The Year-Long Nightmare That Was 2020… in Movies

Pictured: Me on 1 January 2021

Fuck 2020.

I admire everyone who is trying to stay positive and optimistic about the last 9 months of the movie year, but I just don’t see any possible way this wasn’t the all-time worst movie year… possibly ever? Definitely since I’ve been alive. Even beyond the obvious factor of movie theaters (including the fact that AMC’s on the verge of being bought by Disney now that the Paramount decree has been overruled. Thanks a lot, Trump) and video stores closing across the country and film productions having to shut down costing a lot of people in the industry their jobs and livelihoods and Disney’s grip tightening more and more over the conversation around movies, there was no popcorn summer movie season. Most of the prestigious arthouse fare was pushed back to 2021 alongside the big-time popcorn movies that couldn’t yet be thrown into Disney or Warner Bros.’ streaming content power plays. Cannes didn’t occur this year. We are witnessing maybe the least impressive slate of Oscar contenders since 1929 to the point where the best of the most-locked Best Picture movies (One Night in Miami and Minari) are still movies where I am fucking meh about. There was not one fucking movie I gave a five star rating to on letterboxd. Not. One. Especially in comparison to how there were two movies I gave half-star ratings to. And frankly I don’t want to diminish my top ten so soon, but I’m not sure half of them would have made my top 25 of, say, 2019 if they had released then.

Besides which, now that streaming seems to be the full force behind movie-watching, I got to get this off my chest… it is just a downright awful way to watch movies: On a tech basis given how even the best video quality of 4K streaming doesn’t match up with the worst video quality of a blu-ray (oh shit but there goes the video stores), on an industrial basis given how flat and polished movies already look even when they’re not Netflix originals that have this visually windexed aesthetic, and on an experiential level: whether I’m alone in the theater or the theater is packed (in which the experience is shared in a way that makes movie-watching feel so much more community-based than having a water cooler subject of the week), being in a pitch black room with one image glowing above me and hanging in the air like a ghost as the soundtrack surrounds, sinking me further into a movie than sitting in my living room off of a flatscreen tv with a soundbar. It just doesn’t match up in an effective way, whether or not I get to determine the bathroom break. And now it’s threatening to be the only way movies I would have otherwise loved to see in theaters will be available to me. This is not the fault of COVID necessitating we all stay at home and take care of ourselves and being the bare minimum way to incentivize others staying indoors as much as possible, but there’s no fucking way I wouldn’t have enjoyed Soul much more in the movie theaters than I did at home.

So yeah, I am not in the slightest conflicted about saying that 2020 as a movie year was garbage. To say nothing about its experience as a year with actual consequence and exhaustion to every single person in the world (though this is a movie blog and I feel like if you get me started on the state of affairs within 2020 overall, I will never stop) and I’m way happy to wave it goodbye. 

Let’s get this wrapped the fuck up, so I can take a step away from it all.

First, a post-mortem…

REST IN PEACE
Ennio Morricone
Diana Rigg
Sean Connery
Olivia De Havilland
Wilford Brimley
Chadwick Boseman
James Lipton
Max von Sydow
Ian Holm
Fred Willard

CLOSED-DOWN VIDEO STORES I WILL MISS
Odd Obsession
Vulcan Video
I Luv Vide
o
(and I guess Family Video qualified even though that took place January-February)

BOTTOM TEN

10. The Lie (Veena Sud, Canada/USA) – This movie got delayed as much as the distributors could before having to hide behind similarly mediocre horror movies, but this one was still a standout of badness.

9. A Fall from Grace (Tyler Perry, USA) – How low do y’all think Tyler Perry can go? Because he is always surprising me.

8. Scoob! (Tony Cervone, USA) – Maybe the worst instance ever of trying to will yourself an unearned cinematic universe.

7. Stardust (Gabriel Range, UK/Canada) – Imagine thinking it’s a good idea to make a David Bowie biopic without his music. Marc Maron without a moustache is an unnerving sight.

6. Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (Debbie Allen, USA) – The only bad thing Dolly Parton can ever be associated with.

5. The Turning (Floria Sigismondi, USA) – The Turn of the Screw for the hyperactive generation, complete with missing an ending so bad.

4. Godmothered (Sharon Maguire, USA) – Disney is death.

3. Cats & Dogs 3: Paws United (Sean McNamara, USA) – It’s a third Cats & Dogs, movie. Why?

2. Fantasy Island (Jeff Wadlow, USA) – I wish I hadn’t seen this.

  1. Dolittle (Stephen Gaughan, USA) – Having Robert Downey Jr.’s career after being cast as Tony Stark is clearly a fate worse than death.

BEST TITLE
I’m Thinking of Ending Things

WORST TITLE
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

MOST OBVIOUS TITLE ATTEMPT TO AVOID ABBREVIATION TO WW2
Wonder Woman 1984

EASIEST PAIR OF TITLES TO MIX UP
Emma. and Ema

I swear those are two different movies. To be fair, they both star Latin Americans, but one of them stars an Argentinian and a Brazilian and the other one stars a Mexican and a Chilean. OK, actually that doesn’t clear anything up. As the director of one of these gloriously pointed out, the period film is the one with a period at the end. That help?

BEST POSTER
Da 5 Bloods

A side effect of barely any movies at the theaters means that there’s hardly any physical posters since there’s no theater to display them at, so I really hoped to pick a theatrically released film to stick it to streaming but there’s just slim pickings. Even then, it’s hard to argue against this poster’s utilisation of protest art – of a beautifully dual-sided anti-war and pro-black protest – aesthetic to present the grab bag of ideas it’s delivering as well as reflecting on the epic and unwieldy nature of the movie.

BEST TEASER POSTER
Gretel & Hansel

At least this one can be a theatrical release and it’s just about simple enough to creep one out without even trying, placing Alice Krige’s wonderfully creepy vacant face on one edge of the poster to the point of barely capturing her profile and her hand at the opposite end and makes sure to fill that empty space with just one very wrong thing to tell what kind of movie this is with the sickly yellow hue of it sealing the deal. “A Grim Fairy Tale” is also a very cute pun.

WORST POSTER
Mank

I know what it’s trying to imitate but it is imitating it badly. It’s the text placement that is messing it up for me, which would make more sense if they didn’t still shove conventional credits at the bottom. Plus the attempt to take what’s already a plenty expressionist art style and overwhelm it with the warping to imply a drunken haze. Like, nah, this ain’t it.

BEST TRAILER
The Green Knight

Ambiguous enough to pull the interest for more information, even as someone who is already familiar with every part of Arthuriana. Eerie and atmospheric to give the psychological sense of fear without acting like a horror movie. David Lowery has generally been a director that I’ve been dubious of but every image and sound that this trailer communicated has me just ready for what he’s about to deliver and it’s even enough to wash the bad taste of David Copperfield out of my mouth.

BEST TRAILER UNDER ITS CIRCUMSTANCES
The Batman

Nothing particularly revelatory in this trailer, but one has to admit it’s impressive what they were able to put together just to build early hype especially given how cursed the production was turning out to be. Plus the build up with Nirvana almost makes me forgive how much a Nirvana song showing up in a movie trailer would have Kurt Cobain rolling in his grave.

WORST TRAILER
Mank

Same as the Mank poster, it is just so bad at resembling the Citizen Kane era movie preview-isms. It feels like too much of a blur to make any worthwhile impression. Really emblematic of my issues with Mank as a movie, how dedicating it is to imitating a style instead of using it as a launchpad.

BIGGEST PLOT TWIST IN A TRAILER
Connected

This loses its punch now that the title has been changed back to The Mitchells vs. the Machines but once upon a time I had absolutely no reason to expect the trailer to suddenly change the movie’s premise halfway through its family road trip picture to a robot action movie. Felt like a Spies in Disguise move.

