Thirty-three years after “Coming to America,” Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley and nonagenarian James Earl Jones still look great. But writers Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield – along with newcomer Kenya Barris – obviously weren’t polishing fresh jokes in the interim. As I watched “Coming 2 America” (Amazon Prime) move between its vibrant dance numbers and sitcommy not-quite-humor as it repeats the same story for the next generation, I thought “I bet the outtakes will be the best part.”
Freaky” has slasher-flick moments and it has comedic moments, but never at the same time, leading to a patchwork hybrid that always feels like a slick Blumhouse product, never something you can get swept away by. On the other hand, Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton (“Blockers”) are on point playing a teen girl and a serial killer, respectively. While this doesn’t rank among the great body-switch films, the two leads are always on their game.
Love and Monsters’ ” cast and crew is filled with people who have done apocalypses before, so perhaps having gotten the doom and gloom out of their system, they’re ready to say “Really, maybe the end of the world won’t be that bad.” Dylan O’Brien (the “Maze Runner” films), in a role Ethan Embry might’ve played 20 years ago, is Joel, a likeable but thoroughly normal young man thrust into adventure with a loyal dog, Boy, by his side. Joel searches for lost love Aimee (Jessica Henwick, “Iron Fist”) amid a monster-riddled landscape.
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).
Writer-director Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire” (2020) exists a half-step away from reality, always unapologetically weird but at the same time heartrendingly true. It’s a more delicate take on the themes tackled so well in the larger-scope foreign films “Shoplifters” and “Parasite,” encouraging us to examine nature, nurture and societal influences – and the good and bad aspects of them all – in families.
Boasting more adherence to how things might really happen than its forbearers such as 1998’s “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” “Greenland’s” (2020) strength as a rocks-from-space disaster flick is how weighty things feel. Writer Chris Sparling and director Ric Roman Waugh keep the focus on one Atlanta family – Gerard Butler’s John, Morena Baccarin’s Allison and Roger Dale Floyd’s 7-year-old Nathan – rather than cutting away to generals strategizing in control rooms with giant countdown clocks.
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:
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.
Iwatched “Tenet” on one of those bare-bones discs from Redbox, but presumably we can also buy editions that include bonus features. Hopefully one of the bonus features is called “Here’s What Happened.” Writer-director Christopher Nolan has given us “Memento,” where the story moves backward; “Inception,” where people enter dream worlds; and “Interstellar,” where people move through folded time and space. Those movies now look tame.
Acut above the typical Christmas flick shoveled out by streaming and cable, “Happiest Season” (Hulu) is a heartfelt and impressive breakthrough from director/co-writer Clea DuVall (an actress in “The Faculty” and many other roles) and co-writer Mary Holland (who also acts here, and who I had previously known as the cat-store lady in the “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” video “Buttload of Cats”). I laughed out loud three times and was never bored as an all-star cast slickly navigates the rom-com and holiday traditions.