Okay gang, we’re doing this. By the end of 2022 (which is literally weeks away) I am going to have caught up with my Top 6 Movie Lists.
I am going to say something revolutionary here. Please make sure you’re sitting down. Prepare to have your life changed forever:
2020 was a bit of a strange year.
In January, I left Canada, my home for the past four years. In February, I stayed with friends around the US. And in March, I moved to LA, prepared to begin a new chapter of my life – as these lists may suggest, I love film, and 2020 was the year I was going to get ready to start making them.
How? Well, I planned on starting by networking. Going to mixers, meeting other writers. In-person.
Three days after I got my Hollywood apartment, the world went into lockdown. And for the rest of 2020, I stayed locked down. I went to the grocery store once a week and I got a haircut once every 2 months, but that was it. Other than that, it was just me, alone in my apartment, for a full nine months.
It was a good year, in many ways. Uh, for me personally. Not for the world as a whole. I lost a lot of weight, I did a lot of journalling, I walked for about an hour every day.
The world shutting down resulted in fewer film releases than normal (as you’d expect) but I managed to catch eight. Eight films in the whole year. Here’s my Top 6!
1. Palm Springs
My BFF is a lovely lady called Nicole, who (for her sins) lives in North Carolina. She and I have a big overlap in movie taste, so when she told me to immediately go to Hulu and watch this film without knowing anything about it, I did so without hesitation.
And, as she predicted: I loved it. I loved it so much.
Brooklyn 99 has long been my favorite show. I know that Andy Samberg is a little hit-and-miss for some people, but he’s all hit for me. And I only know Cristin Milioti from How I Met Your Mother (and apparently from The Wolf of Wall Street) but she’s pure gold in this.
I love romantic comedies, I love the cast, I love the titular California setting, and (SPOILERS) I love time loop films, and so this film could easily have been made for me.
If your tastes in such things overlap with mine, immediately go check out Palm Springs.
2. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The first Borat was a bit of a miss for me. It was funny, of course, but by the time I saw it I was already a little Borat‘d out. “My wife”, “Not”, “Very nice!”, etc.
I used to watch Ali G when I was a kid, and the Ali G character always seemed more fun and interesting to me. (His non-documentary feature film was not.)
But I heard good things about the sequel, and (as its placement on this list would suggest) it lived up to them. Halfway through filming, COVID struck, and (Sasha Baron Cohen being Sasha Baron Cohen) the filmmakers just kept on going.
In the most interesting sequence of the movie, “Borat” spends the first several weeks of COVID staying with a pair of conspiracy theory gun nuts. He never breaks character, and they never suspect that his (impossibly) strange mannerisms are anything other than what foreigners do, I guess.
I’m a structure nut, and the way the end of the film ties everything together is what won me over. I haven’t watched this again since, I don’t know that I need to, but at the end of 2020 this was the exact comedy that I needed, and I loved it.
3. The Old Guard
Another Nicole recommendation – “it’s not as good as Palm Springs“, she warned, “but you’ll still really like it”.
God damn it, the woman knows me.
This film isn’t incredibly strong (it wasn’t a great year for movies) but it’s got a fun premise, it’s well shot, and everyone seems to be having a good time and taking it the exact right level of seriously.
The biggest issues I had with it were structural: there’s a betrayal at the end that felt very much like was only there for the plot to work, the villain is sort of generically villainous, but overall it was a fun romp and I’m glad I saw it.
It’s another that I haven’t seen again, but if someone wanted to throw this on I would be there for it.
Pete Docter is easily one of my favorite directors. Monsters Inc, Up, Inside Out, and now Soul – only four films in twenty years (!!!), but each of them is a cultural icon.
Well, except Soul.
Soul was good – I liked the themes, and it’s easily the best Pixar film since Pete Docter’s last movie – but there’s definitely something lacking.
It got a lot of criticism for turning the Black protagonist into an animal for a significant chunk of the movie’s runtime. I objected to that sequence too, largely because…it just wasn’t that interesting.
I liked the beginning and I liked the end, but the middle chunk (when the characters are running around on Earth in the wrong bodies) went on longer than it needed to. The film as a whole felt less like Pixar had something to say, and more like they were…looking for something to say.
