Best of 2020 – Supporting Actor

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Yesterday I began my reflection on the best acting performances from the turbulent 2020. I began with the Supporting Actress category and if you missed it you can read it HERE. Today it’s the men’s turn and just like the women they were several truly stand-out performances. Narrowing them down to five was no easy task, but those are the rules. So here we go with my top choices for Supporting Actor.

Honorable mentions: Leslie Odom, Jr. (“One Night in Miami…”), Ethan Hawke (“The Truth”), Orion Lee (“First Cow”), Alan S. Kim (“Minari”), David Strathairn (“Nomadland”), Robert Pattinson (“Tenet”), Johnny Depp (“Waiting on the Barbarians”)

#5 – Bo Burnham – “Promising Young Woman”

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“Promising Young Woman” was a movie full of surprises. One of them was Bo Burnham who played an old college friend and potential love interest to Carey Mulligan’s Cassie. It’s a tricky role and Burnham brings humor and personality to a character who could have been utterly forgettable. Instead he plays a significant part in building up the film’s big final act punch.

#4 – Aldis Hodge – “One Night in Miami…”

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He may not be the one mentioned most out of this film’s stellar ensemble, but Aldis Hodge maintains a commanding presence even though he’s the quietest of the film’s four stars. Hodge’s Jim Brown speaks volumes through subtle gestures and cutting expressions. And when he does speak, Hodge brings a quiet intensity that you can’t turn away from. I loved his performance and I wish more people were talking about it.

#3 – Frank Langella – “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Frank Langella as Julius Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Several performances from Aaron Sorkin’s story of the Chicago 7 are being talked about this awards season. But few are mentioning screen veteran Frank Langella who is so devilishly good playing corrupt Judge Julius Hoffman. The 83-year-old Langella is so believably cold and devious and he makes the film’s court scenes sizzle with tension. It’s an incredibly convincing performance that will likely make your blood boil.

#2 – Kingsley Ben-Adir – “One Night in Miami…”

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Yes, here’s another performance from Regina King’s terrific “One Night in Miami…”. Kingsley Ben-Adir is stunningly good playing a conflicted Malcolm X at a pivotal crossroads in his life. Ben-Adir brings a compelling balance to Malcolm X, tackling his self-righteousness but also his clear-eyed conviction. Sure, this could be considered a lead performance. But with such a brilliant ensemble it’s hard to single out one as a “lead”. Whatever you call it, Ben-Adir drives the film with his unforgettable portrayal.

#1 – Bill Murray – “On the Rocks”

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I’m always up for a Bill Murray performance. In “On the Rocks” Sofia Coppola gives him a character who is perfect for Murray’s infectious charms. Think about it, he plays a breezy and shamelessly wealthy charmer; a bonafide playboy with gender sensibilities better left in the 1970’s. Yet Murray makes this character seem so earnest, authentic and utterly irresistible. Of course he’s really funny too. I loved this performance so much.

That’s it for Supporting Actors. See you tomorrow as we move to the lead performances. And be sure to share your thoughts on my picks so far.

Best of 2020 – Supporting Actress

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One thing’s for sure, as much as we would like to, none of us will ever forget 2020. But today isn’t about focusing on the bad. This is the time when I celebrate the very best from the movie year that was. Despite its many setbacks, 2020 gave movie fans plenty to enjoy. Over the next few days I’ll be focusing on the actors and actresses, highlighting the best work from each of the four major acting categories. Like any normal year there have been so many memorable performances worth considering. But for me these are the best. So let’s get to it starting with the Supporting Actress category.

Honorable mentions: Stana Katic (“A Call to Spy”), Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”), Priyanka Chopra Jonas (“The White Tiger”), Helena Zengel (“News of the World”), Ellen Burstyn (“Pieces of a Woman”)

#5 – Margo Martindale – “Blow the Man Down”

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Here’s a performance that has stuck with me since first seeing “Blow the Man Down” earlier this year. Margo Martindale instantly captures your attention as a brothel owner in a small seaside fishing village. The shady character is interesting on her own but Martindale brings loads of charisma, some dark humor, and a quiet menace. This is a movie full of rich performances but Martindale’s is the most unforgettable.

#4 – Glenn Close – “Hillbilly Elegy”

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While I still feel “Hillbilly Elegy” has its share of issues, I absolutely loved everything about Glenn Close’s performance. She plays the abrasive matriarch of a rural low-income brood; a thorny and world-weary character who’s far from squeaky clean but does her best to keep her troubled family together. This is one of those incredible two-pronged performances that features both stellar acting and a stunning physical transformation. I loved it.

