Serious warning: The first 30-minutes of "Pieces of a Woman" is incredibly hard to watch, especially for anyone who has ever suffered any sort of loss. You've been warned.
That being said, watching actress Vanessa Kirby pick up the pieces of her life after an unthinkable tragedy destroys it, is an absolutely riveting experience that makes "Pieces of A Woman" a vital watch for anyone looking to fill out their Oscar scorecards.
MILD PLOT SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:
2020 was certainly...a year. For my entire existence on this Earth - as it has been for every single person reading this - the movies have offered an escape from the harsh realities of life. Movie theaters have been my sanctuary, my safe haven. And since becoming a professional film critic in 2010 - a fulfillment of a life-long dream - they've become my home away from home...A place that I would visit 2-3 times per week, to catch up with friends and fellow critics and to partake in an activity and place that I apparently had been taking for granted all these years.
I haven't been to a movie theater since March 2020, and it hurts.
Movies are still my passion and a huge part of my life, and as is the case with every one of us in 2020, they've recently been relegated to home TV screens, or in a pinch, iPads or laptops.
It's just not the same, and it sucks.
But when 2020 handed the movie industry lemons, they made delicious, refreshing lemonade. Yes, in a year like no other, there were still great films being made, they just weren't playing on the big-screen. As several major movie releases were postponed or shuffled to streaming services, many smaller films carried the torch for the industry. Oh, there were great films in 2020. Don't let anyone tell you different. The problem has just been that this year, they've been harder to find, and with a slew of streaming platforms, there are just so many places to look.
Luckily I'm still here, watching movies, and organizing for you the best of the best. What follows is a list of my 20 favorite films of the year, and I hope that you get a chance to find them too.
One quick caveat before we begin...it's been harder than ever in 2020 to decipher how to categorize certain works. For this list's purposes, I'm taking the cues directly from the studios. So for example, the five-part Amazon "mini-series" (or is it a collection of five films?) "Small Axe" by Steve McQueen? Amazon is qualifying them for Emmys, not Oscars, so they're not on this list (despite this collection of TV episodes curiously being named "Best Film" by the LA Film Critics Circle). Nor is the HBO concert film by Spike Lee, "David Byrne's American Utopia" for similar reasons.
Last but not least, by far, the absolute best thing I've seen all year was "Hamilton" on Disney+. Not even a close second. But again, this is not technically a movie, so it's not on this list. Speaking of "Hamilton," check out the Hulu doc "Freestyle Love Supreme" and the HBO doc "Siempre, Luis" as great companion pieces, or just to get more of a dose of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Here then, are the top 20 films of 2020:
Earlier in 2020, a Showtime documentary called "Kingdom of Silence" detailed the brutal murder of The Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, as he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and was never heard from again. That documentary was one of the best of the year, with this being my only critique:
"While "Kingdom of Silence" does a great job in setting the stage for his disappearance, it would have been even more effective had it put into context exactly why his murder has meaning, and the political fall-out of the American-Saudi relationship being tested as it never quite has before." (Read Full "Kingdom of Silence" Review).
Well, my request has been answered in the form of a new documentary film called, "The Dissident." These two films were made independent of one another, but together they paint a brutal, shocking and unbelievable picture of not just what happened to Khashoggi, but why each and every American should care.
There isn't much that Regina King can't do. In the last year alone, the 49-year-old actress won an Emmy (HBO's "The Watchmen") and an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for "If Beale Street Could Talk"). Now, she takes a turn in the director's chair, heading up the film adaptation of the stage play of the same name, "One Night in Miami," proving that there are no limits to her unquestionable talents.
Say hello to Carey Mulligan, your 2020 Best Actress, for her unpredictable, deliciously wild role in the ambitious crime-drama, "Promising Young Woman."
It might not be remembered as such (there were a few other things going on this year), but 2020 was one heck of a year for documentary film. Because there were so many GREAT docs released this year, I thought it only appropriate that they deserved their own "best of" list.
Here then, are the ten best documentary films of 2020 (I may have cheated a bit and included 11 total films...read on for explanation):
to Gal Gadot is back in what is clearly the most highly-anticipated film of 2020. Much of that anticipation built during the pandemic, when "Wonder Woman 1984" found itself delayed from its original June 5th release date, to August 14th, then to October 2nd, and finally landing on Christmas Day. It was the last and only superhero movie still standing, as other films such as "Black Widow" were pushed off of the 2020 calendar completely.
Even its Christmas Day release was in jeopardy, with many expecting that it would move yet again with COVID cases continuing to climb across the country. But that's when Warner Bros. made the bold move to not only keep "Wonder Woman 1984" in theaters, but to simultaneously release it on HBO Max, a move that has since shaken up the entire movie industry.
Well, it pains me to report that we should be careful what we wish for. While many might be thrilled just for the chance to watch a superhero movie on the big-screen once again, I sure wish there was a better one for us to experience. "Wonder Woman 1984" is a mess of a film - several steps worse than the 2017 effort - and dare I say one of the worst movies of 2020.
"Monster Hunter" has a plot and characters only a video game from the early 2000s could respect. This is a movie so stupid, that by the time the talking cat pirate shows up, you won't even think twice.
Filmmaker Steve McQueen ("Widows," "12 Years a Slave") has put together a fascinating collection of five, separate, distinct films for Amazon Prime Video.
These five films - known as "Small Axe" - are technically being billed as a mini-series, despite none of the "episodes" featuring any of the same characters. To settle the matter, here is an excerpt from IndieWire as to whether "Small Axe" is technically a series of movies or a TV mini-series:
"When it comes to “Small Axe,” one thing is clear. Amazon Studios is submitting the series for Emmys, not Oscars. And until the Film Academy introduces an anthology series category, that‘s where “Small Axe” belongs."
They compare "Small Axe" to other anthology series like "Black Mirror" or "The Twilight Zone," shows with thematic commonalities but that do stand-alone. And it is true that "purpose" matters when it comes to the upcoming, delayed Oscars...in order for a film to be eligible, it doesn't necessarily have to have played in theaters, but it does have to have intended to play in theaters. That right there should end the debate on where "Small Axe" qualifies.
Whether they are technically movies in the traditional sense, or whether they are TV episodes, there is no debating that these are some of the most powerful stories you will witness in 2020. They are timely, often poetic and strongly linked thematically, and all take place in roughly the same place in England, featuring West Indian immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s and their struggles against police brutality, racism and injustice.
Read on for a quick overview of each "episode" in the "Small Axe" series:
Through no fault of its own, "Greenland" is not exactly the movie that the world needs right now. Delayed from its original theatrical release and now landing on VOD, a disaster movie about an apocalyptic event wiping out humanity isn't exactly the kind of film that offers an "escape" during a global pandemic. At a different time, it might be a passable popcorn blockbuster, but in 2020, its just a major bummer.
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