2020 was abysmal across the board. Well, except for television, of course. Because the one thing we all needed was more television.
Iain Reid’s internal, metaphysical, and reality-twisting debut novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, was the obvious source material for internal, metaphysical, and reality-twisting writer-director, Charlie Kaufman. Although Kaufman’s film echoes the novel’s arresting characters and haunting ideas about relationships, the human condition, and, of course, death, it is more of a faint impersonation of Reid’s novel than a true companion piece.
With reproductive rights under siege in the U.S. Supreme Court and legislative bodies across the country, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s intimate story about a Pennsylvania girl’s journey to terminate her pregnancy is urgent viewing. While Roe v. Wade hasn’t been overturned, small freedoms are sacrificed on an almost-daily basis to satisfy a boisterous minority. Never Rarely Sometimes Always—Hittman’s third feature—brilliantly explores the intended consequences of restricting a woman’s right to choose.
The sick-girl genre exploded in popularity after novelist John Green’s 2012 book, The Fault in Our Stars, and the Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort 2014 adaptation of the same name. If I Stay, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Everything, Everything, and a cascade of other teen romances have soured the originality of Green’s story. One can only hope that Babyteeth, Australia’s entry into this trite coming-of-age subgenre, is the last of its kind.
The Invisible Man, an 1897 novel by sci-fi titan H.G. Wells, was an out-of-the-box choice for a horror movie adaptation. The 2020 movie of the same name is a far cry from the book; it’s a cross between an Elisabeth Moss vehicle and psychological horror movie. Blumhouse, the studio behind The Purge series and Get Out, used recognizable, existing IP to sell a movie concept. It’s become a familiar formula for Hollywood with Peter Berg’s poorly received Battleship (2012) coming nearly a decade ago and a Margot Robbie-led Barbie movie on the horizon.
Fourteen years after Borat, co-writer and star Sacha Baron Cohen donned the famous oversized gray suit and lush mustache again for its sequel. While the Borat Subsequent Moviefilm prides itself in revealing the same American ugliness as Borat, it does so without the original’s deft touch. Where Borat allowed Baron Cohen to amble from one improvised moment to the next, the Subsequent Moviefilm is overplotted, worrying more about the connective tissue than the substance.
Writer-director Karen Maine’s debut film conjures laughs, guilt, and nostalgia, particularly for young adults of a certain religious sect, or perhaps more accurately, former members of a religious sect. Yes, God, Yes is unusually sweet for a teen sex comedy, a feat accomplished through Maine’s perceptive script and Stranger Things star Natalie Dyer’s emotive performance. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story is refreshingly light fare in a somber year.
In response to the 2016 presidential election, a new documentary from A24 and Apple turns to America’s youth to explain how we got here and where we go next. Directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss followed 1,000 sweaty, hormonal teenage boys during the American Legion’s week-long civics camp to figure out if the kids are alright. Boys State is an uncomfortable glimpse at partisan politics tinged with an unnatural concentration on toxic masculinity in adolescence.
Artists can’t control the state of the world in which their art debuts; for film productions, circumstances are even dicier. Does the movie match or combat the prevailing societal mood? Will the economy support its release? Are the themes pertinent to a current issue? If the work isn’t discovered initially, will it stand the test of time for a future audience? The stars aligned to answer these questions for Palm Springs, a romantic comedy that dropped on Hulu in July 2020.
Backed by a cast of relative unknowns, director Ken Loach delivers a story true to those living on the margins. The filmmaker’s latest work is set in Newcastle, a city in Northeast England, but without the accents and references to soccer, it could just as easily be set in New Haven, a city in the American Northeast. Loach and writer Paul Laverty empathize with members of the shrinking middle class who are casualties of globalization and negligent labor laws.