With 2020 over (finally), it’s time for EoM to unveil its Fifth Annual Sticky List!
If you’re unfamiliar with the Sticky List, these are the films which made me want to watch, rewatch, discuss, and share. While certainly several films on my favorites list meet this criteria, chances are you’ve heard about those ad nauseam from the countless other “Best Of” lists that drop starting at the beginning of December. What this list focuses on are films that either you’ve never heard of or may have forgotten were released at all.
Click here to check our previous Sticky Lists.
If you’re interested in checking out my full list of favorite films from this year, I kept a running list on Letterboxd all year and it has my full list of favorite films from 2020.
- If Anything Happens I Love You
- One Night in Miami …
- The Trial of the Chicago 7
- Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo
- Da 5 Bloods
- Bill & Ted Face The Music
- Possessor Uncut
- The Invisible Man
- Marona’s Fantastic Tale
Reviews for this list are available at EoM. If you’d rather listen, make sure to check out the two-part crossover podcast episodes as Poprika Podcast Network founder Darryl Mansel and I dig into our top films of 2020. Note: The Top Ten list has been updated since the recording.
Part 1: 10-6 available on Poprika Podcast, Episode 224.
Part 2: 5-1 available on The Cine-Men, Episode 45.
Minari, Over The Moon, Promising Young Woman, Freaky, Wolfwalkers, Blow The Man Down, Sound of Metal, Judy & Punch, Trolls World Tour, Superman: Man of Tomorrow, Bad Boys for Life, Tenet, First Love, Nomadland, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Yes, God, Yes, The Way Back, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Soul, Totally Under Control, Koko-di Koko-da, The Craft: Legacy, The Lovebirds.
Bill & Ted Face The Music
Director: Dean Parisot.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy- Paine, Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), Kristen Schaal, Anthony Carrigan , Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Jillian Bell, Holland Taylor, Beck Bennett, William Sadler, Hal Landon Jr., and Amy Stoch.
Rather than just rehash fan favorite moments, an easy move to try to placate a hungry audience, Matteson and Solomon dig deeper, following the natural threads left behind after Bogus. In so doing, Face The Music becomes as thoughtful as it is silly, as light-weight as it is poignant. More than that, as the world seems to become more divided by the day, here’s a film that reminds us of our connections. Of how we are all a part of the ties that bind the world together. That we are more than what we’re told we are. That our destiny is fluid and always under our own control, no matter what anyone else (even ourselves) may say. In closing, if there’s a single final thought to leave you with before you watch Bill and Ted conclude their most excellent series of adventures, it’s this: STATION!!!!!!
Birds of Prey
(and the Fantabulous Emancipation of
One Harley Quinn)
Director: Cathy Yan.
Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn’t satisfied with popping off the screen when it can explode everywhere. It’s an uproarious action-comedy that captures the anarchistic aspects of Harley Quinn that endear her to audiences without trying to erase the complexity that makes her difficult to love, while it also introduces a few new characters audiences will demand more of before the film even finishes. The stunt work is top notch in its inventiveness and visceral nature, the male gaze is virtually absent, and the story never bites off more than it can chew. For many, the bar by which DC Comics live-action films must clear is terribly low, so when I say that Harley Quinn blows up that bar it’s because ::puts on Harleen’s psychologist glasses:: the bar’s existence is merely a patriarchal manifestation to measure one separate film against another in an unnecessary attempt to cultivate tension among fandoms you’ll understand that this is a DC film unlike any other.
The High Note
Director: Nisha Ganatra.
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard, and Ice Cube.
In times of great stress like these, it’s important to remember what gets us through: art. Art, of course, can be anything from clothes, food, movies, projects, music, and more. They are the things which bring us joy and help fight back the darkness and frustration of uncertainty. It’s easy to forget that the art we ingest doesn’t just appear, but is crafted, cultivated, and shaped until it’s ready to be shared. You wouldn’t wear an unfinished garment or an ill-prepared meal, yet we tend to think that our entertainment doesn’t follow the same path. Perhaps this is why The High Note, from director Nisha Ganatra (Late Night) and writer Flora Greeson, strikes such a chord as the relationship between art and artist as commodity is the most prominent aspect of the rather low-stakes character-driven dramedy. Or it could be that the cast has amazing chemistry, that the cinematography is lush and somehow dreamy, and that the music absolutely bops. One thing is for sure, The High Note is an undeniable surprise that will elevate your soul as it helps dispel the gloom of reality for a solid two-hour romp.
