Group Feature: ACRN’s Top 10 Movies of 2020

10. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm [Amazon; 2020]
By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

Reprising his role as everybody’s favorite bumbling Kazakhstani reporter, Sacha Baron Cohen took a second go at a Borat film, and he stuck the landing even more flawlessly than he did in its predecessor. The first Borat movie does what it sets out to well, but its premise is relatively barebones. Watching a man bait other people into being casually racist can only be funny for so long. However, the second film breathes new life into this concept by combining it with a strong narrative and a surprising amount of nuance. People are racist, and we already know that; however, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm begins to raise the question of what creates racism while telling the story of Borat learning to love and respect his daughter. Somehow, Sacha Baron Cohen manages to condemn racist and sexist ideologies and still humanize the people who believe them, all while maintaining an ignorant persona. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm has a lot to say about the state of our nation and the people who live here, and it’s made so much more palatable by the titular character’s very nice accent.

9. Onward [Walt Disney; 2020]
By Maddie James, Staff Writer

Hidden among countless live action remakes and Disney+ tv series, Onward was a welcome return to easygoing animation. Pixar boasts some of Disney’s best movies, such as Ratatouille, Up, Cars and The Incredibles, and Onward didn’t disappoint. Featuring two elven brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, the movie follows their Dungeons and Dragons-esque adventure on a quest to spend one final day with their late father. Despite being full of fantasy clichés such as unicorns, centaurs, magical weapons and curses, the movie doesn’t feel stereotypical or too high-fantasy for family audiences. With Disney seemingly struggling for new content, Onward was a definite win.

8. Mank [Netflix; 2020]
By Jonah Krueger, News Editor

Following in the spiritual footsteps of other ‘auteur’ directors—like Quentin Tarantino with last year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or the Coen brothers with 2016’s Hail Caesar!—the legendary David Fincher offers up a love letter to Hollywood’s golden age with his newest and funniest picture Mank. Following the witty, drunken writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, his escapades working in the rigid studio system of 1930s Hollywood and his eventual collaboration with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane, Mank stands tall even among Fincher’s most acclaimed work.

Shot in gorgeous black and white and featuring a 90-mile-an-hour, whip-smart screenplay, the film explores the politics of California at the time of the Great Depression, portraying how surprisingly analogous the issues of almost 100 years are to 2020. The themes are supplemented by a fitting score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a strong lead performance from Gary Olsen as the titular character, both of which are par for the course for any modern Fincher flick. Yet, with its unique tone and pared down but engaging subject matter, Mank succeeds at remaining characteristically Fincher while feeling like nothing else the director has done before. 

Also, points for the Bill Nye cameo.

7. Bad Education, [HBO; 2020]
By Ben Lindner, Staff Writer

Hugh Jackman takes over this story of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history as a superintendent who is hell-bent on taking his school from 4th to 1st best. This movie plays its hand late, but keeps you on the edge of your seat while it delicately sets up the dominos to come crashing down in the end. Jackman delivers what is easily a career-best performance in this juicy role and Alison Janney helps out to steal every scene she’s in. This one is not to be missed.

6. The King of Staten Island [Universal; 2020]
By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

The King of Staten Island is an amazing exercise in redeeming seemingly irredeemable characters. Scott, played by Pete Davidson, is a young adult who finds himself unable to progress in life due to undressed trauma and he has a terrible emotional weight burdening him. Scott turns to weed, among other things to cope with this load, but the people around him can’t help but be dragged down just by interacting with him. It’s not Scott’s fault he’s so fucked up, but he has to realize it’s not anybody else’s either

The film spends the majority of its runtime creating a solid sense of contempt for each of the characters in the mind of the viewer and then does the beautiful work of reminding us that these people are still deserving of whatever semblance of happiness they can manage to scrape together. Scott isn’t a king, he’s just a person but that still takes a tremendous amount of work and is commendable in its own way.

5. Palm Springs [Neon/Hulu; 2020]

By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

The “why does the day keep repeating itself” idea has been done to death, but somehow Palm Springs finds a way to breathe new life into this tired trope. Andy Samberg plays Nyles, a man who has been stuck in his time loop for so long that he’s learned to embrace the absurdity of the situation until Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti, joins him in his temporal prison. The two play off of each other extremely well with one finding faults in the other’s worldview and vice versa until they are both made better people as a result. At its core, Palm Springs is more about making a commitment to grow as a person with the people you care about than any of its time shenanigans. Although, the time stuff is pretty funny too.

4. Sound of Metal [Amazon; 2020]
By Ben Lindner, Staff Writer

Sound of Metal tells the story of a troubled drummer whose life takes a sudden turn when he loses his hearing, forcing him to relearn everything he knows at a home for deaf addicts. The sound design in this movie is worth the price of admission alone, doing an incredible job simulating the various stages of hearing loss. Riz Ahmed carries this emotional script with a performance that runs the gamut of emotions and hits them all perfectly. Ahmed is joined by deaf advocate Paul Raci who gives what might be the greatest performance of the year. The film has a clear reverence and respect for deaf culture and tells a touching story that can open eyes to the deaf community

3. An Evening with Tim Heidecker [Abso Lutely; 2020]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor

Uhhhhhhhh what? Uhhhhhhhh what? “This isn’t a movie,” you say? You think this is merely a feature-length comedy set hosted by one of America’s best professional idiots? Well you probably like Pepsi then, loser.

An Evening with Tim Heidecker isn’t a movie, but it is definitely one of 2020’s best movie-length releases on Netflix, especially during a year not only in which streaming is a necessity, but also in which virtually all we got before quarantine was the Sonic movie. During the set, Heidecker presents his usual comedic formula of unbelievable incompetence and unwavering self-assurance, somehow transforming stale bits like the classic “how does this microphone stand work” and the “I’m definitely not reading off of note cards” into gags that feel as though he invented them. The center of every joke is himself, even when he imitates the voices of others or asks audience members their names just to laugh at them. It ends with a few Yellow River Boys songs––some very true songs Heidecker wrote about his youth––and a Trump protest song, reminding the audience that there’s only one idiot bigger than Tim Heidecker. 

2. First Cow [A24; 2020]
By Kwase Lane, Features Editor

First Cow is a quiet movie that has a lot to say about the promise of the American Dream. The protagonists, Cookie and Lu-King, are two men looking to cobble together prosperity as best as they can given their circumstances. Both of them are outcasts of sorts and they only begin to claw their way up the economic ladder once they make peace with breaking the law. Even if they obtain their success by unscrupulous means, Cookie and Lu-King’s actions ultimately bring happiness to their community and only vaguely inconvenience one miserly man. The endearing and misguided hope in the performances of John Magaro and Orion Lee compel audiences to sympathize with their characters’ simple quest. 

1. Da 5 Bloods [Netflix; 2020]
By Ben Lindner, Staff Writer

Spike Lee proves once again why he is so widely revered with this emotional tale about a group of Vietnam veterans who return to the place where they fought to retrieve the body of their former squad leader – and the gold buried with him. This film features a passionate lead performance by Delroy Lindo as he grapples with his past in Vietnam and his future with his son. It also features the late Chadwick Boseman in an inspiring performance that hits even harder with his passing. Da 5 Bloods has everything you could want out of a movie. Go pull up Netflix right now and watch it.

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