Joker’s Top 10 films of 2020

I’m sure there were a ton of these lists out there, but here’s another. 

10) Enola Holmes – Netflix

Look, I was as surprised as you that I enjoyed this film, but I really thought the film did a great job bringing a fun and new character to life inside of a fairly established universe. Millie Bobby Brown nailed the role, being just the right amount of charming to be a fourth-wall breaker in an only moderately comedic film. I also appreciate that the mystery at the core of the film is one worthy of a Holmes character.

9) Birds of Prey (Harley Quinn) – HBO Max

This film should have failed completely but somehow just decided to be as fun and possible and it worked. While the structure of the film isn’t the best, the performances of all of the main characters are great and the humor is on point. The action sequences, also, are some of the best in the DCU despite almost no one in the film having superpowers. Plus, it gave us more of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn despite that awful Suicide Squad film.

8) Hamilton – Disney+

I never thought we were going to get this film, but, at a time when we needed it most, Disney decided to go ahead and drop one of the absolute best musicals I’ve seen in my life. Hamilton brings everything: Amazing cast, great songs, creative choreography, and f*cking rap battles in place of boring policy debates. It’d be higher on here if it was more of a movie, honestly, but it’s still one of the highlights of last year.

7) The Old Guard – Netflix

If you had pitched me the idea of the Director of Love and Basketball doing a superhero film about Charlize Theron being a Scythian who wields a battle-axe in the modern day leading a team of immortals, I’d have offered to help you find a doctor for your stroke. However, this film worked brilliantly. Great action sequences, great acting, and deeper characters than you’d think this film could manage; this was a pleasant surprise.

6) Bill and Ted Face the Music

We had to wait a long time for this film, but it finally arrived and it managed to somehow secure Bill and Ted as one of the most successful trilogies of all time. In addition to having the talents of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, it incorporated Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine as their daughters who perfectly duplicate their fathers’ idiosyncrasies. The film is hilarious and it ends with one of the best messages in a film we got all year. Just a great end to a franchise.

5) Dick Johnson is Dead – Netflix

This is the blackest comedy I have ever seen. It’s a documentary by a daughter, Kirsten Johnson, discussing and acting out with her dementia-suffering father, Dick, all of the ways in which is he likely going to die.  It’s truly disturbing because her father constantly plays along with her in a grim acceptance of her mortality. It’s also the only film I couldn’t bring myself to review on here, but it’s still one that has stuck with me and will stick with you.

4) Love and Monsters – Rent on Prime

One of my friends messaged my movie group to say that this was a great new “boy and his dog” film and that is definitely a solid aspect of this story. However, this film is much bigger than that. It’s got drama, comedy, a pupper, and, of course, an unrequited romance all contained in a well-designed apocalyptic setting. It needs to get on streaming so that more people can appreciate this.

3) Soul – Disney+

Coming in right at the end of this year, Pixar gave us a true return to form. Everything in this movie is well done. Animation, pacing, writing, voice cast, and design all combined to create something that ranks among the best animated films Pixar has done. Moreover, it’s one of the most mature stories they’ve ever done and I appreciated that decision.

2) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Netflix

Helmed by great performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis, this adaptation of August Wilson’s play is captivating in the truest sense of the term. You will be completely entranced by the monologues and dialogue as the characters share their loves, losses, hopes, and dreams. It’ll hit you in places you didn’t even know you had.

1) Palm Springs – Hulu

I know people will disagree with this ranking, but this was the only film this year where I had to pause it just to let myself express how much I was enjoying the experience. This new take on Groundhog Day featured Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti and brought an amazing amount of novelty to an overdone trope. It made me laugh as hard as any movie has in a while and I needed some laughs this year. 

Disagree? Tell me in the comments.

Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – Suicide Squad Done Right

DC tries to give Harley Quinn a second shot at a decent film along with a team of female anti-heroes.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has been dumped by the Joker (Technically Jared Leto) and is setting out on her own. Unfortunately, during the process of moving on, she earns the ire of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the supervillain and mob-boss known as the Black Mask. Sionis is being investigated by Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who also starts chasing Quinn. Montoya, Harley, singer/asskicker Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and assassin Helena “Huntress” Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all get caught up in a plot involving Sionis and a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco).

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Montoya’s the only one smart enough to carry a gun. Or maybe sane enough.

END SUMMARY

I hated Suicide Squad. Admittedly, a lot of that was because I was angry that I had been suckered by the trailers into thinking it was going to be a good movie, even though I should have known from the earlier trailers that it was never going to work out. The way that characters were introduced, the generic plotlines, the constant desire to be “edgy” but never actually being edgy, all of that just made me hate that film. I even really didn’t like Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn, but I don’t think it had to do with Robbie’s performance. The writing was just awful.

