The Brits Are Coming!
Around the World in 365 Days
- The Big Ugly
- A Rainy Day in New York
- The Grudge
Top 10 Worst Films of 2020
10. Love Sarah
Purple lipstick-loving ‘Great British Bake-off’ winner Candice Brown has a cameo in this soggy-bottomed baking drama. Or, should I say, a bit part as she dies in the opening credits and her absence hangs miserably over the final film. This is one of those rom-coms that appears to have been baked in anti-Richard Curtis clorox and features a whitewashed, completely unrealistic, happy n’ smiley version of London. Celia Imerie is waxily disinterested as the estranged mother of Candice who, with her teenage daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet), sets up a bakery in honour of Candice. 29 year old Shannon Tarbet (too old to be playing a teenager) seems lovely, but can’t act for s**t and the whole movie is just so joyless despite the tweeness of its premise.
7. Joan of Arc
I love a good historical drama, but Bruno Dumont’s latest take on the story of Joan of Arc is such a bore. It’s proof that it’s not just mainstream Hollywood films that are terrible - this is in French! The little girl who plays Joan of Arc here can’t act to save her life and there’s literally a 10 minute sequence I’m sure of her just standing at a pole with some dreary bardcore song playing in the background. One to put you to sleep.
This is a horrible, nasty little film. The title says it all - it’s basically an awful word used by alt-right internet morons to describe unmanly men. It’s the kind of word used by people who say “Femi-Nazi”. The plot sees Zachary Ray Sherman as a military-idolizing loner who gradually becomes more and more extremist when posting alt-right youtube videos. This desperately wants to be the new ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) except Sherman isn’t as sexy nor as sympathetic as Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. The central character has no redeeming qualities which makes him impossible to watch.
A contemporary update of ‘The Turn of the Screw’? What could go wrong? Answer - pretty much everything. MacKenzie Davis is the attractive young woman who is sent to nanny a little girl and her lech of a brother who spends his time perving on MacKenzie in her undies. The movie is not just not scary and relies too much on jump scares, but the ending is unforgivable. It’s like they forgot to even have one. Bad stuff.
Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Tessa and Hardin (YES! THAT’S HIS NAME!) have less chemistry than two Christmas trees humping for 2 hours. And yet I saw this in a screening packed with teenage girls who were really lapping it up. This is dreary, dirgey emo porn with pathetic songs and the least titilating sex scenes I’ve seen in 23 years. I guess sex sells, though…
Where to begin with Robert Zemickis’s ‘The Witches’? Other than it ruins a children’s classic and fails to cut to the darkness of the original source material which was genuinely creepy and involved children being turned into rats. The rat special-effects here are terrible and most of the blame for this film’s failure lies with Robert Zemeckis who has become too obsessed with computer-generated, motion capture technology for his own good. Someone needs to take his computer away from him. However I must give some special raspberry recognition to Anne Hathaway who is officially the worst witch ever…
2. The Gentlemen
Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’ is his nastiest film in an already pretty nasty career. I really wish he’d stop doing all this Mockney geezah crap. More specifically I wish he’d lay off the racist and misogynistic humour. The film’s only female character is threatened with rape and there’s literally a line where Colin Farrell tells a boxer why it’s ok that someone called him a “black c**t”. Oh dear…
1. The Ringmaster
To be honest, for most of the year, I didn’t think anything could top or bottom ‘The Gentlemen’, but, in the 11th month of the year, Denmark snuck in a late contender for the worst film of the year. The story of ‘The Ringmaster’ is that two blonde gas station attendants get kidnapped and subjected to a series of sexual tortures by a mysterious, titular “ringmaster” who looks like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. The sexual violence is offensive and disrespectful (there’s a bloody scene where one of the girls has to stick a pin in her friend’s boob) and it just isn’t scary. Just sexist and misogynistic.
It’s hard to believe that 2020 all started out so well. Certainly for the film industry when Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’ (2020) scooped up the Best Picture Oscar. After decades of snobbery and celebrating mainstream prestige, the Academy finally opened their eyes to the beauty of foreign-language film-making.
‘Parasite’ was a remarkable film - I don’t think there’s been a better Best Picture winner in recent years. It could very easily and would definitely have made the No.1 spot in my list of the ‘best films of 2020’. Except the majority of people saw it in 2019, starting with when it first played at Cannes in May last year. It was talked about so much in 2019’s yearly round-ups and in the run-up to 2020’s Oscars that I really think we’ve just about had enough of it for one year. And that’s why it doesn’t feature in this year’s list, but neither does any film released before February 10th which is when the Oscars were held.
From then on, it was all downhill. The infection rates spiked and the death toll peaked and most of the world went into lockdown. As they did so, for the first time since World War II, cinemas across the world were forced to close. How could there be any movies with no cinemas to show them?
If the Covid-19 pandemic did anything at all, it was skyrocket and fast-forward the rise of streaming services. In September this year, TV streaming statistics reported that 6.7 million (24%) households signed up to 2 services or more. Cinemas have long been at risk from the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Curzon Home Cinema or whatever, but this pandemic put out the possibility that they just might not survive come the New Year.
