Friday, January 1, 2021

10 best films of 2020 (Ann and Stan)

Publishing Ann ("2020 in films") and my cousin Stan's ("2020 in films") movie list.

Ann and Stan:  2020 was not a good year for film.  Theaters closed due to the pandemic and those that are open have trouble filling seats.  Product was in short supply.  WONDER WOMAN 1984, for example, was postponed repeatedly.  Then it came out.  And?  As Ava and C.I. noted "TV: WONDER WOMAN 1984 is an awful film."  So much was awful in 2020 films, so much that we really look forward to seeing the Academy Award nominations because they're either going to pull rabbits out of a hat or their nominees are going to be outright laughable.

We weren't sure we'd even be able to come up with ten films to recommend.  Then we got together and came up with 17 which we whittled down to 10.  Here they are . . . 


AMAZON PRIME members can stream ALEX WHEATLE for free.  It's one of five films Steve McQueen directed for AMAZON in 2020 and it's the only one of the five that we liked.  And we didn't just like it, we loved it.  We thought it was the best film of the year.


Released right at the pandemic was starting, this film managed to be a box office hit.  It was also the first film to come out for streaming while it was at the movies.  A tight script and strong direction really make the film work. Strong praise for Elisabeth Moss and Aldis Hodge, of course, but also for Oliver Jackson-Cohen who is threatening and charming.  Available to purchase for rental or to own.



Drew Barrymore plays an actress with a few problems in this comedy.  She also plays the actress' stand-in.  Normally, that just means that the stand-in stands in on the set when they're getting the lighting and the angles right.  But, as the actress' life goes off the rails, the stand-in stands in on everything.  A very funny film.  Available to purchase for rental or to own.


Another film where Armie Hammer holds your interest.  He needs better films but, at least in REBECCA, he gets a co-star who matches him in skill, Lily James, and with whom he has real chemistry.  The chemistry alone makes up for the weaker spots in the movie.  Streaming on NETFLIX.


It's not often we get a Christmas classic.  This Kurt Russell film is a classic.  The previous one was good but this one ups the wattage in every way -- including beefing up Goldie Hawn's role. Streaming on NETFLIX.

6) AVA

AVA is a thriller and it's got a strong script and some outstanding action scenes.  Mainly though, it's got one strong performance after another which starts with Jessica Chastain as the title character and includes John Malkovich as the dark heart of the film.  Colin Farrell is ferocious and Common, Joan Chen and Geena Davis really deliver. Streaming on NETFLIX.


People are saying Sophia Loren will win her second Academy Award for this film.  We can't think of any actress who gave a stronger performance in 2020.  Sophia is the film.  And she is magic.  So much so that, even if you hate reading subtitles, you'll be glad you streamed this film.  Streaming on NETFLIX.


One of the few films we paid for in 2020.  We each paid to stream it on AMAZON while it was in theaters.  The trailer made it look interesting and it was even better than the trailer with twists and turns and realizing that we thought we knew the characters but . . . Peter Facinelli is good in the film in a supporting role.  But he's even better as a director and he ensures this film has tension and is tight.  Thomas Jane, Anne Heche and Jason Patric give applause worthy performances. Available for rental or to own.


This offbeat comedy stars Sean Hayes.  It's weird and we like that.  It's not the cookie cutter screenplay that Syd Field readers would have churned out.  It's weird and it's charming and Sean's great, and Allison Janey is great and so is Margo Martindale and, in a very small role, Matthew Broderick. Streaming for free (for PRIME members) on AMAZON PRIME.


Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy teamed up again for SUPERINTELLIGENCE -- they're producing, she's starring and he's directing.  This is a film with heart and with humor and much better than a lot of people wanted to give it credit for.  Word on it was so bad, we avoided it.  Then we read Ava and C.I.'s "TV: The end of the road?" and gave it a chance.  Sometimes reviewers aren't reviewing what's onscreen and we think SUPERINTELLIGENCE is much better than it was given credit for.  It's a solid comedy and Ben and Melissa seem back on track (there were parts of LIFE OF THE PARTY that made us wonder if they should keep working together).  Streaming on HBO MAX.

