Yes, I know it’s 2021, but these are all movies from 2020. Going forward these reviews are going to be a mixture of 2020 stragglers and new 2021 releases, at least until the first quarter of the year is up. Once a 2021 movie enters the stratosphere of these reviews, the title will change to 2021 Movie Reviews but for now you’re stuck in 2020 and I don’t give a shit. Hahahahahaha. Burn baby, burn.
Take it from someone who has witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace, Kitty Green‘s new #metoo psychological thriller, The Assistant hits the nail on the head pretty fucking hard. There’s no big screaming matches or searing confrontations because there is rarely any in real life. Instead, we get micro aggressions from co-workers, a threatening boss’ voice over a phone line and nuanced retaliation threats from HR (brilliantly underplayed by Succession‘s Matthew Macfayden), all surrounding an ambitious, talented but very shy personal assistant for a film production company, Jane (Julia Garner – astonishing ). The Assistant is a very slow burn and it doesn’t offer up much of a resolution in a traditional sense, but for viewers wanting a nuanced thriller that avoids cliches and offers a truly great central performance, this might be the film for you. Grade: B+ (HULU)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
On the subject of films that avoid cliches at every turn, Eliza Hittman‘s crushing but tender abortion movie, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, does it even better. In one of the very best performances of the year, Sidney Flanigan plays 16 year old Autumn, who must travel from rural Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, New York in order to obtain a legal abortion without her potentially abusive or neglectful parents finding out. If this all sounds terribly depressing, it is in parts, but not nearly as much as you’d think. This is in part because Autumn brings her best friend along with her and the movie wisely focuses on their relationship with each other and themselves. This is a great character study and in many ways a Joseph Campbell hero’s journey, one that faces Autumn with the tremendous obstacles an underage girl must face in obtaining a legal abortion. It will make you want to write a letter to your congressman. There’s a particular verbal assessment scene, from which the movie gets its title, where, with mere facial expressions and one word answers, Flanigan tells us her life story. It’s a story full of abuse, neglect, sexual coercion, a struggle to look in the mirror and see anything resembling self-worth, and of course, horny young men who escape responsibility and reprimand at every turn. It’s the most powerful moment in a film full of them. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is refreshingly honest and humane, a film that loves and empathizes with its characters, one that organically unfolds and never sounds like simply a pro choice mouth piece. Grade: A- (HBO)
This is a Pixar movie for adults that children can also maybe enjoy and that’s really the main thing you need to know going into this. Your five year old won’t give a shit about it, but your thirty-five year old will love it! A high school band teacher and aspiring jazz musician (voiced by Jamie Foxx) dies in a freak accident right around the time his life seemed to be turning a corner. In the afterlife, he gets a second chance to return to Earth but in the process must mentor a pre-human entity? in what it is like to be human. The plot is really difficult to concisely explain in a single paragraph, but needless to say it develops clearly over the course of an hour and forty minutes or so. Don’t worry, your thirty-five year old will get it! Soul is a highly restrained, naturally funny, deeply intelligent and effortlessly poignant slice of fantasy. Be sure to tell your thirty-five year old you love them after. Grade: A- (Disney+)