#3 – Amanda Seyfried – “Mank”

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In “Mank” Amanda Seyfried plays Marion Davies and brings warmth and humanity to a figure mostly known for being the mistress of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. It’s not a big role but Seyfried lights up the screen, bringing an energy and confidence that shatters the popular Hollywood blonde stereotype. Seyfried shows off her welcomed smarts and adds a complexity to Davies that makes her much more than some big shot’s side project.

#2 – Yeri Han – “Minari”

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While there are a couple of supporting performances from “Minari” that will probably get more Awards season chatter, I keep coming back to Yeri Han and her delicate, soulful portrayal of a struggling wife and mother. Han gives us someone who earnestly wants to support the ones she loves but finds herself captive to her husband’s audacious dreams. It’s such a gentle yet potent role and Han handles it with exactly the right tone and temperature.

#1 – Juliette Binoche – “The Truth”

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This may be a bit of a cheat because it’s a pretty meaty role, but I’m still picking the Juliette Binoche’s work in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “The Truth”. Needless to say I love this performance which sees Binoche playing the daughter reckoning with who her mother really is. It’s a perfectly tempered performance; one that shrewdly conceals her character’s sentiments before eventually letting them surface. Not through one big attention-getting scene, but carefully over the course of the film. And Binoche, known for being natural and authentic, is the perfect woman for the role.

So this wraps up the supporting actress category. See anything you agree or disagree with? I would love to hear it in the comment section below.

5 Worst Films of 2020

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Last week I shared my Top 20 films of 2020 (you can check out that list HERE). In keeping with tradition, this week I’m looking the other way. More specifically, today I’m sharing my picks for the 5 worst movies I had the displeasure of seeing. I almost skipped it this year considering we had enough bad news out of 2020 as it is. But who takes these things seriously anyway? So here we go. Enjoy….I guess.

Before I get into 2020’s five biggest stinkers, here are a few of the year’s bigger disappointments:

“Palm Springs” – After hearing so many positive things I eventually convinced myself to watch “Palm Springs”. What I got was a fairly cool idea draped in the same old Andy Samberg routine. No thanks. [REVIEW]

“The Personal History of David Copperfield” – Dev Patel starring in this Charles Dickens classic? How could it go wrong? Well, this good-looking but incessantly chatty adaptation rushes through the story often glossing over details and characters. It left me exhausted. [REVIEW]

“Wonder Woman 1984” – While I still gave this a positive review (barely), I can’t overstate how let down I was by this sequel. It was such an erratic mess and fell short of its predecessor narratively, visually, tonally and so on. Sigh. [REVIEW]

Now on to the worst movies I saw in 2020:

#5 – “Love Wedding Repeat”

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Netflix had a lot of really good movies last year. This mind-numbing “romantic comedy” isn’t one of them. This mess plays like an R-rated Lifetime Original flick and a “Four Weddings and a Funeral” knock-off. The movie does sport a very handsome cast and they try their best. But some spotty chemistry and dreadfully uneven humor undermines everything else. Its not romantic and it’s certainly not funny. It’s kind of like a wedding cake – beautifully decorated but bland and tasteless. [REVIEW]

#4 – “The New Mutants”

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Many people wondered if “The New Mutants” would ever see the light of day. Might have been better if it hadn’t. The film is a perplexing and frustrating slog that lacks all of the energy and thrills of the superhero genre. It plays around with horror but you can’t scrape together a single scare or the slightest bit of tension. Instead it’s more akin to a bland YA drama turned into a mediocre television pilot for The CW. Even the visuals are boring and uninspired. [REVIEW]

#3 – “Artemis Fowl”

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This $125 million Disney disaster was clearly intended to launch a franchise. Well, it’s safe to say you can rule that out. “Artemis Fowl” lacks every bit of the awe and wonder a fantasy adventure needs. It’s full of bland cookie-cutter characters and woefully bad dialogue. And if you like dry, cold information dumps then this is the movie for you. Nothing stands out or leaves a meaningful impression. And while young children may get a kick out of it, it’s not a world I ever want to revisit. [REVIEW]

#2 – “Disturbing the Peace”

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I love Guy Pearce and will watch pretty much anything he does. That’s why it pains me to put “Disturbing the Peace” on this list. But this small indie action flick absolutely earns its spot. I can completely buy Pearce playing a small town marshal, but he seems bored and totally uninterested. It makes sense. I’m sure the cheap production, the cliche-riddled script, the appallingly lame dialogue, and the embarrassingly bad ‘villains’ was tough for him to endure. It certainly was for me. [REVIEW]

