Best Action Film of the Year
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Bad Boys for Life
Wonder Woman 1984
Best Action Scenes of the Year (SPOILERS) (see below for One-on-One Fights)
6) Xian Lang rampage, Mulan
5) Riyadh, Ava
4) C-47, Da 5 Bloods
3) Extraction and chase, Extraction
2) Hospital hallway havoc, The Invisible Man
1) Funhouse spinning skirmish, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn
Best Adventure of the Year
Da 5 Bloods
The Call of the Wild
Over the Moon
Best Non-2020 Films Discovered in 2020
Worst Non-2020 Films Discovered in 2020
Best Comedy of the Year
An American Pickle
Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made
Director Trajectory: Up
Niki Caro. Mulan > The Zookeeper’s Wife
George Clooney. The Midnight Sky > Suburbicon
Stephen Gaghan. Dolittle > Gold
Spike Lee. Da 5 Bloods > BlackKklansman
Ryan Murphy. The Prom > Eat Pray Love
Gavin O’Connor. The Way Back > The Accountant
Steven Soderbergh. Let them All Talk > The Laundromat
Director Trajectory: Down
Michael Dowse. Coffee and Kareem < Stuber
Guy Ritchie. The Gentlemen < Aladdin
Michael Showalter. The Lovebirds < The Big Sick
My Least Favorite () Yet
Tenet, my least favorite Christopher Nolan film yet
Best Heroes or Antiheroes of the Year
6) Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain), Ava
5) Young woman (Jessie Buckley), I’m Thinking of Ending Things
4) Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), The Last Thing He Wanted
3) Abby Holland (Kristen Stewart), Happiest Season
2) Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), Mank
1) Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), The Invisible Man
Best Horror Film of the Year
The Invisible Man
Color Out of Space
Moments of the Year
9) “Music of the night”, Wolfwalkers
8) Race to the mailbox, Run.
7) “Under Pressure”, Valley Girl
6) “Husavik”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
5) She’s not there, The Invisible Man
4) Another world, Color Out of Space
3) Mulan revealed, Mulan
2) Call from Billy, The Vast of Night
1) “Be True to Your School”, Stargirl
Best Novel Adaptation of the Year
Color Out of Space
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The Midnight Sky
Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made
One-on-One Fights of the Year (SPOILERS)
7) Harper Caldwell (Mackenzie Davis) vs. Sloane Caldwell (Alison Brie), Happiest Season
6) Andromache (Charlize Theron) vs. Guard, The Old Guard
5) Bill Goodfellowe (Wolf) (Sean Bean) vs. Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney), Wolfwalkers
4) Ava Faulkner (Jessica Chastain) vs. Simon (Colin Farrell), Ava
3) Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) vs. Saju Rav (Randeep Hooda), Extraction
2) Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) vs. Barbara Minerva Round 1, Wonder Woman 1984
1) Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) vs. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn
Most Overrated Film of the Year
Sonic the Hedgehog
Best Pop Culture References/Allusions of the Year
7) Peter Pan, The Vast of Night
6) The Thing, The Lodge
5) Doctor Who, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon
4) Up, Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made
3) The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
2) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Sonic the Hedgehog
1) On the Beach, The Midnight Sky
Ranking Disney-Distributed Movies
7) The One and Only Ivan
6) Artemis Fowl
3) Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made
1) The Call of the Wild
Best Romance of the Year
Best Science Fiction Film of the Year
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky
The Vast of Night
Bad Boys for Life > Bad Boys 2
Wonder Woman 1984 < Wonder Woman
After last year’s Gemini Man, Will Smith made Bad Boys for Life, another movie where he’s attacked by a guy in a motorcycle helmet who turns out to be his son.
In last year’s Stuber, Kumail Nanjiani’s car was commandeered by a cop, and it happens again in The Lovebirds.
