Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Movies English language

 As most of my audience is English speaking here are my thoughts on some accessible films.  My retirement and the Pandemic gave more opportunities to explore.  Every movie mentioned is recommended, but my favorites have the larger photos.

"The Grizzlies" (2018)  seems like a gimmicky sports movie, but it is very much more.  We hear people say sports are good for kids, but this movie illustrates what that can mean.  Based on a true story and set in Canada's Arctic this film starts with a suicide and throughout you see alcoholism and abusive families and more suicide.   School absenteism is normal.  A naive southern teacher comes up basically as no one else would hire him.  He makes a few cultural mistakes and learns along the way.   He is a lacrosse fanatic and after a great deal of obstacles he manages to organize a lacrosse team and finance a trip to the big city, Toronto.  Surprised to learn script co-written by Graham Yost son of Elway Yost.  More at:

 "Hamilton" (2020)   film of live presentation.  An interesting story told in an interesting way.





 Iqaluit" (2016) has Josee-Jose Crozee who in a previous movie showed the best smile I have seen, but in this movie she is a grieving widow.  Actually tri-lingual with English predominant, but signficant French and Inuktitut.

"Tolkien" (2019) I had not read any of the books or seen any of the movies but decided he might be worthy of a look.  A good choice.  Peter Jackson New Zealand

"Stan and Ollie" (2018)  Laurel and Hardy were part of my child hood.  Did not realize that Stan Laurel was the one who put together skits and handled the business.  A special feature  focused on the prosthetics necessary by Marc Coulier

"The Two Popes" (2019) Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed Vatican doors, but the speculation is intriguing.  After John Paull II there appeared to be two factions, the conservatives and the reformists.  Ratzinger got elected and opted for maintaining a traditional Catholic hierarchy and somehow that continued along with corruption, sex scandals and many Catholics leaving the church either officially or more often just stopped showing up.  Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce were a joy to watch.



 "The Least of These: The Graham Staines Story" (2019) caught my curiosity as it had a familiar Bollywood actor in an English speaking movie, set in India. and based on a true story.  It dealt with a delicate issue in many Third World countries regarding missionary activities.  Many locals resent conversion efforts that they think are disguised as benevolent efforts.  Sharman Joshi (best known for "The 3 Idiots") plays a journalist who thinks he can expose illegal conversion efforts, but instead learns of a dedicated man who works with lepers and is careful not to impose his religious views.  Unfortunately his value is not realized until after a tragedy  A line that sticks--"he has converted the worthless to significance, the hopeless to the hope-filled and lepers to human beings."

"Short Term 12" (2013) was about stresses in a faciity for troukbled teenagers.  Brie Larsen  

"Marriage Story" (2019)  won an Oscar--Adam Driver, Scarlett    Painful to watch.

"2017"set in the Great War.   Long shots were impressive and helped win cinematography Oscar.

"Beautiful Boy" (2018) So used to seeing Steve Carell in comedy roles but he is very good in more "serious" roles.  Timothee Chalamet demonstrates his versatility is this story about dealing with addiction.

Little Women (2019) not seen earlier versions, but loved the frame--author had been coerced into writing a happy ending.

"The Report (2019) Adam Driver seemed very natural in the role of investigator.  Read more:






 Da 5 Bloods" (2020) from Spike Lee who almost always has a black theme.  This one goes back to the Vietnam War where blacks were disproportionately killed, but also acknowledges that the Vietnamese suffered.  An interesting story with a few surprises.

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019) drew attention because of Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks, but the focus was really on a reporter played by Rhys Mathew.  Most of us had an image of Mr Rogers as a naive? person, but in reality he understood human emotions better than most and focused his attention on children where it all starts.

Ford v Ferrari (2019) was a classic story about American cars vs. the European car.  In this case the Americans won.

Once Upon A time in Hollywood (2019) showcased two stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. 

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" (2017) for me combined reading the book and watching the movie.  The title might sound like a horror movie, but it is more of a medical mystery with personal connections that are fascinating.

