The Year in Movies – 2020

Yes, 2020 was a weak slate of movies compared to prior years. For obvious reasons.  We didn’t get to see the new James Bond.  We didn’t get to see the new Top Gun.  And we didn’t get to see Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas sleep with each other (Deep Water pushed to 2021).  But you know what, I’m actually thankful for the set of movies we did get.  Can you imagine if we were confined to our homes for this long 20 years ago?  Without a thousand movies and tv shows on demand at our fingertips?  All things considered we were pretty lucky to be able to seemingly hang out with Andy Samberg in the summer (Palm Springs), Bill Murray in the fall (On The Rocks), and Taylor Swift twice (Miss Americana & Folklore).   

Before I get to the annual awards and report card, here are a couple quick hitters since I really slacked off on writing this year. 

Sound of Metal: Sound of Metal is jarring in the most wonderful way.  The aura of this drama about a heavy metal drummer who starts to go deaf reminded me of the Gosling Act of The Place Beyond The Pines.  Only after did I realize the two films share a writer, Derek Cianfrance.   It’s my second favorite movie of the year with an ending that is the perfect ying to Portrait of a Lady on Fire ending’s yang.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow:  Few movies have mixed action, comedy, and drama better than this film about a small town cop with a killer on the loose.  Achieving two of those characteristics to the extent that Snow Hollow does is impressive but pulling off all three is truly special. 

Folklore: The Long Pod Studio Sessions:  Secluded in a cabin in the woods with two collaborators (and no audience), Taylor Swift plays the folklore album front to back on Disney Plus.  I’m typically not one for “concert movies” but this brought me back to the Nirvana Unplugged special on MTV.  Just a soothing experience.  Throw this on while you’re making dinner or playing a board game. 

The Nest:  Jude Law and Carrie Coon are interlocked in a cold war of a marriage. Partially set in a big spooky house outside of London in the 80’s, it’s interesting that this relationship drama/thriller teases certain horror tropes even though it’s not a horror movie.  Unless you think marriage is scary, then it is a horror movie. 

Tenet:  Bottom tier Christopher Nolan.  I put my phone away to have a distraction free viewing of Tenet and still have NO IDEA what happens in this movie.  Like, there’s a big battle going on near the end and I couldn’t tell you what the good guys and bad guys are actually fighting over.  Hey Chris Nolan, dial it back there a bit buddy.     

The Hater: A Netflix thriller from Poland that chronicles a law school dropout who gets a job spreading disinformation on social media for morally bankrupt companies. I’m not sure why this didn’t have more of a moment in the zeitgeist, perhaps because it’s foreign language, but regardless it’s one of the most darkly relevant films to our news-skeptic brains of today.

The Trial of the Chicago 7: the most meh movie since argo.  doesn’t deserve any capital letters.

Extraction:  Fuck Yes

The Outpost: FUCK YESSSS

Mank: Fuck No

Kajillionaire: Fuck Off

That’s Year Five of Rated Greg in the books.  I posted far less in 2020 than in year’s past, not because my obsession with movies has waned, but quite the opposite. A newfound appreciation for “older” movies exponentially added to my watchlist, so much so that I would simply rather check out an older Bond, check out a Hitchcock classic, or check out one of the 63 best erotic thrillers from 1980-2005 than use that time to write about a rock solid movie like The Devil All The Time. Nonetheless, I still kept a copious amount of notes. Here are the Rated Greg superlatives on the year, along with a 2020 report card at the bottom.  

Best Lead Actor

  1. Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
  2. Jim Cummings – The Wolf of Snow Hollow
  3. Ben Affleck – The Way Back
  4. Tom Holland – The Devil All The Time
  5. Tzi Ma – Tigertail

Best Lead Actress

  1. Carrie Coon – The Nest
  2. Julia Garner – The Assistant
  3. Noemie Merlant– Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  5. Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Jude Law – The Nest
  2. Bill Murray – On The Rocks
  3. Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island
  4. Yahya Abdul-Mateen – The Trial of the Chicago 7*
  5. Ben Mendelsohn – Babyteeth

*By far the best/only good part about Aaron Sorkin’s Chicago 7 is Yahya Abdul-Mateen as Bobby Seale, but unfortunately it’s less of a story about his character than the others.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Adele Haenel – Portrait of a Lady on Fire*
  2. Talia Ryder – Never Rarely Sometimes Always*
  3. Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm*
  4. Marisa Tomei – The King of Staten Island
  5. Sierra McCormick – The Vast of Night*

*If your reaction to this category is “….Who?” I don’t blame you. Besides our patron saint Marisa Tomei, I had never seen any of these people on a screen before, big or small, before these films. I think Adele Haenel is fairly famous in France, but for the remaining three actresses 2020 was their big break. Their recognition appears to be one of the ripple effects of minimal big studio movies coming out this year. Smaller movies with hungry, up and coming actors get more of a spotlight than they typically would. Nevertheless that shouldn’t diminish the view of these performances, all of which are AWESOME on their own. Also, let me be the first to tell you that Maria Bakalova will get an Oscar nomination for Borat 2. I’m serious.

Best Villain

  1. Rev. Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) – The Devil All The Time
  2. Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) – Birds of Prey
  3. Sloane (Alison Brie) – Happiest Season
  4. Athena (Hilary Swank) – The Hunt
  5. J.K. Simmons (Palm Springs)

Best Physical Performance

  1. Betty Gilpin – The Hunt
  2. John David Washington – Tenet*
  3. Chris Hemsworth – Extraction
  4. Jacob Scipio – Bad Boys for Life
  5. Jurnee Smollett – Birds of Prey

*While Tenet is a pretty head scratching movie, one thing that is unquestionable is John David Washington (Denzel’s son) as an action star. If he wants it, the former college football player has the chops to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world in the vein of Wesley Snipes or Keanu Reeves.

Best Dickhead

  1. Jane (Mary Holland) – Happiest Season
  2. Robert Macdougall (as himself) – Boys State
  3. Coach (Colin Farrell) – The Gentlemen
  4. Sam (Logan Miller) – Shithouse
  5. Terry (Rachel House) – Soul

Best First Impression (award winners above ineligible)

  1. Cooper Raif (as director) – Shithouse*
  2. Vanessa Aleksander – The Hater
  3. Chino Braxton – Charm City Kings
  4. Iliza Shlesinger – Spenser Confidential
  5. Toby Wallace – Babyteeth

*Cooper Raif as an actor in his directorial debut Shithouse is …just fine. It’s kind of obvious that he’s not an actor by trade. But that’s ok, because what this TWENTY-TWO year old kid is is a fucking filmmaker! I wouldn’t be shocked if a major streaming service gives him a Lena Dunham type deal to create his own show.

