What a weird year. That might be an understatement. Since COVID-19 abruptly shut down all theaters on March 21 (and has kept them mostly closed since), movie lovers like me have had to adapt. This adaptation has taken many forms over the past few months:
- Bought an annual subscription to The Criterion Channel (highly recommended – best first watch? 1972’s What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal). I subscribed to HBO Max in May, and that service also has an excellent movie catalog – full of classics, new releases, and some forgotten favorites (Housesitter, anyone?).
- With Summer Movie Season essentially cancelled, I’ve been rewatching tons of ’80s and ’90s summer blockbusters, in an effort to recreate some of the same sensation and get a heaping rush of nostalgia. Best rewatch? 1993’s Last Action Hero – the much maligned Schwarzenegger flop (it’s actually great, with a clever script co-written by Shane Black). That one held up. So did The Fugitive – a flawless film. Can’t say the same for the Whoopi-Ted Danson farce, Made in America. Interesting to watch that one given all the racial equality and police brutality protests of late. It was tone deaf back in 1993, and even more so now.
- For Christmas, I asked for (and got) an outdoor projector. How very prescient! We bought a giant 100″ screen and now watch movies in the backyard on these warm summer nights. It’s not the drive-in, but it’s close and then the kids and I set up a tent and go to sleep after a double feature. We enjoyed Twister, but The Cable Guy might have been too over-the-heads. Don’t worry – they’ll come around on it some day, just like everyone else has.
So, that’s how I’ve been coping. Of course, I still watch as many new films as are released. I paid $19.99 for both Trolls: World Tour AND The King of Staten Island. I couldn’t watch Eurovision fast enough. And I’m one of the few, the brave, the proud to have purchased Scoob! for $25. None of those flicks made my Top 5 of the year so far (shocker, I know), but here’s what did:
5. The Vast of Night. A deft, brilliantly directed ode to 1950’s sci-fi and Twilight Zone/Outer Limits fare. Does a lot on a limited budget. A bit of a slow burn, but director Andrew Patterson is going places. And, there’s a long tracking shot early on that’s a real stunner.
4. The Platform. If you like Black Mirror or Jordan Peele’s horror flicks, you’ll probably find much to admire in this Spanish-language social allegory horror thriller. Hooks you within the first five minutes, and never lets up for the next 90 minutes.
3. Da Five Bloods. Spike Lee’s on a roll. His follow-up to the Oscar-winning BlackKklansman mixes genre and tone with wild abandon, using every film making trick in the playbook. The veteran cast are all impressive, but it’s Delroy Lindo who walks away with the movie, in what may be a career-best performance.
2. Bad Education. HBO snapped up the rights to this “based on a true story” flick after it premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Hugh Jackman has never been better as a school superintendent with sociopathic tendencies. It plays similar notes as Election, but eventually charts its own path thanks to a fascinating story and unique, complex characters.
1. The Invisible Man. One of the last movies I saw in theaters before the shutdown. Maybe that’s why it stuck with me so well. Could also be due to the simple fact that Leigh Whannell knows how to stage scenes for maximum suspense, and Elisabeth Moss just crushes it as the lead. Exciting and topical, with a fresh take on toxic masculinity.