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" (2020) with an impressive cast.  At the time of the events I was a university student and saw this as mostly radical protestors charged more or less on the same "crimes."  In fact it was more complicated with seven plus one more with different perspectives, but lumped together in an unfair trial.

"A Billion Colour Story" (2016)  From India, but 95% English about heightening discrimination in India with a mixed family trying to finance and produce a message to counter.  Finally an encouraging ending.

"Richard Jewell" (2019) directed and produced by Clint Eastwood who wanted to show the unfairness of how some misinformation could damage a man and his family.  It makes one realize that being identified as a suspect does not make one guilty. 

"The King of Staten Island" used a lot of crudities but was an engaging story of a troubled youth gradually finding a meaningful role in life.  Interesting that the star, co-writer, and co-producer was the son of a fireman who died in 9/11 and had lived in Staten Island. 

Older Films

Have decided to classify films that are before 2003 as older films.  Too easily overlooked with the hyper promotions for the latest blockbuster.

"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1962) with Trevor Howard, Richard Harris and Marlon Brando.  Fantasy and cruelty  We do know that Bligh caused another mutiny so it seems realistic to think he was cruel.  Having been picked  by James Cook as his best navigator.  The fantasy is also real as we have learned from others such Robert Louis Stevenson and Paul Gaugan.??? he had talent Brando the method actor

"Ride with the Devil" (1999) covers an unusual part of the American Civil War.  Surprisingly one of the main characters is a black man willingly fighting for the South.  Ang Lee with only his second American film gives some insight into some of the racial and social dynamics of the war.

"Black Robe" (1991) some Canadian history as Europeans exploited natives and were violently resisted. 

"The Devil's Brigade" (1948)  was of interest because I once worked with one of the  depicted soldiers.  Canadian and Americans take on difficult mission in World War II.   

"Klute"  (1971) was approached with my modern day biases.  Watching Jane Fonda in "Grace and Frankie" one is surprised at her acting range.  Donald Sutherland projects a sophisticated image in commercials and even as a slimy character in current films.  I was impressed in at least two ways.  As a mystery it unrolled cleverly.  It also showed a profound character development for the two main characters.  The director, Alan j. Paukula was not as famous as some of concurrent directors, but that by concentrating on actual film projects his films were consistently well regarded.  For more on Alan J. Pakula check:

"My Brilliant Career" (1979) is set in Australia and is about a young independent female trying to find her way in the world receiving advice from three older women and trying to resist. The director, Gillian Armstrong explained herself 39 years later.  Judy Davis and Sam Neill in early films, all three named moving onto international films..

"What's Up Doc" (1985) had been described by one film maker as the funniest comedy. Slapstick,  car chase scenes in hilly San Fransisco, double entendres.   Screwball.

"Sophie's Choice" (1982)  Meryl Streep deserves every award she has won.

The Pianist (2002) a realistic movie about a Jew surviving in Warsaw under Nazi oppression.

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961)  enjoyable music, dialogue and plot but an Japanese character played by MickeyRooney was a mockery of Asian --special feature talked about the issue and its evolution

"The Long Walk Home" (1990) was about the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the many steps in the civil rights movement.  It is easy to forget how much violence had to be endured to overcome ignorance and fear.

"Charley" (1968) probably first seen at a drive in theatre near its release date and then perhaps a decade or two later and again recently.  My understanding  (I think) has improved with each viewing.  At one level it is tragic in that the protagonist starts as a person made fun of for his mental abilities and then rose to a genius level and then reverted back with a love story that also had a sad end.  More recently can see how experimenters are little concerned about the human participants.  Then there is the attitude too many of us towards mentally challenged people.

"The Man Who Laughs" (1928)  was from the silent era and used inter-titles.  From a Victor Hugo novel (a few after success of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") and bringing in some crew from Germany that applied their expressionist style.

"Eye of the Needle" (1981) a spy thriller without special effects.  Pretty tense.

