Saturday, 16 January 2021

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2020

I have very few good things to say about 2020, but at least there were movies to distract us. We may have had to hunt them down on cluttered streaming services, but they were there. Smaller movies got more of a focus when blockbusters saw delays upon delays and TV shows continued to rival them in quality and scope. So, as is the tradition for The Collection Chamber, I've collated and ranked the Top 10 Movies I've personally seen over the course of the last harrowing year and put them in a belated blog post.
 
I can count the number of times I've seen a film on the silver screen on one hand deformed by a chainsaw accident. That's 2 by the way, which is a major anomaly for me. I've really missed sitting in the dark in anticipation for the story about to be told, but I am thankful that this (and a suffering income) are the only real affect Covid has had on me and my immediate family. I have friends and loved ones who have not been so lucky. My heart goes out to anyone struggling in this time and I hope that my little space on the internet can offer at least the briefest of respites.

Anyway, considering it's been a horrific year, horror entertainment has been surprisingly strong. The Invisible Man got pulled from cinemas as soon as it was released thanks to a national lockdown, but we were still able to see it on demand. Netflix again showed what they were made of with His House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and, er, The Babysitter: Killer Queen. Others were just as good too, with special mention going to Gretel and Hansel, Relic  and Koko-di Koko-da (read on to see if they rank). 

One of the biggest shake ups to cinema other than a world-wide pandemic was Disney+. It rolled out to us Brits in March - a week after lockdown - and took off almost immediately. It helped that shows like The Mandalorian was already being heavily hyped for months, but the exclusive movies were mostly above average in budget if not in quality too. Noelle and Godmothered offered the sweet if derivative Christmas entertainment I needed this year while Artemis Fowl, Soul and Mulan skipped theatres entirely causing much uproar from struggling cinema chains in the process. It doesn't help that the upcoming Pinocchio, Cruella, Disenchanted and others are going the same route, but at least they'll have a chance to be seen. 
 
In all honesty, I don't know what to think about this shift. 2020 was an exceptional year and it's understandable that some movies had an exceptional release, but with Disney and Warner Bros announcing similar plans for our uncertain future, it makes me wonder. Just before Christmas 2019, a new independent cinema opened in my town. It's an incredible venue, but I wonder what this shift will do to it. The same goes for the chains which, at least in the UK, have gone through incredible lengths to assure customer comfort and safety. 
 
Covid also affected the Academy Awards, a ceremony I enjoy talking about before the show than during or after. I have no idea which movies will feature there, but at least I'll have more time to watch them with the show being pushed back to April. Doesn't stop many hopefuls from honouring the UK with a late release schedule though. Movies like Nomadland, The Sound of Metal and Pieces of a Woman don't hit our shores until 2021. For this very reason, many movies in my Top 10 are last year's Oscar contenders.

Regardless, I am certain is that movies will always be made, despite facemasks and screaming scientologists, so that's a little comfort for the future of entertainment. Onward to my Top 10 movies of 2020 starting with...

10

Considering how praised Pixar's Soul is, you might be wondering why I chose Onward to be on my list. The truth is, I thought Soul was just OK. I go into a little more detail about that later, but Onward was a movie that really hit the spot for me. Before seeing it, I thought it was gonna be more like Cars in quality than Toy Story. I was pleasantly surprised to see a heart-warming action adventure with a great number of in-jokes to my most recent hobby; Dungeons & Dragons. 

As can be expected with Pixar, the animation is top notch, but what really surprises are the characters. The beleaguered mother isn't a side character. The buffoon of a brother isn't the annoying comedic relief. Even Tom Holland's nervous protagonist has some great character moments. It's telling that I shed not one tear in Soul, but cried like a baby in this. So, it's at Number 10.

09

A powerhouse of an indie sci-fi, The Vast of Night grips you intently despite having very little action. In the 1950s New Mexico, a switchboard operator hears some strange sounds over the wire. This leads her and her radio DJ friend to an alien conspiracy that's been going on for decades.
 
The use of sound is impressively controlled, with silence being just as effective as the cacophony of distortion from the unknown source. There is a desaturated grain to the entire image too, that evokes the old-school era where Roswell and Orwell's War of the Worlds was a recent memory. The school-age protagonists speak believably from the era with winks towards our own in some very witty dialogue. It could easily be translated into a stage play, but this movie uses the format to great effect. Watch it on Amazon Prime.

