Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
2020 is a new year (shocking, I know) and carries with it plenty of opportunity. 2019 was an excellent year for films, which will mean 2020 will have a lot to live up to. These are the five films I’m most looking forward to seeing this year. Some other films I considered were: Birds of Prey, Emma, The New Mutants, Black Widow, and Tenet.
As a kid growing up in the early 1980s, Fantasy Island was a show I watched frequently, but seldom remembered in detail. A handful of episodes stand out, but my memory is quite clear that the program was not just a sci-fi/fantasy program, but its negative horrific aspects were buried deep within a friendly veneer with moral lessons being at the resolution of the week’s episode.
Perhaps the new film version of the show is a bit more violent than the television program ever was or ever could have been, but at the heart of the film is the same mischievous spirit trying to show people the error of their ways and highlight how their deepest fantasies aren’t perhaps their best options. Although the trailer has some frustrating elements to it, I anticipate this film somewhat like I have other creative horror film premises. I’ll reserve judgement, but I’ll be slightly excited in the interim.
In the Heights
I am not the biggest Lin-Manuel Miranda fan. I think he’s a touch overrated, but that’s without having listened to a large amount of his written oeuvre. He was unimpressive in Mary Poppins Returns and his song score for Moana was largely mediocre. Yet, after watching the trailer for the adaptation of his acclaimed Tony-winning stage musical, I might be more open to his talent.
The story is about the denizens of a predominantly Hispanic-American neighborhood in New York City. The trailer certainly suggests that this twelve-year-old musical has a lot of poignancy and importance in today’s anti-immigrant atmosphere. That should give it some weight. With so many modern musicals trying to avoid the music in their previews, it’s refreshing to hear the music and singing and witness the choreography in the trailer. The music has a lot of potential, so I’m cautiously optimistic about the film.
One of the best animated films of the 1990s, Mulan is the kind of story that Disney became adept at telling in that period. It was a rousing film about a young woman pretending to be a man in order to protect her father and ultimately becoming one of China’s greatest heroes. The music was every part of that experience, which makes this film one I’m very cautious about, but hopeful for based on the trailer.
Stripping out the songs from the film and going for a simple Asian action film motif, Disney has done something different with its live-action adaptations. The first trailer has a lot of exciting elements to it, but part of that is the beautiful song score that has been turned into instrumental accompaniment in the background. That music is the sole reason for my interest in this film as most of the film looks like a fairly straight-forward Chinese epic. That genre isn’t bad in general, it’s just not the kind of film I enjoy watching and this translation might lose a bit of itself by ignoring its roots.
A Quiet Place: Part II
Two years after the surprise success of A Quiet Place, an expected sequel enters the marketplace for better or worse. We will just hope for the best. Most of the cast is back for the sequel with John Krasinski staying behind the camera this time around. Emily Blunt was the secondary star of the first film and could very well be the primary reason this film is a success.
The first film was about an alien race that has decimated the population of earth, but have done so without eyesight. Moving about drawn by the sounds around them, a small family lived a quiet life in the middle of nowhere adhering to strict guidelines to avoid making any noise that might attract the creatures. The creative energy of the first film, focused entirely on non-dialogue aural triggers, is one of the main reason I’m optimistic about this outing. Krasinski proved a strong director, but sequels are a dangerous option and this one could very well fall victim to the notion that gimmicks seldom work a second time around.
Wonder Woman 1984
For years, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has struggled under the stylistic heavy-handedness of director Zack Snyder. His dark aesthetic and penchant for excessive violence and bombastic action sequences puts him on the darker side of the same coin that Michael Bay works on. Snyder’s films have been largely dreadful even if better written than Bay’s. Then, Patty Jenkins turned the DCEU on its ears with her direction of Wonder Woman in 2017.
Jenkins’ skillful direction helped Wonder Woman stand out from a crowded field of cookie-cutter superhero films, a field dominated by the MCU. That standout film was as much a classical war film as it was a DCEU picture and that dynamic is what made it so successful. It looked at female characters not like Snyder or directors like Joss Whedon have done. Their strengths lie not in being able to kick ass, but in doing so with humanity intact. Only a film directed by a woman could have so successfully tapped into that and the hopes are high that with Jenkins’ return to the sequel set 30 years into the future, we’ll get the same strong and inspiring work she turned out the first time around.