With all this vitriol, violence, malarkey, and utter chaotic commotion in motion on our computer and TV screens, it’s easy to lose happiness, energy, that stimulus check and a proper perspective to life and sometimes sleep over the anxiety dwelling in the deepest part of our hearts and souls.
We forget that there are legitimate diversions that are sometimes relevant to our sanity and help us to realize that life is not all about gloom, doom, brooms and booms.
We don’t have to constantly fight with our neighbors about our current political climate. We can take five and put down the MAGA flags and crawl out of our safe spaces and come together to discuss some non-important important things that we all have in common. I’m sure that both Trumpites and someone who is Riden With Biden both love cute animals, like to eat Grilled Cheese and love to be immersed in a good story, usually in the form of a movie or compelling TV show.
So, I thought seeing it’s a new year I would delve into the past, namely last year and pull out some bright (and not so bright) spots in cinematic and home entertainment that brought a little more lightness and warmth to our damper, dower and isolated lives. Here are 25 films that I saw, or wish I saw in 2020.
Welcome to the Catholic Bard’s look back at
The Year in Movies: 2020 Edition.
News of the World
I can’t wait for this movie to come to VOD where I can afford to rent it, as it looks great. I was not about to travel to the theater to see it due to the whole Covid thing going on.
Gorgeously shot amid the caramel deserts and peppermint skies of New Mexico, News of the World is a worthy and intelligent footnote to the western genre.
Rex Reed (December 31, 2020 ) Obverver Rating: 3/4
Tom Hanks gets the best lines in News of the World… He does them justice, as always, but his co-star, an extraordinary 12-year-old named Helena Zengel, gets the best silences. They give the film its dimension of mystery.
Joe Morgenstern (December 29, 2020) Wall Street Journal
Helena Zengel has one of those faces that you can just stare at for the entire film. You can see the intelligence behind her eyes.
Amy Nicholson (January 4, 2021) FilmWeek (KPCC – NPR Los Angeles)
The Way Back
Ben Affleck plays an alcoholic who is asked to coach a Catholic high school basketball team. The film has a lot of heart and it is touching and you feel the pain as Jack Cunningham tries to find balance in his life after a terrible tragedy. Overall, I found the film too dark tonally, but not thematically. I thought there were too many close-ups and not enough wide shots of the what was happening. The most interesting and memorable scene in the film was this.
Father Mark Whelan: Jack.
Father Mark Whelan: Just wanted to have a little chat with you about something that was on my mind. I don’t know if you recall from your days as a student but we have a code of conduct at Hayes. Part of that code includes the use of appropriate language. I understand your trying to motivate the kids. I was just wondering if maybe there’s a different approach.
Jack: So you would ah. You would like me to be a little more Christlike on the bench?
Father Mark Whelan: I would like you to keep in mind that our mission at Hayes is not to win basketball games. It’s to develop men of integrity and faith. Just give it some thought for me. Will you do that?
Jack: Yes, I will.
Father Mark Whelan: Thank You.
Jack: Father, Let me ask you something. With all the terrible stuff going on in the world, you think who’s ever really up there really gives a shit of what I say to these kids?
Father Mark Whelan: As Christians we are called by God to integrate our faith into our daily lives. So yes Jack I do think he really gives a shit about the example you set for these young men. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on them.
Despite the sentimental touches of the film, I found it rather boring and will not remember much from it as time goes by. I mention it here, as someone else might find it worth watching.
Words on Bathroom Walls
This is an example of stellar film making. It is a good example of a romantic teen love story that is truly about love and not lust. The couple kiss and kiss very romantically and passionately, but they don’t have sex, which seems a rarity in romantic films today. Adam Petrizelli is schizophrenia and we see the people whom Adam sees in his head which include a hippie girl, a laid back dude and a tough bodyguard and sometimes a dark ominous voice. One may be reminded of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
The girl is named Maya Arnez who is poor and struggles to help her family as her dad is out of work due to an injury. Adam’s dad walked out on him and his mom who is totally supportive of him. Her new boyfriend is not what he seems. Besides a great romantic movie that lets you peek into the head of a person with mental illness it also shows a good picture of true fatherhood and has Andy García playing a wise priest who councils and guides Adam. Overall a great film worth watching.