Best Non-Human

  1. Olivia the cat – Miss Americana
  2. The stuffed animal – Shithouse
  3. Orwell the pig – The Hunt
  4. Richmond the horse – The Nest
  5. Jack the dog – The Devil All The Time

Worst Performance

  1. Evan Rachel Wood – Kajillionaire
  2. Pedro Pascal – Wonder Woman 1984
  3. The person in charge of the wigs – The Trial of the Chicago 7
  4. Kiki Layne – The Old Guard
  5. Every actor in the reenactments – The Social Dilemma

Most LOL’s

  1. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  2. Happiest Season
  3. The Wolf of Snow Hollow
  4. The Gentlemen
  5. The Hunt

Most Feelings

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  2. Sound of Metal
  3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  4. Miss Americana
  5. Shithouse

Most Unsettling

Typically here I would rank the best horror movies of 2020, however there’s a quartet of films this year exposing the mistreatment of women that are far more unsettling than any horror movie. Athlete A is a Netflix doc about the sexual abuse that is rampant within USA olympic gymnastics. On The Record is an HBO Max doc about commonplace sexual assault behind the scenes at Def Jam records. The Assistant is a film about a day in the life of the personal assistant for a Harvey Weinstein type (Amazon Prime). Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a film about two small town teenagers escaping to New York City so one can get an abortion (HBO). These are all incredibly well made and must watches.

Best Looking/Cinemetography

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  2. The Outpost
  3. Tenet
  4. The Vast of Night
  5. On The Rocks

Best Stunt/Action Sequence*

  1. The entire last hour – The Outpost
  2. The car chase – Extraction
  3. The firetruck heist – Tenet
  4. The cop car chase – Charm City Kings
  5. The motorbike chase – Bad Boys for Life

*Here’s your annual reminder that the there should be a Best Stunt category at The Oscars.

Best Fight

  1. The apartment henchmen – Extraction
  2. The kitchen – Tenet
  3. The jail warehouse – Birds of Prey
  4. Snowball vs Athena – The Hunt
  5. The hospital – The Invisible Man

Best Non-Action Scene

  1. The ending – Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  2. The questionnaire – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  3. Activation – Sound of Metal
  4. The restaurant – The Nest
  5. The chicken liver – The Devil All The Time

Best Use of a Song

  1. One Headlight (The Wallflowers) – The King of Staten Island
  2. Bizarre Love Triangle (New Order) – The Nest
  3. You’re All I Need (Mary J. Blige & Method Mad) – On The Record
  4. Just Breathe (Pearl Jam) – The Way I See It
  5. Baby (Donnie & Joe Emerson) – Babyteeth

Five Random Quotes

  1. “I think he’s a fantastic politician. But I don’t think being a fantastic politician is a compliment either” – Boys State
  2. “Santa promised them the complete works of Sylvia Plath” – Happiest Season
  3. “I’d ask you to say a prayer with me… but I can’t because of the goddamn lawyers” – The Wolf of Snow Hollow
  4. “Lying is standard operating procedure” – Tenet
  5. “Little Joey is watering dogshit again” – Palm Springs

Fifteen Other Things That Made Me Feel Some Type of Way (in no particular order)

  1. The Grammy’s phone call in Miss Americana
  2. Everything Bel Powley is doing in The King of Staten Island
  3. Vince Vaughn playing a teenage girl in Vince Vaughn’s body in Freaky
  4. The restaurant scene in Invisible Man
  5. The River Phoenix excerpt in Showbiz Kids
  6. The part with the snake in Black is King
  7. Stephen’s first speech in Boys State
  8. The girl back home convo in The Outpost
  9. The funeral in Dick Johnson is Dead
  10. Every swallow in Swallow
  11. Russell Crowe explaining what a courtesy tap is in Unhinged
  12. The Dematha sequence in Basketball County
  13. The landmines in Da 5 Bloods
  14. The Robert Wagner interview in Natalie Wood
  15. The next door neighbor in American Murder

The Year in TV – 2020

Ah 2020. The year staying home on the couch and watching TV became a virtuous way to spend your time. Not all heroes wear capes, many wear sweatpants.

Rated Greg’s Top 12 Shows Of The Year

  1. The Last Dance (ESPN & Netflix)
  2. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
  3. The Crown (Netflix)
  4. ZeroZeroZero (Amazon Prime)
  5. The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
  6. High Fidelity (Hulu)
  7. Cheer (Netflix)
  8. Normal People (Hulu)
  9. Ozark (Netflix)
  10. Yellowstone (Paramount)
  11. How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  12. Betty (HBO)

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): The Mandalorian (Disney+), The Comey Rule (Showtime), Better Call Saul (AMC), What We Do In the Shadows (FX & Hulu), Dave (FX & Hulu), Love Life (HBO Max), The Outsider (HBO), I May Destroy You (HBO), The Reagans (Showtime)

Despite a prolonged quarantine I actually watched less TV shows in 2020 than I have in years past.  Part of this is due to a newfound obsession with watching older movies that I missed (yo, have you heard about this guy named Alfred Hitchcock?).  But it’s also because I no longer feel compelled to watch EVERYTHING in the zeitgeist.  It’s just not possible.  In 2019 I finished at least a dozen shows that I honestly didn’t even like.  True Detective, The Boys, Too Old to Die Young, Living with Yourself, The Politician to name a few.  In each of those cases I enjoyed the first episode but grew to resent them upon each remaining chapter. It was like staying in a relationship that you knew was going nowhere.  In 2020 something clicked and I now have no problem breaking up with a show if I notice myself constantly reaching for my phone while watching.  Recent examples include Fargo Season 4, The Good Lord Bird, and Lovecraft Country.  All of those shows are significantly better than the 2019 shows I mentioned, but do I NEED to finish them?  No, of course not. 

Nonetheless, there were plenty of shows this year that were thoroughly entertaining all the way through.  Here are my favorites of 2020. 

The Last Dance (ESPN & Netflix):  Reasons why I’m worried about younger millenials and Gen Z. They think The Office is better than Seinfeld.  And they think LeBron James is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.  My hope is that this exceptional peak inside the lives of MJ and the 96 Bulls helps reverse the troublesome course our country is steering towards, but regardless one thing I think we can all agree on is that Michael Jordan is a hell of a lot cooler that LeBron.  If you somehow haven’t seen this yet, it’s the one must see show of the year, sports fan or not.  A candid, uncompromising examination of celebrity in the United States. 

