2020: The Year in Reviews (September)

No matter how strange the year is, we still gotta do the thing. You know how it works: in January I preview and guess ratings for a bunch of movies, then most of them come out over the course of the year, and then we recap it all in December. This year will be no different, though admittedly it’s a much thinner year to review than I’m used to. But, we can only review what comes out.

It started as a game for me to see how well I could guess stuff, but really, like most things on this site, it becomes a vehicle to try to get people to watch stuff. The tallying part is just for me to make it interesting. Mostly I’m just trying to tell you about all the cool stuff I saw this year.

Today we go over September.

September

Tenet

January’s preview:

“I mean, it’s Christopher Nolan. 4.5 stars is the baseline for him.”

“He’s earned it, and that’s the rating he gets, no matter what the movie is.”

The review:

“I spent the first 45 minutes of this movie wondering if it was the sloppiest, most badly edited, unholy mess I’d seen in a long time or something absolutely brilliant that turns the film form on its head by doing something different narratively.”

“I’m still not entirely sure where I shake out on that.”

“It doesn’t feel like he’s having much fun.”

“But, I give full credit to Nolan for taking a big swing. At the very least, I was entertained and appreciate him going for it.”

“I’ll watch it again before the end of the year and see where I really come out on this one. But also, consider this — what the hell else came out this year that was really worth your time?”

* * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I’ll know my final thoughts on this in a week. But for now, I appreciate what it is in the year that this is.

* * * * ½ (4.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Love, Guaranteed

January’s preview:

“Mark Steven Johnson directs, and on his name alone, 3 stars.”

The review:

“Hallmark level Netflix rom com whose only redeeming quality is that it brings Rachael Leigh Cook back into our lives.”

“It’s not the worst of the Netflix rom coms (but that’s because I’ve seen all of them, so don’t consider that an endorsement), but it’s also not good at all.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Really not worth your time.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Mulan

January’s preview:

“Well, we know what this one’s all about. Honestly, the one live-action Disney remake I want to see. Concerned about the CGI nature, but I like that they went traditional, cast all Asian actors and are even keeping traditional names in there and not forcing English all over it. That’s nice.” 

3.5 stars. I hope it’s 4. I want this to be great.”

The review:

“If I didn’t retire the Unforgivables list, this would probably have been on it. And not because it’s a bad movie, because it isn’t. It just really annoyed the shit out of me.”

“My problem is the tone. This movie tried real hard to lose me within its first 20 minutes. Hell, it almost lost me in the first three, with that weird ‘child on wires, jumping around’ bit.”

“They keep the weird tone throughout and try to make it a family fun movie instead of just being a war movie, but you sort of forget about it for long stretches of time.”

“And I chalk it up to an inability to trust an audience and Disney trying to check as many boxes as it can, because at this point they don’t give a shit about good. All they care about is appealing to as many people as possible and making as much money as possible.”

“We know all these live action remakes aren’t good or at all comparative to the originals in terms of quality. So you just live with a watchable movie.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

This did really annoy me. But in terms of all the live action remakes it’s right there with all the others. So it’s hard to get mad at the film itself rather than the studio that made it.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

January’s preview:

“This is Charlie Kaufman, so that means automatically 4 stars. I kinda wanna go higher, but we’ll stick with 4 for now.”

The review:

“I fucking love Charlie Kaufman.”

“I love everything about this movie. I love that the opening scene in the car is like 30 minutes long. I love that the movie takes on all these weird turns. I love the stuff he does with the third act. I love that I was able to watch this movie and, within about 15 minutes, notice, ‘Oh, I see that going on. So (x) must be the case’. And then, while I was right, that wasn’t even scratching the surface of what was happening.”

“It’s a really wonderful film that I can’t wait to see again. Charlie Kaufman is a genius.”

* * * * (4 stars)

Final thoughts:

I really did like this a lot and can’t wait to watch this again this week.

* * * * (4 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Critical Thinking

January’s preview:

“I can’t wait to see this.”

3 stars. Sounds uplifting.”

The review:

“Inner city teacher movie. You’ve seen those before, and they’re usually solid.”