This year we had Bad Boys for Life, a Bad Boys framed picture on a desk in Bloodshot, and a Bad Boys 2 parody in Coffee and Kareem.
Most Underrated Films of the Year
Trolls World Tour, The Midnight Sky, The Last Thing He Wanted.
And Dolittle wins my “Pardon One Turkey” award.
Best Villains of the Year
5) Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen), Dolittle
4) Barb (Rachel Bloom), Trolls World Tour
3) Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson), Run.
2) Xian Lang (Gong Li), Mulan
1) Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), Wonder Woman 1984
Worst Villains of the Year
3) Victor Marquez (Greg Bryk), My Spy
2) Mickey Bowen (Logan Paul), Valley Girl
1) Hal (Dan Stevens), The Call of the Wild
Karen Gillan wasted, The Call of the Wild
Cell phone gag, Valley Girl
Simon Cowell, Scoob!
The kid, Vivarium
Stabbed in the back, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Death of a sandwich, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn
And two movies, Dolittle and Capone, embody all of WTF (bad) and WTF (good).
(Rough) Final Ranking of All 69 2020 Films Seen (Best to Worst)
The Invisible Man; Color Out of Space; Soul; Palm Springs; The Prom; Mank; The Vast of Night; Run.; Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn; An American Pickle; Bad Boys for Life; Wolfwalkers; The Way Back; Wonder Woman 1984; Ava; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Bad Education; The Lodge; The Old Guard; Mulan; Greyhound; The Midnight Sky; Blow the Man Down; Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made; Stargirl; The Banker; Happiest Season; Onward; My Spy; On the Rocks; The Last Thing He Wanted; Extraction; Da 5 Bloods; Trolls World Tour; Shirley; Military Wives; Emma.; Dolittle; The Call of the Wild; The Lovebirds; Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga; Rebecca; Let them All Talk; Guns Akimbo; Buffaloed; Snatchers; Tenet; Underwater; Over the Moon; Fatal Affair; All Together Now; Artemis Fowl; Project Power; A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon; Fantasy Island; Bloodshot; Scoob!; Like a Boss; Vivarium; Capone; Coffee and Kareem; Sonic the Hedgehog; The Witches; Enola Holmes; The One and Only Ivan; Valley Girl; The Gentlemen; The Grudge
By the Numbers
Percentage of films viewed that pass the Bechdel/Wallace Test: 67% (up from 47% last year)
7 Films featuring traumatic showers (The Grudge, Color Out of Space, The Invisible Man, Vivarium, Palm Springs, The Lodge, Soul)
6 Envelopes filled with compromising photographs (The Lovebirds, The Last Thing He Wanted, The Banker, Bad Education, On the Rocks, Run.)
