Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2020

Hello again, everyone!

Well, I’m glad that is over. 2020 has come to an end, and with it, we see a very unusual year with a very unusual effect on the film industry. I can’t remember the last time I went this long without setting foot in a theater. The last movie I saw at the cinema was The Invisible Man back in early March. That was before my birthday so I can officially say that I haven’t been to the movie theater at all in my 30s. Geez, this year could not end fast enough. And no, we won’t see theaters immediately come back to the way they were in 2021, but there’s hope. There’s been some serious vaccine development happening. My wife is expecting her second dose of the vaccine next week, and hopefully I’ll be in line soon enough.

One of the biggest differences between our current situation and pandemics and illnesses past, though, is that we have the luxury of many at-home devices and personal entertainment options. In 2020, I watched a ton of movies that I’ve owned for years and haven’t seen yet. I’ve read books and played video games that were on my list. I listened to new music and explored new genres. Money was also tight, though, as many people went without their normal income for months on end. My family unit was pretty concerned about this, so we canceled many of our unneeded services, and I went to watching older movies, classic movies, that I haven’t seen before as opposed to whatever was being dumped on Netflix. All this is a roundabout way of saying that I didn’t see a lot of newer movies this year, so my list won’t be as eclectic as it has in previous seasons, but I’m going to move through it the best I can and give you my thoughts on the best movies I saw last year. Really, though, I missed a lot of films I desperately wanted to see, so you could call this a list of 10 solid movies from last year. When it all shakes out, there may be a completely different set of films that would have made my Top Ten if this year had gone normally.

So, let’s do this the same way we’ve done it before, with a few obligatory stipulations and notes:

-As stated above, I did not see every film that was released in 2020. That would have been an impossibility, even in 2020. I saw as many as I could. Of course, as always, life happens and some films were missed. So if you don’t see something on this list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t belong. I may just not have see it…yet. That, or it doesn’t belong.

-These are MY personal picks from the options available this year. These are not predictions for the Best Picture nominees of the Academy Awards nor are they undeniably the best films of the year where there is no cause for discussion. In fact, I pray for challenge and discussion. Some films have different placement at the end of the year than they would have based on their initial scoring, and some may have major flaws. Like I’ve said before, enjoyment goes a long way…

Alright, no more fluff, let’s do this thing.

  1. The Way Back

-This is a hard movie to watch, but I think we knew that going in. Ben Affleck, a recovering addict, in a movie, playing an addict. It was a recipe for a rough viewing, but the film comes off tremendously cathartic. It’s hard to call it a sports film because so much of the narrative seems to be focused on Affleck’s performance, but his work is so strong and painful that it stays with you long after the movie ends. My only problem is that the film seems to veer away from his alcoholism in order to give a classic sports film finale that seemed to reckon with his character arc, but other than that, this was an unforgiving character study.

  1. Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge

-I told you there might be some odd surprises here, and I wasn’t lying. Scorpion’s Revenge is probably the best Mortal Kombat film yet, an animated telling of the original mythology seen from the eyes of one of its most popular characters. The film is simple, and it’s purpose is only to entertain, but it does that and more with its stylish, hard-hitting action and an unforgiving and almost cruel fight sequences. I grew up playing the Mortal Kombat games and watching the (original!) movie, so it was great to see the WB Animation team (known for such tremendous work on the DC Animated films) to take a stab at this mythology, and it paid off.

  1. Gretel & Hansel

-I put off on watching this one back when theaters were still open. I really didn’t like Oz Perkins’s previous work on I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (in fact, it was my least favorite film of the year back when it came out), so seeing his take on the classic fairy tale Hansel & Gretel just didn’t seem to win me over. Even with the solid posters and trailers for the film, I felt like I was being set up for disappointment. Finally, I was swayed late in the year to check this one out and I’m so happy I did. There’s style and tone unique to this film that makes the classic story all anew once again. Sophia Lillis was tremendous in the lead role (a fitting choice to invert the names as such, as she owns the narrative), and I was impressed with Alice Krige’s take on the witch. This film oozes atmosphere and doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you slept on this horror tale like I did, seek it out as soon as you can.

  1. Da 5 Bloods

-I was on the opposite side of things for Spike Lee’s newest film. BlacKkKlansman was my favorite movie the year of its release, and the idea that Lee’s next film would be a Vietnam War film with a touch of the search for buries treasure was just bonkers enough to get my full attention. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I made sure to give the film the proper attention on the soonest night that I could sit back for the 150-minutes it required. Da 5 Bloods is not as polished as BlacKkKlansman, but it is nonetheless a staggering movie that attempts to reach a whole lot of different subjects, from war to friendship to aging to race and of course politics in our current state of the nation. Lee jumps from one unusual and captivating sequence to the next, all the while remembering to keep the film entertaining beyond anything else. I just had loads of fun with the movie’s action while also a quiet contemplation for some of its most serious and heartbreaking beats as well. This is another win for the exciting filmmaker.

