Editor’s note: We need your help! Support content like this by becoming a Reader member here.
Here, in the final month of the worst year, I bring you tidings of modest comfort and medium joy! Because a few high-profile cinema nuggets have yet to shake loose down the pant leg of streaming services, this isn’t my top 10 films of the year. That list will arrive at the start of 2021, when it is (maybe) safe to be optimistic again. However, since happiness is in such short supply, why not roll around a bit in the top 10 movie moments of this turd year?
Best Song: Jaja Ding Dong
The phrase I’ve repeated most often this year is undoubtedly, “What is with so many people acting like we’re not in the middle of a raging pandemic?!” My second most-common utterance is definitely, “I only want to listen to Jaja Ding Dong!” It’s a great response to virtually any question asked of you. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a flawed-but-fun bit of Ferrell-ian shenanigans. Its crowning achievement and lasting impact on our culture is a childish song about genitals and sex stuff. Certainly not the height of wit or comic insight, the comfort food of comedy is always ribald.
Best Performance: Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods
To be stone-cold serious for just a second, we absolutely cannot let the fact that Da 5 Bloods came out during this demonic fart of a year prevent Delroy Lindo from getting his Oscar. The movie is another genius trash can through the window from Spike Lee, one of his best in ages. While the film itself should be lauded, Lindo should be carried out atop a gleeful mob’s shoulders. Metaphorically, of course, as “being happy about a thing” doesn’t omit the need to socially distance, no matter what legions of Midwesterners seem to think. Lindo’s performance is a broad, sophisticated, legendary moment that deserves celebration, dammit.
Best Surprise Beefcake: Oliver Sacks
Given his substantive contributions to medical narratives, the fact that Oliver Sacks: His Own Life was a very good documentary wasn’t surprising. What was shocking, however, was what he described doing to a bowl of Jell-O. What was almost as shocking was the fact that the renowned neurologist was a swarthy mega-hunk back in the day. Whatever you expected in a poignant nonfiction contemplation of mortality and the power of capturing the stories of those who are neurologically different, most could not have expected a barrage of scientist thirst trap pics. If you can hear us from the great beyond, Dr. Sacks, me-ow.
Best Clothing Item: The jacket from Deerskin
Against their better judgment, in April, Film Streams invited me to live-tweet Deerskin, writer/director Quentin Dupieux’s ode to outerwear that drives a man to murder. As someone who loved Dupieux’s Rubber, a film about a killer car tire, I felt prepared. Yet, somehow, the sheer absurdity and existential gibberish of Deerskin whacked down any mental defenses I had prepared. This begs the question: Does the fringe-heavy coat from the film actually have some kind of magic powers? More importantly, would it look good on me?
Best Scare: The attic in Host
Clearly, what absolutely nobody needed this year was to be scared any further. That didn’t stop writer/director Rob Savage from goosing our collective bejeepers. As silly as a Zoom séance sounds, the results were surprisingly spooky. Save for the brilliant moment in the car in The Haunting of Hill House last year, lightning-fast scares are usually unearned and ugly manipulation of audiences’ senses. When the camera panned in the attic during Host, the naughty words my mouth made before my brain knew what was happening are a testimony to the legit-ness of the fright. Well done, Zoom ghosts.
Best New Character: Dennis Caleb McCoy
I’ve described Bill & Ted Face the Music as a children’s movie for grown-ups. Its goofy and simplistic moralizing felt like an emotional balm on the wound that is 2020. And the best part of it was Dennis Caleb McCoy. Anthony Carrigan is multi-dimensionally good as the suddenly sentient murder robot. His pitch perfect delivery belies the character’s unique take on humanity and is also, you know, make-ya-snort funny. They clearly tried to position Bill and Ted’s daughters for any future films in the franchise, but I would follow Dennis Caleb McCoy to hades and beyond.
Best Laughs: Extra Ordinary
Actually, let’s keep this chuckle bus a-gigglin’ for a moment. Everybody wants to know a funny movie to watch. That was true before the world made us all Biff Tannen kissing fresh fertilizer. The distinction of being the funniest movie of this year may thus seem like a low bar to clear, but I would tell you it is also maybe the most critical. Extra Ordinary is a horror comedy powered by the irresistible hilarity of Maeve Higgins, Ireland’s cultural apology for Bono. Blissfully devoid of any real-world significance or deeper meaning, the relentlessly pleasant endeavor is just charming and punctuated by several big laughs. In a way, it only makes sense that 2020’s best comedy heavily involves demons, right?
Best Grandparent: Lucky Grandma
Any way you slice it, this has not been a great year for grandparents. The curmudgeonly force of nature that is the lead in writer/director Sasie Sealy’s brilliant Lucky Grandma is the elderly epitome of the bleak year. Resilient as hell, smarter than anyone gives her credit for, and determined to gut out whatever monstrous crap is tossed at her, Tsai Chin’s character will stick with me long after our collective angst has shifted from “When will there be a viable vaccine?” to “Why are so many idiots not taking this viable vaccine?” I’m 100% in for a Fast Five style franchise built around this woman. Bring some grumpy friends in, add even more gang violence, and nobody tell Ludacris.
Best Violent Escapism: Extraction
To go the other way with it for a minute… Violent escapism is a much healthier alternative than, I don’t know, creating a nation-warping conspiracy theory about pedophilia or something. Extraction is the latest “sad angry man kills everybody” film. While it’s not fit to wick John’s dog, boy howdy does it really produce just a staggering amount of violence. The kitchen scene in particular stuck with me, as at a certain point, I found myself visually scanning the room, thinking about what object was going to do what damage to the next bad guy’s face. Is that healthy? Eh, when our collective primary objective is trying to avoid a real damn plague, I think any doctor would give a prescription that reads “Take two hours of Chris Hemsworth murdering people in the face and don’t call me in the morning because the hospitals are overrun.”
Best Use of Rudy Giuliani
It’s definitely not “as a lawyer.” No one film moment captured the nation’s collective attention this year more than the “shirt tuck” seen round the world in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Wherever you come down politically, I think everyone can agree that the best and most common use of Rudy Giuliani is in the phrase “Did you see what Rudy Giuliani just did?”
Those are my best movie moments from this biblically cursed year! Share yours with me on twitter (@thereaderfilm) and brace yourself for my impending top 10 films of 2020 arriving next month, as it will be unlike any other list I’ve compiled in my nearly 20 years of doing this…