08

Not to be outdone, Netflix added The Trial of the Chicago 7 to their impressive output. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, it tells how a group of Vietnam protestors were charged with rioting in 1968. The events that transpired in this true tale bear some remarkable similarities with the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year which proved to the world just how broken the US police force is. Learning about this trial, it appears they have always been this way.

Beyond the obvious political commentary, this court room drama is also very entertaining. Aaron Sorkin knowns how to grip an audience and that's followed on to his unobtrusive directorial style too. This is his first as a director and I hope it's not the last.

07

Considering its British heritage, us lot in the UK couldn't see 1917 until January. I saw it in that new independent cinema I mentioned earlier. This is kind of cinema that has sofas, pillows and a fully stocked cocktail bar. It was quite an experience, but that doesn't distract from the experience that is 1917. 
 
The single take set up was breath-taking, contributing to one of the most immersive war movies I can think of, not to mention the personal connection to director Sam Mendes. At times, the actors and characters threaten to be lost in all of the technical achievements and war-torn chaos, but the fact that it never happens is perhaps the movies crowning achievement. A movie you don't watch, but experience.

 
6

Two housebound horrors with prescient political and social messages. His House appeared on Netflix after a small amount of hype given the refugee subject matter, but it delivers some incredibly effect scares along with the social commentary. Rial and Bol fled South Sudan fearful of their lives only to face a more horrors - both real and unreal - in a London council estate. The sense of isolation in a different culture where cold prejudice is everywhere manifests itself inside the home where grief and trauma exacerbate a terrifying ghostly presence. 

On the other side of the world, Australian horror Relic sees three generations cope with a worsening dementia diagnosis. The elderly matriarch of the family, Edna, inexplicably goes missing for a number of days and, while her daughter and granddaughter search for clues, returns just as abruptly. Her behaviour becomes more and more volatile until it becomes clear that she is suffering from something far more otherworldly. Or perhaps underworldly. 

Both of these films sport some fantastic performances from there cast, which will no doubt be appallingly ignores come awards season. The empathically recognisable situations heightened by the metaphorical horror elevate these films ten-fold making them some of the best haunted house movies in recent memory.

05

Taika Waititi's gloriously inappropriate comedy is one of the best of the year. Coming to our shores at the beginning of 2020, Jojo Rabbit sees the Nazi uprising and the horrors of World War II from the eyes of a young boy named Jojo. Being the socially awkward type, his nationalistic leanings manifest as an effeminate Hitler being his imaginary friend. Always spouting the wrong advice, his words gets Jojo into heaps of trouble, not least when he finds out his resistance mother has hidden a teenage Jewish girl in the walls of his house.

While certainly played for laughs, the emotion of such a trying time is still present. Writing this not long after January 6, the themes of indoctrination and misinformed world views seems ever more prescient. A serious theme for an unserious movie, and the fact that neither takes away from the other is simply a masterclass in filmmaking.


04

Parasite was the big surprise for the 202 Oscars. I had bet on either The Irishman or 1917 to win to the top gong, but I was secretly hoping this South Korean tale of class inequality and immorality would win. It brings up some socially uncomfortable truths - the rich aren't necessarily bad, and the poor not always good - but the interconnectivity between the two is where the assignment of morality lies. 
 
The destitute Kim family, tired of working their way up an imaginary ladder, decide to infiltrate the wealthy Park family. They desire the carefree way they live, but this lifestyle is precisely why the Parks could easily dismiss and ignore the Kims. We do root for the latter - they are the protagonists after all - but when you really think about it, the Parks haven't done anything grievously wrong. Certainly not enough to warrant the craziness that will eventually happen. 
 
Then again, the plight of the Kims is definitely understandably. They are poor and desperate, unable to live a dignified life within the current rules of society. It's an incredibly nuanced portrayal of the class divide and portrays it as something that just is - it can't be solved, it can't be overcome - it just is. A depressing thought that will no doubt spawn an essay or two from much better film students than I, but a spectacular and memorable movie nonetheless.

