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Midway movies: The best, worst and most fantabulous films so far in an upside down year

Wading through the first six months of movies for the good, the bad and the downright gross

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

We're six years — I'm sorry, six months — into 2020, a year that has so far been marked by massive disruption. 

That goes for Hollywood, too. Rather than being knee-deep in summer movie season, we're currently three months into theater closure season, and the hopes for July being the month we return to the movies en masse have seemingly been blown off with the latest delay of Christopher Nolan's "Tenet." In the last week the film has been pushed back a full month, which at least squares with the way Nolan typically bends time. 

So what to make of this topsy-turvy year? The good news is, while Hollywood has held off on bringing out its biggest blockbusters, lots of smaller films have gotten a chance to shine on streaming platforms and through VOD releasing. In many ways, Virtual Cinema openings feel like the future of independent film distribution, as studios big and small adapt to new marketplace realities. 

The bad news is everything else. This year feels like a place-holder, like we're living in a state of suspended animation, waiting for a return of what once was normal but knowing we won't ever get there. So you might as well lean into it and embrace it. 

A movie can help that. Here's a breakdown of the year's most notable films from the first half of the year — some good, some bad, but all representative, in one way or another, of the craziness that is 2020. 

Most unforgettable movie: "Swallow" — Haley Bennett gives a mesmerizing performance as a housewife who develops an uncontrollable urge to ingest small household items such as paper clips, batteries and tiny screwdrivers in this unnerving psychological thriller that lingers in your mind long after the final credits roll. 

Haley Bennett in "Swallow."

Best performance: Delroy Lindo in "Da 5 Bloods" — Not since "Get Shorty" has the towering actor had a role this big or this juicy, and the 67-year-old knocks it out of the park in Spike Lee's tale of war, PTSD and the demons we live with. Lindo is on pace to earn his first Oscar nomination for the role, and as of right now he's the frontrunner to win. 

This image released by Netflix shows Johnny Nguyen, background left, Clarke Peters, and Delroy Lindo, left, in a scene from "Da 5 Bloods," a film directed by Spike Lee.

Grossest movie: "The Platform" — This Netflix chiller about a mysterious vertical prison where food is served, once a day, on a platform that lowers from floor to floor has plenty to say about the haves and have nots, and does so with stomach-churning aplomb. Don't watch after eating. 

Best animated movie: "The Willoughbys" — This acerbic tale is far from the boundless pep of, say, "Trolls World Tour," but manages to find its own take on family values, minus the easy hugs.  

A scene from "The Willoughbys."

Best reboot: "The Invisible Man" — Writer-director Leigh Whannell brings a smart, fresh, modern take on this classic tale, leaving the gauze and glasses behind for a story about a woman haunted by her abusive past. This is the right way to spin a story forward. 

Best line reading: Billy Porter in "Like a Boss" — "Witness my tragic moment!" Porter's character says before making a decidedly dramatic exit in this underrated January comedy. 

Most out-there performance: Lauren Lapkus in "The Wrong Missy" — Her co-star David Spade is sleeping in this Netflix comedy, but Lapkus is full pedal to the metal in a performance that recalls Jim Carrey at his most "Ace Ventura" gonzo. She's not just a scene stealer, she makes off with the whole movie.  

David Spade and Lauren Lapkus in "The Wrong Missy."

Best use of a confined space: "7500" — Director Patrick Vollrath sets this entire hijacking thriller in the cockpit of an airplane and makes viewers hold their breath for the duration of the flight. Buckle your safety belts for this one.  

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "7500."

Best on-screen heat: "The Photograph" — The movie has its bumps, but Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield generate so much chemistry together they make it worth the watch. 

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in "The Photograph."

Most emotional scene: "The Painter and the Thief" — This engrossing documentary follows an artist who befriends a junkie who steals one of her artworks, and contains a scene of human emotion so raw it will bring you to your knees. 

Most incoherent plot: "The Rhythm Section" — Blake Lively plays an assassin-in-training in this fumbling, stumbling action mess that can never find the right notes, let alone how to play them.

Sterling K. Brown and Blake Lively in "The Rhythm Section."

Most pointless singalong: (tie) "The King of Staten Island" and "The Lovebirds" — The ceremonial on-screen singalong is meant to be a spontaneous, feel-good moment, but when belting out the Wallflowers' "One Headlight" ("Staten Island") or Katy Perry's "Firework" ("Lovebirds") in the middle of their movies, it's hard to tell who's cringing more, the actors themselves or the audience watching at home.  

Most inadvertently timely movie: "Sea Fever" — A virus breaks out, and the infected have to decide whether to quarantine themselves or risk going back into the community, knowing they could affect others. Sound familiar? 

Hermione Corfield in "Sea Fever."

Most shocking scene: "The Lodge" — Not to give away too much, but the first few minutes of this horror thriller cast a pall over the rest of the film that never lifts. 

Best use of a breakfast sandwich: "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" — In many ways, the Harley Quinn standalone picture was a mess, but its depiction of Quinn's dream egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwich was enough to make mouths everywhere drool. Give that sandwich its own movie!

Margot Robbie in "Birds of Prey."

Much ado about nothing: "The Hunt" — The politically charged satire was pulled from theaters last year over it's plot line, which follows a group of liberals who hunt conservatives for sport. But when it was finally released in theaters — the last weekend before coronavirus shuttered American theaters, wouldn't you know it — its bark was far worse than its bite, and it was too toothless to get anyone riled up.  

How to tank a franchise: "Artemis Fowl" — This was once tagged to be the next Harry Potter, but this incoherent adaptation of the popular book series was dead on arrival for its unceremonious Disney+ debut. 

Ferdia Shaw in "Artemis Fowl."

Best case for using live animals: "The Call of the Wild" — There are no live animals in this dreary version of the classic tale, and boy does it show. 

Best jumpshot: Ben Affleck in "The Way Back" — Affleck's jumper is on full display in the closing moments of this effective drama, and shows that Affleck is better at hooping than he was at playing Batman.

Best metaphor for a movie: "Capone" — In this dramatic dud, Tom Hardy's Al Capone soils himself on more than one occasion, which more or less sums up the movie. 

Tom Hardy in "Capone."

Best case for fan intervention: "Sonic the Hedgehog" — When the trailers for this movie first premiered online, fans revolted, complaining about the video game character's human-looking teeth. The character was retooled and refreshed, and the resulting film was a breezy good time that left audiences smiling. For once: well done, internet. 

Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz, in a scene from "Sonic the Hedgehog ."

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama