Well, what a year it’s been. Like with many other parts of our civilisation in 2020, the movies were something that suffered during this closed-in time, but thrived in the online realm. Cinemas were dealt a brutal blow, on top of their already waning success and necessity, with likely all of them temporarily shutting earlier in the year – many are still closed, and unfortunately some of them for good.
It was the online world is where movies saw success. Many titles, those of low or medium budgets, mostly skipped the cinemas and went to Netflix, Stan, Disney+, or other streaming services. We still managed to get to watch some of the most anticipated films of the year, even if it was at home rather than on the big screen (so now’s the time to think about investing in home theatre gear). However, we’re now being plagued with arguments and concerns over this disregard for cinemas, with many prominent filmmakers making their voices heard about their disdain for their films being ditched onto these services.
But as this discussion, like many others revolving around the movies, will continue on into 2021, let us look at the best this year had to offer. X-Press Film & TV Editor DAVID MORGAN-BROWN looks at the best this crappy year had to offer, as well as a look at the films that were booted until next year (or perhaps the year after). We fortunately had some leftovers from 2019 that got an Australian release early in the year, so there’s still more than a handful of films truly worth watching.
An exhilarating look at a gambler’s perpetual woes, Uncut Gems both solidified the Safdie Bros as true filmmaking talents and confirmed Adam Sandler has the utmost skills to be a terrific drama actor, with an acting range we’d love to see more of in future. This expertly made drama-thriller put viewers through a whirlwind, leaving them dazzled, dazed, and with an increased heartbeat and sweaty palms.
This stunning adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel felt personal and almost autobiographical, but also so close to each of its characters and their own conflicting values on love, marriage, and their futures. This is a period film to sink into, not only because of the lavish costumes, sets, and music, but also for how much each of these young actresses put themselves in their roles, feeling truly like sisters who have lived lives together.
Appearing like a film from a long lost time, yet feeling so completely new, this barmy yarn saw Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as old-timey lighthouse keepers who go stir crazy as they become trapped within their isolated new home and have to deal with their increasing slip on reality, their rampant alcohol usage, and their fights with each other. Hilarious, shocking, and haunting all in one, this became another claustrophobic one-setting film that kept us cosy during our own moment of isolation and cabin fever.
The Devil All The Time
This sprawling yarn is actually pretty swift for 139 minutes, given how many characters, timelines, and generations it criss-crosses between. But it doesn’t feel more lost the bigger it gets, instead feeling more purposeful, like a huge detailed mural that is coming together. Taking place from the end of World War II to the start of the Vietnam War, this is undeniably a morbid film, though also one that touches on the humanity that sparkles through the darkness and depravity.
It may not have been quite the film that saved the cinemas, nor was it one that everyone could hear audibly, but auteur blockbuster-maker Christopher Nolan delivered another high-concept brain-teaser of a film. Just like Inception, it was an action-thriller that forced viewers to keep up with its own internal logic. It’ll likely make more sense on repeated viewing, but Tenet will be mostly regarded as a fairly cool, fairly suave, explosive, and arresting display of a different kind of blockbuster filmmaking.
The Beach Bum
The closest thing to a cinematic cure for COVID, Harmony Korine’s new character study starring Matthew McConaughey as a perpetually stoned happy-go-lucky poet is both an absolute joy to watch and a scathing critique of late-stage capitalist narcissism. Episodically structured around the title character’s interactions with various folks, including a pyromaniac in rehab (Zac Efron), a dolphin tourist (Martin Lawrence), and a successful rapper (Snoop Dogg), though all the while keeping a smooth momentum in showing a crazed tale of a man who had it all, lost it all, and may attempt to reclaim it all back – if he cares to. The Beach Bum is an emotional trip, slyly criticising the solipsism of a character like this, yet also showing how his constant expedient joy could be a lesson to us in this darkest of years.
Many 2020 blockbusters were dealt a big postponement, with plenty also being same-day released in cinemas and on demand online. It’s a tough decision, but perhaps the only viable option left in cinema’s most uncertain year in history. But these films are pretty much done and dusted and are ready for release – whether you watch them on the big screen for a full effect, or you check them out at home in your own way, they’ll at least soon enough be in our lives. Here are the films that didn’t quite make it for this year.
A Quiet Place: Part II
One of the earliest big films to get hit, the sequel to the acclaimed 2018 horror film was swiftly removed from the schedule just weeks before its release, which set a trend for other (more expensive) films to follow. It was postponed to September 2020, then again to April 2021.
No Time To Die
The new Bond movie has had plenty of time to be delayed, and is now currently planned for a release in April 2021, but will it be postponed again? Given it’s reported to be one of the most expensive films ever made, hopefully it can recoup its costs from cinema tickets and streaming hits.
Wonder Woman 1984
The sequel to the hit 2017 film is getting a simultaneous online-cinema release on HBO Max and is in cinemas on Christmas Day.
The solo superhero film for ScarJo’s Black Widow has been repeatedly delayed, with its current release date of April 2021 a whole year after its original release date.
The new Pixar film has similarly been delayed, but will now be released on Christmas Day through Disney+ as well as in some cinemas.
The much anticipated adaptation of the classic novel, Denis Villeneuve’s big-screen release of Dune was meant for a December release, but will now be given the same online-cinema same day release, which Villeneuve is not happy about. A film like this, judging from Villeneuve’s own cinematic repertoire, seems like it would benefit most from a cinema viewing. If you absolutely cannot do this, watch it at home, but get as close to your TV to approximate the cinema experience.