Here’s a true story for you. When I was young, I collected comics. Not that uncommon, to be sure, especially among kids in the late 80s and early 90s who had heard stories about the adults who paid off their homes by hanging on to comics and baseball cards and other collectables. So I didn’t just collect comics; I collected comics.
I loved many characters and series, but the one I enjoyed most –the one that I was buying when no one else I know was– was a series by Marvel called “What if…?”, in which a toga-clad all-seeing cosmic being related stories of the Marvel universe I knew and loved but with a single change. Imagine the butterfly effect at work: a butterfly flaps its wings in China, you get rain in Stanley Park; Peggy Carter doesn’t go up to the observation room as Steve Rogers is headed toward the experiment that would make him Captain America, and instead, we end up with Captain Carter. I loved it. I still do. And now they’ve made an animated series out of it.
2020 has been a hell of a year. With theatres ending up being an unsafe place to be during an ongoing worldwide pandemic you’d think it would be a harder year for film, but looking back it’s clear that this year has been an as vibrant and diverse year for film as any other.
Of course, the difference is that without theatres, there have been far fewer blockbusters and far more indie and middle-tier films. The impact on my film diary for the year has been an interesting one, with bigger budget films losing the endorphin high of the theatrical experience –and thus losing some of the immediate forgiveness they earn if they aren’t great. Additionally, film festivals moved to an online experience either in whole or in part this year, which has meant that I have “attended” more of them.
As a result, I have seen more than 120 of 2020’s films, a steep increase from years past. Narrowing the list down to a group of favourites is as difficult as ever! Also this year, for the second time, I am going to highlight some of the performers that blew me away.
When Chadwick Boseman passed away this summer, it cast a new light on all of his recent work. Not only did he work nearly constantly while also suffering from stage four cancer, but he also took the time to inhabit meaningful African American characters and to bring African American stories to the screen. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a hell of a lot of expectations, being both produced by Denzel Washington and adapted from the August Wilson play of the same name, and that’s before you consider that it is Boseman’s last film.
Chadwick Boseman, star of Marvel’s Black Panther, and recently Spike Lee’s Da Five Bloods, has passed away at age 43 after a four year fight with colon cancer.
This news comes as a shock that as he seemed healthy and vital, and had not shared his diagnosis publicly. Far too young to be taken so soon, if you do the math it seems like he still worked on at least six films after being diagnosed. That takes an incredible level of strength.
He was an inspiration to a generation, and already an icon. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and fans.
Sports movies often have a bit of a stigma in that if you make a football movie then while football fans will probably want to see it there’s no guarantee that anyone else will. The best sports movies get around this by doing something pretty clever: not really being about sports.
Draft Day is one of these. It’s a well put together drama with a great cast doing what they do best in a movie that happens to be set in the office of an NFL football team.
Given these two things I feel I could be forgiven that I hoped this movie would be great but unfortunately it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s actually a good movie but it’s also not exemplary. Other than being about Jackie Robinson there’s nothing that really sets it apart from any other “underdog/outsider makes good” sports story.
Like I say, that’s not a problem per se however it is kind of disappointing. There are a lot of things about 42 that are great though, so let’s talk about them.
First, the story is tight. It focusses on Robinson’s first season and not his whole career. This is a good thing because he ended up playing for a long time and eventually won a world series in 1955 a full 8 years after he debuted. There is a lot to explore but keeping the movie to his first major league season keeps the story more focussed and honestly, these sports movies always have 2 minutes of footnotes at the end about where the characters ended up and the World Series fact works as one of those given that his first season was by far his most important.
If I have complaints about the story they are first that the film, admittedly likely out of necessity glosses over how Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson ignoring basically all of the scouting and selection process (save seeing Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson’s names of a board at one point). It likely would have made the movie too long, but I still would have liked to see some more of the “who do we choose” stuff than just the one scene we get.
Second, it’s pretty much entirely predictable. To be fair, it’s a true story that I know, but also it’s an “underdog/outside makes good” sports movie, there’s a pattern to these things. Everyone is uncomfortable or doesn’t know what to think at the start. Antagonists say things like “you’ll never make it” and “you don’t belong here” and eventually he wins over most everyone and wins the day.
As an extension of this, while the film does actually very well with lot of these tropes it also does pretty poorly with others and the film is peppered with scenes that feel like they’re right out of a lifetime movie of the week that just scream “LOOK AT HOW BAD RACISM WAS AND HOW AWFUL PEOPLE WERE”.