#1 – “The Wrong Missy”

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I have to admit, I knew going into “The Wrong Missy” that I wasn’t about to see an Oscar contender. But I wasn’t expecting something so abysmal. This stunningly bad David Spade flop features everything I hate about these kinds of comedies: dumb juvenile ‘humor’, off-putting raunch, lazy punchlines, and dense unpleasant characters who quickly wear out their welcome. This really is bottom-rung comedy that’s content with regurgitating the same junk that Sandler, Spade, and their buddies have given us time and time again. [REVIEW]

So there they are. What do you think of my list? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your picks in the comment section below.

Happy New Year!

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I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. My hope is that each of you have a 2021 full of happiness and blessings. I also want to thank everyone who has read, liked, commented, shared, and discussed anything on my site over the past year. You truly helped make my year better and hopefully in some small way I made yours a little better too. 

Here’s to a wonderful 2021.

LEO

The Top 10 Films of 2020

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What a year, right? 2020 is definitely one for the history books. For many it was a year full of challenges, uncertainty, frustration and heartbreak. Thankfully filmmakers from all around the globe provided welcomed refuge from the trying times. Movies of all shapes and sizes entertained us, moved us, and inspired us. Many of the most anticipated blockbusters were pushed back, but it opened the door for independent film to showcase its immense value. And boy did it!

So here we are taking the obligatory look back at the movie year that was. Before I get to my Top 10 films from 2020 I always like to toss some recognition to the great movies that just missed the cut. So without further ado here is my #11-20….

  • #20 – “Greyhound”
  • #19 – “The Assistant”
  • #18 – “Sound of Metal”
  • #17 – “Blood on Her Name”
  • #16 – “The Painted Bird”
  • #15 – “The Midnight Sky”
  • #14 – “One Night in Miami…”
  • #13 – “Promising Young Woman”
  • #12 – “First Cow”
  • #11 – “On the Rocks”

And now my Top 10 Films of 2020

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#10 – “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” [REVIEW] – I had no idea what to expect going into Charlie Kaufman’s latest psychological horror/drama/dark comedy/thriller. Then again he is a filmmaker who works on his own unique plane of existence. That’s what makes him interesting and often unpredictable. “Ending Things” is certainly all of that. Kaufman uses a slyly deceptive premise of a young woman contemplating breaking off a relationship with her eccentric boyfriend to explore familiar themes of identity, mortality, and the human condition. And yes, Jessie Buckley should be in Best Actress Oscar contention. It took a couple of viewings for me to really get in sync with the film. But once I did I was blown away.

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#9 – “A Call to Spy” [REVIEW] – I love true stories from World War II so naturally I also love movies that bring those stories to life. “A Call to Spy” is a terrific example. This engrossing historical drama tells the inspirational and often harrowing story of the first women to serve as spies for Churchhill in the early days of WWII. The film is anchored by a focused script from Sarah Megan Thomas that keeps the characters front and center, by nimble direction from Lydia Dean Pilcher, and by three standout performances from Thomas, Stana Katic, and Radhika Apte. This is a smart, assured account of uncommon valor; a true story about strong women made by strong women. And it’s as timely as it is compelling.

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#8 – “News of the World” [REVIEW] – Tom Hanks brought his ‘good guy’ charms to the Western genre for the first time and the results were most memorable. Hanks and 12-year-old German actress Helena Zengel have a heart-piercing chemistry playing an unlikely duo crossing a lawless Reconstruction-era Texas. Both are lonely lost souls who are haunted by demons from their pasts. But over their perilous 400-mile journey a tender attachment begins to grow. Director Paul Greengrass delivers a timely film that plays like a classic Western but packs some modern day relevancy. And its soothing message of showing compassion and doing the right thing is just what we need right now.

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#7 – “Mank” [REVIEW] – Here is a film unashamedly aimed at ardent fans of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Not just lovers of the movies themselves, but those fascinated by the behind the scenes culture of the big studio era. David Fincher’s return to feature films sees him chronicling screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the events that inspired him to write the script for “Citizen Kane”. The time-hopping structure was an adjustment, but once I got into Fincher’s calculated rhythm, I was hooked. And its also a visually lavish film, shot in rich black-and-white with scenes full of eye-popping period detail. I heartily admit that “Mank” isn’t for everyone. But it certainly is for me.