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, December 31, 2020. The last snapshot for 2020.

On the last real news day in the US prior to January 3rd, the media slowly wakes up to a potential attack in Iraq.  ANI reports, "Amid concerns of possible Iranian retaliation, the U.S. on Wednesday flew a pair of B-52H over the Persian Gulf, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)."

Last news day?  Friday is the first day of 2021 and that's a 'slow' news day in the US with many people on vacation.  Saturday and Sunday are weekend days and Sunday is the 3rd.  Will there be violence?  I hope not but the US government is worried and it's a damn shame that what passes for a media in the US couldn't have spent time explaining that.

Here's the statement from CENTCOM:

Release # 20201230-02


U.S. Air Force B-52H "Stratofortress" aircrews from the Minot Air Force Base, N.D.-headquartered 5th Bomb Wing made a deliberate appearance in the Middle East today to underscore the U.S. military's commitment to regional security and demonstrate a unique ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power on short notice.

The two-ship deployment also delivers a clear deterrent message to anyone who intends to do harm to Americans or American interests.

"The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests," said Gen. Frank McKenzie, Commander, U.S. Central Command. "We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack."

The United States continues to work closely with allies and partner to advance regional security and stability.

This mission is the third bomber deployment into CENTCOM's area of operation in the last 45 days.

They also released the following video.

Robert F. Burns (AP) notes, "One senior U.S. military officer said the flight by two Air Force B-52 bombers was in response to signals that Iran may be planning attacks against U.S. allied targets in neighboring Iraq or elsewhere in the region in coming days, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office."  If you're late to the party, AFP explains, "One year after US forces assassinated Iran's most storied commander, tensions are boiling between Iraq's Washington-backed premier and pro-Tehran forces that accuse him of complicity in the Baghdad drone strike."  Dan Lamothe (WASHINGTON POST via BOSTON GLOBE) words it this way, "The US military is bracing for a possible attack on American personnel and interests in Iraq, US defense officials said, days before the first anniversary of an American drone strike that killed an Iranian general in Baghdad."

The murder of Gen Qasem Solemani revealed just how hollow the US peace movement is as various voices disappointed lamenting the death of the terrorist.  Joan Baez, when she still had ethics, upset a lot of people by defending the Boat People and calling out the Vietnamese government but that was the right thing to do.  Jane Fonda's reaction was a knee-jerk reaction -- to call them refugees names and rush to minimize the actions of the Vietnamese government and attempt to justify what took place.  There was no justification.  

At the start of the year, the reviled Donald Trump ordered the murder of terrorist Soelmani and you could have called out murder, you could have called out many things.  But the knee jerk reaction was to rush to defend the terrorist, to call him a poet, and a person of peace and a hundred other bits of garbage that only Americans who never paid attention to Iraq could have uttered.  He was a terrorist.  The Sunnis were terrorized by him, Iraq's LGBQT community was terrorized by him, his actions go back to the original targeting of Iraq's intellectual community (doctors, professors, etc) following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  Not surprising because this is the man who, in Iran, advocated for taking out (for killing) the leaders of the 1999 student uprising in Iran.  He was a man with blood on his hands.

That doesn't mean you couldn't be dismayed by his murder.  It does mean you didn't act like he farted rainbows and burped unicorns -- but that's what so many on the left in the US did.  It's because we're so damn stupid.   

Qasem Soelmani was a man of violence so it's not a surprise he met a violent end.  He was a brutal thug and there's no need to pretend otherwise -- unless your goal is to flaunt your stupidity.  