Like A Boss
Director: Miquel Arteta.
Cast: Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne, Karan Soni, Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge, and Salma Hayek.
It speaks to the connection and significance of friendship above all else. It’s not that a friend has to choose you over someone else, but that they’d be there for you no matter what. If you’re lucky enough to find someone like that, then the characters created by Danielle Sanchez-Witzel (My Name Is Earl) will feel like more than the performances from the cast. Yes, they are slightly elevated in their presentation because it’s a comedy and making people more regular, more straight, is better for dramatic films. Yes, the central narrative could be avoided if the two characters spoke to one another, but, again, without a conflict, even one that seems slightly uncharacteristic, there is no film. Although, I would argue that the conflict makes sense because there is an unspoken conflict present between the two leads, Mia Carter (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel Paige (Rose Bryne), and Claire Luna’s (Salma Hayek) antagonistic behavior just takes advantage of the conflict and the characters’ unaddressed insecurities. Considering that the comedy is not subtle, trying to clue in audiences who are not looking for the under-stated conflict becomes more of an uphill battle. I wonder if I noticed it because of the struggle I was in at the theater. That I wondered if my friend knew how much she meant to me, how much the shelter of her home meant to me and to our other friends growing up, that we had these things that we never talked about and never would again. This person who was a litmus test for every person I dated and new friend to whom I introduced her to. I thought about all the things we fought over as kids in middle and high school and all the ways we fought for each other when I moved away my senior year of high school. While she and I were never business partners like Mia and Mel, the nature of their relationship, foibles and all, made such clear sense, even as things got more and more absurd. But then, Like a Boss is a comedy and it’s supposed to get laughably strange.
Love and Monsters
Director: Michael Matthews.
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Ariana Greenblatt, and Michael Rooker.
Love and Monsters is exactly as advertised. It’s got the world populated by terrifying creatures that want to eat you and its narrative catalyst is one of a love-struck hero out to reunite with his beloved. Heck, it’s even got a curt elder warrior, played with his usual gruffness by Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2), who has a kid sidekick (Ariana Greenblatt of The One and Only Ivan) and there’s a bit with a dog. Most importantly, it includes a much-needed optimism in the face of total horror and a message of collectivism as the champion of humanity, not selfish individualism. This is a notion made concrete through the use of King’s “Stand by Me,” a ballad which is just as much a love song denoting familial love, romantic love, and self-love. It’s a song which implores the listener to recognize that any trouble can be overcome as long as we stand together. I don’t know of any better time than now for that message.
Director: Sasie Sealy.
Cast: Tsai Chin, Corey Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Way Ching Ho, and Clem Cheung.
There’s a reason the phrase “The Greatest Generation” gets tossed around when describing the grandparents of millennials. They’ve seen things we can’t imagine. For some, it begins around the First World War, and continues into Women’s Suffrage, The Great Depression, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, The Stonewall Riots, the AIDS epidemic, and more. Put simply, they’ve seen some things. Perhaps this is why most people would describe their grandparents as the type to be cute and cuddly with the grandkids and ready to cut someone if you dare disrupt their kin. The first feature film by Sasie Sealy and co-written with Angela Cheng, Lucky Grandma is a story of one such individual: a woman, recently widowed, who cares not what you think or what you want, having spent so much of her life working morning to night to provide for her son. Known only as Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin), she is the center of a darkly comedic crime thriller wherein she decides to keep a bag of money that literally falls from the sky into her lap, putting her on a hit list with a gang known as The Red Dragon. Filled with twists and turns akin to an early Guy Ritchie flick, Sealy and Cheng craft a tale that’s hilarious and action-packed with just the right amount of heart.
My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Director: Kenji Nagasaki.
Cast: Daiki Yamashita, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Kenta Miyake, Ayane Sakura, and Kaito Ishikawa.
