When thinking of companies that have been thriving during the tumultuous year of 2020, very few (if any) come to mind before Netflix.
While others like Hulu and Disney Plus are indeed doing well, it is Netflix that is undoubtably the name we think of first when we think of streaming movies (as well as TV shows) at home. This was until they got a big hit in culture last week when they released the French Indie film Cuties.
For nearly a decade, I have truly been blessed with the seven summers I was able to spend a week of being a counselor at a Christian Youth Camp.
The memories are indeed too many: Small group bible lessons, archery, paintball, inside jokes about having too much bread (Wade and Hudson know), starlight devos, my alarm clock being thrown out by my co-counselor, sacrificing a pair of socks for a camper, out door movie nights, having another camper ask if I knew how to talk to girls (my initial response: “No one does.”), the countless nicknames I would give and be given (“The Cap” is the best nickname I have ever gotten).
Here in Illinois, today marks the day of Phase 4. For me, that means the opening of (some) of the movie theaters in the state. Since new releases won’t start until mid to late July (at the earliest), these theaters are simply showing 2020’s pre-pandemic releases as well as some old classics (I plan on going next week to see me some Indiana Jones on the big screen).
Most of the movies of the first half of 2020 have been on streaming services, and have easily been missed by cinephiles such as myself. That said, I wanted to do a small recap of the films I have seen so far.
Relatable characters are one of the main ingredients for any movie to work on an audience, and the more flawed they are is a plus. Some of the portrayels are so iconic that we can’t imagine anyone else playing them. There is no Taxi Driver (1976) without Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle,or (for contemporary audiences) no Pirates of the Carribean if Jack Sparrow is not played by Johnny Depp. Both of the forementioned characters (and countless others) are in totally different situations (let alone genres), but we relate to them because of their flaws. In short, they are anti-heroes.
This brings us to Cool Hand Luke Jackson, which is a role that is forever immortalized by screen legend Paul Newman. Set in the South, the film starts off in the middle of the night, with Luke (Newman) under the influence and cutting the heads off of parking meters. There is no real reason he has behind this. Sentenced to two years, he is then transferred to the local outdoor chain gang, where prisoners call all in authority “Captain”. Any rule broken (whether minor or major) is going to make you “spend a night in the box”.
Luke is one of fifty prisoners, the leader of which is Dragline (George Kennedy, who won the film its only Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). One of the key scenes of the film (among many of them) is the boxing match between Dragline and Luke. Dragline is so overpowering that Luke is not so much an underdog as he is dead meat. Yet still, he keeps getting back up, despite being knocked down. This is when we realize this is one film character we will not soon forget.
That is key to Luke’s character, as he is one who never gives in to conforming. The bible verse this reminded me of was the first part of Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. In many ways, Luke is the Christ character of the film. He has a bunch of friends who look to him for guidance and encouragement (such as when they are to tar the road). He is abused (the whole sequence of digging a hole is torture for anyone). There is even an image of him lying as if on a cross after the ever popular egg eating scene (if there were ever a movie to teach you about eating eggs, it is this film). As stated before, he is far from perfect (he is in jail, after all), but there are a good amount of ideals that the fellow prisoners strive for, and we the audience join them.
Not too much is revealed of Luke’s past, despite finding out he was a war veteran. We do get a visit from his dying mother Arletta (Jo Van Fleet), the only family Luke really has. When we find out her fate, there is a scene of just two minutes of Luke’s reaction that shows some of the best acting of Newman’s long career. It is painfully electric.
There is one scene that parents should be wary of and that is the car wash scene. In it, the gang is working on the road nearby a house, where a local young woman is washing a car in very loose clothing. Nothing explicit is seen, but the scene does last five minutes or so.
The film was released during the Vietnam War, during which more people were trying to stand up to authority. It was easily a film of its time. Now, over five decades later, it still speaks to us. In a very poetic way, it can be said that Cool Hand Luke has never had “failure to communicate” with audiences of any era.
Another great year of movies is in the books.
Toward the end of 2018, I realized I actually was able to see nearly all of the movies I wanted to in time (though there are a few I admit I am still on the look out for).
As was the case for the 2017 list, I decided to make a top 20 list , because numbers 11-20 were too good to ignore. If you really want to cut the list in half, gather all six infinity stones, put them in the infinity gauntlet, and…SNAP! (Too soon?)
As the title character in the next film would say, “Off we go!”…
The minds at Disney are no strangers to taking risks, and doing a sequel to the 1964 classic Mary Poppins is one of their biggest risks yet. Still, even 54 years later, Mary Poppins Returns is a success due to new original music, fine performances, two amazing cameos, and the practically perfect Emily Blunt.
