AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #1 ‘Soul’

1.“Soul” –  Joe (Jamie Foxx), a piano player, misses his shot to perform on a big stage, and he – without warning – finds himself in the afterlife.  This passionate jazz musician now exists in The Great Beyond and The Great Before, and he mentors a soul-in-training (Tina Fey) while hoping to return to his first love: music…on Earth!  Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers strike hilarious and affecting notes, as their animated film magically offers tangible life lessons that our parents, teachers, and friends have told us a thousand…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #2 ‘Gunda’

2. “Gunda” –  Have you ever lived on a farm?  Have you ever spent a few hours on one?  Well, director Viktor Kosakovskiy – inspired by his childhood pet piglet – places his camera on a small Norwegian homestead and follows the stories of a mama pig named Gunda, her piglets, nearby cows, and a one-legged chicken in a 93-minute documentary sans dialogue.  Shot in dreamy black and white, Kosakovskiy frames his friendly subjects at exceptionally close range and watches them stroll through their days.  While some carefree moments trigger…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #3 ‘Palm Springs’

3. “Palm Springs” – Director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara turn this rom-com – about two strangers meeting at a Palm Springs wedding – on its head with a wacky, fanciful premise that gifts more surprises, chuckles, and genuine smiles than a Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration filled with laughing gas.  Due to a pair of bizarre, out-of-this-world of mishaps, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) are stuck with one another and need a miracle to free themselves.  Sure, Siara’s script borrows an idea (which I won’t…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #4 ‘The 40-Year-Old Version’

4. “The Forty-Year-Old Version” – A star is born!  Radha Blank writes, directs, produces, and plays the lead in a charming underdog tale of a middle-aged woman trying to jumpstart her playwriting career.  Blank pens memorable supporting players – including a group of sincere but unpolished high school students, her best friend who moonlights as her agent, and a younger love interest – who mark her journey to possible nirvana.  Still, Broadway-Eden is a ways off, as Radha grapples with the uncomfortable comforts of New York City, her professional shortcomings,…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #5 ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia’

5. “David Byrne’s American Utopia” – With a minimalist stage design of hundreds of slender, elegant metal chains hanging from the rafters, 68-years-young David Byrne and 11 talented musicians/singers perform a film version of their successful show at New York City’s Hudson Theatre.  Spike Lee’s clever camerawork captures Byrne and his harmonious compadres – who all don matching gray suits – as they strut, tap, and twirl barefoot to lively, bouncy tracks and ballads from the lead artist’s new album and some absolute classics from yesterdecade, including this critic’s favorite…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #6 ‘The Father’

6. “The Father” – Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) and his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) live together in a spacious, comfortable London flat, but she breaks some life-changing news to her dad.  She’s moving to Paris, and – because of Anthony’s dementia – he has to pick up his life and relocate to a nursing home.  Plenty of movies capture this unenviable topic, but director/co-writer Florian Zeller looks at the crisis from Anthony’s perspective, his world, which clouds our judgment about on-screen realities.  These two masterclass actors traverse through Zeller’s disconcerting puzzle…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #7 ‘Apples’

7. “Apples” – Director/writer Christos Nikou began scribing his “Apples” script – about a worldwide pandemic – in 2012.  Little did he know that COVID-19 would shake up the planet, but thankfully his plague dramedy carries a lighter touch.  For unknown reasons, random adults suddenly develop amnesia, including our lead (Aris Servetalis) – otherwise known as # 14842 –  and a team of doctors and counselors help him form a new identity and start over.  Nikou’s first feature film pits an average guy against uncomfortable, awkward surroundings, and through comic…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #10 ‘Shiva Baby’

10. “Shiva Baby” – Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a struggling college student, isn’t keeping up with the Joneses these days, but she’ll need to stay one step ahead of her parents, her best pal Maya (Molly Gordon), distant aunts and uncles, five dozen other acquaintances, and her sugar daddy in a hilarious, nerve-racking comedy debut from director/writer Emma Seligman.  Sennott is flat-out marvelous, as Danielle attempts to find solace – and quite frankly trap doors – from sticky conversations, double-takes, and wide-spread embarrassment during a period of mourning, a shiva.  (Her…

AHFW Top 20 Films of 2020: #11 ‘Promising Young Woman’

11. “Promising Young Woman” – Carey Mulligan deserves an Oscar nomination as a femme fatale striking fear in the hearts of men.  Cassie (Mulligan) is a vigilante of sorts, but rather than ride NYC subways like Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) in “Death Wish” (1974), she pretends to be inebriated in local watering holes, dance clubs, and Irish bars.  She then terrifies her aggressors when they overstep their bounds.  Director/writer Emerald Fennell’s sobering – but also playful – screenplay takes dark turns and steers into some levity with Bo Burnham’s breezy,…

AHFW’s Top 20 Films of 2020: #16 ‘Athlete A’

16. “Athlete A” – Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s explosive, distressing documentary clarifies a horror show:  the sexual abuse and its cover-up at USA Gymnastics.  Cohen and Shenk interview “The Indianapolis Star” reporters who broke the story in 2016, as well as the survivors – the former gymnasts – who speak out against their abuser.  Heartbreaking but also empowering, “Athlete A” is a thorough 103-minute record of tenacious investigative journalism and the brave women who found their voices. ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Image and Trailer credits:  Netflix