A goal I kept while entering this new year was to not fall into the trap of believing a new year meant new and glorious things. 2020 was a hellscape that surely had nothing to do with the number attached to it. Let’s be real, it didn’t start out completely horrible…it took a couple of months before the trap was truly sprung. Thus, I didn’t want to blindly hope that the changing of one digit would suddenly make all the woes go away. I’ve not been to a theater for 10 months, and there are no immediate signs that I’ll be in one anytime soon. Therefore, new releases have been seen only at home, and I’ve spent much of the first month of the year cinematically time traveling. In this post, I’ll give thoughts on some of the highlights, and a few of the lows of my viewings this month. You can visit my Letterboxd.com Diary for January to see all the films I’ve watched, and check out the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast (Soul, One Night in Miami, and The White Tiger) and Movie Club episodes (McTermBo month) from January to hear my thoughts on the films we covered there.
The Painter and the Thief (2020)
The Painter and the Thief is such a compelling documentary that I was texting people and telling them to watch it within the first thirty minutes. It has almost been a month since I selected to view it on Hulu, and I still keep thinking about it. The setup is that painter Barbora Kysilkova has had two oil paintings stolen from an exhibit – and the thief, Karl-Bertil Nordland, is caught. Barbora approaches him at the trial and exhibits so much kindness and humanity. Instead of yelling at him and berating him for taking her work, she asks if she can paint him. This is really where the documentary begins, and the study of humanity – the relationship between artist and subject – and rehabilitation, is put on an amazing display. This film excels in every way, and is definitely a Must See.
Wolfwalkers is currently an AppleTV+ exclusive, and well worth the free trial or subscription of a month to watch. This animated feature is gorgeous, but it is really the story of love, friendship, and family that made it my favorite animated movie of 2020. You may think that was an easy accolade for this film to earn, but I loved Soul (2020) and Onward (2020), as I’m admittedly a Pixar fanboy – but Wolfwalkers blew past both. I really hope they release this film on Bluray at some point, as it is a Must See film that I certainly want to add to my collection.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
After reading Five Came Back and watching the Netflix docuseries about the five directors, I have made it a goal for 2021 to explore more of the director’s work. Add in the fact that many of the movies I haven’t seen on the AFI top 100 list belong to these five directors (John Ford, Frank Capra, George Stephens, John Houston, and William Wyler) and I’ve got two goals that pair together nicely. Wyler’s film, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), got a lot of praise from Steven Spielberg in the Netflix series, and was available to watch on Kanopy. While it is a bit on the longer side, I was absolutely blown away by this movie. I found something compelling with each of the characters and the performances of the actors; however, the standout was the non-actor Harold Russell who – according to Wikipedia – became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting. Thus, my opinion is clearly not a hot take, but Russell’s honest performance grounded in his personal story makes for some compelling cinema. This was a film I was largely unaware of, but I absolutely see the potential for rewatches with it, along the same lines of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
I was really excited to see what Aneesh Chaganty would do after his amazing Searching (2018), but I was really disappointed with Run (2020). The performances were not the issue, with Sarah Paulson bringing the weird and crazy that she does better than almost anyone in the biz today, and newcomer Kiera Allen nailing some really challenging moments asked of her. The problem really lies within the story, and the execution of it. Specifically, a literal box of exposition that plays way too big a part in the progression of the story – which felt like some very lazy writing or direction from a man who has proven to be more than capable of delivering much more. Luckily, it wasn’t a terrible viewing experience overall…but it was not nearly what I’d hoped from the man who gave us Searching, earning the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.
January was a pretty successful month overall. I skipped a few streaming releases that were getting many negative reviews. I didn’t watch the Anthony Mackie Netflix film Outside the Wire (2021). I skipped the film Locked Down (2021) on HBO Max, starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor. There were a few others that I considered watching, but decided instead to focus on older films that have been on my gap list forever. I think I made the right choice. I also indulged a few TV series with Cobra Kai, Ted Lasso, and WandaVision – all of which were very rewarding. I’ve mostly neglected TV series since starting Berkreviews, so it has been nice allowing myself to commit to a series if I felt so inclined. What was your viewing like in January 2021? Did I miss anything that I needed to watch? Let me know in the comments or on the socials!