  1. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

-It’s tough to make a sequel. It’s even tougher to make a comedy sequel. Even more so when it is a long-gestating comedy sequel of a pop cultural icon like Borat. Back in 2006, it was a huge success, so why did Sasha Baron Cohen return to make a sequel 14 years later? Trump, and the current political state. I was initially worried, but Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a largely successful comedy sequel that tells a very simple story, mostly to get back into the undercover interview-style that Cohen’s comedy is usually mined from. I don’t think the movie 100% works as well as its predecessor, but it is a scathing view of American politics through an outside lens, one that asks more questions about the state of the nation while it also tackles a very human story of Borat connecting with his daughter. It also has one of the most shocking and talked about endings of any film from last year. I very much enjoyed Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and I hope we see him again some day for a trilogy capper.

  1. The Invisible Man

-Man, I was so excited for the Dark Universe. Finally, a return to Universal’s monsters in a way that felt fresh and exciting in the wake of the successful MCU and cinematic universe model. Damn, I was disappointed when the entirety of the plan fell apart due to the poor quality and reception of The Mummy, so when I heard that Leigh Whannell would be helming another stab at the Universal Monsters with a simplistic and new take on The Invisible Man, I was excited with a hint of trepidation. I mean, The Invisible Man is not the most popular of these characters, he never interacted with the other monster in the way that Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, of The Wolf Man had. Still, he is an exciting filmmaker who has never steered me wrong, ever since his breakout writing work on the Saw films. Thankfully, The Invisible Man is an exciting and terrifying update on the mythos of the character (that has absolutely nothing to do with the H.G. Wells novel) and changes the central players to fit a more 2020 theme. It’s scary, exciting, and bold while all maintaining a $7 million budget. How Whannell was able to pull all that off with such a small budget is incredible, and outside a little bit of a uninspired ending, the film is a constantly galloping bit of excitement and shocks, with a phenomenal performance from Elisabeth Moss.

  1. Soul

-It’s nice to see a company like Pixar really flex their creativity with films like Soul. I’ve often recalled Pixar’s promise that they do not make animated movies strictly for children, and Soul is a movie that I can see not many children loving in the way they enjoy Toy Story. Soul is very much an adult animated movie that has a lot to say. I wasn’t really sure where it was going with its message (it seemed early on to shun those who chase their dreams) but when the film arrived at the destination, I found myself overwhelmed with the ideas at play and the gorgeous animation on display. The voice cast is terrific, the world-building is stunning, and the film’s themes are universal. It’s a heady movie, closer to a mix between Inside Out and Coco, that begs for multiple viewings. It’s just a shame it wasn’t a theatrical release because it would have been an incredible audience experience.

  1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

-I had forgotten this one was based on a play when I started it, and I recall reading the play years ago, but a play like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is impossible to enjoy from reading in the same way as it is viewed and performed. This is an excellent cast, including a potential career best from the late and great Chadwick Boseman, but make no mistake. There isn’t a single bad performance in this movie. It’s a bluesy and heartbreaking viewpoint into a world that I know little about. Boseman’s playing off of the other performers, specifically Viola Davis, is wonderful, but I have to sing the praises of Colman Domingo, who is an unsung hero in this movie. Domingo consistently puts out great work and never gets the credit I feel he is deserving of, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is just another one of those incredible performances from the character actor. The run time is tight, the ending is impactful, and the staying power is strong. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an incredible movie experience that adapts its source material better than even Fences a few years before (not to knock that film, but Fences felt like it was a filmed version of the play, whereas Ma Rainey felt more like an adaptation to film).

  1. The Trial of the Chicago 7

-I may be biased in selecting this for my #2 (either way, it belongs in the Top Ten), but I love a courtroom drama, and Aaron Sorkin’s newest film captures the excitement and tension of a great courtroom drama expertly here. Yes, you can throw all of your complaints about its accuracy, but this list is not the Top Ten Most Accurate Films of 2020 (that list would be boring). Sorkin’s fire-spitting dialogue makes for an excellent screenplay and his cast executes it perfectly. I never felt bored, I never checked my watch, and the film’s timeliness was oh-so-strong that it feels all the more present in 2020. Perhaps Sorkin’s directing has not reached the levels of the many filmmakers who have directed his previous screenplay’s, but it’s capable filmmaking with no flair but no flaws either, and his story and performers more than make up for it.