Studios delayed their biggest budget tentpole blockbusters in hungry desire for good-value cinema money when the pandemic is over. The delay of the latest James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’ (2020) - which was expected to draw back the crowds to the auditorium seats in November - was responsible for the closure of the UK’s biggest cinema chain - Cineworld which closed all 600 of its theatres both sides of the Atlantic.
Traditional cinema-goers were faced with an option. Do they endanger themselves in a pandemic world by going to the cinema and risk getting Covid? Or do they stay at home, download the new movie from Spike Lee on Curzon and have a family evening in for half the price of a £30 family cinema bill?
It’s certainly the case that people’s homes don’t smell of popcorn or hot dogs and taking a bathroom break is pretty easy when you’re sitting on your sofa - you just have to press pause. Unlike, at the pictures, where you have to sneak out halfway through the latest Christopher Nolan blockbuster.
Is it a wonder that Disney dumped two of 2020’s biggest releases - ‘Mulan’ and ‘Soul’ - on their own streaming service Disney Plus?
To be honest, I think studios need to “man up” a little and just accept the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would in non-Covid times. If the vaccine prevails and the infection rates go down, 2021 could see a flood of blockbusters with big-budget leftovers from 2020 hitting the cinema every week. I just worry that, if this goes on for too long, there might not be any cinemas left to even show ‘Black Widow’, ‘A Quiet Place: Part II’, ‘Dune’ and countless others.
Still, hope is on the horizon. Several vaccines have been approved, Trump is on his way out of the White House and a Brexit deal has been reached. It’s now all on 2021 to see if we can come out of this any stronger…
Here’s a selection of my 2020 highlights. Please note. I’ve included many titles that didn’t get a cinema release. A sign of the future of movie watching?
Warner Bros. took a major gamble putting ‘Tenet’ (2020) - Christopher Nolan’s latest head-scrambler - at the newly-reopened pictures back in August. I can’t say it was a gamble that paid off. ‘Tenet’ was predicted to kickstart the post-pandemic cinema industry, but it barely scraped $200 million against its $200 million budget; rounding up with a very miniscule $362.6 million.
I guess there is some hope that ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020) scooped up the biggest post-pandemic, face mask-wearing Box Office numbers with an estimated $16.7 million in North America over Christmas weekend. That is despite the film being released simultaneously on HBO Max.
Is this proof that movie-goers still have the appetite for the big screen? Perhaps. Only time will tell. I just think it’s terrific that a female-led blockbuster is doing as well as it is.
American Indie Cinema
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried to book tickets at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema only to find shows are sold out. I guess cinemas like Broadway don’t depend on big-budget tentpoles (most of which are being delayed) for their revenue and I sincerely hope this new rise in independent cinemas gives low-budget films a platform for mainstream success.
The rise of streaming has certainly benefited American indie films. I’ve seen several of my favourite films of the year on streaming services such as Eliza Hittman’s brilliant abortion drama ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ which skipped cinemas and was available on multiple platforms.
My favourite American indie of the year, though, was ‘Clemency’ - a stirring, tough, but ethereal drama about Death Row with Oscar-worthy performances from Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge and Wendell Pierce. I watched that on Curzon over the summer.
Streaming has certainly given independent cinema a platform that appeals to more than just the niche, arthouse market. Expect to see David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ and Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ featuring heavily at next year’s Oscars (if there are any). I just hope smaller films get the recognition they deserve.
I loved ‘Lynn + Lucy’, for example, from acclaimed British shorts director Fyzal Boulifa which is a really bleak and brilliant look at how tragedy can rip apart a friendship.
In Ireland, but directed by a Brit was ‘Calm with Horses’ - a terrifically tense gangster drama with doses of equine therapy and two outstanding performances from Cosmo Jarvis and Niamh Algar.
Even away from the cinema, the distinction between TV and Film continued to be blurred by Steve McQueen’s immaculate ‘Small Axe’ series. The opening film in that - ‘Mangrove’ about the Mangrove Nine - opened the London Film Festival. I saw it on a big screen at Broadway and so it features in my top 10 of the year.
The best Brit film of the year, though, was ‘Rocks’ which really put Director Sarah Gavron on the map as the mistress of British feelgood realism. It had a genuine sense of light and dark which any film about childhood and adolescence needs.
Of course, the year’s success for World Film was skyrocketed by South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ taking home Best Picture. It was a fantastic movie - the most close to perfect I’ve seen in a decade. But, again, most people saw it last year and the Oscar it won was recognising last year’s movies. And so I class it as last year’s movie…
What was definitely this year’s movie was Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ from France which I saw at Broadway back in March. What a wonderful film that was - classical yet sexy and costume-heavy, but cinematic. It was certainly the sexiest movie of the year with the scariest singing sequence of the year.
