TWO articles — one of the best films of 2020 so far, the other of the best action movies of 2020.
The Best Films of 2020 (So Far)
Use the time indoors to catch up on the must-see new releases of the year.
BY CANDICE FREDERICK APR 3 2020, 8:00 PM EDTKATRINA MARCINOWSKI
If there is one silver lining about #QuarantineLife, it’s that you can now catch up on all the great movies that were released this year before the lockdown. Unlike the first quarter of previous years, 2020 is shaping up to be a very promising year for films dealing with trauma, fear, and the power of the human spirit.
Spanning from horror to action to comedy, this year’s cinema so far aims to confront the things we hold dear and dread the most—including our own mortality. These films feature women finding their voices for the first time, men making way for a new generation, children paving their own paths, and, yes, the ominous threats from our pasts. In other words, they reflect the world we live in today.7Bad Boys for Life
Raise your hand if you also thought that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence wouldn’t ever actually get back together for another Bad Boys movie. Now raise your hand if you had little confidence that it would be good, especially since it’s been nearly 17 years since the last sequel. Seriously, what other shenanigans could Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) get themselves into? Well, with the help of directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah—as well as screenwriters Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan—the two megastars proved that they still got the chops for big-screen cop antics back in the blazing-hot setting of Miami. Not to be confused as just another action movie, though, Bad Boys for Life has what its two predecessors don’t: heart, now more than ever as they reflect on their own mortality and make way for the next generation.
WATCH NOW6The Grudge
Goodness knows we didn’t need any other remakes of the original Japanese horror masterpiece, Ju-On (though the first American remake is quite good). But writer-director Nicolas Pesce effectively explores the trauma, horror, and rage derived from the source film in this latest English-language adaptation of The Grudge. Recapturing the classic creak and palpable fury of its scorned—and undead—female antagonist, this haunting tale oscillates between the sins of our past and a present determined to repeat itself through the story of a single mother (Andrea Riseborough) and her son. If you’re going to retread an iconic story, you better make it well worth the effort. Thankfully, this does.
WATCH NOW5Troop Zero
British directing duo Bert & Bertie deliver a charming ode to the little girl (and guy) geeks of 1970s Georgia and beyond in this surprisingly heartfelt drama written by Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Lucy Alibar. McKenna Grace stars as the rugged Christmas Flint (that name!), who at the top of the film is found stuffed inside a locker by the popular girls. Determined to form her own makeshift clique of misfits, Christmas recruits some like-minded pals in the area—and one brassy team leader (Viola Davis in a refreshingly against-type role)—for a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record. Though the hilarious and earnest Troop Zero explores the innocence of youth, it’s grounded by themes we can all relate to: acceptance, ambition, and conquering your fears.
WATCH NOW4Horse Girl
Co-writer and star Alison Brie pens a bizarre and devastating drama about the journey of mental illness through the eyes of Sarah, a shy retail clerk with a love of horses. Introducing his protagonist as merely a socially awkward young woman, director and co-writer Jeff Baena sensitively follows her fluid path from typical first-date jitters to an obsession with the supernatural that bleeds into a reality of her own making. Horse Girl is at times a difficult watch as it oscillates between the real world and a dreamlike state, and trusts that its audience will stick around for it. But it implores audiences to be compassionate—even when it comes to things we don’t understand.
WATCH NOW3The Invisible Man
To be clear, anything starring Elisabeth Moss should automatically catapult to the top of your must-see list. But in this latest remake of the H. G. Wells classic, from writer-director Leigh Whannell, the actress proves once again that few others do unhinged 21st-century woman quite like her. Her performance as Cecilia, who’s being stalked by her abusive ex and the eponymous villain, is felt so viscerally as we watch her struggle to convince people around her that a man they think no longer exists is actually after her. Whannell examines a universal fear of things unseen, while also pointing to a singular fear among women: being believed. The Invisible Man is a poignant horror made for our time.
WATCH NOW2The Lodge
Alicia Silverstone—who wowed us with the unforgettable 1990s one-two punch of The Crush and Clueless—is proving once again this year that she has more range than all your faves with the upcoming Netflix adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club, as well as the frightening AF The Lodge. The actress is mostly in the first few scenes of directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s newest horror. But her absence as a jilted mother of two is truly felt as the story shifts from overwhelming grief to unbearable fear while her two children struggle to move forward with their father and his fiancée (a wonderfully eerie Riley Keough), who was recently in a cult. The Lodge brilliantly interrogates the terrifying effects of agony, loss, and our own actions.1On the Record
Few other #MeToo films have dared to confront the insidious culture of silence embedded in the Black community than this searing documentary from directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick. Weaving interviews with notable female survivors in Black media and the hip-hop world—including Drew Dixon, Sil Lai Abrams, and Jenny Lumet—with the long history of misogyny and sexual violence by Black men, On the Record addresses how Black women’s loyalty to the culture is too often preyed upon. Though music pioneers Russell Simmons and L.A. Reid are specifically accused, Ziering and Dick rightfully put a spotlight on how Black women are routinely sidelined in this urgent dialogue.
CANDICE FREDERICK Contributor
The Best Action Movies of 2020 (So Far)
The action movie is resilient. Even in the middle of a global health crisis, with theaters closing and films getting pushed from the release calendar, the action genre has found ways to thrive in different corners of moviedom, evolving in the realm of VOD and on streaming platforms. Fans still want to see teams of commandos fight bad guys, cops throw their badges across tables, and assassins go rouge. That’s not going to change.