Best episode: The one where MJ bullies Scott Burrell

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) – Season 10: If someone were to ask me what the five funniest shows of all time are I’d probably say Seinfeld, South Park, Fresh Prince, Veep, and Sopranos in some order.  Friends maybe.  The Office maybe.  But Curb wouldn’t have come to mind.  At least for top 5.  However Season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, centered around a spite store and Larry’s rivalry with Mocha Joe, is perhaps the funniest season of television I’ve ever seen! 

Best episode: The one with Jon Hamm

The Crown (Netflix) – Season 4: The rare show that gets better after each season.  It’s never been more apparent that the creators of The Crown just know what the fuck they are doing.  The evolution from Season 1 to 4 is a real time experience of watching a show runner master their craft. 

Best episode:  The one with the Australian tour 

ZeroZeroZero (Amazon Prime): There are three factions of the international drug trade.  The producers, the shippers, and the distributors.  A miniseries that’s spoken in a quarter English, a quarter Spanish, a quarter Italian, and a quarter gunfire, ZeroZeroZero tells the story of three families at the center of each of those factions regarding a mammoth cocaine deal.  It sorta reminded me of the movie Traffic, only with more action.  I’m telling you, the shootouts inherent in this show are unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV. 

Best episode: The one with the birthday party

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix): The word of mouth show of the year.  No one voluntarily starts a show about a chess phenom without someone telling them to watch it first.  But once you see it it’s impossible not to send a raving text back to the person who recommended it to you.  The most impressive thing about it is how EXCITING they make chess tournaments.  I kept expecting “You’re the best, AAAAROUND!” to play during one of the montages.  A show with a 100% approval rating if there ever was one. 

Best episode: The one in Mexico City

High Fidelity (Hulu): When someone asks me why I’m still single I like to quote bank robber Robert De Niro in the 1995 movie Heat.  “I’m alone.  I am not lonely.” Here’s another good one. “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” 

In High Fidelity, Hulu’s gender switched take on the John Cusack rom-com of the same name, a Brooklyn record store owner played by Zoe Kravitz asks herself why she’s still single.  Each episode reflects on a different ex lover and what went wrong.  While I’m not even a fan of the original movie, this one and done season was an undeniably pleasant experience.  Up until now she’s mostly just been a pretty face in the background as an actress, but High Fidelity really lets Kravitz cook. 

Best episode: The one with Parker Posey

Cheer (Netflix): The runner up word of mouth show of the year.  Just like chess, most also wouldn’t voluntarily watch a docuseries about competitive cheerleading at a junior college.  If you liked Friday Night Lights, you should absolutely watch this show.  Coached by a real life Tami Taylor in Corsicana, Texas, it’s equally exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch these young athletes train, sacrifice, and obsess over the singular passion in their lives. 

Best episode: The one where they go to Daytona

Normal People (Hulu): No com, all rom.  Two incredibly good looking young adults in Ireland get together, split a part, get together, split a part on repeat over the course of the end of high school through college.  This probably would have been better served as a movie.  Twelve episodes of a will they or won’t they arc was a little much, even if they’re only 30 minutes, but the highs of Normal People justify it as one of the more touching modern day, young love romances you’ll see.  Don’t watch this on a plane. The NSFW show of the year (insert eyes emoji).

Best episode: The one during Christmas

Ozark (Netflix) – Season 3 & Yellowstone (Paramount & Peacock) – Season 3:

The key to enjoying both of these shows is to understand that they are soap operas in prestige TV clothing. The directing and acting is impeccable despite most of the storylines being predictably dumb. I don’t watch these shows to find out what happens. I watch because the environments are just a good time. Yellowstone in particular, filmed in Montana and Utah, I mean….who wouldn’t want to watch Kevin Costner and his pals riding around on horses cursing at each other?

How To with John Wilson (HBO) & Betty (HBO):

In the very beginning of quarantine, you might have immersed yourself in content related to pandemics/isolation.  Cast Away, Outbreak, Room, Children of Men, Unfriended, Contagion, etc.  But that got old quick, didn’t it?  I think it’s safe to say we do not need to be reminded of our dire, day to day circumstances during our leisure time TV.  Rather, we yearn for the times of just a year ago when you could walk down a crowded street and saunter into a more crowded bar to meet friends, exchanging air droplets with a plethora of strangers all along the way. 

From that standpoint, the two “anti-quarantine” shows I’d recommend the most is How To with John Wilson and Betty.  While I stand by the entertainment value of all of the shows mentioned above, nothing will remind you of the pre covid reality you actually remember experiencing with your own eyes like these two New York City based shows.  After all, what place makes you feel more ALIVE than a bustling, pandemic-free New York City. 

How To with John Wilson is a comedy docuseries about an anxious, socially awkward New Yorker who attempts to provide viewers with “advice” on how to carry out various tasks.  Some are routine to the vast majority of us, like “how to make small talk” or “how to split the check.”  Other tasks are things you might have never thought about, like “how to cover your furniture” or “how to put up scaffolding.”  This isn’t one of those Marie Kondo advice shows.  John isn’t good at any of these things, and that’s what makes it funny.  It’s hard to tell if John is actually this awkward in real life or if he is a brilliant actor in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen, but either way How To is quite charming.

Best episode: The one where John makes risotto

Speaking of charming.  Betty is a dramedy that follows a group of New York girls who only care about skateboarding, friendships, and getting fucked up.  What makes this so authentic is that the main cast of characters aren’t even actors by trade.  These are actual city skateboard friends that were recruited to make a show.  You don’t notice any questionable acting because they are basically playing themselves. 

Best episode: The one with the worst birthday ever

A Few Rated Greg Superlatives

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Lead Performances

  1. Josh O’Connor (The Crown)*
  2. Julia Garner (Ozark)
  3. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit)
  4. Zoe Kravitz (High Fidelity)
  5. Lil’ Dicky (Dave)

*I’ll be interested to see if his role as Prince Charles will pigeonhole O’Connor into playing truly despicable characters for the rest of his career. I just can’t imagine him doing anything else because he’s so good at it!

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Supporting Performances

  1. Brendan Gleeson (The Comey Rule)
  2. Rhea Seahorn (Better Call Saul)
  3. Cole Hauser (Yellowstone)
  4. Tom Pelphrey (Ozark)
  5. Nina Moran (Betty)

Rated Greg’s Top 5 TRASH TV

  1. The Challenge: Total Madness (MTV)*
  2. Summer House (Bravo)**
  3. Southern Charm (Bravo)
  4. Vanderpump Rules (Bravo)
  5. Below Deck: Sailing Yacht (Bravo)

*The most excited I was for a sporting event in 2020 was the elimination between Johnny Bananas and Wes

**I think my favorite annual episode of TV is Kyle’s birthday party on each season of Summer House

Rated Greg Goes Back In Time

Time and time again during movie discussions with friends, I would have to disclose that I never saw certain films if the topic of conversation moved to older movies.  “Wait.  How can you RUN A MOVIE BLOG if you’ve never seen X?!” they would say before throwing a drink in my face.  The classics.  You know, like Casablanca, like North by Northwest, like Weird Science. 

