December 2020 Film Round-Up

With this post, I finally stop talking about 2020 in film, something I feel like I’ve been doing non-stop for weeks. I watched quite a bit in December, mostly as an incentive to catch up on as many anticipated releases in 2020 as I could so I make the most informed list at the end of the year, which you can find here. If you want to see my favourite scenes of the year, that’s found here.

So on the whole, I’m happy with my watches for 2020. I finished the Best Picture Winners, I’m close to closing out the 2000’s with above-the-line nominees, and I’ve caught up on some classic masterpieces that I was missing out on.

Here is everything I watched in December 2020.

First Time Watches – December 2020

  1. Women in Love (1969) dir. Ken Russell

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s deftly written and it’s far gayer than I ever expected. Glenda Jackson is riveting, the second hour is phenomenal, I just wish it got there a little quicker. Whenever there’s a naked wrestling scene between two men that ends with a discussion about the men in question loving each other, you know I’ve got a hit on my hands.

2. A Passage to India (1984) dir. David Lean

Another surprise, as I was actually quite taken by the second half of this one. It takes roughly 90 minutes to arrive at what can be structurally defined as the ‘inciting incident’, the one that the actual narrative content revolves around and that’s not a good look for any film I think. 90 minutes of character introductions and nice locations until we get to the thing we’re watching the story for? David Lean makes a lot of long films, but this might be the most unnecessarily long film I’ve seen in quite some time. There’s a really great 2 hour movie in here somewhere.

3. Executive Suite (1954) dir. Robert Wise

I honestly expected to love this one more. It feels quite Succession-y, but with that old Hollywood wit that runs rampant through their comedies. It’s directed nicely and there are a handful of great performances, even though Barbara Stanwyck is under-utilised throughout the entire film. It’s well-written and entertaining enough to follow, but it lacks something that other films I watched this month had that made them riveting.

4. The Last Samurai (2003) dir. Edward Zwick

The second Edward Zwick movie I’ve seen and I felt much the same about it. There’s a great story buried within it, but it’s lost to the larger-than-necessary runtime that boasts a terrific supporting performance from an actor who’s always great in everything they do, outshining the mainstay A-lister they’re facing off against. Zwick clearly put time and research into this film and it shows, but it just ends up being uninteresting for the most part, with Cruise’s character at the centre for most of it. It became a drag to watch and I didn’t really enjoy it by the end.

5. In America (2003) dir. Jim Sheridan

Here’s where I really got into some good films. In America is gorgeously written, really really well-paced, and acted terrifically by everyone. Samantha Morton is beyond incredible here, Djimon Hounsou is such a great screen presence, even the children do a great job with their roles! It’s a fascinating look at wanting to build a new life after a tragedy and it does all of that so well. The fairground sequence is so tense I could barely stand it, but the direction and the performances sell it so well it becomes riveting filmmaking. I loved this.

6. Promising Young Woman (2020) dir. Emerald Fennell

I literally refuse to write about this again. I loved it. You likely already know this since I’ve written it about in detail three times on this blog now. I won’t make it a fourth but yeah, it’s a gem.

7. Mank (2020) dir. David Fincher

An entry into my Top 20 of the year, Mank is pretty much exactly what I was expected from Fincher’s latest outing, his first in 6 years. It’s an interesting look at the writing of Citizen Kane, accompanied by a surprisingly political backdrop and a look into the perception of the industry at that time. Amanda Seyfried steals the show with her presence, but there are a handful of good performances here too. It’s really good, but perhaps not the masterpiece I’ve come to expect from this man.

8. Black Bear (2020) dir. Lawrence MIchael Levine

Another entry in my Top 20 of the year list, Black Bear was the exact type of challenging, dizzying filmmaking that I was looking for from it. Featuring a trio of dynamic performances, led by the indomitable Aubrey Plaza, it explores identity and filmmaking as they go hand in hand together thematically with an intriguing structure and an ending that I will be thinking about for quite some time.

7. Sound of Metal (2020) dir. Darius Marder

Yet another entry in my Top 20 list, Sound of Metal is a beautiful film about a drummer coming to terms with his encroaching deafness. It’s sensitively-conceived, gorgeously performed by everyone involved, and has one of my favourite endings of the year. A truly rich film that is one I cannot wait to watch again and again.

8. Freaky (2020) dir. Christopher Landon

I didn’t love this as much as I wanted to, but it’s still a fun time and a fun take on both the slasher film and the body-swap trope. It’s not going to add anything substantial to the canon in my opinion, but it’s a fun watch and never becomes tiring. Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn are great in it and there are some heartfelt moments throughout.

