One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 24
By Laurence Lerman
The end of a calendar year signals that it’s time for everyone to make their “Best of” compilations. For me, a Top Ten list or the like usually comes in second place to a rundown of the most memorable on-screen moments that I can recall from all the titles I’ve seen over the previous 12 months.
To my satisfaction, I found that this year I could recall a great deal more of those memorable moments than in previous annums. That’s due, I think, to 2020 being the year that theatrical screenings became home streamings, allowing for multiple viewings and rewinds of particularly scenes—and all in the palm of my hand! The ritual of traveling back and forth to a theater, along with the dinner, drinks, encounters with friends and all the other pleasantries that might accompany a night at the movies, were essentially suspended this past year, making for a more distinct focus on the evening’s featured presentation.
That said, I remembered a whole lot of nice stuff from the movies that were officially released on screens big and small this past year. That was a pleasant surprise, but not as revelatory as the fact that virtually all of my choices featured women, an aspect that was not lost on me…or my wife, for that matter.
And so here, in no particular order, are my Top Ten moments—let’s call them flourishes—from the motion pictures that unspooled on our screens in 2020.
Amanda Seyfried as actress Marion Davies, peeking her head out of a Rolls-Royce and beseeching screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) to be gentle with his Citizen Kane script, in David Fincher’s impeccably produced Hollywood fable Mank.
Loving wife Linda Cardellini patiently enduring her legendary gangster husband Al Capone’s (Tom Hardy) syphilis-induced dementia as he hazily wanders about their Florida estate in the bizarre gangster elegy Capone.
Sierra McCormick, a small-town switchboard operator on the job in 1950s New Mexico, stumbling upon a strange audio frequency and slowly realizing there might be flying saucers hovering just overhead, in the atmospheric sci-fi suspenser The Vast of Night.
Elisabeth Moss barely holding on to her sanity and slowly sensing she’s not alone in her home as she takes one cautious step after another in The Invisible Man, the latest reimagining of H.G. Wells’ classic novel.
A drunken Carrie Coon cringeworthily mocking her social-climbing, entrepreneurial husband Jude Law in front of his clients in the uncomfortably class-conscious domestic drama The Nest.
Sofia Coppola doing her damnedest to make the old man proud in The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, a re-edited and refurbished version of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1990 The Godfather, Part III, reminding us that Daddy’s little girl wasn’t all that bad in her viciously attacked portrayal of mob kingpin Michael Corleone’s naïve daughter Mary.
Sultry saxophonist Angela Bassett coolly leading her combo at a downtown club and giving Jamie Foxx’s pianist a shot in Pixar’s animated, silky-smooth, “jazz is life” fable, Soul.
New York film company support staffer Julie Garner quietly taking a dressing-down from an intimidating HR exec when she dares suggest there may be something sleazy going down with her Harvey Weinstein-esque boss in the quietly unnerving #MeToo-energized drama The Assistant.
The irrepressible Cristin Milioti unleashing an astonished screech of “What the f*ck!?!” after Andy Samberg is inexplicably shot by a cross-bow bolt in the lively Groundhog Day-ish comedy Palm Springs.
Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman earning their long-awaited public kiss as same-sex sweethearts—and outshining superstar supporting players Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Cordon—in the climactic “It’s Time To Dance” number of the overly busy but big-hearted musical The Prom, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the 2018 Broadway production by the same name.
So now it’s 2021 and Operation Warp Speed is slowly putting vaccines in the arms of the American public to combat the COVID pandemic, a roll-out that’s more exciting than anything Hollywood could ever deliver. Moving into a new year when the majority of existing movie theaters may return to operating capacity (as this issue goes to press, about 40% of them are open) and a lot of us may begin to head back to them, the highest-profile choices will be the usual big-screen spectacles. The newest installments in the long-running Mission: Impossible and James Bond series are teeing up, as are a dozen or so comic book extravaganzas, Black Widow, The Eternals and a new Spider-Man flick among them. But for every person taking a chance in a theater, there will probably be twice as many pressing play on the new ones in the comfort of their own living rooms.
As for me, it will begin this week by popping in my Blu-ray of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, by far the best film to emerge from the nearly 50-year-old Star Trek franchise—and the inspiration for the Operation Warp Speed moniker (thus connecting Trek with our recovery from one of humanity’s darkest years in decades). When I first saw Star Trek II during its first week of release, I remember how shocking it was to witness the Starship Enterprise being fired upon with full phasers by a ship under the command of a crazed Ricardo Montalban.
I’ve seen the film some dozen times since then, and watching the film again 38 years later reminds me how much I still love that moment, And at the dawn of 2021, I can only hope that the Enterprise’s misfortune is as bad as it’s gonna get for all of us as Warp Speed kicks in.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.