December 2020 (So Far) Movie Reviews
Looking Back At Some Films Released For Public Consumption In December 2020 (So Far)
After two weeks of (almost) daily quickie reviews for the 2020 movie season from me, we’ve arrived at the (near) endgame for 2020. By today I have seen a whopping 18 films in December 2020, a month that has seen a strange quasi-Oscar season with even more awards bait films to come in early 2021 - plus some critics in a hurry releasing their Best of 2020 lists. And yet there’s still a little bit more of 2020 movie season for me to catch up on even after considering these 18 movies, so consider these my December 2020 (so far) movie reviews with just a tad more to go until I can call it a season in film watching.
But first, a reminder of what my grading system for movies works like:
- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film I’ve Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Graded Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
With all that out of the way, lets get to those quickie reviews already…
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): 1930s Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane.
My Review: A very niche film that is a wonder at technical filmmaking, has great performances, and yet its plot might not be for everyone. It worked for me and I enjoyed this meta take on the writing of CITIZEN KANE. For me, one of the best films I’ve seen this year. A- for MANK.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): A drummer begins to lose his hearing and has to come to grips with a future that will be filled with silence.
My Review: This film is a tale of two halves for me. The first is an incredible heartwarming film of hope through unforeseen and tragic events for our protagonist. Unfortunately the second half felt like an aimless journey that finished with an unfulfilling climax. Riz Ahmed stands out here for an incredible Oscar worthy performance but its still stinging me that this film didn’t finish quite as strong as it started. That said I would not have complained had I seen it on the big screen. B- for SOUND OF METAL.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): A young and unskilled fairy godmother that ventures out on her own to prove her worth by tracking down a young girl whose request for help was ignored. What she discovers is that the girl has now become a grown woman in need of something very different than a “prince charming.”
My Review: Seeing this get a lot of mediocre reviews and I don’t get it, I had a lot of fun with this and found myself wondering why Disney didn’t have more confidence to plan a big theatrical release for this even Pre-COVID. I was thoroughly entertained and would have loved a theatrical experience with this but hey you can see it on Disney Plus for no extra charge. B+ for GODMOTHERED.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last pack. But when she saves a wild native girl, their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transform her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.
My Review: This film is getting rave reviews, making Best of 2020 lists, and I…don’t get it. Its not a bad film at all, I found it to be decent and worthy of the big screen were it not available on Apple’s streaming service, but I didn’t fall in love with this or find a masterpiece in this like so many others have. Anyhow the animation is great, the voice work is top notch, but unfortunately I can’t say the story touched me as much as it did so many others. B- for WOLFWALKERS.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): After the PTA of a conservative high school in Indiana bans same-sex couples from attending the annual prom, a gang of flamboyant Broadway stars try to boost their image by showing up to support two lesbian students.
My Review: When the theatre characters are in this I was having fun, liking the songs, and laughing. When the students (save for our main protagonist) were the focus I was rolling my eyes, annoyed with the melodrama, and was not feeling the songs. Overall a film that’s not bad for the curious to watch from home, but thankfully not something I had to waste resources and time to see on the big screen. C+ for THE PROM.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): A celebrated author takes a journey with some old friends to have some fun and heal old wounds. Her nephew comes along to wrangle the ladies and finds himself involved with a young literary agent.
My Review: Very quirky film filled with dialogue that worked for me, though it does come with a twist ending that might be the stunner of the year. Overall a decent film I actually would have not complained about if I saw it at my local cinema instead of on HBO Max. B- for LET THEM ALL TALK.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon has her heart set on winning her neighbour Anthony Reilly’s love. The problem is, Anthony seems to have inherited a family curse, and remains oblivious to his beautiful admirer. Stung by his father’s plans to sell the family farm to his American nephew, Anthony is jolted into pursuing his dreams.
My Review: This film is getting slaughtered by critics, and yet I came away being entertained by it and finding it to be something I would not have minded seeing on the big screen over VOD. Yeah the accents are hit and miss and characters make strange decisions, but I’m sorry (not really) I enjoyed myself as a sucker for romance. B- for WILD MOUNTAIN THYME.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): A portal transports Lt. Artemis and an elite unit of soldiers to a strange world where powerful monsters rule with deadly ferocity. Faced with relentless danger, the team encounters a mysterious hunter who may be their only hope to find a way home.
My Review: The monsters look great, there’s some great action sequences in this, and yet the story feels constrained even while being paced too fast, the climax ends up seeming useless, and the final scene to credits will leave you rolling your eyes and wondering why you even showed up to the theatre to see this. My advice as a Kaiju fan myself, just wait to see this at home when it shows up on a streaming service or even on TV. C- for MONSTER HUNTER.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Tensions rise when the trailblazing Mother of the Blues and her band gather at a Chicago recording studio in 1927. Adapted from August Wilson’s play.
My Review: The only blight this film has is that it can feel like its source material’s medium as a stage play much more than a feature film. The performances from the whole crew, especially Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, allow this film to grip you even with the heavy dialogue and limited background sets. This is absolutely one of the best films from 2020. A- for MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): The true story of the Mangrove Nine, Frank Crichlow, and the trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1970.
My Review: The first in an amazing project by Steve McQueen to release five separate films as part of an anthology, this one feels like TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 if it were handled with more drama and more depth to the circumstances. This had me gripped from start to finish and I would have enjoyed watching this on the big screen because this feels like one of the best films I’ve seen this year. A- for SMALL AXE: MANGROVE.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): A fictional story of young love and music at a blues party in the early 1980s.
