Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2020, By Patrick McDonald

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CHICAGO – In a world gone a bit madder and sadder, the films of 2020 were a welcome escape from the travails of weekly reality. Without theater exhibition by and large, films had to be experienced on smaller home screens, shrinking bold cinematography and emphasizing the story.

Reflected in my (the Über Critic, Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com) 10 BEST FILMS OF 2020 are those storyteller films, the escapes that told tales of our possibilities and hope. In lieu of complete normalcy in 2021, let’s at least get back to the theaters.

I begin by ranking the 25th film favorites through the 11th, with the option to click on the highlighted titles for reviews or associated interviews… 25th - EUROVISION SONG CONTEST (classic Will Ferrell absurdist and escapist comedy, with an amazing supporting cast), 24th - DA FIVE BLOODS (Delroy Lindo symbolized a whole war in his performance), 23rd - WONDER WOMAN 1984 (we have met the villains and they are us), 22nd - THE HUNT (sharpest satire in the tool shed), 21st - THE NEST (a story of the facades we create for ourselves), 20th - MINARI (a save-the-farm film which equaled saving souls), 19th - MULAN (unfairly maligned adaptation that emphasized courage), 18th - BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM (took the concept to a necessary level), 17th - THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (the Dickens, you say!), 16th - TENET (a wild and creative ride into an intervention of time), 15th - THE PROM (why not? A musical celebration of being ourselves), 14th - NOMADLAND (beautifully shot film with unusual performances), 13th - THE HALF OF IT (he loves she loves she), 12th - MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (the history lesson that we keep having to learn. Chadwick B, RIP) and 11th RED PENGUINS (a documentary proving truth is weirder than any fiction).

A shout-out also to SAINT FRANCES, a locally shot feature film that was in my 10 BEST last year, but was released in 2020. Click here for an interview with director Alex Thompson and lead actor/writer Kelly O’Sullivan. Click here for an on-air review.

The 2020 Best for genre films … Animated it’s SOUL (see 10 BEST), for Documentary it’s RED PENGUINS, for Best Foreign Language Film it’s SWEAT (Gold Hugo for Best Film, 2020 Chicago International Film Festival), and for Superhero it’s WONDER WOMAN 1984.

Below each film description in the 10 BEST will be a link to full reviews and/or interviews, when applicable. And away we go…

StarTHE TRIP TO GREECE

Greece
The Trip to Greece
Photo credit: IFC Films

The TRIP series is one of the oddest two-man comedy journeys in the media … in Britain it’s a TV series and then internationally it’s re-cut to films. The brave and bold comic team of Steve Coogan and Rob Bryson portray fictional versions of themselves, improvising their way through fabulous trips where they eat magnificent food (all expensed, no doubt). Indicated as the last in the series, the duo expounds mostly on Coogan’s strange career and Bryson’s obsession with the beats in the song STAYINALIVE. But this one also has a poignant sense, as it ponders mortality, from the beginning of the end through the end of the end. But mostly it’s lots of fun and laughs. Available thru digital download and DVD.

HIGHLIGHT: Steve Coogan: Originality is overrated.

Click here for an on-air review of THE TRIP TO GREECE.

StarTHE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Cent
The Twentieth Century
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

If you like your actual Canadian history told through cross dressing and Monty Python-like absurdity, then you’ve come to the right film of Canuckness, the debut feature of writer/director Matthew Rankin. Dan Beirne portrays an actual historical Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. It’s the beginning of King’s career and the 20th Century, and Rankin puts his PM into a studio set staging reminiscent of storefront performance art. It’s visually interesting as well, using geometric patterns, saturated color and pure cinema to tell its very odd story. And we thought we had it bad in the 21st! Oooooh Canadaaaa! Available thru digital download.

HIGHLIGHT: The actors deliver the dialogue straight, which is more than I can say for some of the performances themselves.

Click here for an audio review of THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.

StarSOUL

Soul
Soul
Photo credit: Walt Disney Studios

This soaring and joyful expression of animation takes on the very essence of what makes us tick. Disney Studios and Pixar Animation tells the story of Joe (voice of Jamie Foxx), who falls down a manhole in New York City on the day of his big break as a musician. His spirit goes to a purgatory-type place, and he begs the facilitators to send him back to his body-in-a-coma … but first he has to mentor a lost soul nicknamed “22” (Tina Fey). The story is about appreciating that inner driver that gets us all up in the morning, to face the miracle that life really is. An animated masterwork. Streaming on Disney+.

HIGHLIGHT: Moonwind (Graham Norton), the guru on earth who bridges the astral plane. Groovy.

Click here for an on-air review of SOUL.

StarTHE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

“Trial"
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Photo credit: Netflix

Surprisingly, the first feature film that master screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has ever directed, and he takes full advantage of the script he created. The story is of the CHICAGO 7, a group of men who were prosecuted by the federal government for allegedly inciting the police riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The action centers on the trial, which features the prosecuted, including Abbie Hoffman (portrayed with pure soul energy by Sasha Baron Cohen), Bobby Seale (a transcendent Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and their judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella). The absurdity is the trial itself, which shows how government resources are misused for political revenge (another Nixon administration joint). Beautifully choreographed as a narrative and powerful in its conclusions. Streaming on Netflix.

HIGHLIGHT: Cohen’s bravado performance as Abbie Hoffman, who knew the key to reactionary politics was performance theater.

Click here for an on-air review of THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7.

StarUNCLE FRANK

UnF
Uncle Frank
Photo credit: Amazon Prime Video

Set in 1973, only four years after the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City, the story is of Uncle Frank Bledsoe (Paul Bettany), a gay man living in the same NYC, and who is closeted from his family in South Carolina. His only close relative is his niece Beth (Sophia Lillis), who Frank convinces to go to college in the big city. When his bigoted and cruel father (Stephen Root) dies, Frank takes a journey back to his hometown with Beth in tow, joined by his lover Wally (Peter Macdissi), who had revealed Frank’s secret to his niece. Macdissi rightly steals the film, as his character is merely searching for a family that has so far eluded him. And the sensitivity and truth, without compromise, is the initiator of redemption for all. An authentic portrayal of true emotion and family friction. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

HIGHLIGHT: Director Alan Ball (creator of SIX FEET UNDER and TRUE BLOOD) renders a memorable scene in which Uncle Frank runs away from, yet into, his younger self.

Click here for an on-air review of UNCLE FRANK.

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