2020: The Year in Reviews (November)

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 November.

November

Operation Christmas Drop

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“Should’ve just stuck with Dumbo Drop. Dropping Christmas on other countries just feels like a bad idea, kind of like when we tried to force Christianity onto other cultures and all that gave them was murder and smallpox. At least dropping an elephant is fun and everyone can enjoy it.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Drop Dumbo, Don’t Drop Christmas.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?:

Let Him Go

January’s preview:

“I’m so in.”

3.5 stars.”

“No idea what kind of movie I’m getting, but those two alone make me go 3.5. Costner picks solid material always.”

The review:

“This film is an experiment in star power.”

“There’s a lot under the hood of this movie, and while I don’t think it’ll ever find its true audience, there’s a lot to like here and it’s one of the better films that’s come out this year.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I did quite enjoy this for a lot of reasons, even though it’s not without its flaws.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Informer

January’s preview:

3 stars.”

“If it’s fun and charming, it could get 3.5 out of me, but this feels like an exactly 3-star generic action-thriller.”

The review:

“Pretty standard action thriller.”

“Overall perfectly watchable, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The epitome of the 3 star movie.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Yup.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Jungleland

January’s preview:

“That all feels like 3 stars.”

The review:

“You know the whole thing. You know where it goes, you know all the tropes — it’s all of that.”

“It’s watchable, but I can’t really recommend it to anyone because it’s essentially the same movie you’ve seen done a hundred different ways and at least 85 ways better than this one.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

There’s really nothing interesting or surprising here.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Ammonite

January’s preview:

“This feels like the kind of movie that will have great performances but just be a pretty good movie. So I’ll say 3.5 stars.”

“I think it’ll be solid, but I can’t expect 4 stars out of this. Maybe it will be. Maybe it’ll be amazing. But this feels like a performance first kinda movie to me.”

The review:

“I had one very specific thought after seeing this movie, which is: ‘I wonder what 13 year old me would think, finding out that during a scene where two of my favorite actresses started making out for the first time, the thing that would get 32 year old me most excited was the fact that the director very deliberately crosses the line during the scene’.”

“That’s apparently where I’m at now. The nudity does nothing for me, but a line cross? That’s exciting.”

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire basically did this story already last year.”

“I got out of this exactly what I expected to get out of it — a solid movie with really solid lead performances that looks nice, that is well-acted above all else… and is just kind of okay, story-wise.”

“Portrait of a Lady on Fossils.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I’m so happy I sussed this out immediately in January. Normally I’d see those two and go, “Yup. Automatic 4+.” But I knew. I knew it was gonna be about them and the story would just be fine. And honestly, maybe I like this better had I not seen ‘Portrait’ last year (which is the better movie, not that it’s one vs. the other). But it fell exactly within every expectation I had for it, and that’s nice.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Climb

January’s preview:

3 stars.”

“It looks exceedingly indie.”

The review:

So I was expecting exceedingly indie on this, and then within about five minutes, this movie won me over. It begins with the two guys on bikes doing a hard ride up a hill and one of them suddenly coming out and saying he slept with the other guy’s fiancée. But the way they do it is so alt-comedy in the best possible way. It’s so damn weird and wonderful. And it only gets weirder from there. By minute 20, one of the two is lip syncing to Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby” and doing a dance in his underwear in a basement. It’s so wonderfully off-the-wall. I could not stop laughing during this. It’s absolutely a wonderful movie that everyone should see.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

It’s one of the real hidden gems of the year and one of the few comedies that made me legitimately laugh.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

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

Freaky

January’s preview:

3 stars.”

The review:

“This was a wonderful film.”

“It’s so much goddamn fun. It hits all the right notes and finds a way to subvert all the usual genre stuff in fun ways.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

This really is one of the most entertaining and worthwhile movies of the year.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

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

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

January’s preview:

3 stars.”

The review:

“Absolutely magical movie.”

“I love everything about this movie.”

“I love that this exists and I’m so happy it’s actually a good movie. This is the kind of movie we need to support.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

It’s an original musical and Christmas movie with an all black cast. I love the film on that alone. And it’s actually worth watching on top of all of that. I love that.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Echo Boomers

January’s preview:

“Michael Shannon is in this, which is really the only thing that got me to notice it.”

“First time-director, plot could go really generic — gotta guess 3 stars. But hey, maybe it works.”

