A cow wearing a crown is saying the words "good movie" and a banner above says All-Beefies

The 2020 Alleged Beef Awards



A Year without a Bucket of Popcorn

I checked and this is true: 2020 is the first year since 1985 in which I didn’t visit a movie theater. Now obviously there were bigger and deadlier things going on in the world which I will not ridicule or diminish. But for movie awards purposes, I was surprised that, as I assembled my yearly lists, that every single movie on my list in 2020 was either released directly on streaming, was in theaters before the stay-at-home orders, or was rented via a streaming service.

This of course meant that the 2020 All-Beefies* were handed out digitally (the traditional unobtainium cow statuettes were mailed out the following week). We streamed on Twitch before a crowd of 30,000, so far below an Oscars telecast and very far below a random Fortnite streamer. So it goes. Sacha Baron Cohen had a camera mishap* that he swears was by accident, and it was further misfortune that Twitch chose that specific moment to use as the teaser image for our stream. But everyone has seen his perineum at least once anyway, so it wasn’t especially new or shocking. Christopher Nolan delivered* a speech with his microphone turned way too low, so it was just inaudible. That was also on-brand. Rosamund Pike fell asleep* but, with discretion being the better part of valor and memories of Gone Girl and I Care a Lot in everyone’s heads, we let Eiza González give an acceptance speech in her stead.

Now, on to the awards!


A military veteran with a red hat and a backpack looks nervously off-screen

Favorite Performances


Delroy Lindo as Paul, Da 5 Bloods

Delroy Lindo is in the upper echelon on this site alongside legends like Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Kevin Kline, Maggie Cheung. He can seemingly do any role: compare his work in Get Shorty (1995), Malcolm X (1992), and The Cider House Rules (1999). His work in Da 5 Bloods may be his best, as he plays a Vietnam vet who found a channel for his anger in MAGA-era politics.

In one late scene, Spike Lee shoots Lindo with a (Jonathan Demme-style) POV shot similar to the kinds of angry social media diatribes we’ve become sick of. The frustration in his line delivery is so strong: just endless vitriol at the world around him. His scenes with Johnathan Majors, who plays his estranged son David, are also tremendous (the two reunited on screen in 2021 in the very fun The Harder They Fall) and should feel painfully real to anyone who isn’t sure what to do with decades of bitterness and miscommunication.


Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson, I Care a Lot

I’m a fan of Rosamund Pike’s work in general. She makes interesting acting choices even though I think she makes questionable choices when accepting roles in films. Her best work has been in projects that lean into her steeliness, such as in Jack Reacher (2012), The Wheel of Time (2021), this movie, and Gone Girl (2014).

Marla Grayson is the kind of sociopath whose combination of drive and disinterest in collateral damage was guaranteed to make her a US Senator or a cult leader or a tech bro billionaire. Or, as in I Care a Lot, a person who has become extremely wealthy by getting the elderly involuntarily committed to care facilities while she legally fleeces them through ironclad medical power of attorney documents.

This is the kind of monster who you will involuntarily root against, so it is a testament to the performance that we feel sympathetic to her. Pike makes it work while also nailing gallows humor and looking fly as hell in her various suits.


Peter Dinklage as Roman Lunyov, I Care a Lot

Compare the performance of Pike to her costar, Peter Dinklage. Where Marla is cool under pressure, Roman feels close to an eruption at every moment. Dinklage escalates his character’s frustration as he keeps fighting against and losing to Marla despite having an entire organized crime family of support behind him. The movie is so fascinating between these two loathsome figures are butting heads over the involuntary committal of Roman’s mother (played masterfully by Dianne Wiest). No one is the good guy, everyone is the bad guy, and the person who is suffering most is the battlefield on which these people are waging war.


Helena Zengel as Johanna, News of the World

News of the World is an interesting film. It feels like someone plagiarised a Coen Bros. film from an alternate dimension but left out the moments of humor. It is a dour film that has moments of beauty and reprieve, but mostly feels like a Homeric epic repurposed in Reconstruction era Texas. For me, this is Paul Greengrass’ best film (admittedly, I’ve never been high on the Jason Bournes) and Captain Kidd is my favorite Tom Hanks performance since Catch Me If You Can in 2003 (admittedly, he’s been in a lotta stinkers in the past two decades).

