The 2020 Halfway Report Card: The Best of the Year So Far the grades are in

The 2020 Halfway Report Card
The first half of the 2020 film calendar has been a strange one. The current pandemic has caused the big studios to push most of their big-name releases to the Fall. Another option used was selling off new releases like garage sale items to streaming services or utilizing a premium video on demand that has pissed off the theatre chains to no end. However, this past year we have had more high-caliber award fare that last year because the powers saw a market to offer up arthouse films since there was a market of consumers stuck in their houses. We may have lost some of the overall fun of some exhilarating action films or mindlessly enjoyable comedies, but they certainly made up for it with some powerful films that should be remembered by awards time. Please take a look at my favorite films of the year so far and in alphabetical order.
Babyteeth


I’m quite certain Babyteeth, the debut feature film from director Shannon Murphy (Killing Eve), will be like no other film experience you’ll have this year. It’s a celebration of life, no matter where it begins, leads, or how it will surely end. It is euphoric without the overwhelming intoxication, while heart-wrenching without being detrimental. It grabs your attention and leaves you to ponder its devastatingly effective conclusion (that score by Amanda Brown I swear makes the hair on your arms stand up). It leaves you with the feeling of pure elation and palpable regret. This will surely be remembered as one of the year’s very best films.
Da 5 Bloods


Let’s get one thing out of the way— Delroy Lindo gives the best performance of his career since Clockers and it has to be seen to be believed. Like most of his legendary careers, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods leaves you uneasy and vulnerable. His themes extend far beyond our borders and, for that matter, much closer within our own circles. It’s harsh, blistering poetry on the never-ending battle against hate.
Human Nature

Human Nature is an elegant, delicate, and beautiful documentary film that couldn’t be more relevant in our new normal since we have no idea what the future holds at the current moment— even though the filmmakers here shines a spotlight on the ones who are trying to change that. Director Adam Bolt has made a scientific documentary that is as engaging and accessible for mainstream audiences as any I’ve ever seen.
Never Sometimes Rarely Always


Never has a subject been captured with such empathy and rarely has a single scene been so moving. Eliza Hittman proves that her watershed film is sometimes capable of reaching an extraordinary level of authenticity, and the medium can always be considered great art.
The Other Lamb


Director Malgorzata Szumowska’s psychological film is a striking work with a trio of great performances from Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, and Denise Gough, which at times rises to the level of pure genius. The Other Lamb is a terrifying, moody, atmospheric film that’s filled to the brim with horrific realizations and agonizing melancholy.
You can read Ready Steady Cut’s co-founder, Senior Editor, and Chief Critic Jonathon Wilson’s review of The Other Lamb by clicking these words here. Now, he didn’t like the film as much as I did, but we all can’t be right all the time, so don’t hold it against him.
The Painter and the Thief


There are moments of Benjamin Ree’s new documentary, The Painter and the Thief, that begins to overwhelm you almost immediately with its raw emotion. The film has an organic quality that is fueled by one woman’s remarkable humanity for her fellow human being. There is a singular moment, one that stands tall among the rest, when a tough, stoic exterior is stripped away, and an unfiltered reaction comes pouring out, which is nothing short of exultant.

Shirley


Here is a psychological drama with a hypnotic pull and has a performance from Elisabeth Moss that brings to life a figure that’s unlikable, crude, even repulsive, but brilliant and makes her relatable. Shirley Jackson’s work often messed with the reader’s state of mind (just thinking about The Lottery still gives me chills) and you never quite shake Shirley’s sense of dread — which perfectly captures the overall mood of most of Jackson’s writing style.You can read Ready Steady Cut film critic Michael Frank’s review of Shirley by clicking these words here.
Swallow


Swallow has an uncommon raw power that most films can’t reach. It’s hard to believe this much was accomplished here with a storyline so simple, but that’s what the best artists can do expressing anything with a single look or frame without speaking a word. When you break it down, Mirabella-Davis’s film is really about a woman taking back control of what goes into her body and breaking free of the prison we put ourselves in, that doesn’t necessarily need physical steel bars to keep us there.
Tigertail


The funny thing about dreamers, especially the ones who grow up in a working-class family or household, is they want more out of life and will do anything to snatch it out of the sky where their heads are always perched. Something like happiness is sacrificed along the way, which doesn’t matter because to them, it was just a made-up word anyway. Well, until the years have passed, and you realize, now being too late, that is all that matters. Tigertail is that kind of tale, a sorrowful East Asian one, deeply felt, that breaks you down, allowing you to appreciate what you have and long for what you don’t.
The Traitor


Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor (Il traditore) is his latest slice of unconformist Italian cinema whose mafia tale is a brutal knockout. There are no heroes here, just one man wanting a second chance at life. It has such a rare script that goes against everything we know about conventional mob-genre film rules. Some may complain about the film’s unstructured nature, but that is what makes the film so endlessly fascinating and different — it’s practically a cinematic miracle.

The Vast of Night


Amazon Prime Video’s The Vast of Night is the kind of film put together on a shoestring budget (by today’s standards anyway) that most studios should make more of because the narrative is simple, yet effective. This auspicious directorial debut by Andrew Patterson is a remarkably self-assured throwback that captures the essence of a young Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. It is intelligent, well-made, and completely satisfying storytelling that creates tension from simple actions and dialogue without resorting to dumb special effects.
Honorable Mentions: Bad Education, Buffaloed, Crip Camp, The Way Back, Troop Zero


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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