Where the movie does shine greatly is in it’s supporting cast. Chadwick Boseman is good as Robinson but Harrison Ford is great as Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers determined to integrate baseball. Ford is a great actor and it’s nice to see him remembering that for a change instead of just playing a grumpy old man. Oscar worthy? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly the type of role that the academy loves.
The other standouts for me are Christopher Meloni as Leo “Nice Guys Finish Last” Durocher, the manager of the Dodgers famous for telling the team if they didn’t like Robinson they would be missed, and also Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman (manager of the Phillies) who famously opposed Jackie Robinson’s presence. There are a string of scenes where Tudyk has to yell a string of racial epithets that, were it myself in his place, I think would have made me sick as soon as the camera stopped rolling and as a member of the audience made me legitimately uncomfortable.
So to repeat myself, 42 is a good movie but not a great one. If you like sports even a little you should probably see it. If you don’t like sports you could certainly do worse (Scary Movie 5 is out, for example). I only wish that it were a great movie instead of just a good one.
2012 was one of the best years for film that I can remember and I’m honestly hoping that 2013 meets or beats it in terms of number of quality releases, and more importantly in the quality of those releases. There’s a lot coming out this year so here’s the ten that I am looking forward to most.
I’m listing these in order of release and not order of anticipation, partly because I find them hard to rank but mostly because I am looking forward to them all for different reasons.
And with that, here are the movies I am most looking forward to this year.
Gangster Squad (11 January)
I’ve actually been waiting for this since last year since its original 2012 release was pushed after the Aurora Shooting.
Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn in an old school cops vs. gangsters film is a hard recipe to screw up. I love the cast, I love the premise, and while director Rueben Fleischer has only made a couple of films, they were both good and he’s made a host of music videos and commercials which were also good.
Yes, another Ryan Gosling movie. It’s true: I’m a fan of the baby goose. More than that though, I’m a fan of Ryan Gosling because he’s a great actor.
Gosling previously teamed with director Derek Cianfrance in 2010s Blue Valentine and in that film both Gosling and co-star Michelle Williams knocked it right outta the park. Seriously, if you haven’t seen that movie just go find it and watch it (but be aware, it has some hard to watch scenes).
Ryan Gosling playing a stunt bike rider robbing banks to provide for his son while being chased by Bradley Cooper as a cop mixed up with some crooked colleagues? It’s an intriguing set up and one I can’t wait to see.
42 (12 April)
I’ll admit this one is a bit of a wild card pick; chalk it up to my love of baseball. On the other hand this is the story of a modern American legend in Jackie Robinson and it’s being directed by Brian Helgeland, the guy who wrote L.A. Confidential, A Knights Tale and Mystic River. There’s a lot to like about that fact alone but when you add in Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey (the guy who dared to sign Jackie Robinson in an era when racism was still an OK thing) things get more interesting.
Chadwick Boseman is a relative newcomer here, but if this works out this could be a star turn for him and I’m always interested in seeing that.
Iron Man 3 (3 May)
I’m a huge Marvel geek and I’m a huge fan of their grand experiment to bring comic book continuity to the big screen. If you’ve been paying attention you may have already gotten this impression.
Robert Downey Jr. is among the best cast of the Marvel Heroes currently on screen and it’ll be a pleasure seeing him as Tony Stark again. Hell, even in the kind of boring Iron Man 2 he was fun to watch and with Shane Black directing and Don Cheadle returning as James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine one can only assume that there’ll be some great “buddy cop” kind of sequences as they battle the armoured bad guys.
Sir Ben Kingsley is playing the Mandarin, a character with supernatural powers in the comics, so it will be cool to see how they reconcile that with the technological world of Iron Man (that is, does he even have his powers or are The Ten Rings from Iron Man all he controls or will they be technological or what?).
Another exciting tidbit is that the story is based on Extremis by Warren Ellis, which is one of my favourite Iron Man stories and sees Tony Stark go through some interesting stuff.
Plus, this is the first film in Marvel’s second phase so I’m looking forward to seeing if I can pick out any world building or portents that’ll give me an idea what they’re planning for Avengers 2.
The Great Gatsby (10 May)
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an American classic, a fact that even though I am a Canadian I can certainly appreciate. I’m not going to sugar coat this though: I’ve never actually read it. I’ve always meant to but for some reason it’s just never happened.
Now there’s this, Leonardo DiCaprio re-teaming with director Baz Luhrmann in what looks to be a perfect part for the former and potentially the best looking film from the latter. The film is full of talented people not the least of which is Carey Mulligan who has shone brightly in everything I’ve seen her in, even as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who.
Plus, if it turns out to suck I won’t have to be bothered by how the movie was a crappy adaptation of the book.