Like last year’s list, the goal here is to celebrate the best action titles of 2020 on the big screen and on streaming sites, which could mean superhero epics, foreign language slugfests, and, more likely than not, at least one movie starring Vin Diesel. We’ll be updating this list as the year goes on, so strap in.
The History of Delivery & Takeout
Release date: March 13
Cast: Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Guy Pearce, Lamorne Morris
Director: David S.F. Wilson
Why it’s worth watching: With F9, the next chapter in the NOS-powered Fast and Furious saga, pushed to 2021 because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, Vin Diesel fans will have to make due with Bloodshot, a frenzied adaptation of a popular Valiant Comics title first published in the ’90s. Like many non-Fast thrillers from Diesel, the results are a mixed bag, emphasizing the star’s muscular frame, gravely voice, and no-nonsense attitude while failing to fully activate his oddball charisma. He plays Ray Garrison, a gun-toting Marine who gets brutally murdered by some shady assassins and brought back to life by an even shadier bio-tech corporation headed up by Guy Pearce’s smarmy, sweater-wearing Dr. Emil Harting. Outfitted with a combination of Deadpool-like regeneration abilities and Limitless-like mental gifts, Garrison becomes a vengeance-driven hired gun for the company, but he soon discovers that his boss might be tinkering with his memories to get the desired results. Despite some ultra-choppy, borderline incomprehensible action sequences, Bloodshot has a handful of clever science-fiction concepts, charming supporting performances, and Groundhog Day-ish twists that elevate it above many of Diesel’s lackluster non-Fast blockbuster attempts.
Where to watch: Purchase via Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)
Release date: February 14
Cast: Stephen Lang, William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove
Director: Joe Begos (Bliss)
Why it’s worth watching: Paying tribute to a number of John Carpenter films, most importantly the siege-classic Assault on Precinct 13, this action-horror hybrid from genre specialist Joe Begos announces its nostalgic intentions with the first notes of the woozy synth score on the soundtrack. Set in a near-future where drug-addled punks wander the streets looking for their next hit, the movie centers around a group of hardened, no-bullshit veterans who drink their days away at the local VFW hall. The bartender Fred, played with the requisite grizzled charm by 67-year-old Stephen Lang, is celebrating his birthday, but the arrival of a young woman on the run (Sierra McCormack) throws a wrench in his plans. Soon, Fred and his fellow old-timers, including George Wendt from Cheers and blaxploitation legendFred Williamson, are barricading their watering hole and preparing for a different type of war than the ones they fought overseas. While the movie only tentatively explores the intergenerational tensions of its premise, Begos delivers the splatter-filled gore effects VOD viewers expect from these low-budget B-movies. Mostly, it’s a blast to see Lang, gripping in supporting turns in recent films like Don’t Breathe and Avatar, take on a starring role.
Where to watch: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)
3. Blood on Her Name
Release date: February 28
Cast: Bethany Anne Lind, Will Patton, Elisabeth Röhm, Jared Ivers
Director: Matthew Pope
Why it’s worth watching: At less than 90 minutes, this dread-soaked, Southern-fried neo-noir doesn’t waste time turning the screws on its put-upon protagonist. Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) is introduced having recently survived an attack and possibly killed a man lying dead on the floor of her garage. She knows exactly what happened; the viewer is kept in the dark. As the tension builds, more information about Leigh’s situation is revealed and the circumstances surrounding the man’s death, which involve Leigh’s currently incarcerated ex-husband, become clearer. Working in the same steely tradition as the recent indie hit Blue Ruin from director Jeremy Sauliner, Blood on Her Name doubles-down on family drama instead of loading up on gunfights, brawls, or stand-offs. When violence does occur, it has an impact. Even if some of the dialogue rings generic at times and the supporting performances aren’t all of the same caliber, the movie’s resistance to cheap irony is admirable and Lind gives the type of grounded, lived-in performance that makes an indie like this feel like a hidden gem.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)
Release date: February 7
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez
Director: Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs)
Why it’s worth watching: Birds of Prey, the recently retitled Suicide Squad spin-off starring Margot Robbie’s joyfully defiant Harley Quinn, didn’t exactly light up the box office in the same way last year’s Oscar-nominated Joker movie did, but it’s a lot more fun. That’s mostly thanks to the tightly choreographed, inventively staged fight scenes, which director Cathy Yan films in a way that channels both the hand-to-hand combat of John Wick and the more baroque tendencies of the Joel Schumacher Batman era. (A multi-character throw-down in a funhouse towards the end is particularly well executed and a car chase involving a pair of roller-blades finds a new spin on a scene you’ve seen a million times.) If the convoluted flashback structure occasional grates and some of the jokes fall flat, the action more than makes up for it, which is pretty rare for a big studio superhero release these days.
Where to watch: Rent via Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)
Release date: January 17
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez
Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Black)
Why it’s worth watching: In what hasn’t exactly been a great year for action movies so far, Bad Boys for Life has to be the biggest surprise. Given its lengthy production history, its January release date, and the departure of series director Michael Bay — the action auteur gets a winking cameo here, perhaps taking a break from shooting Netflix’s 6 Underground — this movie could’ve been a disaster. Instead, Smith and Lawrence easily slip back into the roles that made them action movie icons in the ’90s and the writers find a way to update the garish, over-the-top aesthetic of the series for the franchise era. In a wise decision, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah don’t even bother trying to top the excess and mayhem of Bay’s Bad Boys II. Bad Boys For Life is a gentler, sillier movie than its predecessor, less interested in moments of vulgarity than in scenes of sitcom-like human connection and familial melodrama. There are explosions and car chases through the streets of Miami and jokes about getting too old for this shit, but the material is given a light touch that lets the two stars do what they do best.
Where to watch: Purchase via Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)