Lisa Marie Picks The 30 Top Films of 2020


Well, it’s finally time!  It’s time for me to announce my picks for the best films of 2020.

Before we begin, there is one thing I want to make clear.  Unlike the Academy, I did not extend my eligibility window.  Films like Nomadland, Minari, and The Father (amongst others) will undoubtedly be competing for the Oscar for Best Picture of 2020.  However, as far as I’m concerned, those are all 2021 films.  And I imagine that a few of them will probably appear on my best films of 2021 list.  However, the list below are my picks for the best films of 2020.  You’ll probably agree with some of my picks and disagree with some of the others.  As always, I welcome any and all comments.

Also, be sure to check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019!  Wow, I’ve been doing this for a while!

And now, in descending order, my favorites of 2020!

30. Money Plane (dir by Andrew Lawrence) — Okay, I can sense that you’re already rolling your eyes at my list by seriously, Money Plane is such a cheerfully absurd and self-aware little B-movie that there’s no way I couldn’t include it.  Seriously, how can you not love a film that features Kelsey Grammer always a gangster known as the Rumble?  Basically, as soon as I heard that priceless declaration of “We are going to rob the Money Plane!,” this movie had me under its spell.

29. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (dir by George C. Wolfe) — Though this adaptation of August Wilson’s play never quite escapes its theatrical roots, no one can deny the powerful performances of Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and especially Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman dominates the film from the minute that he makes his first appearance, playing an ambitious, troubled, and undeniably talented trumpeter.  Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey with the self-awareness of someone who knows that the record producers need her more than she needs them.  She has the power and she’s not going to let anyone get away with forgetting it.

28. The Invisible Man (dir by Leigh Wannell) — Before the Academy announced that they would be changing their rules to considers streaming movies, many critics speculated that one of the results of the pandemic would be The Invisible Man winning all of the Oscars.  Though they may have been joking, it was not as outlandish an idea as they seemed to think.  The Invisible Man is a horror film that proves that being a genre film does not mean that film can’t also be a good and thought-provoking work of art.  The Invisible Man breathes new life into a somewhat hokey premise and Elisabeth Moss gives a great performance as a woman stalked by her abusive (and now invisble) ex.  The Invisible Man features one of the best ending scenes of 2020.

27. The Hunt (dir by Craig Zobel) — Delayed due to a manufactured controversy and released to critical bafflement, The Hunt is a clever satire of our hyper-partisan and hyper-polarized society.  The film’s final twist is a clever commentary on social media drama and Hillary Swank steals the show with an unexpected cameo.

26. One Night In Miami (dir by Regina King) — I went back and forth on this one.  Based on a stage play, this film imagines what happened the night that Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali met in a Miami motel room.  There are a few times that the film is undoubtedly a bit too stagey for its own good and, early on, some of the dialogue is a bit too on the nose.  But the film has a cumulative power and, despite a few uneven moments, it’s ultimately an intriguing look at race, celebrity, and political activism in America.  A good deal of the film’s power is due to the ensemble.  While most of the awards chatter seems to be focused on Leslie Odom, Jr. as Sam Cooke, it’s Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown who truly anchors the film.

25. Gunpowder Heart (dir by Camila Urrutia) — This raw and angry film from Guatemala was one of the more powerful films to be featured at 2020’s virtual South By Southwest.  In Guatemala City, Maria and her girlfriend Claudia are assaulted by three men.  Maria wants revenge, no mater what.  Claudia, the more cautious of the two, knows that Maria’s plans are going to end in tragedy and disaster but she also knows that there’s nothing she can do to stop her.  Gunpowder Heart isn’t always easy to watch but it’s undeniably powerful.

24. The Shock of the Future (dir by Marc Collin) — Taking place in 1978, this French film follows one day in the life of a composer named Ana (Alma Jodorowsky).  It’s a typical day — Anna wakes up, a friend comes by with the latest albums, Anna tries to compose music, she goes to a party, and she hears the newest music.  It’s a simple but effective celebration of both music and the thrill of having your entire creative life ahead of you.  Alma Jodorowsky is brilliant in the role of Anna.

23. She Dies Tomorrow (dir by Amy Seimetz) — This a disturbing mood piece about a woman who is convinced that she is going to die in a day.  Everyone who she meets also becomes convinced that they’re going to die within 24 hours.  Some of them go out of their way to make sure that it happens while others just wait for death to come.  Is it a mass delusion or is it something else?  The atmospheric film may raise more questions than it answers but it will definitely stick with you.

