My Year in Movies – 2020 Edition

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Worst. Year. Ever.

By: Kevin Jordan

Here are some quotes that have not aged well, due to 2020 being a rotten asshole of a year.

“Luckily, we haven’t gone so far down the rabbit hole that we all can’t sit in a theater and enjoy a film together.”

“As usual, and despite the continued predictions that a fill-in-the-blank-enemy will force theaters to close…”

If those quotes do not sound familiar, it’s because I wrote them roughly a thousand years ago at the end of 2019 in my year-end review. Seriously, a deadly pathogen and worldwide pandemic is what it took to close theaters? Who could have seen that coming? What’s that? Lots of people did? Including our soon-to-be-ex-President? Well, to be fair, that quote was in the context of economic and movie reasons forcing theaters to close and I still stand by it. Covid-19 is an extenuating circumstance, your honor.

What about the first quote? Oh, I was dead wrong and I won’t even take the out on Covid for that one. Did you see how many people reflected back on the shit-tastrophe of the last four years and cast their vote thinking “Yummy! I’ll have four more years of that shit, waiter.” Things have gotten so far out of hand that many Republicans have turned on each other for not helping execute a coup, but only after murdering peaceful protestors, attempting to kidnap governors, and refusing to wear masks because they believe this whole pandemic is a world-wide conspiracy to take down Donald Trump. Considering there are also nut-jobs out there refusing to wear masks or get the Covid vaccine, why would any sane person voluntarily sit in a theater anytime soon? And, even if they did, how would anyone be able to enjoy a film while trying to hold their breath for two hours? With apologies to Christopher Nolan, arguably the best movie news of the year was Warner Brothers announcing all of their movies in 2021 will be released to HBO Max and theaters simultaneous.

I know the last thing you want to read about here is politics, but it is unavoidable. Among the myriad things that have been completely fucked up by the monumentally botched handling of the Covid pandemic is movies. I love movies. I especially love new movies. They are my escape and stress reliever. No, seriously – they are, despite what you may think after you read some of my reviews. Ordinarily, I take in north of seventy new movies a year. This year, it’ll be around thirty, the majority of them in the last couple of months and from the comfort of my own couch. And almost none of those thirty are movies that I was looking forward to. The last two movies I saw in theaters were The Way Back and My Spy waaaaaay back in March (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Neither movie was good and My Spy was punctuated by a kid sneezing on my neck partway through the film. Yeah, that happened well after we knew about Covid.

Even worse for me, the ruined movie year also ruined this review. I love writing my year-end review. It is the biggest stress reliever of the entire year because it allows me to dump everything movie-related out of my head. Plus, it is really fun remembering all of the ups and downs of the movie year, not to mention researching and writing whatever my main topic is. This year? I have to actually consider if Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the top ten movies of the year, while also being one of the ten worst. On the surface, that is funny to think about until it becomes tragic. So, yeah, I’ve got a lot more stress than usual and I don’t have many movies to think about to relieve that stress since they pretty much all got cancelled. Thankfully, in 2021 we’ll finally have some adults in charge to start cleaning up this disaster. It’ll still be a long time before things are safe enough to sit in a crowded theater, but at least there is a teeny tiny light at the end of this tunnel of doom.

My Top 5, er..3

This category is temporarily reduced to three to keep it around ten percent of my movie total. Even then, picking a top three was difficult. The three I went with were very good movies, but I doubt they would have been in the top five of a normal year. Well, maybe The Gentlemen. But definitely not a documentary.

  • The Gentlemen – This film was a great way to kick off the new year. It was fun, witty, humorous, clever, well-written, and filled with actors clearly enjoying themselves. Little did we know that the movie year also peaked with this film.
  • The Midnight Sky – Finally, a really good science fiction film, something we haven’t seen since 2016’s Arrival. The film reminded me of an old novel called The Beach (which also got a movie treatment). George Clooney is excellent as a dying scientist trying to outrun the apocalypse long enough to help a little girl. And there is a spaceship returning from exploring a recently discovered moon of Jupiter. Oh, how I have missed you, great sci-fi.
  • The Social Dilemma – Watch this excellent documentary as soon as you can. Social media is an amazing invention that is also one of the most misused technologies in history. This film does a great job of blending interviews with anthropomorphizations of the social media algorithms at work, sure to make you at least consider deleting all social media apps from your life. Or at the very least, scrub the shit out of your profiles and friends lists.

