It’s the last day of the year, and I’ve put off doing this list for long enough. Instead of doing a top ten films of the year, I’ve decided to do a bumper addition. 2020 brought few joys with it but quality books (as demonstrated here) and films were not in short supply. So, in no particular order, here’s my 20 films of the year. (Two disclaimers: These are of the films I’ve seen, there’s a few I just haven’t been able to fit in yet so there are a few blindspots. I’ve gone for UK release date – either in cinema or VOD where applicable.)
This will be the last edition of STWS of 2020, and we’re going out with a banger of a list. Thank you so much for reading these, I do hope they’ve been useful! Here’s the back catalogue: – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 , #10, #11, #12 and #13.
I’m cheating a little here when it comes to this week’s Underseen Romcom – as this is technically more of a rom-com-drama. However, it features my favourite all-time favourite trope of hate-to-love with two of the UKs finest (in both senses of the word!) actors – Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. She plays a former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, who joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them. He’s the established talented writer who feels put-out being forced to work with her. The fact this story is propelled by an superb chemistry, an epic supporting cast (Richard E. Grant, Bill Nighy, Eddie Marsan, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irons, Jake Lacy and Rachael Stirling) and is a film about making a fim – well it’s close to cinema perfection in my eyes.
Forget Darcy. Forget Rochester. You’re sleeping on Gabriel Oak. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts in this version, he’s just wonderful. He’s one of three suitors pursing Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a woman whose headstrong and independent nature is atypical for Victorian England. Alongside Gabriel there’s the older, prosperous and dependable bachelor William (Michael Sheen) and the young, reckless & hedonistic Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). An excellent adaptation with one of Mulligan’s finest & most underrated performances.
When is a Transformer movie not really a Transformer movie? When it’s this movie. This is a wonderful action/sci-fi/adventure movie rooted in the traditions of Spielberg & other 80s classics. Nostalgia is dialled up to 11 courtesy of an epic soundtrack (The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Steve Winwood to name but a few). It’s 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. On the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. Such a charming delight.
By no means a flawless movie (Adrian Grenier being one of it’s multiple issues) this is a really sweet, low budget indie about a conservative church choir director (Jacki Weaver) who inherits her late son’s San Francisco drag club. The by-numbers fish-out-of-water culture-clash narrative isn’t the reason to watch, the reason to give this a go is the moving performances by the club performers (Mya Taylor, Allister MacDonald and Anthony Skordi) who each portray all-too real storylines. Taylor in particular is a stand-out who hasn’t been given nearly enough opportunities since 2015’s Tangerine.
We don’t talk nearly enough about friendship break-ups. Speaking from personal experience, they hurt just as much – if not more – as romantic break-ups. This fim, about a New York woman played by Greta Gerwig (who doesn’t really have an apartment) who apprentices for a dance company (though she’s not really a dancer) and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as the possibility of realizing them dwindles, is one of the few that depicts the painful disintegration of friendship. Funny, sad and bittersweet – one of Noah Baumbach‘s finest. Also, there’s some Adam Driver for all you stans out there (I see you Bleakley!)
Based on “The Little Broomstick” by Mary Stewart, a strange flower grants a girl magic powers. The less said about this one, the better. A really charming coming-of-age fantasy story that will linger with you long after watching.
There’s something wonderfully old fashioned yet brilliantly refreshing about this one. In this 1970s set crime drama, a woman (Rachel Brosnahan, unrecognisable from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his partners, sending her and her baby on a dangerous journey. Arinzé Kene (a man who isn’t yet as big a star as he deserves to be) is the man tasked with helping them on their journey. A slowburn packed with unexpected moments that makes for utterly enthralling watching.
Occasionally a media product – be that TV show, game, album or film – will be described as going or having gone through ‘development hell’. It describes exactly what it sounds like; when the putting together, making of or releasing of was a hellish experience. Rarely has the term been as accurately used as when it is describing The New Mutants. Director Josh Boone started work on the project in 2014. Fox signed off on it in 2015 with the script being completed in 2016. 2017 saw pre-production, casting and the start of filming. After a cut was put together, re-shoots took place in 2018.
None of this is particularly uncommon for a big blockbuster, although the time frame is was one the slightly longer side. Then the film got pushed back by Fox, the re-shoots looked to be more extensive than initially anticipated – whispers of an entire tonal shift started occurring. Then Disney bought out Fox and it looked like it either didn’t know what to do with the film. A final cut was ready in early 2020, a release date of March was set – and then Covid closed the cinemas. Now, this weekend and next Friday, you can finally go and see the film everyone was starting to believe didn’t actually exist. Was it worth the wait?
No, not really. The whispers and speculation of the film’s unimpressiveness prove to be mostly warranted, mainly because it is hard to believe how so many interesting full-of-potential components have resulted in something so dull and bland. The best superhero adaptations, be that film or tv, aren’t ‘just’ superhero stories, they utilise generic or cultural conventions to great effect. Think the Afrofuturism of Black Panther, the take on the Western that is Luke Cage and the film noir of Jessica Jones for just a few examples.
The New Mutants seems to be a horror pitched at the young adult audience, with it’s 15 certificate clearly signposting this statement of intent. The BBFC certificate promises ‘strong threat, bloody images, abuse references’. It’s a shame then that the film isn’t particularly scary or gory or really anything at all.
Starting in media res we see Danielle Moonstar (Blu Hunt) running for her life as her reservation is destroyed by what appears to be some sort of monster. After falling unconsciousness in the middle of some woods, she awakes in what seems to be hospital. Dr Cecilia Reyes (Alice Braga) explains that she is there because she is extraordianary – her mutant superpowers meant she was the only survivor of the catastrophe. She must stay at the hospital until she learns to control her powers, although she doesn’t know what they are yet.
She’s not the only patient at the hospital. There’s also Rahne Sinclair (Maise Williams), Illyana Rasputin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Sam Guthrie (Charlie Heaton) and Bobby da Costa (Henry Zaga). All have experienced great trauma as a direct consequence of their powers. Dr Reyes refers to her ‘superior’, which the group assume is Professor Xavier, but as each young mutant endures a literal haunting from their past they have reason to suspect they are in great danger.
And so the story goes, with a running time of 100 minutes. The most memorable thing about it is just how unmemorable it really is. The cast are great, with the majority being very familiar faces known for iconic performances – Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split, Emma), Williams (Game Of Thrones) and Heaton (Stranger Things). Those three in particular make an intriguing impact within proceeding, even when armoured with some ‘interesting’ The fault lies with the material they have been given.
The story is The Breakfast Club: emo edition, with 5 disparate superpowered teenagers trapped in a building. The true monster? Themselves! The dialogue is empty enigma sandwiched in endless exposition. We get told so much, yet very little of it helps us understand or actually like the characters. The visuals aren’t particularly impressive and the special effects are a tad on the creaky side.
The end result is a film that is unlikely to generate hate, simply apathy. At least now we know it actually exists..?
The New Mutants previews in the UK August 29th and 30th, before being released September 4th.
‘A house as old as this one becomes, in time, a living thing. It starts holding onto things… keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be. Some of them are good; some of them bad… Some should never be spoken about again.’