03

Mank is one of those movies where not everyone can see it the same. Being a film student, the thought of a dramatic recreation of the making of The Best Movie of All Time™ is one hell of a selling point. Citizen Kane has an almost mythic reputation for film buffs. It marks the turning point from flat, theatre-driven films to modern film theory. At least in Hollywood it did. Never before had the camera's position had such meaning, the cuts and the sound and the lighting. It deserves that recognition. Despite penning a could of papers on it, I wasn't familiar with the controversy over the writing process.

Herman Mankiewicz, or Mank for short, wrote the screenplay at the height of McCarthyism. He wrote it on spec for Orson Wells, who would have taken sole credit were it not for some legal wrangling after the fact. David Fincher's film does show this dramatic dynamic between two strong personalities, but the main bulk is about the politics of the day - both in Hollywood, California and the United States at large. This is where it lost a lot of people. The film posits that certain points in Citizen Kane came about from current events bordering on an almost personal vendetta. This is entirely unsubstantiated putting a sour taste in many mouths. I tend to go to a movie knowing that it is never intended to be fact so I could enjoy the somewhat fantastical tale. A story of classic Hollywood was always going to interest me, and the exacting hands of David Fincher made it one of my favourites of the year.
 
02

When I saw The Lighthouse back in January, I immediately bemoaned it's late arrival to British shores. The hype had long since passed when I finally saw it, but I had deliberately bypassed reviews and conversations about the piece. It is the secend feature of Robert Eggers of The Witch fame, and that alone would have given cause for excitement but the truly fascinating art style and little-seen location had be eager to witness.

The final film is perhaps closer to a Lynchian fever dream than anything else. It immediately spawned comparisons to Eraserhead after my first watch, but while that film is perhaps impenetrably complex with its metaphors and visual vignettes, The Lighthouse has a more obvious repressed sexual reading. 
 
From ominous seagulls to twisted mermaids and a vulgar Willem Dafoe, it counts as a crowning achievement for all involved. Eggers as a filmmaker is the real deal and Robert Pattinson has finally cast aside any stains Twilight laid upon him to be one fascinating actor. It you want something weird and well made, I highly recommend The Lighthouse.
 
01

Cartoon Saloon's Wolfwalkers alone is enough of a reason to get a subscription to Apple TV+. Sure, it's pretty much the only reason so make sure you cancel it after a month, but my god is the movie beautiful. I have followed the talented Irish animation studio since The Secret of Kells wowed me in 2009, then subsequently championed Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner after that. They have not put a foot wrong, and neither does Wolfwalkers. 

Widowed Englishman Bill (Sean Bean) and his daughter Robyn travel to an occupied city in Ireland. He has been hired by the Lord Protector to eliminate the wolves in the surrounding forest, but these are no ordinary wolves. Among them are two wolfwalkers, Moll and her wild, red-haired daughter Mebh. When they fall asleep, their spirit becomes a physical wolf and it is this form that Moll has been captures. The two girls befriend each other and go on a magical adventure to save the family of wolves, and the occupied city of Kilkenny while they're at it. 

Real historical figures feature in this fantastic fable. The Lord Protector is none other than Oliver Cromwell, providing an extra gravitas to the story. The traditional cell animation is detailed sublime, with every expression and emotion conveyed as beautifully as the studio has ever done. It is literally a perfect movie.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

AVA

A by-the-books spy thriller that has little more than Jessica Chastain playing a tired spy and some neat action going for it. I feel like Chastain, Charlize Theron and a few others have created a sub-grenre of female-lead spy films in recent years - Atomic Blonde, Anna, Charlie's Angels - they all seem to blur together. Even the upcoming Black Widow seems to share a lot with Jennifer Lawrence's Red Sparrow from a few years ago. I'm not against such a trend, I just with they were a little more memorable and varied.

An American Pickle / Borat 2: Subsequent Movie Film / Eurovision

Three comedic Covid casualties of varying quality. An American Pickle quickly scuppered it's crazy premise to become just another fish-out-of-water comedy saved by the occasionally funny performance of Seth Rogan. Borat 2 was the hilarious sequel we needed this year. Like the first, I don't know if I'd enjoy it as much on subsequent viewings - I eventually began to hate the first - but you can't deny it sparked a little joy in an otherwise joyless year.

