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Pass the popcorn: A look at some of the best films of 2020 (so far)
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Pass the popcorn: A look at some of the best films of 2020 (so far)

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Considering movie theaters have been closed for since March, 2020 has been a remarkably solid year for film. With many studios forgoing theatrical releases for rentals and streaming platforms over the last few months, the best films of the year are available to enjoy from the comfort of your home. As theaters prepare to reopen in the coming weeks, let’s take a look at the finest films that have already come out this year.

10. ‘The Trip to Greece’

The final film in Michael Winterbottom’s quadrilogy is essentially more of the same for this series, as actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel around the countries of Europe, eating beautifully prepared meals, and trying to make each other laugh through various bits and impeccable impressions. Yet always in the background, the series has had a certain amount of melancholy, as these two worry about their own mortality and the legacies they’ll leave behind. At the end of these journeys together, “The Trip to Greece” embraces the joy and the sadness with one of the funniest and surprisingly touching films of the year. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

9. ‘Rewind’

Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s documentary about the generational abuse within his own family is often extremely difficult to watch, but it’s also essential in understanding the mindset of such horrible actions. Neulinger interviews his family about what they did and didn’t know, which is supplemented with home video footage that shows a young Neulinger not knowing how to comprehend what has happened to him. “Rewind” shows the cyclical nature of these crimes, and the process of making this film was certainly cathartic to Neulinger. Despite all that has happened to him, “Rewind” ends on a sign of hope and looking forward rather than letting one’s past define them. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

8. ‘Bad Education’

In this dark comedy about corruption, greed and flawed justifications for such actions, Hugh Jackman plays Frank Tassone, a school superintendent who embezzled millions of dollars from his district. In Cory Finley’s sophomore film, every choice has a purpose that serves the larger mystery at hand, be it a leaky office ceiling or a cocky aside. Yet “Bad Education” makes us understand these character’s choices, in a twisted way, as we see how the failures in the school system could lead to this incident taking place. “Bad Education” is delightfully diabolical and somehow still sympathetic. (Streaming on HBO Max)

7. ‘The Way Back’

“The Way Back” is an ingenious film about substance abuse, hidden under the guise of a feel-good sports film. Whereas one would expect easy solutions to problems in the typical basketball film, director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t sugarcoat or oversimplify the alcoholism which Ben Affleck’s Jack Cunningham battles. Winning the big game can’t miraculously solve all of Cunningham’s problems, and “The Way Back” makes sure there are consequences to his actions. Filmed as soon as Affleck himself left rehab for alcoholism, he gives one of his most complicated and introspective performances. “The Way Back” plays off audience expectations to create an honest and surprising look at how damaging one’s self can damage others as well. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

6. ‘The Invisible Man’

Leigh Whannell’s update of the classic horror story knows that the true fear within this story isn’t just the possibility that the unseeable is coming after you, it’s also the slow dread that maybe there really isn’t anything there. Whannell often shows completely empty spaces, putting the audience in the shoes of Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia, making us question our own sanity also, as we search rooms for something we know can’t be there. Whannell has crafted a version of “The Invisible Man” that’s almost Hitchcockian, as Cecilia, a person we know isn’t crazy, but everyone in her world understandably believes her to be, with explanations only cementing her potential insanity. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

5. ‘Beanpole’

Set in post-World War II Russia, “Beanpole” presents a world of complete uncertainty, where the survivors of a horrific world see tragedy almost as an inescapable disease that has infected their world. Following two young women, Iya and Masha, the two struggle to find normalcy after having seen the worst of human nature. Awful things happen to both of them, yet they’re almost shrugged off as inevitable, as if hopelessness has become the obvious course of life. Director Kantemir Balagov makes “Beanpole” a master class in balancing tone, as he never makes his audience suffocate under the same strain as his two leads, instead making this a tremendous look at grief and resiliency that is arduous and fascinating. (Streaming on MUBI)

4. ‘Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)’

The most joyous, rebellious and unflinchingly weird film to come out in 2020, “Birds of Prey” works because it’s everything DC films usually aren’t. “Birds of Prey” is vibrant and hilarious, a sugary burst of fun that’s almost parodying the typical style one would expect from the standard bleak DC affairs. Cathy Yan still makes this dark and serious in its own way, but balances it with a massive amount of upbeat mayhem that is frantic and bold for a comic book film. Tying it all together is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a woman scorned by her ex—The Joker. Harley might be Robbie’s best role, and it’s one she clearly enjoys, so with “Birds of Prey,” it’s great to finally see this character and world done right. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

3. ‘Corpus Christi’

Poland’s entry for this year’s Academy Awards, “Corpus Christi” is a film of moral ambiguity that offers more questions than answers. After leaving a juvenile detention center for second-degree murder, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) wants to become a priest, but isn’t able to because of his past. Yet that doesn’t stop Daniel, who pretends to be a priest of a small parish, and is surprisingly great at it. Daniel has lived a life of failures and mistakes, which allows him to preach the errors of his ways to others. He’s lived a troubled life, and yet, he’s found purity that isn’t perfect, but at the very least, he’s trying. “Corpus Christi” is a captivating story about how far faith and forgiveness can take someone, with an ambiguous ending that lets the audience find their own answers to these questions. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

2. ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’

For Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), her own body seems to be out of her control, even more so when the teenager discovers she’s pregnant. “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” shows the gargantuan effort, danger and risk it takes for too many women who simply need a helping hand in a dire time. Autumn’s journey is an extremely complicated one, as is shown in the heart-wrenching scene where the film gets its name, where we learn that at a young age, she’s already been forced by the will of others to do things she never wanted to do. Writer/director Eliza Hittman has made one of the best and most important films of the year, a film of compassion when it’s most needed and care when all hope is lost. (Available to rent or buy on VOD services)

1. ‘Da 5 Bloods’

Even with a 40-year career full of variety and style, Spike Lee proves with “Da 5 Bloods”—one of his finest films—that he can still surprise. Lee has never worked on this large of a scale before, directing his first true action film with constantly shifting expectations and loyalties, and a script that is Lee at his most focused. Lee’s story of four Vietnam veterans returning to the country is an exciting and nerve-wracking experience, where Lee isn’t afraid to tackle larger issues, like humanity’s complicity in battles that still resonate today, like the Civil War and the fight for civil rights. With a commanding and disturbing performance by Delroy Lindo, and Lee pushing himself in ways unseen before, “Da 5 Bloods” is Lee’s best film in over a decade and the best film of the year so far. (Streaming on Netflix)

Ross Bonaime is a Fredericksburg-area freelance writer and movie reviewer for the Brightest Young Things website.

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