action wombmate's 2020 Movie Retrospective

My annual summary of the films I watched this year. Let's talk about 'em!

action wombmate

It’s that time of year for me to pretend to be a movie blogger and tell all of you about the movies I watched this year, because I’m just that kind of guy. It was, of course, a weird year for movies. This list almost certainly looks very unlike what it would have had we not had the pandemic wreaking havoc on the year’s release schedule, but hey, it is what it is.

 

This year, I saw 140 movies that I’d never seen before, 24 of which were 2020 releases. This is definitely the most in one year since I’ve been doing these posts, and I think having little else to do during the COVID pandemic is at least partly responsible. I usually see 20/25-ish films a year in the theater, but as this was the pandemic year, I only saw 4 in the theater, the last of which was The Invisible Man all the way back in the first week of March before everything shut down. 

 

There’s usually a big list of late-year indies and Oscar contenders that I didn’t always get the chance to see, and this year is a little different but I still did not see every 2020 release yet, including Tenet, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, The Sound of Metal, First Cow, and others. I hope to catch up with them soon. 

 

*SOME SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW*

 

Top 5 movies of the Year

Not the “best” movies, but my personal favorites from among the ones I’ve seen. This was a bit of a strange year for picking a top movie because with most years there’s at least a couple that I love, and I’m not sure that happened this year - just a few that I liked a lot.

 

5. Buffaloed

This was a very funny and engaging if a bit uneven shakedown of capitalism and debt in America. It has a really fun and manic energy to it, and Zoey Deutch turns in a very oddly mannered (in a good way) performance as a young woman in Buffalo, NY, who takes an early interest in financial independence before unexpectedly finding herself in debt and then hustling her way into becoming a debt collector. The plot gets a bit convoluted at times and it meanders a bit at times, but overall I really dug this film’s vibe.

 

4. Unpregnant

This is a new HBO Max film about a teenage girl who unintentionally becomes pregnant, and her quest to deal with it. I think it’s a movie that mixes tones/styles maybe a tad more than is necessary, but that’s a pretty minor gripe because I thought it was very funny and created some very endearing characters. Ultimately, it’s a movie about expectations and how they can impact dramatic personal decisions and how we behave amidst social pressures. I’m very glad that the movie was pro pro-choice, because it could have easily veered into the territory of acquiescing to sentiment and have the lead decide at the last minute to actually have her baby, but nope - it’s true to its convictions and is one of the first, or maybe only, movies I can think of that is specifically about this topic and in this way. Bravo.

 

3. Get Duked!

I suspect a lot of people haven't heard about this one. It’s a British production about a handful of Chavs that have used up all the goodwill their school system can afford, and are given one last chance to get their shit together by going on a sort of Boy Scout-like experience through the Scottish Highlands. Tagging along is Ian, the one good kid who actually wants to be there. Of course, not all goes as it’s supposed to and the 4 kids have to navigate hostile terrain, eccentric farmers, and most notably some upper-class gentry that are hunting them. It’s a very class-conscious story that feels appropriate to our times, and I thought the movie was sharp, hilarious, super light on its feet, and tons of fun. 

 

2. The Vast of Night

I know this film has its critics and there are reasonable justifications for not liking it, but it really hit my personal wavelength and I was able to overlook some of its shortcomings. When sci-fi can be so easy to over-do, I really like films that go the other direction. This one is almost as understated as understated gets, but it's not merely an exercise in style. It's no mistake that the protagonists are two smart kids who are almost certainly not going to reach their potential holed up in their small hometown. They're not just empty teenagers filling requisite plot structure needs, they want things, and the film's story will tap into their aptitudes. It’s a period piece that doesn’t beat you over the head with its period-ness - the film knows that these kids don’t see themselves as living in our past, they’re living in their present. I think the film nails its tone & atmosphere, and does a great job at slowly revealilng its central mystery. There’s also some wonderful thematic material in here about the ignored voices of women and minorities, and about how terrifying but exhilarating growth & change can be. 

 

1. Palm Springs

This may have been the perfect movie for 2020. In a year in which many of us felt stuck in place and numbed by the apparent pointlessness of everything around us, Palm Springs was right there to commisserate along with us. This is probably the best I've ever seen Andy Samberg, he was resigned and weary without being maudlin, and he's only at the top of a pretty great cast that all fill their roles perfectly. In particular, I really liked Cristin Milioti in a role that might have been a bit tricky to pull off, because she's in the part that would have ostensibly been the protagonist in a traditional film, which is just another part of how much fun this movie has with twisting the Groundhog Day-like premise. And, like that movie, this one has a very tender heart that it isn't afraid to wear on its sleeve (I especially liked JK Simmons' line "you know, this was always a good day").  Straight comedy films often leave me feeling cold because their characters are too contrived and over-the-top. The protagonists of Palm Springs couldn't be any more relatable, and the dry, salty sense of humor with which they confront their predicament was 100% my speed. It's my favorite movie of 2020.

 

 

Honorable Mentions


Bad Education - Hugh Jackman doing great work in a film about the sublte normalcy of villainy as it is in real life

Da 5 Bloods - Spike Lee's messy and discordant but fascinating story about brotherhood and pain for 4 black Vietnam vets

Emma. - Probably the best adaptation of this material I've seen, with really great production values, style, and performances

The Trial of the Chicago Seven - A nice ensemble cast tackles some history that feels very relevant today in a good production from writer/director Aaron Sorkin

The Way Back - All the ingredients in this film feel familar, but they're executed with honesty and Affleck is perfectly understated in it

 

 

 

Worst movies of the Year

Movies that I genuinely did not like and felt were a waste of my time.