MOST “SO BAD, IT’S GOOD” TRAILER
Hillbilly Elegy

This movie is a bad terminator but the trailer is a so bad, it’s good terminator.

MOST UNORTHODOX NEEDLE DROP IN A MOVIE
“The Plan” – Travis Scott in Tenet, which I’m imagining was just Ludwig Goransson lazily inviting Travis Scott to check this cool thing he was working on and Scott deciding he wanted to lay a verse over one of the music cues of the film. At least it’s in the credits, but Travis Scott in a Christopher Nolan movie is wild.

MOST SCENE-BREAKING NEEDLE DROP
“Running with the Wolves” – Aurora in Wolfwalkers. I can admire the musicians for trying to rearrange the song to fit more with the wonderful Celtic folk score, but it still sounds just way too poppy in its drums to prevent taking me out of this transportive film as an emotionally critical moment.

BEST LINE
“There’s fuckery afoot.” – Rosalind Pearson (Michelle Dockery) giving us word up in The Gentlemen (written by Guy Ritchie)

WORST LINE
“Oh, my Barry berries” – Barry the tiger (Ralph Fiennes) after getting punched in the balls in Dolittle (written by Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, & Doug Mand and definitely other ghostwriters but whoever is responsible for this line knows what the fuck he did).

BEST MOMENT
The fireworks sequence in Wonder Woman 1984, absolutely hokey and cheesy as it is but feeling just as much a part of the Silver Age optimism of Richard Donner’s Superman with as much dazzling colors and light. If modern superhero movies were more like that scene, I’d probably not be complaining as much about their existence. Almost as iconic as the first movie’s No Man’s Land scene.

WORST MOMENT
The very last reveal of Fantasy Island involving a character’s new identity, which had to work incredibly hard to be a low point for a film that just kept getting worse and worse and feels like some miscalculated fan service for the internet generation.

MOST FILM-DESTROYING MOMENT
The third act of Promising Young Woman which crashes and burns where a previously perfectly functional anti-rape revenge picture was flying to have really unchecked character nihilism.

MOST INSANE PLOT TWIST
Wild Mountain Thyme and I ain’t spoiling a damn thing.

BEST CAMEO
Veronica Ngo in Da 5 Bloods

Always a pleasure to see her show up in a picture and her presence as a source of inspiration and disillusion for the characters in the minimal screen time she shows – I have no real reference towards the mimicry of the real-life Hanoi Hannah so I can’t say much on that – is balanced impressively.

MOST BALLSY CAMEOS
Emma Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Sturgill Simpson, and Glenn Howerton in The Hunt

I really like how long The Hunt was able to play the long con of who of these recognizable actors is supposed to be the protagonist while dispatching of them bloodily over the first 20-30 minutes.

MOST EGREGIOUS BRAND PLACEMENT
Amazon and US Gypsum in Nomadland.

Imagine actually working with two of the main benefactors for the system that causes poverty while making a movie ostensibly about poverty and being actually nostalgic for those benefactors.

MOST INEXPLICABLE PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Olive Garden for Sonic the Hedgehog.

… what?

MOST UNORTHODOX CAMEO
Bill Nye in Mank. I genuinely would like to know the thought process that determined we’d watch Bill Nye chant socialiast ideals in silhouette pretending to be Upton Sinclair for 60 seconds.

MOST UNEXPECTED CAMEO
Michael Bay in Bad Boys for Life. So I guess he left the franchise on good enough terms but I can’t tell if he was playing an MC at the wedding or actually a friend of the family’s. The wooden delivery of calling Will Smith “Uncle Mike” blurs those lines.

WORST CAMEO
Simon Cowell in Scoob!. Are we still in 2003? The man is basically trying to synergize his brand and apparently dragged his poor son into this as well.

