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Friday, January 1, 2021

My Top Ten Movie Picks of 2020

1. Alone * * * 1/2 Stars

-Alone is one of this year's best. Feeling like Spielberg's Duel in which the antagonist actually talks, Alone's setting of lush, wet Oregon takes over as it becomes a swallowing co-star.

2. Rev * * * 1/2 Stars

-Rev is a glitz and glitter drama, a drug film with a twist, and an underground spectacle with a Mob feel. It begs the question of what if Gone in 60 Seconds or The Fast and the Furious were directed by Iranian Barbet Schroeder.

2. (tie) Heart of the Holidays * * * 1/2 Stars

-Heart of the Holidays has likable characters, unforced flash, plenty of holiday pluck, and slow-burning chemistry between its dewy-eyed stars (Vanessa Lengies and Corey Sevier who's also the director). "Heart" minus any adulterated innuendo or suggested dialogue, is like watching a G-rated tinsel version of 2002's Sweet Home Alabama.

3. The Way Back * * * 1/2 Stars

-Directed by the guy responsible for The Accountant (Gavin O'Connor), shot mainly in grainy close-ups, and featuring dreary, Southern California as anything but paradise, "Way Back" is the type of film you'd get if you threw Leaving Las Vegas, 2012's Flight, and The Bad News Bears into a cinematic blender.

4. Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Storm Over Brooklyn's" director (Muta Ali Muhammad) shoots the docu with careful style, attention to detail, and some verve. He inserts neighborhood overhead shots, grainy archive footage, and interviews by the denizens that lived through the incident (Al Sharpton, Yusuf's mother and brothers, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins). 

5. The Scheme * * * 1/2 Stars

-"Scheme's" director (Pat Kondelis) is well-versed in the telling of factual record. He shoots the docu with a raw and unfiltered feel. There are uncensored probes from everyone involved (Dawkins, his lawyer, his parents, various sports writers), slow-motion re-enactments, wiretapped conversations, and caught on camera deals. The film is packed with info so you have to pay attention as everything comes to a revelatory head at the end.

6. Capone * * * Stars

-As something about the final year of Al Capone's decrepit life, Capone is a nightmarish breadth of view and not your typical crime drama. Shot like a TV movie but lush and gaping in its tone, Capone doesn't care whether or not you embrace its fever dream vision.

7. Unhinged * * * Stars

-Unhinged is depressing, merciless, desperate, and savage. It's probably the wrong movie for 2020 but I saw it anyway. Directed by a guy looking to upset the viewer while making no apologies (German Derrick Borte), Unhinged is just as much a thriller as it is a snuff horror film. If it didn't have the power to make me effectively squirm and question my morals, I would have totally written it off (no pun intended).

8. Blood and Money * * * Stars

-As something about a war veteran (on a hunting trip) who accidentally kills a robber with a bag of money, "Blood" revels in Northern Maine locales and nameless (and almost faceless) villains. Somehow I found the whole survivalist modem here to be very darn fruitful.

9. The Host * * * Stars

-The Host is a little noir, a little dramatic thriller, and a little torture porn all rolled into one. The unknown actors in it (at least they were unknown to me) gave it their all. They are dropped in to "Host's" slickness and unsafe fortitude.

10. Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth * * * Stars

-Wild Card: The Downfall of a Radio Loudmouth is about well, a loudmouth, a kind of controversial Howard Stern for the sports world. It's a straightforward docu that is of course, HBO ready. There are plenty of interviews, tight editing, flashbacks, decent NYC cinematography, and a sort of involuntary sympathy for its subject.

Honorable Mention: Black Water: Abyss, Downhill, The Rhythm Section, Escape from Pretoria, Outback

And the worst...

1. Like a Boss * Star

-Like a Boss, with its genitalia jokes, its workplace drones, and its umpteenth filming location in Atlanta, Georgia, is like an 83-minute exercise in which comedic scenes flop and die. Director Miguel Arteta (he's mostly a TV guy) favors a lousy script for actresses who deserve a better one. He also favors outtake-style line deliveries as opposed to the funnier bits that were obviously left in the trailers.

2. Friendsgiving * 1/2 Stars

-Basically a bunch of pseudo friends who are their only friends, get together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They bicker, smug it up, and get their swerve on. That's the rub of the almost plot-less and imposed, Friendsgiving.

3. The Photograph * 1/2 Stars

-Picture 2016's Moonlight but without any solidity and that's what you get with The Photograph. And just for kicks and giggles, picture something Spike Lee would have done on holiday (during his Mo' Better Blues phase) and "Photograph" will shabbily fill in the blanks. Finally, imagine Tyler Perry running out of writing wriggle room and The Photograph will give you that tangent-ed perspective.

4. Proximity * 1/2 Stars

-Proximity wants to be profound and wink-y in a Spielbergian sort of way. Accompanied by a rookie, unknown director (Eric Demeusy) and a Lifetime movie setting of Los Angeles, it lands short on both counts. 

5. The Wrong Cheerleader Coach * 1/2 Stars

-The Wrong Cheerleader Coach is directed by "Wrong" Lifetime regular David DeCoteau. It features a cameo by Tara Reid that has her reading off cue cards along with some of the worst Lifetime acting ever put on celluloid. Helmer DeCoteau also has a motif fixation with eyeglasses as every character is either wearing them or constantly fumbling with them. All I gotta say is contact lenses anyone?

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

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