22. Driveways (dir by Andrew Ahn) — Kathy (Hong Chau) and her young son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), move into the home that was owned by Kathy’s deceased sister.  In his final film appearance, Brian Dennehy plays the gruff but caring neighbor who befriends both Cody and his mother.  This is a low-key but emotionally resonant film, elevated by Dennehy’s heartfelt performance.

21. Figurant (dir by Jan Vejnar) — Clocking in at 14 minutes, this unsettling but powerful French/Czech co-production tells the story of a quiet man (Denis Levant) who follows a group of younger men into a warehouse and who soon finds himself in uniform and on a battlefield.  Or is he?  It’s not an easy question to answer but this intriguing short film will keep you watching, guessing, and thinking.

20. What Did Jack Do? (dir by David Lynch) — David Lynch interrogates a monkey in an expressionistic train station.  The monkey talks about a chicken and sings a song about true love’s flame.  “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?” Lynch asks.  It’s a brilliant short film and really, it’s the sort of thing that only David Lynch, with his mix of earnestness and eccentricity, could have pulled off.  Technically, this film was made a few years ago but it only got it’s official premiere in 2020, when Netflix released it on Lynch’s birthday.

19. Red, White, and Blue (dir by Steven McQueen) — Steve McQueen’s Small Axe was made up of five short films.  Three of them appear on this list.  There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not the Small Axe films should be considered individual features or if they should be considered a miniseries.  Obviously, I see them as being individual features but, in the end, they’re brilliant and thought-provoking regardless of whether they’re television or film.  Red, White, and Blue takes a nuanced look at institutional racism and features an excellent lead performance from John Boyega.

18. Mr. Jones (dir by Agnieszka Holland) — A film that deserved more attention than it received, Mr. Jones tells the story of Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist who, in 1933, discovered the truth about the state-sponsored famine that was killing millions in the Ukraine.  Despite his efforts, the press refused to report on what was really happening in the Ukraine and instead, an odious propagandist named Walter Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer prize for writing pro-Stalin stories that were later determined to be full of deliberate lies.  An important and heartfelt film, Mr. Jones features a subtle but effective lead performance from James Norton and a memorable supporting turn from Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Walter Duranty as a smug snake.

17. The Outpost (dir by Rod Lurie) — Based on a true story and directed by Rod Lurie, this film pays tribute to the men who have fought and died in America’s forgotten conflict, the War in Afghanistan.  Well-acted and doggedly unsentimental, The Outpost will literally leave you breathless.

16. Emma (dir by Autumn de Wilde) — The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s much-adapted novel, Emma has a playful spirit that is lacking in so many other literary adaptations.  It also has a great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, who makes the character of Emma Woodhouse her own.

15. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir by Eliza Hittman) — Two teenagers, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), travel to New York City from Pennsylvania so that Autumn can get an abortion without having to get her parent’s consent.  Though I’m occasionally a bit skeptic of cinema verite, Never Rarely Sometimes Always makes good use of the style.  Far more than just being a film about abortion, it’s a character study of two people trying to survive in a harsh world.  The scene where the previously withdrawn Autumn is prodded to open up about her past is one of the most powerful of the year.

14. Possessor (dir by Brandon Cronenberg) — Brandon Cronenberg’s disturbing sci-fi/horror hybrid is not an easy film to explain or to even describe.  Questions of identity and betrayal are mixed with grotesque images of body horror and societal neglect.  By the end of the film, you’ll find yourself reconsidering everything that you previously assumed about the movie.  This one sticks with you, even though you may not want it to.  (How’s that for a recommendation?)

13. Horse Girl (dir by Jeff Baena) — This is a film that definitely deserved a bit more attention than it received.  Alison Brie gives a brave and sympathetic performance as someone who believes that she’s a clone who has been abducted by aliens.  Is she suffering from delusions brought on by a combination of loneliness and too much television?  Or is she right?  The film will leave you guessing.  While Brie is at the center of almost every scene, Molly Shannon also gives a good performance as one of Brie’s only friends.