HORROR MOVIES ABOUT MISERABLE HOME SITUATIONS RANKED
The Dark and the Wicked
Run
The Lodge
Color Out of Space
Come to Daddy
Come Play
You Should Have Left
The Turning

MOVIES ABOUT WEIRD SOUL SWAPS IN OTHER BODIES RANKED
Wolfwalkers
Ride Your Wave
Zombi Child
Soul
Wonder Woman 1984
Freaky
NiNoKuni

(I regret to say I have not yet seen Possessor)

BEST MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE MOVIE
The only good thing about 2020 in movies is that we’ve had the best MCU year ever: 0 fucking movies.

Now we’re slated for 4 movies and 6 tv shows in 2021 and already the discussion on WandaVision got me sick of it without even watching an episode.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
Ema

It’s not like Pablo Larrain has never made a movie I disliked, given that The Club exists. But the stylisation gave me much higher hopes that this would exactly be my shit and instead it’s not nearly stylized enough or with a strong enough central performance to function as what it wants to be: a coy character study with an opaque central character.

MOVIES I WAS MOST EXCITED TO SEE IN 2020 THAT I GOTTA WAIT UNTIL 2021 FOR NOW
Annette – Not only for being Leos Carax’s new movie since Holy Motors reawakened him but also for being a musical composed by Sparks and starring Marion Cotillard.
The French Dispatch – Yes, of course I am excited for a Wes Anderson omnibus.
The Green Knight Even as someone suspicious towards David Lowery, I’m just too much of a sucker for Arthuriana.
The Tragedy of MacBeth – Apprehensive about if one Coen brother is as strong as the two of them together but also Denzel playing Shakespeare seems a no brainer.
Top Gun: Maverick I cannot imagine watching this movie anywhere but on a big screen.

MOST OVERRATED
Oh my word, it’s slightly early still but the Best Picture Oscar is basically Nomadland’s to lose right now and everybody is eating it up and I will want to crawl under a fucking rug when it happens. Sure, it’s nice to see a woman of color sweep awards but it’s hard for me to root for it without feeling performative when it’s a movie I disliked and morally object to by a director I’ve been unimpressed with.

MOST UNDERRATED
Technically this would be the ridiculously over-hated Wonder Woman 1984 or the disappointingly underappreciated Monster Hunter, but those will both have their moment later in this post. Instead, I must give this to Underwater, a movie whose sole crime appears to be a tense and murky deep sea thriller with basically no fat to its escalation to deep sea monster movie. Some people just can’t appreciate the good stuff.

MOST LIKELY TO DEPRECIATE FOR ME OVERTIME
Birds of Prey and Fatman

Both of them for similar reasons of feeling like they try a bit too hard, to the point that Fatman has already aged enough for me to go maybe “it’s more the idea of its humor than it actually being funny”. In Birds of Prey’s case, the more I look back on any self-referential winking moment, the more it reminds me of Deadpool’s artificial attempt at bounciness and while Birds of Prey is definitely better than Deadpool and Suicide Squad… that chain isn’t a good thing to be reminded of.

MOST LIKELY TO APPRECIATE FOR ME OVERTIME
Greenland and Zombi Child

Again, both of these pretty much already started growing more on me: Zombi Child is the sort of weird thing that just sticks in my brain and never lets go, steadily climbing to my honorable mentions of this year as you will see. Greenland, it’s all about that first act and how much it does with the scope of an apocalyptic movie even while it later devolves into the usual Gerard Butler vehicle trash. Maybe I can just stop the movie 40 minutes in next time and pretend it’s that perfect.

MOVIE I’M MOST PROBABLY GOING TO REWATCH SOON
On the Rocks

It’s the same thing as every Sofia Coppola movie, the surfaces are so distracting in awesome ways that I feel the need to go back and scratch further underneath to see what else it is she’s got on her mind. And say what we like about her using the same premise over and over, she always has a lot on her mind.