To be upfront, this reviewer was not familiar with the series beyond the name when the opportunity to review appeared. Wanting to have some context before trying to understand the events of Heroes Rising, I put on the pilot episode via Hulu and ended up unintentionally jumping down a rabbit hole. The anime focuses on a world saturated by heroes, but, more specifically, on a young boy, Izuku Midoriya, who wants to be a hero but wasn’t born with any superpowers, called Quirks. Midoriya becomes the audiences’ gateway to the hero world and the ideal proxy for the journey: he possesses all the traits of someone born to be a hero, an innate goodness that inspires others to raise their game. Heroes Rising applies much of the same thinking as the anime, resulting in a theatrical experience possessing just about everything fans of the anime could want out of a standalone story. Having anime series writer Yousuke Kuroda create the script and director Kenji Nagasaki of both 65 episodes and Two Heroes certainly helps with carrying over all the things audiences love in the entirety of Class 1-A. Considering the narrative places Class 1-A on their own for the first time since starting their academic journey into professional heroism, there’s already a sense of danger that comes from operating without guidance or supervision. This group of talented, tenacious heroes-in-training have faced many challenges, yet there’s something different about Kuroda’s story that still offers surprises and honest moments of terror for our heroes. The kind of moments that will surely leave longtime fans shouting in their seats or simply out-right stunned from the emotional impact of Kuroda’s tale.
Director: Brandon Cronenberg.
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, and Tuppence Middleton.
There’s a moment in Possessor in which a character asks a question as to whether a choice is something of their own making or because of the influence of another. The influence, as asked, isn’t of a direct force, but of a suggestion. Small, potentially imperceptible suggestion to the individual. In this moment, Possessor is cruelly laid bare as it asks the audience to reconsider what they’ve witnessed. This is why Possessor lingers. This is why you’ll find yourself craving a visit back into Cronenberg’s world where everything is just as you remember, except for a few differences. It’s familiar and cozy, yet something lurks just beneath the surface, poking and prodding you the entire time. Vos’s journey is one of incredibly complexity and it began long before you pressed play. One can’t help but wonder if, somewhere, once we joined the ride, there was anything outside of inevitability. If there was ever a choice or only influence. That’s the part that wriggles and writhes in your brain. Be ready before you dive in.
Director: Brian Duffield.
Cast: Katherine Langford, Charlie Plummer, Hayley Law, Yvonne Orji, Piper Perabo, and Rob Huebel.
Filled with laughs, heart, and buckets of blood, Spontaneous is the unlikely film we may actually need right now. Even when the film goes to its most terrifying (there’s a moment I wished I’d seen in the theater just to have experienced it 65’x 30’), it never loses its narrative core or its hopeful spirit. The film doesn’t get “end of the world” bleak, though there are moments as a parent which certainly felt that way, but it does use the metaphor of combustion to generate individual personal growth, to incite a necessary, if painful, change. Does this mean that what we think or feel as a teen doesn’t matter as an adult? No. In fact, I think Spontaneous implies that these feelings stay with us into adulthood. It’s just that we can’t put off adulthood nor is adulthood guaranteed. So if you get the chance to do a thing you’ve always wanted to do with the people that matter, you should do it. Even in today’s society where that means adhering to social guidelines, you can still do and try things which move you forward as a person. We don’t know how much time we have. May as well make the most of it.
We Are Little Zombies
Director: Makoto Nagahisa.
Cast: Sena Nakajima, Keita Ninomiya, Mondo Okumura, and Satoshi Mizuno.
We Are Little Zombies is going to be your new surprise favorite film. Even as the film gets weirder and weirder, throwing in musical numbers because it can or abruptly shifting in tone or narrative, it never loses the heart of its story: that life means more with friendship and connection makes us stronger than emotional walls with the heights of the Tower of Babel ever could. That it’s ok to be numb as long as you can acknowledge that numbness. That feeling unloved don’t make you weak, it makes you human. Makoto Nagahisa explores this and more in a film that typifies the term “unique” and “original” in a way I haven’t seen yet in 2020. It’s bold, it’s loud, and it makes no apologies.