My Top 20 Films of 2020

A recent viewing for me over the Groupwatch Feature on Disney Plus. The animated version was a childhood favourite of mine so I was sad that I did not get a chance to watch it at the cinema last September. Its release on Disney Plus was a delight for me and despite some controversy surrounding its locations, I think this is an important film for Asian representation in Western culture and especially for women. Mulan volunteers to fight in the Chinese Imperial Army some one thousand years ago. In the live action version, Mulan lives in a poor village and takes her father’s place due to his ill health whereas in the original version, Mulan is a princess and takes his place to prove herself. I loved Yifei Liu’s performance as Mulan; I remember they spent a long time trying to find the right actress and I think the casting was perfect. She was able to portray vulnerability and femininity at the beginning and then brute strength and leadership as a soldier. The fight sequences were impressive and used clever techniques as well as offensive action. Scenes with the snow avalanche and the final showdown were particularly impressive as well as the general production design. It did not feel like a typical cuddly kids film and I think it was a good move to get rid of the songs, no matter how great they were. I really loved this film but it was missing that extra something that makes me give a film full marks.

Hello readers,

A friend suggested this concept to me after talking about one of their favourite films of the year and I thought it would be great way to say goodbye to a horrific year for the world. Despite cinemas being closed for most of 2020, film found a way via streaming services. I was surprised at how many new films Netflix was putting out but it certainly kept me entertained. I’m listing my top 20 in no particular order apart from my IMDb rating. Going through all the films I saw released in 2020, I realise that my total viewing is only slightly longer than this list but each film on the list did bring me some joy this year and that’s what really counts in my eyes.

Onward – 10/10

This was the last film I saw at a chain cinema before lockdown and I am glad it was this one. It was a great story with an interesting new universe, a great cast and a feel-good story. I loved the dynamic between the brothers played by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland. They are elves living in a modern fairy tale land which is a blend of technology and mythical creatures. The characters go on a road trip/quest to try and fix a spell and see their late father one last time. This Pixar animation is a lovely tale for adults and children and I am glad I saw it in the cinema. It is now available on Disney Plus.

Godmothered – 9/10

I was pleasantly surprised by this Disney film that I saw over Christmas on Disney Plus. It represents the maturing of the Disney company as I have seen other content in the last couple of years with more feminist and LGBT story lines than previously included. This tale focuses on a fairy godmother who goes to Earth to help a little girl and save her godmother academy. The little girl is now an adult with children of her own and a job at a local news station. Eleanor, the godmother is not well versed in the modern world which leads to some hilarious incidents. There was a lot for adults but this is definitely a film for children. It is also set at Christmas but this is more in the background. The ending was not the usual marry a prince which I liked and shows that romantic love is not the be all and end all. A great cast with Jillian Bell, Isla Fisher and June Squibb.

Dating Amber – 9/10

I enjoyed this film set in the 1990s in Ireland with a great twist. It features Eddie and Amber who are both gay but pretend to date each other to get their fellow students off their backs. They embark on a deep emotional friendship and are able to be themselves for the very first time while exploring their sexualities. This was a very sweet story about finding yourself while also discussing some darker themes and it is worth its 15 rating with some older discussions. Starring upcoming actors Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew along with Sharon Horgan and Simone Kirby. A great Irish film with comedy and heart.

Palm Springs – 9/10

This American comedy is the only film I saw in the cinema last year since lockdown started. It was in a cinema in Turkey but I have not wanted to attend in the UK so far but hopefully cinema will be back soon. This film played on the Groundhog Day trope with someone getting stuck in an endless time loop only in this film there are three people in the time loop. It made it a fun twist. The film is set at a wedding in Palm Springs and it begins with Sarah entering the time loop that Niles is already in. The two of them make the most of the endless days and gradually become closer and look for ways to leave the loop. It was a fun comedy that took my mind off 2020 for a while. Some great comedy stars star, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti with other known faces: Peter Gallagher, Tyler Hoechlin, Camila Mendes, J.K. Simmons and June Squibb.