4 Films featuring table tennis (Sonic the Hedgehog, Fantasy Island, Enola Holmes, Over the Moon)
2 Alpaca appearances (Color Out of Space, Snatchers)
2 Animated young men who mourn the destruction of their beloved vans (Onward, Scoob!)
2 Aurora borealis appearances (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Greyhound)
2 Disney movies featuring a main character whose outsider status at school is symbolized by a piece of neckwear that gets ripped at one point (Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Stargirl)
2 Disney movies starring precocious boys (Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Artemis Fowl)
2 H.P. Lovecraft horror shows (Color Out of Space, Underwater)
2 Stalker thrillers featuring “wave crashing on rock” imagery (The Invisible Man, Fatal Affair)
Messing with the studio logos (Sonic the Hedgehog, Guns Akimbo, The One and Only Ivan, Mulan, Trolls World Tour, Tenet, Soul)
Opening title sequences – * = dedicated sequence (Bad Boys for Life, Like a Boss, Color Out of Space, Fantasy Island, The Lovebirds, Artemis Fowl, Capone*, Vivarium*, Guns Akimbo*, Buffaloed, All Together Now, Ava*, The Gentlemen*, Happiest Season*, Underwater*, Snatchers*, Wolfwalkers*, The Prom, The Midnight Sky, Wonder Woman 1984)
Wrap Party Finales (Emma., Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made, Trolls World Tour, Happiest Season, The Prom)
Epilogue text (Military Wives, Da 5 Bloods, Capone, Greyhound, Buffaloed, The Banker, The One and Only Ivan, Bad Education, Valley Girl, Underwater)
Curtain Call Cast Credits – * = no specific character iconography (Dolittle, Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn, Sonic the Hedgehog, Bloodshot, Da 5 Bloods, My Spy, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Scoob!, Enola Holmes, Trolls World Tour, The Prom)
Mid-Credits scenes – * = does not take up the entire screen (The Grudge*, Dolittle, Bad Boys for Life, Sonic the Hedgehog, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmegeddon, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga*, Palm Springs, Greyhound*, An American Pickle, The One and Only Ivan, The Witches, Valley Girl, The Prom, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Midnight Sky*, Wonder Woman 1984)
Post-Credits scenes (Stargirl, Snatchers, Soul)
Best Supporting Actress
Kristen Wiig, Wonder Woman 1984
Toni Collette, I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Gong Li, Mulan
Kristen Schaal, My Spy
Andrew Seyfried, Mank
Best Supporting Actor
Glynn Turman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Harrison Ford, The Call of the Wild
Daniel Levy, Happiest Season
Tzi Ma, Mulan
Matthias Schoenaerts, The Old Guard
Best Original Song
“Husavik”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Feels Like Home”, All Together Now
“Lion of Love”, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“The Other Side”, Trolls World Tour
“10 p.m.”, Military Wives
Steve Annis, Color Out of Space
Philippe Le Sourd, On the Rocks
M.I. Littin-Menz, The Vast of Night
Erik Messerschmidt, Mank
Quyen Tran, Palm Springs
Best Adapted Screenplay
Simon Rich, An American Pickle
Jack Fincher, Mank
Mike Makowsky, Bad Education
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man
Andy Canny, The Invisible Man
Andrew Dickler & Matt Friedman, Palm Springs
Nick Johnson & Will Merrick, Run.
Junius Tully, The Vast of Night
Sidney Wolinsky & Mark Czyzewski, Greyhound
Best Original Score
Harry Gregson-Williams, Mulan
Bruno Coulais, Wolfwalkers
Alexandre Desplat, The Midnight Sky
Nami Melumad, An American Pickle
John Powell, The Call of the Wild
Best Production Design
Grant Major, Mulan
Jim Bissell, The Midnight Sky
Aline Bonetto, Wonder Woman 1984
Kendal Cronkhite, Trolls World Tour
Mark Rickler, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Animated Feature
Over the Moon
Trolls World Tour
Best Original Screenplay
James Montague & Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night
Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian, Run.
Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers, Soul
Brad Ingelsby, The Way Back
Andy Siara, Palm Springs
Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man
Niki Caro, Mulan
David Fincher, Mank
Andrew Patterson, The Vast of Night
Richard Stanley, Color Out of Space
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
Ben Affleck, The Way Back
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Gary Oldman, Mank
Seth Rogen, An American Pickle
Elisabeth Moss, The Invisible Man
Kiera Allen, Run.
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Kristen Stewart, Happiest Season
Meryl Streep, The Prom
The Invisible Man
Color Out of Space
Honorable mentions: Bad Boys for Life (an interrogation of Will Smith’s screen persona in a Bad Boys follow-up that dares to have an emotional story); Wolfwalkers (gorgeous perspective-flattening animation and weighty historical themes from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon); The Way Back (one of Ben Affleck’s best-ever performances in another outstanding sports drama from Warrior director Gavin O’Connor).
