COVID-19 impacted on the Movie & TV industry quite heavily in 2020 with many films and shows delayed, or when released, only via online streaming platforms and not on a physical format. All of this affected the Library DVD collection to some degree, however there will still a lot of quality releases that we enjoyed over the course of the year, and here are some of our favourites.
So this film was promoted as a comedy, which it sort of is… but it’s dark. Really dark. I did laugh, but more often I found myself drawing a sharp breath and thinking “Oh no!” Written, directed and starring David White, this recent New Zealand film is the story of Sean (White), a man with a troubled past searching for love. He meets Casey (Alice May Connolly), a sweet local girl and they fall for one another. But the spanner in the works of their romance is ex-cop Pam (Robyn Malcolm) who is determined to put Sean behind bars for a crime he has already been acquitted of. There is something sweet and gentle about Sean and Casey’s relationship that I found endearing, even if they are both a bit on the gormless side. It has a really good solid twist at the end that I never saw coming.
Look it’s never going to win any Oscars and it’s the common trope of “tough guy softened by cute kid”, but it was sweet, heart-warming and fun to watch. Starring Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as JJ, a hard nosed CIA operative and Chloe Coleman as Sophie, the cute and smart kid who blackmails him into teaching her to be tough and cool to beat the bullies at school. Turns out that Chloe isn’t quite as vulnerable as she thinks and JJ isn’t the tough guy he tries to project to the world. It’s funny and endearing, and a great movie for the whole family.
Christopher Nolan’s latest heady blockbuster had to clear a lot of hurdles to reach screens this year, namely the worldwide pandemic, and once viewers were finally able to watch the film safely, it was met not with relief but with an exasperation not seen since the release of Nolan’s earlier film Inception. Part Primer and part Bond movie, Tenet follows a secret agent who uncovers the mysterious TENET organisation, whose members can harness the “inversion” of time and undo potential catastrophes before they happen. The appeal of the backwards time gimmick is at turns both delightful and frustrating, as bullets returning into guns and car chases conducted entirely in reverse eventually grow into whole battles conducted backwards and forwards in time that leave you more confused than entertained. But if you’re willing to roll with its admittedly cool premise (and maybe consult a few message boards), you’ll find TENET to be another action-packed high-concept romp from one of cinema’s most engaging populist auteurs.
Neil J.’s Picks:
Ritchie back on form doing what Ritchie does best snappy, sharp and twisty a film that rattles along!
Bill & Ted face the music
Surprisingly faithful to the originals fun, funny, goofy with a great heart.
Color out of space
Nic Cage goes Bonkers as only Nic Cage can in this Lovecraftian horror. Totally OTT pulpy B movie in feel, look out for the Llamas!!!!! (if you like try Mandy, which is Cage out there where the buses don’t run).
A documentary about booksellers what could be more perfect!! Engaging, comfy and entertaining.
The invisible man
The umpteenth remake of the HG Wells novel (my fav is the 1933 James Whale version starring Claude Rains) but this version is pretty good too for very different reasons. This time it is as a modern day edge of the seat horror thriller.
Farmageddon : a Shaun the Sheep movie
A really well made family movie where the love and care of the animators can be seen in every frame right down to their fingerprints on the clay, a sweet and adorable film.
The personal history of David Copperfield ,
Quirky, offbeat, historical comedy. Fabulous comic performances all round, a film bursting with warmth and humanity. At the polar opposite of Iannucci’s previous film outing the hugely enjoyable The Death of Stalin, in which the humour is as pitch black as it comes.
Sorry we missed you.
A compelling portrait of courier driver Ricky, who wants to be self-employed, and his family. Their struggle highlights the injustice that ‘working poor’ people are facing today, particularly in the gig economy. It might make you feel depressed, but like its brilliant predecessor I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s masterful direction makes it a powerful yet warm, sensitive drama. A stellar work.
Pain and glory.
Pedro Almodovar usually entertains us with unpredictable, twisted plots, but this semi-autobiographical film is rather low-key by his standard. His most trusted actor Antonio Banderas superbly plays a successful old filmmaker who looks back on his life and career. It’s about love and memory, and depicted in a very personal, almost confessional way. The 70-year-old Almodovar probably had to make this film to finish up the chapter he has been in to move on. Deeply affecting.
Portrait of a lady on fire
A slow burning period drama by the new French auteur Celine Sciamma (Tomboy, Girlhood) about two women; a noble bride-to-be and an artist who is commissioned to paint her portrait. It’s a subtly nuanced love story of these women but deep emotions lie underneath, which come out at the moving ending scene. Brilliantly performed by two leading actors, it’s a gracefully crafted, captivating work. Sublime.