12. Sound of Metal (dir by Darius Marder) — Riz Ahmed plays an occasionally obnoxious drummer who goes deaf.  Worried that Ahemd is going to relapse into drug use, his girlfriend and musical partner (Olivia Cooke) checks him into a rehab center for the deaf.  With the help of a sympathetic but no-nonsense counselor (Paul Raci), Ahmed struggles to come to accept the loss of sound and music from his life.  The three main performances elevate this film, making it one of the year’s best.  In the film’s best moments, we hear the world through Ahmed’s ears and experience what he’s experiencing.

11. Mangrove (dir by Steve McQueen) — The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology tells the story of a true life court case.  Politically charged from beginning to end and leaving no doubt as to what the true stakes were in the case, Mangrove is the film that Trial of The Chicago 7 should have been.

10. Soul (dir by Peter Docter) — The latest from PIXAR made me cry as only a great PIXAR film can.  A music teacher named Joe (voices by Jamie Foxx) falls down a manhole shortly after winning his dream job in a jazz band.  Unwilling to die before performing on stage, Joe finds himself in the Great Before, assigned to teach an unborn soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) what it means to be human …. okay, you know what?  This film has one of those plots that sounds silly if you try to explain it.  What matters is that it’s a heartfelt film that celebrates every minute of life.  Foxx and Fey both do wonderful voice work and the animation is as clever as always.  Plus, there’s a cat!

9. The Vast of Night (dir by Andrew Patterson) — This low-budget film is a wonderfully atmospheric look at what may or may not be an alien invasion taking place in the 1950s.  Featuring wonderfully naturalistic performances and an intelligent storyline, The Vast of Night is a triumph of the independent spirit.  I can’t wait to see what Andrew Patterson does next.

8. Lovers Rock (dir by Steve McQueen) — The 2nd film is Steve MQueen’s Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock centers on one exhilarating house party.  Though the world outside of this party may be harsh and full of oppression and racism (a group of white teens shout racial slurs at one partygoer when she steps outside of the house), the world inside of the party is one of love, music, and celebration.

7. i’m thinking of ending things (dir by Charlie Kaufman) — A riddle wrapped in an enigma, i’m thinking of ending things features great performance from Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.  What starts out as an awkward drive to visit Plemons’s parents grows increasingly more and more surreal until the audience is left to wonder what is real, what is fantasy, and whether the majority of the film’s characters even exist.  This film plays out like a dream and stays with you long after it end.

6. Palm Springs (dir by Max Barbakow) — Perhaps the ultimate twist on Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a thought-provoking comedic gem from Lonely Island Classic Pictures.  Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, and Cristin Milioti find themselves living the same day over and over again.  Each one reacts to their predicament in a different way.  It’ll make you laugh and then it’ll make you cry.  Revealing too much else about the plot would be a crime.  It’s on Hulu so go watch it.

5. The Assistant (dir by Kitty Green) — This infuriating and ultimately tragic film follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a production assistant at a film company.  Though he’s never seen, Jane’s boss is clearly meant to be a fictionalized version of Harvey Weinstein.  Should Jane save her career or try to warn the actress that her boss has clearly set his eyes upon as his next victim?  The scene where the head of HR assures Jane that she needn’t worry about her boss’s behavior because “you’re not his type,” rings all too horribly true.  The Assistant was obviously designed to be a rallying call for #MeToo but sadly, today, it feels more like an obituary.

Bad Education

4. Bad Education (dir by Cory Finley) — All year, I have been lamenting the fact that Bad Education was bought by HBO and not Netflix.  If it had been released on Netflix, it would probably be an Oscar contender and Hugh Jackman would be in the hunt for his first Best Actor Oscar.  Instead, it aired on HBO and it had to settle for limited Emmy recognition.  It’s a shame because this film, which centers on embezzlement at one suburban school, was one of the best of 2020.  At a time when we’re being told not to question authority, Bad Education encourages us to question everything.  Along with being thought-provoking, it’s also occasionally laugh out loud funny.  Jackman is brilliant in the lead role.  Allison Janney is award-worthy as his partner-in-crime.  Ray Romano takes another step in proving that he’s more than just a sitcom actor.  All in all, this was a great movie.

3. First Cow (dir by Kelly Reichardt) — This melancholy tale follows two men who meet in Oregon in the 1820s and who become unlikely business partners.  Unfortunately, being partners means stealing milk from Toby Jones’s cow and thievery was even less appreciated in the 1820s than it is today. Featuring outstanding lead performances from Jon Magaro and Orion Lee, First Cow is a rewarding work of historical fiction.  Kelly Reichardt makes you feel as if you’ve woken up in the 1820s, even as she uses the past to comment upon the present.  This probably isn’t a film for everyone.  Reichardt’s style has always been more about observing than passing judgment.  But for viewers willing to stick with it, this deliberately paced film is a rewarding experience.

