoyment. Overall, Bad Boys for Life plays a lot like a greatest hits album of the franchise, but infuses in just enough fresh faces and seriousness to culminate in a vastly fun ride.
8) Run (3.5 Stars)
Run is a tightly contained mystery that expertly utilizes its creative premise to induce maximum tension. The story centers around Chloe(Kiera Allen), a homeschooled teenager who lives with her mother(Sarah Paulson) and begins to question the truth about her solitary life. Both actresses are superb, with Allen providing a stirring physical performance and Paulson playing the mother role with varying shades and complexity. The quality acting on display grabs the viewer’s attention and elevates the clever screenplay into a white-knuckle journey for the audience to find out what happens next. While the climax leaves some to be desired, the path to it is a great one. This is a well-paced and intelligent thriller that should be enjoyed by fans of the genre.
7) Palm Springs (3.5 Stars)
Palm Springs is a clever iteration of the well-worn wedding comedy premise with two charming lead performances. Nyles (Andy Sanberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) have a chance encounter during a wedding in Palm Springs and from there things proceed to get complicated. The self-awareness of the script serves at its greatest strength, allowing the movie to toy with genre conventions with humorous results. Sanberg and Milioti are both great, successfully infusing a more grounded nature into their comedic personas to help better flesh out these characters. It is quality work, but the real scene stealer is J.K. Simmons, who is wonderfully zany in a smaller role as one of the other wedding guests. Not all the jokes land, but this smart script possesses heart, which coupled with funny performances and some entertaining set pieces create a joyous watch.
6) The Gentlemen (4 Stars)
The Gentlemen is a highly entertaining gangster flick that harkens back to many of director Guy Ritchie’s previous formulas, with rousing success. The intertwining plot focuses on Mickey Pearson(Matthew McConaughey), an American expatriate attempting to sell off his profitable marijuana empire in London. This endeavor triggers an array of schemes from others trying to steal his domain. The highlight of the film is without a doubt the talented ensemble on display, which includes Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, Jeremy Strong, Hugh Grant, and Henry Golding. Everyone is good, successfully delivering colorful portrayals, with Hunnam and Farrell serving as the best of the bunch. The screenplay performs a deft balancing act with its blend of humor and violence, but pulls it off, establishing a fun tone throughout. The plot can become a bit convoluted at times, but the entertainment remains consistent, whether it come from the action, or the acting. The Gentlemen falls in line with much of Guy Ritchie’s past work but feels like more of a finished product.
5) Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (4 Stars)
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is an engaging snapshot into the life of a famous blues singer, as well as African American life. The year is 1927 and Ma Rainey(Viola Davis), along with her band of Cutler(Colman Domingo), Toledo(Glynn Turman), Slow Drag(Michael Potts), and Levee(Chadwick Boseman) have just arrived to Chicago to record an album. The story follows the interactions and conversations that occurred during this recording session. The brisk 1hr 34min runtime never allows the plot to drag, as each character is provided time to shine with stirring debate and conversations that offer a peak into what this moment in history was like for African Americans. What truly makes this film stand out is the powerhouse performance achieved by Chadwick Boseman, his last before tragically leaving this world far too soon. He completely disappears within the role of the young up and coming trumpet player in the band. His blend of swagger and raw emotion grabs the audience's attention every second that he is on screen. It is easily Boseman's best performance and will place him firmly in this year's Oscar conversation. Additionally, Viola Davis is terrific as the titular character, though in a slightly smaller fashion as this is without a doubt Boseman's movie. The film is not flashy but remains immensely engaging with riveting portrayals by all involved.
4) The Old Guard (4 Stars)
The Old Guard is an extremely well-done action film that operates at the top of its craft. It follows a somewhat predictable storyline, but one that entertains, as well as successfully lays the groundwork for more to come. The plot centers around Andy(Charlize Theron), Booker(Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe(Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky(Luca Marinelli), a covert team of immortal mercenaries who unexpectedly discover a potential new member(Kiki Layne). This is a classic example of an origin story attempting to set up a potential franchise, but the difference here is they put the time in to get the first one right. The action sequences are expertly choreographed, the characters are complex and layered, the set pieces are great, and the mythology is interesting. The script is solid and, importantly, not overly ambitious. The story intrigues the viewer and leaves them craving more. Then there’s Charlize Theron who simply owns this movie. She delivers a wonderfully physical performance, convincingly kicking butt in action scenes, while also successfully layering her complex character in the quieter moments. Overall, The Old Guard is just a genre movie, albeit an incredibly well-made one. Awesome action, interesting characters, and solid world building more than make up for a cookie cutter storyline to create a splendid new action adventure.
3) The Trial of the Chicago 7 (4 Stars)
Another sizzling screenplay from Aaron Sorkin! Check out the link below for a full review.
2) Tenet (4 Stars)
The most Nolan-esque movie yet from the acclaimed director! Check out the link below for a full review.
1) Onward (4.5 Stars)
Sometimes the best stories are animated! Check out the link below for a full review(rating has been updated).