My overall thoughts on Eurovision is worse than the other two, but this Netflix comedy starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAddams at their most insane did garner a few chuckles from me. Not as much as an actual Eurovision ceremony, but enough to not bemoan the time spent watching it.

Mulan / Soul

Disney's highest profile Covid casualties didn't hit for me as much as they dis others. Mulan seemed to turn the tale of strife and bravery into a Wuxia fantasy, robbing the title character of any agency in the process. She didn't choose to fight a war, she was destined to. That one change alters the entire message of the movie for the poorer in my opinion. It looks good from a visual standpoint thought.

I went in fully expecting to love Soul. I thought I'd be moved to tears like Up and Inside Out before it. In actuality, I was left strangely cold. Once the body-swap plotline kicked in I though; "Oh, that's what they're doing" and it became incredibly predictable from there. A not-you talking for you, embarrassing run-ins with an important character - it's been done before. The portrayal of the afterlife hasn't, but themes within them have - manifested depression, a crazy-but-wise guru, mystical beaurocracy. Not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I connected with Pixar's other animated feature of the year more.

Birds of Prey / New Mutants
 
Comic book movies were on short supply, (the biggest one - Wonder Woman 1984 -  wouldn't arrive 'til January 13th, so I can't tell you about that disappointment) leaving Birds of Prey and New Mutants as the only way to get out superhero fix on the (not) big screen. Birds of Prey or The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn was pretty decent and delivered all that I wanted it to after the mess that was Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie is still perfect as The Joker's ex and this time we have a fun faux mother-daughter thing going on. I was pleasantly surprised.
 
New Mutants, on the other hand, was steeped in delays and poor test screenings, but I thought it was OK. It's Breakfast Club meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets X-Men 2 which certainly teases my cinematic taste buds. It's by no means a classic - it doesn't know whether to be over-the-top or grounded and it takes a while for any action to kick in - but in my opinion, those scathing reviews aren't at all warranted. Entertainingly average.

Bill & Ted Face the Music
 
For all the division 2020 gave us, it was nice to see a big(ish) budget high-concept comedy deal out some feels. I've been fortelling the comback of this kind of movie for years now, and I'm feeling a little vindicated. Bill and Ted's belated third outing doesn't disappoint, being just as likable, wacky and thought-provoking as the originals. It continues the series' concealed intelligence in its writing making it one of the best would-be blockbusters of the year. Even Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter's slightly melted faces couldn't ruin it.

Bombshell / A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

These are the Oscar hopefuls that weren't. As always, us Brits got them months after the US release but at least the very American subject matters put some logic behind that decision. Based on the Fox News #MeToo scandal, Bombshell masterfully constructs some very tense scenes that never let you forget the corrupt power just outside the frame. The scenes don't entirely mesh into a satisfying whole, probably because it doesn't dive into the misinformed Fox News culture we all know exists, but also because there's no sturdy narrative structure to be held up by those robust scenes. It's one of those cases where a documentary would suffice. At the very least, it would've saved a hell of a lot of prosthetic latex.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood fares much better. Not being broadcast in the UK, I wasn't aware of Mr Rogers until the documentary hit a few years back. What this movie does spectacularly well is that it isn't really about the children's TV presenter, but his impact on others. That is told through the cynical eyes of journalist Lloyd Vogel who gets through some troubling and emotional times thanks to a fortunate interview assignment. I don't think it's the classic it wants to be, but Tom Hanks exudes warmth and he in the very least deserves the praise he got for his performance.

Call of the Wild / Dolittle

These lukewarm kids movies were quickly forgotten after they were released at the beginning of 2020, but I found both to be adequate family viewing. Even though you can't watch Call of the Wild the same way after watching some behind-the-scenes footage, it remains an unassumingly sweet couple of hours. A big and boisterous dog named Buck gets kidnapped and is forced to work as a snow dog leading to a journey of self discovery in the Alaskan wilds. During one his many adventures, he meets the local recluse played by Harrison Ford, himself suffering from a lifetime of regrets. Through him, he eventually comes to terms with his natural instincts as he gets ever closer to fullfilling his call. Not bad.

