Yesterday, I posted my list of the ten Best Movies Of 2020. Here are some more that I really enjoyed, even though they didn’t make my top ten. Consider this my nearly-best-of-the-year list.
#11) “The Trial Of The Chicago 7” How do you condense a trial which lasted over six months, filling 21,000 pages of transcripts, into a two-hour movie? First, you call Aaron Sorkin. The result is a very entertaining look back at a courtroom circus from 1969 about several young men charged with causing riots outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Sorkin uses some of the actual words spoken by the participants, as well as his usual dialogue enhancements, and a great cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, John Carroll Lynch, and Jeremy Strong. Mark Rylance puts on a helluva performance as defense attorney William Kunstler, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the prosecutor. Michael Keaton has a small role as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. And Frank Langella gives another one of his scene-stealing performances as Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie), who appears to have made up his mind about these young troublemakers before the opening statements. Streaming on Netflix.
#12) “Promising Young Woman” Carey Mulligan gives a tour-de-force performance as Cassie, who spends her evenings pretending to be blackout drunk so she can shame men who try to take advantage of her sexually. There’s a reason behind her revenge, but I won’t give it away — and you shouldn’t read anything else about this movie until you see it. I spent a lot of time thinking about “Promising Young Woman” after seeing it and hating the scumbags who treat Cassie (and any other woman) as targets, not people. It is a movie that will spark a lot of conversation, both about its content and Mulligan’s awards-worthy performance. It is available via video-on-demand.
#13) “Bad Education“ It’s based on the true story of Frank Tassone, the beloved superintendent of schools in Roslyn, New York (played to smarmy perfection by Hugh Jackman) and Pam Gluckin, the assistant superintendent of schools (Allison Janney, adopting a perfect Long Island accent). Under their leadership, the stature of Roslyn’s school district had grown substantially, causing the board of education (chaired by Bob Spicer, played by Ray Romano) and the parents of its thriving students to hail the duo and give them essentially free reign. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, Tassone and Gluckin abused their positions, embezzling millions of dollars in the process. All of this was uncovered in 2002, when intrepid student journalist Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) uncovered irregularities in the district’s budgets and contracts. Once her story was printed in the high school newspaper, the Hilltop Beacon, an investigation ensued and the walls came crumbling down. Streaming on HBO Max and video on demand.
#14) “The Lovebirds“ Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae are a couple on their way to a party when they argue in the car until they accidentally crash into a cyclist who comes out of nowhere. Before they fully comprehend what happened, a guy carjacks their vehicle and drives over the cyclist, again and again, before jumping out and running off. The couple, as people of color, know they can’t go to the police, who would likely blame them, so they run away and decide to figure the whole thing out on their own. That’s the kind of setup that’s straight out of other screwball comedies, including the Tina Fey/Steve Carell movie “Date Night” from a few years ago. Like that film, “The Lovebirds” wraps its protagonists in all sorts of predicaments, then forces them to talk their way out of them. To reveal any of those plot points would be to spoil the movie for you, so I won’t — suffice to say they run the gamut from silly to sublime. Streaming on Netflix.
#15) “I’m Your Woman” As the movie opens, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is lounging next to a pool, seemingly carefree, looking like she’s living a life of leisure. In the next scene, the door to her home opens and there’s her husband, Eddie, holding a baby boy. Eddie tells Jean the child is now hers and hands him over. She’s shocked, but not nearly as much as when Cal, an associate of Eddie’s, shows up at the house a few scenes later and tells her she has to leave with him immediately. Thus begins an adventure that overturns everything in Jean’s life. What makes “I’m Your Woman” work is that Jean doesn’t know what’s going on, and neither do we. There are no sequences in which we see the forces arrayed against her, the threats she might face, or the truth behind the other characters. We don’t even get much of her backstory. We’re experiencing each situation Jean faces along with her. Oh, and the twins who play the baby are the most photogenic humans I’ve seen on screen in a long time. Streaming on Prime Video.
#16) “Irresistible“ A political satire written and directed by Jon Stewart, “Irresistible” stars Steve Carrell as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political consultant desperate to find a new candidate whose campaign he can run. He gets excited when a colleague shows him a YouTube clip of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine Colonel who went viral after speaking up for immigrants at a city council hearing in little Deerlaken, Wisconsin. Gary convinces him to run for mayor against the Republican incumbent (played by Brent Sexton) and Jack agrees, but only if Gary will stay and oversee the entire campaign. When word gets out that Gary’s putting his weight behind Jack, his longtime Republican rival, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne with the haircut and attitude of a Kellyanne Conway doppelganger) swoops in. “Irresistible” is less about the aspirations of the people running for office and more about the megalomania of the people pulling the strings. Available via video on demand.
#17) “The Last Vermeer“ In the Netherlands, a few months after the end of World War II, authorities are rounding up anyone who sympathized with the Nazis and/or made money by doing business with them. One of the investigators is Captain Joseph Piller (Claes Bang), who has his eye on Han Van Meegeren (Guy Pearce), a not-very-well-thought-of artist who seems to have survived the war by becoming richer. A major source of that wealth is thought to be “Christ and the Adultress,” a recently found piece that was not one of Vermeer’s original 34 paintings from the 17th century. Piller believes that the piece had been stolen from a Jewish family and acquired by Van Meegeren, who then sold it to the high-ranking Nazi Hermann Goering. What makes “The Last Vermeer” work is there are no chase scenes, extended fist fights, or gunplay. Instead, there’s a battle of wits between Piller and Van Meegeren, who insists he’s not guilty of the crime with which he is charged. Not yet streaming.
#18) “Never Rarely Sometimes Always“ The second of two movies this year with similar themes, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is about 17-year-old Autumn, who lives in a small Pennsylvania town and becomes pregnant. She’s not ready to be a mom and doesn’t want to have a child that she’d give up for adoption, so she subtly asks about having an abortion. However, the women’s clinic is run by people who are opposed to that procedure, so instead of help, she gets anti-abortion propaganda. To her credit, Autumn doesn’t fall for it. Unfortunately, her state doesn’t allow minors to get abortions without parental consent, and she can’t talk to her folks about her dilemma. So, she and her cousin, Skylar, take a long bus ride to New York City, where Autumn goes to a Planned Parenthood clinic for the procedure. While the other movie on this subject (“Unpregnant”) goes for laughs amidst the drama, “NRSA” is a serious look at what teen girls have to go through to get abortions in a society that puts too many obstacles in their way. Streaming on HBO Max and video on demand.
#19) “Blow The Man Down” In a tiny fishing village on the coast of Maine, everyone knows everyone. When one of the women who run the town while the men are at sea dies, her daughters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) are left with a mortgage they can’t afford, plus a pile of other unpaid bills. When one of the sisters kills a man, the other helps her cover it up, but they discover there are other secrets in the town — and their mother’s past — that could affect them even more. “Blow The Man Down,” an Amazon original, is a quiet movie with a stellar supporting cast, including Margo Martindale, Annette O’Toole, and June Squibb. Streaming on Prime Video.
#20) “Kajillionaire” Theresa (Debra Winger) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) are not what anyone would consider good parents. They’re grifters, barely getting by through minor schemes. Their twenty-something daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), has spent every minute of every day with Theresa and Robert, and thus learned nothing about social interaction. She just goes along with whatever the parents are trying to pull off. Old Dolio seems like she’s never had a good day in her life. But she does come up with a new scam they can try, which might net them a hefty haul. Along the way, an upbeat woman named Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) gets sucked into their orbit and becomes part of the plan. Streaming via video on demand.
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