You Almost Made It

These three made here for lack of better options. Soul is definitely the best animated movie of the year, but it wasn’t awesome. The other two are questionable and Onward probably would have normally ended up in “Movies for Me”.

  • Onward – I love a good quest movie and, apparently, so does my son. I also love a good fantasy. But what really sells this movie are the trash-panda unicorns, arguably the funniest joke of the entire year. It’s always the little things.
  • Soul – Just because 2020 was atrocious for the movie business doesn’t mean Disney still didn’t win the year. Like Inside Out, Soul takes on an existential idea, this time the afterlife. And the before-life. Soul is a fun and relatable movie that gives us a very creative imagining of what souls go through when they are not on Earth. Exactly what we’ve all been thinking about while enduring this sucky Earth year.
  • The Lodge – Nothing makes me happier in a movie than when asshole characters get their comeuppance. The moral of The Lodge is you probably shouldn’t mess with someone recovering from growing up in a cult.

The Squirmers

Two documentaries, both of which will make you very uncomfortable. Watch them because they are extremely important and they bring necessary attention to horrifying human behavior.

  • Athlete A – I threw up in my mouth a little bit multiple times while watching this documentary about the doctor that sexually assaulted hundreds of female gymnasts. What is even worse are the people in charge of U.S.A. Gymnastics that turned a blind eye to this monster, even blackballing the teenagers who reported him. And that is before you get to the horrifying treatment these girls experience purely from an athletic standpoint. Just gross.
  • Dissident – This documentary chronicles multiple facets of the events that lead to the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Like with the Russian investigation into the Trump campaign, U.S. intelligence agencies have the highest level of confidence in their conclusions on Khashoggi’s murder. Yes, the Russians helped Trump win the 2016 election. Yes, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. Yes, our President and the Republican Party have done fuck-all to hold them responsible, all but inviting these bad actors to keep doing it. It is infuriating to watch the Republican leaders in our country continue to betray our ideals while pretending to love it. I will now take a deep, calming breath.

Surprisingly Decent

It is almost impossible to go into a movie without some sort of expectations. Usually, it’s from something you saw in a trailer, actors who are in the movie, or what you already know about the director. In this case, they were horror movies that sounded like typical dreck.

  • Come Play – Legitimately creepy horror movies are few and far between. Come Play hits its mark, delivering a monster that will haunt your dreams, with an equally haunting name – Larry. Considering that Larry primarily haunts screens (phones, IPads, TVs), this movie avoided being fantastically stupid.
  • The Invisible Man – The writing gets kind of rocky at times, but the tension throughout the film saves the film from itself. Elisabeth Moss is really good and even the pseudo-science is palatable. Mostly, I’m just glad that this is now my memory of an Invisible Man story instead of Kevin Bacon’s Hollow Man.

Movies for Me

Just two. I am so sad about this. Movies for Me are my guilty pleasures, and whether or not they’re objectively good doesn’t matter. And Tenet is probably better than this.

  • Tenet – I only watched this movie a week ago and am still digesting it. It isn’t that the story is difficult to follow, it’s that the visuals are difficult to follow. Christopher Nolan sure loves stories about time, and he’s taken it to a whole new level in Tenet. If you thought Inception was complicated, Tenet will make your brain sweat.
  • Troop Zero – My wife and I had opposite reactions to this movie. I thought it worked, the kids were great, and the acting was really good. She thought it was shoddy and half-finished, missing the elements needed to make you care about what you are watching. She is much smarter than I am, which is one of the reasons why this category exists.

Meh…(or Movies Not for Me)

Flip a coin on these films. These movies were decent, and were movies. None of them spoke to me in any way, but maybe they spoke to you.

