Around this time every year, I put together a list of my 25 or so favorite films from the first half of the year. This year is different, since we haven’t really had a whole lot of quality film releases due to Covid-19 putting a halt to the film industry.
Of the films that have been released thus far, here are the five I’ve enjoyed the most:
Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee
I’ve not seen everything, but Spike Lee’s new film is by far the best of 2020 so far. In fact, I’d say it’s the only essential new film I’ve seen this year. Most of the promising movies have been held for when theaters can reopen. The festival circuit is on pause, which has had a great effect on the release cycle, and the movies that have been released (Dolittle, Downhill, Fantasy Island, Birds of Prey, etc.) have been unusually lousy.
But we do have this incredible new Spike Lee war film that Netflix decided to release online rather than through theaters. And thank goodness for that! It’s Spike doing Spike: heaping loads of style onto a film that shifts from buddy film to war film to action film to heist film. It’s brilliant and fun. And art.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Director: Eliza Hittman
An artsy indie drama starring unknown actors released in 2020? Is that still allowed?
This gloomy buddy flick about a road trip to New York City is full of heart, amazing performances, and some excellent filmmaking and cinematography from writer/director Eliza Hittman. I like to think that in a different year, this one would have been the kind of indie hit that jump started the careers of all involved. Sadly, very few people saw Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
Director: Dan Scanlon
Released right as the pandemic was heating up and shutting the world down, Dan Scanlon’s new Pixar flick made only $104.5 million at the box office, less than a fourth of what it was forecasted to bring in.
The flick, a roadtrip movie about two brothers who set out on an adventure to find an artifact that will bring their father back to life, is a tearjerker that I think will have a legacy despite having its box office run sidelined by Covid-19. It’s a gorgeous, sweet movie that features beautiful animation and excellent vocal performances from Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer. Something tells me this one has been killing on streaming services and ultimately might go down as the most-seen film of 2020.
The Way Back
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Is this a great movie? No. Is it a unique story? No. Is it an especially well-made film? No. But I like basketball and I like Ben Affleck and I like Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, The Accountant) and I like underdog redemption stories. So yeah, this one is for me. It’s gritty and simple and sad — three things I also love. Will it be a movie that people care about in two years? Absolutely not. That being said, at this rate, Affleck is probably on track to get a nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars for his performance in The Way Back. What a time to be alive.
The King of Staten Island
Director: Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow makes extremely watchable, but usually very flawed movies. In his quest to become the James L. Brooks of his generation, Apatow has become increasingly serious about his craft, and we see that on the screen in this Pete Davidson dramedy about a 20-something burnout trying to get his life together.
The film is shot beautifully by PT Anderson’s go-to DP, Robert Elswit, and Davidson gives a solid anchor performance that is at times very charismatic and memorable. The real stars of the film, however, are Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr, who play Davidson’s mother and his mother’s new love interest. They steal the film and give us some of the most memorable scenes of 2020 so far.
At this rate there is a very good chance that 2020 will go down as the least impressive year of all-time for new films. I feel safe suggesting, without doing a lick of research, that this is the worst Top 5 from the first half of a year in the history of cinema.
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