These are movies that were new to me in 2020. This year was the first time I watched them and they stuck out as pictures that were my favorites, ones I highly recommend and would revisit myself.
Neighbors (1981, directed by John G. Avildsen)
From my review: In the same way that Kubrick played with distorted space in The Shining to subconsciously unsettling the audience, there’s play with time going on in Neighbors. Earl eventually becomes disoriented and has to ask his wife what it is after so many starts and stops on his way to finally settle down for the night. She tells him it’s two in the morning, but soon after, he ends up paying Vic a visit. When he emerges from that bizarre conversation, the birds are chirping & it’s sunny outside. These are not continuity errors but intentional distortions […]
Neighbors is a bizarre, disturbing film, and it’s a shame that so many production elements weren’t there to make it something better. I could easily see Tim & Eric remaking this novel and doing it right. If you’ve seen their Bedtime Stories horror anthology, it traffics in the same territory. The difference is that those comedians understand how comedy works, and Avildsen seems entirely out of his element. I would say Neighbors is most definitely worth a watch because it is unlike most films. It has piqued my interest in the novel, which I’ve heard is much better than what was adapted on film.
Mangrove (2020) Written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons Directed by Steve McQueen
The summer of 2020 was a season marked by the continued spread of COVID-19 and a massive civil unrest movement that came out of a reaction to the state-sanctioned murders of a growing number of Black people in America. What followed in major cities across the country were all-out police riots with hordes of uniformed officers revealing what brutal thugs they indeed were. The media narrative pushed was that there were riots, but in hundreds of videos released across social media, anyone could see that these attacks from police were made on peaceful demonstrators who were being very direct about their thought on law enforcement in America. Steve McQueen reminds us that this is not merely an American phenomenon or even something specific to our point in history. Police and the justice system are inherently racist, and they cannot be engaged in good faith.
From my review of Episode 8: Tales From the Loop is a show that demands your patience, and if you aren’t willing to offer that up, it’s okay. Not all media is for all audiences. Shane Carruth makes a significant appearance in “Homes,” and I think that signals to savvy viewers who know his work as a director what Tales From the Loop is. You don’t binge-watch the series; you savor each episode and meditate on it. What you get out of one story might not be the same as someone else. That’s mostly how life is, we all go through the same primary path, but the beauty and tragedy we experience is going to vary wildly. Tales From the Loop, despite its 1980s, aesthetics is not a mimic of Stranger Things or Dark, and that is a good thing. It exists as its own unique creature
You Know You Want This: Stories by Kristen Roupenian
Author Kristen Roupenian has penned a collection of contemporary feminist horror stories. The tone and styles are varied so that each entry feels fresh and unique. “The Mirror, The Bucket, and the Old Thigh Bone” is told like a traditional European fairy tale but degenerates in the most lovely of ways to a twisted allegory on obsessive love. “The Boy in the Pool” is about a woman uncomfortable with the ways her childhood friends have grown apart from her. To reunite them in a shared sense of nostalgia, she attempts to find the sex symbol from a film they repeatedly watched as teenagers. Her goal is to have this man show up at one of the friend’s bachelorette party but doesn’t seem to know what should come next. “Scarred”’s narrator discovers a book of spells and ends of conjuring a man into existence but struggles to figure out what to do with him. “Biter” is a hilarious dark comedy about a woman who has fought an urge to sink her teeth into everyone since she was a child. When she becomes aware of a workplace tryst between coworkers, the woman sees an opportunity to indulge in her desires.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns, and David Callaham Directed by Patty Jenkins
I can’t say I was excited to watch Wonder Woman 1984. The first film was fine, but all of Warner’s attempts to build their superhero universe since Man of Steel have just not been my style. Shazam was pretty okay, but as a whole, the DCEU, or whatever they call it, is dull & boring. I won’t waste your time if you are here to see me get to the point, but I was bored for most of Wonder Woman 1984 and just didn’t really like it. I am definitely a DC Comics fan, but the films don’t capture what it is I love about these characters in any way. They are a flat, soulless trudge through two hours.
Red, White, and Blue (2020) Written by Steven McQueen & Courttia Newland Directed by Steven McQueen
In this film, director Steve McQueen explores the intersection of blacks & immigrants with the police. To say this is a politically and emotionally charged issue to take on would be an understatement. Much like the United States, England’s law enforcement has had a very tense relationship with Black and Asian communities. The majority of the London Metropolitan Police in the 1970s were white men from conservative backgrounds who saw any guff from a non-white civilian as an attempt to humiliate them. There was an ongoing sentiment that these populations need to be “put in their place” to hold up the law.
Lovers Rock (2020) Written Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland Directed by Steve McQueen
I fell in love with director Steve McQueen’s work when I saw his first feature film, Hunger, a decade ago. The way he told the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who took part in a prisoner hunger strike and died standing up for his beliefs, was told beautifully. As someone who knew nothing about Bobby Sands beforehand, I was in tears during the beautiful final scene. McQueen hasn’t disappointed me since, and I consider every film he’s directed to be one of the best of that year’s releases. So, in 2020, a year that has been unconventional in every possible aspect, McQueen has done something unconventional with his filmmaking as well, releasing the Small Axe Anthology.
The Mandalorian Season Two (Disney+) Written by Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, and Rick Famuwiya Directed by Jon Favreau, Peyton Reed, Bryce Dallas Howard, Carl Weathers, Dave Filoni, Robert Rodriguez, and Rick Famuwiya
I was not a massive fan of the first season of The Mandalorian. Once I realized it was more a procedural Western than a serialized story from the Star Wars universe, I became a lot less interested. I was curious to uncover the mystery of “Baby Yoda,” and the series didn’t seem in any hurry to explore that in detail. So, if I’m honest, my expectations for season two were pretty low. This is to say I was delightfully surprised at how great these eight episodes were. It felt like a real Star Wars story, epic in scope & exciting. I don’t know if the production budget was higher, but it definitely looked and felt like it was.
X-Men by Jonathan Hickman Volume 2 (2020) Reprints X-Men #7-11 Written by Jonathan Hickman Art by Francis Lenil Yu
Jonathan Hickman’s new status quo on the X-Men books has been such a refreshing surprising over the last year from Marvel. It seems more and more often, comic books get stuck in nostalgic cycles of retelling the same basic stories over and over. Hickman has totally reinvented the X-Men, ending the entire conflict between the team and their villains to tell a much more compelling story about a new race of people trying to carve out their own place on this planet. There really isn’t an X-Men team anymore with this title and many of the others featuring regularly rotating casts.
Animaniacs 2020 (Hulu) Written by a lot of people Directed by many more people
I was 12 years ago when Animaniacs originally debuted in 1993, and from the first episode, they had me hooked. I did not have cable growing up; we lived in a rural area where Comcast wouldn’t expend the resources to lay the line. Other options just weren’t there yet. This means I didn’t get to see formative 1990s animated comedies like Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life. Those were viewed when I visited my grandparents and had access for a few hours to cable television. So, a show like Animaniacs was a straight injection of zany meta-commentary that I hadn’t really been exposed to in my youth. So, what chance does a revival of Animaniacs over twenty years later of being successful?