Helena Zengel—as Johanna the orphaned German immigrant who Captain Kidd is delivering to her distant relatives—steals the show. She works wonderfully alongside the traumatized Captain Kidd as a pair of people scarred by the war and its aftermath. And she delivers a heartfelt, deep performance that frankly makes the movie work. The movie would be diminished if you had some rando child actor in the role given how much of the film is a two-hander with Hanks. Zengel holds her own and then some.


Jim Cummings as John Marshall, The Wolf of Snow Hollow

As a person who has become tightly wound in the last 20 years, I appreciate performances that nail the tension and frustration and anxiety. When they can wring humor from it without losing the innate teeth-grinding, it is even better. (Shout out to Eliza Coupe’s Jane from Happy Endings, one of my all-time favorite comedic displays of a Type-A person constantly short-circuiting.)

I had never seen Cumming’s previous film, Thunder Road (2018), so I didn’t know what to expect of the actor/writer/director. The Wolf of Snow Hollow is an enjoyable horror-comedy where everything hinges on Cumming’s performance: he is in nearly every scene, and it is essential to the movie working that we question whether he was also present in the scenes where he is absent. I gladly award him an All-Beefie for this performance, not even counting that he also wrote and directed the film.



A man in stylized armor and a woman in a stylized crown play keyboards on a beach

Favorite [___] …


Adam Sandler Comedy in YEARS: Hubie Halloween

(Our original review of Hubie Halloween is here. —Ed.)

Maybe the bar has been set this low. Maybe it was the cabin fever from being alone in my house with my beautiful wife for ten months of the year (with of course January and February still stuck in the house due to Pittsburgh winter, but at least we could do things when we wanted). Maybe it was just that the Sandman made a movie centered around the best holiday of the year. I don’t know.

Hubie Halloween had a lot of the Happy Madison Productions traditions that I hate: annoying voice from Sandler; Rob Schneider; Kevin James. But it also had comedy vets like Julie Bowen, Steve Buscemi, Maya Rudolph, George Wallace, and Tim Meadows. And Sandler is playing his strangest and most self-positive character since the underrated You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. And it balanced the mean-spirited man-child stuff with a better cast of oddballs, most of whom hate Hubie and play pranks on him. So it is not a great comedy but it is a good comedy, a rarity in Sandler’s universe.


PLAY JAJA DING DONG: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Obligatory. As I said in my Letterboxd review, “If I’d have known that I’d see Rachel McAdams in various knitwear and talking about getting help from fjord elves, I’d have watched Eurovision WEEKS ago.” The movie is surprisingly enjoyable (and at times, clunky and bad). The scene where all of the performers sing “Waterloo” is great, Dan Stevens is obviously great, McAdams and Pierce Brosnan are great. I would have preferred someone other than Will Ferrell in the lead role, but he’s dialed into a more pleasant zone than he usually is.

The music (and by extension, the music contest) is the real highlight here, with ear-worm “Jaja Ding Dong” entering the pop culture canon immediately.


Ensemble: The Trial of the Chicago Seven

Mark Rylance. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. John Carroll Lynch. Frank Langella. Michael Keaton. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Eddie Redmayne. Sacha Baron Cohen. John Doman. Ben Shenkman. Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Good heavens, that is a cast list. The movie itself is a pretty enjoyable courtroom comedy-drama-thriller-whatever. I find that Sorkin’s preachiness is well balanced by the amazing ensembled (it of course helps that they are playing fictional versions of very famous activists, so they get that prestige biopic head start on likeability).





Four vietnam war veterans and one's son stand around an exhumed assault rifle

Favorite Films

Good year for one of the legends of American film, Spike Lee!


Da 5 Bloods

Within the United States, the lasting impact of the Trump presidency was a general increase in anger and tension in everyone. Spike Lee is a master at showing relatable expressions of anger within the lives of his characters. In Da 5 Bloods we see characters who shared a trauma decades back and have all taken different routes in their lives since then. But what they share is bitterness and anger, even if it has manifested in different ways.

