The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic means cinema hasn’t served up quite the same number of films as previous years. Tentpoles like Black Widow, No Time to Die, and Dune have seen their release dates pushed back by worried studios concerned they won’t make the money back on these ridiculously expensive blockbusters. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some brilliant films to keep the world entertained during this health crisis, and the lack of big-name releases has given smaller offerings a chance to shine.
From adaptations of classic literature to counter-culture stories presented in black and white, 2020 has delivered some standout pieces of cinema. Here are nine of the best.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Margot Robbie is back in action as the Gotham City villain who, after breaking up with “Mistah J,” finds herself down on her luck and with several targets on her back. This puts her in the crosshairs of Mugatu-like crime boss Black Mask and three deadly women as they all search for a missing girl called Cassandra Cain.
This is the most comic book-looking and -feeling adaptation since Into the Spider-Verse, with healthy doses of camp and crassness to truly revel in. Not to mention, fight scenes that look like the love child of John Wick and Cirque du Soleil. Director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson delivered a carnival of fun that totally warrants repeat viewing.
The Jane Austen novel gets the big-screen treatment again, this time with Anya Taylor-Joy playing the titular role. Emma Woodhouse is a vain, young woman of social standing in Georgian England who thinks of herself as quite the matchmaker. However, her meddling in other people’s affairs of the heart often causes more harm than romantic harmony. Props to director Autumn de Wilde and writer Eleanor Catton for capturing the true ridiculousness of the pomp and ceremony of the time and allowing Emma to be as truly unlikeable as Austen intended. Taylor-Joy delivers on all cylinders but she shares the MVP title with Bill Nighy and Mia Goth, who are just as marvelous in their respective roles of Mr Woodhouse and Harriet.
The Invisible Man
Director Leigh Whannell (Upgrade, Saw) flips the switch on H.G. Wells’ classic novel with this thrilling story about one woman’s escape from an abusive partner. Elisabeth Moss is on top form as Cecilia, who after the apparent suicide of her wealthy and controlling boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) believes he is stalking her after developing away to become invisible. Of course, people don’t believe the paranoid abuse victim, but as the torment increases she takes matters into her own hands to fight for her freedom.
It’s refreshing to find a remake that doesn’t make a pitfall by keeping too close to previous iterations. Whannell locates the horror elsewhere and what could be more horrifying than a domestic abuser with the power of invisibility? Though frightening and shocking, The Invisible Man is ultimately a rallying cry for survivors everywhere.
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Radha Blank’s directorial debut is a brilliantly funny semi-autobiographical story about an artist struggling to stay afloat in an industry designed to keep women like her in their place. Blank plays a heightened version of herself, a playwright who was once lauded but now, as she approaches her 40th birthday, is teaching at a high school and losing faith in her ability to get her latest play, Harlem Ave., made. Sick of gatekeepers either unwilling to pay her properly or too willing to dictate how to present Blackness in her work, Radha channels her artistic frustration into rapping and soon finds her voice again. An homage to black-and-white New York comedies of the past like She’s Gotta Have It and Manhattan, The Forty-Year-Old-Version offers a fresh perspective and witty criticism of the state of the arts for marginalized creatives.
If you fancy the cinematic equivalent of a shock to your system, then Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher is for you. This indie film centers on a troublesome German foster child, Benni (Helena Zengel), who has a mean temper. Seriously mean. She will kick, spit, and rinse you with names if you get on her nerves or touch her face. Her anger stems from early childhood abuse and an absentee mother who can’t look after her, so she’s stuck in a foster system that can’t provide the focused care she needs. When a school aide arrives, things start to look up, but this isn’t a Disney movie, and sometimes orphans don’t get their happily ever after. Zengel delivers an awe-inspiring performance for someone so young in a smart and tight film exploring the damning limitations of the welfare system.
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Following up The Death of Stalin with a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s semi-autobiographical novel, Armando Iannucci makes a bright return to the screen that’s far more optimistic than his usual fare. Dev Patel is the eponymous Copperfield, who encounters a curious host of characters as he journeys through the tumult of life in 19th-century England. Iannucci’s biting wit is somewhat missing from this version, but added the whimsy makes up for it, delivering a delightfully fun version of a classic that better reflects the diversity of the U.K. today without undermining the themes and issues of Dickens’ past.
Da 5 Bloods
No one could imagine how resonant Spike Lee’s Vietnam-set drama would become when it was released in June. But after Chadwick Boseman’s death in August, it has become an even more poignant piece of storytelling. The film revolves around a group of four aging Vietnam War veterans—played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Norm Lewis—who return to the country to find the remains of their fallen squad leader (Boseman), as well as a significant amount of gold they acquired and buried there while serving. It’s everything you could expect from a Spike Lee joint: witty with visceral tension compounded by the stylistic, narrative touches that are his trademark. And it’s rather refreshing to watch a Vietnam film where a white American is a token addition rather than the lead.
A nuanced debut from Channing Godfrey Peoples, Nicole Beharie plays Turquoise Jones, a Texan and single mother who enters her 15-year-old daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) in the same Miss Juneteenth pageant Turquoise won years earlier. The grand prize is a full scholarship to college, but Kai’s not interested in competing. As prep for the beauty contest continues and Turquoise tries to keep the family afloat working several jobs, the emotional gap between mother and daughter starts to close. Beharie and Chikaeze deliver strong, heartfelt performances in a film that serves as a celebration of Black women and their resilience.
Beats has flown under the radar, but that doesn’t make it any less of a brilliant cinematic ride. The black-and-white film, co-written and directed by Brian Welsh, is set in ‘90s Scotland, at a time when outdoor rave parties across the the U.K. were banned through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Teen friends Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn MacDonald) spend a day seeking out an illegal rave for what will likely be their last night together before adult life separates them. More rite of passage than coming-of-age film, Beats captures not only a nostalgic slice of the past through its pulsating tour of the infamous rave scene, but the universality of emotions connected with growing up—that feeling of trying to hold onto the present before the future comes along to change everything.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below