The Lovebirds – 9/10

This film moved onto Netflix after cinema shut down and I was glad it did as I got the chance to see it. It was a great buddy comedy with a couple who are going through problems. They end up on the run after a misunderstanding and encounter many interesting characters while trying to clear their name and fixing their relationship. It is a blend of comedy, drama, adventure and a little horror. With comedy gold Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani and set in New Orleans, a great film if you’re looking for something new and distracting.

The Old Guard – 9/10

This was a great film and one of my favourites released this year. It was a great story and I think the fact it is based on a comic book really made it a step above past action films. I am a fan of the director, Gina Prince-Bythewood and how she made this film into a fan favourite and cult phenomenon. The idea is something that has been played with before but rarely outside of the superhero genre. The team are made up of immortals who have been fighting evil for hundreds or thousands of years. They spend their infinite time helping secretly around the world to solve problems and take down criminals. When a new immortal is found for the first time in a hundred years, she joins the group and tries to protect the immortals from the threat of exposure from a man trying to harness their immortality for themselves. I loved the characters and their backstories and the relationship they all have with each other. The romance between Nicky and Joe is a highlight along with Andy’s character. The cast of Charlize Theron, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli make this film, a great one and I am looking forward to any potential sequels and I will definitely be re-watching soon.

The Half of It – 9/10

This indie Netflix original uses a well known trope with a more diverse outlook. Paul has a crush on Aster and pays Ellie to write love letters for him. While a friendship blossoms between the two from completely different social circles, something else develops between Aster and Ellie. The story is set in a small fictional town, Squahamish most notable for its conservative church and railway line. This gives an idea of the views of the townspeople when it comes to outsiders or those who do not comply with their religious beliefs. I was pleased to see that the romance is not the main focus of the story but the sweet friendship that develops between Ellie and Paul. This is not to say that the love story between Ellie and Aster was not explored. A lot of the shots were done to show the cinematography of the piece and to enhance the plot. I watched this film via Netflix Party with a friend and we both enjoyed. It was interesting to see a teen film with a slower pace and a less studio vibe.

My Spy – 9/10

I was happy that this film appeared on streaming services after the pandemic ensured it only had a limited run. A family action comedy that provided some well needed escapism in the first lockdown. We see tough team up with cute when JJ, a CIA operative is assigned to track the family of a former agent. Sophie, the former agent’s young daughter manages to suss out JJ’s mission and they team up to get the job done. I enjoyed seeing Dave Bautista is a role where he plays a human rather than as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy and while he is the funny one of the group in the Marvel films, he gets to show a different side in My Spy. Sophie is played by Chloe Coleman, a rising child star who has no trouble carrying the film as the co-lead. It’s always fun to see a hardened stoic man softened by a smart kid. There are some laughs but also a lot of action. An all round enjoyable film.

All The Bright Places – 9/10

There was a lot of anticipation for this film as it is based on a bestselling novel by Jennifer Niven. While it has a depressing premise, I enjoyed the film. I feel like it has similar tones to The Half of It with a focus on the cinematography. I think it was important for the film that the author was a writer on the film and helped maintain the feel of the story. It stars Hollywood heavyweights Elle Fanning and Justice Smith who have both starred in their share of big films. Other stars include Luke Wilson, Alexandra Shipp and Keegan-Michael Key. This film shows the complex love story between Violet and Theodore and how they battle their past demons. Set in Indiana but shot in Cleveland, the unique locations add to the motifs and details of the film. It is a sad one but I think this is an important depiction of mental health and I hope it prompts more conversations amongst young people.

Mulan – 8/10

A recent viewing for me over the Groupwatch Feature on Disney Plus. The animated version was a childhood favourite of mine so I was sad that I did not get a chance to watch it at the cinema last September. Its release on Disney Plus was a delight for me and despite some controversy surrounding its locations, I think this is an important film for Asian representation in Western culture and especially for women. Mulan volunteers to fight in the Chinese Imperial Army some one thousand years ago. In the live action version, Mulan lives in a poor village and takes her father’s place due to his ill health whereas in the original version, Mulan is a princess and takes his place to prove herself. I loved Yifei Liu’s performance as Mulan; I remember they spent a long time trying to find the right actress and I think the casting was perfect. She was able to portray vulnerability and femininity at the beginning and then brute strength and leadership as a soldier. The fight sequences were impressive and used clever techniques as well as offensive action. Scenes with the snow avalanche and the final showdown were particularly impressive as well as the general production design. It did not feel like a typical cuddly kids film and I think it was a good move to get rid of the songs, no matter how great they were. I really loved this film but it was missing that extra something that makes me give a film full marks.