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#6 – “Let Him Go” [REVIEW] – I have to admit I was onboard with “Let Him Go” just from hearing it would feature Kevin Costner as a retired sheriff, Diane Lane as his tough resolute wife, and Lesley Manville as a wicked backwoods matriarch. That’s all I needed. Turns out there is a lot more to this character-driven, neo-Western drama than just a strong cast. The film has its genre flourishes, but its really a heartfelt and earnest examination of family grief, regret and loss. Costner and Lane channel it all with a deep emotional precision. They have a terrific chemistry and writer-director Thomas Bezucha gives them some rich and meaty material to work with. I love this film.

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#5 – “The Truth” [REVIEW] – Tell me how this cast sounds to you – Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke. This stellar trio lead the way in this captivating family drama written, directed and edited by acclaimed Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda. From the very start it’s clear Kore-eda is aware of the incredible talent he is working with. His character-rich dialogue and patient, observational rhythms allow his performers to really dig into their roles. It’s a treat for anyone who loves great acting. But Kore-eda is a smart and savvy filmmaker who offers more than just an acting clinic. His film explores many of the themes that have long interested him and he shoots with the same deep intimate focus as in his past films.

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#4 – “Another Round” [REVIEW] – It’s interesting that a film with a nuttier premise than anything else on my list is also one of the 2020 movies that moved me the most. On its surface “Another Round” sees a group of four middle-aged friends doing a cockeyed drinking experiment. But at its soul, the film is about so much more. Director Thomas Vinterberg reunites with actor Mads Mikkelsen to explore the depths of middle-aged disillusionment. Mikkelsen gives a subdued yet full-bodied performance that (just like the movie) can be darkly funny but that is undergirded with an unshakable sense of tragedy. It’s easily some of the best acting of the year from what’s easily one of my favorite films of 2020.

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#3 – “Nomadland” [REVIEW] – It’s not really newsworthy when Frances McDormand gives a great performance. She’s so good that we’ve come to expect it. But it is newsworthy when the two-time Oscar winner gives what may be the best performance of her already sensational career. She does that in Chloé Zhao’s intimate, neo-realist drama “Nomadland”. McDormand seamlessly blends into Zhao’s intensely human canvas, not only inhabiting the world but deeply connecting with it and all its intricacies. And Zhao cements herself as one of our best filmmakers; a creator full of honest real-world perspective with a knack for telling moving and profoundly personal stories. “Nomadland” is all of that and more.

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#2 – “Minari” [REVIEW] – Without question one of the year’s biggest and best surprises was Lee Isaac Chung’s beautiful semi-autobiographical “Minari”. This quiet and affecting drama is both heartwarming and heartbreaking in its look at a Korean-American family who moves from California to Arkansas in the early 1980’s to start a new life. Chung’s film is a coming-of-age story, a tender comedy, and a poignant family drama all rolled into one. It also features one of the year’s best ensembles led by a brilliant Steven Yeun (I hope Oscar is paying attention). I’m not sure any 2020 film has moved me quite like “Minari” and the mark it leaves stays with you.

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#1 – “Tenet” [REVIEW] – Christopher Nolan’s eleventh feature film was his biggest and most ambitious movie yet. It also may be his most divisive. But for many of us it was further proof why Nolan is often considered to be the industry’s premier big budget filmmaker. “Tenet” is brilliant from both a narrative and technical standpoint. It’s indelibly a Nolan film – smart, cerebral, highly original, insanely well made, and full of big ideas. Driven by good performances and Nolan’s boundless imagination, “Tenet” goes big and bold, challenging its audience to keep up and then delivering an immensely satisfying payoff once all his pieces are in place. It proved not to be for everyone, but I was blown away and for me it’s an easy pick for the best film of 2020.

First Glance: “Skyfire”

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Who else thinks its a good idea to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into building a state-of-the-art theme park on an island with a dormant but historically deadly volcano? I’m guessing not many of you. But that’s exactly what happens in the upcoming Chinese disaster film “Skyfire” (a title that almost sounds like a Bond knockoff). In it a greedy American businessman played by Jason Isaacs builds his park despite the warnings of a young scientist who has been studying the volcano since it killed her mother 20 years earlier.

“Skyfire” (from English director Simon West) premiered in China in December of 2019 but now prepares for its international debut. It’s rare for movies like this to give you anything other than action, peril, and tons of CGI effects. The trailer for “Skyfire” unashamedly promise all of that and more. Honestly, I’m a bit of a sucker for that kind of thrill-a-minute over-the-top entertainment. That’s all I’m looking for with this one.

“Skyfire” releases January 12th on VOD. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.