BEST SURPRISE
The Croods: A New Age is probably the 2020 movie that has the least reason to exist at all and yet it justified itself and more by its embracing of color and ridiculous animal designs, disabusing me of the fear Trolls: World Tour gave me that Dreamworks Animation’s unexpected late reign of visual splendour had ended and giving Kelly Marie Tran a role worthy of her talent (she sounds like she’s having more fun here than she did in Raya and the Last Dragon) and Cloris Leachman a hilarious final hurrah.

(For the record, I almost made Trolls: World Tour my Biggest Disappointment for the symmetry of having Dreamworks Animation sequels up in here, but even as someone who really likes the first Trolls, it was worryingly evident in the trailers they already over-smoothed the textures that made the first a visual delight).

BEST POPCORN MOVIE
This is technically Tenet but that’s in my top ten and it’s also technically Wonder Woman 1984 but look below on that so I will instead dedicate this space to the awesome popcorn movie power of Monster Hunter, the most successful of Paul WS Anderson’s experiments to translate video game storytelling to real big movie scenarios. On top of its ability to take Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa and star in their own wasteland buddy comedy together. On top of having a pirate chef cat.

BEST Fantasy Island ADAPTATION
Wonder Woman 1984, complete with a better Mr. Roarke in the form of Pedro Pascal. Sorry, Michael Peña.
(Thank you to Z.G. for making this joke in my view)

MOST UNEXPECTEDLY APT FILM FOR THE PANDEMIC
She Dies Tomorrow. Talk about prophetic with the conceptual virus here.

BEST BAD MOVIE
You can tell Josh Trank had no intention of wasting his unexpected “second chance” at a career as a filmmaker with Capone and the resultant excess is a gloriously dedicated time. Which is probably to be expected everytime you give Tom Hardy a chance to ham it up, but even in its laughability… this movie is weirdly admirable in its go-for-brokeness.

GUILTIEST PLEASURE
A Recipe for Seduction. In the words of Rick Sanchez, I just looked straight into the bleeding jaws of capitalism and said “yes, daddy, please…”. Helps that it’s only 16 minutes long though and that I never have any craving for the world’s worst fried chicken so I am immune to the propaganda. My craving is just for Mario Lopez’s biceps with that moustache.

BEST FESTIVAL WATCH NOT YET RELEASED IN THE US
Frank & Zed

BEST MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN 2020 FOR THE FIRST TIME
Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke, USA)
A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang, Taiwan)
The Cameraman (1928, Edward Sedgwick & Buster Keaton, USA)
The Falls (1980, Peter Greenaway, UK)
Forty Guns (1957, Samuel Fuller, USA)
Glistening Thrills (2013, Jodie Mack, USA)
God Told Me To (1976, Larry Cohen, USA)
Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989, Tracey Moffatt, Australia)
Redline (2009, Koike Takeshi, Japan)
Tekkonkinkreet (2006, Michael Arias, Japan)
(and One Cut of the Dead and La Flor, though they qualified for 2019)

MOVIES I WISH I HAD SEEN BEFORE MAKING THIS POST BUT DIDN’T WAIT BECAUSE I WANTED TO BEAT THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS AND IT’S MY OWN FAULT THERE’S SO MANY FOR BEING TOO BABY TO KEEP UP WITH NEW RELEASES BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE STREAMING
Possessor, Peninsula, The Willoughbys, The Cordillara of Dreams, Graves Without a Name, Joan of Arc, Sunless Shadows, The Painted Bird, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, The Truth, Young Ahmed, Liberté, Kajillionaire, A White White Day, The Roads Not Taken, Vitalina Varela, and Tigertail.

HONORABLE TELEVISION MENTION
Small Axe, Primal, and Keep Your Hands Off, Eizouken!