Finally, when it comes to the best film of the year, I’ve been going back and forth between two films.  In the end, I have to declare a tie.  In alphabetical order by title, here are the two best films of 2020:

2. The Girl With A Bracelet (dir by Stéphane Demoustier) — This French film is about a teenage girl who is on trial for murdering her best friend.  Whether or not she’s guilty is ultimately less important than why everyone has been so quick to accuse her in the first place.  Featuring an outstanding ensemble and an intelligent script, The Girl With A Bracelet will leave you thinking about …. well, everything.  It can currently be viewed on Prime.

1. Promising Young Woman (dir by Emerald Fennell) — When I first started watching this film, I worried that it might be too stylized to be effective.  But it soon became apparent the director/screenwriter Emerald Fennell and star Carey Mulligan both knew exactly what they needed to do to tell this story.  Mulligan plays a med school drop-out who is seeking her own unique style of revenge against not only the men who raped her best friend in college but also the people who Mulligan feels subsequently let her friend down.  Bo Burnham plays the pediatrician who asks Mulligan out on a date and who appears to be the perfect nice guy, the adorably awkward boyfriend who you you would expect to find in a 90s rom com.  Neither character turns out to be exactly who they initially appeared to be.  Promising Young Woman mixes genres that normally don’t go together, smashing together drama and comedy, and it’s just audacious enough to be one of the best films of the year.

 

 

TSL Looks Back at 2020:

  1. 2020 In Review: The Best of Lifetime (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  2. 12 Good Things I Saw On Television in 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  3. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Novels of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  4. Lisa Marie’s Top 8 Non-Fiction Books of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  5. Lisa Marie’s 20 Favorite Songs of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  6. Lisa Marie’s 16 Worst Films of 2020 (Lisa Marie Bowman)
  7. My Top 20 Albums of 2020 (Necromoonyeti)
  8. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems That I Saw In 2020 (Valerie Troutman)
  9. Top 10 Vintage Collections (Ryan C)
  10. Top 10 Contemporary Collections (Ryan C)
  11. Top 10 Original Graphic Novels (Ryan C)
  12. Top 10 Ongoing Series (Ryan C.)
  13. Top 10 Special Mentions (Ryan C.)
  14. Top Ten Single Issues (Ryan C)

The Films of 2020: The Outpost (dir by Rod Lurie)


The Outpost, which is currently streaming on Netflix and which deserves far more attention than it’s been given, is a film that left me breathless.  Seriously, as the film came to its conclusion, I realized that I was so emotionally overwhelmed by what I had just seen that I actually had to stop for a few minutes and catch my breath.  Once I was breathing again, I started to cry.  I cried all the way through the end credits.  That’s the sign of a powerful film.

Based on a true story, The Outpost takes place in 2009.  PRT Kamdesh is an American military outpost in Northern Afghanistan.  The post is located in a valley.  The mountains, which rise high up into the sky, are not only beautiful but they also provide the perfect cover for the Taliban.  The outpost is attacked on a nearly daily basis.  At the start of the film, we’re told that one military strategist said that the base should have been named after George Custer because it was impossible to defend and that, should a big attack ever truly come, all 53 of the man on the base would essentially be sitting ducks.

The Outpost follows those 53 men as they go about their daily lives on the base.  Commanders die and are replaced.  The soldiers try to hold onto their sanity, even though they know that the “big attack” is inevitable.  Though more than a few of the men have families back home, they try not to think about them.  They can’t risk the distractions.  Even the act of adopting a dog is seen as being a potentially dangerous move.  The humor is dark, to the extent that the base’s theme song is “Everybody Dies.”  While dealing with daily attacks, the base’s commanders try to win the support of the local villagers.  One of the local elders asks if the Americans are the same invaders who have been in Afghanistan for the last 40 years.  “No,” the flummoxed commander tries to explain, “those were the Russians.”  It quickly becomes apparent that the soldiers and the villagers have at least one thing in common: no one is quite sure why the Americans are there or if they’ll ever able to leave.  Orders are sent down by faceless generals and the men of PRT Kamdesh wait for the attacks that they all know are coming,

When the attack does come, it leads to one of the most visceral battle scenes that I’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing glamorous about the way that The Outpost portrays war.  Instead, it’s a confusing, loud, and terrifying nightmare.  The Outpost establishes early on that anyone can die, an important lesson when you consider how many action movies have been made about heroes who are mythically impervious to even the slightest of injuries.