"The Last Temptation of Christ" (1987) portrays Christ as a man with human frailities.  Follows many of the Biblical stories.  Gives a different perspective on what it is generally believed by believers.      

"Fargo" (1996)  Minnesota roots of two brother director/writers, Frances McDorman married to Joel accents, local words

Horse Movies

I am no longer as involved with the horse world as I had been, but still love to watch and appreciate horses.

"Lean on Pete" (2017) horses are not pets--race horses are a business.  Quarter horse--money ,drugs, overuse--author bet on horse races and started wondering what happened to the horses he no longer saw  Willy Vlautin--horse meat--author moved from Reno to Portland picked up interest in horse gambling--young boy victim of poor parental decisions finds a home with race horse films and later becomes homeless before reconnecting with his family--horse picked and were told that the whites of the eyes help make a horse seem more human    Andrew Haigh, director long shots/ take once ideally--naturalism-- often pauses in dialogue are cut, but feels better not to--long take encourages audiences to concentrate more--horse races are tricky to film--quarter racing--car accident


 "They Shall Not Grow Old" (2018)  Peter Jackson  special features--restoring and even colorizing old films  WWI

"For Sama" (2019) brutally done by Syrian--births--explosions, rescuing bodies from collapsed buildings.  One very dramatic was of a woman in labour who had to have her baby delivered by Caesarian and brought to life by vigorous shaking; massaging

"56 Up" (2012)explores how real specific people change

"American Factory" (2018)won an Oscar for feature documentary.  What got my attention was that it was done through a production company financed by Barrack and Michelle Obama.  Chinese capitalism versus unionism.  At the end the company made a profit, employed a lot of people

"Daughters of Destiny" (2017) is a mini series about a school in India that educates children from the Untouchable caste.  One aspect is that given an education they are useful citizens.  There are problems of course--the school runs up against traditionalists who feel girls should be married young and not be educated.  Within the chose families only one is selected and this causes conflict, but the school founder felt the whole family could benefit and they could spread their resources to more families.  After almost two decades the results are just filtering to the country.

"There are no Fakes" (2019) was about faking art.  A member of the Barenaked Ladies band, felt he had been ripped off after buying a Norval Morriseau painting.  I had a copy/print of one of his works and a sister also owned some at one time, so I felt a personal interest.  Claims and counter claims and very wild accusations.   Norval Morriseau was a unique artists that opened doors for other artists.  I am glad to have some sort of representation of his on my wall, but am concerned it might not have benefited the artist.

"The Last Dance" (2020) was a must see as I have been a basketball fan for over 60 years and Michael Jordan is the most exciting player ever.  He is easy to admire and not just for his unique abilities, but also for his drive.  Not so easy to like.  The film is full of candid dialogue and locker room rivalries, but also of rival players.  Contract disputes were a big factor.  I was fascinated by Tony Kukoc and disappointed in his coverage.  Steve Kerr, now a very successful coach was interesting with his father dying in Lebanese conflict. Phil Jackson is one of the greatest and most interesting coaches of any sport of any time.  Read about Phil Jackson   


"Octopus:  Making Contact" (2019 )and "My Octopus Teacher" (2019)  had read that they should be considered as sentient beings, on the same level as Chimpanzees and Dolphins.   They are fascinating to watch.  On this "Nature" one hour program a professor had bought a salt water tank for his Alaska home.  Changing colour. was one unexpected trick.  following our eyes--common ancestors had to be before animal came out of the water--different evolutionary track--recognition of symbols--intelligence is distributed to other parts of body--alien  --can use tools--no skeletons--contort through small openings    Determine they do have personality.  Read more:


"Rising Phoenix" (2020)  was about the Paralympic movement which really is a a story of disabled people carving out a bigger part of life. 