“Chess movies are always interesting, and Leguizamo provides a realistic flair to this. Sure, it does a lot of obvious things, but it’s likable. Likable counts for a lot.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I’m a fan of this. More Johnny Legs in things, guys.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Cuties

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

I had to see this just because of the sheer outrage there was about Netflix putting this up on their site (as if there aren’t far worse things on there). And usually, whenever there’s outrage about something, you can sort of guess why that is (repressed religious people who think they’re the moral right). It has nothing to do with the quality of the film but rather the attitudes of the people who feel the need to comment on it (who never actually watch it). But I wanted to see for myself. And — that’s exactly what this was. I feel like people love to get upset about things without actually knowing context. They think the movie only exists to sexualize young girls. And yet — this is exactly what happens around this age. I was in middle school once. To the film’s credit, they’re doing it as a form of self-expression and not purely to turn boys on. The boys don’t really matter in all this. The film is literally just showing a period in women’s lives that no one talks about. So to me, the outrage is purely from parents and older people who think this isn’t going on or refuse to acknowledge it. I saw nothing wrong with this at all as a film, and if anything, I felt that it was a bit too similar to all those other films that feature the girl who gets in with the popular group and starts to lose track of who she is because she changes her personality to fit in with them. To me, anyone who has a problem with this movie is not only missing the point, but also perpetuating the long history of gender inequality that’s been in both film and the world. Don’t be one of those people.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

What I said up there. Just because you might not ‘want’ to see it does not make it a bad movie or one that should not exist.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Unpregnant

January’s preview:

“Sounds very indie. 3 stars.”

The review:

“I appreciate a road trip comedy where the goal is to get an abortion.”

“To the point where you’re rooting for them to overcome the evil pro-lifers (which is a redundant term, I know) and just get there and get it done. So for that alone, I have the utmost respect for this movie.”

“We’ve seen too many dumb movies that don’t have anything to say. At least this one is empowering for young women who need to know they have autonomy over their own bodies, despite what other people might tell them.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I appreciated the message of this film more than I appreciated the film. I had problems with the film. But hey, it’s a start. So good for them.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

January’s preview:

“Did we need a sequel to this?”

“I mean, 3 stars. I’m sure it’ll be watchable. It’s still McG and he still can make a watchable movie. But why did we need this?”

The review:

“This… is a sequel that cares less about plot and more about playing.”

The plot is dumb as rocks… HOWEVER, this movie decided, ‘Who cares about the plot, let’s just do fun shit instead’.”

“It’s very playful in all the right ways. Because you know you can’t (and won’t) take something like this seriously, so the movie doesn’t even bother to take itself seriously and just says, ‘We’re here for a good time’. And I respect the shit out of that.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

This film and its predecessor are two very worthy and entertaining movies.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

I Am Woman

January’s preview:

3 stars.”

The review:

“It’s just okay. Pretty by the numbers, doesn’t really do anything you haven’t seen and doesn’t really tell a story that makes this feel like one of the many exemplary music biopics that are out there.”

“Win some, lose some. This one feels more like a net neutral.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Pretty standard fare biopic stuff.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Broken Hearts Gallery

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“It’s hard to create a rom com that is both charming and original… But this one does.”

“It’s got enough quirky originality to really stand out, and for people starved for actual good rom coms (and not the usual bullshit), this is one of the most original I’ve seen in years.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I really liked this one.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

American Woman

January’s preview:

3 stars, only because I haven’t heard about this getting picked up, and it feels like one of those over-serious political thrillers that only goes 3 stars for me.”

The review:

“It’s… fine.”

“Overall, watchable, but not really anything I can recommend.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Flat 3.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?:

The Secrets We Keep

January’s preview:

3 stars. That should be pretty easy.”

The review:

“It’s — fine. Nothing wholly revelatory, but it’s got enough good acting and thrills to keep you engaged throughout.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Just fine.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Devil All the Time

January’s preview:

“I wanna go 4, but I know I should say 3.5 stars. So I’m gonna say 3.5 stars and hope this is great.”

The review:

“This is based on a novel, and really feels like it. It feels like they took a sprawling, unwieldy novel and tried to cram it into a 130 minute film.”

“The result is a solid, but mixed bag of scenes that feel like they either needed to be cut or had a lot more time spent on them.”

“It’s got its hits and misses, but I appreciate that they took the swing.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

It is better than the majority of stuff on Netflix, even if it is a mixed bag full of mostly good things.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Antebellum

January’s preview:

“I like that they’re hiding the plot from us, though that could backfire by revealing there isn’t much more to reveal in the movie. But, for now, from what I’ve seen and how it could set up… 3.5 stars.”