10) An American Pickle
This solid dramedy is built on an improbable intergenerational culture clash. Like an inverted Back to the Future setup, an Eastern European Jewish immigrant to America named Herschel Greenbaum is pickled in time for a century, waking up out of his depth in a modern world, and face to face with his great-grandson. Both roles are played by Seth Rogen, who almost disappears into the role of Herschel. It’s an excellent comedic performance spearheading a year with several standouts in that field, getting laughs and going to unexpected places to get them.
9) Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Can you imagine saying, “Oh yeah, I just saw BOPATFEOOHQ!” Well, I did, and found a dynamic, caustic action movie wrapped in neon warning tape. It’s a testament to Cathy Yan’s film that my inherent irritation at the Harley Quinn character gave way – it helps no end that she untethers herself from the Joker – and I came to really appreciate a) her taste in team members, with Rosie Perez’ Renee Montoya a standout, b) the small moments when her background as a psychologist paid off, and c) her desperate and doomed quest for a sandwich. 2020 was supposed to be the year women dominated the superhero landscape (Cate Shortland’s Black Widow, Chloe Zhao’s Eternals). In the end only DC retained their comic book slate this year, helmed by Yan and Wonder Woman 1984’s Patty Jenkins.
One of the best films of 2018, Searching was a stunning debut from director Aneesh Chaganty. Run. is Chaganty’s follow-up, a claustrophobic horror-thriller about one mother’s sadistic attempt to control her wheelchair-bound daughter’s life. Newcomer Kiera Allen is outstanding as the daughter, with Sarah Paulson a memorable maternal arch-villain. This type of contained, nerve-serrating thriller built on time-release twists might not have the most rewatch value, but it’s certainly worth at least one watch. Sarah Paulson pushing phony prescriptions on people, who does she think she is, Nurse Ratched?
7) The Vast of Night
This Lynchian, minimalist yet ambitious slice of 50s small town “watch the skies” wonder is one of the purest slices of science fiction in years. Unfolding like an Outer Limits radio presentation, this story of a DJ and a switchboard operator trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious signal is chilling and riveting, especially in one glorious extended phone call with a veteran named Billy. The level of craft is impressive, especially in propulsive tracking shots, but the movie knows exactly when to contract to send a subtle shiver through the audience, and when to expand to stoke a sense of wonder.
When I heard that the story of Herman Mankiewicz and the writing of Citizen Kane was David Fincher’s next movie, I thought it was quite an interesting departure for him. As it happens, this screenplay was written by his father Jack decades ago, on track to star Kevin Spacey (…) and Jodie Foster in the late 90s. In its final form, Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are in their place, poignantly portraying the friendship between Mank and actor Marion Davies. I would say the first act’s bouncy “day in the life of a 1930s studio” stuff is outside Fincher’s wheelhouse, and doesn’t grab nearly as much as the story’s secret weapon: its razor-sharp political material.
5) The Prom
The Prom is probably the movie on this list with the biggest “your mileage may vary” tag attached. But if you’re into go-for-broke production numbers in a hammy, broad, cheesy, self-consciously fabulous Broadway musical adaptation, this scratches that itch. Use your enjoyment of, say, the 2007 Hairspray as your yardstick. I’m certainly there for the slathered-on color palette (typical of Ryan Murphy) and Meryl Streep serving up that ham and cheese as a self-centered diva who delightfully romances Keegan-Michael Key.
4) Palm Springs
More 2020 escapism. A wonderful new spin on Groundhog Day, as Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (both excellent) find themselves stuck repeating the same day, as wedding guests, over and over and… over. More 2020 escapism. A wonderful new spin on Groundhog Day, as Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (both excellent) find themselves stuck repeating the same day, as wedding guests, over and over and… over. More 2020 escapism. A…
The best Disney-distributed movie of the year. Simultaneously disturbing, funny, and moving, Soul is a delight even as it’s dumping tons of metaphysical rules on the viewer (part of what helps that go down is the pleasing number of Kiwi accents). In Collateral, Jamie Foxx’ character is asked if he likes jazz, to which he responds, “Not that much”. In Soul, here he is as a passionate jazz musician, and when he gets “in the zone”, the world around him disappears like he’s in Fantasia. Both Pixar movies this year, Onward and Soul, get mileage from very loose-limbed physical comedy, which in this case is a necessary counterweight to an ambitious and poignant story of a musician dead before his time.
