This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
If there is one thing that’s become certain about “These Uncertain Times,” as they’ve been so dramatically dubbed, it’s that time has become both meaningless and the most meaningful thing we have.
It has now been over a year since I last went to work at my office. For many of us, this is the anniversary of the last thing we did in “Before Times,” the elder, envy-inducing cousin of “These Uncertain Times.” Days, weeks, and months have crawled by at the pace of a slug in ankle weights trudging through molasses, but in some respects have also speeded by—it can’t possibly have been a year. A YEAR!? If you told me it was May 2020 or it was December 2024 right now, I would believe you.
But on the other hand, all we’ve had is time. It’s how we’ve stayed safe—this many days of quarantine, this many days since the last COVID test, this many days between vaccinations—and it’s how we’ve mourned: This many days since I’ve seen my loved ones, since I felt sane or safe, since things were normal.
That is a very heady preamble to my current pop-culture preoccupation, which is the lunacy of time this year when it comes to movies. The Golden Globes are on Sunday, the splashy (and corrupt!) bellwether of an Oscar season that will wrap up at the end of April, finally bestowing trophies to the best films and performances from 2020, a year that ended more than four months prior.
As a critic who votes in several awards organizations, I received emails towards the end of 2020 saying things like “this film will be released in March 2021, but is in consideration for all Best of 2020 year-end lists and awards,” as if simply pronouncing such a thing made it any less nonsensical.
I bring any of this up because a) time and the ridiculousness of this year is all I think about and b) it’s finally here! This weekend, when it’s almost three months into 2021, you can finally watch all of the best movies of 2020. The actual best movies. My three favorites of 2020 (???) are finally available now in 2021 (!!!). Again, it makes no sense. But it is exciting.
Before you do something ill-advised like log onto HBO Max and accidentally watch that horrific sleeping pill that’s been gaslighting us into thinking Jared Leto is a good actor (The Little Things), let me steer you in the right direction.
The headline is that Minari is out on VOD this weekend, which means all sane people who are rightfully avoiding movie theaters can rent it from their homes. This is the movie that when anybody has asked me “what’s been good this year?” I would immediately reply “MINARI!!!!!!!!” (doing some wild gesticulation to warrant so many exclamation points), only to sheepishly realize that this film that won the top prizes of Sundance in January 2020 hadn’t been available to watch yet. It is now!
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, it’s about a Korean immigrant family struggling to realize the American dream in Reagan-era Arkansas. Starring Steven Yeun as a father who moves his family to the South so that he can start a farm and quit the taxing, low-paying work at a chicken hatchery, Minari is largely told through the eyes of 7-year-old David (an all-time great child performance from Alan Kim), as he watches his family navigate the tension between their American and Korean identities as he forms one himself.
It’s a delicate story about determination and the precariousness of love and duty, told with humor and a heartfelt dignity. It’s also a story about America; one of the most American stories I’ve seen on film, to be honest, but one that it is rarely told.
That’s a throughline of the other great movie about America from 2020/the first three months of 2021 that we’re still counting as 2020.
Nomadland is just spectacular. It was made available on Hulu last week. All you should really need to be sold on it is that icon Frances McDormand is absolutely transformative in the lead role, but just singling out that does a disservice to how stunning the cinematography is, how tender and industry-shifting Chloé Zhao’s direction is, and how the film makes you rethink what this country is, what it can give us, and, more, what we want from it.
Oh, the acting you could treat yourself to this weekend! Beyond the award-worthy performances from the casts of Minari and Nomadland, there is the jaw-dropping work that Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman do in The Father.
The film is released this weekend in theaters, really testing the limits of praise like “a performance worth dying for.” But it is occasion for me to bring attention to the fact that these two Oscar winners perform a Herculean feat of acting that just about destroyed me when I saw it last year at Sundance. It is even more shattering now, after a year shadowed by the dread and paranoia of impending, inevitable loss, death, and grief.
Hopkins plays Anthony, a man whose mind and memory is slipping as he struggles with dementia. As his daughter (Colman) grapples with the reality that she may no longer be able to care for him on her own, the film becomes an aching portrait of loss of all kinds: memory, relationships, time. Hopkins’ performance, both towering and brittle, grounds a narrative in which being unmoored is entirely the point. You never quite know what’s real, what’s misremembered, and what’s an amalgamation of both. It creates a state of disorientation for the viewer but panic and horror for Anthony, who is flailing for a grip on the truth and, with it, his life.
If you’re ambitious, this weekend you can also check out Andra Day’s astonishing transformation into Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which is out on Hulu. (And get her song “Rise Up” stuck in your head for the rest of the month while you’re at it, which honestly is not a bad thing.) And also catch up on Promising Young Woman, Judas and the Black Messiah, Let Them All Talk, Sound of Metal, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always while you’re at it—my other favorites. And chase it all down, as every night should end, with Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
If I find out that with all these options, you watched some bad movie on Netflix, I’ll be pissed. I won’t be surprised. Just disappointed.