The Best Movies of 2020 (So Far)

THE BEST

THE OLD GUARD

This is decidedly not a superhero movie. It’s a spy/assassin adventure featuring immortal characters on a quest to save the world from imminent doom century over century. Charlize Theron is the action heroine of this century, adding The Old Guard to her already flourishing resume of action bonafides. She’s surrounded by an indelible collection of European actors and Kiki Layne, the one-time muse of director Barry Jenkins in 2018’s tremendous If Beale Street Could Talk. Great world-building, gory, well-choreographed action, and the amusing return of former Dudley Dursley actor Harry Melling as a Martin Shkreli-esque villain make this Netflix movie one of their best. Many of their ilk feel like made-for-TV movies. Like Eurovision, The Old Guard could have been a box office contender. You can thank filmmaker-of-color Gina Prince-Bythwood for that, bringing diversity, chemistry, and emotional resonance to what might otherwise have been a cliched enterprise. There’s even a well-written, lovelorn monologue that will low-key take your breathe away. It’s the stuff of memeable legend.

SWALLOW

A squirm-inducing feminist thriller with quite possibly the year’s best performance by an actress in a leading role. We’ll see how the rest of 2020 pans out vis-a-vis the virus that won’t end, but for my money, Swallow is positioned to be one of the year’s most intense and more profound moviegoing experiences. Haley Bennett is a revelation while her character’s predicament (pica) is a very real and pretty wild eating disorder involving a compulsory need or desire to swallow inedible objects. This sets the stage for some nail-biting sequences as we watch this kept woman, bored at home at the mercy of her wealthy husband’s expectations, eventually succumb to the disorder and swallow increasingly dangerous knick-knacks from around their slick post-modern home. As it turns out, Swallow is more than a strange thriller bordering on horror. It’s a dense psychological portrait of a woman lost, a woman looking for answers, a woman looking for autonomy.

BAD EDUCATION

Filmmaker Cory Finley is fast becoming an auteur. That much is clear, and more, when watching his second directorial effort Bad Education, a great film unfortunately relegated to the streaming fringes of HBO. Bad Education and his wickedly funny debut feature Thoroughbreds are both about bad behavior born out of insecurity, sociopathy, boredom, and greed in the northeastern United States. Hugh Jackman gives the best performance of his career as Frank Tassone, a Long Island area school district superintendent who in the early aughts, along with district business manager Pamela Gluckin (Allison Janney) and others, embezzled millions of dollars from school funds to support their lavish lifestyles. A monologue about race cars is the stuff of Oscar clip history, and one stirring scene in a nightclub where Frank loosens up and finally, fully embraces his true self in public ensures we never forget the insecurities nor the inhibitions that drive him. Bad Education is not limited in scope, nor is it a film of slight importance. It’s a film for our current Fraud-ed Age. 

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