I believe it's more than a little hyperbolic to call Dolittle the worst film of the year. Many respected critics have indeed labelled it as such. For me, it's entirely average family fare with perhaps one too many fart gags. Robert Downey Jr puts on a distracting Welsh accent that occasionally wisps off to Scottish or Irish territory but I've seen worse, less criticised accents in better films. His manic demeanour is perhaps more off-putting, as is the cacophony of CGI creatures that surround him, but  I can say that it is far, far better than any Chipmunk, Smurf or Garfield movie out there. That comparison tells you a lot about its quality.

Christmas Chronicles 2 / Jingle Jangle
 
Two of Netflix's Christmas offerings that truly got me in the spirit of the season. Neither are particularly classics, but both offer up some nice light entertainment. Christmas Chronicles 2 plays with the Santa mythology much like The Santa Clause trilogy did two decades earlier but I feel this has less of a mean streak to it. I'm still shocked that the Disney classic killed off Santa and put Tim Allen into his own waist-expanding body horror. The child-endangering meanness of Kurt Russell's Santas seems pre-ordained and designed to teach a lesson, making it more palitable as a comparison. It's still a unique characterisation that fits the portly Saint well, and the inclusion of Goldie Hawn's Mrs. Clause is also a winner.

Jingle Jangle initially put me off with its anachronistic portrayal of snowy London streets of old, but when you commit to the fantasy of it, it is a rollicking time. The child actors are a little underwhelming, especially when put alongside the likes of Forest Whitaker and Hugh Bonneville, but add in some song and dance numbers and the childlike wonder of a 19th century toy shop, and you have one great Christmas movie to watch as you sit by the roaring yule log.

Enola Holmes
 
A fun take on the Sherlock Holmes stories that plays more for kids than it does adults. Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, and she has been raised by an eccentric and highly intelligent mosther played by Helena Bonham Carter. When she disappears, putting Enola's self-assured future in jeopardy, she heads out to find her with next to no help from her famously intelligent brothers. Millie Bobby Brown is proving herself to be a winning screen presence and I look forward to what she does next.
 
Gretel & Hansel / The Invisible Man / Koko-di Koko-da

Some obvious stinkers aside, 2020 has been a pretty good year for horror from all walks of life. The independent origins of Gretel & Hansel allow for a creepy time in a wood-bound witches cottage. Starring Sophia Lillis of It fame, it's a slow burner - more in the vein of The Witch than Blair Witch - but it still takes the fairy tale to some surprisingly grim places. 
 
The much-talked about allegory of The Invisible Man put me off seeing it when it first came out. Gaslighting and spousal abuse in a Hollywood horror didn't seem like fun at a time when a pandemic has ramping up. In truth, the take on the classic Universal monster is far more crowd pleasing than would first appear - and that's not a bad thing. We get some tense scenes along with some shocking ones, but the final act provides such a cathartic closure that you cannot help but fist bump the air. 

Outside of Hollywood and American indie circles, Koko-di Koko-da served the darkened corner of the horror market that longs for strange foreign frights. After the tragic accidental death of their only child, a married couple go on a camping trip to save their grief-stricken relationship. Finding a clearing off the beaten path, they are met with some murderous side-show performers singing the titular Danish nursery rhyme. In a horrific Groundhog Day, the couple find themselves repeating the same day over and over again leading to some strange dreamlike sequences that threaten to overtake the narrative. It's not a perfect film, but there are some scenes that will stick with me for years to come.

Godmothered / Noelle / Lady and the Tramp
 
We finally got Disney+ in the UK just when the lockdown struck. The Mandalorian may have been the service's killer app, but their made-for-streaming movies offer more Disney magic, even if they are a little diluted. Godmothered is essentially Enchanted as a Christmas movie which should delight young kids everywhere while Noelle remakes Elf with elements of Arthur Christmas as a spunky Anna Kendrick vehicle. Both are worth watching during the yuletide, but I doubt either will become a holiday fave.
 
The Lady and the Tramp is the live action remake we didn't need but got anyway. Ironically, by not going overboard with the story and special effects, it retain a whimsy that works making it one of the better remakes in Disney's pantheon. 