2) Color Out of Space
One thing that can be tricky to adapt from Lovecraft is that some of his horror is more conceptual than empirical, or more intangible than visceral. But Color Out of Space nails the fear of the ineffable unknown breaking down earthly logic. A meteorite crashes on a family farm, an impossible color seeps into the air, and interdimensional hell breaks loose. When it comes to depicting some of these lateral horrors, the visual effects clearly aren’t the highest ticket in terms of budget. But that actually fits the movie; it reflects the difficulty our reality has of accurately manifesting the matter of another dimension.
1) The Invisible Man
Structurally, like clockwork. Everything comes together: a precise take on the material, a star willing to run herself ragged emotionally, a director with a keen visual sense and ability to generate tension. The opening sequence easily outdoes A Quiet Place at its own game, Elisabeth Moss is Oscar-worthy, and between this and Upgrade, Leigh Whannell is developing into an exciting voice in genre filmmaking. With the thinner release schedule leading into this awards season, hopefully The Invisible Man will not be invisible.
As the newly-minted 20th Century Studios logo opened the Jack London adaptation The Call of the Wild, I didn’t have much in the way of expectation for this CGI dog movie. I ended up pleasantly surprised that this celebration of nature, so much of which is ironically artificial, has a genuine heart and a storyteller’s instinct for simplicity. Many of the landscapes present as VFX plates, and the animals are all digitally rendered, but within the computer-processed hotbox of this Chris Sanders picture, there is an engaging narrative.
The decision to use CG performance capture rather than a real animal for lead dog Buck liberates the animators to depict him as like a bull in a china shop. Buck is a blunt instrument, with no elegance in his movements, careening and crashing around his environs. The treatment of Buck’s great strength makes him out to be some sort of dog superhero. He eventually finds his companion in John Thornton (Harrison Ford). Ford gives a movie-star performance of sincerity and subtlety, jarringly if not hilariously contrasting with the broad, over-the-top villainy of Hal (a wild-eyed and arch Dan Stevens).
Ford also serves as the film’s narrator, his gruff but soulful reading not seeming phoned in. There’s something of the old chestnut of being willing to listen to certain people read the phone book; Ford is certainly more engaged than when studio notes led to his bored-sounding narration in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. The narration also serves the narrative function of keeping John a presence in the movie, since it takes a significant amount of time for him and Buck to develop their partnership.
Director Chris Sanders, a major creative force in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, borrows that series’ composer John Powell, and certain plot elements, such as the courtship between a male animal and an exotic all-white female. Powell, whose music here reaches no transcendent heights as he did when scoring dragonflight, still generates emotion, and appropriately fits the pitter-patter of paws on ground.
At the moment the dog movie as a genre is experiencing a proliferation (A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Journey, A Dog’s Way Home, etc). Thanks to an earnest sentimentality and the not-so-secret weapon Harrison Ford, and despite creating an amusingly baffling thankless role for Karen Gillan, The Call of the Wild feels like a cut above such “dognip”.
(It’s also the second movie I’ve seen this month, after Sonic the Hedgehog, that features a man and his animal sidekick getting into a bar fight.)
Dolittle exists at the exact midpoint between Old Hollywood exotic adventure epics like Around the World in 80 Days, and hackneyed star-studded animations powered by bodily function humor. So this film, concerning the animal menagerie loyal to Doctor John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.), is itself a strange and fascinating mutant, more Doctor Moreau than Doctor Dolittle.