The Prom – 8/10

I’ve always loved a musical and this one was no different. The film is based on a Broadway musical and a true story about how a school in Indiana prevents a female student from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. When some washed up Broadway stars hear of the story, they rally to the cause and fly to Indiana to help Emma just live her life. This film debuted on Netflix with some A list actors: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, James Corden and Keegan-Michael Key. I thought this musical had a fun vibe and while a little cheesy it had a great message of acceptance and love. The songs were a great fit and are more universal than some musical songs. The design of the Prom at the end was a lovely celebration for all sexualities and I’m glad that the story was told.

Enola Holmes – 8/10

This spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes tale offers a female led perspective and introduces a younger cast supported by well-known actors. Set in Victorian England, Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. She is raised in the country by her mother away from proper society. When her mother leaves with no explanation, Enola heads to London to find her encountering a wayward Viscount and a mystery along the way. A lawsuit over the addition of more human characteristics to Sherlock’s personality was issued by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle but this has now been settled. I thought this film was a fun take on the Sherlock story and gave younger and female viewers a point of view in the story. I enjoyed the film and the story. It was a delightful story with enough intrigue to keep you interested and beautiful production design. A talented cast featuring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Burn Gorman, Frances De La Tour and Fiona Shaw.

Work It – 8/10

Dance films are always an upbeat fun watch for me and this film was no different. What sets this film apart from every other dance film is that the main character is not a professional dancer. Quinn’s best friend is in the high school dance troupe and when she lies in a college interview, saying that she is a dancer, she needs to make that happen. She is not allowed into the troupe so forms her own with a group of outsiders and becomes the rival team at a competition. This is a film about learning to accept your flaws and living your best life anyway. The different styles of dance shown create a diverse story rather than just hip hop or ballet as in some films. There is also a brewing romance between Quinn and the choreographer she convinces to help them. I enjoyed the fun-loving nature of the film and it stars some great young actors: Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Liza Koshy and Keiynan Lonsdale. If you are a fan of teen films or dance films, then this is one for you.

Desperados – 8/10

A slightly out-there plot that could only happen in the modern world, Desperados also reunites actors Lamorne Morris and Nasim Pedrad who played husband and wife on television show, New Girl. Wesley meets Jared and at first her relationship is great but then he ghosts her and she sends a ranting and insulting email. He is in Mexico and was in a car accident so while he is recovering, Wesley flies to Mexico to delete the email before he sees it. What ensues is a girls trip with her two best friends and a ridiculous adventure. Each of the three women have things to confront about themselves and this trip offers the chance to do it. Wesley then bumps into a blind date she had before Jared and develops a friendship with him. This film was cheesy but had some real content and was a plotline I hadn’t seen before. It stars some great comedy actors: Anna Camp and Robbie Amell as well the aforementioned actors. I watched the film over the summer and seeing Mexico was something to take my mind off the pandemic for a while.

The F**k-It List – 8/10

This film is about finding your own path in life and not just going along with what others expect of you. Brent Blackmore spends his whole life studying to please his high-achieving parents. When he joins in with his senior prank and it goes wrong, Brent posts a ‘F**k-It List’ listing things he wish he did in high school. Slowly his college offers dwindle and he is banned from graduation. He goes viral and opportunities start opening up. This is a fun teen comedy with some real heart and a good message about being yourself. Set in sunny California, this film is for everyone that felt they missed out on something in life and needs persuading to pursue it. Featuring an up and coming cast of Eli Brown, Madison Iseman, Andrew Bachelor and Karan Brar.

