Because 2020 jokes are every bit as tired as 2020 has made all of us, let’s start with a simple celebration. By the time you read this, it will be 2021. The power of an odd-numbered year will cleanse us of our sins, as we will be vaccinated with optimism. Or, you know, things will continue to be pretty awful, only with a “1” now involved.
Looking back on the year in film feels like reading a ransom note written by an illiterate kidnapper: Release dates were sloppily cut and pasted, and nobody understands the demands of how millions of dollars should be handed over. Normally, I wait to publish this list until February, after all the limited-run award hopefuls are finally released. Well, F that this year. F stands for “forget,” what did you think?
I had to make this list before the debuts of Wonder Woman 1984, One Night in Miami, News of the World, or Promising Young Woman. I missed other movies too, I’m sure, but “missing movies” is kind of a permanent state of being these days.
But enough of the sad face and party poopin’. Let’s slap on a glad face and get this party pumpin’! Nothing gets festivities going like talking about crappy films, right?
The 5 Worst Films of 2020
“It’s not that bad,” I thought while watching what would become the last film I’d see in a theater for, I don’t know, the remainder of my life? The truth is that this slapdash Pixar picture is so grotesquely and flagrantly half-assed that we don’t even need to get into the whole “Chris Pratt” of it all.
This one was dropped on Disney+, not unlike an anvil on an unsuspecting cartoon character’s cranium. Putting Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher together in a “modern take” on fairy godmothers sure seemed like a good idea. But lots of things seem like good ideas, am I right, capitalism? I don’t care that it’s a kids movie, you don’t treat national treasures like Bell and Fisher like this on my watch without a “worst film list” retribution. Justice!
I am sure that Melissa McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, is a genuinely wonderful person who she loves very much. I am also positive that he cannot write and direct a movie to save his life. I know that other things have been as unfunny as Superintelligence, a rom-com about a sentient artificial intelligence that is voiced by James Corden. I just don’t know that you can put all those words in a sentence like that and have it be anything other than the opposite of pleasurable.
2.) The Craft: Legacy
How do you so colossally bork a remake of The Craft that I, a person who wants that original soundtrack played at my wake while Fairuza Balk gives my eulogy, hated it? From glossing over the foundational friendship between the witches in a montage to using CGI on David Duchovny in a way that makes alien anal probing seem fun, nothing is worse than the fact that the music is generic and bad. This is not not the second thing I’d fix about 2020 if given a time machine.
I got to see like a handful of movies in the theater this year, and in one of them, Iron Man does butt stuff to animals. I wish it were as hilariously awful as it sounds, but this “dude who talks to wildlife” remake is a goddamn chore to watch. It’s like Willy Wonka without the joy of child torture. Don’t even do it on a dare.
The Top 10 Films of 2020
Not a huge list of honorable mentions this year, but I’m pretty sure you know why. That’s right, 2020 is a year without honor. I loved the punk rock v fascism doc White Riot. The Garden Left Behind is a subtle, somber, simple drama steeped in important Trans issues. Gretel & Hansel damn near made the final cut, what with it basically being a superhero origin story via the Brothers Grimm. I was of two minds about I’m Thinking of Ending Things, but one of those minds had it ranked very highly. No recent documentary surprised me with sincerity quite as much as Circus of Books. Those are the opening acts, but it’s time for the big show. Gird your loins, should you have managed to preserve any loins to this point.
10.) Lucky Grandma
I didn’t know that I wanted a movie where a cantankerous Asian grandmother squares off against the mob until I got it. Tsai Chin’s performance is so next level brilliant, I’d trade at least 3 John Wicks to see her face the underworld again. That, or just CGI Keanu Reeves out and swap her in for the next Wick-quel. Hilarious, surprisingly nuanced, and unlike anything else I saw this year, which is pretty much the only cohesive theme spread across this top 10. Seriously, if you find anyone else who included these movies in this order for their “best of 2020,” send me their info. I’ve been looking for that goddamned clone for years…
9.) Extra Ordinary
I don’t know how to not enjoy Maeve Higgins, a legitimately brilliant Irish comedian whose dismissive level of “whatever” is somehow just painfully endearing. Playing off an exceedingly well-cast Will Forte, Higgins basically does a one-woman Ghostbuster riff in this horror-tinged comedy that doesn’t hinge itself on only a few big jokes. In a better world, this would be what gets Higgins her own cheeky sitcom. In this world, I guess I’m just happy she exists as a person?