Take an extinct type of pastel spectacle, dress it up with anachronistic phrases, and throw a lot of money at it. Put in “down with the kids” bits for the tykes, and unstuck-in-time references to The Godfather, Rush Hour, and Star Trek for their parents. Inconsistently drop in narration from the honeydew voice of Emma Thompson (articulating a parrot). Shove credited director Stephen Gaghan to the side and bring someone with practical but profoundly creatively unsuccessful form with CGI creatures (Jonathan Liebesman of 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) in for extensive reshoots. Push back the movie almost a year from its original release date. And then roll in the dough, right? Wrong. The film will die a death at the January box office and could lose Universal nine figures. But, here’s the thing. Dolittle is kind of a genuinely fun watch.
There are choices that are undoubtedly correct. Like showcasing Michael Sheen as the main, hilariously arch villain. And current Academy Award nominee Antonio Banderas is clearly having a lot of fun as a pirate turned warlord. Kumail Nanjiani as the voice of an ostrich can’t help but get a few laughs.
And there are choices that are undoubtedly… not necessarily correct, but fitting for what this movie is. Like Robert Downey Jr. turning in an East End pantomime performance, complete with a “Welsh” accent you have to hear to believe. “This is a NIGHTMARE!”, his Dolittle declaims, when the cruel world forces him to finally interact with another human again.
The film has a classic adventure structure. It uses a “fetch quest” template; you have to get MacGuffin A from Location B, but to get to Location B you need MacGuffin B from Location A. But what a contrast to something like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Dolittle lets the audience breathe in the sense of adventure, and wonder what weird thing is going to happen next rather than the movie running up frantically and shoving you into it. Yes, I’m comparing The Rise of Skywalker unflatteringly… to Dolittle.
And that is the pleasure of Dolittle. Its runtime is peppered with weird jokes, bad jokes, and baffling choices, but it all unfolds with a pleasant sense of whimsy and efficient but unhurried cause and effect storytelling. Not quite for kids, not quite for anyone, its very imperfections make it easy to engage with. It’s entertainment with one foot in the retro and one foot in the focus group panel, which turns out to be oddly diverting.
P.S. As much as Downey Jr. tries to disappear behind his wild hair and askew accent, the role affords him many opportunities to echo aspects of two of his other famous roles.
- Diagnosis via deduction
- Isolated in a cluttered workspace
- Penchant for boxing
- A sequence taking place on an unfinished bridge
- Tinted spectacles
- A Tom Holland-esque apprentice (ironic because Tom Holland is a voice in the movie)
- Dons an underwater diving suit like Iron Man armor
While every year sees its fair share of event tentpole movies, the stars aligned in 2019 for this superfan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Frozen, and Star Wars. Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in particular positioned themselves as culminations of years, or decades, of storytelling (albeit with different levels of success). The point being, Disney had a firm monopoly on my most anticipated of the year in 2019. Not so in 2020, as the playing field is more evened out. Let’s see what’s coming down the pike.
Before my top 10, some honorable mentions. Possessor (an elevated Canadian b-movie sci-fi horror from the son of David Cronenberg, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andrea Riseborough, and Sean Bean); Jungle Cruise (Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson amidst some iconography strikingly close to the Disneyland ride); Black Widow (in which Scarlett Johansson finally gets the spotlight in the MCU, also featuring Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, in an intriguing interstitial setting between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War); West Side Story (longtime passion project for Steven Spielberg, as he directs his first musical… remember “Anything Goes” in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?); The Personal History of David Copperfield (on the list purely because of writer-director Armando Iannucci, late of my 2018 Best Picture winner The Death of Stalin); The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin’s return to the big screen following Molly’s Game) and In the Heights (the first cinematic adaptation of a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, as we all await the eventual Hamilton picture).
10) Rurouni Kenshin: The Final Chapter
Five years ago, three excellent films adapted from my favorite comic series Rurouni Kenshin were released in Japan. And now, the final act of the quasi-historical samurai manga, never before adapted even in the series’ animated incarnation, are coming to cinematic fruition in two parts. This “Enishi arc” has the potential to emotionally send off a quietly masterful five-film saga.