  • The Burnt Orange Heresy – Speaking of opposite reactions, I have cooled a little on this movie since I saw it, but my wife found it fascinating. It is a solid movie and Mick Jagger is far better an actor than I expected. I just realized that I probably will never even consider watching it again. What says meh more than that?
  • Irresistible – While it captures the essence of today’s (and yesterday’s) political campaigns, it pulls too many of its punches. It’s a decent flick, but it’s far past time to start holding politicians responsible for their repugnant behavior.
  • Over the Moon – My son thought it was medium and I thought it was less than medium. The animation is nice and there are a couple of decent songs, but the story and protagonist are both annoying and nonsensical. Even for a cartoon fairy tale.

Intermission

Due to the lack of new movies and being stuck at home for weeks, I found myself reviewing other things.

  • Hamilton – Released on Disney+ this year, it is only a movie in the sense that someone filmed the New York stage play from 2016. Actually, the movie is three separate performances edited together. That being said, it is an amazing performance and the best movie I’ve seen all year. We have watched it in my house at least a dozen times and listened to the music many dozens of times. In this festering boil of a year, it was one of the few bright spots.
  • PicardStar Trek: The Next Generation remains one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Even thirty years later, it is very rewatchable. Well, after season one and part of season two. The announcement of a new show featuring Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) had me giddy. Then, I watched the show and I was no longer giddy. What an embarrassment. In a year when we really needed some hope and optimism, something that TNG provided in spades, Picard doubled down on the dark horseshit that killed the franchise years ago. Thankfully, Stewart redeemed himself in the excellent Uber Eats commercials (with Mark Hamill), commercials that easily put Picard to shame.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – Speaking of Star Trek, I cannot believe how terrible The Final Frontier If not for TNG existing at the time, The Final Frontier might have been the death of the franchise. You’re right; probably not. But, wow, was it bad. Between that and Picard I started to question if Star Trek was really ever good.
  • O Brother, Where Art Though? – The only Cohen Brothers movie I like. Let’s move on before I remember how much I dislike the rest of their filmography.
  • The Year 2020 – Just kidding. Intermission Over.

We’re Really Only in it for the Money

Even Covid couldn’t stop these money grabs from being released.

  • Mulan – I never saw the original animated Mulan, so I didn’t have a problem with the remake the way other people did. I guess removing Mushu the dragon was a big deal, since Mushu was the comedic relief in the film. If dropping Mushu had the same effect as dropping Iago from Aladdin, then I completely understand the sentiment. Personally, I kind of liked the remake, but don’t tell the Mushu fans.
  • Trolls: World Tour – I still like putting on the original Trolls soundtrack and singing along with Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, and Zoe Deschanel. The movie itself was really fun and threaded the needle of creating a solid movie around a really dumb toy. This sequel was terrible in almost every way, weirdly cast Kelly Clarkson as a country western singer, and had shitty music to top it off. Rather than thread the needle, World Tour impaled itself with it.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog – I fell on the sword for this one because my son was really excited to see it. Video game-based movies are almost universally bad. This one fell in between meh and obnoxious, which is counted as win in this case.

We Decided We Weren’t Just in it for the Money

Like the previous category, there would normally be several here. Since Disney delayed everything Marvel and other franchises like Ghostbusters and James Bond also got delayed, I only found one here. And it was a stretch.

  • Birds of Prey – This is the toughest movie to rank this year as it could fit into several categories. It was another fairly uninspired DCEU flick, but much better than most of their garbage. Except, it was also a mess of a film. Except, it was also fun and entertaining. Except, on a second viewing recently, it seemed a lot worse than the first time. Except, I said only ask for a dollar back. Except, it had the worst subtitle in this history of movies. Except, you get it. In a year that saw almost every possible thing go wrong, I’m taking any victory I can get. Fun and entertaining wins.

The Letdowns

The second category where expectations are key. Lazy screenplays and disappointing films will always exist.