For roughly the final hour of the film, The Outpost puts us into the middle of the Battle of Kamdesh.  The film pays tribute to the soldiers who fought in the battle, showcasing their bravery and the quick thinking that kept the battle from being even more of a disaster than it was.  At the same time, it also reminds us that war is not fun and that the scars of combat are not just physical.  When a soldier breaks down into tears while trying to talk about the battle, the film treats his feelings with the respect that they deserve.  It’s been said that few people are as anti-war as the people who have actually experienced combat and The Outpost shows us why that is.

The Outpost is an important film.  It’s especially important now that we have a new president and the national media is probably going to go back to ignoring whatever happens in Afghanistan for at least the next four years.  For far too many people, it’s become the forgotten war, even though it’s still ongoing.  The Outpost is a film that reminds us that no war and no soldier should ever be forgotten.

I’ve been pretty critical of director Rod Lurie in the past but, with The Outpost, he’s given us one of the best films of 2020.

Shattered Politics #67: The Contender (dir by Rod Lurie)


Contenderposter(Spoilers)

The 2000 political melodrama The Contender is one of the most hypocritical films that I’ve ever seen.

The Contender tells the story of what happens when U.S. Sen. Laine Hanson (played by Joan Allen) is nominated to be vice president by President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges).  During Laine’s confirmation hearings, Rep. Shelly Runyon (Gary Oldman) dredges up rumors that, at a college frat party, Laine took part in a threesome in exchange for money.

When Runyon asks Laine about the rumors, she replies that she refuses to answer any questions about what she may or may not have done while she was younger.  She replies that it is “simply beneath my dignity” and you know what?  She’s absolutely right.  First off, if someone could be disqualified just because of what they did in college then nobody would eve be eligible to be President.  Secondly, and far more importantly, nobody would care about Laine’s sexual history if she was a man.

For over two hours, Laine refuses to answer any questions about the allegations and instead, she turns the tables on her attackers.  And while this alone would not have made The Contender a good film (because, after all, The Contender was written and directed by Rod “Straw Dogs” Lurie), it at least would have been a film that I could respect.

But, Rod Lurie being Rod Lurie, he just couldn’t help but fuck it all up.

Towards the end of the film, Laine is attending a White House reception.  She and President Evans sit down on the White House lawn and, as the stars shine above them, Evans says, “Just between us, is it true?”

Now, there’s two things that Laine could have said here that would have kept this film from falling apart.  Laine could have said, “It’s none of your business.”  And that would have been the right thing to say because, quite frankly, it is none of the President’s business.  The whole point of the movie has been that it’s not anyone’s business.

Or, if the film actually had any guts, Laine could have said, “Yes, it’s totally true.  Like most people, I experimented when I was in college.  But that doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m qualified to be your vice president.”

But no.  Instead, Laine smiles and says, “Nothing happened.  Two guys propositioned me, I said no, and they spread rumors.”

So, basically, the film is saying, “It’s nobody’s business if Laine was sexually active in college but don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. American Audience, she was a virgin until she turned 30.  So, it’s still okay for you to like her…”

And that’s the thing about The Contender.  It’s a film that doesn’t have the courage of its own convictions.  It’s a film that drags on for over two hours and it expects you to forgive it just because it pretends to have good intentions.  As a woman, there’s nothing I hate more than being pandered to and, for all of its attempts to come across as being feminist, The Contender is all about pandering.

What makes The Contender an interesting bad film — as opposed to just your usual bad film — is how even the littlest details feel false.  It’s obvious that Lurie knew all of the legal details that go into confirming a Vice President but he didn’t know how to make any of those details dramatically compelling.  So, the film becomes a bit of a know-it-all lecture.  By the time that Saul Rubinek popped up and said, “Do you know what Nelson Rockefeller said about the vice presidency?,” I found myself snapping back, “No, what did Nelson Rockefeller say about the Vice Presidency?  Please tell because ah am so sure that it is just goin’ to be the most fascinatin’ thang that ah will ever hear in mah entire life!”