A new high-concept film from Christopher Nolan is not to be underestimated. The trailer implies a premise based on localized time distortions, a concept familiar in SF television but given a blockbuster budget here. There are even rumors that Tenet somehow ties in with Inception, an intriguing development despite my not being a big fan of that movie. May feature returning Nolan repertory player Kenneth Branagh as some type of underworld figure, so I’m hoping he bathes in the river of ham.
8) Color Out of Space
While a movie like Re-Animator delivers fun chills, truly classic Lovecraftian horror depicts an ineffable fear of the unknown. This Nicolas Cage vehicle has the potential to deliver fascinating cinematography-driven horror. (And Mandy recently saw Cage against the backdrop of crazy swirling colors saturing a whole movie.)
7) The Eternals
A Guardians of the Galaxy-esque risk for Marvel Studios, right down to revolving around cosmic characters. The Eternals has the potential to go properly weird and spectacular, which is very exciting indeed in a bit of a transitional year for the MCU. An impressive ensemble cast (among others, Angeline Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, and Salma Hayek, with Gemma Chan strangely playing a second character in this universe) will work to ground the space opera.
6) Death on the Nile
I look forward to Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, follow-up to 2017’s excellent Poirot adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, not necessarily from any expectation of it being one of the year’s best, but on the premise of the film being a fun and cozily rewatchable mystery. Branagh’s Poirot is a likable and eccentric hero, but it was the emotion of Orient Express that often elevated the movie. Hopefully, Nile will find a similar “in” to give it an extra punch, but even failing that, it should be a reliable whodunnit confection.
5) No Time to Die
I am not a fan of the previous James Bond film, Spectre, and equally, it seemed there was a sentiment from star Daniel Craig that the result could’ve been better. So if anything, I’m surprised how much this new installment leans into a continuation of Spectre plot threads. But fresh blood behind the scenes, and a solid first trailer, point the way toward a more full-throated and rock ‘n’ roll Bond movie.
4) Fast & Furious 9
One of the most enjoyable action franchises running, Fast and Furious has been going from strength to strength, at least in the main series. Curiously, for a movie coming out in the spring, we don’t know much about this eighth sequel, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the release gets pushed back as it starts to come together. 9 also promises to be an odd one; Jordana Brewster is coming back as Mia Toretto, so they’ll have to address the Paul Walker elephant in the room, and Helen Mirren is set to return as Magdalene Shaw, without any of her fan-favorite children in tow. In any case, I await the fist-pumpingly absurd moments I know the movie will deliver.
3) Last Night in Soho
One of the most talented working directors, Edgar Wright looks to be changing his pace yet again for Last Night in Soho, a genre-bleeding cocktail of horror and time travel (maybe?). Details are intentionally opaque, and the film might well see Wright in a spot where he can’t rely on his snappy editing style. With a cast including heavy-hitting young talent such as Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, and Thomasin McKenzie, I have every confidence Wright will surprise us with this one.
2) Wonder Woman 1984
We are all constant consumers of the movie trailer. So it stands out all the more when a film has a genuinely excellent trailer, and Wonder Woman 1984 has an excellent example of the form. I’m sure director Patty Jenkins has been given license to go a little weird, and craft a sequel awash in color to sharply contrast the World War I setting of the first Wonder Woman. Even with myriad movies milking 1980s nostalgia, the setting looks fun, and I am so here for Kristen Wiig as a comic book movie villain/foil.
With Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve has staked himself as a master of a certain type of granular, spectacular, and hauntingly beautiful science fiction cinema. Dune continuing in the vein of those two films is an exciting prospect indeed. With an outsized ensemble including Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Javier Bardem, Dune is set to mesmerize just as David Lynch’s maligned adaptation did.