My response, ignorant as it may be, was always the same.  If I’ve made it this long without seeing an older movie then there must be a reason for that.  Older movies are laced with nostalgia. Appreciation of them is often linked to adolescence and honestly if it wasn’t included in my Dad’s VHS collection while growing up then it probably wasn’t very good. 1984’s Karate Kid is one of my favorite ten movies of all time, but even I know that someone seeing it for the first time as an adult will probably enjoy it a lot less than those who grew up on it.  So that was basically my thinking whenever a friend would demand I watch any movie over 20 years old.  I assumed the dated pacing of an older movie just wouldn’t translate to my John Wick brain and I’d rather spend two hours assessing a new release.  Boy was I wrong.

The combination of no NBA playoffs, the cancellation of summer blockbuster season, and a quarantine finally opened up my bandwidth to go back in time.  Once I started with 1991’s Cape Fear I couldn’t stop.  I’ve watched more movies 6 months into 2020 than I have in any full year, and while many of them were expectedly too slow for my liking, there was something so thrilling about discovering an old movie that blows you away.  And sure Casablanca is as overrated as I’d assumed, but it’s still rewarding to go back and experience what older generations believed was perfection. 

Here’s a list of my favorite “old” movies I saw for the first time, favorite “old-ish” movies I saw for the first time, and my favorite rewatch experiences this year.  At the bottom you’ll also find the mid year Rated Greg Report Card for the condensed 2020 slate.

Rated Greg’s Top 12 “Old” Movies He Saw For First Time In 2020

  1. Clue (1985)*
  2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  3. No Way Out (1987)**
  4. Body Heat (1981)**
  5. Terms of Endearment (1983)***
  6. The Vanishing (1988)****
  7. North by Northwest (1959)
  8. The Thing (1982)
  9. The French Connection (1971)
  10. From Russia With Love (1963)
  11. Chinatown (1974)
  12. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

*Comedies date themselves far faster than any other genre, so it’s incredibly impressive how fucking funny Clue is in 2020.

**Shoutout to the erotic thriller boom of the 80’s/early 90’s

***Move over Joker, this is my new favorite Jack Nicholson performance

****Not to be confused with the American remake from 1993. This Dutch original is far more chilling than the Kiefer Sutherland version.

Rated Greg’s Top 12 “Old-ish” Movies He Saw For First Time in 2020

  1. Malcolm X (1992)
  2. Hoop Dreams (1994)
  3. Wild Things (1998)*
  4. Cape Fear (1991)
  5. Lost In Translation (1999)
  6. Magnolia (1999)
  7. Mulholland Drive (2001)
  8. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
  9. The Descent (2005)
  10. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  11. Election (1999)
  12. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

*I remember seeing the infamous scene multiple times as a kid, but I never actually sat down and watched this front to back. Wild Things is stupid entertaining.

Rated Greg’s Top 12 Rewatches in 2020

  1. Blue Valentine (2010)
  2. Prisoners (2013)
  3. Warrior (2011)
  4. Contagion (2011)*
  5. Killing Them Softly (2012)
  6. Casino Royale (2006)
  7. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)*
  8. Midsommar (2019)
  9. Enemy (2013)**
  10. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
  11. Enemy of the State (1998)***
  12. Basic Instinct (1992)

*A must watch double feature in 2020

**No movie on this list has climbed the charts between viewings more than Denis Villanueve’s Enemy. It was either too weird or too smart for me to fully grasp when I first saw it years ago. But since revisiting I’ve developed an increased obsession with this Hitchcockian doppelgänger thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

***One of the more fascinating pre 9/11 movies you can see in that context.

Basketball County: In The Water

Rated Greg’s Top 5 All-Time P.G. Basketball Players

  1. Kevin Durant (#2 Overall 2007 NBA Draft Pick)
  2. Len Bias (#2 Overall 1986 NBA Draft Pick)
  3. Steve Francis (#2 Overall 1999 NBA Draft Pick)
  4. Victor Oladipo (#2 Overall 2013 NBA Draft Pick)
  5. Willie Hopkins (#488 Ranked High School Freshman In The Nation – 1999)

In the front lawn of an Annapolis mansion in 2005, Bradley Cooper goes deep for a touchdown.  “Crab cakes and football!  That’s what Maryland does!”  It’s a hilarious sequence capped by one of the most quotable lines from perhaps the most quotable comedy this century.  “That’s what Maryland does!”  What a strange and over the top proclamation. 

At first glance any Marylander would assume the writers of Wedding Crashers don’t know shit about Maryland, otherwise the script would have read “crab cakes and lacrosse” when referencing the state’s stereotypes of a certain type of family.  Putting aside the fact that it’s just easier to have Bradley Cooper catch a football than teach Christopher Walken how to wield a lacrosse stick, I’m starting to think the writers actually had a point about us Marylanders by including that specific line in the final cut.  Not because the state is known for tossing pigskin, but rather because we LOVE to take pride in pretty much anything involving our state.  We won’t shut up about Maryland.  Just ask my roommates when I attended Boston College.  Or my coworkers when I lived in Los Angeles.  We think it’s the best state in the country and want everyone to know it.  It’s a level of enthusiasm that caused us to lead the nation in articles of clothing with a state flag on it.*

*A completely made up stat that I am 100% certain is true

This level of pride doubles down if you’re from Prince George’s County, MD, the spotlight of Showtime’s latest sports documentary, Basketball County: In The Water.  To its residents they’re not just “from Maryland” or “from the DC area.”  They’re “from P.G.,” a common clarification that was even joked about in last Sunday’s episode of  HBO’s Insecure.  While the P.G. Hall of Fame includes footprints from the likes of Jim Henson to Ginuwine, Kathy Lee Gifford to Sugar Ray Leonard, Martin Lawrence to Goldie Hawn, Taraji P. Henson to Sergey Brin, it’s actually the county’s basketball pedigree that separates the area from the rest of the country.

