2020 Movie Reviews
By Ben Blazel
While many of us have been cooped up inside for months on end, movies are a great way to escape and forget the hardships of the outside world. In the Lance’s 2020 movie reviews, we’ll detail what to watch, what not to watch, and which documentary will absolutely blow your mind. Every film listed below is available to stream on Netflix. Happy viewing!
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Confusion has never been more captivating in film than it is in Charlie Kaufman's masterpiece, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Kaufman has never been afraid to thrust himself into absurd works, which he has shown through his 1999 piece, Being John Malkovich and the 2004 Academy Award Best Picture Eternal Spotlight of a Spotless Mind, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things truly takes the cake. If you are someone who appreciates the unknown and oddity, this is the film for you. This movie is the pinnacle for which “trippy” movies should follow from here on out. This movie has just about everything, and not just in terms of the plot. While the plot of the film is exceedingly creative, the cinematic styles used only further display Kaufman's brilliance. Cinematographer Łukasz Żal uses simple, yet strategic lighting and backgrounds elements to convey the importance of differentiating memories from the present. Kaufman’s vision was to make the whole movie look like one, two hour long painting, and Żal succeeded. Based on the book “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid, this psychological thriller explores the inner mechanisms of a high school janitor's mind, but the outcome is far from what you would expect. The results from this unique viewpoint are riddled with childhood delusions, imaginary counterparts, and a plethora of musical scenes from the Broadway production, Oklahoma! The beginning of the movie starts with a young couple attending a family dinner and ends with a stark naked man walking the halls of an empty high school alongside a cartoon pig, while the alleged main character recites John Nash’s Nobel Prize winning speech from the 2001 movie, A Beautiful Mind. Everything in between those two points is brilliantly confusing, yet all connects. On the surface this movie may seem weird, but its content is even more bizarre. Without compromising the integrity of the movie, there isn’t much more that can be said about the plot of the film, but be rest assured that it is definitely worth the two hours. While the movie has been described as “just plain weird” by publications such as NPR, Kaufman believes that he didn’t do much to hide his intended message with the film. In an interview with IndeWire.com, Kaufman says “The way I was presenting it was that you would probably figure it out, this is what the character is going through. You either get it or you don’t.” Kaufman also recommends that everyone who screens the film does so at least twice, and that is the best advice one can receive before viewing. Definitely watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things during your next movie night.
For many in Madison, the book “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance is a throwback to 2017, as it was the 2017-2018 “Go Big Read” book at UW-Madison. This book received high praises around the literary world, but the movie adaptation of J.D. Vance's story has been met with mixed reviews. Rolling Stone referred to the film as “hollow show business” and Screen Rant said that it strived “to be the next great domestic drama, but falls short in many ways.” While these reviews may be a bit harsh, the movie definitely did miss the mark that struck a chord with so many of the original readers. The main criticism of the movie has not stemmed from a lack of talent, which stars Amy Adams, Haley Bennet, Glenn Close, and was directed by two time Academy Award winner Ron Howard, but from a lack of connection to the book. Per usual, film adaptations rarely live up to the success of the book, and Hillbilly Elegy is no exception to that. The plot of the movie follows a young boy from Appalachia who overcomes family struggles from addiction, to mental illness, and later becomes a Yale law student. The book truly encapsulated what it meant to be a proud Appalachian, without omitting the struggles and poverty that populate much of the area. That is where this movie truly missed with viewers. Many perceived the film as portraying the people of Appalachia in a negative light, and this perception is definitely understandable. The British publication, New Musical Express, described the movie as “betraying the very people it’s trying to celebrate” by “failing to acknowledge the legitimate problems they face.” Aside from this backlash, it is hard to ignore the inspiration that is J.D. Vance. J.D’s story and perseverance is one that deserves recognition. While the movie does a good job glorifying J.D, it does a poor one staying true to the book. Given the choice between the two, definitely read the book, the message is far more prevalent.
The Social Dilemma
Who would’ve thought that the best documentary of the year would’ve circulated around calling out one of the tools that helped promote it? The Social Dilemma is a documentary that calls out the societal disease that is social media. While it is semi-ironic that the documentary was released on Netflix, one of the largest media giants in the world, it’s message is still extremely clear. The Social Dilemma does a great job of uncovering the faults of social media giants, and attacks the problem from the inside. American Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski takes a major creative leap in this documentary by abandoning his usual craft of nature films, and jumping straight into the heart of some of the world’s most powerful industries. The main contributors to the documentary are former tech titans such as Tristan Harris (former Google designer), Tim Kendall (former Facebook/Pinterest executive), Roger McNamee (early Facebook investor), Aza Raskin (former Firefox employee), Justin Rosenstein (former Facebook/Google engineer), Jeff Seibert (former Twitter executive), Chamath Palihapitiya (former Facebook President), and many other tech moguls. The power of the film truly does stem from the fact that many of those who are calling out these social media giants, are the ones who created them. Getting this insider look at the world of social media is fascinating and also simultaneously terrifying. Their goal is clear, start making consumers question their social media use and addiction. They achieve this quite easily and even reveal industry secrets in regards to social media algorithms. While this documentary may appear to be boring, it is far from such. Given that almost every single person who reads this article has social media of some kind, it is imperative that you watch this to understand the ways in which you have been exploited. “The Social Dilemma is a horrifyingly good documentary about how social media will kill us all” writes indiewire.com, and that to me is the perfect summary of this hard hitting documentary. The next time you want to watch a film that will make you question it all, watch The Social Dilemma.