Americans then tried to portray a Baghdad funeral procession as the Iraq position.  It wasn't even the Shi'ite position, let alone the position of all of Iraq.  Again, your stupidity was showing.  Iraq and Iran are neighbors, they are also frequently at odds.  And the majority of Iraqis are very clear that they don't want to become an Iranian proxy (or a US proxy).  They weren't thrilled that an Iranian general was in the country directing militias.

This was ignored.

It was very disappointing to watch as various people -- including Margaret Kimberley -- turn this man into a noble person and realize that they could comment on events in Iraq it's just that they had chosen, for months and months, to ignore the protests that started in October of 2019 and that were continuing (and still continue).  Their Tweets and other b.s. went to everything that's wrong in the United States.

You had a mass movement of Iraqi youth taking to the streets but you couldn't tell that story.  You needed a celebrity and you needed to play with 'the rugged individual' because that's your limited mind functions.  A large group of Iraqi students taking to the streets was too much for you to cover.  But an individual killed and suddenly you were all experts and all concerned and all wanting to use your power -- such as it was.  The failures of the US media are ingrained in the failure of the US to develop beyond restrictive narratives that they trot out century after century in their attempts at conversations.  One has to believe even cave dwellers were better at communication.

MIDDLE EAST EYE notes, "The United States announced on Wednesday that it sent Iraq's army 30 armoured vehicles to secure Baghdad's Green Zone, ahead of the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis."

Again, I hope there is no attack.  But this is a news story.  CNN offers, "Yet others in the Pentagon contend that the threat is being exaggerated, with the first senior defense official -- who is directly involved in discussions -- telling CNN that there is 'not a single piece of corroborating intel' suggesting an attack by Iran may be imminent."  I hope the unnamed official is correct.  I hope s/he's not playing word games -- I don't think anyone believes Iran's going to do anything themselves.  I think the fear is they'll use Iranian linked militias in Iraq to carry out an attack.  The wording offered to CNN makes it appear someone may be playing word games.

A new development on that year ago murder, MEMO reports, "Iranian Prosecutor Ali Al-Qasi Mehr has accused the British company G4S of providing the US armed forces in Iraq with the arrival details of the aircraft in which General Qasem Soleimani was travelling prior to his assassination by an American drone. G4S is responsible for aviation security at Baghdad International Airport, where the attack which killed Soleimani took place."

On the militias, Murat Sofuoglu (TRT) offers:

With the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Washington unexpectedly helped Iran play its political game better, removing one of Tehran’s fiercest enemies, Saddam Hussein, the former Sunni leader of the Shia-majority country. 

Since that time, Iran has dominated the Iraqi political life. The recent escalations between Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani and Iran’s Shia spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, however, show that something has changed in terms of Tehran’s influence in Baghdad.

The main problem between the two leaderships is related to the composition of Iraq’s top militia group, Hashdi Shabi, which means Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). Iraqi factions loyal to either Tehran or Baghdad have grave differences over how Hashdi Shabi should be led.  

“The emergence of divisions has been long expected. As much as Iran’s influence in Iraq has increased, these divisions become more clear and visible,” Bilgay Duman, the coordinator of Iraq Studies Department at Turkey’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM).

Since last year, a protest movement with a clear anti-Iran message has also dominated the streets of Baghdad, demanding the Iraqi leadership to limit Tehran’s oversize influence in the country. 

“Iraq’s Shiites feel that they can not move independently, being under the total control of Iran. As a result, they began reacting to Iran. The emergence of Hashdi Shabi, which has long appeared to follow Iran’s lead along with other Shia militia groups, has irritated them a lot,” Duman tells TRT World. 

A few hours ago, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq Tweeted:

Happening Now: SRSG Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert delivers remarks at the "Social, Religious and National Diversity in #Iraq and its Importance in Building Citizenship and Peaceful Co-existence" workshop in #Baghdad

As we've noted before, she has a problem with 'messaging' in Iraq.  For example:

Ammar al-Hakim guards yesterday attacked the demonstrators, and today the United Nations joined with him in this meeting !!

