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There’s no need for any explanation as to why 2020 was disastrous for film fans. Despite the few great films that did come out — like Tenet, Wonder Woman 84, Soul, The Devil All the Time, and The Invisible Man — there weren’t many films that caused a lot of excitement. Plenty of indies and streaming services continued to release films, but many of the notable titles didn’t garner a lot of attention. Nonetheless, within this wasteland of a year, there were a few notable titles that didn’t receive the love that they should have.
The Way Back
One of the movies that came out right as the pandemic began was The Way Back. However, it didn’t get a full theatrical release as it was only in theaters for a week before being shut down. The movie stars Ben Affleck as an alcoholic struggling to get his life back on track. Once he gets the opportunity to become the basketball coach for his high school’s team, he begins trying to come to terms with the troubles of his past.
Almost all sports dramas have a basic formula: they have a coach struggling with something who stumbles upon a team who’s struggling to win. Although the two find a common ground and help each other overcome some of their issues, The Way Back doesn’t simply utilize this basic formula. It has a spectacular third act that will leave you stunned. It throws away the cliché ending for a more sad, realistic take on this certain situation. Affleck gives one of his best performances, and the compelling story made this one my personal favorites of the year.
The King of Staten Island
Inspired partly by Pete Davidson’s real life, the movie follows a 20-something-year-old man struggling to find a purpose in life. He’s still living with his mother and dealing with issues from his past. When his mother finds a boyfriend, she starts pushing Davidson’s character out of her house, forcing him to face his demons and discover who he truly is.
Davidson is a talented comedian, and the movie is filled with his style of humor. Being the funniest film of the year, it’s also able to be one of the best dramas of the year. Surprisingly, Davidson is also able to carry the film and give a strong performance, delivering all of the emotional moments. It never felt as if the movie was forcing ideas onto the audience, but instead, it felt natural with the story. With the movie releasing on video-on-demand, it seemed as if no one gave the movie a chance and it quietly slipped under everyone’s radar.
Releasing on Apple+ as an original film, The Banker didn’t gain much attention, if any. The film is based on the true story of two black men in the 1960s who establish a plan to buy property and give equal opportunity for other African Americans. With a star-studded cast including Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Nicholas Hoult, it’s strange the movie slipped past everyone. However, the movie turned out to be exceptional and became one of the year’s biggest surprises. It’s a movie that becomes more interesting knowing it’s based on a true story, especially seeing some of the lengths they go to. Jackson gives a knockout performance, and Mackie is able to play a different type of role from his Marvel films. The direction and look of the film are also incredible. Since it takes place in the 60’s, the costumes and background help immerse you into the time period. Along with this, there were many beautiful shots of LA that look as if they were pulled right from that time. There were many wonderfully-executed camera shots and scenes were handled really well, making it disappointing that it wasn’t released theatrically. Even though Apple+ as a whole is useless, since it lacks content, this film makes it almost worth getting.
Pushing aside the political controversy and hate surrounding the film, Hillbilly Elegy turned into one of the biggest surprises of the year. It’s one of, if not the most, uplifting movie of the year. Its message of pursuing through hardship and never allowing that to be an excuse to give up is powerful. Although it’s not to the level of quality of Apollo 13 or Rush, Ron Howard did a fine job at directing. Unlike those films, the directing didn’t add anything, and there weren't any memorable shots
What truly made this film special was the story and acting. Both Amy Adams and Glenn Close give some of their best performances. The true story of J.D. Vance clawing himself out of the hole he was born into and being able to turn his life around, even being able to get himself into Yale, is astonishing and inspiring. The choice to tell his story by jumping between the past and present made it even better, as you get the chance to see how his home life and family changed over the years as the movie progresses. Ignoring the negativity the film has gained, the movie truly is an encouraging and hopeful film.
News of the World
Having been recently released, the film hasn’t gained any attention. Starring Tom Hanks, the movie takes place right after the end of the Civil War. Hanks plays a man who travels from town-to-town and reads off the news to the townspeople. After coming across a wagon wreck and finding a young girl whose parents have died, he attempts to take her to whatever family she has left but faces many hardships along the way.
At the heart of the movie, its message about the power of storytelling is moving. Along with this, having the story take place shortly after the Civil War provides many marvelous moments throughout the film that show the growing tension throughout America. Hanks’s character comes across an array of different characters, all of which have different thoughts and feelings toward the outcome of the war. Since the film is a western, there are a few outstanding shoot-out scenes and many glorious shots of the land, making this one of 2020’s films not to miss.
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