Co-directed by John Beckham and Jimmy Jenkins, Basketball County is a personal, yet methodical love letter to the community they grew up in and the sport that envelops it.  Among NBA circles and Division-1 recruiters, it’s no secret that the most hoops talent in the country comes from just outside DC.  Nor is it a coincidence.  In this film Beckham and Jenkins explore why exactly that is, passing the rock from the geopolitical history of the county, to the leaders that spearheaded a one of a kind development environment, to even Go-Go’s influence on P.G.’s style of play, while celebrating all of the larger than life players that got their first bucket there (most notably Kevin Durant who’s an executive producer on the project and the gone too soon Len Bias).  True to form, Beckham and Jenkins put on for their city and Basketball County is a delightful expose’ not just for fans of the sport but for all interested in the different slices of life that make up America. Grade: A+       

An Ode to Blue Valentine

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Breakup Movies

  1. Blue Valentine
  2. Celeste and Jessie Forever
  3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  5. Like Crazy

What’s it like to watch a breakup movie with your significant other?  Can someone let me know?  Maybe an anonymous guest post?  How uncomfortable is it?  I’ve never been in that situation before but one time many years ago I made the mistake of eating a steak dinner while watching The Walking Dead, and I’m wondering if it’s a similar experience.  Obviously it depends on how solid a couple is at the time, but talk about playing relationship Russian roulette.

The first time I saw Blue Valentine was in 2011 or 2012.  I remember I got the Netflix DVD package in the mail and secretly watched it in the Columbia Heights house I shared with four roommates/best friends. Didn’t tell anyone what I was up to.  Nosy-ass Justin might have even asked me what came in the mail and I probably lied, being too insecure to suggest a bro-sesh house viewing of a Gosling/Michelle Williams romance.  Tucked away in my bedroom, my first impression was that it was pretty good and could understand why it was critically acclaimed, but I never felt any desire to revisit the film until recently.   Director Derek Cianfrance, who also made the Gosling bank robbing epic Place Beyond The Pines, has an HBO mini series coming out next month that looks excellent.  What better time to circle back to his feature debut. 

Upon a quarantine Friday night rewatch, I’m not really sure why Blue Valentine struck such a bigger chord this go round.  It’s not like the trauma portrayed is more personally relatable to me in 2020 than it was eight years ago, except for maybe Gosling’s character’s quite jarring hairline.  Perhaps going a month without being within 6 feet another human being makes you more sensitive to witnessing the highs and lows of an up close love story.  Or perhaps I just wasn’t mature enough back then to fully grasp how fucking incredible this movie is.  It honestly WRECKED me. 

Marriage Story got a lot of buzz for how raw and candid it portrayed the disintegration of a marriage, but Blue Valentine makes last year’s Netflix darling look like Moonlighting*.  It’s far and away the superior film in terms of gut punching heartaches and realism, achieved in a heavily improvised fashion that you can’t look away from.  While watching I was truly staggered as to why this seemed so different than other breakup counterparts, and learned after the fact that they were able to achieve this dynamic because Cianfrance ordered Gosling and Williams to live alone in a house together for a month prior to filming, even making them go grocery shopping together.  I wonder if they got into any fights regarding dishwasher-loading protocol (this is a hot topic among couples quarantining together according to a certain guys only text chain I’m on).  

*Full disclosure: I’ve never actually seen Moonlighting, so apologies if this analogy makes no damn sense.

I fully realize this description of Blue Valentine doesn’t make you want to run over to your TV, open up Netflix, and start it immediately.  Especially in a pandemic.  People are looking for feel-good stuff these days, not the opposite.  The thing is though at least a third of this movie does pull at your heartstrings, the good heart strings. Unlike Marriage Story you do get to see the beginning of love at first sight and a quite lovely courtship between the two stars.  It’s what makes the downfall of the relationship hit that much harder.  So lets steer into the skid.  Streaming on Netflix. Grade: A+

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Love Stories

  1. Clarence and Alabama – True Romance
  2. Marianne and Heloise – Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  3. Jerry and Dorothy – Jerry Maguire
  4. Romeo and Juliet – Romeo and Juliet (1996)
  5. Sebastian and Annette – Cruel Intentions

Last month at various get-togethers (which seems like over a year ago now), friends would ask me what I thought of Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars.  I responded with mixed feelings.  On one hand I was admittedly rooting for 1917 during the telecast, not because I thought 1917 was the better movie but because I had a small wager on it.  There was no way the Academy voters would pick a foreign language class thriller over an immaculately choreographed war epic, right? Or so I thought.  On the other hand when Parasite pulled off the upset, part of me was glad despite the result reducing my net worth by a whole $20 bill.  This was a deserving, exciting, and quite simply an interesting choice compared to the rather blandness of most of the winners this century (looking at you Argo, looking at you Green Book, don’t even get me started King’s Speech). 

Perhaps Parasite’s win signals a shift in the taste of the Academy.  Or perhaps it’ll turn out to be just an anomaly.  Let’s not forget that after Moonlight won Best Picture in 2016, the Academy gave 2017’s top award to The Shape of Water, which is….oh I don’t know….JUST ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES OF ALL TIME.  I’m guessing Parasite will leave a larger footprint on the culture than other recent winners, but only time will tell if the future Best Pictures of the 2020’s will be as widely regarded across all fans of cinema as the South Korean powerhouse.

But here’s the thing about Parasite.  While it’s a really good movie, and again a more than fine choice out of the nominated pool, it actually wasn’t even the best foreign language film released last year, let alone best film.  No, that distinction goes to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  HOLY SHIT.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire.  ONE MORE TIME.  Portrait of a Lady on Fire!  Rarely would I ever proclaim a movie as perfect, but fuck it, life’s short and this French masterpiece is downright flawless. 

Is it possible for someone who’s favorite movie is Bad Boys to also worship a quiet film about two 18th century women who fall in love?   A film with no guns?  No mystery to be solved? Less than five lines of dialogue even spoken by a male character in the entire 120 minutes?   And it’s FRENCH, no less?  Prior to Sunday night I might have said no, but that was a lifetime ago. 

Before I continue, let’s take a moment to look back on other famous movie paintings…

Ok back to our regularly scheduled program

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is unlike any of the romances you’ve grown accustomed to.  Typical love story beats like meet-cute’s and grand gestures are thrown to the wayside and what’s left is an extremely real experience.  There’s purposely not even any music in the film until just before the credits.  According to director Celine Sciamma, any semblance of a score was absent because she wanted the audience to be solely focused on the rhythm and movements of the movie, a relationship between bodies and camera that can be interpreted as it’s own form of music.  It was an excellent choice to make it this way, for the chemistry between the two leads is undeniably captivating and you don’t need strings in the background to tell you so.  

