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Josh’s Favorite Movies of 2020 — Part Two!

On Monday I began my list of my favorite movies of 2020!  And now, let’s enter my Top Ten:

10. Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary — Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is exactly what it sounds like — a feature-length look back at the making of 1999’s Galaxy Quest!  It makes me so happy that Galaxy Quest is now getting this type of love.  I have loved Galaxy Quest ever since seeing it in the theater back in 1999, and this documentary (directed by Jack Bennett) was a delight from start to finish.  It’s a joyous celebration of this terrific film, filled with interviews with the entire cast and a deep bench of the behind-the-scenes players who were involved in the creation of this great sci-fi comedy.  If you’re a Galaxy Quest fan, this is a must-watch.  (Click here for my full review.)

9. The 40-Year-Old Version Radha Blank wrote, directed, produced, and stars in this wonderfully off-beat and moving film about a woman named Radha who, despite early success as a playwright, is now, in her forties, feeling lost and unmoored.  Ms. Blank is spectacular in the film.  She’s a tremendous comedic force, and she’s also a very strong dramatic actor.  I love how silly the film is at times, and yet how at the same time, as the film unfolds, it develops into a very deep character study.  Ms. Radha was able to take many autobiographical aspects of her own life and spin them into this beautiful and unusual film.  While the title is a play on Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this film has nothing to do with Mr. Apatow’s film.  It tells a completely different, very original, story.  I loved it.  (My full review will be coming soon.)  (Above photo by Eric Branco, Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Adapted from the play by August Wilson, this beautiful and heartbreaking film, from director George C. Wolfe, is set in 1927 and depicts a very contentious day in the life of African-American blues singer Ma Rainey and her band.  The film features the final performance of the late, great Chadwick Boseman, who is absolutely mesmerizing as Levee, the brash young trumpeter in Ma’s band.  (Mr. Boseman was also in Da 5 Bloods, which made part 1 of my best of 2020 list.)  Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, and it’s a powerhouse of a performance.  The film is gorgeous, compelling, and emotionally wrenching.  (Click here for my full review.)

7. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Sacha Baron Cohen’s brilliant sequel is hilarious and … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Toy Story 4

I have loved all three previous Toy Story movies.  Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite sequels ever made, and I adored Toy Story 3 as well.  The ending of Toy Story 3 felt like a perfect ending to the series, beautiful and heartfelt.  And so I was a little nervous when Toy Story 4 was announced.  Was Disney/Pixar going to ruin the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 with another installment?

I needn’t have worried.

Once again, the geniuses at Pixar have produced a gorgeous work of art.  Toy Story 4 is beautiful to look at (the animation is extraordinary) and also rich and resonant beyond what I could have imagined.  I loved it.

Set some time after the end of Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang now belong to a young girl named Bonnie.  But whereas Sheriff Woody was, for a long time, Andy’s favorite toy, Bonnie has started leaving him in the closet in favor of other toys she likes more.  To make himself useful, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack on her first day of kindergarten, where, during an art project time, he sees Bonnie create a new toy she names “Forky” out of a spork, a pipe-cleaner, and other junk.  When Forky comes to life as a brand-new toy, he considers himself trash, rather than a toy, and continually tries to escape Bonnie to throw himself back in the trash.  Woody and the gang, seeing how much Bonnie loves her new creation, consider it their mission to prevent Forky from escaping.  But on a family road trip, Forky gets away from the family’s RV, and Woody chases after him.  Separated from his friends, Woody comes across Bo Peep, who had been given away by Andy’s sister years before.  Bo has been living as a “lost toy” for years, a fate that, at first, horrifies Woody.  This has been his fear for years, a fear that Woody is now forced to confront head-on in a way he never has before.

I love how deeply these Toy Story sequels have explored the very nature of the original premise.  That Forky, made up of pieces of trash, can come to life after Bonnie creates him, leads to all sorts of fascinating questions (as Kristen Schaal’s Trixie says at one point: “I have all the questions”), and the film allows Forky (and the other toys) to explore Forky’s existential dilemma (he considers himself trash, while Woody and co. consider him a toy) in a way that is surprisingly sophisticated for a kids’ film.  (Of course, Pixar’s films have never been solely “kids’ films.”  That’s their magic.)  Tony Hale is magnificent as the innocent and doubt-filled Forky.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews Toy Story 3!