Having said that, I’m genuinely excited to create my Easter Egg video for it. Which is more than I can say for most of Pixar’s recent outings…
Like everyone else on the planet, I got completely obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack. I must have listened to it at least a hundred times. It became background music for my life for a long time, and when I moved to the US and lost all my music, I immediately picked up a new copy of this one.
But for some reason, the movie fell a little flat.
I say “movie” – it’s a (high-quality) recording of the live show (although I would watch the fuck out of a Hamilton film adaptation) and on paper, I should’ve loved it. I should have watched it a thousand times.
Perhaps I was burned out at this point (I genuinely don’t know why Disney delayed it as much as they did) or it lost something by not being shown on the big screen (which it absolutely should’ve been) but after watching this, I have had zero desire to return to it.
I want to love it. But I just liked it.
6. The Lovebirds
Kumail Nanjiani is one of those actors (like Hugh Grant or Rachel Bloom) that I’ll watch in anything.
I’ve spent the past 6 years listening through Harmontown (I’m less than halfway through: there’s a LOT of Harmontown) and for many years he was a regular on that. I also loved The Big Sick and he’s amazing on Silicon Valley. He’s just a fun, charming dude, and I love his sense of humor.
The Lovebirds is a fun premise – mid-breakup, a couple murder someone, and have to spend the rest of the film covering it up. In the process, they fall back in love and get back together (which is frankly the weakest part of it) but it’s wacky and it’s fun and it’s funny.
This is an extremely skippable film, but if (like me) you enjoy the Nanjiani wit, it’s an hour and a half of that, and worth watching just to enjoy him having fun and running around the city trying not to get arrested.
2020, for obvious reasons, wasn’t a great year for film (worth noting: there were zero MCU films released) so there are no runners-up. I did see two other films during the year, so they can be the Also-Seens:
Onward was…it was a film. Perhaps because all my fathers are alive, but nothing in this movie really connected with me.
I care so much about worldbuilding (I really wish I could turn it off) and the worldbuilding in Onward was trying so hard while accomplishing so little. Also, this film has been described as the first Pixar flick where you can tell they were trying to draw tears from the audience, so that may have put me off as well.
I need to rewatch it (and this is actually one I’m keen to do the Easter Eggs for) but it felt like a standard post-Inside Out Pixar film to me. One of the better ones, at least, but that isn’t saying much.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman is a fascinating writer/director. He’s so experimental and offbeat, and with that (almost necessarily) comes a hit-and-miss nature to his work.
This one was a miss for me – it was too slow, too nonsensical (especially by the end) and too ambiguous. I like weird, but I like weird that has some kind of backbone to it.
These are the films that, for one reason or another, I didn’t see (but seriously considered):
- Mulan: Okay, I didn’t consider this one too strongly – I really, really hate the Disney live-action adaptations. I understand they make money, but I’ve seen half a dozen so far, and not one has actually managed to achieve even an iota of quality. (Except maybe Maleficent, which achieved exactly one iota.)
- Artemis Fowl: Big fan of the books, would’ve loved to have seen a worthy film adaptation…but after five minutes, I had to turn it off. I don’t know what this was, but it wasn’t Artemis Fowl.
- The Prom: I like musicals, I like Nicole Kidman, and – yes, I know this isn’t allowed – I like James Cordon. This is one I would’ve seen had it not received such poor reviews. (And if I ever stumble upon it in the future, maybe I’ll check it out.)
- Wonder Woman 1984: By all accounts, this was the superhero film of the year…but I’m yet to see the first, so I skipped it.
- Tesla: Like every young nerd, I was obsessed with Nikola Tesla, and so I would’ve loved to see a good biopic. But this apparently wasn’t one.
- Feels Good Man: I’m not normally a huge documentary person (I don’t know if a doco has ever made my Top 6) but this one was well-reviewed and about an internet culture that I was particularly fascinated by at the time. If memory serves me correctly, I tried to see this one and couldn’t easily get ahold of it.
So that was 2020! Not a great year for film (or “the world”), but never fear – my 2021 list is coming within the next few weeks, and it’s got some real bangers on it.