Over the Moon / Spongebob  Squarepants 3: Sponge on the Run / The Willoughbys

Netflix outdid Disney in their animated department. Over the Moon and The Willoughbys were commissioned by them but could've easily earned the big-screen treatment if they wanted. Over the Moon sees a young girl, her rabbit and her soon-to-be step brother ride a rocket to the moon. It is here where a Chinese goddess could grant her wish to bring her departed mother back to life. A computer animation that's better than anything Dreamworks have done for a while.

I believe The Willoughbys is also computer animated, but it's done in such a way to make it look like stop motion. Here, a quartet of abused but intelligent siblings plot to kill their neglectful parents (by accidental death, naturally) so that they can raise themselves. Instead, they are left with a kindly babysitter that scupper their self-reliant plans. A surprisingly heartfelt adventure in the Lemony Snicket vein.

Sponge on the Run wouldn't be a Netflix had Covid not hit, but it fits the service well. Funnily enough, it's not as good as either of Netflix's own offerings but it's good enough. You know what you're gonna get with SpongeBob; puns, insanity and pop culture references. Except this time it partially copies the first movie as the sponge and starfish go on a road trip to look for a McGuffin from the mermaid kingdom of Atlantis.

Personal History of David Copperfield / Emma

Two highly enjoyable period pieces based on classic British literature. David Copperfield aptly brings the comedy and tragedy of Charles Dickins' story to life. I thought the multi-racial cast (headed by a brilliant Dev Patel) would be distracting, but it wasn't. No one's skin colour is mentioned and it has no interpretive meaning like Wuthering Heights had from a few years ago, but it does show that period dramas can work with actors from all kinds of backgrounds. Of course, it helps that everything else about the movie is exceptionally done too.

I personally didn't think Emma was as enjoyable, but it is probably the better film. It is nevertheless a breezy good time. The vibrant colours of the much-lauded costumes, while mildly anachronistic, give the production an elegance that would surely be rewarded come awards season. My biggest gripe, however, is the way the story is told - almost as if you already have to be familiar with the story to fully enjoy and understand it. Nevertheless, Anya Taylor Joy is having one hell of a year, with The Queen's Gambit on Netflix truly showcasing her talents.
 
Pinocchio 

Robert Benigni - who once played Pinocchio in his self-directed 2002 adaptation - now plays Gepetto in a much darker adaptation. The make-up effects are very good, with little CGI to aid in the effects, making it far more dreamlike and disturbing. The cricket is particularly nightmare-inducing. It retells some little-told chapters of the book which I found fascinating. This included an extended stay with the Blue Fairy and her giant snail of a nanny, some burnt legs and a money tree. Freaky like all the best kids fantasy should be.

Prom  / Rebecca
 
Two high-profile Netflix movies released at the tail end of the year. I suspect both of them were primed for the awards season given the big-name talent involved but their chips are now all-in on Mank. The Prom is an overlong musical with some fun scenes but I can't quite muster enough positivity to say I truly liked it. It both lambasts and praises an actor's penchant to be political, but it also suffer from Ryan Murphy's need to alter actuality to suit his idea of what the world should be. His TV shows did this too; The Politician shrugged off sexual diversity and inclusivity as a non-issue; Hollywood had the American population welcome the LGBTQ communities with open arms 70 years before it actually happened (if it actually did). It's an admirable re-write of the world, but it's so far removed from real life it voids his work of any drama. 
 
Rebecca, being a remake of a Hitchcock classic, was always going to struggle to win any favour. Classifying itself as another adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's 1940 novel, it doesn't really do anything new. The unnamed protagonist, played by Lily James, is just as annoyingly passive as ever but it feels wrong in this modern re-telling. Regardless, it's still a well-made adaptation from Ben Wheatley that isn't as surprising as the director's other works.

Scoob / Trolls 2
 
Animated movies seemed to bypass the Covid delays and get released digitally. Perhaps this was due to the mammoth success of Trolls 2. While a fun little ditty for the wee ones, it is generally forgettable fair with a mixed message. Why should metal be singled out as the antisocial music genre? Surely that should be the outside status punk, or the awful banality of Vegas crooners?

