5. Bad Boys for Life
The boys are back – they’re dealing with crime again, but also their career changes and midlife crises. Michael Bay’s feature film debut “Bad Boys” had many of his trademarks but at the same time, it was not the kind of over-the-top action extravaganza that he started doing later in his career. Comparing the second film to the first makes it even more obvious. The second film was made just to give a headache to the viewers but the first film was actually fun. The action scenes were cool, the story was okay, and the lead actors had a great chemistry together.
Now the third film directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah is actually very good. Because they don’t overdo the nostalgia factor; they give us a fresh story (sometimes silly but who cares, you just buy the camp factor) with nice touches and references to previous films, a good amount of action that has been done stylishly, and you just feel great to see these two guys together. It also surprisingly has a heart; it has some emotional moments and also several unpredictable and unexpected sequences here and there.
The studio was also smart to give it a January release date. Now it’s not only the most acclaimed Bad Boys film in the franchise, but also the highest-grossing film of 2020, the highest-grossing installment of the series, and the biggest January release of all time. This is solid entertainment all around and will especially appeal to those who loved ‘90s action movies.
4. The Gentlemen
Guy Ritchie has had an unusual career. He’s best known for his early crime films that weren’t really beloved by critics but still hugely popular among movie fans. Then he went on to do all kinds of films, from “Sherlock Holmes” to “Aladdin”; but no matter what kind of films he did or what kind of failures he went through, he’s still often associated with his early movies. Now he’s back to it – to what he does best. It’s not as stylish as “Snatch” and obviously doesn’t feel as fresh as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” did at its time, but is it good? It surprisingly is.
It’s a highly entertaining film with Ritchie-style twists and turns, an excellent way of things coming together in the end, and colorful characters portrayed by a terrific cast. Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell are a total blast to watch in their phenomenal performances. Grant, in particular, has returned to his character actor roots since “Cloud Atlas” and he’s been killing it in recently with back-to-back great performances.
Ritchie also tries out few new things; unlike “Lock, Stock” and “Snatch,” this time we have an interesting female character as well in Michelle Dockery (even though she deserved more screen time) and most of the sequences between Charlie Hunnam and Grant feels like a two-hander play, which works out really fine. The only slight disappointment is that Matthew McConaughey doesn’t get to show his wild side here. He’s supposed to be intimidating but he feels a bit like he’s bored. He’s fine though. In the end, it all comes down how much you like Guy Ritchie’s trademark style. If you like it, you will probably love “The Gentlemen.” If not, this will probably annoy you.
3. Color Out of Space
Lovecraft is always hard to adapt to the movie screen. The late Stuart Gordon was one of the very few directors who could make it work with “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” among others. After years of hiatus, cult filmmaker Richard Stanley decided to make a Lovecraft adaptation with “Color Out of Space,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2019, but finally hit theatres in early 2020 and it’s imaginatively wild and hypnotic, as much as you’d want from such a film.
It’s probably not a film that would appeal to everyone, not even every genre film fan, but you can’t deny that the movie is very original. It’s very much of Stanley’s own and also has a stylish, pulpy atmosphere, special effects that reminds you a bit of “Annihilation,” and the story is also very unpredictable. As you’d expect, the movie goes to a lot of weird places and one doesn’t want to mention any of them here because if you haven’t seen it, it’s better to wait and see what the film has to offer you with those imaginative sequences.
The movie has things to say about the environment, media, and who knows what else. Oh, and it’s pretty funny, too. Nicolas Cage’s career and reputation has been quite weird recently. First he was an acclaimed indie actor, then a major movie star, then suddenly due to tax problems he started to make bad movies and the internet has started to make fun of his over-the-top moments (which many of them are taken out of context; there’s hardly a film unfairly received as “Vampire’s Kiss” on the internet) but recently he seemed to find the all-around acclaim again with genre movies. “Mom and Dad,” “Mandy,” and now this gives us that entertaining, original, unique Cage-style acting we love to watch.
2. First Cow
After premiering in the Telluride and New York Film Festivals in 2019 and getting its European premiere in the Berlin Film Festival this year in competition, Kelly Reichardt’s latest film “First Cow” finally hit theatres in March. With A24 marketing, “First Cow” could have made a little more money than Reichardt’s usual stuff, but for obvious reasons, it couldn’t stay there much.
“First Cow” is yet another great feature based on Jon Raymond’s novel “The Half-Life.” Those who loved “Meek’s Cutoff” may especially enjoy this one, since she goes back to familiar places in Oregon again. The plot is described in Berlinale’s own website as “a taciturn cook, a loner who finds an able entrepreneur and friend in a Chinese immigrant. The two start a small trade in ‘oily cakes,’ which turns out to be a great success in the rough West.” But there’s one thing – the material they use is illegal.
Reichardt, as expected, does a terrific job at exploring the era, the people, and their complex relationships to each other and the nature they’re surrounded with, but her films are always more than just the plot or characters. Some of her other favorite topics are featured, like environmental frustrations (“Night Moves”) and isolation (“Certain Women”) and it has that hypnotic, poetic touch of her usual style that admittedly is not for everyone, especially if you’re not patient enough or want your films to be more plot-driven and not this calm. But if you’re already familiar with her work and like it a lot, then “First Cow” is yet another brilliant work from one of the best contemporary directors.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
A tough watch, but a rewarding one. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize winner of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” follows a 17-year-old young woman from Pennsylvania. She gets pregnant and wants to have an abortion. Since this is only possible in her state with the consent of her parents and such a discussion is certainly impossible, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) sets off for New York. There are clinics there that carry out the procedure only at the request of the pregnant woman. At least her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) is on Autumn’s side.
Now this is a very simple story, but somehow “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” hits hard. Through the journey of these two women, director Eliza Hittman delivers urgent, incisive filmmaking work and gives us a moving and utterly devastating statement on abortion and the American health care system. What happened with this movie is so unfortunate that it had to go through the VOD route as well. One would wish it was an indie hit.
It’s especially unfortunate for the lead actress Sidney Flanigan, who delivers a brilliant performance in the lead role and for sure would use this movie as a major breakthrough. At least, hopefully when things go back to normal, critics will push the movie again and try to bring attention to wider audiences or awards bodies. If you get a chance, support this indie. It’s an elegant, terrific work that certainly deserves a bigger audience and more recognition.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Affleck’s redemption drama “The Way Back” and Apple film “Banker” are bit generic but both entertaining; then there’s the creepy and constantly interesting “Vivarium”. Even though it had horrible trailers, “Sonic the Hedgehog” was actually pretty decent to watch with family (yes, it’s clichéd but there is a nostalgia factor that may connect with some). “Birds of Prey” is fun if you’re high. Those who’re looking for romance may enjoy “The Photograph” and “All the Bright Places” (though it’s better to check out Brett Haley’s previous films first if you haven’t already). For animation, “Onward” is your best choice.