Top 5 Films of 2020

Banner from the new poster! : tenet

2020 has been an awful year but an interesting year for film. We have the pandemic so films got pushed to either to the end of the year or next and movie theaters around the country have closed. I hope someday they can come back as I miss safely going to the theatre but safety comes first and the Coronavirus needs to be defeated first. This did mean that in my search for great films I was exploring what could be rented on streaming as most of the big studio films were those pushed ahead and it was in that I found these films. I found these films primarily on Amazon and Netflix.

So without further ado before I get into my Top 5 the films I thought were awful this year. “The Rental” and “Color out of Space” were both billed with intriguing ideas for their horror films but were pretty and empty and I would not recommend them. “Altered Carbon: Resleeved” was also awful. It did not make use of the great show it came from. Same goes for “Justice League Dark: Apokolips War” for wasting the entire cinematic universe it had made.

For honorary mentions I must mention “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “The Invisible Man,” “Come to Daddy,” “Soul,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” and “Superman: Red Son.” Each of these either made full use of their premise, explored deeper ideas and were well acted and worth remembering. They just didn’t make the Top 5. Now without further ado, here are the Top 5.

Amazon.com: Watch The Gentlemen | Prime Video

5) The Gentlemen

Directed by Guy Ritchie

This is Guy Ritchie in his element as we follow awful people who are made compelling by the clever writing of Guy Ritchie. This film has some amazing action and how it frames narratives and perspectives enriches the story. This is classic Guy Ritchie so you know what you are getting into. None of these characters except maybe one of them are good people but the dramas and problems they need to get out of drive the narrative in fascinating ways. This is a great and flawed film and was one of the best films to come out earlier in the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/the-gentlemen-2020-a-great-guy-ritchie-crime-thriller/

Amazon.com: Gretel & Hansel Poster 27x40 Original D/S Movie Poster ...

4) Gretel & Hansel

Directed by Oz Perkins

“Gretel and Hansel” is a meditative heroine’s journey of self-discovery and power. The film follows Gretel as she cares for her brother after escaping with him from an abusive home and a corrupt town which leads them to Alice Krige’s haunting Witch. The film does not shy away from being horror but goes deeper as we learn the backstory of the Witch and Gretel finds her own way not shaped by anyone else. It is really powerful retelling and a beautiful film. The cinematography for this film is a masterpiece which captures the fairy tale nature of the story.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2020/07/26/gretel-hansel-2020-a-powerful-tale-of-making-ones-own-path/

Tenet (2020) - IMDb

3) Tenet

Directed by Christopher Nolan

“Tenet” is Christopher Nolan in his element as I’d say his best film is still probably “Inception.” This film ranks up there with that and “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is a spy thriller mixed with science fiction concepts as it uses time as the means to craft the narrative as the mystery of everything comes together and we learn fully who “The Protagonist” is. This film is beautifully acted, the action means something and pays off and it made me care about a main character who had almost no backstory besides being an Agent. I hope we see more films like this from Nolan as when he pushes himself and creates something original it is something great.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/tenet-2020-a-thriller-that-explores-the-nature-of-time/

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Netflix Movie Gets Colorful New Poster ...

2) Da 5 Bloods

Directed by Spike Lee

This is the second time Spike Lee has made my Top 5, last time it was first place with “BlackKklansman.” This film isn’t as narratively tight as that film and it does have a few monologues that kept the pacing slow in certain places. This film is still an amazing favorite though. This film explores intersectionality through the lens of African-American Vietnam vets returning to Vietnam to get CIA gold they’d hid and to honor the dead leader of their squad Norman (Chadwick Boseman). This was Chadwick Boseman’s penultimate film and he made the role of the leader and heart of the squad so memorable. Racism in the context of the United States and Vietnam is how intersectionality is explored and I highly recommend this film that ties the basis of it’s existance to solving the problems of racism in the present.

R.I.P. Chadwick Boseman.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2020/06/21/da-5-bloods-2020-the-intersectionality-of-justice/

Blood Quantum (2019)

1) Blood Quantum

Directed by Mi’kmaqi Jeff Barnaby

“Blood Quantum” explores intersectionality and oppression in the context of the Red Crow people on a reservation during a zombie outbreak. This film is brutal but has a deep emotional core that it never strays away from as the core relationships between family and friends are explored as we see people wrestle with their trauma and how it plays out when the reservation is the only safe place in the outbreak. The cast is nearly entirely indigenous as is the director and I can’t wait to check out his other work. This film truly explores oppression and the consequences and cost it has on the individual to community scale. This film captures horror, history, action and drama to tell an unforgettable narrative that puts it above the rest. In the end this is why, “Blood Quantum” made my favorite film of the year.

