By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Jubilee Hernandez
Over the last two semesters, I caught some amazing movies at the theater (and more recently, on streaming services). I even reviewed a few for The Catalyst, such as “Parasite” (2019), “Knives Out” (2019), and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (2020). The role of any art critic is simple: communicate to an audience what is and isn’t worth their time. This is what I always try to accomplish with my reviews.
This last year, I’ve had some amazing filmgoing experiences. I snuck beer into a screening of “Cats” (2019) and argued with my friends about “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) in the theater parking lot at 2:00 a.m. I even endured a painful matinee showing of “Dolittle” (2019), a memorable experience to say the least. Watching a movie is an experience, and with my reviews I hope I’ve made it easier to decide which movies you should spend your time on.
A young student film reviewer like myself couldn’t possibly review every movie they liked over the course of the 2019-20 school year. So I’ve created a list that highlights some of the movies I did not formally write about during the past seven months. I hope your experience watching them is as rich as mine.
“Uncut Gems” (2019), dir. Josh and Benny Safdie
“Uncut Gems” dazzles with an ethereal synth score and a protagonist that just won’t quit, using fantastic sound design to help develop intense anxiety. The film is about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a jeweler and sports gambler who can’t help but continue placing risky bets despite dire stakes. Sandler provides a stellar performance that will live on as one of the best in a star-studded 2019. Part of what makes a film great is how it moves you emotionally, on a guttural level, and you’ll leave this movie with your stomach in a knot. “Uncut Gems” is streaming on Netflix.
“Marriage Story” (2019), dir. Noah Baumbach
“Marriage Story” centers around the turbulent divorce of stage director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). Baumbach’s dialogue is seamless, his stage direction is flawless, and the performances from Johansson and Driver — along with a killer supporting cast featuring the likes of Laura Dern and Alan Alda — were some of the best I have ever seen. “Marriage Story” is streaming on Netflix.
“Little Women” (2019), dir. Greta Gerwig
I watched this movie a few hours before I watched “Uncut Gems,” and the two movies could not be more different. “Little Women” is an oh-so-wholesome retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s 1880 novel set in New England, which follows the lives of the four March sisters played by Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlen. There are melancholic moments, sure, but you will be left with a resonating warmth that signals everything will be okay. “Little Women” is available to rent digitally.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), dir. Céline Sciamma
Great filmmakers know how to cultivate tension within their movies, and you can cut the tension in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” with a knife — or at least with a really sharp paintbrush. Set in the late 1700s, painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is tasked with painting the portrait of young aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), and the two women must navigate their love before Héloïse is married off to a nobleman in Milan. The film is seamless and brilliant, and will undoubtedly be recognized as one of the greats for decades to come. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is streaming on Hulu.
“Driveways” (2019), dir. Andrew Ahn
It is simply delightful to experience a quiet but powerful gem like “Driveways” in 2020, a year that hasn’t had many movies to write home about. Directed by Andrew Ahn, (who just happens to be the 2019-20 film artist-in-residence for Colorado College!) the film focuses on Kathy (Hong Chau) and her son Cody (Lucas Jaye) who befriend next door neighbor Del (played by the late and great Brian Dennehy). “Driveways” will leave you feeling grounded in the same way a warm summer evening does. “Driveways” is available to rent digitally.
“Bad Boys For Life” (2020), dir. Bilall Fallah & Adil El Arbi
Far from lackluster, this blockbuster (one of its kind in 2020) is loud, bombastic, even heartfelt. Is it perfect? No. Still, it’s a fun romp through the streets of Miami with detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) back in the saddle. “Bad Boys For Life” isn’t as demanding as other movies featured on this list, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need from a movie. The film is available to rent digitally.