My Review: The second in an amazing project by Steve McQueen to release five separate films as part of an anthology, this is a much more intimate film that speaks more through its use of music and letting us feel what this culture was like back in the early eighties. My big disappointment is that it does feel like the movie could have use a little bit more depth and was cut off a little too short. But overall one of the better films of the year. A- for SMALL AXE: LOVERS ROCK.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Spotlights the true story of Leroy Logan, who at a young age saw his father assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police and change their racist attitudes from within. Part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films.
My Review: The third in an amazing project by Steve McQueen to release five separate films as part of an anthology, this one might just be my favorite of the five. John Boyega gives a powerful performance that had me rooting for him even though I knew everything would eventually be okay as this is based on an inspirational true story. That said the film did flirt with an A+ only to come up short because of a sudden ending that I think could have been written better. Regardless, once again the Small Axe series delivers one of the better films I’ve seen this year. A- for SMALL AXE: RED, WHITE, AND BLUE.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Alex Wheatle follows the true story of award-winning writer, Alex Wheatle (Sheyi Cole), from a young boy through his early adult years. Having spent his childhood in a mostly white institutional care home with no love or family, he finally finds not only a sense of community for the first time in Brixton, but his identity and ability to grow his passion for music and DJing. When he is thrown in prison during the Brixton Uprising of 1981, he confronts his past and sees a path to healing.
My Review: The fourth in an amazing project by Steve McQueen to release five separate films as part of an anthology, this one is easily my choice for my least favorite from the anthology but I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way as the film overall is great and does flirt with getting an A rating. The performances and ability to take you back in time are pulled off well just as with the other films in this series, but unfortunately this is the one film that feels like its just missing a little more depth to turn it from really good to great. Still, another top notch film for this series. B+ for SMALL AXE: ALEX WHEATLE.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Education is the coming of age story of 12-year-old Kingsley, who has a fascination for astronauts and rockets. When Kingsley is pulled to the headmaster’s office for being disruptive in class, he discovers he’s being sent to a school for those with “special needs.” Distracted by working two jobs, his parents are unaware of the unofficial segregation policy at play, preventing many Black children from receiving the education they deserve, until a group of West Indian women take matters into their own hands.
My Review: The fifth and final in an amazing project by Steve McQueen to release five separate films as part of an anthology, this one starts out a bit slow but eventually finds itself in the second half, and out of all the films this one had me get a tear in my eye after such a hopeful ending. It really is amazing that Steve McQueen somehow offered up 5 high quality films, all highly rated by me and other critics, as one epic anthology that has become one of the cinematic events of the year. A- for SMALL AXE: EDUCATION.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Joe Gardner is a middle school teacher with a love for jazz music. After a successful gig at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and is transported to the You Seminar, a center in which souls develop and gain passions before being transported to a newborn child. Joe must enlist help from the other souls-in-training, like 22, a soul who has spent eons in the You Seminar, in order to get back to Earth.
My Review: This film uses ideas I’ve seen in other films (Exploration of the after life, body switching, etc) and somehow does new things with them, the animation and voice work are incredible, and the score itself may be the best of the year. Every time I waited for this to do something unoriginal it turned it around on me, and by the end I had a tear in my eye. This isn’t just the best animated film of the year, its arguably one of the best films of the year as well. I would have loved to see this on the big screen rather than its Disney Plus release. A+ for SOUL.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Wonder Woman comes into conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s and finds a formidable foe by the name of the Cheetah.
My Review: It should be noted that I didn’t fall in love with the first Wonder Woman movie as much as many others did. I found it to be a C+ sort of movie more so than the A+ film reviews saw it as. That said it looks like I won’t be as much in that minority with the sequel looking at reviews for it. I actually liked some things this film did better than the first! But overall this movie has some off-pacing, is too bloated, has questionable CGI, and a climax that left me rolling my eyes and laughing at the film. But all that said it isn’t a terrible film either, just an average superhero popcorn flick. This is available on both theatres and HBO Max (For the first 31 days), you’re probably better off using the latter to see this at home instead. C+ for WONDER WOMAN 1984.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): When alien invaders capture Earth’s superheroes, their kids must learn to work together to save their parents – and the planet.
My Review: I had zero plans to watch this but my parents put it on while I was visiting for Christmas weekend, and as expected its a made for TV kids film slapped onto Netflix. This will do the job keeping the kids busy but it isn’t going to stick with them as any kind of classic either. C- for WE CAN BE HEROES.
Plot (From Letterboxd Page): Fed up with being single on holidays, two strangers agree to be each other’s platonic plus-ones all year long, only to catch real feelings along the way.
My Review: This film actually came out way back on Halloween weekend, a time I have no interest in Christmas movies so I didn’t get around to watching it. But I kept hearing social media buzz for it enough that I decided to check it out in time for Christmas weekend and I think I would have been better of skipping it. Don’t get me wrong the actors in this seem to having fun with their roles and a Rated R style Hallmark sort of Christmas movie isn’t a bad idea on paper. Not to mention I’m a big fan of holidays and romance. But the writing just doesn’t do enough elevate this movie and it ultimately feels like its where it belongs as a straight to streamer on Netflix. Take out the Rated R stuff and this could have been made for TV. C- for HOLIDATE.
And that wraps up quickie movie reviews from me for the month of December 2020 (So Far). In the next post for this newsletter I’ll be running down my quickie reviews for the week of 12.31.2020 as I begin to catch up on 2020 movie season as a whole. Stay tuned…