Marco Pontecorvo’s Fátima is the first screen version of the Marian apparitions at Fátima and the “Miracle of the Sun” I’ve seen that feels like the characters are living through the story’s events in the present tense. The filmmakers don’t shy from some of the more challenging aspects of the Fátima message, from the emphasis on mortification and the offense given to God by sin to the children’s dreadful visions of war and hell. Fátima is easily the most compelling dramatization of the Fátima story to date and fills a long-felt need in the world of religious cinema. It’s sturdy enough to hold up to periodic rewatchings, for example on May 13, the feast day of Our Lady of Fátima.
Deacon Steven D. Greydanus (August 27, 2020) National Catholic Register
I Still Believe (Currently on HULU)
I watched this film with my wife on our wedding anniversary. It tells the true story of the first marriage of CCM artist Jeremy Camp and his first wife Melissa Henning. A lot of Christian made movies are sappy, silly, and sometimes sophomoric in their cinematic approach to storytelling. This one is inspiring, uplifting and just beautiful. I may have cried. Melissa is a person I would have wanted to have talked to. May her soul rest in peace. Amen. It shows that hardship is real in the life of a Christian believer and that God has a plan for everything, even when it is not according to our plan. I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks, I thought this was a terrific example of Christian film making.
For the Kids
Call of the Wild (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
Maybe it’s a sign of times that Harrison Ford is sharing a screen with a digital dog. Why use a real canine when a computer can make certain that a pixelated pup performs according to SAG rules and not his actual nature? You can hear the voices of future filmmakers, echoing throughout the Hollywood Hills: “Get more feeling into the mutt’s eyes.” “Make him run faster than a real dog can!” That’s the case in The Call of the Wild, the umpteenth screen version of Jack London’s classic 1903 adventure novel about a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie named Buck who finds his true heart in helping grizzled, hard-drinking prospector John Thornton (Ford) search for gold in the Yukon. Luckily, Ford is at his droll, grumpy-old-man best, so he can do his own acting without having his emotions computer generated. At least for now.
The Call of the Wild, rated a cozy PG, misses the edgy darkness of London’s tale and is too cute by half. But it fulfills its promise as harmless entertainment — The Call of the Mild is more apt title.
Peter Travers, Call of the Wild’ Review: Harrison Ford’s Digital-Dog Day Afternoon, Rolling Stone
Dolittle (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
In 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts was first published and was written and illustrated by the British author Hugh Lofting. It was the first of several Dr. Dolittle books and movies. Now Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) is back in the role of the man who can talk to animals. He is joined by Tom Holland (Spider-Man) once again voicing a dog. What if he voiced a spider? That would have been extremely funny. He is joined by a bunch of wacky animals including a polar bear who gets cold easily and who wears no armor but is good with dynamite. He spars often with an ostrich. There is a anxiety drivin gorilla and mice who Dolittle uses as chess pieces in a live game, and many other creatures as well. There are also hurt Dragons, depressed Tigers, and despicable English villains Oh My. Overall a pretty fun harmless film.
Scobb (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
Scobb takes the origin and reimagining of Scooby Doo and takes it to the next level. It makes this the first (and maybe only) entry in a Hanna-Barbera expanded universe. The film doesn’t follow a standard formula for a SD episode, but instead has a known Hanna-Barbera villain pursue SD in his attempt at unleashing a great evil upon the world just so he can steal some gold. So we have We have Dick Dastardly and Muttley as the main villains. Helping out the teen sleuths are the HB superheroes Dynomutt the Dog Wonder and Blue Falcon with Dee Dee Skyes from Captain Caveman as well as Captain Caveman himself. Plus we have many Easter Eggs and references to many Hanna Barbara cartoons.As well as a ton of good comical wit and whimsy.
When the SD gang are young on a Halloween night, Scoob and Shaggy run into Daphne, Fred and Velma for the first time as they are Trick or Treating. Shaggy says to Daphne..
