“You Will Die at 20” is a prison film — a prison entirely of the mind. In it, a boy named Muzamil lives his entire life shackled to the idea that on the day he turns 20 years old, he will immediately drop dead, cursed by a premonition foretold when he was only an infant. He lives in a small village in Central Sudan, and his every action is controlled by those that think they know better how he should live. Muzamil thinks he’s helpless, that nothing can ever change. The frustration, and, ultimately, the cathartic joy, is in watching him slowly realize how wrong he is.
It’s been more than a year and a half since Sudan itself set a new course, and the country is still alight with hope and possibility for what lies ahead. “You Will Die at 20” acts as both an accidental allegory for that event, as well as a product of it, signaling the bright artistic future the country will surely craft with the help of brilliant directors such as Amjad Abu Alala, the UAE-born Sudanese filmmaker behind the film.
“The Nest” is about consequences, and how long one can avoid them before everything comes crashing down. It follows Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), an Englishman who tells his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon) that his old boss has begged him to move back to London to take a job. She soon finds out he’s been lying — not just about that, but nearly everything in their lives. Rory is obsessed with projecting success, taking advantage of every person who will believe in him until there’s no one left to lie to.
Even with the amount of complexity that Law imbues into the character, what truly makes the film shine is Coon. She, too, is on a nightmare journey of self-discovery, separating herself from the toxic man to whom she has dedicated herself and pushing beyond the boundaries set by her life with him; she, too, is dealing with the horrors that both his actions and her own have brought to their family. There’s hope here, too, full of love and forgiveness that is not bereft of accountability.
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) believes he was put on earth to be a successful jazz pianist. Just as it seems he’s finally achieving his goal, however, matters are complicated slightly by the fact that he dies. Not ready to let go, Joe’s soul escapes the afterlife and finds its way into “The Great Before,” a place where souls are prepared for the lives ahead of them. One of the unborn souls, 22 (Tina Fey), has been there for thousands of years, never seeing a point in living at all. At first, it seems that Joe’s passion will inspire her to choose life. Through their journey, it turns out he has a lot to learn as well.
“Soul” is a film that’s searching for answers. It would still be a good film if it accepted the easy ones that it initially lays out. Instead, it’s a great film because it refuses to stop there, diving deeper and deeper as the story progresses into the biggest questions about who we are, why we are the way we are, and what makes life worth living. It will make you question yourself, too, questions that will linger long after the credits roll.
There are some moments in our lives that burn deep into our memory, preserving exactly where we were just as everything was about to change forever. “1982” is the story of one such moment — the day that war broke out in southern Lebanon. It’s the debut feature of Lebanese filmmaker Oualid Mouaness, and it explores the ripple effects of catastrophe rather than the catastrophe itself. A group of schoolchildren near Beirut navigate friendship and young love only to have it all upended when bombs begin to drop in the distance. They don’t know it yet, but they will never return to the lives they had been leading. Mouaness, who was forced to leave Lebanon himself as a child because of the war that started on that day, revisits one of the worst times of his life to give us an intimate snapshot of the trauma he endured, imbuing it with both dread and beauty.
Great comedy is often born more from character than concept. “The Climb” gives us two great characters — life-long best friends Kyle and Mike, played by real-life best friends Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino. One day, the pair are out on a bike ride before Kyle’s wedding, and Mike makes a confession — he’s in love with his best friend’s fiancée. Things fall apart from there. The film is broken into seven chapters, charting the twists and turns their lives take as they work their way back towards friendship. As frustrating as they both can be, and as absurd as their actions get, well-judged pathos grounds the film in humanity, making the laughs come easier. Keep an eye on both of them, they’re the best new comedic voices we’ve heard in years.
It’s well past time that Ali Suliman was recognized as one of the best actors of his generation, and one of the best Arab actors in history. Over the past two decades, he has turned in brilliant performance after brilliant performance, playing a wide variety of characters, embodying totally different tones and spirits and carrying off each with flair and heart. His latest, from Jordanian filmmaker Ameen Nayfeh, may not be as radical a departure as 2015’s “Zinzana,” in which he played a manic and psychopathic prison guard, but it may be the best overall showcase of his pure skill, and his ability to carry a film on his back.
In “200 Meters,” Suliman plays a father trapped on the other side of a border fence from his wife and children, unable to get to his sick son in the hospital. From start to finish, Suliman is electrifying, bringing you into his character’s struggle and never letting you go.
Most films that came out this year assert their relevance to the post-COVID world entirely by coincidence. “Host” is one of the few that can claim to be a direct product of it. Filmed entirely during lockdowns in the UK, “Host” is a horror film set within a Zoom call between a group of friends, who have gathered online to conduct a socially-distanced séance with a psychic medium. While its timely gimmick is its most immediate selling point, “Host” transcends its limitations, delivering focused storytelling, strong performances and genuine suspense, making it a standout in what was surprisingly a banner year for the genre. More than any other, this will be the film that represents 2020 in the history books — a well-deserved, if perhaps unwanted, honor.
Clint Eastwood is one of the screen’s great icons, having directed 42 films over five decades, winning five Oscars. What a wonderful surprise it is, then, that aged 89 he directed what is perhaps the best film of his career. Telling the true story of the security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics who discovered a bomb and saved the lives of dozens, only to find himself the chief suspect in the investigation into that same bombing, “Richard Jewell” succeeds on multiple levels — it’s a touching character drama, an engrossing suspense thriller, and a vicious and uproarious satire of American culture. Eastwood has been interrogating the concept of the American hero for his entire career, often failing to scratch the surface. With “Richard Jewell,” he finally cut deep, making his most profound and lasting statement.