2020 in review
The past year was strange for entertainment. I normally do a “best and worst movies of the year” list. But this year, I won’t be able to do that because there weren’t that many movies I was able to see. Instead, I’m just going to talk about some good entertainment in the last year that I haven’t reviewed yet. These include movies, video games, and TV shows.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Biopics are hard to make interesting. It’s difficult to make an engaging story around events you can find in a Wikipedia article. To make it engaging, you have to make the story about a universal feeling that the audience can relate to. Judas and the Black Messiah is an excellent story of betrayal and manipulation within the context of the FBI assassination of Fred Hampton, a revolutionary activist and leader of the Chicago chapter of the the Black Panthers.
Every element of this movie is nearly flawless. Lakeith Stanfield, who plays William O’Neal, and Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Fred Hampton, command the screen and you end up being really invested in their dynamic. The manipulation of the FBI becomes so infuriating (in a good way) and the film builds excellent tension and dread as the pieces of the story fall into place. The atmosphere and tone of the film in particular is really vibrant and slick, and while the story ends up becoming very depressing, it’s consistently entertaining through its conclusion.
I didn’t expect a dark, satirical parody of superhero content to have some of the best commentary on topics such as corporatism, the media, hero-worship, and right-wing extremism. But The Boys did it. This is an excellent show that rarely misses and one that builds a fascinating and compelling character-driven story where every decision made feels purposeful and has consequences.
The show’s sense of humor is hysterical and its timing is always really appropriate. It never undercuts the brutality of the show, which is quite extreme and over-the-top, but not to the point of it being silly. The humor is perfectly balanced with the really dark and unsettling sequences that pull you back to reality. It’s a reflection of our world and answers one age-old question: would superheroes actually be forces of good in real life? The show’s answer is no and goes very in-depth to tell us why the answer is no. Season three can’t come fast enough.
I like shooting games. I like blood and gore. I like demons. I like metal. This game has all of it, so naturally, I love it. For what seems like a dumb shooting game, it’s surprisingly difficult and actually forces the player to think. You have to figure out enemy weaknesses, be constantly on the move, and adjust your tactics as the levels go along. It’s a really well-made shooter that’s endlessly replayable.
Frances McDormand turns in her greatest performance as a nomad on a journey across the country after losing her entire livelihood after the recession. This took me two tries to really get into, but it’s important to know what this film is from the get go.
The movie is less about the recession and more about a woman struggling to recollect herself and survive. It is also not a revolutionary commentary on anything. Rather, it’s a slice-of-life piece about Americans and their struggles. It has no clear resolution or a clear answer as to what to do about it or even much of a story. This can be seen as a criticism for some people, and at times, the film does meander too much. But for me, I’m drawn in by the people. It just allows us to meditate and observe the characters. By the end of my second watch, I found myself wanting to watch it again just to be able to spend more time with the characters. It is not a perfect movie, but it is one that is worth every second of your time.
There is a limited online screening of this on A24’s site for $20 but it is worth every penny. This film, which centers on a Korean immigrant family in the 1980s, is a really warm and wholesome movie. It’s got a beautiful, dream-like quality to it that mirrors the experience of what it is like to be an immigrant.
Every performance is incredible. The relationship between all the family members was really cute and the emotional payoff by the end was cathartic. It’s never cloying at any point despite its overall warm tone because the film doesn’t sugarcoat that being an immigrant in America is pretty tough. I am tempted to buy another ticket for another virtual screening, but the tickets are selling out fast and I want others to have the opportunity to see this as soon as possible.
Ghost of Tsushima
This game should not be as good as it is. This is an epic, open-world samurai game that is so much fun to play and pays so much homage to Akira Kurosawa, who is my favorite director, and his samurai movies. The story is pretty good, but for me the fun of this game is running around as a samurai and fighting people. The combat system is so fluid and masterfully done. This is one of those rare games where it really makes you feel like you’re the character. The world itself is beautiful, with the wind constantly blowing through the landscape and your clothes as you ride your horse into a beautiful sunset. I can’t wait to replay this in the black-and-white Kurosawa mode.
Good lord. What a horrifying movie. This is a psychological, body-horror film about a fanatic religious caretaker trying to save the soul of the woman she is taking care of. I can’t say much about this movie without spoiling it, but rest assured that this is as disturbing as you’d expect that premise to be. I found myself squirming in my seat for a lot of it, and Morfydd Clark’s performance was haunting and left my jaw dropped. This isn’t Hereditary, which is still the most terrifying movie I’ve seen in recent memory, but it is another winning horror film for A24.
I know that this movie has a few issues with its plot construction, but I frankly couldn’t care less about that because the movie isn’t about that. Soul is a magnificently animated and breathtaking movie that really stuck with me. Joe, who is a middle school jazz teacher and a struggling musician, dies after he gets into an accident on the day he finally has his big break, and the rest of the movie is his soul trying to get back into his body. Except the movie is much more than that.
Really, it’s a story about living in the moment. We get so wrapped up in our existential concerns of success that we fail to consider what’s in the present, even if there is nothing going on in the present. Sure, you’ll struggle a lot, and that can make your life really tough and miserable. But even if you’re on the other side and you’ve made it, you still have to live after. So if you don’t know how to live in the moment, your success won’t make you any less miserable. But it takes something as simple as watching a sunset on the beach and feeling the sand in your toes to remind you why it is you’re alive. You’re not alive because you have some purpose. You don’t need a purpose. Living is enough on its own and that’s good. It’s a wonderful message for both kids and adults alike to hear, especially given the past year. Combined with some of the best animation I’ve ever seen, this is just a knockout movie that everyone should watch. This is the Pixar that we’ve been missing for the last decade.
Some other good stuff: I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Last of Us: Part II, Hades, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Last and First Men, Mank, Promising Young Woman, Time, The Expanse, Attack on Titan, The Queen’s Gambit, Unorthodox