 

The Wolf of Snow Hollow - I’m still shocked that this was mostly well-liked by audiences and critics. I thought its attempt at blending comedy and horror fell flat on its face with awkward scripting, performances, and editing. A clunky mess all-around. 

The Wretched - It registered so poorly that I had to go read about it to remind me what it was. Bland synthesis of Stranger Things and bad horror movie tropes. Blah. 

 

 

 

Most Disappointing

Not necessarily movies I hated, but ones that did not live up to the expectations I’d had for them

 

Guns Akimbo - Daniel Radcliffe has been on quite a run of great indie films since exiting the Potter franchise, so I was disappointed that this felt a bit conventional and predictable despite its bonkers premise

The Old Guard - It's sometimes hard to have high(ish) expectations for a Netflix film, but I really hoped this one would feel as interesting as its premise was, but it just felt universally bland to me

Wonder Woman 1984 - This is the biggie, and although I don't think it's an outright bad movie, it is a definitvely disappointing follow-up to what I thought was a wonderful introduction to this character. The whole premise of how Steve was brought back felt icky and was impossible to ignore, and on the whole it just felt kind haphazard and rushed, and although I love Pedro Pascal I just didn't care about his character's story at all. Here's hoping they do better with the next one. 

 

 

The Full List

Everything I saw for the first time in 2020

 

1917

400 Blows, The

Ad Astra

Adam's Rib

Adventures of Tintin, The

Alita: Battle Angel

Art of Self-Defense, The

Babe

Bad Education 

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Belle de Jour

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Blood Simple

Bone Tomahawk

Bound

Boyhood

Buccaneer, The

Buffaloed

Christmas in Connecticut

City Lights

City of God

Crawl

Da 5 Bloods

Dark Phoenix

Das Boot

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Dirty Dozen, The

Dolemite is My Name

Dressed to Kill

East of Eden

Emma.

Enola Holmes

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Extraction

F for Fake

Fantastic Planet

Farewell, The

Flashdance

Following

Four Lions

Fury

Gaslight

Gentlemen, The

Get Duked!

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost Story, A

Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, A

Gold Rush, The

Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The

Guns Akimbo

Haywire

Hidden Fortress, The

Hillbilly Elegy

His Girl Friday

Honey Boy

Hostiles

Howard's End

Hunger

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hustlers

I Lost My Body

I Married a Witch

Interview, The

Invisible Man, The

Ip Man

Italian Job, The

Jackie Chan's First Strike

Jay & Silent Bob Reboot

Jeremiah Johnson

Killing, The

La Llorona

Lion in Winter, The

Little Women

Locke

Long Shot

Lucy

Man Who Knew Too Much, The

Mandy

Marie Antoinette

Marriage Story

Master, The

Meek's Cutoff

Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), The

mid90s

Miller's Crossing

Molly's Game

Monty Python's Life of Brian

Most Violent Year, A

My Dinner With Andre

Naked Gun, The

Night of the Hunter, The

Old Guard, The

Open Water

Other Boleyn Girl, The

Pain and Glory

Palm Springs

Paths of Glory

Point Break

Porco Rosso

Project Power

Prospect

Rashomon

Real Genius

Rear Window

Safety Not Guaranteed

Scanners

Sea of Love

Seventh Seal, The

Shame

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Singin' In the Rain

Singles

Soltera Codiciada

Songcatcher

Sorcerer

Spartacus

Stagecoach

Stalker

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Steel Magnolias

Sucker Punch

Sugarland Express, The

Tale of Tales

Talented Mr. Ripley, The

Tales from Earthsea

Throne of Blood

Top Secret!

Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The

Trial of the Chicago Seven, The

Uncut Gems

Underwater

Unpregnant

Unsane

Vast of Night, The

Way Back, The

Wolf of Snow Hollow, The

Wonder Woman 1984

Wretched, The

Yojimbo

Zombieland: Double Tap

From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 2, 2021 1:44 PM

    action wombmate wrote a thing!

    Read more: action wombmate's 2020 Movie Retrospective

    • reply
      January 2, 2021 1:46 PM

      Oh inf, my morning plans just changed :O

    • reply
      January 2, 2021 1:47 PM

      Get Duked was very fun

      • reply
        January 2, 2021 1:50 PM

        also I didn't see The Last Black Man in San Francisco on your list and I still think you'd love it

        • reply
          January 2, 2021 1:52 PM

          Yeah, it's still on the list of things I want to watch, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

          • reply
            January 2, 2021 1:53 PM

            you watched A LOT of films. I'm jealous

            • reply
              January 2, 2021 2:17 PM

              It just seemed like a good year to really dive into stuff in my streaming catalogs. There's still SO MANY I haven't watched yet, though.

    • reply
      January 2, 2021 1:49 PM

      wombmate would I like Guns Akimbo, as you know my tastes are not as refined as yours

      • reply
        January 2, 2021 1:50 PM

        Yes I think so, and I didn't really dislike the movie, I just wanted the story to be a bit less conventional than it was. It still has some fun up its sleeve.

        • reply
          January 2, 2021 1:54 PM

          Thanks, I saw it at Redbox and was kind of nervous because I got a Shoot Em Up vibe from it

          Also kind of scared of Ratcliffe projects after suffering through Swiss Army Man. But I liked Horns a lot so :/

    • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
      reply
      January 3, 2021 10:29 AM

      Wolf of Snow Hollow: I watched this last night, and rather liked it. It's more of a character study to me, about the lead learning to let go. The twin peaks opening and fargo look were just fun callbacks for me. Yes, the titular werewolf plot was pretty darn thin, and had me cringing from the plotholes more than once, but eh considering it now I still like it.

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