Shaggy: Cool Wonder Woman Custom. And are you Harry Potter.
Velma: I’m Ruth Bator Ginsberg. Obviously.
Shaggy: What house is she in? Hufflepuff?
Velma: She’s a Supreme Court Justice.
Sonic the Hedgehog
It’s nice to see Jim Carrey back to his comedic high standard as Dr. Robotnik as he clashes with an anamorphic animated hedgehog who can run as fast as Quicksilver in X-Men. There is a scene that is borrowed from that movie with Sonic and his human companion in a bar. It is overall a fun little film that delivers what it is selling. Sonic running fast and foiling the schemes of his arch nemesis. Oh and there are some humans in it as well that tag along for the ride.
Adults, even an aged millennial, should get a kick out of seeing Carrey actually have fun in a role for the first time in years. He’s a comedy legend who can take any ordinary-looking role and turn it into something unique. He’s the cook who makes a four-course meal out of a poor soul’s kitchen. Dr. Ivo Robitnik may sound like a headcase with past ripped from a comic book crossover between Who Framed Roger Rabbit and James Bond, but Carrey adds witty roasts to this antagonist’s bag with the ease of a pro. There’s a dance sequence that is just about worth the price of admission. If there’s a reason to see this movie right away, it’s Carrey.
Dan Buffa, KSDK News (St. Louis)
The Witches (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
I don’t remember the original so I can’t compare the two, but overall it was not a bad little film. It became more interesting when the human kids were turned into mice. SPOILER Watching the witches turn into mice was very amusing and adds to the moral lesson of the film. When a formula for turning the mice back into children is made, Lourdes water is used as an ingredient. Catholic symbolism sneaks into a fantasy movie once again. This is overall a cautionary tale of how evil and bad witches really are. There is no Glinda or Hermione in this witch’s tale. Also if you do get turned into a mouse, it is still possible to beat them and destroy their dastardly plans. It also illustrates why Roald Dahl is a master storyteller of children’s fiction with its offbeat imagination and world building.
The Invisible Man (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
Every so often, a studio dusts off an old property in the hope of selling it anew, often to diminished ends. With the latest version of “The Invisible Man,” Universal has given one of its horror classics a creepy-scary overhaul with an unsettling #MeToo spin. James Whale’s elegant 1933 film focuses on a scientist whose experiments render him unseeable and murderously crazed. (“An invisible man can rule the world!”) Here, the emphasis isn’t on the title nut-job and the perils of science, but on his ex-girlfriend who learns that an abusive lover can be just as dangerous when he’s nowhere to be seen.
Manohla Dargis, New York Times
Underwater (On HBO MAX as of this writing. )
There is never a breather to get your bearings as they don their pressurized suits to navigate the alien landscape that is the deep, dark ocean floor. The tension is relentless.
MontiLee Stormer (March 12, 2020) MovieReelist.com
Kristen Stewart is the girl that wrestles with a love triangle between werewolves and vampires in Twilight. In Underwater she puts on her best Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the best Aliens tough girl persona she can have and wrestles with underwater monsters. Some tiny, some HUGE like Donald Trump’s wall. Under the Sea, it’s not better where it’s wetter, take it from she. She is under (water) pressure for her and others to survive. If the monsters don’t kill them, perhaps the defective diving suits will. Here is a pretty decent review of the film from one of my favorite Youtube film reviewers.
Christmas Chronicles 2
It is not as charming and good as the first film which seemed to have more of an air of mystery and magic to it. The first CC also had a more sentimental storyline that grabbed your emotions more. The fact that it took place in my home state also helped. Nevertheless watching Kurt Russell as Satna and Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Claus is why this movie retains its Christmas magic. You get to see Santa’s world more in-depth and you learn some of his interesting back story. The religious overtones of his identity as St. Nicholas and the fact that the Star of Bethlehem powers his village add to uniqueness of this version of Santa. There is a moment of Time Travel at Logan Airport which proves to be the highlight of the film because of something I won’t reveal.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
“Colorful” is not a colorful enough word to describe a fantasy movie musical so maximalist that even the title is overstuffed. “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” packs a lot into the movie’s title, including two-character names and the dual ideas of something cute and something a little more heartwarming, with a touch of the spiritual.