Primal is on its second season of course and there doesn’t seem to be any mistake with Eizouken’s status as miniseries, so I guess Small Axe is the only one that needs explaining. In which case I’ll just point out that save for Mangrove (which definitely feels cinematic in its choice of runtime and structure and aspect ratio), the strengths that make Small Axe (and especially the phenomenal Lovers Rock) one of the best things I’ve watched all year are strengths that take advantage of the limitations and format and even the viewing area (probably your living room) of a television program.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
The Assistant (Kitty Green, USA)
Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil/France)
Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, Poland/France)
Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, USA)
Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie (Richard Phelan & Will Becher, UK)
The Father (Florian Zeller, France/UK)
Let Them All Talk (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Monster Hunter (Paul WS Anderson, China/Germany/Japan/USA)
Nimic (Yorgos Lanthimos, Germany/UK/USA)
Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach, UK/France/Belgium)
Soul (Pete Docter & Kemp Powers, USA)
Synchronic (Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, USA)
The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, China/France)
Wonder Woman 1984 (Patty Jenkins, USA)
Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, France)

AND THE TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2020

10. The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, USA)

Probably more of a result of having directly binged as much of her expansive short film work (as well as her first feature) as I had access to before watching this one, but there’s just something really satisfying about watching a filmmaker’s development over her career to something as confident as this. Using her characteristic avant-garde stop-motion cutting over textiles, The Grand Bizarre guides us through a wordless globalist musing on how cloth with its colors and textures communicate cultural ideas to us and has its mark all over the world.

9. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, USA)

Without diverging from his MO of lacking narration or narrative, Wiseman finally went and decided to show his hand as a political filmmaker and the result is his most exciting documentary since National Gallery. Is it the sort of movie where you imprint your own conceptions on the fly-on-the-wall footage, same as his other films? Absolutely, but the arrangement in his cutting here surprisingly brings his personal perspective this hometown city of his and the frustration with bureaucratic slowness that feels stuck between the urgency of each individual constituents’ personal issue and glad-handing idealist speak that politicians use to give the impression that they’ll do something without providing any actual action.

8. The Fall (Jonathan Glazer, UK)

Kind of easy to do when it’s a short film, but I promise I haven’t forgotten a single image from this most harrowing of short films. Uses lines and blackness in a way that makes it more solid and urgent as a nightmare and with Mica Levi’s score amplifying the terror that this short is supposed to communicate without relying on anything visceral or grotesque. Just masks and lines and black and bass. So good, rewatching it washes off the bad taste of Strasbourg 1518 from the same year. I don’t know how long we need to wait for Glazer’s next feature, but I can’t wait.

7. Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, UK/USA)

All it needed to do was be well constructed enough and have a cast that has a good enough handle on the material to be a movie I liked. The way that De Wilde and company walked into this production with a contemporary willingness to be mean about its characters and that her crew got to let the colors truly add a rosy irony in its aesthetic to all the nastiness going on beneath the proper prose. It’s always the dopest when filmmakers REALLY get Jane Austen’s viciousness and play into it. Begs for a rewatch double feature with Love & Friendship and I wouldn’t be surprised if I indulge in that soon.

6. Tenet (Christopher Nolan, UK/USA)

It is just a huge breath of fresh air to have Christopher Nolan finally tell us the only things he really cares about with his movies: visual sleekness, pounding momentum, and structure. That’s it: story and characters are at the mercy of the writer (which is him. Oops!) and the cast (which play with 2D spy movie stock types incredibly well – Washington and Pattinson with their personality, Branagh with his hamminess). So all that’s left is to just rocket through the creative big-time action set pieces with enough spy movie tension in between so that we don’t get a chance to catch our breath even when stuff isn’t going backwards on-screen, in Nolan’s lovely feature-length tribute to the oldest of cinematic visual effects: running the film backwards. Really, I feel the chilliness this movie received is based on a misconception that its convolutions and flatness as a story are a puzzle to be solved rather than just a ride to be rode. And I really enjoyed the ride.