9. Ammonite (2020) dir. Francis Lee

Oof. Honestly there isn’t much to say about this one, I was definitely disappointed though. It felt as though the story wasn’t believable despite the attempts from Winslet and Ronan to make it so. The ending shot is nice, but I wasn’t captured by either the landscape or the chemistry between the two. I saw what Lee was going for, but it just didn’t come off as it perhaps should have.

10. Harakiri (1962) dir. Masaki Kobayashi

A sensational film, some really great direction and camerawork with a compelling story at its centre. A samurai film that doesn’t contain itself to the limitations of one, Harakiri is a must-see.

11. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) dir. Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay does not miss. A really interesting way of telling what is perhaps a familiar story of an unhinged teenager and their relationship with their parent. Ramsay uses the two intersecting timelines to produce a tension and mystery that keeps you held in its grasp until the very end. Swinton and Miller are both great.

12. The Hunt (2012) dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Now this one of the most brutal films I’ve ever watched. Unrelentingly tense but never anything less than invigorating, The Hunt provides an almost unwatchable story that inspires anger and anguish throughout, centred around Mads Mikkelsen’s excellent performance.

13. 21 Grams (2003) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

Iñárritu has yet to make a film other than Birdman that has totally impressed me. 21 Grams is a capable film with some great performances, but it loses track of what it wants to be with its ambitious timeline structure, revealing parts of the story way before it’s earned the right to do so. It’s an interesting story at heart and the direction is fine, but the whole film just doesn’t come together in the right way.

14. The Cooler (2003) dir. Wayne Kramer

I was so in for this. A cool, interesting story with lovely performances and an ending I really dug. There are a lot of conflicting character choices but they all seem to work in and amongst each other. Macy and Bello are great, but Alec Baldwin easily steals the film with an electric performance.

15. Pieces of April (2003) dir. Peter Hedges

Not what I was expecting or what I wanted. Clarkson is good and so is Holmes, but the story is deeply unsatisfying in a lot of places.

16. La Haine (1995) dir. Mathieu Kassovitz

Brutal, powerful filmmaking at its finest. There’s so much here that really works, from the naturalistic performances to the slick, stylish editing. There’s so much to dive into and I can’t wait for future watches so I can absorb everything with knowledge of the ending, which is absolutely superb.

17. Yojimbo (1961) dir. Akira Kurosawa

This is such a moment for me…my first Kurosawa movie. And I adored it. Kurosawa is proficient with the camera, using it to match the frenetic energy of Toshiro Mifune which is boundless. Lowkey obsessed with how dorky this is, the conversation towards the end about ghosts only coming out for scaredy-cats…here I was thinking this was Serious Cinema(TM). Also obsessed with how the plot develops, the mutual manipulation is too delicious, matching how gorgeous the cinematography is. Safe to say that I cannot wait to explore more of Kurosawa’s work!

18. The Prom (2020) dir. Ryan Murphy

No.

19. The Barbarian Invasions (2003) dir. Denys Arcand

Okay so I had no idea this was a sequel…yeah my bad. But also I don’t understand this film at all I think it’s just too inaccessible for me.

20. Dirty Pretty Things (2003) dir. Stephen Frears

It’s fine in a lot of places, and good in a lot of them too, but it just ends very suddenly for me. The performances are great and the script has a lot of interesting moments, but it just didn’t always work in terms of the themes.

21. American Splendor (2003) dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

This. Is. How. You. Do. A. Biopic! Match the style of the film to the personality and legacy of the person you’re portraying. Cast a great actor in the lead actor and let the story do the rest. Giamatti is so so good.

22. Seven Samurai (1954) dir. Akira Kurosawa

I may have something longer planned for this movie so I’ll just say…masterpiece.

23. Endings, Beginnings (2020) dir. Drake Doremus

Love explored in typical Doremus fashion, with a loose script and intense performances. Woodley is better than the entire film and also lives my dream in this so…yeah.

24. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) dir. George C. Wolfe

Performance and script driven films are always my thing and this one does great work in both elements. The script is fast, dynamic, and meaningful and the performances…my oh my. Everyone does exceptional work, from Turman, Domingo, and Potts being more in the background but still killing it, to Davis and Boseman bouncing around the rooms and delivering masterful performances. An acting masterclass like no other.

25. Another Round (2020) dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Another Vinterberg/Mikkelsen collaboration, another great premise explored. Another Round has a lot going for it, I just wish I loved everything as much as I loved the ending.

26. Gangs of New York (2002) dir. Martin Scorsese

I really did just lose interest whenever Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t on the screen. He’s unsurprisingly riveting here. DiCaprio feels miscast and Diaz does her very best with some poor material. Production design is off the scale good though.

