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Saturday, December 04, 2021

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Film Fridays: Top 2020 Film and TV

<p><em>Graphic by Carissa Gurgul</em></p>

Graphic by Carissa Gurgul

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Movies:

5. “The King of Staten Island”

I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect with Pete Davidson’s first significant film outing. Sure he’s had a couple of minor roles in a few films here and there, but it’s good to see Davidson taking on the lead role. With Judd Apatow in the director’s chair, The King of Staten Island does not disappoint. Davidson shines in this role dealing with modern-day themes of depression, finding love and rediscovering oneself in our gritty 21st-century world. 

Davidson’s comedy is also a major highlight of this film. His dark humor in tandem with the incredible cast makes this film a top contender for 2020. If you’re looking for a dark comedy that can tug on some serious heartstrings, “The King of Staten Island” is for you. “The King of Staten Island” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

4. “The Invisible Man” 

The Invisible Man is the biggest surprise of the year. With Leigh Whannell behind the camera, director of “Upgrade” and writer of “Saw” and “Insidious,” I should have known better than to have my expectations be so low. The film follows Cecilia, played by Elizabeth Moss, who escapes from her abusive boyfriend, who then commits suicide the next day. Shortly after his death, Cecilia is haunted by an invisible entity whom she hypothesizes is her belated ex-boyfriend. 

Everyone around her thinks she is going crazy, but she is convinced that her boyfriend is behind these events. This movie got under my skin in so many ways. Whannell's use of tension is on point, and he does not use the classic jump scares but instead relies on the viewer to use his or her imagination. 

The film does such an excellent job of portraying the emotional turmoil when stuck in a toxic and inescapable relationship. According to Variety, the film’s cinematography is gorgeous too, and I was in shock at how sound the effects were, considering the film was made on a $7 million budget. “The Invisible Man” is streaming on HBO Max.

3. “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” is one of those crowd-pleasing movies that I expect to get a ton of Academy Awards nominations. Aaron Sorkin is one of my favorite writers in the industry, and he provides another fast-paced, sharp screenplay that is enhanced by the performances from the ensemble cast. After a group of anti-Vietnam protesters is charged with conspiracy and other crimes at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, tension rises in the courtroom. The film jumps back and forth between the protests and the trial, allowing the viewer to get a full backstory on each person involved. The film’s 2 hours and 10-minute runtime flew by. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is streaming on Netflix.

2.  “Palm Springs” 

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The genre-bending film of the year, “Palm Springs,” delivers in so many different categories that I don't even know where to begin. Andy Samberg proves that he can carry a film, and writer Andy Siara proves that the time-loop genre is not dead. The film is a romantic comedy, yet has science fiction and drama elements that mesh beautifully. My full review is available on The Collegian. “Palm Springs” is streaming on Hulu.

  1. “Sound of Metal”

After the phenomenon that was 2014’s “Whiplash,” who could have predicted that my favorite movie of 2020 would be another drummer movie. From HBO’s acclaimed mini-series “The Night Of,” Riz Ahmed stars as a heavy-metal drummer who loses his hearing. The film is a personal piece about a man who has to deal with the repercussions of slowly becoming deaf while eager to get his career back, rather than a full-on drumming movie. There isn’t much drumming in the film, but instead, this hard-hitting drama reaps the best performance of the year from Riz Ahmed, outstanding sound design and editing, and excellent writing and directing. “Sound of Metal” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Television:

10. “Tiger King” 

I’m sure each of us got sick of hearing about this show at some point during lockdown. It was everywhere and that is why we’re putting it at our number ten spot. Now, is it the best piece of television out there? No. But, the amount of hype and debate that surrounded this show is worthy of acknowledging. I’m reasonably confident that most people know who either Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin are. It’s a fairly normal documentary with a few crazy twists that don’t really amount to much. It’s a fun binge, but I doubt I’ll watch the whole series again. With all that being said, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was a cornerstone of the worst part of 2020 and I think we all needed the craziness it provided during the height of quarantine. It provided us with countless memes, viral Tiktox, as well as songs and other content throughout its lifecycle. 

9. “The Umbrella Academy”/ “The Mandalorian” 

Now, this was a difficult choice. Both of these shows' second seasons are great. They are both worthy of praise and acclaim, but they also have a few faults. Now instead of taking two spots on our already limited list of picks, we decided to put them in the same spot. 

The Umbrella Academy is a breath of fresh air. It’s a fairly new show and has delivered a fantastic second season. The story continues and each character gets more development than before. Yet, it does struggle in a few places, with some characters feeling pointless. It may just be me having a few gripes with the show, but it is worthy of your time. 

The same goes for the second season of “The Mandalorian.” Disney’s flagship series for Disney+, “The Mandalorian,” has gotten better with each episode. I know a lot of people were skeptical of season one, especially because the season had a serious lull within the middle episodes. However, season two is a rollercoaster from start to finish. Unlike the previous season, every episode is awesome. 

It is action-packed and full of diverse characters and overarching narrative threads. Each episode ties into the next, with bits of Star Wars lore scattered throughout. Now, “Star Wars” has a niche fanbase, but even with the lore and prior films aside, season two of “The Mandalorian” is a great television series and can be enjoyed by casual fans. Also, more Baby Yoda is always a win. Both are well worth your time.

8. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (Season 10)

If you thought “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has passed its peak, you are incorrect. The show continues to one-up itself, and Larry David’s take on the country and its political climate has never been funnier. After a so-so season 9, the show is back to its roots, providing an abundance of laugh out loud moments throughout each episode. The season even features a number of celebrity cameos including, Jon Hamm, Jonah Hill, Nick Kroll, Mila Kunis and Vince Vaughn. I can’t wait to see what Larry David brings to the table for season 11, whether it's tackling the presidential election or the global pandemic. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is streaming on HBO Max.

7. “Blood of Zeus”

Now, if you had told me that a Netflix original anime would make it onto our top picks for this year, I probably wouldn’t have taken you seriously. Anime is a very niche genre that I’m sure not many people watch in their day-to-day binging habits. With that being said, “Blood of Zeus” blew me away. 

I was lucky enough to review this series shortly after it dropped, and I still think it holds its ground against other top picks for this year. The short length of each episode makes this show a very short binge with enough emotional weight to have you invested until the end. The action, animation and story are fantastic. It still holds a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and it should be on your watchlist before the year concludes. 

6. “The Last Dance” 

I’m not really one for sports documentaries. They usually fall into the same narrative cycle when it comes to telling an athlete’s story: how they grew up, how they developed a love for whatever sport they play and eventually reaching a climax describing the emotional turmoil of their later years. However, The Last Dance does something unique. 

It’s not the story of any single basketball player, despite featuring some of the greatest men to play the sport, but it’s more of a narrative about the team. The behind-the-scenes politics of the Micheal Jordan and Scottie Pippin era of the Chicago Bulls is on full display. The small stories, film clips of the team and overall presentation of their season is fun television accompanied with an inward love for basketball. In a year of despair and lockdowns, “The Last Dance” gave each of us a reminder about the magic of professional basketball and the legends that it has produced. 

It has gotten some criticisms for its portrayal of Jordan, especially since his production company was involved in making the series, but I didn’t really mind. I thought the interviews alongside the footage of games and player interaction were more than enough to justify a binge. “The Last Dance” is streaming on Netflix. 

5. “Better Call Saul” (Season 5) 

“Better Call Saul” has been the sneaky underdog in the television world. A prequel to the beloved “Breaking Bad,” the show took some time to get going in its beginning seasons. Season 4, though, was a turning point in the direction of the show and season 5 solidified that it is one of the best shows on television. I would go as far as to say that season 5 is equivalent to the perfection that the penultimate season of Breaking Bad was. Between the stellar performances, notably from Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, the intricate dialogue and the edge-of-your-seat action, the show deserves more recognition. The first four seasons of“Better Call Saul” are streaming on Netflix, and the fifth season is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

4. “Ted Lasso” 

“Ted Lasso'' is the show that we need right now. After college football coach Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is recruited to coach an English Premier League team, he uses his love and optimism to coach the team in the right direction while outsiders scrutinize him for his lack of knowledge of the sport. “Ted Lasso'' is a heartwarming, uplifting show that is much-needed escapism in the time of a pandemic. The show will make you laugh out loud and make you tear up in joy. “Ted Lasso'' is streaming on Apple TV+.

3. “Ozark” (Season 3)

It is not often where I find myself watching a show that gets better with every episode. When I first started “Ozark,” I was a bit hesitant as I saw far too many uninspired parallels to my favorite show of all time, “Breaking Bad.” But, once the show started to take off with its intriguing plot, it became its own show and far different than anything I have ever watched. 

Jason Bateman plays Marty Bird, an intelligent financial advisor who begins laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. With help from his wife, played by Laura Linney, they strive to keep their family intact while finding themselves in life-risking situations. The show takes place in the Ozarks of Missouri, which is shot beautifully, with the cinematography being an added plus. With the show’s third season being its best yet, I look forward to what the rest of the series has to bring.

2.   “The Queen’s Gambit” 

I’m sure most of us have heard the craze surrounding this Netflix original series. When I was reviewing it in November, I hadn’t spoken about the show with others. Nobody at UR or home had gotten around to watching it. That all changed fairly quickly as I seemingly couldn’t avoid hearing someone gushing about their new favorite Netflix show. 

The praise and hype is well deserved, and the mini-series is thrilling from start to finish. I said it before and I’ll say it again, “The Queen’s Gambit” is the chess drama you never knew you needed. 

  1. “The Boys” (Season 2) 

The Boys is awesome. Not really much of an elaboration on the quality, I know, but it’s honestly all that needs to be said. 

The first season was thrilling and new. It portrayed the cliche superhero genre that we’ve all gotten accustomed to through the Marvel and DC cinematic universes in a dark and twisted light rarely depicted on screen. The characters were dynamic, the superpowers were amazing and the story got better with each episode.

Even with an impressive first season, season two delivers so much more. A jaw-dropping continuation of the first season’s narrative alongside an expansion of the universe and lore of “The Boys.” I’ve had a great time watching this season. It may seem like an atypical niche superhero show at times, but trust me, it is worth the watch. Karl Urban and Antony Starr shine in both their roles as main protagonist/antagonist, with Urban especially standing out for making full use of his native New Zealand accent. It’s awesome. “The Boys” is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video and is well worth your time. 

Contact columnist Miles Goldman at miles.goldman@richmond.edu and features writer Quinn Humphrey at quinn.humphrey@richmond.edu.

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