The review:

“It doesn’t really have much of anything to say and is in that weird gray area of wanting to be social commentary, wanting to be one of those ‘cool’ movies that every first-time writer wants to make because it’s what they grew up with and wanting to be a genre movie. So the result is kind of a muddled mess that feels a bit too obvious at times, a bit too pretentious at times and just too generic all around.”

“It’s probably not even worth it just for Michael Shannon.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

This didn’t do anything for me.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Come Away

January’s preview:

“This sounds great.”

“This just sounds so magical and is exactly the type of thing I respond to. So I’m gonna say 4 stars. Maybe it’s only 3.5. I don’t know. But I just think this sounds wonderful.”

The review:

“Somehow I thought I was getting a different movie here, but it was still solid nevertheless.”

“I’ll warn you — it’s bleak. Drowning, depression, gambling debts, hands being cut off… it’s not magical and uplifting at all.”

“I have no earthly idea who this movie is for or why they thought this would go over well, as depressing as it is, but I did enjoy it for what it was.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Drowning, depression, gambling debts, hands being cut off… are we talking about this movie or my quarantine experience?

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

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

The Life Ahead

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

It’s a remake of the film Madame Rosa (which I guess is based on a novel) with Sophia Loren. It’s fine. They touted it as a big return to acting or something for her. She’s fine. Movie’s fine. Nothing too special here other than getting to see Sophia Loren still doing it in her 80s. That’s cool.

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Perfectly adequate.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Fatman

January’s preview:

“Mel Gibson plays Santa. I’m so in on this.”

3.5 stars.”

The review:

“This is that absolutely bizarre movie.”

“It’s so goddamn weird, and yet, in its weirdness, is really unique and fun.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I like this because it’s weird. If it were just okay and normal, I’d probably forget about it. Now I can bring up that weird ass Mel Gibson Santa movie. I’m all for that.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

CherryPicks - Mangrove - Film Details

Small Axe: Mangrove

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“It’s a fascinating film with so many ties to the present day. It’s really wonderful. And while I’d recommend everyone watch all five of the Small Axe films, if you’re only going to watch one of them, this is the one to watch.”

* * * * (4 stars)

Final thoughts:

You should watch all the Small Axe films. Seriously, they’re wonderful.

* * * * (4 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Dreamland

January’s preview:

“Let’s say 3.5 stars. I’m not sure what I’m getting, but it sounds fun.”

The review:

“A really interesting film, and one of those that, while it was really solid, makes me think, ‘Why would you make this?'”

“Yet… solid. Very solid.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I liked it, but I still have no idea who this is for.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Princess Switch: Switched Again

January’s preview:

“Oh boy, more of this.”

“Typically the sequels don’t work as well, so I’m gonna say 2.5 stars on this.”

The review:

“What’s better than two Vanessa Hudgens’? Three Vanessa Hudgens’. That seems to be the idea behind this movie.”

“This is just generic all the way through.”

“Though I will say, I’m utterly fascinated with this weirdness of how all these Netflix Christmas movies seem to exist within the same universe.”

“I know it’s meant to be fun or whatever, but this is the kind of shit that, when you don’t care about the movie (as I don’t with this), you spend time trying to figure out and it ultimately gives you a brain aneurysm. So, what I’m saying is, this film could be responsible for actual deaths.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

It could, though. You don’t know.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Last Vermeer

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

I’ll update this when I see it.

Also, look at that Einstein hair on Guy Pearce in that poster.

Final thoughts:

How close was I?:

Sound of Metal

January’s preview:

3.5 stars.”

The review:

“I can’t help but think Cianfrance would have gotten more out of this story than even this film does — which is quite a lot.”

“Ultimately it’s a really great piece of work and stands as one of the best films of the year.”

* * * * (4 stars)

Final thoughts:

I really liked this.

* * * * (4 stars)

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

Run

January’s preview:

“I know Searching was really well done, but I can’t assume this is anything more than a generic thriller. So 3 stars and we’ll see what it’s gonna be.”

The review:

“You know where it’s going and what it’s gonna do. And yet… it’s told well.”

“A lot like Searching. You don’t expect it to be as good as it is and yet it transcends all the genre trappings it’s somehow making use of at the same time.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I still don’t know how this managed to do all the stuff you’d expect and yet still be good. But I’ll take it.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

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

Small Axe: Lovers Rock

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“It might be the best film of the bunch.”

