2020 has been a rough year for movies (and everything else), with the pandemic delaying countless blockbusters and halting production on some of the world’s most anticipated projects. The closing of theaters has made newly-released movies a scarcity in a time when escapism is most needed. To fill that gap, here are a few must-see 2020 releases you may have overlooked.
Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” could not have come out at a better time. Released on Netflix in the midst of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, this vital call-to-action explores systemic racism through the lens of the African American experience in the Vietnam War. The film follows four veterans who return to Ho Chi Minh City to reclaim a lost stash of gold bullion. Along their journey they encounter the violent remnants of the war they left behind and the lasting effects of American imperialism, both of which paralleling the many discriminatory systems that have trapped African Americans for decades. What ensues is a riveting and powerful story filled to the brim with stirring scenes, memorable characters, and important commentary.
Darius Marder directs an endlessly captivating Riz Ahmed in this drama about Ruben, a metal drummer and recovering addict whose ears begin to lose functioning. The film excels in the story’s simplicity, as it allows Marder to focus on making the characters and environments as believable and lifelike as possible. Ruben is examined through a sensitive lens, with every aspect of the entrancing direction making it easy to empathize with him and his struggle. Visuals isolate him, experiments with sound design place the viewer in his position, and thoughtfully-written dialogue masterfully articulates the character’s pain. It’s an authentic, powerful film full of palpable emotion. Don’t miss it.
Kelly Reichardt’s long-anticipated period piece tells the story of a travelling cook who befriends a Chinese immigrant in 1820 Oregon. The two men, both set on finding fortune in the early days of American capitalism, start a successful baked goods business using stolen milk from a wealthy landowner’s cow. Over the course of its deliberately paced runtime, “First Cow” paints a contemplative and soft portrait of friendship in a harsh landscape. Reichardt’s quiet and meditative direction gives the audience room to breathe and sink into the lush and minutely observed environments. It all comes together to create one of the most tender and subtly beautiful films of the year.