Set in an astonishing looking mountainous landscape, it follows a group of teenage soldiers and an American female hostage, who is captured by their ‘organisation’. This slightly bizarre tale – somewhere between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now – is all about survival. The film left us with more questions than answers, but it’s a vigorous, uncompromised work by the Colombian filmmaker Alejandro Landes. Impressive.
Queen & Slim.
Their first date was a rather forgettable one. A young black man and woman, Slim and Queen, just wanted to go home but when the white policeman stopped their car, everything changed. A Thelma & Louise like runaway saga begins from there but it has a serious ‘Black Lives Matter’ spin. The debut director Melina Matsoukas, who has made fine music videos for the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna, offers a dark but sharp, stylish drama with a great soundtrack. Brilliant.
Watching multi-award-winning documentary ‘For Sama’ is not easy. It’s a report from a war zone; the city of Aleppo, Syria. The city is under siege, Russian planes come and bomb. Eight out of the nine hospitals in East Aleppo had been destroyed. From the one hospital left, a student journalist turned filmmaker, Waad Al-Kateab shows us the devastating but most intimate, insightful realities of war. She married a doctor and became a mother during the battle of Aleppo (2012-2016). The film is dedicated for her daughter ‘Sama’ and is also a love letter to the city and its people. Incredibly touching.
Hugely enjoyable, unpredictable romp through the Watchmen comic-book universe that only occasionally borrows from the Alan Moore comics. The alternative earth of Watchmen is slightly removed from the United States now, but the fascist society, hidden and obvious racism reflected within the plot point towards the awfulness of Trump’s America. Despite the larger agenda, the human story portrayed across generations is beautifully told and amazingly acted especially by Regina King, Louis Gossett Jr and Jeremy Irons.
The dead don’t die
Jim Jarmusch has made a Zombie film finally – what took him so long?? Full of knowing in-joke asides, laid back performances, laconic dialogue and deliberate pacing, this may not be for everyone but will satisfy Jarmusch completists, and anyone wanting to see Bill Murray and Adam Driver driving together forever.
David Tennant is very believable as mild mannered yet unpredictable serial killer Dennis Nilsen in this UK production of the famous murder case from the 1980’s. Des transcends other police procedurals by reversing the whodunnit tradition – we know who-did-it in the first half hour and the effective tension in the rest of the series results from how he’ll be convicted, and what toll it will take on the police, the media and those around the oblivious, destructive serial killer.
Wellington paranormal. Season 2.
New Zealand’s premier horror-comedy set in Wellington featuring a secret police squad dealing with everyday kiwi-monsters. Familiar, brilliant and occasionally unnerving.
Homecoming. Season one.
TV series based on the popular Podcast starring Julia Roberts & directed by Mr Robot’s Sam Esmail. Playing out both in the past & the present, Roberts is a social worker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a live-in facility run by the mysterious Geist Group that helps soldiers transition to civilian life; and also 4 years later a waitress with little memory of her previous life and job. Just what happened at Homecoming is slowly teased out in this slow moving, enigmatic & engaging drama.
Billions. Season four.
Former enemies Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff), the chief counselor to each, come together to form an uneasy alliance aimed at the eradication of all their rivals. Horrible rich people doing rich people things to each other. There’s no one to really like anymore as everyone is just as corrupt and vicious as everyone else, but that’s probably the point. An indictment of 21st century capitalism and the nexus of finance, power and the law.
Russell Crowe packs on the pounds and channels his inner angry Nic Cage self, as an angry white man who decides to hand out a lesson in manners. Bonkers B-movie fun!
Mr. Robot. the final season. Season_4.0 :
How to end a show that saw itself as a diatribe against modern capitalism & the power of corporations, a cold thriller focusing on ‘hacks’ the way that other prestige shows & movies take on ‘heists’; yet also at certain points a dreamy weird non-linear Twin Peaks of Tech, full of surreal characters & labyrinthine plotlines that often don’t seem to work, or even make sense. After a somewhat ponderous 3rd season creator Sam Esmail manages to pull everything (including protagonist Elliot’s multiple personalities) together, by making the focus of the last season the characters need to step away from the world of their screens and connect face to face emotionally with one another and with themselves. At times a frustrating show, even as it was fascinating, the final episodes managed to provide a cohesion & closure to the epic 4 season narrative.