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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2020 — Part One!

I hope you enjoyed my look back at my favorite TV series of 2020!  And now, let’s dive into my favorite movies of 2020:

15. Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story I was a huge fan of The Ren & Stimpy Show back when it first started airing on Nickelodeon in the early nineties.  Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood’s documentary is an insightful, in-depth look back at the creation of this innovative series.  It’s also an exploration of what went wrong, and why the series burned so brightly but for so short a time.  In addition to taking a deep dive into the creation and production of The Ren & Stimpy Show, the documentary contains extensive interview footage Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, who in recent years has been accused of sexual abuse of two minors.  It’s fascinating and disturbing to hear directly from Mr. Kricfalusi.  Watching this documentary made me very happy, and also very sad.

14.  An American Pickle Seth Rogen plays dual roles as Herschel Greenbaum (frozen in a vat of pickles back in 1919 and awoken in 2020) and his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum.  Watching Seth Rogen play against himself is every bit as fun as you might expect.  It’s a terrific acting performance, and the visual effects are absolutely seamless.  Bravo to director Brandon Trost and his team!  The film is funny, and also, in the end, surprisingly sweet.  I quite enjoyed the way the film embraced the value of Jewish ritual and prayer.  If only the third act was stronger, this film would be much higher on my list.  (The late-in-the-film plot twist in which Herschel started getting into trouble for saying lots of inappropriate-in-2020 things might have seemed funny on paper, but in execution it spoiled my connection with the character and enjoyment of what had been a great film.  The film is still worth seeing — that’s why it’s on my list! — but those third act problems keep it from greatness, in my opinion.)  (Click here for my full review.)

13.  Da 5 Bloods I thoroughly enjoyed Spike Lee’s latest film, in which four Vietnam veterans reunite to travel back to ‘Nam.  Purportedly their mission is to recover and bring home the body of their fallen squad leader, but in fact they’re after a crate of CIA gold that they found and buried back during the war.  The cast is spectacular: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr. are fantastic as the four surviving “Bloods”, and the late great Chadwick Boseman is tremendous, as he always was, as their dead leader “Stormin” Norman.  The Vietnam caper aspect of the story … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The King of Staten Island

In Judd Apatow’s new film, The King of Staten Island, SNL’s Pete Davidson stars as Scott, who lives at home with his widowed mother.  Scott’s father was a firefighter, who died on the job when Scott was young.  Scott is content to live his slacker-ish life, smoking and drinking with his friends and dreaming of someday opening a tattoo shop-slash-restaurant.  But when his far-more put-together sister, Claire (Maude Apatow), goes off to college, and Scott’s mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) starts seeing another firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr), Scott’s life goes into a tailspin.

I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan.  I’ve been a fan ever since watching Paul Feig’s and his brilliant but short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks, and Mr. Apatow’s follow-up (and also short-lived) series Undeclared.  I loved his phenomenal directorial debut film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and ever since then, a new Judd Apatow film has been a cause for excitement for me.  A hallmark of Mr. Apatow’s work has always been how he has balanced humor with real emotional pathos.  I think Mr. Apatow is one of the best comedic writers working today, and if he rested on that, I’m sure I’d still enjoy his work.  But Mr. Apatow has always used humor as a way of exploring his characters and searching for emotional truths.  This was evident (and important to the success of) the first two films Mr. Apatow wrote & directed, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, two films with an extraordinary laugh-per-second ratio.  With Funny People, Mr. Apatow shifted his approach slightly — his films were still extremely funny, but he grew more willing to allow the humor to take a back-seat for longer stretches in his films, and to allow the explorations of character and dramatic situations to step more into the forefront.  While I admit to a slight preference for his “earlier, funnier” movies, I’ve nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed Funny People, This is 40, Trainwreck, and now The King of Staten Island.  I have commented before how Mr. Apatow has developed, to my mind at least, into this generation’s James L. Brooks.  That is no small praise.

Whereas Mr. Apatow’s earlier work — and Funny People in particular — seemed to draw more from the Mr. Apatow’s personal life experiences, and those of his close friends, it’s been interesting to see how in recent years Mr. Apatow has used his approach to comedy and drama as a way to allow other performers to explore their lives and step into the limelight.  This was the case with Lena Dunham in her HBO show Girls (which Mr. Apatow Executive Produced), with Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, and now with Pete Davidson in The King [continued]