Top Ten Movies of 2020 — Number Ten

Spike Lee had a template to work from when he agreed to direct a film version of David Byrne’s Broadway sensation, American Utopia. Even if there’s arguably too much theatrical staging to the more recent work to call a screen rendering of it a true concert film, the more recent work can’t help but draw comparisons to Jonathan Demme’s masterful Stop Making Sense. If nothing else, the two films have several songs in common, since Byrne is not shy upon goosing the audience’s propensity for nostalgic pleasure with the most memorable offerings of the Talking Heads, the bygone band where he made his name. Lee adheres to some of the important protocols laid out by Demme, including a general disinterest in shots of adoring audience members (it’s telling when Lee chooses to turn his camera in their direction) and a fierce focus on the intricate rigors of the performance, in part because it’s an effective way to demonstrate the spirited showmanship that elevates the show. Lee is no mere copycat, of course. David Byrne’s American Utopia is vibrant alive with Lee’s own eager invention, notably overhead shots that provide a vantage previously available to only stagehands perched in the catwalks, and that serve to give an already multi-dimensional show another gleaming facet. Lee takes the joyfulness streaming sweetly through Byrne’s production and turns it into a torrent that is blessedly overwhelming.

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