Scoob, on the other hand, has nothing going for it. I was up for an origin story based on the Mystery Inc, even one with a weirdly chosen voice cast, but what we got instead was a sloppy attempt at a Hannah Barbera cinematic universe. So poor, even my nieces and nephews noticed it.
 
Shirley 

A fictional story based on the author of The Haunting of Hill House. It's not really a horror, but a drama and actor showcase. Shirley Jackson is known for being something of an opinionated firebrand, making any historic interview with her fascinating. Here, she revels in toying with a newly-wed couple who are students at the university where her husband works. It plays a lot like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and the comparisons are favourable. Its detached style of filmmaking is not for everyone, but those with a taste for unconventional drama and powerhouse acting will be gripped.

Sonic the Hedgehog
 
Better than it had any right to be, and released just before a pandemic so it can earn its crown as having one of the biggest box offices of the year. It may take its cues from the myriad of childrens' films that partner an everyday Joe with a CGI abomination, but the writing here is better than most and - along with Jim Carrey's Dr Robotnik - saves it from sitting alongside the ridiculed likes of Super Mario Brothers.

Tenet

I've really struggled to get into Tenet, and I don't know why. I wanted to see this at the cinema, but virus fears kept me away much like a good portion of the movie-going population. I now have the Blu-ray, but can't get further than an hour in before I give up. The action is there, the acting is there, the directing is there, the insane story is there. Looking at the majority of movies I've actually seen this year, I just think I wanted something a little more light-hearted, impassioned or fantastically horrific. Traits you cannot land at the feet of Christopher Nolan. Considering how much I like his other works, I'll keep trying until I'm in the right mindset to enjoy it.

Vivarium 

A weird sci-fi fever dream that wouldn't be out of place as an episode of Twilight Zone. Were it the length of a episode of a TV show, I might have enjoyed it more, but there isn't enough story here to warrant a feature film. Conversely, the two leads played by Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg aren't fleshed out much as characters. Perhaps a scene or two before the couple travel to an overly perfect and hellishly homogenised suburb would have fixed both issues I had with it.

The Witches
 
I kinda liked Robert Zemeckis' redo of The Witches, flaws and all. Considering who the director is, the special effects are more than a little janky and it plays a little to much to the younger side of the young target audience, but it's a breezy fun time. Sure, that is mostly down to Anne Hathaway's absurdly over-the-top performance that is perfectly pantomime-ish for such a production. Many have claimed it to be some of the worst acting they've seen, but you have to see it in context of a movie such as this. A fun time.



WORST OF 2020

BRAHMS: THE BOY II

Dull horror sequel that pisses on the established lore of the dull horror original. Katy Holms sparks memories of a ten-year-old underrated spook-fest called Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, so I was hoping it could come up with something more fun to fit with the premise. Annabelle: Creation  and Ouija: Origin of Evil did just this. Brahms does not.

THE TURNING
 
The Haunting of Bly Manor over on Netflix updated Henry James' The Turning of the Screw in a fascinating and heartfelt way. It may not top Hill House - probably due to Mike Flanagan pushing directing duties over to a variety of others sacrificing the singular ambitious voice. At least it's miles and miles better that The Turning, the modernised feature film that completely misunderstood the meaning of the original. Upping the age of the two children lessens the horror of their actions, turning them into nothing more complex than spoiled brats. Avoid.

ARTEMIS FOWL
 
Disney's oft-delayed Harry Potter botherer finally sneaks out of development hell onto Disney+. It was one of the Covid casualties, but in all honesty Artemis Fowl has the quality of a TV movie so it fits right in. I have not read the books, by I am reliably informed that the titular character isn't to be seen as the hero of the movie, but Disney wanted him to be. So they twisted plot points to suit that which resulted in a movie with little narrative sense. The trailer teased many sequences that were not found in the film, so who knows if their inclusion would alter anything. Hell, considering how the final product was obviously butchered I suspect that fateful decision was made during post-production. A lesson against presumptive moviemaking.

THE WRONG MISSY
 
Aaaaargh!! That is all I can say about this vile excuse for a comedy. Thankfully, it's been quickly buried in the Netflix algorithm but just in case it randomly pops up - avoid.