Now, you might be wondering, if Portrait of a Lady on Fire is SOOOO great (insert eye roll emoji), then why wasn’t it recognized at the Oscars alongside the likes of Parasite if it technically came out last year?  Well, the answer is simple.  The Academy only allows non-English speaking countries to submit ONE feature film per year for awards consideration (dumb rule, I know).  And the French, inexplicably, decided to submit yet another iteration of Les Miserables, thinking that it was more likely to appeal to Academy voters than the queer, quiet Portrait.  They made this decision despite Portrait’s reportedly raucous reception at the Cannes Festival premiere and will have to live with it for the rest of their lives.

I could go on and on about the merits of Portrait of a Lady on Fire but you’re better off just checking it out for yourself. Don’t read anything else, don’t listen to anything else, and most importantly don’t be like France.  Reward and appreciate one of the best love stories of all time.  It’s now streaming for free on Hulu* and something tells me you have a lot of free time on your hands.  Grade: A+**

*Shoutout to Neon, who acquired the theatrical rights to Portrait and allowed Hulu to push up the release on its service several weeks in the wake of the pandemic.  This is before Neon is even able to make the film available on demand.

**For the purposes of Rated Greg’s annual rankings, Portrait of a Lady on Fire will be considered a 2020 film given that it was not released wide to American theaters until Valentines Day 2020, having been in only two theaters across the country before then. 

A Special Quarantine Edition of Rated Greg

A few of you have hit me up asking for streaming recommendations during these trying times.  First off, thank you. That is always, without a doubt, my FAVORITE text to get.  I could be having the busiest, shittiest day, but if you think of me when trying to find something to watch I can’t help but take that consideration extremely seriously and try to find the perfect movie for you.  It honestly cheers me up.  With that in mind, here’s twenty movies I feel have been overlooked over the years that you might have missed, all currently on streaming services.  I know my usual rankings tend to skew towards the dudes, but I made sure to put something for everyone here. This list is in no particular order.

The Biggest Little Farm (Hulu) – Turn off the news.  Put your phone away.  And watch the most heart warming movie of 2019.  This 2019 documentary follows a young married couple determined to start a farm from scratch in a forgotten section of terrain in Southern California as they learn to co exist with the various creatures that flock their property. Grade: A-

Prisoners (HBO) – Mystic River meets True Detective.  If you enjoy the ambiance of shows like Ozark, The Outsider and True Detective, than you’ll love this 2013 crime mystery from Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) about two girls gone missing in a Pennsylvania suburb.  Hugh Jackman, in between Wolverine movies, as the angry Dad.  Jake Gyllenhaal, the best actor alive, as a neck tattoo’d detective with a cool haircut hot on the case.  This would have been an entire TV series had it come out in 2020. Please pay attention to the facial ticks that Gyllenhaal does throughout this film, which apparently weren’t in the script.  Such a fucking weirdo.  I love it.  Grade: A+

Warrior (Amazon Prime) – If you need a sports fix in your life check out 2011’s Warrior, which upon rewatch I think is the best fight movie of all time (sorry Creed).  Joel Edgerton (Australian) and Tom Hardy (British) play estranged brothers with curious Philly accents who both enter an MMA tournament in Atlantic City.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who will face off in the tournament final.   Not only is this the best fight movie OF ALL TIME, but it’s also the man-cry movie of the decade. Grade: A+

Honey Boy (Amazon Prime) – Shia Labeouf wrote and stars in this autobiographical drama about what it was like to be a working actor as a child.  His performance as his abusive father was the most overlooked acting performance of 2019. Grade: B+

Long Shot (HBO) – Save this for date night.  Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s Long Shot was the best rom-com of 2019. Grade: B+

The Handmaiden (Amazon Prime) – The Handmaiden walked so Parasite could run.  This is another class thriller from South Korea about a lower class protagonist infiltrating a wealthy family.  While it lacks Parasite’s humor it makes up for in some truly batshit crazy sex scenes.  Here’s what I wrote about it in 2017. Grade: B+

Cold Pursuit (HBO) – Sometimes you just wanted to turn your brain off and watch a stupid action movie. Here’s what I wrote about it last Spring. Grade: B+

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Netflix) – I know we say all the time that they don’t make them like they used to, which is never really true, however they REALLY don’t make movies like The Talented Mr Ripley anymore. This is a fantastic rewatch if you haven’t seen it since it’s 1999 release. Grade: A-

The Descent (Hulu) – Last November I had the opportunity to explore the ancient cenotes of Tulum, Mexico during a trip with friends (shoutout Rash). It was a super cool experience and at the time seemed like a no brainer to partake, however had I seen 2005’s The Descent beforehand, a movie about a group of adrenaline junkie women exploring an Appalachian cave, I definitely would have declined the cenote experience and stayed at the pool.  For real, I’m never going in a cave again for the rest of my life after seeing this.   The Descent got on my radar a few weeks ago after Chris Ryan mentioned it as the scariest movie he’s ever seen on a Ringer podcast.  I wouldn’t go that far. The first half of the movie is truly terrifying, but the second half is a little silly. Full disclosure, this should ONLY be watched by horror fans.   Grade: B+

Under The Silver Lake (Amazon Prime) – A modern L.A. noir starring Andrew Garfield about a man who chooses to believe there’s some sort of conspiracy about his missing neighbor even though he might have simply just been ghosted.  This mystery movie is so fucking out there, I honestly don’t even remember much of what actually happens.  But it has a ton of cool/ funny scenes along the way. Grade: A-

Free Solo (Hulu) – Another uplifting Hulu documentary about the resilient human spirit (see note on Biggest Little Farm). Grade: A-

Hot Summer Nights (Amazon Prime) –  This got bad reviews from people that don’t deserve nice things. I’ll gladly watch Timothee Chalamet deal drugs in 1980’s Cape Cod anytime. Here’s what I wrote in 2018. Grade: A-

Rush (HBO) – Fans of Ford vs Ferrari will enjoy 2013’s Rush about two Formula 1 racing rivals engaging in a dick measuring contest throughout the 1970’s.  It’s a shame Chris Hemsworth’s output has mostly been Marvel movies the past decade because he proves in Rush that he’s more than capable of being the lead in an R rated action drama for adults.  Grade: A-

In A World… (HBO) – Lake Bell directs and stars in this charming 2013 dramedy about a female voice actor trying to break into the male dominated field of movie trailer voiceovers.  This movie was before it’s time and would have been much more celebrated had it come out in 2019 after Greta Gerwig broke all those barriers. Grade: A-