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/blood-quantum-2020-a-tragedy-of-history-and-trauma/

These were my Top 5 Films of 2020. I’m curious to hear about what yours were this year. Here is to a better 2021.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020): Weak First Act But Strong Finish

Amazon.com: WONDER WOMAN 1984 MOVIE POSTER 2 Sided ORIGINAL Advance 27x40  GAL GADOT: Posters & Prints

Judging “Wonder Woman 1984” compared to the first film is difficult. They both have very distinct flaws of their own while I’d rate them both on a similar scale and in similar quality. Keep in mind I thought the first film was great but flawed and that absolutely applies to this one. This was a film worth waiting on though before doing my Top 5 for the year though as both it and “Soul” would certainly be in my Top 10. From that I’d say if you enjoyed the first film you should watch this one. Gal Gadot continues to inhabit this character and the villains are more compelling in this film. So definitely check it out.

The film was directed by Patty Jenkins who co-wrote the film with Geoff Johns and David Callaham.

The film follows Diana Prince / Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as she deals with events surrounding the Dreamstone as her life is transformed forever as other forces vie for it.

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer continues to give “Wonder Woman” a distinct and heroic sound that stands out as much as Nolan’s Batman, Burton’s Batman and Reeves’s Superman. She has her epic riffs in battle sequences and we also get the more godlike themes intermixed with personal notes. I really enjoyed this soundtrack.

The Action – The action for the most part works (except for a Mall Fight I’ll get into later) with an Amazon Trial at the start that young Diana faces off in. We get Cheetah versus Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor against a convoy of soldiers. It is all really well done even though I’d say the first film’s action is better.

Steve Trevor – Chris Pine is back and his chemistry with Gal Gadot continues to drive scenes with weaker writing. In this he is the “Fish out of water” as he adapts to new technology in the 80s and being back in the world and inhabiting the body of someone else. He is the first to realize the cost of the Dreamstone and thanks Diana for their time together before asking her to let him go. It is really well done and I loved seeing the duo back together but it not being permanent.

Barbara Minverva / Cheetah – Kristen Wiig’s Minerva initially comes off like Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Jamie Foxx’s Electro but unlike them she gets nuance and development and you can understand her rage. Her friendship with Diana is also built up over time so when she discovers Diana is a demigod she feels betrayed and wants to hold onto the power she finally has. Diana saves her a few times and she resents it so finally being able to revenge against the sexist creeps is rewarding when the Dreamstone grants her the strength to get what she wants. This leads to her becoming Maxwell Lord’s defender and her eventual transformation into Cheetah. A transformation that might still be in her as even though the curse is reversed we never see her recant her wish.

Maxwell Lord – Pedro Pascal gives us a man who came from nothing and in his drive for power forgot his family along the way, to the point that he only has his son left. This leads to a different dynamic too as he chooses to become the Dreamstone and use people’s wishes to take power to give himself greater strength. He is only stopped by seeing the chaos he is causing will lead to the death of his son, which finally leads to him recanting his wish. He could have just been a greedy businessman type but he was made to be more complex. Seriously, both these villains are greater than any in the first film.

Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot’s arc in this film is facing her selfishness and learning to let go. It begins with her cheating to win a competition as a child and after her holding onto that same want when she has Steve, even though a man has been kicked out of his body and is dead because of it. The cost also came at her losing her power but she holds on that much. In this way the slow arc of realizing she can only win as Wonder Woman and respecting Steve’s choice that she becomes the demigod once more and saves the world with the Lasso of Truth, which reveals the cost to people and them recanting their wishes and Maxwell’s truth of himself to his son. It is powerfully done and a much better final act than the first film.

The Wish / Monkey’s Paw Concept and Cost – The basic concept of the Monkey’s paw is so cool. We learn the Dreamstone was crafted by The Duke of Deception a demigod who has been causing chaos throughout history. We never see him but his legacy does last through the film given the amount of damage the Dreamstone does. I wish we’d seen the demigod but the you can see why people made the wishes they did and the cost for the wishes made sense.

The Cons:

First Act Writing – The first act has weak writing. It is trying to setup a lot but it does it a little too slowly and we don’t really get to know Diana and Minerva that much as people beyond what is told us. This act could have been cut in half and we wouldn’t have lost anything.

The Mall Fight – The mall fight is cheesy bad. It looks like something you’d see on early CW and it winks a little too much at the camera. The thieves are also jokes and if they are connected to an organization it never comes up again. This scene took me out especially after the Amazon Trials which were great action and developed character and the story.

The Flying Sequences – There are times Diana is flying with her lasso or not using her lasso at all and flying and it looks very green screen bad. I don’t know why it does as there are a lot of good looking fight sequences in this film but these sequences just feel fake.