“I loved just sitting and hanging out with this one and just experiencing the lives of these people for the hour-plus I spent with them.”

“Definitely one of my favorites from this miniseries.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Again, just watch them all, but this is one of the best things you can see this year.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Belushi

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“Probably not the best version of a documentary we could have gotten.”

“But also — I’m not really sure what better one we could have gotten, given how young he was when he died and how little an amount of time he was actually famous.”

“Honestly as far as documentaries go, this is much more my speed than most others.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Better than a political doc.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Jiu Jitsu

January’s preview:

“THIS SOUNDS INSANE.”

3 stars.”

“In. Totally in. Don’t even care if he’s not the star. I want to see whatever the fuck this movie is.”

The review:

“Oh, you know, just your run-of-the-mill action movie about an alien that comes to earth every six years looking for a fight and has to be fought off by earth’s greatest warriors which include Nicolas Cage.”

“It’s a perfect entry into the Cage oeuvre.”

“It’s not amazing, I’ll say that much. Even for Cage standards.”

“There’s not a whole lot of value here, but it’s watchable.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

The premise is the point here. Just being able to say that makes me happy.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“Let me say first: I’m happy this exists. Whatever Dolly Parton wants to make is fine with me.”

“And you know what? Original musical. I will never begrudge one of those.”

“However, the fact that I did not care one bit about anything I saw in this movie still stands.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

All that is basically it.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Hillbilly Elegy

January’s preview:

“Howard is a 3.5 star filmmaker at minimum and can get 4 stars out of something. But looking at his recent output… he hasn’t made a really good one in a while.”

“So 3.5 stars. I’m sure it’ll be solid.”

The review:

“Ah yes, Hollywood’s occasional poverty porn.”

“The funny this is, not too long ago, this would’ve been feasting at the Oscars. And now, rightfully, everyone took a look at this one and said, ‘What the fuck is this?'”

“This is the kind of movie that rich people think is how poor people live.”

“It feels performative. Look at us, we’re not wearing makeup and doing an accent, give us statues. We did good. We’re showing how the other half lives.”

“I was even willing to give this movie a break if it was any good. Problem is, it’s not.”

“It’s almost baffling how this movie doesn’t seem to understand how humans interact. But also, kinda funny at times because of that.”

“Also, totally random Eagle-Eye Cherry needle drop out of nowhere, which I thought was hysterical.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I tried to find enough good in this movie to give it the benefit of the doubt. But I couldn’t. This was completely misguided all the way.

* * * (3 stars)

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

The Croods: A New Age

January’s preview:

“Why?”

“Why did we need a sequel to a movie that was just whatever?”

2.5 stars. Do not care, do not care.”

“But Nicolas Cage is in this, so that’s cool.”

The review:

I didn’t particularly care for the first one, and I definitely did not care for this one. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch. I just wasn’t invested in the story. It’s colorful and looks nice… but Trolls looked nice and was colorful too. Also didn’t care about that. Is what it is. There’s a certain level of animation that just doesn’t do it for me, and this is it. It comes down to the writing. The animation can be as good as anything, but when a movie is written to reflect the present day with modern references rather than just telling its own story, I tend to tune out.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Big pile of indifference from me.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Stardust

January’s preview:

“Oh boy. That’ll be interesting.”

3 stars. Don’t know what I’m getting out of this, and given that I haven’t heard of the person directing it, I can’t have too high hopes for it.”

The review:

“How the fuck you gonna make a David Bowie movie without any of the music?”

“I don’t really have a whole lot of good to say about this.”

“If I were still doing the Unforgivables list, I’d have put this on there just on principle. Don’t make a David Bowie movie and not give us David Bowie music.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

Seriously, though. What the fuck?

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Happiest Season

January’s preview:

“I kinda want this to be good.”

3.5 stars.”

The review:

“In a lot of ways, the writing is a little obvious, but in others the cast found a way to make the movie work.”

“It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but I found myself really liking it.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

The charm made me not focus on the stuff that felt really on-the-nose or done before or even completely illogical. So I’m happy with this.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Christmas Chronicles 2

January’s preview:

“A sequel to this was a given. That first one was amazing. Can you repeat the formula? Probably not. But I’m glad they’re gonna give it a shot.”

“This one seems like it’s got much more of a ‘Santa Clause’ kinda plot, whereas the joy of the first one was more the galavanting around with Santa. But hey, I’m sure Kurt Russell will be fun again.”