5. The Wolf House (Cristobal León & Joaquín Cociña, Chile)

If The Fall was harrowing as a fantastical concept delivered in less than 10 minutes, The Wolf House was like slowly discovering your spine has been shivering for the past 75 minutes. From its impressive meta-gambit to the grotesque look of its animation style as though watching characters painfully melt and reconstruct over and over, The Wolf House was already plenty horrifying enough on a fundamental manner of its creeping dark aesthetic even without the context of the real-life horrors this movie is trying to contextualize under its skin. Have something ready to cheer you up after watching this for sure.

4. Ride Your Wave (Yuasa Masaaki, Japan)

The argument can of course be made that it’s Yuasa’s second shot at the same concepts as Lu Over the Wall, but Ride Your Wave takes the similar ingredients while having its own visual identity – its sunbright pink and blue animated lighting, the singular pop song as an emotional anchor of Ride Your Wave are easy to distinguish from the Fleischer dance animations, the cool green, and the bouncy music of Lu Over the Wall. And while I love Lu with all my heart, Ride Your Wave sweeps the floor with it: it has a much more down-to-Earth (for a fantasy about resurrection) story about making your own life while dealing with love and loss as things that the human soul is going to have to push through, however hard it gets. Sneaking in emotional gut punches while still having the sense of humor that something as cartoonish as a Yuasa film should have, I’m honestly disappointed with how little it’s been making waves on the Animated Feature awards circuit while being surprised there were at least two animated films that surpassed this year.

3. World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (Don Hertzfeldt, USA)

It took me a minute to get used to the sudden shift of focus and mood that the third film in Don Hertzfeldt’s ongoing existential future series of short films threw us into, and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got my footing on it (but I am confident I’ll have it by Episode 4). But the presence of the wonderful Emily Prime of the first two seemed to have brought us to forget how dark and cynical Hertzfeldt was capable of being in between his insightful humanity as a storyteller. Either way, each World of Tomorrow entry has proven to be Hertzfeldt’s most visually ambitious work to date and Episode 3 did not fail on that: it plays with the z-axis to give physical depth to these stick figures. It also adds a new fatalist visual layer for gags on top of bringing more clutter and detail to the world-building. If nothing else, this entry really put the World in World of Tomorrow in a way I didn’t even realize it needed.

2. Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart, Ireland/Luxembourg/USA/UK/France)

Cartoon Saloon already pretty much nailed the use of two-dimensional shapes resembling Celtic art aesthetic with The Secret of Kells and based on their subsequent lovely but unrevelatory features, I was starting to feel they had hit a stop on where to develop the style from there. Wolfwalkers was beyond my dreams of what they were capable of. Moore and Stewart and the other animators transform folk art into something actually malleable to code the dichotomies in its story at war: placing blocky shapes against relaxed round elements in order to visually compliment its unexpectedly rich screenplay basically at its core about resistance as independent feminine nature vs. masculine violent urbanisation in the form of two girls’ friendship within a hostile world (with the threading of the complex discommunication between father and daughter). By the time we got to our first instance of seeing the pencil sketch lines remaining on certain character designs and point of view shots (adding a roughness that gave the visuals further amiable character), I was convinced that Cartoon Saloon was the best animation studio working today.

1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, USA)

And from one period piece that uses its own portrayal of a developing society to comment on the world as it is now to another. And there’s really nothing within First Cow that Reichardt hasn’t been exploring all throughout her career – what with its central oddball friendship to muse on where quiet tenderness has its place in masculinity and its quiet implication of capital and class as a source of hierarchical exploitation of both people and nature – but it’s done with a silent confidence that gets to have its shagginess without feeling lazily put together by Reichardt. It’s ambling and patient stuff that only yielded more depth the deeper it sinks into its time and place as an ambling state of mind and earns the emotions of its unexpected final beats without stressing it in the slightest. I know I said nothing I saw all year earned five stars from me, but maybe on a rewatch this movie and the two runner-ups (Wolfwalkers and World of Tomorrow Episode 3) would creep up to that.

Alright, that’s it. I’m done. Let’s move on to our next shitty year.

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