“I can’t assume anything more than that with a movie of this genre. But 3.5 should be easily attainable.”

The review:

“Gonna be honest… I expected more.”

“They made a huge mistake in the scripting to not cut to her having a normal life early on, within the first ten minutes. Waiting until 40 minutes in kills any connection to the film you might have. At that point it just becomes slavery porn. 12 Reels a Slave.”

“I don’t know who this movie is even for. You don’t care about the character on either side of the story, and it just becomes about some awful white people doing this rather than some existential horrific situation.”

“I honestly don’t even hate the movie, I just want to know what they thought they were doing.”

“It was maddening to watch, because you can see a better movie there, just a few turns away. But aside from EVERYTHING else, I really have only two major gripes with the movie: 1) no one’s getting in an Uber (especially a woman) without making sure the person behind the wheel matches the photo they send you beforehand. And 2) there is no way the cops are actually coming in to save anyone. In real life, the cops are helping stock this place.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

12. Reels. A. Slave.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Blackbird

January’s preview:

“Oh, so this is a pure indie movie.”

“Indie character dramas just feel like 3 star guesses and me letting them be better if they’re gonna be better. Plus, it’s a remake of a Danish film, so that also makes me think 3 stars. Just because remakes of foreign films always just level out to ‘just okay’.”

The review:

“It’s a remake of a Danish film. And like all American remakes of foreign dramas — it’s just fine.”

“I’ve made this argument at least once a year for what feels like the past five years now. Every time one of those comes out, I find myself saying, ‘This seems like it was pretty much the exact same story as the foreign version that got all the acclaim, maybe with a few things Americanized (but not enough to overly impact the plot), and the movie’s just okay’. And I always feel like — in some of those cases… are people just saying things are great purely because of the subtitles? You know what I mean? If all you change is the language and maybe a couple of minor details, why is it that things get vastly different reactions from people? I’m convinced Michael Haneke was onto something when he did a shot for shot remake of Funny Games in English and people savaged him for it. That fascinates me to no end.”

“It’s fine. Lot of acting stuff, all the usual thing you’d expect out of a movie like this. Literally nothing you haven’t seen before.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I still am fascinating by that. More than I cared about this entire movie.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Teenage Badass

January’s preview:

“This sounds fun, and very indie.”

3 stars.”

The review:

“It’s fine. There are some fun moments in this. Otherwise not really anything you need to see.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Fair.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Lost Girls & Love Hotels

January’s preview:

None. Left a 2.5 star rating in case it ever came out.

The review:

Honestly, this review covers everything you need to know:

“’Lost Girls and Love Hotels’ plays like the result of a collision between ‘Lost in Translation’, ‘Looking for Mr. Goodbar’ and the entire ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ saga. Actually, I probably shouldn’t say that because that particular combination of influences is so bizarre that it might actually lure some viewers into seeing it on the theory that, if nothing else, the end result would almost have to be at least somewhat interesting. While there are plenty of words that could be used to describe this attempted combination of introspective drama and kinky sex fantasy, ‘interesting’ is one that I am reasonably sure will not be further deployed in the course of this review.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Just watch Looking for Mr. Goodbar if you want this story. But I’m pretty sure most people only care about Alexandra Daddario getting naked in it.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Nest

January’s preview:

“I see no reason not to go below 3.5 stars here.”

The review:

“The film looks great and lets the actors do their thing… I just didn’t find a whole lot to care about here.”

“That’s not to say it was boring so much as I didn’t find myself fully engaged. It’s a perfectly solid film that I suspect some people will really go for.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I did wish I liked this more than I did. But it happens.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Enola Holmes

January’s preview:

“Sounds fun to me.”

3 stars.”

The review:

“It’s charming. It does just the right amount of playful fourth-wall breaking and never betrays its young adults roots.”

“This is basically Nancy Drew in costumes, and I’m all here for it. Perfectly entertaining movie and just the kind of thing I enjoy. I hope they make more of these.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I enjoyed this.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Ava

January’s preview:

“I can’t tell if I should go 3 or 3.5 here. Taylor seems to want to be branching out into genre stuff, and the film just kinda feels like a standard thriller. So I’ll go 3 stars, but with that cast, I hope it can go higher.”

The review:

“There’s a lot of personal shit going on aside from the usual murder stuff. And I liked that about this.”