THE CRAFT: LEGACY

An insanely cheap-looking sequel to atmospheric teen horror that captured the zeitgeist of the moment. I'd be half pressed to call The Craft: Legacy as sequel as it re-treads the exact same beats as the first. Character motivations make no sense. Dialogue makes no sense. Even the special effects make no sense, seemingly making use of the same tools YouTubers the world over have become proficient in. We're talking Birdemic levels of jank here. For a name that would've commanded a lot of interest, it's baffling how little thought and effort went into this cynical, lazy cash grab that thankfully grabbed little cash. 


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8 comments:

  1. Always enjoy your yearly best of lists. Unfortunately haven't seen even half of these, but agree with you I preferred Onward over Soul (was still fun though). Watched half of David Copperfield, but didn't enjoy it as didn't think it flowed well and was a little pretentious (think source material suits a one season TV show better). Enola Holmes was quite good, hopefully we see a sequel (Henry Carvill was miscast and didn't bring anything interesting to the Sherlock role). Quite want to see JoJo Rabbit, but waiting for it to come to streaming. Finally I will end by noting I can't watch anything with Robert Pattison, I find him a pretty face with no substance or charisma. I'll put money on him being bad as Batman, but the bigger question is do we really need another Batman remake???

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    1. It depends what they do with Batman. Rumour is that it's going down the detective route, which is something we haven't seen much of in the movies, so it might deserve its existence. If we can have 3 Spider-Men, we can have another Batman.

      The work of Charles Dickens was serialised in the newspapers of the time so they are episodic in their very nature. I don't think that's necessarily bad for a movie, but I agree it fits the series structure better.

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    2. You should give The Lighthouse a go regardless. It might change your mind on Patty boy.

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    3. I would argue there are too many Spiderman movies. Original spider-man 3 was terrible and both Garfield's ones were average. I haven't written off the new Batman, but I'm very skeptical. That goes the same for the upcoming James Bond, Indiana Jones and nearly all Star Wars projects. I've just been let down too many times. I'd likely try most of your list, but it all depends what comes to streaming services as that is all I can afford these days :( 1917 is on Amazon Prime currently so will look to give that a go :)

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    4. I agree with you on the quality of those Spider-Man movies, but if they were stepping stones towards to Homecoming and Spider-Verse, then I'm all for it. That being said, WB are hit and miss nowadays and I hated BvS & Justice League. Wonder Woman 1984 was really bad too and I liked the first. It had all of the worst aspects and vibes of the Supergirl movie from the 80s. I think you'll like 1917 a lot though.

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  2. I will lock you in a room and force you to complete Tenet . If you ask me the promise of Tenet is crap , Time Inversion . But you get it after a day of watching it fully , your mind will start to think about the ending and the phone call "If the main Hero created the Time Tenet Agency in the future but lives in the past, he became the Egg and the Chicken that only he can do controlled time Paradoxes... since he saved himself at the start ... What if the movie what cut in the same way". And then you see it , the marvel of Tenet a Palindrome movie. Since it was cut in a specific way to makes sense if you watch it Forwards and Backwards . To this day i have seen it 3 times and one of those if you see it Backwards . Even the Ending Credits and Starting Intro click.

    That's the Magic of Tenet , a inverted movie , a Palindrome. Making nonsense, make a sense, if you see it backwards . Then you understand why some scenes had disjointed order, if you watched it forwards. See it as his previous film Memento , but more action packed. After Inception this is his best work yet. A funny tidbit about this is, he is Remaking Memento as his next film .

    The only duds in his film making career where Interstellar and Dunkirk

    PS. The BD also a special Voice track with a Special narrator for the Sight Impaired . If you can't get the movie , go see it with it . It will explain it all to you . Its like the Narrator version of Blade Runner .

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    1. I'm pretty sure I'll watch it again and enjoy it. I just don't think I was in the right frame of mind when I saw it towards the end of the year. This was a time when I was looking for more light-hearted fare - hence me seeing Godmothered or The Witches to the end and not this. Any other year and it might have been different.

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    2. Hehe , then you really recommend seeing it with the Narrator Track . Its special , and helps to understand the movie more, if your not in the mood of watching "WTF I JUST SAW" movies .

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