Extraction – 8/10

A fast-paced action film set in Bangladesh in a world of weapons and arms dealings. The son of an international drug lord is kidnapped from his school in India and mercenary Tyler Rake is dropped into the city of Dhaka to rescue him and extract him back to India. The action never stops and a bond forms between Tyler and Ovi, the boy. I enjoyed the different setting and the city made a great location for this type of film. Chris Hemsworth is great in this type of role and it’s a good film to show his range after his high profile role in the Marvel universe. Despite the high stakes and difficulty of the mission, Tyler never gives up. In the background, his colleagues work to get information about the kidnappers and their motives.

Birds of Prey – 8/10

Another film I saw when cinemas were open and life was normal. I am not normally a fan of DC Universe films, I have only seen a few, namely Wonder Woman and Shazam but I went to see this film with a friend and I thought Margot Robbie could carry the film as Harley Quinn. Sometimes giving a secondary character a solo film doesn’t work but Harley really had her own tale to tell. The film starts with Joker having dumped Harley and she takes it hard. She spends the time getting back to what she does best: fighting bad guys. She meets a young girl on the run from an evil sexist crime lord who has also done Harley harm. She teams up with other female heroes to form the Birds of Prey and take him out. Her outfits were really fun and different. Her character is not how women are usually presented in superhero films such as Black Widow who was originally a sexy assistant or Captain Marvel who is a strong and sarcastic pilot. Harley is neither of these things but forges her own path. Even though she is a comic book character, her story of recovering from a toxic relationship and learning how to be her own person without that relationship is relatable to many women. A fun film about the strength of women and how they can be tough and violent yet vulnerable and broken.

The Boys in the Band – 7/10

This film has a long history as it is based on a play that debuted in the 1960s in New York City. It was controversial at the time as the main characters are all gay men and being homosexual was still illegal in America or certainly looked down upon in many states. The film itself features actors who are out as gay in the roles which the playwright insisted upon. The original cast featured gay actors too at a time when it was dangerous to be out as gay in America. The film is about the men all gathering for someone’s birthday party in a New York apartment and they all come away as different men than they were before. Secrets are spilled and dares are made and surprise guests appear. It does play out like a play with a few scenes not set in the apartment. Ryan Murphy is on as a producer and there are some talented people involved such as Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells. Its an interesting piece and says a lot about how it felt to be gay in that time and place.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – 7/10

A very cheesy and almost parody of the Eurovision Song Contest, the film celebrates the energy and vibe of the contest as a strange, trashy event where anything goes even Australia being in Europe. This film features Lars and Sigrit who by freak accident get the chance to represent Iceland at the contest. They have been trying to get their musical duo going for a while and get the chance of a lifetime. They head to Scotland for the contest and face rivals, potential lovers and extravagant costumes. This film was not made to be taken seriously and I thought it was good for what it was: a fun musical film to honour a ridiculous tradition but it did not inspire me. Starring some big names: Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as the duo Fire Saga along with Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens and Demi Lovato. Of course, Graham Norton stars himself as he has been the UK commentator for a number of years.

Parasite – 7/10

This film was a cultural phenomenon when it came out especially as it made history and won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I thought the film was good but not 10 out of 10 good. The story had many twists and turns and could only happen in that sort of society with such a class divide in the same city. It spoke volumes about how people treat each other, not just in South Korea but worldwide. The film is about a poor family living on next to nothing, the teenage son gets the chance to work for a rich family and he gets positions for each of his family members. Things take a turn when they realise that they have stumbled into a chilling situation. The director Bong Joon-ho has made films like Snowpiercer and Okja as well as many South Korean ones. I was not familiar with the actors in the film but they did a great job at creating the story of the film. I thought some of the plotlines were a little far-fetched and I was a little confused about the genre and message of the film as the ending was so bleak. I know that this film meant a lot to many people so I wanted to include it even though there were other films I enjoyed more this year.

Happy Watching,

Robyn

Top Netflix Original Films I recommend from this Summer

Hello readers,

Another blog post today, this time about films I have seen and enjoyed this summer on Netflix. All the films below are Netflix Originals as I have seen many other films on Netflix but too many to list here.