“This could so easily have just been a John Wick knockoff, but instead it took that framework and tried to tell a human drama alongside it. And I respect the hell out of it for that.”

“Still came out the same way, but at least I got a different version of it while it did.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Most people won’t care or like that it tried to be a drama than action, but I did.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Kajillionaire

January’s preview:

3.5 stars.”

The review:

“Absolutely wonderful Miranda July film that caught me by complete surprise.”

“I absolutely adored it.”

“It’s really one of my favorite things that I saw this year, and I hope everyone takes the time to go see it at some point.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I liked this a lot.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Misbehaviour

January’s preview:

3.5 stars. I’m in on this. Hope it’s great.”

The review:

“I quite enjoyed this.”

“It’s not breaking any ground — the tone doesn’t allow it to go that deeply into anything, but at least it’s trying to say something and has a great cast.”

“It’s not gonna affect great change, but it’s an entertaining recreation of an event that most people don’t know about or much remember that reflects upon some issues that are still ongoing in society (sadly).”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I did enjoy this, even if it was more of a glossy crowd-pleaser than something that really has something to say. But anything is better than nothing.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Secret Society of Second Born Royals

January’s preview:

“It’s either 2.5 or 3. The question is what kinda tone it’s gonna be. Let’s go 2.5 stars. It’s not going higher than 3 anyway. That much I know.”

The review:

“As you can see from the film’s title — a really circuitous and overly complicated way around to a completely generic movie.”

“It’s dumb as shit, and honestly if not for the age of streaming services, would have been a Disney Channel Original Movie. And friends, let me tell you this — it’s no Brink.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

It’s no Brink.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Last Shift

January’s preview:

3 stars. Let’s do this.”

The review:

This is a movie that could have done way more than it does and could have been way better, but you don’t really think about that all that much because Richard Jenkins is so good in this (as he is in everything). He keeps you going. Otherwise, it’s just a nice movie about this character, who you know exists far too much in our society. And because of that, there are some undertones of what the movie is trying to say, about race and class and capitalism, but I do wish they got into that a bit more than they did. Still, this felt like a really worthwhile experience.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Viva le Jenkins.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

Welcome to Sudden Death

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“Remember the movie Sudden Death with Jean-Claude Van Damme? Sure you do. This is a weird, straight to VOD quasi-sequel to it starring Michael Jai White.”

“It’s Die Hard at a basketball game. The first movie was Die Hard at a hockey game.”

“It’s really cheap, and looks badly made. I didn’t hate it, but it’s also not good, and really not worth your time unless you’re a middle-aged dad who just watches these things.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

This really is for middle-aged dads with no discernible taste in movies past things blowing up and people hitting each other.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

The Boys in the Band

January’s preview:

“It’s a single-location play, and while casting all gay actors is nice, it’s a play on screen. I can’t really guess more than 3 stars on this.”

The review:

“This is the kind of film that feels perfect for Netflix. An adaptation of a play that is very theatrical and focused on the acting and the content.”

“And honestly, the play is really good, the film is very good. It’s literally just a play, the actors are in one location and it’s extremely dialogue heavy. So just be aware of that going in, but otherwise, it’s a really engaging movie with great performances and well-handled all around.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I liked that they cast all gay actors and gave an updated version of a story that should be out there. It did take me a minute to get settled in, but once I did, it was a really nice experience. Good for them for making this.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Off by a half-star.

The Glorias

January’s preview:

“All of this sounds good to me.”

3.5 stars.”

The review:

“It’s uneven.

“Julie Taymor is a very visual director but that often leads to her films being short on acting and writing. And it’s not because of the actors or the script, it’s because her style tends to overwhelm everything else. And this feels no different.”

“If you’re not a fan of her as a director, you’re really gonna have a hard time with this one. She throws in a lot of visual fantasy flourishes to drive certain points home. And sometimes it works, other times it feels like the film is taking a giant mallet and hitting you over the head.”

“I do think it’s a solid, well-made movie that is not without its problems, largely stemming from the choice of director. I feel like the style had to not overwhelm the content here, especially with a figure as important as Gloria Steinem.”

“And while it’s not the biopic Gloria Steinem deserves, I’d rather have this than nothing.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Gloria Steinem deserves more, but for now, I’ll take this over nothing.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

– – – – – – – – – –

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