What do Iraqis think of the protests that have been taking place in their country?  A new study sought to discover the feelings on the protests.  Here's the summary:

In a recent study initiated by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and conducted by an international research company 1,000 Iraqis aged 18 years and older were interviewed in person in September and October 2020. For the majority, the protests are an outcry against corruption in a crisis-ridden country; the desire that those responsible for the socio-economic crunch will be held accountable is overwhelming. The most recent protests were very popular among those surveyed: 60 percent support the movement, which is undoubtedly more than just a youth revolt. 
Since October last year, thousands of people have regularly taken to the streets against their government and engaged in often bloody street battles. The results so far are appalling: more than 600 people have been killed in the protests and around 7,000 injured. Nevertheless, the majority of the Iraqis are optimistic about the future - especially the younger generation between 31 and 45. It can be assumed that the demonstrators will not give up in 2021 either. 

PDF format warning, full report is here.  From the report:

In the poll 66% of Iraqis expressed optimism about the future.  The 31-45 age group are the most optimistic about the future (71%).  Contrary to the other regions, the majority of Kurds in the KRI are pessimistic about the future (37%).

In general, 60% of Iraqis support "the events", i.e. the protests, that are happening since October 1st, 2019.  More men (63%) tend to support "the events" than women (57%).  Iraqis from Central and Al-Furat Al-Awsat regions (both 67%) support "the events" more than the other regions, especially Iraqis from Kurdistan (53%) and the Northern regions (55%).

We asked the participants for the name they would ascribe to "the events": Most Iraqis call the current events a demonstration (44%) or a revolution (31%).  Fewer call it an uprising (17%) or a movement (7%).

For the Iraqis, "the events" are a clear result of the accumulated conditions it preceded.  89% strongly or somewhat agree to that (Top 2 Boxes = T2B).  For the vast majority "the events" erupted as a call against corruption (93% T2B).  While the majority thinks that it all started with clear demands and it was later exploited and modified (67% T2B).  Iraqis mostly disagree that the protests are not being manipulated by either local parties (56% L2B = Lower two Boxes) or by external parties (58% L2B).  

[. . .]

Most Iraqis agree that it is true that "the events" have some deficits, but describe them as necessary (89% T2B).  They support "the events", but do not support blocking roads.

Updating a story covered earlier this week, YOUR MIDDLE EAST reports, "Iran will resume normal gas flow to Iraq on Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the country on Tuesday over unpaid bills, Iraqi electricity ministry spokesman Ahmed Moussa told state television."  Staying with economic news, Dilan Sirwan (RUDAW) reports:

A member of Iraqi parliament’s finance committee has told state media that the country’s budget deficit for 2021 stands at 71 trillion dinars (approximately $49 billion), according to a bill set to be read by parliament next month.

Muhammad Saheb Al-Daraji told state media on Wednesday that the budget, approved by Iraq’s Council of Ministers on December 21, stands at 164 trillion dinars (approx. $113 billion), and the price of oil is set at $42 per barrel, according to the bill.

“The deficit in the budget reaches 71 trillion dinars,” Al-Daraji added, saying Iraq will also be steeped in 16 trillion dinars, or $11 billion, worth of debt from previous loans.

Deputy parliament speaker Basheer Haddad said that the parliament will conduct their first reading of the bill at the “beginning of January,” state media reported on Tuesday.

Iraq has plunged deeper into an economic crisis amid low oil prices, the main source of revenue for Baghdad. Economic woes were a key factor pushing people to the streets in widespread protests that began in October 2019, with youth calling for better services and an end to mass unemployment, but the economy has continued to weaken amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, the World Food Programme warned that 10 percent of Iraqis are going hungry. 

The Iraqi government has devalued the dinar.  Hatem Hussein (ALMADA) reports that economist state this move will increase the percent of Iraqis living in poverty to 60% of the population.  

The following sites updated:

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