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5 underrated movies you may have missed from 2020

5 underrated movies you may have missed from 2020

5 underrated movies you may have missed from 2020
December 03
12:00 2020

With 2020 drawing to a close, I can say it has certainly not been a great time to be a movie fan. Theaters are on death’s door, studios do not seem intent on helping them and even monopoly-wannabe Disney is shifting its business strategies toward streaming. The whole situation is very, very bitter.

Still, not everything is bleak. Even without theaters, we got some diamonds in the rough. Perhaps the marketing failed them, perhaps they just didn’t interest you or they never reached audiences’ attention. Without further ado, here are five movies from this year you should absolutely give a chance.

She Dies Tomorrow

Written and directed by Amy Seimitz, this is by far the most niche movie on the list. A physiological horror film with elements of underlying Lovecraftian terror, this follows Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) and others as each of them come to the devastating realization they will die the very next day.

This is a movie for our times, as Seimitz builds from quiet dread to full-on existential crisis. Anchored by a fantastic cast who sell an increasingly bizarre situation, Seimitz is able to create an effective portrait of the anxiety of knowing your time is coming and the unknown tomorrow will inevitably bring. Quiet vignettes give way to full-on emotional breakdowns and the unexpected clarity fatalism brings these people. Again, it is the most niche and abstract movie on this list, but for anyone wanting a more cerebral horror, there are few better options.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Written and directed by star Jim Cummings, this is in many ways if “Fargo” was a werewolf movie. In the small Utah town of Snow Hollow, multiple women turn up mutilated by some savage killer many suspect to be a werewolf. Is there really something supernatural at play or is there just one really messed-up man indulging in violent misogyny?

While very much horror, this is also a dark dramedy about a killer being investigated by people who mean well but are almost all complete emotional wrecks. Cummings plays a stressed-out sheriff’s deputy whose father (Robert Forster of “Breaking Bad“) keeps risking his health. Every character is pretty flawed and for that reason, it can hard to root for our “heroes” as well. Still, there is something about this movie that cuts deep into them psychologically and left me turning the movie over in my head well over a month later. Strong work from every actor and the pitch-black comedy is on-par with the best of ’em.

Birds of Prey

Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) just broke up with the Joker, meaning everyone she’s angered is coming to collect. Meanwhile, Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett) is looking to survive on her first week on the job as gangster Richard Sionis’s (Ewan McGregor) driver, Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is battling discrimination and stress as a police officer in Gotham and a mysterious crossbow killer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is going to town on the Gotham mob. Together, they must survive.

This may seem like a strange choice, given the marketing and nearly $100 million budget, but it ended up being considered a “bomb,” so it belongs on here. While it was hashed for its slow beginning and focus on Harley over the titular Birds of Prey, it’s still a very strong comic-book movie that goes all out on the style and substance. The bright neon colors are flashy, but the characters do receive considerable depth and McGregor’s Sionis is one of DC’s best villains for how realistically he leverages his power to abuse others.

The action in this puts just about every modern superhero movie to shame, with the emphasis on practical shootouts and hand-to-hand combat being absolutely kinetic. The police station raid makes even the warehouse fight from “Batman V. Superman” look rough at best, period. The climate car chase is also a blast.

The Vast of Night

Written and directed by Andrew Patterson, this 2019 film had its U.S. release this year. Framed as an episode of a “Twilight Zone” style anthology show, two teens who are a part of the radio club at a local high school in the ’50s pick up strange signals. Throughout a hectic night, they uncover a potential conspiracy of abductions and strange lights in the sky.

A throwback in the best way, “The Vast of Night” is slickly produced and is almost hypnotic in its impressive long takes. Patterson builds on slow dread in a similar manner to “She Dies Tomorrow,” but there’s a much more lively energy here. It’s partly due to the frantic young cast, with both Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz being absolutely stellar as young teens who slowly realize the scale of the mess they have stumbled into. Now on Amazon Prime, this is a cult classic in the making. While it is heavy on dialogue and witty writing, it is a joy to behold and experience.

The Photograph

This film by Stella Meghie follows a reporter named Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) as he looks to interview Mae (Issa Rae) about her famed mother. As Mae investigates her own relationship with her mother and her past relationship with another man, she and Michael begin to spark their own romance.

“The Photograph” is also unusually mature in that while Meghie plays with genre tropes and clichés, they are often discussed in-universe and overcome by Michael and Mae, who act like responsible adults. There are conflicts, yes, but the protagonists do sincerely try to work through them. Stanfield and Rae also have really good chemistry, both between themselves and the supporting characters.

Lastly, Meghie’s writing is tight and her camerawork is gorgeous. Multi-genre artist Robert Glasper also gives an incredible R&B score with smooth jazz flourishings. The soundtrack itself is worth a listen, independent of the movie.

New Year’s is within reach. Whether or not 2021 will be any better is still up in the air, even if this year set such a low bar. Regardless, you’ve made it. Congrats. So, be careful, stay safe and have some happy holidays!

Featured image: Courtesy Universal Pictures

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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