3 stars.”

The review:

“The first film was an absolute surprise and an absolute delight. I figured the second one wouldn’t be as good, but I figured I’d get enough out of it. And that’s what it was.”

“Not nearly as good as the original (and they repeat bits, like the musical number. Though kudos to them for at least writing an original song), but as long as Kurt Russell is Santa, these movies are always gonna be at the very least watchable.”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I’m fine with this as a sequel, even if it didn’t do a whole lot past what the first one did.

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Uncle Frank

January’s preview:

“We’ll assume the standard indie 3 stars.”

The review:

“It’s charming. Bettany gets a starring role, which he so rarely gets, and Lillis continues her ascent into full blown stardom one of these years. I liked this one, even if it’s not the most unique film ever made.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

I liked it more than I would’ve expected to.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

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

Superintelligence

January’s preview:

2 stars.”

“I’m going 2 because I’ve reached the point of indifference, but I expect this movie to be awful.”

The review:

“It’s another terrible Melissa McCarthy movie. We know how these go.”

“At least she, like Adam Sandler, has moved to streaming services, so the stakes feel lower for the dreck she puts out.”

“She’s made four movies with her husband, and literally all four are Unforgivable. This one won’t officially be because I retired the list, but man… this is a piece of shit.”

* * (2 stars)

Final thoughts:

Hated this.

* * (2 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

The Mystery of D.B. Cooper (2020) - IMDb

The Mystery of D.B. Cooper

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“I liked it just because I think the story is interesting.”

“I don’t think it’s the greatest film ever, but it’s interesting, kind of like how that documentary about the Shining was interesting, where they talked about all the different interpretations of it. It’s fun to listen to, and if anything it gets you thinking about the incident and how it’s such a unique incident in our history that has never (and will never) happen again.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

It’s a fun doc about one of the most fascinating events of the past 50 years.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

Life in a Year

January’s preview:

None. Left a blanket 2.5 star rating for this.

The review:

“One of those ‘let’s try to make Fault in Our Stars money’ teen dramas.”

“It hits every single beat you’d expect it to hit, and for every moment where I went, ‘Oh, good for them,’ there were equally as many moments where I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?'”

“Delevingne actually does a good job with it, and I appreciated that they really focused on the deteriorating health in a real way rather than trying to fancy it up. But, on the other hand — Chris D’Elia plays a trans woman.”

“And a lot of the story is really on the nose in the worst possibly way. So, ultimately, don’t care.”

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Don’t care.

* * ½ (2.5 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Black Beauty

January’s preview:

“Oh, so they remade this. Okay, then.”

“I see no reason not to guess 3 stars. The material makes it seem like it’ll be perfectly watchable.”

The review:

“Black Beauty is one of those books where, you feel like you’ve read it even if you haven’t.”

“I never read it, yet it felt like it was always just sort of there in my life.”

“I’m aware of the story in very broad terms (or maybe it’s just because I’ve seen things like The Horse Whisperer and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Oh, I’m sorry, Academy Award nominee Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron), and it feels like one of those movies where there’s always gonna be a remake every 20-30 years, just because it’s a book people grow up with.”

“The problem with something like this is — the story’s so prevalent that it’s been used in countless other things (like, say, Academy Award nominee Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron) that there’s almost no point in remaking it because it’s gonna feel like you’ve seen it before.”

“Maybe there’s an audience for this. And good for them. Me? If I’m gonna watch anything of this sort, I’m gonna watch Academy Award nominee Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (*slowly turns to camera, holding up a DVD, winking and giving a thumb’s up*).”

“(Also, I won’t look this up because it doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong, but people who grew up buying a lot of DVDs as I have… doesn’t Spirit just feel like one of those movies that for sure had a white case instead of a black case? I don’t even have to look it up to be sure, because I just know that it did. Does that make sense?)”

* * * (3 stars)

Final thoughts:

I looked it up just for this article:

* * * (3 stars)

How close was I?: Exact.

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue Reviews - Metacritic

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

January’s preview:

None.

The review:

“Again, a very timely story, as the police force is still incredibly racist and still seems pretty much beyond hope of reform. It’s a solid film, like all the others in this series.”

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

Final thoughts:

Seriously, just watch all the Small Axe films already.

* * * ½ (3.5 stars)

How close was I?: N/A

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