Reel Dad: The Reel Dad awards 'The Schumies' to the best films of 2020

Yes, it’s that time of year again, when films are named the best of the past 12 months. In a year as upside down as 2020, a movie had to work as well streaming at home as on a theater screen. So, as we await Oscar’s choices, here are the annual “Schumie” awards from the Reel Dad.

Baked to Perfection: “Nomadland”

This fascinating film explores how a loving woman absorbs pain in her life. At a time when friends may be able to relax, she struggles to make ends meet after her husband dies and she must leave the home she loves. But this lady never loses faith that her conditions will improve nor does she blame anyone for her challenges. By making her approach to positive living so accessible, “Nomadland” inspires us to welcome new people to our own lives. And to always look for glasses that are half full.

Brimming with Flavor: “One Night in Miami”

In her directorial debut, Regina King brings her sensitivity as an actress (for which she won an Oscar) to a story that refuses to apologize for the questions it confronts. She creates a rich visual backdrop for what may be an imagined opportunity for Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke to discuss the challenges of being Black in 1964. Whether or not these men actually talked about these issues in real time, the film reminds us what we should be discussing today.

Bursting with Flavor: “Soul”

After everything our world has faced in 2020, this animated film delivers an ideal spoonful of sugar. For 100 minutes, we revisit a world where people can walk together - without having to maintain social distance - and feel free to lean in and listen rather than stand back and protect. The creators at Pixar and Disney again work their movie magic to entertain and teach as they remind us we can find joy in any situation as long as we remember to stand in our truth.

Piece de Resistance: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

The movie adaptation of August Wilson’s play transports us to a hot summer day in Chicago in 1927 when a popular Black blues singer arrives at a recording studio with specific expectations for her afternoon and her life. While a piece that relies on dialogue can be challenging to film, “Ma Rainey” finds an ideal director from the theater, Tony-winning George C. Wolfe, who transforms a play filled with things to say into a movie brimming with lessons to share.

Lasting Nourishment: “Da 5 Bloods”

The reel world of moviemaker Spike Lee knows no boundaries. For more than 35 years, he has shaped every type of film into a comment on the conditions of our world. This time, he transforms what could have been an interesting, if potentially synthetic, tale of veterans returning to a scene of battle into a meaningful study of the impact of war. As people in our world try to better understand each other, Lee shows how we must sometimes acknowledge the damage from history before we can move forward.

Food for the Soul: “The Father”

No matter how people age, the final months can erase the memories of years filled with joy. This pitch-perfect translation of Florian Zeller’s play casts Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman as a father and daughter trying to navigate the tragedies that age can bring. With sensitivity and respect, director Florian Zeller acknowledges that how we interpret truth can deeply impact those who rely on us for unconditional love and support.

All the Right Ingredients: “News of the World”

This tall tale of the American Southwest follows one man’s attempt to carve a life on a broad landscape. This is a movie to see on a big screen, if possible, to savor the beauty of its visuals while carefully listening to the beautifully-crafted words of the script. Still, no matter the size of the screen, the film offers a chance to learn more about the world we live in today by taking a journey back in time to a moment when people with clear voices could influence many.

Bringing Home the Bacon: “Gunda”

As much as I love movies, I rarely find myself as captivated as by this documentary about a mother pig who protects her piglets. “Gunda” reminds us that movies don’t need special effects, dramatic dialogue or a conventional story to transport us to a different place as these animals invite us to share their worlds of pleasure, disappointment and fear. While spending 90 minutes with them may not change your diet, you may become more aware of what it takes for that loin of pork to be delivered to a plate.

Comfort Food: “Let Them All Talk”

Steven Soderbergh’s experimental film is worth talking about because of its cast - Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest - as well as for improvisational approach to the script. Soderbergh does more than pursue an unconventional process for making the film, he creates a meaningful look at how time, egos and disappointment can deprive people of relationships that once meant a great deal. The director helps his ladies, and the audience, discover how resentment can grow when ignored for decades.

Cooking with Gas: “French Exit”

How we handle challenges can help us learn how to manage change. In this film, a seemingly wealthy real housewife from New York City lives a jigsaw puzzle. Her husband dies, but she takes her time to tell anyone; she abruptly removes her son from boarding school; later, she flees Manhattan for Paris to free herself from the confines of upper-class life, carefully traveling with a cat who may house the spirit of her late husband. Through it all, she creates a distinct world that is a joy to visit.

Devilish Delight: “The Prom”

While this fun adaptation of the 2018 Broadway show may slow when the singing and dancing stop, the enthusiasm of its all-star cast carries the film. Plus, the positive message of inclusion is welcome after a year filled with division. What makes “The Prom” so welcome, especially now, is its belief that people can bring out the best in each other because, no matter what may divide, we can find reasons to unite. Plus, any chance to see Meryl Streep in a musical is worth the price of admission.

Essential Side Dish: “Mank”

Movies love movies about movies. David Fincher offers a deliciously detailed exploration of the egos behind the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane.” Working with a screenplay by his father, Jack Fincher, the director of “The Social Network” recreates a world long gone by where a few good and bad men could control what people experience in a movie house. Without exaggerating the drama behind the drama, Fincher celebrates the magic that a camera can create when pointed in the right direction.

Proof is in the Pudding: “The Trial of the Chicago Seven”

No matter what may happen in our world today, we can look at times in recent history for lessons that help explain current events. Aaron Sorkin’s significant film takes us back to 1968 when life was defined by the divisions we created. With his keen ability to bring history to life, and brilliantly use dialogue to paint visual images, Sorkin is the perfect storyteller for this complex tale because he dares to ask, how can a nation founded on the freedom of speech find it so challenging to let people be heard?

From a Master Chef: “On the Rocks”

As parents, we try to protect our children from realities they may experience. Now and then, we may try too hard. Moviemaker Sofia Coppola, daughter of Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, explores the well-intentioned yet misguided efforts of one father to intervene in his daughter’s life in this passionate comedy. She uses layers of conversation to search the souls of her characters to celebrate how, even on our worst days, our good intentions can soothe wounds.

Succulent Sensation: “American Utopia”

With Broadway theaters closed because of COVID-19, many of us miss the excitement of live performance. Thanks to the cinematic imagination of director Spike Lee, this musical’s on-stage energy comes to life on screen. Lee creatively uses his camera to make us feel we are on stage with David Byrne and his cast of versatile performers. The piece works as a movie while preserving the magic generated by live performance. We are, at the same time, thrilled by film and captivated by theater.

Takes the Cake: “The Life Ahead”

To watch Sophia Loren is, simply, to experience greatness. Each moment she creates in this film celebrates the beauty of time. Like the seasoned character the actress artfully portrays, Loren brings the wisdom that age can bring when the recipient welcomes the lessons. She displays both the confidence of a veteran and the enthusiasm of a novice as she shares a touching story about the surprising relationship between a boy and a much older lady. Welcome back.

Piping Hot: “Let Him Go”

When a retired sheriff fears his grandson is threatened, he immediately overlooks what may be familiar to do what may be necessary. This film’s cinematic confidence returns us to classics of the 1940s and 1950s when characters were compelling and conflicts were clear. We shift to a time, before people could text to warn, when they could only fear what might be waiting around the corner. Thanks to the authenticity of character and the depth of relationships, “Let Him Go” delivers the thrills.