Tour de Pharmacy/7 Days In Hell (HBO) – These two sports mockumentaries would make an excellent double feature if you’re looking to laugh your ass off (both are less than an hour).  Between these HBO specials and Popstar, you could argue that no one made more funny shit in the 2010’s than Andy Samberg.  You probably don’t want to watch this if you’re holed up with your parents. Grade: A+

American Honey (Netflix) – A 3 hour, partially improvised road trip movie starring Shia Labeouf, Riley Keough, and first time actress Sasha Lane.  It’s more of a collection of beautiful scenes rather than a plot-driven film, but I love it ever so much.  Might be best to break it up in increments.  I’m currently learning how to play Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You because of this movie. Grade: A+

Blue Valentine (Netflix) – A heart-breaking drama/romance from 2010 starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  If you and your significant other are currently on shaky ground, it might not be best to watch this together lol. Grade: A+

Children of Men (Starz) – Lots of people are going back and watching 2011’s Contagion given how eerily similar the virus thriller is to the happenings of the past few weeks.  If you enjoyed that experience, I’d urge you to watch 2006’s Children of Men next, another film about society on the brink of collapse that seems WAY more realistic in 2020 than it did fourteen years ago.  Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece. Grade: A+

The Next Three Days (Hulu/Amazon Prime) – Elizabeth Banks is convicted of murder and her husband Russell Crowe becomes obsessed with trying to break her out of a Pittsburgh prison.  Of all the movies on my A+ list, this 2010 thriller might be the only one that has never come up in conversation with another human being, digitally or in person.  I don’t really know why that is because this movie kicks ass!  Grade: A+

Drinking Buddies (Hulu) – Mumblecore at it’s best.  Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston hang out, drink beer, make mistakes, be human.  Rinse and repeat.  Grade: A+

Saw I – Saw VIII (Guest Post)

Drifty’s Official Saw Rankings

  1. Saw (2004)
  2. Saw III (2006)
  3. Saw IV (2007)
  4. Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)
  5. Saw II (2005)
  6. Jigsaw (2017)
  7. Saw V (2008)
  8. Saw VI (2009)

Editor’s Note: Meet Zach aka Drifty. Can you tell Zach likes the Saw movies?

Sorry ladies, but he’s taken.

I always love it when friends show enthusiasm towards random movies. Any movie. Even dumb ones. Scratch that, especially dumb ones. After all what’s more fun to talk about? The Terminator or Marriage Story? Popstar or Lincoln? Below Deck or The Crown?

Earlier this week, my friend Zach asked me if I would be posting a ranking of the eight Saw movies in anticipation for Saw IX coming out this May. After doing a double take that there’s been EIGHT of these fucking things, I regretfully informed him that I’ve only seen the first one (which is quite good btw). But I also invited him to write a guest post sharing his personal rankings and general thoughts on the shockingly popular franchise. Less than 24 hours later, I received the content below. Thank you, Zach. I’d like to invite anyone else to submit their passion projects to Rated Greg. As long as you match the fervor and thoughtfulness that Zach has displayed here I promise to post it.

Zach’s post below


The Saw franchise is based on a self righteous psychopath, John Kramer (played by the great Tobin Bell), who after his own personal tragedies decides to test other morally void individuals’ will to live through survivable traps that, if they survive, will give them a newfound appreciation for their lives. The movies follow the harrowing situations people are placed in and the dim witted cops trying to catch John aka Jigsaw. Through a series of apprentices, twists and turns, and gore, these films are a cult classic. Warning: Spoilers

I want to play a game:

Most OK to worst.

  1. Saw I: the mere fact that there are 8 sequels by definition makes this the Most OK of the films as people thought it was a good idea to follow it up in the first place. There are also a couple famous people like Danny Glover and Carey Elwes.  The only other remotely famous person in the first eight films is Donnie Wahlberg who is unceremoniously killed in Saw 4. Released in 2004, this could actually be considered a legitimate thriller with a fantastic twist ending. See, the dead guy in the bathroom the whole time wasn’t dead, he was the killer! Mind. Blown.
  2. Saw III: get this, the Jigsaw killer, John Kramer, gets killed by having his head nearly cut off with a circular saw in Saw III, and somehow the series continues for six more movies. This alone contributed to the absurdity of the series and unfortunately leads to the introduction of constant flashbacks to keep Jigsaw in the movies. Saw III follows a distraught and completely withdrawn father whose son was killed by a drunk driver. He is placed in the situation of encountering people in harrowing traps involved in his son’s death, including passerbys who did not stop to help, the judge who let the driver off, and the drunk driver himself. This movie has, in my opinion, the most gruesome trap, but it’s the drunk driver in it, so… he probably deserved to have his limbs twisted off right?
  3. Saw IV: this movie is in a parallel timeline as Saw III and also ends in the sick room where Jigsaw is killed. The premise of the antagonist in the series of traps is quite ridiculous, as his ‘crime’ is that he is always to quick to help / take action and if he just did nothing he would have survived, as would have Donnie Wahlberg (who dies by having two giant ice blocks crush his head in comical fashion). This movie started the process of overly complicating things by creating all sorts of apprentice twists.
  4. Saw VII: in what was initially titled the Final Chapter, this one focused on a guy who tried to get famous by saying he had survived a Jigsaw trap and wrote a book and was doing the TV circuit. Jigsaw was not happy this guy was lying and, well, put him and his entire production team in real traps. Only real memorable part is when John Kramer’s buxom widow, Jill Tuck, has her head ripped off in the reverse bear trap, which was introduced in Saw I and made various other appearances. This movie also brought back Carey Elwes who, after having to cut off his foot in Saw I, apparently became an apprentice of Jigsaw and helped carry out the games. Surprise! 
  5. Saw II: a group of bad people are trapped in a house full of traps and die off one by one. Unlike Saw I, which only introduces John Kramer at the very end, Saw II focuses heavily on his life and what drove him to play his games and put people in traps. While interesting, II is the slowest of all the films and much of it is just Kramer being interrogated by the dim witted cops. Several famous traps are introduced, including the Venus fly trap and needle pit. 
  6. Saw XIII (Jigsaw): unlike most critics, I found this movie quite entertaining. The first 7 Saws came out consecutively each year and ‘Jigsaw’ came after a 7 year break. It has a different vibe and is much less gory. Somehow the same cinematic trick of using changing time frames allows Jigsaw to remain in this film and convince the audience and dim witted cops (notice a trend) that he is still alive. It turns out to be just another John Kramer apprentice that is using Jigsaw like traps to get revenge on his enemies. ‘Jigsaw’ set things up for another film but I don’t think Saw IX will continue the story.
  7. Saw 5: more or less a continuation of Saw 4 with cops chasing down each other trying to find Jigsaw’s accomplices. All the while a group of folks are in a series of traps laid out by Jigsaw while he was on his deathbed. The group slowly die one by one until the remaining two realize that the traps were all winnable if the group had worked together rather than sabotaging each other. Ah life lessons…
  8. Saw VI: by far the least interesting and also most absurdly gory. Almost a social justice piece, Saw XI puts ‘evil’ insurance execs through a series of horrific traps for denying John Kramer his claim due to pre-existing conditions. For one, John Kramer died several movies ago, so enough with the time travel, and two, it’s a little extreme to force a guy to kill one of his co-workers with a shotgun to the face. A really stupid movie.