It has all of that and more, more, more. But Christmas is a time of excess, and the many pleasures of this overflowing Christmas stocking of a film are sure to make it a family favorite, and most likely a family tradition. Originally conceived as a musical play, it retains the liveliness of an in-person production. The exceptionally strong and nearly all-Black cast gives the film a fresh perspective, and it is heartening to see Black characters in a story that is not just about their being Black.
Nell Minow, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (November 13, 2020) Roger Ebert.com
Everyone is always concerned with saving Christmas, but how many are concerned with saving Halloween? Adam Sandler’s goofy doofus but lovable Hubie Dubois is. Armed with his swiss army thermos, he patrols the streets of Salem avoiding objects that always are thrown at him whenever he rides his bike anywhere and looking out for possible trouble and mayhem including missing children and potential werewolves. Besides the usual Sandler indeuando it plays out as an almost appropriate film for the whole family. Not a masterpiece in modern comedy, but an all around pleasant movie with lots of colorful characters played by Sandler’s colorful friends. The film pays tribute to actor Cameron Boyce, who was set to star but died in 2019.
Curon is a foreign supernatural mind-bending drama from Netflix and Italy.
It’s a teen horror series where, when a person (usually a teen) undergoes a doubtful moment when they are weak and reluctant to make a confident decision, a doppelganger emerges from the flooded area of town, seeking to kill the original person in whom they are just a shadow copy of the original. There is a submerged bell tower (without a bell) that chimes when the duplicate is born and rises out of the water of new life. This other self is the darker bolder part of the individual whose life they seek out to take, so they can live the life that has been suppressed. It is the dark sin that lives inside of us that Paul talks about. Despite Catholic imagery in many scenes, nobody calls out to God or the Blessed Virgin for help. The imagery is always nice to have despite it’s lack of use. Still it is a rather intense series that keeps you glued to the edge of your seat as you try to wrap your mind around what is happening.
Raised by Wolves HBO MAX
Pure old-school sci-fi jubilation.
I was not expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It’s fantastically weird in all the right ways. It pulls from many familiar tropes but winds up doing it’s own thing entirely. You’ll get echoes of Moebius’s Incal & Edena, Prometheus, Alien, Terminator, Metropolis, Zardoz and a dash of Bowie. But then you also get a lot of Greek mythology, dashes of brutal violence, medieval looking crusaders wielding machine guns and some heavy, heady themes to explore about the nature of humanity, spirituality & family.
Looks fantastic, sounds amazing, extremely adequate acting from an awesome cast & the prettiest intro to a show you’ll see this year. Old-school sci-fi for a modern world.
Highly recommended! TheReturnOfGon8 September 2020 IMDB.com
11 from Stranger Things plays Sherlock Holmes younger sister who goes off on an adventure of her own. She is likeable, smart and heroic. She also does something I extremely love in any movie; she breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. The editing, cinematography, acting and everything in it, is a fun filled night-in at the movies.
This is the best superhero show to come out this year. It is fun and engaging. If your turned off by WW84, let Stargirl fill the void left by a lack of superhero films that were sadly lacking in 2020.
Because the plot of Warrior Nun takes place within the Catholic Church, one can expect the show to say many things about it. Surprisingly, the show does not flat-out disparage and reject the Church and her teachings, as one may come to expect with pretty much anything that comes out of Hollywood nowadays. Its attitude toward the Catholic Church—and perhaps toward religion in general—was rather one of aloof fascination. It’s clear that the show’s intended audience is not devout Catholics, but instead the secular popular culture.
The show takes quite a few liberties with respect to the Church’s teachings. For example, although it considers angels and demons to be “real,” it takes them to be physical things with material bodies (which is to be expected, since in the modern secular mind, the only real things are physical, material things) who are simply from another dimension which can be accessed (eventually, anyway) through scientific instruments. It even takes a halo to be a physical part of an angel which can apparently be removed and shoved into a human’s back to give him or her superpowers or bring the dead back to life.
