The annual halftime report card: Home-school edition

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By Richard Roeper

Signal Contributing Writer

At the outset of 2020, if you had told me the No. 1 movie at the box office in late June would be “Jurassic Park,” I would have told you: “Nice DeLorean. Does it travel back exclusively to 1993, or can you visit other years?”

We’ve just experienced the first spring in more than a century with no major films playing in movie theaters. (Even when a handful of theaters in the Chicago area and around the country reopened in June, they were showing early 2020 releases such as “The Invisible Man” and “Bloodshot,” and previous-generation staples such as “Batman Begins” and the Indiana Jones movies.)

As of this writing, we’re scheduled to see big-ticket films in actual movie theaters later this summer, from the Russell Crowe thriller “Unhinged” (July 31) to Christopher Nolan’s oft-delayed “Tenet” (Aug. 12) to Disney’s live-action surefire blockbuster “Mulan” (Aug. 21). We’ll see. (So to speak.)

Not that there’s been a dearth of original material these past 3 1/2 months. Little did I know when I exited a Navy Pier IMAX screening of “Bloodshot” in mid-March I wouldn’t be setting foot in a movie theater or screening room for more than 100 days. Since then, I’ve quarantine-viewed movies originally scheduled for theatrical release (“Da 5 Bloods,” “The King of Staten Island”) as well as indie gems, series finales of beloved TV shows, new seasons of established streaming hits, stand-up specials, documentaries and offerings on rookie streaming services such as Quibi.

Here’s my annual Halftime Report Card: Home School Edition, spotlighting the best, the worst and the ridiculous in movies and TV and on social media over the first six months of 2020.

Oscars go home

Kudos to the traditionally obstinate Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for moving the ceremony to April 25, 2021; extending the eligibility period to include any films scheduled for theatrical release between Jan. 1, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021; and granting eligibility to films such as “Da 5 Bloods” and “Bad Education,” which would have been released in theaters had  theaters been open.

Delroy’s moment

After some 30 years of stellar stage work and memorable character performances in films such as “Get Shorty,” the great Delroy Lindo has the showcase role of his movie career as the lead in “Da 5 Bloods” and merits serious consideration for best actor.

Hardly a King

The Netflix docuseries “Tiger King” was undeniably entertaining, and the Twitterverse exploded with casting suggestions for the inevitable dramatic adaptation. But by the time the series concluded, we realized we’d been watching awful people doing awful things to each other — and to beautiful exotic creatures who deserve better than to spend their lives in cages, ogled by humans. It takes a special kind of terrible person to separate a newborn tiger cub from its mother just so people can have an Insta video opp.

The Chicago way

Chicago and the suburbs were the setting and/or location for numerous TV shows and films, from Season 3 of “The Chi” to the brilliant small movies “Saint Frances” and “Working Man,” to an episode of the HBO series “Run” to the mediocre “My Spy,” which was set primarily in Chicago but filmed in Toronto, and featured the least believable version of Wicker Park ever put on film.

Bowing out on top

The series finales of “Schitt’s Creek,” “The Good Place” and “Modern Family” were lovely, pitch-perfect farewells to three of the best shows in recent years. We even got a Zoom-y and quite wonderful reunion of “Parks & Recreation.”

Best actresses

Elisabeth Moss (“The Invisible Man,” “Shirley”), Julia Garner (“The Assistant,” “Ozark”), Issa Rae (“The Photograph,” “Insecure,” “The Lovebirds”), Lauren Lapkus (“The Wrong Missy”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“The High Note”).

Best actors

Ben Affleck (“The Way Back”), Peter Gerety (“Working Man”), Pete Davidson (“Big Time Adolescence,” “The King of Staten Island”), Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”), Hugh Jackman (“Bad Education”).

Re-BOOOOO

It’s been a terrible year for remakes and reboots, from “Dolittle” to “Fantasy Island” to “Downhill” to “Perry Mason” to “Scoob” to an execrable musical take on “Valley Girl,” with the bland cast murdering pop classics such as “Melt With You” and “Under Pressure.”

Dancing with the stars

ESPN originally planned to dole out episodes of “The Last Dance” around the NBA Finals in June, but they wisely moved it up to fill the void of live sports content — and the 10-part series about Michael Jordan and the 1990s Bulls was appointment viewing on five consecutive Sunday nights, becoming the most-watched original content show in ESPN history. The younger generation and casual sports fans around the country learned what Chicagoans have long known: Michael Jordan is not only the GOAT, he’s the most competitive person on the planet.

Up next: axe-throwing!

ESPN and other sports channels have resorted to rebroadcasts of long-ago games (spoiler alert: The Pirates beat the Orioles in the 1971 World Series) and prime-time showcases for niche sports including axe-throwing, darts and cornhole, which is usually best showcased in the parking lot at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Uncommon Jay

After three seasons, the reality series “Very Cavallari” is no more. After 10 years, the Kristin Cavallari/Jay Cutler marriage looks to be no more. (We make no jokes about that, as three children are involved.) But just when we thought the former Bears QB would fade into the Tennessee woods, Cutler took possession of his Instagram account (formerly run by Kristin) and greatly amused us with his video accounts of trying to identify and capture the unknown predator killing his chickens. At one point, Cutler wondered if his cat, Thelma, was a “serial chicken killer,” but he posted a written apology to Thelma, saying, “You are not the suspect we are looking for. Take it as a compliment for your savage ways of life. Carry on, Cat.”

And to think we Bears fans once questioned Jay’s dedication and heart.

How to become a breakout star

Comedian Sarah Cooper became a star thanks to Trump-lampooning videos with titles such as “How to Second Term” and “How to Lobster.” Much more than just lip-syncing, these videos were pitch-perfect mini-movies with Cooper playing Trump and various characters such as Sean Hannity and White House reporters. When “Saturday Night Live” returns, I’d love to see a “Short Film by Sarah Cooper” every week.

Making history in 27 minutes, 20 seconds

The brilliant and prolific Dave Chappelle dropped an unexpected special on YouTube, but “8:46” (a reference to the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck) was a far cry from Chappelle’s usual cool and hilarious stand-up work. This was a raw, angry and passionate call for change, delivered straight from Chappelle’s heart and life experience.

Copyright 2020 Chicago Sun Times

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