A 1980 house party filled with classic reggae tracks is the setting and subject of Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, part of the Small Axe collection of films on Amazon. Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) arrives with a friend, but then begins dancing with a man she meets at the party, Franklyn (Micheal Ward). At less than 70 minutes long, Lovers Rock’s magic is all in the carefully observed details of this time and place, like the condensation dripping down the wall as the dance floor heats up. In maybe the most purely pleasurable scene of 2020, when “Silly Games” by Janet Kay fades out on the record player, the entire party is so deep in its groove that they keep dancing to their own a cappella rendition of the song for several more minutes. Watching this movie, it was very easy to relate to that feeling of not wanting a great time to end.
The immigrant experience is depicted with delicate sweetness and sadness in Minari, from director Lee Isaac Chung. The Yi family moves from California to rural Arkansas so the patriarch, Jacob (Steven Yeun), can start a farm. Mom Monica (Han Ye-ri) hates the idea, and the children (Noel Kate Cho’s Anne and Alan Kim’s David) aren’t too thrilled either — and that’s before their wisecracking Grandma (Youn Yuh-jung) moves in. Drawing from his own childhood memories, Chung crafted something deeply moving, particularly in the relationship between the grandmother and grandson, with both Youn Yuh-jung and Alan Kim giving performances worth of awards consideration.
On October 30, 2015, a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest killed 27 people — and then poor healthcare killed 37 more in the months after the tragedy. In the shocking documentary Collective, director Alexander Nanau follows several reporters as they uncover the seemingly bottomless corruption in Romanian hospitals that resulted in those 37 additional deaths. When protests and investigations lead to the resignation of the Minister of Health, Nanau gains remarkable access to his replacement, and watches as he attempts to reform a massively broken system. A non-fiction film with the pacing and twists of an edge-of-your-seat thriller, Collective will make you despair for the state of our world, and hope that the brave souls determined to change it don’t give up.
Kelly Reichardt knows how to milk drama out of the simplest scenarios. First Cow is somehow one of the most low-key and emotionally devastating Westerns I’ve ever seen. A cook (John Magaro, in what should be a star-making turn) arrives in the Oregon Territory and begins to carve out a business selling “oily cakes” (authentic frontier gibberish for doughnuts) with the help of a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) and a key ingredient pilfered from a local cow, the first in the area. Reichardt’s latest is a fascinating portrait of 19th century capitalism at its most cutthroat, and a moving tale of male friendship — with absolutely no bull whatsoever.
The Invisible Man
Just before the theatrical industry collapsed, moviegoers were treated to one of the smartest horror movies in years from Leigh Whannell, a rising genre star who co-created the Saw franchise, and recently gave us the body-horror gem Upgrade. The Invisible Man is Whannell’s best movie to date, and as an ingenious a reinvention of an old film brand as has been made in recent years, infusing H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel (and James Whale’s 1933 adaptation) with all sorts of modern fears about technology, as well as timeless ones about an innocent person being gaslit until until they doubt their mental health. It’s powered by a truly harrowing performance from Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia, a woman traumatized by an abusive relationship to a brilliant scientist who recently committed suicide — or perhaps faked his own death to continue haunting her. Though Whannell couldn’t have known it at the time he wrote and directed The Invisible Man, the notion of an unseen enemy (that others refuse to believe even exists) driving someone insane wound up being a far-too-relatable idea in 2020.