Julian Sicam, A Catholic’s Review of ‘Warrior Nun’, Voyage Comics
Wonder Woman 1984 HBO MAX Dec 25
Wonder Woman travels to a different reality where she has to fight against the evil forces of Big Brother.
Really Reality though, the best thing about WW84 is watching Diana and Steve Trever interact together on screen. The fight scenes are top notch and when she is running as fast as an armored tank and kicking it around and riding underneath it like Indiana Jones to escape being shot at, is worth the price of admission.
Wonder Woman 1984 is bonkers in a way that superhero movies these days don’t have the nerve to be.
In its fairytale tone, 1980s setting, and moral earnestness, it reminded me of Superman II, and in other ways it reminded me of Batman Returns. Nobody involved got the memo that comic-book movies in the shared-universe era of Marvel and DC films must be grounded in irony or cynicism or both.
Indeed, WW84—the only title seen onscreen—barely acknowledges that it’s meant to be part of a shared universe.
I still enjoyed WW84, partly for the appealing leads and partly for the morally earnest fairytale storytelling. I wish comic-book movies tried more to be like this, and less like Avengers: Infinity War or Thor: Ragnarok or Justice League.
Deacon Steven D. Greydanus
Time and Place
An American Pickle
A Seth Rogen comedy that doesn’t revolve around smut and weed. He plays Herschel Greenbaum an immigrant who travels to America in 1919 after their village is rampaged by Russian Cossacks. One day, while working at his job, he falls into a vat of pickles and the factory closes down right after that and he is brined for 100 years. He wakes up in Brooklyn, a century later in 2019, and discovers that his only living relative is his great grandson Ben also played by Seth Rogen. Ben works as a freelance app developer and is currently developing his own app “Boop Bop”, a service that checks companies’ ethics when buying their products. The film is hilarious and heartfelt and the relationship between Seth and Seth has chemistry. The familial love and hate drive the films plot along with many touching moments. Watching Herschel act with the modern world while still having only known the old world is of course where some of the best comedy comes from. Overall a worthwhile funny movie to watch and enjoy.
This movie messes with your mind and your viewing perspective in much the same way Christopher Nolan’s Memento does. You think it’s just a film showing the awful brutality of slavery, but it’s so much more. You wonder about seeing the same character in the present-day reality of life today and her as slave back in the 1800’s. How is this problem resolved? Is time travel involved? I can’t talk much about the deeper themes without spoiling it for anyone. Let’s just say it takes the issue of racism to a whole new level and its disturbing to think there are probably people who would agree with the antagonist’s point of view.
Bill and Ted Face the Music
I believe that overall it is a great pro-life film that celebrates the dignity of life and relationships. It does touch upon some theological themes but only to serve the more human aspect of the story. But without a grasp of theology you miss the humor it is going for. The comedy might be a jumping off point to deeper conversation about serious Catholic topics such as death, judgement, heaven and hell.
In the first excellent installment the two slackers took a time traveling phone booth and traveled throughout history picking up historical figures to help them finish their history project including the saintly St. Joan of Arc, the philosophical Socrates and Mr. The Kid.
In the second Bogus installment the two teens Theodore ‘’Ted’’ Logan and William ‘’Bill’’ S. Preston Esq. die after being killed by lookalike evil robots from the future. They play Death a.k.a. The Grimm Reaper in a life and death game of chess and go on a journey through hell and then to heaven.
29 years after the last film they are now middle-aged Dads still married to the princesses (this time played by different actresses) with two daughters who resemble their dads to a T. Every time they see their fathers, they both say ‘Dads’, and great them very warmly. How often do you see that in films today?
This film deserves an Oscar for special effects hand down as they really are quite mind-blowing along with the script itself. It was more understandable on the second round. After the first viewing I had to lie on my bed and have quiet as my head was swimming at trying to make sense of it all. If I was giving a film Class, we would study Tenet. Anyone who could explain how the film makes any sense would pass the class.
I also watched and enjoyed several Disney films which I put in its own article.