  1. Uncle Frank

-The strongest films of the year in 2020 seem to be the ones most excellently written. Look at the top five here. So many incredible stories that were written with precision and all meat, no fat. Uncle Frank is no exception. I honestly hadn’t heard of this film before getting a screener from Amazon. I didn’t even know that Alan Ball had written anything new recently. His direction is maybe a little more fine-tuned than Sorkin’s, having trained so much on his television work in Six Feet Under and True Blood, but again, the screenplay is what makes this film. That, and the excellent work from Paul Bettany in a restrained and honest performance. Sophia Lillis (she had a damn good year between this and Gretel & Hansel) keeps up nicely, as does Peter Macdissi, an actor that I’ve never seen so joyful and liberating as he is here. Even the supporting cast, from Steve Zahn to Margo Martindale, everyone is playing to their strengths. The story is simple, it’s one we’ve heard before, but its “truth” in realistic portrayals and difficult emotional character beats make Uncle Frank my favorite film of 2020.

There you have it. My Top Ten films of 2020. It was a tough year, and many of my most anticipated films from the beginning of the year were pushed off to this year, but what I did see was a big mix of films both good and bad. Here’s hoping 2021 gets us back to normal.

But hey, I want to see your Top Ten films of 2020. Leave them below and let me know what you thought of the films on my list! Happy New Year!

-Kyle A. Goethe

Suicide Squad Casting Benicio Del Toro?

Mark this one up as a rumor for now, because there’s been so strong evidence to really support it, but information coming from Forbes indicate that Benicio del Toro, recently featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Big Top Pee-Wee (look it up), may be joining the upcoming The Suicide Squad from director James Gunn. It would make sense if you look at the layers. He did appear in the MCU for Guardians of the Galaxy’s The Collector, directed by Gunn. Given that we still don’t know the status of The Collector, who appeared in Avengers: Infinity War but as a vision or fabrication, his time in the MCU may be done, but his addition to The Suicide Squad would further the argument that these two comic book giants are not enemies but coexist together.

As of now, The Suicide Squad will feature the returns of Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. Idris Elba has also recently joined the project as a new character, with many speculating him to be Bronze Tiger. All that is known for Elba is that he will not be playing Deadshot as was recently rumored. Del Toro is rumored for The General, who will be one of the film’s villains. David Dastmalchian seemingly confirmed his involvement in a recent interview, praising Polka-Dot Man, and more rumors have circulated of John Cena’s involvement and frequent Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker (though he has since denied his addition), so this installment of the DCEU is shaping up quite nicely.

To this writer, Benicio del Toro only adds an air of quality to the upcoming installment, and I certainly hope the rumors are true. Adding talent like his can only help a movie. I’ve been randomly seeing him pop up in a lot of films from the past recently, and revisiting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Sin City have affirmed that he is one of the more interesting personalities currently working in the filmscape.

As far as the character of The General goes, I know very little. I read some of the Suicide Squad books a few years back, but I don’t think he was ever in any of the ones I read.

I will chock this up as good news, because in James Gunn I trust. Every film he’s directed has been solid (if you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen Slither, you’re doing yourself a disservice), and every bit of casting news surrounding The Suicide Squad has been exciting me, so count me in.

But what do you think? Are you excited for Benicio del Toro in the DCEU? What’s your favorite performance of his? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

The Suicide Squad will be unleashed again on August 6, 2021.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2017oscardeathrace] Fences (2016)

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Director: Denzel Washington

Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney

Screenplay: August Wilson

139 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Adapted Screenplay

 

You’d think, after 114 performances of Fences on the stage, Denzel Washington (The Great Debaters, Antwone Fisher) might not to partake in a screen version, and you’d be wrong.

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Washington directs from a screenplay by the late August Wilson (The Piano Lesson) and also stars as Troy Maxson, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues who now works as a garbage collector. Viola Davis (TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help) is Rose, Troy’s wife, who does her best to keep the peace in the volatile Maxson home. Troy’s son from a previous relationship, Lyons (Russell Hornsby, TV’s Grimm, Something New), is always coming over asking for money that Troy doesn’t think he’ll ever pay back. Cory (Jovan Adepo, TV’s The Leftovers), Troy and Rose’s child, wants to be a professional football player, and he really has a shot at the NFL, but not if Troy has anything to say about it. Then there’s Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson, Con-Air, The Purge: Election Year), Troy’s brother, who suffered an injury in World War II and was mentally impaired by it. With all the happenings going on at the Maxson house, Troy focuses his attention on a fence extending around his property. But a simple fence doesn’t keep secrets and regrets and frustrations from releasing themselves and forever changing the entire Maxson family in the process.

I recall seeing Fences some years back in a smaller production and absolutely enjoying it, but this play has become Washington’s and Viola’s permanently. Each of them brings a gravitas and strength to the story that is shockingly heartfelt and heartbreaking. The chemistry between Troy and Rose is the best strength of the film.