There is no doubt that The Favourite will not appeal to everyone, as it has a very dark sense of humor. In time, you will be able to see the film for its witty script and impeccable acting.
As 2018’s highest grossing film, Black Panther was also one of the best critical successes in the history of superhero films. Cultural relevance, sublime action, and wonderful acting were sure helpful, as it may become the first superhero flick to be nominated for Best Picture.
Deep, thoughtful, and chilling are some of the best ways one can describe First Reformed. As many great movies do, it provides more questions than answers. Not to mention Ethan Hawke’s uncanny performance.
In one of the biggest surprises of the year, Crazy Rich Asians told us the story of characters that are relatable and worthy to cheer for. Based off of a book, there are more films to come, of which I am looking forward to with a big smile.
In his directorial debut, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s explores the lives of kids growing up in the search of someone to look up to. The result is one of the years most authentic films.
Lee Israel was an author who made money by forging fake letters from popular authors, and the portrayal by Melissa McCarthy of her in Can you ever forgive me? is a revelation (Richard E. Grant is great as well). She has had strikeouts in her film career, yet this is a home run that clears the stadium.
The heat is on blast in Steve Mcqueen’s Widows, with an all-star cast on the top of their game (led by the always wonderful Viola Davis). Just because it is being somewhat overlooked does not take away from its brilliance.
One of the most human love stories in the last couple years of cinema, If Beale Street could talk is one that may not have the outcomes most are wishing for. They are the outcomes that are the right ones.
Newcomer (and Golden Globe nominee) Elsie Fisher shines through all of Eighth Grade, another coming of age story that oozes with real authentic material. Gucci, indeed.
Your heart may have been rock solid if it wasn’t feeling warm after witnessing Green Book. Both Ali and Mortensen give Oscar caliber performances, giving us the ultimate bromance of 2018.
As of this writing, I have yet to meet anyone I have mentioned Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to come back to me saying it was a bad movie. Believe the hype, for this is the best Spidey cinema has produced, the best animated film of 2018, and easily a post credit scene better than anything the MCU has offered.
Sorry if the above image brings back bad memories, but that is how big of a movie Avengers: Infinity War was. Even before the “snap heard round the world”, the film was unlike any superhero film we have seen before. Endgame cannot come soon enough.
A Quiet place had a nice premise, as did the currently popular (but not entirely great) Bird Box, but no film this year left me with such dread as Hereditary did. This movie will leave a unique bitter taste in your mouth for sometime after the credits, and I mean that as a compliment.
In no way would BlacKKKlansmen have been as wonderful as it was if it weren’t directed by Spike Lee. Only he could do justice to a true story about an African America undercover cop (an awesome debut by John David Washington, son of Denzel) who joins the KKK. Yes, it gets political, but it is super intriguing.
Having a good directorial debut is one thing, but there is another level that Bradley Cooper is on in A Star is Born. He gives one of his best performances, does the fourth remake of a movie, and lets Lady Gaga show she has more than singing talent. Yeah, expect this to be mentioned more than once come Oscar night.
You can name any superhero you want, but none could hold a candle to the bravery of Fred Rogers, even if he is not completely well-known to kids today. Thankfully, the ever charming Won’t you be my Neighbor? is a chance to remind us not just of the man, but (more importantly) his ideals. A lovely day indeed.
Not since 2013’s Gravity has flying seem so realistic. Damien Chazelle’s First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong (an understated Ryan Gosling) walking on the moon, brings tension and grit to the highest of levels. Months later, the sound effects are still giving me the chills of space.
I have mentioned how Netflix’s original films are not always great, and while I have not seen all of them, I doubt many can come close to Roma. Director Alfonso Cuaron (director of the previously mentioned Gravity) delivers a passion project that is nothing short of sublime. It may be on Netflix, but the film deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can see it on. Hands down 2018 most gorgeous film (even the cleaning of dog crap looked beautiful).
Throughout 2018, I wrestled up and down between my favorite film of the year, and then I came across a hidden treasure, Leave No Trace. The first film in eight years from director Debra Granik (her last film was the masterful 2010 film Winter’s Bone with Jennifer Lawrence), the simple story of a father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (amazing new comer Thomasin McKenzie) who try to avoid civilization is both heartbreaking and beautiful. It hit me in the feels more than any other film last year. You may not have heard of it, but it is out on DVD, and is more than worth looking for. Scratch that, it is worth buying.
It should come as no real surprise that a lot of the original films by Netflix are not that good.
Some (at least ones I have seen and heard of) are pretty terrible. I would say that Roma is not one of them, but that is a putrid understatement. Here is one of the best films of this or any year, and to say it is not worth seeing because it is not in English or in color would show how shallow you are as a movie goer.