I don't believe we're out of any mess yet, and the calendar rolling over doesn't change anything on its own, but, as a unit of measure, I'm sure we can all agree that 2020 was a fucker. I'm glad it's behind us. In 2020 I watched 1111 movies. I had a hard time picking 10 favorites from the year (a couple of these go back to 2018/19) and I think that my favorites for the next few years will have met me still reeling and dealing with personal, emotional and spiritual fall out (hopefully not physical) from this time. The picks I've settled on are collectively more downbeat than previous years.
Several qualify as horror. There are a few playful bursts, a couple of large-hearted moments and optimistic swells to be found in this group, but overall it's a bleak lot. Nihilism, capitalism, corruption and moral bankruptcy rule the day. The strength of and longing for human bonds repeatedly give way to inescapable human bondage. The nobility of sacrifice goes unnoticed, unappreciated and scorned while quick capitulation to avarice, betrayal and debasement are rewarded and revered.
And America,baby, we were predictably spotlight hogs in that three-ring shitshow of a year. While it's not making my list of favorites, I do think that Capone, Josh Trank's haunted septic spill of a gangster picture about perhaps our most celebrated and mythologized national criminal figure slowly dying in his palatial tropical home, trapped inside his rotting body and disintegrating mind, cut off from and tormenting the family, friends and sychophants who once depended on and worshiped him and now are there to suffer his abuse and clean him up when he soils the bed, deserves a note for being the most spot-on depiction of the end of our recently evacuated administration's stupid reign of terror. When he can no longer terrify his enemies, when the FBI is putting him in his place and the only option he's got left in the toolbox is to shit his pants and make everybody sit with the stench and be as miserable as he is... that's a special and uncomfortably prescient moment.
Possessor - Brandon Cronenberg - Andrea Riseborough plays an assassin whose specialized skill set makes her an invaluable asset to her employers (personified by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who farm out murder for hire gigs from a sterile office. Killers use the bodies of real people close to the targets as meat puppets by linking into their mind. Assassins have to be able to pass as the people whose bodies they've hijacked for increasingly long periods of time before pulling off the perfect crime. Prep work for her jobs require her to shadow and observe the person she will become (this time it's Christopher Abbott in order to kill his father in law to be Sean Bean) and it takes her away from her husband and child longer than she'd like. When she gets to see them it's clear that the job is taking an increasingly evident psychic toll. The job requires of her the empathy to convincingly become someone else and the cold bloodedness to have to kill someone and it's... not going well. There's a thesis paper to be found somewhere in here about how it's all a metaphor for film making, but I think it lands hardest on the exploitative nature of work. It did this year anyhow. Fucking gnarly violence and trippy audio/visual distortion - the low-rent use of high-tech concepts all make for a visceral experience and confirm that young Cronenberg's directorial debut (Anitviral) was not a fluke. He's got the goods. Long live the new flesh.
True History of the Kelly Gang - Justin Kurzel - The legend of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly has been puffed up, deconstructed and generally fucked around with enough over the years that I've no interest whatsoever in the veracity of the depiction here. Especially when Kurzel and crew have injected the proceedings with so much raw punk rock power and glammed-up sexiness and hypnotically inviting visuals. This movie will be living in my brain for a long long time. Cast is uniformly good, but the standout performances are Nicholas Hoult and Essie Davis. Gah, have you ever fucked in a dress?