Continuing with our series of dazzling writing from 2020, we present reviews or articles self-selected by each of our editors (Brian Tallerico, Matt Zoller Seitz, Nick Allen, Matt Fagerholm and Nell Minow); and then an article or review of a different writer selected by our editors. For Part I, see here.—Chaz Ebert
Favorite review written by Brian: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
A sense of anxiety over the trip begins to rise, amplified by a tight 4:3 aspect ratio courtesy of Lukasz Zal (“Cold War”) that forces the viewer to pay more attention to what’s in frame and even to consider what’s missing. Kaufman is playing with space and time before it’s even obvious. He regularly films scenes in the car between Jake and his girlfriend from the outside, blurring their faces with snow and filling the sound mix with wind. Something is just off as these people become less clear instead of more. Plemons and Buckley are both absolutely phenomenal here, finding relatable character beats within a script that would have stymied other performers, conveying a growing anxiety without resorting to cheap tricks to highlight it.
For Brian’s favorite articles from our writers in 2020, click here.
MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
Favorite review written by Matt: “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets”
The movie keeps doing this: finding a moment—small, big, happy, horrible—and staying in it until feels like it’s time to move on. The filmmaking and performances are operating on the same wavelength. Performers and crew agreed to try something, then went to a bar and did it and filmed it. This commitment to a vision—not just a filmmaking vision, but a vision of life—gives the project a philosophical spine. The range of thoughts and emotions released by that vision is the reason the movie exists. That scene in the doorway is a metaphor for the film you’re watching, and for everything.
Matt’s favorite review written by Odie Henderson: “One Night in Miami”
So what exactly do these men talk about? I’ve purposely left most of those details out. The biggest joy of “One Night In Miami” is sitting back and listening to them. Stripped to their barest essences, they are simply Black men, and if you are a Black man, this film will have the familiarity of the many times you have congregated with your uncles, cousins, barbershop folk, brothers, and the like. King’s direction is unobtrusive, yet nurturing. You can feel the safe space she’s created for her actors to portray the love and conflict of Powers’ script. And I loved how she framed the moment when Cassius Clay sells one too many tickets in the ring and gets clobbered for his sloppiness.
Favorite review written by Nick: “Disclosure: Trans Lives On Screen”
When a particular show is brought up for a discussion of its portrayal, the discussion is more about the experience of watching—which can be heartwarming like when actress Laverne Cox talks about discovering “Yentl,” or heartbreaking when actress Rain Valdez talks of watching “Soap Dish” with her family. It’s a powerful casting decision too, as if you’ve seen nearly any of the films talked about here, transgender characters almost only play supporting roles. In “Disclosure,” you’ll see more transgender faces here (I wish I could list them all; just see the doc) than you might ever get to see in a single Hollywood movie.
Nick’s favorite review written by Christy Lemire: “Corpus Christi”
Because he’s been to dark places in his own life, he actually has real-world advice for these folks who need it. He’s naturally attuned to their suffering, and the healing he provides is hard to deny. This is a complex character full of layers and contradictions. Daniel seems cognizant of the gravity his new job requires, but he also brazenly shakes things up in this insular place and forces people to face feelings they’d rather suppress. He thinks he’s doing the right thing for the greater good but eventually asserts himself further as he feels his influence grow, and puts himself in danger in the process.
Favorite article written by Matt: “A Way of Giving Back: Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton on Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Julie’s Library and More”
Andrews’ portrayal of Maria von Trapp remains my favorite performance in all of cinema. Ever since the musical’s Broadway debut in 1959, countless actresses have tried to capture the benevolence and uncynical beauty of Maria with varying degrees of success. With Andrews, it never felt like an act. There was no irony in how she regarded the children as if they were her own, nor in how she grew ashamed of her repressed feelings for their father. Just look at her during the scene when Captain von Trapp dances with her and they pause as their eyes lock, sharing a wordless discovery of the love that has stealthily blossomed between them, causing her to break away in a haze of confusion. The multitude of emotions expressed in that single, fleeting moment is absolutely breathtaking.
Matt’s favorite article written by Mary Beth Andrews: “Realizing You’re Just a Fantasy in ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things'”
In the Young Woman’s nonlinear journey through the maze of Jake’s mind, I saw myself as I traveled through a hazy labyrinth of anxiety. Kaufman is able to examine the complexity and confusion of existing solely as someone’s fantasy, as well as how relying on a fantasy dooms you to a life of disappointment. In the shifting of perspectives from the Young Woman to Jake, she has liberated herself, while Jake is left to scramble and reconstruct his psyche; he must reckon with his loneliness and his inability to recognize his own flaws. It is the ultimate break-up, the ultimate reclamation of identity.
Favorite tribute written by Nell: “Enter Laughing: Carl Reiner (1922-2020)”
The original pilot of the show featured Reiner himself in the lead role based on his own life. It flopped. So, he re-wrote and re-cast it, with rubber-limbed Broadway newcomer Van Dyke as Rob Petrie, the writer, Moore as his wife Laura, and Reiner in a number of occasional appearances, most memorably the bombastic Alan Brady. In one of the series’ most beloved episodes, Laura appears on a game show and is tricked into revealing that Brady, like Reiner, is bald. Unlike Reiner, Brady was trying to hide it, and when Laura comes to his office to apologize, Reiner has a comic tour-de-force as he sits behind five of his toupees.
Nell’s favorite review written by Nick Allen: “Class Action Park”
The last shot of this tale about being kids running wild in the ‘80s and ’90s is that of a cemetery. One family, the Larssons, lost a son/brother to an accident on the dangerous alpine slide, and the park tried to blame it on the jagged rocks nearby instead of the shabby course and a broken cart. The film’s focus on the Larssons’ tragedy, among other instances of death that happened at the park because of Mulvihill’s negligence, represents a great feat for “Class Action Park”—while it tells of this outrageous and inherently problematic enterprise, it does so with an unmistakable perspective of maturity. Nostalgia is a rush of its own, but “Class Action Park” exemplifies how it’s fleeting, selective. And only the people who survive those wild rides get the chance to enjoy them in hindsight.