I didn’t expect to love a movie about the psychological compulsion to swallow stuff that should absolutely not be swallowed. Sure, it’s sex- and gender-based metaphors and messages are more explicit than the first rap album I bought, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling sophisticated AF somehow. A lot of that is the work of Haley Bennett, whose name deserves to be written over Jennifer Lawrence’s on call sheets. If you’re in the mood for some on-the-nose feminism and regurgitation, get your esophagus ready!
7.) His House
The scariest traditional horror movie of 2020 is, in many ways, the fulfilment of the promise that Get Out made. This poetic, allegorical haunted house flick is a relentless promotion of empathy for the plight of refugees that doesn’t sacrifice the spooky. More mythological than urban legendy, His House features two top-tier performances and at least four “Please do not do the thing that I know you’re about to do” moments. It’s so creepy and enlightening, it’s like an NBC “the more you know” PSA presented by the concept of mortality.
Speaking of mortality… At times this year, the tsunami of grim news has pushed the water levels of grief past the walls of our emotional levees. That’s okay. In some ways, it’s just proof you’re still a human. Buoyancy is a firm reminder that, as soon as we can, we need to resume bearing witness to atrocities. Doing so doesn’t make us noble. It doesn’t fix problems like the one in the film, which explores slavery within the Thai fishing industry. But preventing the suffering of others from going unnoticed is a duty we are bound to as creatures with souls.
5.) Da 5 Bloods
Hoo boy, when Spike Lee is hot, forget the kitchen, get out of the whole damn house. Da 5 Bloods absolutely sizzles its way through a look at the Vietnam War, a conflict so well-documented it seemed impossible to say anything new through its dramatic use. Ah, right, sorry. So well-documented by white people. Race, family, economics, and pretty much whatever else Lee found lying around his mental pantry got tossed in the pot. The result is something that should win Delroy Lindo his Oscar and may just get Lee another one too.
Somewhere between satire and spaghetti Western, you’ll find the town of Bacurau, a small town soon teaming with violence and metaphor. It’s got everything you could possibly want: Udo Kier as a weirdo film director with an ulterior motive, a Brazilian Riff Raff complete with killer mullet, and a message about how solidarity among the oppressed is the only means by which liberation is possible. As sharp as the machetes frequently used in the film, this genre-defying bit of bonkers was on my best of list from the second I saw it.
3.) Possessor: Uncut
I don’t know if the title is Possessor or Possessor: Uncut and what the differences between the two versions of writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s beautifully ugly “very special episode of Black Mirror” are. All I know is that the film I saw floored me with its Mission-Impossible-as-a-horror-movieapproach. Explicitly about a corporate assassin who wears other human bodies from time to time, the film is an implicit condemnation of big tech’s manipulations. It’s hard to call a movie like this “cool,” but the visually thrilling, violent shenanigans is absolutely must-see for those who can stomach it.
2.) We Are Little Zombies
Until I sat down to write the list, I thought this film would be at the top. The 8-bit, punk rock, ode to grief and nonconformity is a full-on extravaganza. From its show-stopping songs to its non-cloying take on trauma, writer/director Makoto Nagahisa’s cinematic riot is a singular experience. Similar movies from Western directors have felt forced and showy, as if they were screaming “look at what a cool, hip outcast I am.” We Are Little Zombies is just legitimately odd, organically complex, and captivatingly playful. This is undoubtedly the movie I’ll revisit the most from this entire list.
1.) She Dies Tomorrow
All that being said, 2020 is still a year that I will never dissociate from the brutal honesty at the core of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s masterpiece. The concept is simple: a woman convinced she’ll die the next day spreads her fear like a virus to others. The effect is profound. Is it a horror movie? Sure. Nothing is scarier than a legitimate understanding of mortality’s inevitability. But it is also intentionally funny at times, weird almost at all times, and hallucinatory in a way that doesn’t feel calculated, manipulating, or pretentious. It is purposeful, short, important, and haunting to the point where thinking about it casts a shadow over my thoughts for days. We can’t agree on a definition of art, but this would go in my write-up.
That’s my list. What’s yours? Hit me up at twitter.com/thereaderfilm, as we all need something great to watch these days.