27. The Pianist (2002)

Adrien Brody is really good. I liked the score a lot and the ending is a killer. I think the script could’ve used more work though.

28. Talk To Her (2002) dir. Pedro Almódovar

Really great script, though I wish I didn’t have to see someone climb into a vagina. How about I never have to see that again, how’s that film industry? Will you do that for me?

29. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) dir. Alexander Mackendrick

Consistently entertaining featuring a terrific performance by Tony Curtis and one of the sharpest screenplays I can think of, Sweet Smell of Success is ugliness at its most addictive. Can’t help but feel like this inspired the creation of Don Draper in some way.

30. The Midnight Sky (2020) dir. George Clooney

Lovely score, lovely production design, but I have to say I absolutely loathed the ‘twist’ of this film. It’s pointless and feels unnecessary with what the felt wanted to talk about.

31. Soul (2020) dir. Peter Docter

I’m sure you’ll have seen and heard people praising Soul as one of Pixar’s best. I’m definitely an outlier here: while I liked it well enough I thought it was a bit uninspired and a waste of a cool concept. Visually it’s stunning and some of Pixar’s most imaginative visuals, but as the story progressed it lost me, starting to feel less like an exploration into Joe’s regrets and mistakes than a film about 22, which for me is much less interesting.

32. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) dir. Patty Jenkins

This film sure has taken a beating online, so I’ll just say what I liked about it. Chris Pine eating food in bed. Pedro Pascal being so delightfully unhinged that it hurts. The beginning sequence in Themyscira. Kristen Wiig kicking a man. Yeah, that’s it.

33. Boys State (2020) dir. Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss

A compelling look at how politics has settled in the next generation of leaders, looking into how people are shaped by their influences and how annoying teenage boys are.

34. Mangrove (2020) dir. Steve McQueen

The only film in McQueen’s Small Axe series I managed to see this year, but I do plan to watch the rest. Mangrove is superbly made and acted, but does run a little too long in the end. With a more concise pacing, this could’ve been higher on my yearly favourites list. Letitia Wright and Shaun Parkes are stunning.

35. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) dir. Jason Woliner

I’m not a Borat fan at all, it’s not my type of comedy, although I did laugh a few times throughout its sequel. I watched it purely for the Maria Bakalova awards hype and, while I thought she was easily the best part of the film, I wasn’t completely sold on her as an awards nominee. Would be a cool, left-field nomination for the Academy if it were to happen though.

36. Shiva Baby (2020) dir. Emma Seligman

The amount of debut features this year that have absolutely nailed it, Emma Seligman is another name to add to the list. The entire cast are great, Rachel Sennott giving a wonderful performance. This is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen and I did not breathe for 77 minutes.

37. Time (2020) dir. Garrett Bradley

This was absolutely stunning. Gorgeously shot and edited, Bradley has captured something that is equal parts stunning and heartbreaking. Absolutely loved the ending, but this documentary broke me a little…in a good way.

38. Nomadland (2020) dir. Chloé Zhao

Chloé Zhao captures a Malickian portrait of the freedom that comes with catharsis, using beautiful landscapes to exhibit the beauty of the natural world around us. Nomadland ruminates on how humans interact with their surroundings and lyrically examines the American Dream and the pursuit of one’s individual path. Frances McDormand gives one of her greatest performances, a textured portrayal of a woman who is constantly moving on, creating small families wherever she goes, keeping her spirit alive in the process. One of the year’s best.

Favourite First-Time Watch: Seven Samurai

So 38 new films this month, not bad at all. Doing yearly catch-ups definitely helped a little with that.

Films I Rewatched in December 2020

  • Widows (2018) dir. Steve McQueen
  • Vox Lux (2018) dir. Brady Corbet
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) dir. Marielle Heller
  • Now You See Me (2014) dir. Louis Leterrier
  • Boy Erased (2018) dir. Joel Edgerton
  • Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes
  • Destroyer (2018) dir. Karyn Kusama
  • The Favourite (2018) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
  • First Man (2018) dir. Damien Chazelle
  • A Simple Favor (2018) dir. Paul Feig
  • Phantom Thread (2017) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Little Women (2019) dir. Greta Gerwig
  • It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) dir. Frank Capra
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) dir. David Yates
  • Tenet (2020) dir. Christopher Nolan
  • Palm Springs (2020) dir. Max Barbakow
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) dir. Eliza Hittman
  • Promising Young Woman (2020) dir. Emerald Fennell

Can you tell I was doing a 2018 rewatch catch-up this month? Still got a few to go there!

Hoping 2021 brings me lots more great movies and movie-watching experiences!

As always, take care and stay safe!

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