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HughesReviews Oscars Special: My Three Favorite Films of 2020

| April 24th, 2021


In 1993, when I was 11 years old, I made my mother drop me off at the Clairidge Theater in Montclair, New Jersey – the only “independent” movie house in north Jersey – so I could see Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery. I was the youngest person in the theater by 40 years but I remember laughing at all the same stuff those older folks did, feeling like I was part of a private joke. That day, “the movie theater experience” hooked me. I wanted nothing else (until I discovered women, and booze).

I saw 30 movies in theaters that year. Schindler’s List, The Fugitive and Philadelphia at the Lincoln Cinema in Kearny. The Remains of the Day at the Franklin in Nutley. In the Name of the Father at the Williams in Rutherford. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and In the Line of Fire at the $2 second-run house behind the Holiday Inn on Route 46. Dave at the mutiplex by Willowbrook Mall in Wayne.

In 1997, at 15, I started taking the train into the city. 30 became triple digits easily, thanks to the Angelika Film Center, one of my true heavens on earth. Not a year has gone by since where I haven’t eclipsed the 100 mark. In college, in that same city, I used to spend every Friday at the Loews by Lincoln Center. I’d use Wednesday and Thursday to map out my attack plan. First movie around 11:00 AM. Sneak into a second one around 1:30 PM. Sneak into a third around 4:00 PM.

In late February 2020, I got a Regal Cinemas pass. $20 a month. Unlimited movies. I’d found that as I’d gotten older I was veering more and more towards the smaller, art house fare and lost sight of the Hollywood stuff. This would ensure that I not only saw the Marvel movies but that I saw them on the big screen as intended. (I very famously, at least in our house, watched that 5-hour Avengers: Endgame picture on an airplane.)

In March 2020, Covid happened. Until about a month ago, I’d seen 10 of the movies of 2020. Watching a movie on my couch just didn’t do it for me. I’ve been trying to play catch-up but I’m not doing particularly well. Here are thoughts on the films of the year.

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Top Three

#3. What Did Jack Do?

In David Lynch’s short film for Netflix, the filmmaker interrogates a monkey about criminal activity. It might be the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and I once saw two Greek men end a shouting match in Astoria by throwing fish at each other. I loved every second of that, and this film.



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#2. The Dissident

Bryan Fogel’s stirring documentary, detailing the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, should have enraged the entire world, but instead went largely unseen. The great documentaries are marriages of form and content: they show you compelling things in compelling ways. The Dissident belongs in that category.



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#1. Another Round

Booze can catalyze some of the most enjoyable experiences of your life. It can also be the most destructive force of your existence. Most films “about” booze tackle one side of the coin. The Hangover the former. Days of Wine and Roses, The Long Weekend the latter. Another Round gruelingly takes on the full picture, and ends with an elaborate dance number. (There’s a little taste of that below.) Sometimes movies feel like they were made specifically for me. This is one of them.

(And if the Oscars want to be taken seriously, they can’t leave Mads Mikkelsen out this year. They just can’t.)



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Notes on the Others

  • Nomadland was my return to the movie house, so it holds a special place in my heart. But I found the whole thing to be a beautiful mess.
  • The Father and Dick Johnson is Dead were lovely films. But man, after 2020, who needed the downers?
  • Judas and the Black Messiah was a snooze. If you’re making historical fiction, it needs to be better than what I could see in an hour-long documentary on PBS.
  • The performances in Ma Rainey were brilliant. But it’s August Wilson’s weakest play and the film made that clear. (Give me a Jitney picture already.)
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 is disgraceful moviemaking from start to finish.
  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is everything that title suggests it would be. (I’ll be rooting hard tonight for Maria Bakalova, the breakout start of 2020 cinema.) Some of the set pieces are absolutely brilliant.
  • I fell asleep watching Mank.
  • Palm Springs had a lot of good laughs in it. But the concept was a bit tired and the ending was predictable from about the sixth minute.

Enjoy whatever these Oscars will be.

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