We’ve broken down the things that went well in 2020, now it’s time to dissect all the things that went poorly.
Let’s do one last autopsy on the carcass of 2020 and then dump the remains in a shallow grave. From mass theater closings to ludicrous rental prices, the year really knew how to give with both hands. Here are the top trends that dismayed us, and ten movies that disappointed us.
2020 Retrospective: Bad Trends.
- Old Models, New Problems
While we saw some indie film makers and theaters pull together to offer solutions, the vast majority of the industry remained stubbornly resistant to change. Big studios and national theater chains refused to cooperate on any digital revenue sharing, leading to an every man for himself situation. As streaming became the de facto solution, big studios like Disney forced theater chains to basically accept that the window between theater premier and streaming release was whatever they wanted it to be. Others adopted ad hoc and anti-consumer solutions like charging 20 bucks to rent a digital movie, with no revenue split.
- Cancellations and Postponements
While some films like Tennet braved theaters, and others did a hybrid release like Wonder Woman, most studios pushed their big films into 2021. Unfortunately, 2021 is likely to be as tenuous as 2020 until well into the fall, so we could end up seeing long dry patches. As bad as 2020 was, it at least had a ton of films already in the pipeline. With studio closures and lockdowns, 2021 is unlikely to have as many films in production to help fill in those gaps. Indie films which helped fill the void are likely starved for cash as well, so we could see delays or even a wave of closures. 2021 could be the year we see big tentpoles like James Bond and Marvel, but little else.
- Ripple Effects
This trend not only hit studios, it also rippled out to all the ancillary structures in the film ecosystem. Popular filming locations lost revenue. Festivals and award shows, many of which help drive interest in niche or indie productions, were canceled or postponed. Very few of them elected to go digital, which means a whole year’s worth of diamonds in the rough are likely to go unrecognized. Everybody down to the folks who run the vending machines in theaters are out a year’s revenue, and many don’t have the resource hoards that Beuana Vista or Universal hold.
2020 Retrospective: Worst Films.
10. The New Mutants (Aug. 2020)
Less an outright stinker and more of a vexing disappointment, New Mutants finally made it out of production hell…into the waiting arms of a pandemic hellscape. All of the different interests pulling the film into different directions make viewing this film a very uneven experience.
9. The Hunt (Mar. 2020)
It seems every year has to have one film that’s only real defining feature is controversy. Partisans on both sides of the political aisle had this film pilloried, sight unseen. When the film finally did come out…it was unremarkable. Certainly not the political firestorm everyone expected. The Hunt’s flabby flex on social stereotypes hardly merited so much notoriety.
8. Blow the Man Down (Mar. 2020)
Blow the Man Down wanted to be Fargo for the coastal fisherman set, but lacked all of the little touches that make a Coen Brothers movie hold together. Instead of tight dialogue, we got hamfisted exposition. Instead of subtle intrigue, we got neon signs pointing us to the plot points. Despite a strong cast of matronly actresses, the film just lacked the polish to pull of its small town drama.
7. Gretel and Hansel (Feb. 2020)
Gretel and Hansel was another disappointment akin to New Mutants, but with the important caveat that there was no reason to suspect it might disappoint. It had a fantastic set of leads in Sophia Lillis and Alice Krige. It’s art style was beautiful, if a bit off-putting in its anachronistic elements. It just never really did anything with the material. It pick up about a half dozen interesting takes on the old fairy tale, half-heartedly toyed with them and then tossed them.
6. Antebellum (Sep. 2020)
Antebellum rounds out my 2020 trilogy of movies with fantastic female leads that just failed to launch. Here, director duo Christopher Renz and Gerard Bush try to keep two plates spinning at the same time (modern day
America where Jenelle Monae is a prestigious author, and antebellum America where she is a slave) only to watch as both come smashing down. Like The Witch, it tries to play coy with information you already have, leading to a plot that feels completely contrived and frustrating. I want so much more out of this movie.
5. Crossing Swords (Jun. 2020)
Luckily, I didn’t actually find ten movies in 2020 that put me off. Unluckily, I did find plenty of television that did. The first on our list is Crossing Swords, an overly randy comedy that showed up about a decade late to the party in terms of edgy animation. It’s a shame, as star Nicholas Hoult demonstrated his comedic chops in another historical comedy, The Great, and the stop-motion animation is quite lovely. They’re both wasted in a puerile and unfunny vehicle.
4. The Midnight Gospel (Jun. 2020)
The Midnight Gospel was a bitter disappointment, since it had so much going for it. The animation is vibrant and fluid, and the art direction is uniquely gonzo. The problem is that all of that art is in service to a series of completely flaccid, navel-gazing interviews where New Age ideas that were moldy when my parents were in high school get treated like VERY DEEP THOUGHTS. Pass.
3. The Pale Horse (Mar. 2020)
My final TV pick that disappointed was The Pale Horse. Growing up in a household awash in Agatha Christie, I’ve been excited to see a mini renaissance of her work hitting TV and cinema. That excitement was quickly flogged out of me by this glacially paced mystery featuring a despicable main character played by Rufus Sewell. I rarely quit on a series before the requisite three episode mark, but I fled The Pale Horse halfway through the second episode. It sucks. Avoid at all costs.
2. Bloodshot (Mar. 2020)
I still cannot believe Columbia had the brass balls to think this movie was worth a twenty dollar rental when theaters closed down. Bloodshot could have been big, dumb fun, but it took itself too seriously. So, instead we got overwrought, joyless dreck. Pretty in places, but nothing that didn’t feel recycled from much better action flicks.
- Four Kids and It (Apr. 2020)
Four Kids and It amply deserves the top spot on the list of worst movies of 2020. How to even begin describing how bad this movie is?
I know. Let’s start with racism.
This flick injects race into a kids story and the director promptly trips all over his dumb, white dick fucking it up. The black characters are always portrayed in a negative light, while their white counterparts get to impart good old (white) values by constantly showing them up.
Add to this very generous portions of colonialism, patronage, and good old fashioned sexism, and Four Kids and It is the total package of loathsome privilege proudly on display.