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.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: A Masterpiece – Netflix Review

Two fantastic performers and a great cast bring August Wilson’s play to life.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Welcome to Chicago in the Summer of 1927. Legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is set to do a recording of her famous song “Black Bottom.” Awaiting her arrival is her band, composed of leader and trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo), bass player Slow Drag (Michael Potts), piano player Toledo (Glynn Turman), and ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman). The group exchange stories and opinions as they wait for Ma to arrive, only to find that she’s brought her young girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown). Ma gets into a number of arguments with her manager, Irvin (Jeremy Shamos), the recording studio owner Mr. Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne), and even the band. As the day gets hotter, tempers and egos start flaring.

It’s a hell of a performance.

END SUMMARY

I don’t know if I can really say spoiler-free on a play that is older than I am, but I have read at least a few pieces that suggest that August Wilson’s work doesn’t get represented well in a lot of areas of the country, so this might be a lot of people’s first chance to see the play. I have only read it, but it seems like a pretty faithful adaptation from what I remember. There were some things that naturally were changed or added, and mostly subtracted, for the adaptation, but it seems overall to have gotten it right. 

The power of the performances still comes through.

The biggest plus in this adaptation is that the two central figures, Ma Rainey and Levee, are both played by ridiculously talented actors. Viola Davis is… do I even have to explain how good Viola Davis is? She’s one of only 24 people to win the Triple Crown of acting and she’s both the only African-American to do so and the youngest winner. Since she won both a Tony and an Oscar for a previous adaptation of an August Wilson play, Fences, she was a natural selection here and her performance elevates every scene she’s in. She’s portraying a powerful black woman trying to use every bit of the power she has in a world that is dedicated to keeping her down and she sells it completely. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the young and ambitious Levee was made only sadder by watching him play a character so focused on finding a future and knowing that his was so short. I can’t say whether it’s because I know he died after filming, but he looks like he’s trying as hard as he can in every scene to make sure that he shows a burning intensity befitting a character like Levee. You can practically see a raging fire behind his eyes in almost every shot, particularly when he’s explaining the story of what happened to his parents. He’s full of fury and power and is burdened with the knowledge that he can’t ever show it or his life will be over. It’s amazing. 

Such a loss.

The supporting cast is also fantastic. Each of the members of the band has a story to tell and the performances have to be captivating enough to keep you focused during the monologues they give. Colman Domingo is particularly good as Cutler because he’s stuck between trying to keep Levee in place while trying to deal with Ma’s diva demands. While he’s much less outspoken than Levee, you can see that he’s watching every situation, monitoring it like a cook trying to keep pots from boiling over, trying to do just enough to keep everything moving forward. Dusan Brown does a great job as Sylvester, who has to overcome his stutter in order to do the introduction on Ma Rainey’s recording, because she wants to help him earn some money. Since this is before multiple-track recordings, every time he messes up, they lose an entire master record, and he knows it. Brown’s portrayal is a perfect blend of scared, angry, and happy for the opportunity. Then there’s Taylor Paige as Dussie Mae, who gets to add a decent amount to her relatively scant dialogue through her reactions to both Ma and Levee. Really, just everyone is top-notch without exception.

Her eyes are always looking down but her gaze keeps looking upward.

Overall, just a fabulous movie. I haven’t been this captivated in a while, and I recommend it highly.

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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