It’s not that the folks at Pixar are incapable of making a bad movie.  (I, for one, never cared for Cars.)  It’s just that it’s so very very rare that they do.  But after watching the marvelous Toy Story 3, it’s easy to believe that Pixar can do no wrong.

It’s been eleven long years since Toy Story 2.  One can perhaps be forgiven for doubting that even the mad geniuses at Pixar could recapture the magic of Toy Story after such a long hiatus.  But I am pleased to report that Toy Story 3 continues Pixar’s powerful winning streak.  It might not be quite the masterpiece that Toy Story 2 is (that film still stands as one of my all-time favorite movies), but I found it to be relentlessly entertaining and deeply moving.

At the end of Toy Story 2, Woody and the gang gave up the possibility of a lifetime of preservation (behind glass in a toy museum in Japan) in favor of a few more years being played with by Andy.  Toy Story 3 follows that decision through to its painful, inevitable conclusion.  Yes, Woody, Buzz and friends got a few more years being loved by Andy — but at the beginning of this film, he is all grown up and heading to college.  This leaves the toys facing the prospect of either years of storage in an attic, or being taken out with the trash.  Both prospects are devastating to the toys, whose main desire is to be played with and loved by a child.

Pixar could have easily kept Andy — and the rest of the characters — forever frozen in an ageless state, like Peter Pan or Bart Simpson.  I could easily imagine Pixar making sequel after sequel featuring the gang’s adventures in Andy’s room, without feeling the need to allow real-world issues like the realities of time and aging to intrude on the fun.  God bless the folks at Pixar, then, for not taking that route, and instead grappling head-on with the tough questions raised by the end of Toy Story 2.  The result is a film that — while still absolutely hilarious in parts — I found to be surprisingly melancholy.  This is not a criticism, it is a powerful complement.  The artists at Pixar haven’t created another simplistic, cookie-cutter franchise-extender.  They’ve produced a poignant fable that wrestles with issues that have no easy solution.

That statement leads me to consider (as I have many times since walking out of the theatre), the film’s marvelous ending.  (I’m going to be vague here, to try to avoid major spoilers — but nevertheless, please beware.)  I gladly admit that … [continued]

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Josh Enjoys a Double-Feature of Toy Story & Toy Story 2 in Glorious 3-D!!

October 12th, 2009
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Last week I had the pleasure of taking in a double-feature of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, re-done in beautiful 3-D.  What a glorious time in a movie theatre!

It seems that 3-D is really starting to be embraced by the studios.  There have been a number of big 3-D releases in the past year, with a LOT more on the horizon.  (Personally I’m looking forward to James Cameron’s Avatar and, further in the future, Steven Spielberg & Peter Jackson’s collaboration on Tintin.)  I’ve skipped most of the recent 3-D films since they really didn’t interest me.  I did see Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (from 2007), and while the 3-D was cool, it still made my head hurt at times, and the film itself (minus the excitement of the 3-D effects) was entirely forgettable.  After that I stayed away from 3-D films until I saw Pixar’s Up this summer (read my review here), which was magnificent.  The film itself was wonderful, and the gorgeous visuals were only enhanced by the beautiful, immersive 3-D.

Pixar’s big release for summer 2010 will be the long-awaited Toy Story 3, which will be presented in 3-D.  To build some anticipation for the film, Disney and Pixar have re-done the first two Toy Story films in 3-D, and released them to theatres for a limited 2-week engagement this month.

Even without the 3-D, it was an enormous pleasure to re-watch those two films.  I really liked the first Toy Story, and I was bowled over by Toy Story 2 when it came out — I thought it was endlessly clever, quite effectively emotional, and also totally hysterical.  The Toy Story “Toy Box set” (containing both films plus a third disc filled with special features) was one of the very first DVDs I ever bought, and I watched Toy Story 2 several times those first few years.

So while I know Toy Story 2 really well, it had been quite a while since I had last seen the first Toy Story.  I was really pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up.  There are moments when it is clear how far Pixar’s animation has progressed (the fur on Sid’s dog, for instance, is pretty much just a solid shape, as opposed to the dynamic fur effects we’d see later on with Sulley and the Abominable Snowman a few years later in Monsters, Inc.), but over-all the animation holds up wonderfully.  The characters move naturally and — more importantly — really feel ALIVE as opposed to being just nicely-rendered CGI constructs.  This is helped by the genius voice-casting.  Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are absolutely perfect in the roles, and their … [continued]