"The Book of Negroes" (2015):  based on book by Lawrence Hill who I had the good fortune to meet while he was working on this series.  --Black Loyalists--As American Revolution wound down, the Americans negotiated that negroes should not be taken away.  General Carleton saw things differently.  The Book of Negroes refers to a compilation of names the British came up with after the end of the Revolution where it was agreed that any negro who had served the British for one year was free.  George Washington argued the British should not be allowed to take negroes to Nova Scotia, but Guy Carleton defended his action in part with the Book of Negroes which was to record eligible blacks

 ""The Last Dalai Lama?" (2016) a man who crosses the religion/science divide better than anyone.  The Chinese government has taken steps to hijack the process for replacing him.  The Dalai Lama has taken steps to maintain the Tibetan rule of succession and their culturre.

"James Cook Obssession and Discovery"---greeting Maoris--crew had shot Maori from a distance--when Cook went ashore greeted by a haka which must have seen threatening but Cook had enough presence to approach leader and allow himself to be greeted nose to nose   Victoria harbour statue.

"The Roosevelts An Intimate History" (2014) by Ken Burns dong back to still photos with many achived videos.  Good commentary.  I had a rough idea of the contributions of the three main characters, Theordore, Franklon and Eleanor, but not really of the full extent.  More interesting was their personal realtions.  The two men were vain and intelligent, well educated and positioned in life.  Eleanor was the liberal conscience always pushing for more progressive and she had to put up with Franklin's philandering ways.   Family tensions in both families were spelled out.  The spotllight on children was difficult to deal with.



"Enslaved" (2020) showed the link between slavery and economy.

"Cuba and the Cameraman" (2017) reminded me of my four trips to Cuba. Sympathetic to Cubans, but contained criticisms from both inside and outside the nation.

"I Am Steve McQueen" (2014) was seen as part of research for an upcoming blog.  I have always thought of him as one of coolest performers in Hollywood, but there is more to him and I am still learning more


"The Nightmare before Christmas" (1993) recommended by Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra  member for its music

"Rio" (2011) lured by Sergio Mendes music  Rio II

"Wall E" (2008).  Very simple with little dialogue, but easy to follow.

TV Mini Series

Like most of you I have actually watched tv mini series most of my adult life and am ready to acknowledge they are essentially performing the role of telling stories like all other films.  The main difference of course in length which allows greater character development and plot details.  The problem is that some tend to drag on and can become boring.  Must be at least 3 episodes to be considered, if not is a film.

"The Marvelous Mrs Maisel"  bubbly female emancipation with a nod to Lenny Bruce.

"Line of Duty" (2012-2019)my favorite of the British police stories.  This year just caught the latest season, having already seen the previous ones.  All are really exceptional.   











"Sanditon" (2019)was based on Jane Austen's incomplete novel. Much of the plot and characterization is familiar, but the adaption does not have the usual happy ending.  But it does maintain the role of money in marriage decisions.

 "Ozark" (2017-2020) Can they keep it going?  It always look like the family is on the verge of annihilation.

"Unbelievable" (2019) the  long term misery rape can cause--connections  Toni Colette. Shows how difficult it can be for a rape victim to get a fair hearing.--Excellent detective work dependent on slim clues.  A reason why women are very reluctant to report a rape.





"Atypical"  (2017-2019) consisted  of short episodes.   Autism can be reduced to a comedy, but this is more than that.  Not only do you understand a bit more about the autistic person, but perhaps more important about the people around them.

"Mad Men" (2007-2015) even though I worked in an ad agency and heard lots of talk of it didn't watch it on tv., but have binged on Netflix.  A little on advertising insight, but perhaps more on social habits and political evens of the time.

"The Heart Guy" (2016) from Australia was about a talented, egotistical surgeon, with lots of problems finds himself back in his home town due to a suspension in big city hospital. 

"Designated Survivor" (2016-2019) filmed in Toronto with recognizable scenes in Hamilton.  The premise is that through flukey circumstances an honest man becomes president.  Netflix took over for the third season

"The Crown" (2016-2020)  very personal portrait.  Probably true, but it is too easy to be self righteous about it.

For what I conceive as mostly superior films including my number one for they year  check out:

Check out my list for 2019:

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