Star Trek Into Darkness (17 May)
To say I am anticipating this film is an exercise in understatement. Understand that I am a life long Star Trek fan, some of my earliest memories are watching The Original Series with my father. I’ve seen every episode of every show (including the animated series) and every movie. In 2009 JJ Abrams brought Star Trek back to the big screen in a big way and I fucking loved it.
Long story short: if this list were ranked, Star Trek Into Darkness would be #1 on the list.
I happen to think that the previous film was nearly perfectly cast so I seriously can’t wait to see the whole crew back again. Yes, even Chris Pine. More importantly, I can’t wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain in this. So far I’ve only really seen him play good guys so it will be nice to see him put on his evil face. The man is a hell of an actor and this will very likely be a hell of a film.
There’s so much more I could say here, but the bottom line is this: is it May 17th yet???
Much Ado About Nothing (7 June)
So apparently while filming last years The Avengers Joss Whedon called up a bunch of his friends and shot an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in his own house over 12 days or so.
Let’s rephrase that: the guy making the biggest film of last year made an indie Shakespeare adaption in his home in his spare time. That alone is pretty cool.
But this is also Joss Whedon we’re talking about here. Love him or hate him he’s certainly done some interesting stuff and is really good at managing large casts. I’m also just curious to see what he does with Shakespeare and how he worked his house into the film.
Plus, this is full of his buddies like Nathan Fillion (playing Dogberry), Amy Acker (Beatrice) and Clark Gregg (Leonato).
So basically it’s a bunch of awesome people doing a version of a play by the greatest playwright ever as adapted by a fantastic director. So where do I sign, exactly?
Pacific Rim (12 July)
Let’s see, director with a crazy and unique visual style? Check. Giant Monsters? Check. Giant Robots fighting those monsters? Check. Two people whose minds link via a computer voiced by the same actress as GLaDOS from Portal? Check. A cast including Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam? Check.
I dunno, maybe this movie wasn’t made for me specifically but there’s certainly a lot of boxes checked off here.
Plus, it’s a disaster movie where people are fighting for humanity as a whole to survive (check) against ridiculous odds. I’m sure that the giant robot that turns the tide will be obsolete or broken or something too but cliches done well are still entertaining as hell, and Guillermo del Toro is a pretty great director so I have little doubt he can pull this off.
The Worlds End (25 October)
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright are finally going to release the third in their “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” each of which has been an homage to a certain type of film so far (if you’ve been hiding in cave these last few years, Shaun of the Dead was zombies and Hot Fuzz was buddy cop action).
In addition to apparently featuring the mint chocolate chip cornetto, apparently the boys will be on a massive pub crawl towards The World’s End Pub and the world might actually be ending while they do it. That description alone is enough to get me in theatres but rest assured the film will be full of their signature comedic style and mile a minute on the nose pop culture riffs that made the previous two films (and the series they did, Spaced) so laugh out loud funny.
Enders Game (1 November)
I am of the opinion that if you have never read Orson Scott Cards phenomenal book Ender’s Game you should probably stop reading this right now, go find a copy and read it. There’s even a fantastic graphic novel adaptation if you’re so inclined. I’ll wait here while you do that.
All done? Good, then I don’t have to spoil anything. Now do you see why a movie version of this could be amazing? Harrison Ford as Commander Graff and Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer? Asa Butterfield as Ender himself? There’s not a lot to dislike here. Well, except that Gavin Hood is directing, but remember that while he did direct X-Men Origins: Wolverine he also directed (and won an Oscar for) Tsotsi, which is an amazing film.
There’s certainly a lot more than 10 films coming out this year and more than 10 that I am quite looking forward to. Thor: The Dark World (8 Nov) and Elysium (9 Aug) both only missed being on the list by the skin of their teeth –if I wasn’t a baseball fan you can bet one of them would have made it– and then there’s the Spike Lee remake of Oldboy (11 Oct), Man of Steel (14 Jun) trying to get Superman right for the first time in decades and Tom Hanks playing Walr Disney in Saving Mr. Banks (20 Dec) and Movie 43 (25 Jan) doing it’s best to offend, well, everyone it seems.
It definitely looks like it’s going to be a good year for genre film in particular this year, which means this is going to be a good year for nerds like me.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention The Wolverine (26 Jul) or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (13 Dec) and that’s because while I am looking forward to both of these I’m not really excited to see either. That might change once I see some trailers though so time will tell.
Sometime toward the end of 2013 I plan to revisit this list and recap whether I was excited to see the terribly great or the greatly terrible. In the mean time, what are your most anticipated films of the year?