We follow these Vietnam War veterans as they visit the country that shaped them, and we slowly realize that there is a heist movie hidden underneath the drama. Spike Lee blends the past and present masterfully, and the cast is fantastic. This is also one of those movies that keeps you guessing from one scene to the next.


A con artist scams a wealthy retiree into giving her medical power of attorney rights

I Care a Lot

(Our earlier article on I Care a Lot is here.)

I already mentioned Dinklage and Pike above. I’ll add that I think this is an underrated film that became a little lost in the streaming algorithms of Netflix despite good viewing numbers on first release. I’m hoping that it gets a critical reappraisal in a few years, because I found it fascinating even as I struggled to stay sympathetic to such a loathsome lead character. The grift done by Marla would seem farcical if one didn’t know how slowly the civil legal system is in the United States, and how a well-versed person can conduct a symphony of quasi-legal grifting within that system.


A group of barefoot musicians are all wearing grey suits and playing instruments

David Byrne’s American Utopia

Spike Lee’s other 2020 film is a recording of a Broadway performance of David Byrne’s show. I really enjoyed the staging and found the set list to be eclectic. Spike Lee works wonders with his cameras, highlighting how this is a collective performance while keeping Byrne in focus at all times.

It should go without saying that part of the charm of this concert film lies in comparing it to Stop Making Sense (1984), with which it shares four songs and the primary songwriter and singer. Stop Making Sense is the greatest concert film of all time, so American Utopia doesn’t reach those same heights, but it is beautiful and sad and uplifting in all of the right ways, and seeing how Byrne has rearranged some of Talking Heads’ classics is as great as hearing the new music written for this show.


Harley Quinn makes a pitch to Black Canary

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Being honest, I struggled to find a fourth and fifth film that I’d list as my favorites of the year, stemming from a lack of theatrical experiences, lack of weirdo prestige stuff that I enjoy (Possessor was great but unsatisfying), and mostly duds on the awards-season drama circuit.

So I took a long look at the releases of 2020 and acknowledged that I’ve watched Birds of Prey three or four times since it released: if that isn’t a sign of a favorite, what is? The movie is fun as hell. Margot Robbie is great in everything, Ewan McGregor’s villain is a messy bitch who lives for the drama, and the plot is simple enough that it doesn’t diminish from what works best: well-shot and well-choreographed fight scenes and a bunch of very angry characters who realize that they work better together.

The movie is also neon and sparkly and fun in all of the ways that Justice League or Engame isn’t. I’m an outspoken proponent of treating comic book movies as movies, not as some separate category above and away from valid film criticism. And with that said, Birds of Prey is one of my favorite movies of 2020.


Two character drive in a grey sedan while looking behind them


See the first paragraph of Birds of Prey above, but also add in that TeneT in total is not nearly as good as its individual parts. TeneT‘s legacy is a punchline about poor sound editing, which is a valid criticism. But this is also lazy. There are plenty of things that don’t work, like John David Washington being a handsome lump with no screen presence and the great Elizabeth Debicki given little to do except kvetch about her child. (Half-hearted but also half-serious solution: make Debicki and Pattinson the two protagonists and move Washington to the spouse role. —Ed.)

Here is why TeneT belongs on my list of 2020 favorites. The forward-in-time / backward-in-time stuff is the usual Christopher Nolan premise that seems smart at first and falls apart minutes after leaving the theater, but it looks amazing. It is even more amazing once we realize that things in reverse motion earlier in the film were caused by the main characters moving backward through time at a later point in the narrative. Pattinson’s reveal at the end of the film also rules (as does Pattinson in just about everything). Debicki rules even when given nothing to do other than make disgusted faces at Kenneth Branagh. The film looks sumptuous and beautiful (shout out to great cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema). And ultimately, even if this contraption isn’t quite as clever in hindsight, I wish it happened more frequently. So I’ll take what I can get.


* allegedly