World Cinema really benefited from the rise of streaming too. I can’t tell you the amount of foreign-language movies I watched on Curzon and BFI Player over lockdown. ‘System Crasher’ from Germany, ‘Bacurau’ from Brazil, ‘The Orphanage’ from Afghanistan, ‘And Then We Danced’ from Georgia...The list goes on, I tell you. But my favourite was ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’.
The bad movies kept coming at the start. I nearly tore the cinema screen to pieces when watching the dreadful horror film ‘The Turning’. There were some really bad horror films this year - ‘The Grudge’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Brahms: The Boy II’ just to name a few.
The worst was ‘The Ringmaster’, though - a disgusting and disrespectful slice of torture porn from Denmark. It made me feel sick to be human. More sick than watching Guy Ritchie’s Mockney claptrap ‘The Gentlemen’ which was a misogynistic, racist mess. If so many bad things happened in 2020, they somehow felt ok and bearable compared to watching ‘The Ringmaster’.
And ‘Parasite’ would definitely have made my No.1 spot had it not featured so heavily in the run-up to 2020’s awards and on critics’ ‘end of year’ lists last year. Either way, here are a couple of movies that didn’t quite make the final list:
- Lynn + Lucy
- Eternal Beauty
- Selah and the Spades
- Saint Frances
Top 10 Best Films of 2020
Many people will question if this is even a film at all as, the first part in Steve McQueen’s brilliant ‘Small Axe’ TV series, it played on BBC1 in November. I saw it on the big screen at Broadway when it opened the London Film Festival, though, and was so blown away by it. It’s a biopic about the trial of the Mangrove Nine which became the first judicial acknowledgement of racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police. The story couldn’t feel more contemporary than it does in this #BlackLivesMatter year and, despite being made for TV, it looks more cinematic than most big-budget motion pictures.
12A, 101 Mins
Abby (Stewart) and Harper (Davis) have been dating for nearly a year. Abby is the butch side to the relationship with punk rock, peroxide blonde hair while Harper is tall, lanky and the femme of the couple. Abby has always disliked Christmas since her parents passed away so Harper sees this as the perfect opportunity to introduce Abby to her conservative parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen) at her hometown.
Abby hopes to propose to Harper on Christmas morning. However, on the way to Harper’s Caldwell family’s house, Harper lets out that she lied to Abby about coming out to her parents under the fear that it would interfere with her father Ted (Garber) running for Mayor. Harper doesn’t want to come out to her family until after Christmas and asks Abby to play the role of her straight roommate for the holidays. Abby reluctantly agrees…
Kristen Stewart is really good as the butch, punky Abby. I’ve had a bit of a troubled history when it comes to my relationship with this actress. I hated the ‘Twilight’ movies (2008-2012), for example, and always found Kristen has a really annoying habit of biting her bottom lip and looking miserable. She doesn’t do much lip-biting here, but interestingly her moody, miserable persona is put to good effect when playing up the butch side of the relationship.
Meanwhile MacKenzie Davis, who was last seen sticking her arm up a Cow’s arse in the awful political satire ‘Irresistible’ (2020) and was pretty badass in the otherwise empty ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ (2019), is pretty and cute in the femme role of the relationship. Davis and Stewart have two lovely scenes together. One when they exchange foreplay (though no sex!) and the other when they smile at each other while watching ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ (1946) at the cinema.
This film really taps into the anxiety shared by gay people over hiding their sexuality from their parents. There’s a moving scene where Harper confesses how hard it is to hide their relationship to Abby and the conversation that follows includes the lines: “you not telling your parents is a choice that you made”, “do you know how painful it is to watch the person that I love choose to hide me?”, “I’m not hiding you. I’m hiding me”, “they’re my parents and I’m scared that if I tell them who I really am, I will lose you” and “I don’t want to lose you”.
It’s a shame the roles of the conservative parents are underwritten. The film criminally wastes the immense talent of Victor Garber as dad Ted. Garber is such a fabulously crinkly-eyed and nosed presence and it’s great to see Mr. Andrews from ‘Titanic’ (1997) back on screen, even in a small role.
I watched ‘Happiest Season’ nearly a week after watching Viggo Mortensen’s ‘Falling’ (2020). That was another drama about the relationship between conservative parents and their gay children. In that film, Lance Henriksen’s gung-ho dad spent his lifetime rejecting the fact that his son was gay. Harper’s parents’ reaction to their daughter coming out here is a much more positive experience and I confess to having shed a few tears when the truth was finally revealed in the living room.
The movie ends with Harper, Abby and the united family sitting in a cinema at Christmas watching ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. This film really proves that film’s power to uplift the soul and put you in the Christmas spirit. I certainly felt more Christmassy watching both ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Happiest Season’ this festive season.
‘Happiest Season’ is on multiple platforms now.
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance Film Critic and Writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in Science Fiction cinema.
Roshan's Top 10 Best Films of 2020
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
6. David Byrne's American Utopia
7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
8. Calm with Horses
9. Saint Maud
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