I think that this year Netflix has produced some great original and entertaining films (and TV shows) that I haven’t seen done before.

My favourites are:

Like Father (2018)

 

A truly original and heart warming film about a father and daughter, Like Father really moved me in a way I didn’t expect. The synopsis – a workaholic left at the altar spends her honeymoon cruise with her estranged father – really does not explain the emotions this film portrays. The back drop of New York and later the Caribbean cruise liner, Harmony of the Seas was a combination that not only worked but that I had never seen before. The cruise ship was epic and breathtaking and exuded luxury which makes the fact that Rachel is sharing the experience with her dad, not new husband all the more hilarious.

Harry and Rachel are put in a group of other honeymooners and that provides comic relief and advice. Seth Rogen makes an appearance as Rachel’s holiday rebound.

This film while being fun to watch also contains deeper messages about love and parenting. For any daughters who have absent or working away fathers, it will make them think about what’s important.

Directed by Lauren Miller Rogen (Seth Rogen’s wife) and starring Kristen Bell as Rachel and Kelsey Grammer as her father, this film definitely explored emotions deeper than I thought it would in a unique setting.

A particularly enjoyable scene was the game show where Rachel and Harry have to compete as though husband and wife.

I give Like Father 5/5.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Based on bestselling novel by Jenny Han, this teen romance has quickly been dubbed a classic by many. I, for one, happen to agree wholeheartedly. It centres around teen Lara Jean who lives in her own fantasy land when it comes to love. She’s never had a boyfriend but plenty of crushes. When the secret love letters she writes to them are posted by her younger sister Kitty, Lara Jean’s fantasies start coming true. Lara Jean begins a fake relationship with Peter Kavinsky, her 5th grade crush, because that always goes well.

A reason why this film is so widely loved and appreciated is down to a few key reasons. One is that Lara Jean and her sisters are Asian-American. Many mixed race girls have never seen themselves as a main character represented so well in film or otherwise. The Coveys’ heritage is never sidelined with their American father attempting Korean food and the sisters’ love for Yakult, it is never exposed for stereotypes or even explicitly mentioned. It is visually shown with a few references. Another reason is Peter’s respect for Lara Jean. He never makes fun of her for being inexperienced, he loves listening to her and helps her gently move out of her comfort zone. When Kitty tells him, ‘call me Katherine’ he is patient until she learns to like him. He also quickly earns the respect of Dr. Covey something which others find hard to do.

Kitty Covey is another well thought out character. Though she is only 11, she knows that as a woman she shouldn’t be talked down to or dismissed. She even talks back to her dad and is always seen wearing a necklace saying ‘Feminist’. She makes fun of her sisters’ but also helps them find romance.

The film truly depicts how stepping out of your shell can result in finding what you’ve been looking for and shows many people that being shy doesn’t mean you can’t get the guy.

Directed and written by women, Susan Johnson, Sofia Alvarez and Jenny Han (author of the book) really shines through in the script and the male characters are written just as well as the female ones.

Starring the brilliant Lana Condor (X-Men Apocalypse) as Lara Jean, Noah Centineo (The Fosters) as Peter, Janel Parrish (Pretty Little Liars) as Margot, Anna Cathcart (Desendants 2) as Kitty and John Corbett (Sex in the City) as Dr. Covey.

This film really does make you believe in love so therefore I give To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 5/5.

Father of the Year (2018)

David Spade and Nat Faxon in Father of the Year (2018)

I wasn’t expecting to like Father of the Year and almost dismissed it as another bad comedy but I surprised myself by enjoying it. The synopsis definitely doesn’t do the film justice – a drunken debate between two college graduates about whose father would win in a fight – really is very wrong. One, the two college graduates are childhood friends who went to college together and have one last summer before going to New York. The debate was not drunken but a funny dinner discussion at one boy’s house with his father present.

The film for me shows a father dismissed by his son as being a wasted, unemployed slob, desperately trying to have one last summer before his son begins his adult life.

