Continuing our look at the films of 2020:
dir/scr: Sean Durkin
pr: Sean Durkin / Rose Garnett / Ed Guiney / Amy Jackson / Christina Piovesan / Derrin Schlesinger
cin: Mátyás Erdély
Family moves to England to pursue better opportunities, nothing goes right. Shot like a horror film, more of a domestic drama. The horror, such as it is, is in the disintegration of our central family, due in no small part to the dad's fake-it-til-you-make-it ethos. Much of it is so handsomely done, you almost forgive its flaws, but they are glaring. It's a dull film populated by vague characters with a 1980s setting that seems more aesthetic than thematic. I get there's a celebration of excess and reality of desperation that is consistent with both that decade's reputation and Jude Law's character, but there are ideas, and there's execution, and this movie is a go-nowhere shrug.
dir: Graham Kolbeins
pr: Hiromi Iida
scr: Anne Ishii / Graham Kolbeins
cin: Graham Kolbeins / John Roney
Documentary about Japan's LGBTQ+ community. Rough edges, flow's a little off, but it runs the gamut of orientation, identity, occupation: a trans female politician, a bear manga artist, rubber enthusiasts, HIV activists, non-binary dancers, soft-spoken shy folk, and Simone Fukayuki (above photo). Sprawling, yes, and its rhythms keep changing (the transitions from one story to the next are rarely smooth), but a good time, embracing its subjects, acknowledging their own intracommunity conflicts, and celebrating naughtiness.
dir: Peter Ho-Sun Chan
pr: Yuet-Jan Hui
scr: Ji Zhang
cin: Jing-Pin Yu / Xiaoshi Zhao
Biopic of Chinese volleyball player and later head coach Lang Ping. Legend Gong Li plays Lang Ping; Lang Ping's real-life daughter plays young Lang Ping, and the members of the 2016 Olympics team play themselves. Hazy storytelling: much of Lang Ping's innovations are covered in montage and voiceover, but we never really see how effective they are until, you know, he game. Likewise, there's no arc for the team to perform, which could be the effects of hiring athletes to play themselves. Great sports sequences. Lackluster film. On Amazon Prime.
dir/cin: Mong-Hong Chung
pr: Shao-chien Tseng / Ju-Feng Yeh
scr: Yaosheng Chang / Mong-Hong Chung
A family struggles to get through a string of personal tragedies. A Shakespearian balance of tragedy and comedy, the better to capture the truth of humanity. There was, I admit, a moment 90 minutes in where I was ready to jump ship, not from any filmmaking incompetence or contrivance, but more that I had grown rather fond of these people and hated to see them go through more shit. And once I realized that was what I was responding to, I had to stick with it - clearly, the movie had done its job, I cared for these people! - and was duly rewarded with an overwhelmingly beautiful, complex finale. On Netflix.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
dir: George C. Wolfe
pr: Todd Black / Denzel Washington / Dany Wolf
scr: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
cin: Tobias A. Schliesser
An ambitious trumpeter butts heads with blues legend Ma Rainey during one fateful recording session. Wolfe gets the music, pushing in to suck in the notes from the cornet, circulating to take in every player's contribution and joy, on-the-beat cutting that complements the form, moving like it can't help itself. Chadwick Boseman is marvelous as Levee, a full-bodied performance of rage and promise, a perfect partner for Viola Davis's Ma Rainey, a full-bodied performance of defiance and confidence. The whole cast, really, is top-notch, not a mediocre link in the lot of them; the crew, too, from the aforementioned editing to the cinematography to the sweaty hair and makeup to the costumes to... You get it. This is as close to perfect as movies get. On Netflix.