Back again for a very tricky third instalment of my annual awards show. Why tricky? Well, as you know, the rules are that I can only give out prizes to movies released in the past year that I saw in the past year. And guess what happened? There was a pandemic. A lot of movies ended up being released directly to streaming platforms, and I don’t subscribe to any of those. Which means that I really had my work cut out for me. In 2018 I only had a slate of 13 movies to choose from. Last year I upped that to 20 titles. But this year I dropped down to 10. That doesn’t give me a lot of wiggle room. But in some cases that only made the competition more intense!
Here is the list of movies that qualified in 2020:
Bad Boys for Life
Bill & Ted Face the Music
Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Brahms: The Boy II
The Invisible Man
The Social Dilemma
Whew! Not very pretty, is it? Well, let’s get started.
Best Film: Not all that hard a pick. The one wrinkle is that The Social Dilemma is a documentary, which makes it difficult to judge alongside the others. I liked it well enough, but I didn’t think it was anything special. I’d say the same for The Invisible Man. Which leaves me with Emma, since the other movies are all different shades of junk. I didn’t think Emma was a great movie, especially given its second half and what it does to Mr. Knightley, but compared to the rest of this field it’s the clear winner. So Emma it is.
Worst Film: A real horse race. Bad Boys for Life, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey, Bloodshot, Brahms: The Boy II, Fantasy Island, and The Grudge are all franchise material, and were all disappointing. That word “disappointing” feels particularly apt. Apparently Birds of Prey was a labour of love for Margot Robbie and she spent three years bringing it to fruition. They had 17 years to work on a sequel to Bad Boys II. 29 years to follow up Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. and Fantasy Island had been a property sitting on the shelf since 1984 (barring a short-lived revival of the show in 1998). But despite having so much time, not to mention lots of money and talent, they couldn’t come up with anything better? This is how they treat franchise fans?
It’s hard to say which of these was the biggest let-down. I might say Brahms: The Boy II because I couldn’t understand why anyone had bothered with a sequel to The Boy in the first place. Honestly, I could pick any one of these. But I guess I’ll say Fantasy Island just because of how stupid and damaging to the brand the ending was, and not because it was really any worse than the others.
Best Actor: Welcome to the wasteland. I have nothing for you here. It was fun to watch Demián Bichir mumble his way through The Grudge. Aside from that . . . Johnny Flynn was miscast as Mr. Knightley in Emma, though I guess he did his best, which wasn’t all that good. Vin Diesel is a plastic action figure. He can’t really act. Michael Pena, who I like, was wasted in Fantasy Island. This is hard. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted? I mean, they reprise roles that are thirty years old, without adding much of anything. Is that an achievement? Maybe it counts for something. So, since they’re inseparable in the movie, let’s make it a joint award for the two of them. But if it weren’t against the rules I would forfeit the award this year.
Best Actress: Actually a decent competition here. Elizabeth Moss is solid in The Invisible Man, but I also really liked Andrea Riseborough, whose performance almost single-handedly made The Grudge bearable. Another example of a good actor making what they can out of a bad situation. I did, after all, give this award to Margot Robbie in 2018 for Terminal. Alas, I didn’t think Robbie could save Birds of Prey this year. In any event, I can’t bring myself to put any of these women ahead of Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma, which was an effective star turn that carried the movie.
Best Screenplay: More awfulness. Here’s what I said in 2019: “I thought last year’s award for Best Screenplay was grim pickings, but compared to this year’s crop they seem like works of genius.” Well, guess what? Compared to 2020, 2019’s nominees look like works of genius. I’m actually a bit in awe at the kinds of depths screenwriting is currently exploring. Most of these movies had scripts that were wholly formulaic and uninteresting. I have to give the award to Eleanor Catton for Emma, even though she was adapting a novel. I mean, at least she didn’t make a total hash of it.
There you have it. Time to kick 2020 to the curb and start again. Here’s hoping for some better viewing in 2021!