The Little Things” (January, HBO Max) might be the first film to benefit from the two-month qualifying extension for the Oscars – unless it’s too much of a cliché now to laud Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and even Rami Malek (who owns a trophy for “Bohemian Rhapsody”). It had been a while since I’ve luxuriated in a great Denzel performance, and that’s one of the appealing throwback elements of writer-director John Lee Hancock’s film, along with the 1990 setting, which allows for lower-tech, earthier crime investigation by Joe Deacon (Washington) and Jim Baxter (Malek).
2021 will be a hugely transitional year for television and cinema as they react to our new post-pandemic habits. It could also be hugely entertaining year for audiences, as we get all those delayed 2020 releases plus some new ones. Here are my picks for three TV shows and three movies to see this year, plus a rundown of other big series and films:
The Oscars are expanding the 2020 movie year by two months in order for more films to get released and compete for statuettes. That’s a smart move, but on Dec. 31, I’m happy to make my year-end list and say good riddance to this year of the pandemic and all it wrought – including the push-back of many films to 2021 and the beginning of the end of cinemas. But we’re not tossing out the movies with the year itself, because enough good ones took the financial risk of coming straight to our home theaters. These were my 10 favorites:
Like everything else, TV took a hit in this year of the pandemic, but networks felt the impact more so than streaming and premium. The latter categories put out several good short-form series or seasons, accelerating what had been a gradual shift to that format and making a tough year bearable. These were my 10 favorite TV series of 2020:
Wonder Woman 1984” has automatic goodwill by being released straight into our homes for free (if we already have HBO Max), and director/co-writer Patty Jenkins cashes in a lot of it in the early going. We like Diana/Wonder Woman because she’s so perfectly played by Gal Gadot, and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor has great chemistry with our heroine, and Kristen Wiig makes a decent Barbara/Cheetah. But after a neat Themyscira triathlon in the style of ancient Rome featuring kiddie Diana (Lilly Aspell, returning from the 2017 original), the sequel moves to 1984 Washington, D.C., and switches to a plodding pace.
The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max) might not be the ideal binge show. Propelled by the piano and percussion of Blake Neely’s score, the eight-episode first season (which stands alone but also sets up threads for the future) chronicles titular hot mess Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) as she gets dragged into a worldwide caper that starts with a murder in her Bangkok hotel room. It rarely slows down for a reflective moment, even on those trans-oceanic flights, so you might want to take a deep breath between episodes.
Class Action Park” (HBO Max) is a schizophrenic documentary, but unavoidably so. It chronicles New Jersey’s Action Park, a theme park of dangerous water rides, motor cars and mini motorboats that existed from 1978-96 and clearly could never exist again. Documentarians Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III bounce back and forth between gleeful descriptions of the rides and much more sobering facts, ranging from park owner Eugene Mulvihill’s corruption to a teen’s death from a head injury.
The Fall TV season gets off to both an early and an inauspicious start with “Raised by Wolves” (HBO Max), which at first blush has the traits director Ridley Scott also brought to his recent films such as “Prometheus” and “The Martian” – more polished than his early work, but still with verve. But the first episode doesn’t build in intrigue or surprises; it stays pat, offering little to admire beyond how it looks. There’s not enough story or character here from the pen of Aaron Guzikowski, who is also the series’ creator. “Raised by Wolves” did not hook me at all.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc with fall TV scheduling (it’s hard to tell one socially distanced, masked story, let alone fill a slate with them), and also revealed that (no surprise) cable and streaming were better prepared with content in their pipelines than the networks. But while 2020 serves up the thinnest lineup in modern TV history, it’s not a total wash. Here are my thoughts on 13 notable fall premieres, along with a “Go Bananas” Level (on a 10-point scale) of how excited I am for the series. All times Eastern: