Thursday 31 December 2020

Top 20 Best Films Of 2020

So… yeah, 2020 has not been a good year. But let it not be said that we didn’t get something good out of it. When the layman’s access to streaming services was at its most vital, a lot of legendary filmmakers teamed up with Netflix and the like to keep the art alive in this particularly rough patch. Not only that, but because all the major studios were busy salvaging their blockbuster titles for when people could actually get to cinemas and watch them (which became more and more of a distant memory as this year dragged on), everyone got a break from the flood of superhero movies that have clogging the market of late, and a lot of independent studios stepped up to the plate and filled in the gap with some truly stunning pieces of cinema.

And in honour of the features that helped keep my sanity intact during one of the scariest periods of my relatively short lifespan to date, let’s close out le grand shitshow not by reliving the shite, but by holding up the jewels that still managed to find their way to audiences in the midst of all this chaos. These are my picks for the Top 20 Best Films Of 2020. But first…

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Top 20 Worst Films Of 2020

2020 was a shit year. Duh. However, this was a shit year even beyond the metrics that other recent years have been shit, like the one-two-punch to our ideal of cultural heroes over 2016-2017. As terrifying as it already is to be under constant threat of plague all bloody year thanks to COVID-19, the extent to which it affected our lives and even our entertainment was something else entirely. It felt like large-scale hubris for 2019, the Omnicorp-isation of Disney, and then in comes a plague no-one seemed properly prepared to deal with, that threw a monkey wrench into a system everyone was far too confident could withstand whatever came at it.

The release schedule was in a continual state of shuffling throughout, meaning that a lot of big-name productions got delayed ‘til next year, and with varying degrees of lockdown worldwide, cinema attendance took a sharp dive, to the point that not only were there more classic movies being shown than anything new just to fill up the cinemas that were still open, but a lot of independent cinemas likely won’t survive if this continues for much longer. And at a time when all we had was our screens to alleviate the cabin fever, it felt like we were more in need of entertainment than ever.

As a result of all this, a lot of what makes up the worst that 2020’s cinema had to offer comes down to a matter of releasing anything and everything that could be spared just to keep butts in seats and eyes on screens, meaning that there was quite a bit of disposable garbage that filled in the margins. Not only that, but there were a lot of astonishingly miscalculated attempts to say something meaningful so that this year wasn’t a total waste as a pop culture moment, which only ended up making this whole situation feel even worse. And since all that time indoors gave me plenty of space to write up more reviews than any previous year, there are quite a few movies that surely deserve to be on this list, but only just missed the cut. Jeff Wadlow should be counting his blessings that Fantasy Island got passed up because, as you’re about to see, I have no mercy in stock for the 20 that made it in. As such, let’s stop waffling on and get into my picks for the 20 Worst Films Of 2020.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

We Can Be Heroes (2020) - Movie Review

It was tough figuring out what to review for my last write-up of 2020. I mean, this has been the most productive year in this blog’s history, and I still wasn’t able to get around to everything I wanted to see. So… what do I pick?

The new George Clooney movie? Eh, after Suburbicon, I haven’t been holding out much hope for that working out.

Death Of 2020, Charlie Brooker’s new production? I think this year’s been bleak enough without shining a light on someone else shining a light on how garbage the last twelve months have been. I want to end things more positively than that.

Well, how about Wonder Woman 1984? Can’t go see it in cinemas because of lockdown, and it isn’t streaming over here yet, so that’s out (same with Superintelligence, although quite frankly, I’m not exactly beating myself up over missing out on James Corden no doubt embarrassing himself once again).

Then this little feature popped up on Netflix earlier this week… looks like I got my pick.

The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) - Movie Review

Normally, this is the kind of title (not even the film itself, just the title) that would get on my nerves because, let’s be honest, trying to bank on the popularity of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is quite an odd choice, even in a year dominated by odd choices on both sides of the screen. And yet, I have no vitriol about this one as it’s quite fitting for the film it’s attached to. The whole point at the heart of the Judd Apatow film (and a lot of what he’d make afterwards) is that there’s no age limit on ‘growing up’ as we understand it; late-bloomer doesn’t just apply to people in their late-teens or even 20s. With the docu-drama vision writer/director/producer/star Radha Blank gives here, it’s certainly in that same spirit, and it shine because of it.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) - Movie Review

After gaining some traction with August Wilson’s words with Fences, Denzel Washington continues down that road with his latest production credit. And honestly, after seeing how this turned out, I can only see him stepping out of the director’s chair to be a good move. Don’t get me wrong, Fences was a solid production, but as a theatre adaptation, it felt a little too close to its origins to make full use of what cinema could offer such a story. Now, George C. Wolfe, on the other hand, hits the ground running on this one, and he’s not the only one doing so.

Monday 28 December 2020

A Sunburnt Christmas (2020) - Movie Review

Looks like I missed the boat on making this a timely review, innit? Yeah, it’s a few days late, but with how much lockdown has slowed everything down to a crawl, time and seasons don’t mean as much as they have in previous years, so I think we can let a minor lapse through without much fuss. Besides, after the shocker I just got done reviewing, I’m in need of some bloody good cheer right now. And not only did I find it with this little ripper, it might be one of the best examples of a somewhat darker Christmas movie that doesn’t involve the words “Bad” or “Santa”.

The Prom (2020) - Movie Review

James Corden really, really, really needs a new agent. His choice of scripts is getting out of hand. The Emoji Movie, Peter Rabbit, Cats, even the British dub of Norm Of The North; whatever potential he may have had in Hollywood, he has pissed away entirely by contributing to some of the absolute worst movies of the 2010s, and dragging down the few good ones he gets (like being the biggest sticking point in the otherwise-excellent Smallfoot). He is a walking warning flare for any movie he’s attached to, but his presence within those movies is only a symptom of much larger problems with those productions. And the same is true for this one, to the point where watching this brought something… ugly out of me.

The Sleepover (2020) - Movie Review

Sometimes, a follow-up to a given filmmaker’s previous work helps make sense of what came before. And with director Trish Sie’s last film, the glaringly disinterested Pitch Perfect 3, there was a prevailing feeling that Sie really wanted to step outside her comfort zone of music and dance choreography when it comes to feature films. Why else would a film about an a cappella group suddenly turn into a Spy-lite action flick? It’s with her latest that that switch-up feels like it was leading into something, and while this is still a bit rocky, I’d say it’s a switch-up worth taking.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Blood Quantum (2020) - Movie Review

The zombie apocalypse sub-genre may be one of my personal favourites, but I’d be lying if I said that’s because of its originality. It’s a pretty reliable source of gorehound material, and there’s definitely something about the recurring scenario that speaks to my socially-isolated ways (and that’s before the pandemic made that way of life mandatory), but it’s quite a task to truly think outside the box with the stumbling or running dead these days. Some attempts like Warm Bodies just feel like bad experiments, and arguably the most creative zombie movie in recent years, Zombieland, is largely the result of poking at how overused its own tropes are. So for something to come out that really pushes the boat out is cause for celebration, far as I’m concerned, and this Shudder exclusive is one such effort.

I Am Woman (2020) - Movie Review

Well, beyond anything else about I have to say about this movie, I certainly learned something from it: The singer of one of the most famous female empowerment anthems was an Aussie. And just from that framing, the film immediately got my attention, with Tilda Cobham-Hervey’s Helen arriving in New York, suitcase in one hand and her daughter’s hand in the other, ready to make her mark on the musical landscape. Something about her alongside journalist Lilian Roxon (Dumplin’s Danielle Macdonald, another woman I only just learned was from my neck of the woods), two women Against The World and carving their own places in music history, is quite gratifying in a hometown-pride kind of way.

Saturday 26 December 2020

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee (2020) - Movie Review

Paul Hogan has been Australia’s cultural ambassador to the rest of the world for nearly forty years. He may not hold the title officially, but whenever someone beyond our shores thinks of Australia, it’s usually in connection to either “shrimp on the barbie” or “that’s not a knife”. Personally, I grew up around stories of him having problems with the taxation office, but that’s neither here nor there; as much as he has influenced stereotypes, he’s an icon for a reason, and I respect his contribution to the Aussie cultural identity. Which is why I am sorry to report that his latest film, a meta-sequel to the films that made him famous, is fucking dreadful.

Waves (2020) - Movie Review

Trey Edward Shults doesn’t do things small. His last film, the increasingly-relevant It Comes At Night, is one of the finest depictions of social isolation and paranoia of the entire 2010s, and that effect came about through a combination of lung-invading atmosphere and an uncanny eye for acting talent. And his latest is no different, pushing even further in visual ambition and emotional impact to make for one of the hardest hits of the year.

Friday 25 December 2020

The Beach Bum (2020) - Movie Review

I’m not the biggest fan of Harmony Korine. In past reviews, I’ve dropped shade about how I don’t like his depictions of the dregs of society (The homeless, the lower-class, the celebrity impersonators, etc.), but that’s more of a surface-level detail for me; something that makes me hesitant to approach his films, even for a re-watch. What makes me reluctant to rough it out once I start is this vibe I keep getting from his films that I don’t have any use for them, as entertainment or as thematic text. I at least respect films like Ken Park (although that’s mostly for its place in one of my favourite moments of Aussie film critic history), but his habit of lackadaisical narratives just doesn’t work for me. I walked away from Spring Breakers feeling like I didn’t get anything out of the experience, and despite Korine’s best efforts, the same is true for his latest.

Rogue (2020) - Movie Review

As is the case with just about everyone who worked on the Transformers movies, critics make it a sport of taking the piss out of Megan Fox as an actress. “She’s just eye candy”, “She’s centrefold fodder”, “She has the range of a broken cellphone”, etc. And I freely admit that I’m not an exception to this, as I never held much stock in her acting chops either. However, since last writing about her as part of the woeful ensemble in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, I’ve since seen her career-highlight turn in Jennifer’s Body, and on the basis of that alone… she isn’t a joke to me anymore. When attached to something without the spectre of Bay surrounding it, she can deliver, and for those still unconvinced, here’s her latest.

Thursday 24 December 2020

Scoob! (2020) - Movie Review

Okay, I think it’s time to leave the Aussie indie scene alone for a bit. And yet, I’m still going to be talking about something that’s close to home for me… just not as literally. As I’ve mentioned in reviews past, I grew up glued to Cartoon Network, and in many ways, I still am. When you’re responsible for the likes of Cartoon Cartoons, Adult Swim, Toonami and getting Run The Jewels to team up, you’ve more than earned your place in my heart. And part of that adoration is a respect, if not entirely being entertained by, classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Again, I’m much more familiar with the studio’s later work, but thanks to Boomerang, I had Scooby-Doo, Josie And The Pussycats, Hong Kong Phooey, Wacky Racers, and Captain Caveman in my media diet as a kid. I’m bringing all this up now because, holy hell, it feels like a film like this was made with an audience like myself in mind.

Swimming For Gold (2020) - Movie Review

Anyone out there remember when I reviewed Raising The Bar? Up until I saw this floating around on iTunes, I had mostly forgotten about it too. One look at the poster for this thing, and its synopsis about a young American athlete being sent to Australia, and I could’ve sworn that the same people were behind both films. But alas, outside of them both being distributed by MarVista (better known for all manner of LifeTime original programming), I couldn’t find any singular connection. Which is genuinely surprising because the extent to which this is essentially the same movie about a different sport is quite ridiculous.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Combat Wombat (2020) - Movie Review

Yep, it’s a double feature today, as director Ricard Cuss√≥ and Odin’s Eye Animation certainly haven’t been wasting time as not only did this come out this year, but another one has already been finished and slated for release in 2021. After being pleasantly entertained by Wishmas Tree, I was certainly hoping for something just as good with their follow-up, and making it about superheroes is certainly an easy lay-up for me. And yeah, I like this. More so than Wishmas Tree. By a pretty hefty margin.

The Wishmas Tree (2020) - Movie Review

Time to make up for the relative lack of anthro representation of late by looking at this Aussie effort that already seems to be spawning a franchise around it. And the franchise idea itself isn’t half-bad, framed around the locale of Sanctuary City, a place where all manner of animals live in harmony and that allows for a certain flexibility in the possible stories to tell. To start things off, we have a kid-friendly adventure flick about the precocious Kerry the Ring-Tailed Possum (Miranda Tapsell), who sets out beyond the boundaries of Sanctuary City to stop a potential ecological disaster… that she herself inadvertently set in motion.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Gretel & Hansel (2020) - Movie Review

Following up on last year’s Judy & Punch, we have another retelling of a famous piece of folklore that announces its intentions right with the title: The woman comes first. However, more so than the uneven feminist rhetoric of Judy, this film is a lot closer to The VVitch, both because it involves one, but also in how it turns nature (both human and environmental) into its bedrock for horror.

American Pie Presents: Girls' Rule (2020) - Movie Review

With 2020 being the year of everyone trying to remember any time prior to this one, I guess it makes sense why we’d have a new American Pie movie eight years after the collective shrug of American Wedding. That doesn’t save it from being a highly disposable follow-up made by people who specialise in highly disposable follow-ups (between the director and writers, we got credits for The Scorpion King 4, Honey 2, Blue Crush 2 and Grand-Daddy Day Care), but in a year that has never failed to make zero sense, I’ll cling to what little I can with this because ‘little’ is about all on offer here.

Monday 21 December 2020

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) - Movie Review

We need to laugh in the face of death. It’s something we all have waiting for us wherever the road happens to stop, and it’s the kind of terrible but inevitable event that humour was designed for. Comedy is many things to many different people, but for me, it’s how we deal with the worst that life has to offer, up to and including its end. It’s a way of coming to terms with what we must come to terms with, and learning to take things on the chin so we can carry on with however much of our lives we have left. It’s the kind of morbid cheek that I have spent most of my own life embracing in one form or another, and it’s why this documentary really stuck a chord with me.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) - Movie Review

Here’s an attempt at timeliness that backfired because COVID doesn’t like any of us having good things. In essence, because this film’s initial release was meant to coincide with the actual Eurovision Song Contest, this now serves as the next best thing to the contest itself. Considering how badly Will Ferrell’s last attempt at European sensibilities went earlier this year with Downhill, I wasn’t expecting much to come from this other than more Ugly American nonsense. And yet, while I freely admit that this film is rougher than it should be, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Far. Bloody. From it.

Sunday 20 December 2020

His House (2020) - Movie Review

For the longest time, haunted house movies have been plagued by a single question: Why the fuck haven’t you left yet? Easily one of the most mockable cliches in horror (and it’s not as if there’s nothing else to make fun of within the trope-ier corners of the genre), it has likewise fallen into the realm of clich√© to even point it out. The presence of something beyond this world makes itself known to the family living in a new house, and because the plot demands it, they never question that they haven't taken that as a sign that maybe it's time to move.

Not that all movies hand-wave this away, though. During the 2010s, James Wan and Mike Flanagan treated the question with a lot of postmodern clarity, and even further back, Beetlejuice remains one of my favourite examples of the sub-genre purely because it answers that question in a delightfully kooky fashion. Today’s film, however, is far less kitschy. In fact, it makes for one of the more sobering features I’ve ever seen from the haunted house clique.

Spontaneous (2020) - Movie Review

Always fun to see a screenwriter step into the director’s chair for the first time. Doubly so since, in the case of Brian Duffield, it means he can maintain control over his own story, which seems to be a recurring issue in his filmography. Any time he gets brought in as co-writer for just about anything, it doesn’t turn out well: Insurgent, the clustered production of Jane Got A Gun, even Underwater from earlier this year. And given what happened when he stepped out alone with The Babysitter, hell yeah, I want to see him continue on that path. And while his latest certainly carries a similar sense of gory fun that helped make Babysitter so damn cool, there’s also a heavy, heavy sense of melancholy to be found here as well.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Cut Throat City (2020) - Movie Review

The RZA earned his stripes as a cinematic storyteller long before he ever picked up the camera. That’s what made the first wave of Wu-Tang albums so fucking good: They all felt like mini-movies devoted to a single sense. The hard-body kung-fu of 36 Chambers, the stoner horror of Tical, the outsider comedy of ODB’s solo debut, the Godfather-tier Mafioso yarn of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the thinking man’s chambara of Liquid Swords, the blaxploitation of Ironman, even the panoramic victory lap of Wu-Tang Forever; the RZA did what any director does and surrounded himself with capable writers and actors who wound up influencing the entire genre around them in one fell swoop.

Which is why the RZA’s first step into visual cinema with The Man With The Iron Fists, as fire as the soundtrack was, felt like a misstep. It was too raw (read: unrefined) and felt more like fan worship of the genre it sits in than him putting his own boot print on it. And when he followed that up with a directing spot on Iron Fist (AKA the worst of the Netflix Marvel series), him being in that chair just felt like a bad idea. Maybe his own ability to control the maestro stayed in the vocal booth. But I decided to relent and give his latest a try, and man, am I glad I did.

Ellie And Abbie (And Ellie's Dead Aunt) (2020) - Movie Review

These last twelve months have made me realise just how much the phrase “good intentions” annoys the hell out of me. Especially when it comes to movies, as it’s kind of a depressing experience to watch something that clearly has its heart in the right place… but the execution just isn’t there. I’ve covered quite a few movies that fall under this category, and I’ll likely be talking about some of them again when it comes time for the year-end lists, but honestly, I think this one hurts the most. It’s a coming-of-age LGBTQ rom-com, set in my hometown of Sydney, and I really, really wanted to champion this. But alas, this is just cringe, and not the good kind.

Friday 18 December 2020

The Furnace (2020) - Movie Review

Shitty things about a nation’s history are like ants on the sidewalk: You rarely find just one of them when you start looking, and before long, you find another, and another, and then holy shit, it’s crawling with the fuckers. And over the last few years’ worth of Australian films, we’ve certainly been making a point of unearthing our own past to basically throw a spear right through the collective nostalgia. Sweet Country, The Nightingale, and True History Of The Kelly Gang looked at the colonial side of things, Ride Like A Girl wound up unintentionally exposing its own duplicity within our horse-racing industry, even Below from earlier this year took a speculative look at our recent activity with off-shore detention centres. Today’s film follows in that tradition, managing to find a whole new avenue to convey how much the British put the ‘colon’ in ‘colonialism’, with a look at Afghan cameleers.