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This is the outfit she wears to fight an evil demi-god. The Fresh Prince has armor.

Unlike that movie’s over-the-top promotion, I almost didn’t realize this movie came out. The advertising focused so heavily on “the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn” over the Birds of Prey that, after Suicide Squad, I really wasn’t that interested in this movie. However, after hearing a few people praise the movie, I gave it a shot, and somehow this movie does almost everything Suicide Squad did, but does it mostly correctly. The writing is still bad, but it’s not AS bad and the characters and directing manage to mostly salvage it.

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And we don’t get a completely unearned “hero walk” in ours.

One of the biggest things about the movie is that it’s narrated by Harley Quinn who stylizes most of the narration, captions, and flashbacks. The first thing this does is actually justify the stylized character screens that were present throughout Suicide Squad, where the introductions were being done by Amanda Waller, a person who would never try to be that cutesy. Also, Waller’s explanations are to other people, whereas Harley is just crazy enough to talk to the imaginary audience. Harley breaking the fourth wall can be a bit over-the-top at times, but for the most part Robbie makes it charming. I’ll admit that the opening 10-15 minutes weren’t great, but once Harley gets a cheese sandwich, it starts to find its feet. In fairness, the sandwich was the emotional center of the movie. Still, having a good point of view to follow actually erases quite a few of the mistakes of its predecessor. 

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Being Fabulous helps.

It also helps that the character introductions are less “blatant narration” and more “scene depicting, through their actions, what kind of people they are.” I admit that Huntress’s backstory is way more narrated, but she’s so damned fun that I will overlook it. Moreover, the characters aren’t all introduced to us en masse, instead, they are explained when they enter the story. It feels less forced and the movie even admits that when the team finally comes together, they’re not really a team at that point, they’re just four women and a kid who have to work together out of necessity. Given their varied personalities and predilections, that’s really the only way they could have ever agreed to cooperate. 

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Professional killer, psychopathic psychiatrist, hero who needs a hair tie.

The characters are very different from their comic counterparts in a lot of ways, but it never annoyed me. Black Canary spends much of the movie refusing a call to heroism because her mother was killed being a superhero. Huntress was raised with a desire to kill her family’s murderers, but this has made her completely insecure and socially awkward. Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez – Actually, I’m going to stop here and just give a round of applause to Rosie Perez for A) playing an action movie character over 50, B) getting work as a leading woman over 40 in a big budget film, and C) selling a character who admits to being a cliche half the time. Seriously, just… good job, Rosie. Anyway, Rene Montoya, as played by Rosie Perez, is a grizzled veteran who has been screwed over by the system repeatedly, a stark contrast to the naive rookie that the character was originally. Cassandra Cain is an in-name-only character, who bears no resemblance to the mute super martial artist of the comics. 

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This character is portrayed as socially awkward and it’s great.

Despite all of the changes, they just serve to drive home that this “team” really has nothing in common. Canary fights because she’s got just too much hero in her to let Sionis capture a girl, Harley does it because she likes Cassandra and because Sionis is going to kill her, Montoya believes in stopping Sionis even if the rest of the department doesn’t support her, and Huntress is just after vengeance. We have a vigilante, a self-serving antihero, a cop, and an assassin, and it somehow comes together organically for the final major action set piece.

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Spoiler: It involves Roller Skates and I love that they point out how insane that is.

Actually, I really liked all of the action sequences in this film. They vary a lot and many of them capture the fun slapstick element of violence that the John Wick films did well. I will admit that some of the gore is a bit more than I was expecting and, honestly, maybe more than the film needed, but they’re overall solid. 

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She uses a confetti gun at one point, just to balance it out.

I also loved Ewan McGregor’s performance as Roman Sionis. He perfectly nails a combination of psychopath and insecure over-compensating douche. He has no emotional strength and whines constantly, but due to his wealth and influence can get away with anything, so he just moves straight to violence as a response. He seems almost unbelievable as a human being, except that YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE MET THIS GUY ON THE INTERNET. It’s also amazing that he is utterly incapable of doing almost anything on his own, but is still threatening to everyone. It helps that his chief henchman, Zsasz (Chris Messina), is a grade-A serial killer, but still, McGregor sells that Sionis can be simultaneously weak and yet overwhelming.

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He’s not the comic book Black Mask, but he’s just so great.

Overall, I genuinely liked this film. I don’t know why it’s failing at the box office aside from the fact that it felt like a tacked-on sequel to a terrible movie, which it absolutely is not. I mean, it’s poorly written, but still better than Aquaman. I wonder if there’s a reason a female superteam movie with some admitted flaws would have 1/10th the box office of Jason Momoa in spandex, despite getting better critical and audience reviews? Dang it, Drogo…

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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