Honestly, the most frustrating element of the film is Washington’s decision to copy and paste the play on the big screen. It’s a great play but it is not adapted into a film. Washington chose not to risk compromising any of Fences impact by not making it a movie, and for me, that’s where the film suffers. I’m not talking about fundamentally changing the way the story is, but there is zero attempt at creating a film. That being said, it’s a great play on film.

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Overall, Fences is a very important film which captures Wilson’s original story quite well. It doesn’t really try to adapt the play so much as copy it perfectly which has some issues for me, but the film is largely focused on its incredible performers, notably Davis and Washington. This is their movie and their story is an unforgettable one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Suicide Squad (2016)

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevigne

Screenplay: David Ayer

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.

 

I’m not the first person to say that the DCEU has had a rough time of it trying to build a shared universe of films. After Green Lantern failed to ignite the franchise, Man of Steel hit with mixed reviews, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice got destroyed by fans and critics alike. Then, Suicide Squad was released to…drumroll, please…negative reviews. It hasn’t been easy for DC. Now, it took me some time to get to Suicide Squad just out of pure frustration with the film but I had some interesting views on it.

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After the death of Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help), an intelligence operative, puts forth a plan to assemble a team, Task Force X, led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing, Child 44). When Flag’s girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevigne, Paper Towns, Pan) is overtaken by a supernatural evil entity called The Enchantress who wishes to unleash a hellish future upon the Earth, Task Force X is called to action to stop her. The team, consisting of Deadshot (Will Smith, Men in Black, Concussion), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Legend of Tarzan), and other criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison, assemble to save the day…and plan their escape.

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I was extremely hesitant to the idea that Will Smith was the central focus of all the members of the Suicide Squad. I didn’t like the idea of the entire movie forming around Smith, who hasn’t been able to carry an action film in some time. After seeing the performance, I take it back. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most accessible character, a man doing bad things for the best intentions. His arc is one of the more interesting and successfully engaging in the film.

As for Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie owns the scenes that feature her. Robbie’s was one of the more anticipated for the film and another extremely workable and engaging performance. As for her relationship with The Joker (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), it isn’t one that people should pine for. Everyone seems to think that Harley Quinn is a strong empowered woman when really, she is the furthest from, at least in this film. Harley Quinn is broken, insisting that she belongs to The Joker, her Puddin’, and that she would do anything for him. The Joker’s master manipulation is what turned her into what she is: an obedient, sexually exploited, pet. Now, an interesting character indeed, but nothing that women should look to for empowerment.

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Let’s talk about The Joker while we are here, and one of the major problems of the film. Now, I must say that Jared Leto is absolutely amazing in the film, and for the time we see him, I left wanting more, and there’s a reason for that. Leto’s performance takes mere hints from Heath Ledger’s The Dark Knight portrayal and Jack Nicholson’s Batman incarnation, as well as Cesar Romero’s Batman: The Movie from the 1960s. But Leto took a step further, going full method. Stories from the set of dead pigs being shipped as gifts are only scraping the surface of where he takes the character. So what’s not to like? The major problem with The Joker in the movie? He isn’t in it. He barely appears, which would be fine, but the fact that he was cut mostly from the film is a slap in the face to the great work Leto provides. Jared Leto created enemies on set with his batshit work, and there’s nothing to show for it. And it isn’t just him. The entire film suffers in the same way that Batman v Superman does. It feels like a collection of great scenes that don’t fit together. You get the sense that Suicide Squad was gutted even before hearing it confirmed.

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The rest of Task Force X? There is some pretty solid work from Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys) as Captain Boomerang and Adelwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Trumbo) as Killer Croc (another horribly slashed character who just isn’t given enough to do). Jay Hernandez (Hostel, Bad Moms) does the best he can, but his character just isn’t that well written.

Lastly, we touch on The Enchantress. Cara Delevigne does the best she can, but her villain has no motivation. I spent half the movie just trying to figure out what damn machine she is building, what she is trying to accomplish, and exactly what her minions were. They kind of looked like poop demons covered in hot tar and became mindless drones.

Something very fascinating that the DCEU is attempting to do with this shared universe is how connected it is. Batman v Superman is a direct sequel to Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad inciting incident revolves around a key moment from BvS. I enjoy that each film heavily influences the others.

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The tone of Suicide Squad isn’t perfect, but the film is a lot of fun to watch, which makes up for a lot of the shortcomings around it. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I cannot deny the glaring issues in pacing, editing, and writing that stared me in the face the entire time. For me, however, at least the DCEU is going in the right direction. I found myself liking BvS more than Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad was an increase in quality as well. Issues, yes, there are plenty, but Wonder Woman looks poised to take the quality a further notch up the scale, so overall, at least Suicide Squad was fun. Right?

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

#SpoilerAlert: did anyone else see Harley Quinn’s rap sheet at the beginning says she assisted in the death of Robin? What was that all about?

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

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