  • Antebellum – The film looked interesting on paper and we definitely need as much education as we can get on the amount of racism present in America. Unfortunately, this film felt very much like a rough draft and its conclusion is not nearly satisfying enough to cancel out to the horrors inflicted by the heroine’s captors.
  • My Spy – Dave Bautista has pretty good comedic timing for a former pro wrestler. While this film uses it a bit, the premise and execution of the film as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. I look forward to Bautista’s next action comedy, which hopefully excludes irritating children.
  • She Dies Tomorrow – I thought this movie was going somewhere with a very intriguing premise (a contagion causing people to believe they will die tomorrow) and two promising acts. The third act turned out to be the credits. That is not a joke. The film just literally stops. What the hell, movie?

A Waste of Time

At least ‘The Letdowns’ contained some entertainment value. These next films were all very boring, not the least bit entertaining, and lacked any plot beyond the initial premise. They are the very definition of “two hours of your life you will never get back.”

  • Come Away – Weaving two classic stories together – Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan – is a good idea. Making a film that gives the impression the writers have never actually read Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan is not a good idea.
  • The Way Back – I am still annoyed that this was the last movie I saw in a theater. There were no explosions. There were no shootouts. I mean, there were if we are counting Ben Affleck cussing out a referee during a basketball game, but that is not the kind I want to see at max volume on a thirty-foot screen.
  • Underwater – A key component of movies is that they make the viewer want to root for the protagonist and her companions. Underwater was so concerned with creating and sustaining tension that it barely cared it had actual people in it. Which is more care than the audience gave for them.

Not the Worst, But You Sure Tried Hard

The challenge with this category is convincing you of the one redeemable quality for each of these films that kept them out of the cellar. Good luck to me, right?

  • Greenland – The only slack I will cut this movie is that it came out at exactly the wrong time and maybe, if I squint really hard, I can see what the movie was trying to do. Other than that, it was a complete disaster *rim shot (from my son).*
  • The Doorman – Novelty deaths. That’s all you get out of this otherwise festival of crap trying to be Die Hard.
  • Possessor – An ultra-violent film about an assassin program where the assassin (Andrea Riseborough) is able to inhabit another person in order to assassinate a target as the possessed person. Did you follow that? I barely did. Possessor is a mess of a movie that serves only to confuse the viewer in between horrifying the viewer.

Pooping on the Silver Screen

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the five worst movies of the year. You might have already noticed there are only three films listed in this section. The dearth of films this year means I had to get creative and the shitty sequels are a great way to round out the sewer. But first…

  • Dolittle – This is how the year started, Ironman fists a dragon. I’ve said too much already.
  • Downhill – Comedy, my ass. Unless we are counting the sick joke on audiences that was this movie. I am not.
  • Godmothered – If there were a vaccine for bad movies, it would be derived from this viral load of crap. The fact that Disney does such a great job with its theme parks, Marvel, and Pixar, makes shit like Godmothered

Pooping on the Silver Screen: The Sequel

This is the bonus category for movies that were made as sheer money grabs, but were also terrible movies in general. They are the shitty sequels, prequels, remakes, and franchise entries that keep getting made because you won’t stop watching them.

  • Bad Boys for Life – The good news is Martin Lawrence is still alive. The bad news is so is this shitty franchise. We already have a shitty buddy cop franchise vomiting out sequels (Fast and Furious). We really don’t need another one that is somehow worse.
  • Wonder Woman 1984 – Hands down, the worst movie of the year. Yes, the other four worst movies of the year are all equally as atrocious as Wonder Woman 1984, but none of the other four came with positive expectation. That is not a typo. It should have at least been entertaining enough to make us forget about the worst year in most of our lives. Instead, it provided the skidmark for the exclamation mark at the end of this nightmare of a year.

And there you have it, the weirdest year-in-review I have written. 2021 is going to be just as weird because, despite what far too many people think, Covid isn’t going away any time soon (especially with the new and improved Covid that is spreading much faster than Covid 1.0). That means more delays of major releases, more time required to even film new movies, and watching more movies at home using inferior equipment. As convenient as it is to watch movies from home, I would much rather watch Dune, James Bond, every Marvel movie, and many, many more in a theater. Mind you, not until after we force-vaccinate a completely random number of people somewhere in the neighborhood of, oh I don’t know, off the top of my head, seventy-four-ish million people. But one day. Soon, I hope. Where did that teeny tiny light go?

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