While Ben’s father, Wayne is all of the above, he is also genuinely caring which can be hard to find in a parent. Ben’s mother seemingly left Wayne to go travelling and have an ambitious career and is only briefly mentioned in the film.

Larry’s father however is a scientist but is pushed around by his 8 year old stepson, Aiden and wife to a point of the viewer feeling frustrated at why he can’t have a backbone. He also does care for his eldest son and tries to be a good father. He never resents Aiden for treating him so appallingly and and can barely tell him off.

While both fathers do end up fighting and causing trouble for Ben, this is only a small part of the film. Ben meets a girl, Meredith, his first real relationship while Larry searches for his purpose in life.

Although the slapstick comedy made me laugh out loud, the feelings and emotions between father and son also made me love for the characters and their misfortunes.

Starring David Spade (Joe Dirt) as Wayne, Nat Faxon (the Desendants – Writer – Won Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award) as Larry’s father, Mardy; Joey Bragg (Liv and Maddie) as Ben, Matt Shively (Power Rangers) as Larry and Bridgit Mendler ( Good Luck Charlie) as Meredith.

I give Father of the Year 4/5.

Dude (2018)

A real coming age story of four friends about to graduate high school, where they call their teachers by their first name, dealing with love and loss whilst smoking weed.

The four friends, Lily, Chloe, Amelia and Rebecca attend a progressive school unlike any shown in American media. Chloe is dealing with the loss of her older brother, Thomas while Lily as his girlfriend also grieves. Rebecca deals with not being as rich as her friends and her crush on a teacher and Amelia is stuck mediating her divorcing parents. Although three of the girls are wealthy, the film shows that money can’t buy friendship or happiness.

I liked the film for it’s honesty about grief and friendship and that girls can be stoners too. It shows how grief for a brother and a boyfriend often feel the same but can be different.

Featuring an all star cast of Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Kathryn Prescott (Skins), Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon),  Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8), Alex Wolff (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Austin Butler (Aliens in the Attic).

Set It Up (2018)

Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Glen Powell, and Zoey Deutch in Set It Up (2018)This more traditional rom com between two adults in New York is original but features a troupe I’ve seen before. Two people who hate each other slowly become friends and fall in love. This particular setting though was very original.

Two assistants hatch a plan to create a romance between their two demanding bosses to give themselves more free time. With the romantic setting of New York City, love was bound to happen.

The comedy comes from Harper and Charlie both faking gifts and date ideas from each boss that they should clearly use in their own lives. Harper wants the free time to find a suitable boyfriend and finally write an article for the website her boss runs and Charlie wants more time for his girlfriend.

Of course they eventually find they want more time for each other.

Harper is refreshingly a huge sports fan and sees her favorite team, the Mets whenever they have a game.

The film shows that it isn’t bad to have ambition and love could be right under your nose when you least expect it.

Starring Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall) as Harper, Glen Powell (Hidden Figures) as Charlie, Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels) as Kirsten, Taye Diggs (Chicago) as Rick and Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live) as Charlie’s roommate, Duncan.

I give Set It Up 5/5.

The Kissing Booth (2018)

Joey King, Joel Courtney, and Jacob Elordi in The Kissing Booth (2018)

The first of my recommendations that I saw this summer and the first one I really loved.

Elle Evans who has had the same best friend, Lee Flynn since she can remember has the smart idea to run a kissing booth at her school fair. Over the summer she has matured and now catches the eye of some male students.

After promising the appearance of Lee’s gorgeous older brother, Noah at the booth, she is surprised when he turns up and kisses her. They then embark on a secret relationship as she has a pact with Lee to never date his brother.

Elle is the kind of sweet and loveable character that always ends up making a fool of herself despite trying her best. She attempts to keep everyone happy but can’t help following her heart.

Also based on the best selling novel by Beth Reekles.

Starring the incredible Joey King (White House Down) as Elle, Joel Courtney (Super 8) as Lee, Jacob Elordi (Pirates of the Caribbean) as Noah and Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles) as Mrs Flynn.

I give The Kissing Booth 5/5.

If you have any Netflix Originals that you have enjoyed this summer, please leave your recommendations below.

Happy Watching

Robyn 🙂