In the end this film worked in regards to the core characters, emotional base and the message of the film against selfishness with the Dreamstone. The action, cinematography and writing aren’t as strong as the first film but this is still one that I’d highly recommend. In the end I would rate it on par, it doesn’t rise above the first film but it is just as great and I can’t wait to see what next story we get. This world is rich and there is so much still to explore.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Wonder Woman (2017): DC Finally Finds a Hero

     “Wonder Woman,” is a great. I just need to put that out there now before I get into the reasons why because it really is amazing and if you like comic book or super hero films you will enjoy this film. DC has been having a hard time finding heroes, Superman doesn’t really save anyone in the films he’s been in and when he does it is in a somber way, almost like he hates it…and Batman is beating up criminals and leaving them to die in prison so he isn’t exactly what I’d call a hero either as we never have the chance to connect with the people he is supposedly protecting. Wonder Woman changes all of that in her film. DC finally gives us the much needed hero which in turn may save their cinematic universe.

The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg and produced by Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle, Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

The story involves Diana (Gal Gadot) who is pulled into World War 1 when spy Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane crashes near her home, the Island of Themyscira. Going against the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta, she joins him to seek out and destroy Ares, who she believes is responsible for the War and the peace broken on her Island when Steve arrived.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is wonderful as we get a fish out of water story as Diana and her Island are outside of the world in a magic bubble. This leads to some great moments where Diana has to adapt to a world full of technology where there is patriarchy in all power structures and her very existence upsets them (as she is a princess from a Matriarchal Island). The premise is not only her hunting down of Ares but her own self discovery and finding her purpose and living what it means to be a hero.

The Universe – Themyscira (the Amazon Island) is an amazing place that looks like an ancient Greek isle where women outside of time train and fight and have representatives and well as Queen ruling them…we have World War 1 and see the horrors of trench and chemical warfare and we have Diana in the present, unaged showing that even as he has changed she is still the Amazon who left that Island long ago.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film as each of them reveals contradictions about themselves. Diana is confident and driven, but also unsure and can easily despair. Steve is a spy who lies, smuggles and kills but also will risk everything to stop the greater conflict and the other side characters reveal things about themselves too. My favorite character was Queen Hippolyta’s sister Antiope (played by Robin Wright) who is the Amazon General and went against the rules to train Diana and in the end dies preparing Diana for the fight against Ares…and the commandos who go with Steve and Diana are amazing too as each of them is broken and courageous, each in their own way.

The Horrors of War – The horrors of war and despair it can bring are handled really well in this film. One of the characters we follow has PTSD and another lost his dream when the Great War began. Diana also loses her mentor, her Aunt Antiope to a German soldier when Steve’s plane crashes near the Island…and at one point in one of the best parts of the film, Diana breaks the No Man’s Land in the trenches and saves a starving village…only for the Germans to gas the village…There is so much despair and the hope that we see are in the acts of saving others or simply surviving. War is hell, and this film presents it beautifully.

Okay: The Villains – There is Doctor Poison who we never get to know but is a sociopath only wanting to kill and destroy, we have a war obsessed German General who hams it up well enough but is forgettable…and of course Ares who appears first as an ally and reveals that he didn’t have to corrupt humanity much at all, just push their own destructive urges. Ares is the best of the lot but even he could have been explored a lot more. Each of these villains have potential but like Marvel Phase 1 Villains they are disposable and fail to enhance the story.

The Message – The message is one of hope and love (which is alright in presentation, but seems to have been completely forgotten in her exile) and a call for equality (the message that worked) as Diana simply by existing and standing up for herself, changes the circumstances of those around her. In speaking up and taking action she is the hero…whether it is to Ares, her mother or the British and German Generals.

The Cons: Bullet Time – The action overall would be great if not for the bullet time. There are so many scenes were the action is slowed down and it just hurts the film. There is no reason for them to do this and it doesn’t add anything to the story and just distracts from whatever the focus in the scene should be. This is a Snyderism that should be used sparingly, if used at all.

Diana’s Exile – After Diana defeats Ares, she goes into exile. We never find out what she was doing in between World War 1 and “Batman v. Superman” but for a movie that had her say her message is to bring hope and love to the world…we don’t see any of that and her making that her thesis statement should have been shown, rather than her going underground and only becoming Wonder Women at the end of “Batman v. Superman.”

This movie won’t be in my Top 5 of the year, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still a favorite. This is a movie that remembered what it means to be a hero as the whole point of Diana joining our world was to protect the weak and fight for the innocent. This was something DC forgot when they started their cinematic universe to compete with the MCU. I hope going forward they can remember it. This is a movie I highly recommend and I hope it not only changes the DC universe but gives us more heroes like Diana in future films as we finally see more of the amazing women that populate the world of heroes.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10