28. Black Beauty
Not every actor is good in it, but all the important ones are. Mackenzie Foy is convincing as an emotionally wounded teenager and it's very nice seeing Iain Glen again after Game of Thrones. There's not enough explanation for the early tension in their relationship, but the actors sell that the tension exists, so I was able to roll with it.
There's a lot about Onward that doesn't work for me. I don't love the character designs or the premise of a magical world that's converted to technology through the sheer laziness of its people. I also feel like the film started with a theme and then built a story to support it, meaning that it had to sacrifice some authentic emotion and decision-making in its characters in favor of making its point. I have a hard time believing that Dad makes no effort whatsoever to see his younger son in the last few moments left.
But it's still a good, strong theme and the relationship between the brothers (and also their mom) is authentic and emotional. The movie's also really funny and I come out liking it a lot even if it's not among Pixar's best.
It doesn't affect the plot much at all, but it does affect the characters and sadly I don't think Wheatley's version deals with the full implication of Rebecca's actions in the past, Max's in the present, or how both influence the new Mrs. de Winter.
All that aside though: I really like this version. The cast is brilliant, the photography is lovely, and it adds some character layers to the Hitchcock version that make re-adapting it worthwhile. Hitchcock wins on subtlety and sheer style, but I appreciate Wheatley's film very much.
Some beautiful moments though and it's a great-looking film. And I love how (like Inside Out) it so skillfully visualizes abstract concepts.
23. Happiest Season
I had the wrong idea thinking Happiest Season is a standard romcom with the familiar setup of bringing someone home to meet the family while trying to keep your actual relationship a secret. In this case, it's Mackenzie Davis as a closeted lesbian who's introducing her girlfriend Kristen Stewart to Davis' judgmental family. Davis and Stewart have to pretend to be platonic roommates until Davis can summon the courage to come out.
Knowing that, I expected the usual hijinks and sneaking around, culminating in a third-act confrontation that forces Davis to finally make her announcement. And there is all of that. But I also expected that the whole time I would be rooting for the couple to make it work, and that's not the case.
I was surprised to hit the halfway point of the film and realize that I pretty much hated Davis' character and wanted nothing but for Stewart to get far, far away from her. Still thinking that I was supposed to be cheering for them as a couple, I almost gave up and turned the movie off, but decided to see it through, partly because Dan Levy is so great as Stewart's friend, but also because I was super intrigued to see if it would somehow turn into a love story between Stewart and Aubrey Plaza. Wouldn't that be a weird, but very cool turn?
But the film subverts even that and stays committed to Davis as a character even more than to her as a love interest for Stewart. It's very interested in being funny, and it uses romance to drive the plot, but it's just as interested in being real about the process of coming out and how that's different for everyone. It's an insightful and moving film and much more substantial than I anticipated.
22. Palm Springs
Proximity gets more and more bonkers as it goes, but I enjoyed that about it. It's also uneven in its special effects - sometimes shockingly amazing; often making obvious budget choices - but even that has some charm. And the location photography is consistently, often breathtakingly gorgeous.
It's wild and uneven enough that I imagine some viewers will be frustrated with it, but I rolled with the movie and had a great time.
20. My Spy
19. The New Mutants
I showed up for Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy, but enjoyed the whole team. It makes me want to finally read some classic New Mutants comics now. That's been a blind spot in my comics reading for too long.
The non-professional kid actors are all great. Devin France is wonderful as Wendy and holds the whole film together without effort. Yashua Mack is a delightful pixie as Peter. And Gage and Gavin Naquin are heartbreakingly real as Wendy's twin brothers.
I think the only thing keeping me from full-on loving Wendy is the design of an important non-human inhabitant of Peter's island. It's a low-budget film, so director Benh Zeitlin works around that by never giving us a good look at his creature, but a side-effect is that I never felt connected with the creature the way the kids did in the movie.
17. The Wretched
I'd have loved it without reservation if it didn't do that thing where it clumsily and nonsensically ends on a question mark to leave room for a sequel. The movie was better than that.
16. The Invisible Man
Universal has finally figured out how to bring their monster movies back to life. More of this. Make them scary. Make them standalone. Make them good.
15. The Gentlemen
14. Birds of Prey
13. The Short History of the Long Road
This is the first of a few teen dramas that I really enjoyed in 2020. I don't know what's up with that, except maybe that they were palate cleansers between genre stories. The Short History of the Long Road is probably best described as a slice-of-life story, which normally wouldn't be my thing. I like plot and it threw me that this isn't as focused as I expected.
But I found myself not really missing a stronger plot. The life of homeless, teenaged Nola after the unexpected death of her father is worth slicing into and spending time with. It has its tragedies, but it's also filled with kindness and hope.
12. All the Bright Places
11. The Secret Garden