What to expect in Saw IX (Spiral): doesn’t look like Tobin Bell will be in it, all but discontinuing the original Jigsaw killer’s legacy. I’m guessing this will be more like a crime / police thriller with some references to the original Saw, but it will be it’s own film. One aspect that looks promising is that it was written by Chris Rock. With the success of other comedians turned horror producers (Jordan Peele), Saw IX has potential to be a legitimate film.

Miss Americana

Rated Greg’s Top 5 Music Docs

  1. The Defiant Ones
  2. Miss Americana
  3. Cobain: Montage of Heck
  4. Amy
  5. Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men

It’s easy to write off the contents of a Taylor Swift documentary as contrived.  But look, if that’s your first inclination when Miss Americana pops up on your Netflix homepage, then you should be skeptical towards the emotional output of any musician you do like, and that’s just no way to live.  So let’s give Taylor the benefit of the doubt here.  If you can believe this behind the scenes look at her life past to present is at least 90% authentic (I do), then the film will be a moving experience to anyone with a soul. 

Miss Americana covers Swift’s rise, her stumbles, her genius, and her loneliness.  Most notably the doc exposes her decision to enter politics in 2018 after all these years remaining silent.  Swift fully admits that she fucked up in a major way waiting so long to speak up, though you come to understand how the decision making abilities of someone who gets THAT famous THAT young are a lot more complicated than those of her peers who get to live in the real world.  Oh, and there’s also the Kanye thing.  Streaming on Netflix. Grade: A-

Bad Boys For Life

Rated Greg’s 5 Favorite Movies of All Time

  1. Bad Boys
  2. True Romance
  3. Dazed and Confused
  4. Raising Arizona
  5. Scream

April 8th, 1995.  WHAT A TIME.  Bill Clinton was President.  OJ was on trial.  Madonna’s Take A Bow was the #1 song in the country.  The Ed O’Bannon-led UCLA Bruins were NCAA champions.  Dylan McKay was off the wagon.  And Rated Greg saw what would become his favorite movie of all time, Bad Boys, at the Beltway Plaza AMC 8 with his friend Jordan.  The prefect blend of sensational action and hilariously crude banter, quite frankly this 5th grader didn’t know this style of filmmaking was allowed.  I mean, how can you watch this without wanting to run through a wall?!

Fun fact.  On LeBron’s HBO talk show The Shop, recent guest Will Smith tells a great story about his wardrobe in the scene above.  Director Michael Bay was adamant that Smith be shirtless during the chase.  Smith, understandably, thought that was absolutely ridiculous and felt it made more sense to, you know, have clothes on.  After arguing about it for a while they eventually compromised with the unbuttoned shirt.  That’s showbiz, baby!

1995’s Bad Boys gave Rated Greg a high that he’s been chasing at the movie theater ever since.  I imagine it’s the same feeling my Mom had the first time she heard the Beatles, or Donald Trump had the first time someone retweeted him.  Other great action movies have come and gone (including Bad Boys II), but the original Bad Boys will always be #1 in my heart. 

Fast forward 25 years, Will and Martin are back at it in Bad Boys For Life.  You might have noticed that this film was not included in my most anticipated for 2020.  It wasn’t an oversight, for I have to keep my guards up for what I hold precious.  Will Smith is 51 years old after all.  And Martin Lawrence 54. What would this look like?  Are they still running around Miami arguing over car etiquette and pulling the same shenanigans?  Remember that time they stuck up the convenience store?  How are they not in jail yet? 

But age actually wasn’t what worried me the most.  If anyone can pull a Cruise and still do viable action well into his 50’s it’s Will Smith.  And Martin never had to do any of the heavy lifting in that department anyways.  What worried me the most was the absence of director Michael Bay, the Phil Jackson to Will’s Michael and Martin’s Scottie.  The chemistry of the two leads essentially went hand in hand with Bay’s exceptional eye for action flare (and unbuttoned shirts).  The former music video director burst on the scene with his very first feature film in Bad Boys and he has remained far and away the best director of action sequences ever since.  While round 3 was of course offered to him first, Bay opted to take a reported 150 million dollar deal from Netflix instead.  Hard to blame him.  But without Bay I just wasn’t sure if this would work nearly as well as the first two films in the franchise.  It’s like seeing Aerosmith only to find out they replaced Joe Perry with a Jonas brother. 

So is Bad Boys For Life, all these years later, any good?  You know what?  Bad Boys For Life is still pretty good!  It’s not gonna blow your mind like the first two, but it’s still an above average action movie in 2020.  Think a step above the most recent Fast and Furious movies, but a step below the most recent Mission Impossibles and John Wicks.  What Bad Boys For Life most has going for it is the humor.  This is probably the funniest version of Mike and Marcus, but it comes at the expense of diluted action that is just…. fine.  Unironically “6 Underground,” the movie Michael Bay made for Netflix instead of Bad Boys 3, has absolutely STUPENDOUS, Bad Boys style action but the attempts at humor throughout the film are quite embarrassing.  Bay, Will, and Martin really prove to better than the sum of their parts if you made a Venn diagram of the two films. 

After seeing Bad Boys For Life, it’s pretty clear why Columbia decided to return to this saga.  The third film was never meant to be swan song for Will and Martin, but rather a reboot to turn the Miami police department into it’s own Fast and Furious type franchise, with a bunch of fresh, young, dick swinging characters of eclectic cultural backgrounds (pitch – Give us a spinoff featuring Vanessa Hudgens’ character called Bad Girls).  It’s undeniably calculated, but if that’s what it takes to get the original Bad Boys back on the screen bickering with each other I’m fine with it.  We Ride Together, We Die Together. Bad Boys For Life. Grade: B

PS – I say this about a lot of movies, but this one especially needs to be seen at the theater, preferably a packed theater.  I typically avoid loud, enthusiastic, sold out crowds, but having companions to enjoy the many callbacks to the first two films significantly levels up the experience of Bad Boys 3.