(The more annoyed I get, the more pronounced my Texas accent.)

There’s a lot of weird little things about The Contender that just don’t work.  They may not sound like major problems but when combined together, they start to add up.  For instance, there’s a long shot where we see U.S. Rep. Reginald Webster (Christian Slater) and his blonde wife at a White House reception and the shot just lingers on them for no particular reason.  Long after you would expect the shot to end, it’s still going.  This wouldn’t be an issue if there was some narrative reason for that shot.  Instead, it’s just randomly dropped in there.

And then, after Laine is nominated, we see the front page of a newpaper and there, in the middle of the page, is a headshot of Joan Allen.  Underneath it, a small headline reads, “It’s Laine!”  It just feels so fake.  Wouldn’t the nomination of the first female vice present actually rate a bigger headline and a more dynamic picture?

Speaking of fake, towards the end of the film, President Evans picks up a framed magazine cover and stares down at it.  The magazine, itself, looks like one of those joke “Man of the Year” pictures that people pose for at a state fair.  On the cover is a picture of Last Picture Show era Jeff Bridges.  The headline on the magazine reads: “President Jackson Evans.  His ideas have changed the world.”  Not his actions, mind you.  Not his policies.  Instead, his ideas have changed the world.  But the film shows us no evidence of this and, during Laine’s confirmation hearings, everyone spends the whole time debating the same old shit that they always seem to be debating in Washington.

(Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a name like Jackson Evans, I guess you might as well become President.)

Of course, when it looks like Laine might not be confirmed, President Evans speaks before Congress.  “For the first time, a woman will serve in the executive!” he declares, which seems like a hilariously awkward way to put it.  (People in this film don’t talk like human being as much as they talk like characters in some fucked up Washington D.C. fanfic.)  He then adds, “There are traitors among us!”

So, I guess the message here is yay for demagogues.

And don’t even get me started on Kathryn Morris, as the cheerful FBI agent who investigates Laine’s past and who, at one point, announces, “Laine is hope!”  Would a male FBI agent ever have to deliver a line that stupid?

And also don’t even get me started on the subplot about Gov. Jack Hathaway (William Petersen), who stages an auto accident in an attempt to convince President Evans to nominate him for vice president.

The Contender is not a good film but it could have at least been a respectable film.  But then, Rod Lurie had to have President Evans ask whether it was true or not.

Perhaps being a hypocrite was the idea that changed the world.

 

 

What If Lisa Marie Was In Charge of the Golden Raspberry Awards


If you’re following the Awards ceremony, you know that two major events are coming up next week.  On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be announced.  But before that, on Monday, the Golden Raspberry Award nominations will be announced.  For 32 years, the Golden Raspberries have been honoring the worst films of the year and they’ve always served as a nice counterpoint to the self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards.

Now, on Monday night, I’ll be posting what I would nominate if I was in charge of the Oscars but first, I’d like to show you what I’d nominate if I was solely responsible for making the Golden Raspberry nominations.

Now before anyone leaves me any pissy comments, these are not predictions.  I know that these are not the actual nominations.  I know that the actual Golden Raspberry nominations will probably look a lot different.  These are just my individual picks.

(My “winners” are listed in bold print.)

Worst Picture

Anonymous

The Conspirator

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

The Rum Diary

Straw Dogs

Worst Actor

Daniel Craig in Dream House, Cowboys and Aliens, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Aaron Eckhardt in Battle: Los Angeles

James Marsden in Straw Dogs

James McAvoy in The Conspirator

Brandon Routh in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Worst Actress

Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Anita Briem in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Claire Foy in Season of the Witch

Brit Marling in Another Earth

Sara Paxton in Shark Night: 3-D

Worst Supporting Actor

Paul Giamatti in The Ides of March

Mel Gibson (as the Beaver) in The Beaver

Sir Derek Jacobi in Anonymous

Giovanni Ribisi in The Rum Diary

James Woods in Straw Dogs

Worst Supporting Actress

Jennifer Ehle in Contagion

Amber Heard in The Rum Diary

Willa Holland in Straw Dogs

Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Oliva Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens

Worst Director

Roland Emmerich for Anonymous

Rod Lurie for Straw Dogs

Kevin Munroe for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Robert Redford for The Conspirator

Bruce Robinson for The Rum Diary

Worst Screenplay

Anonymous, written by John Orloff.

Another Earth, written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

The Beaver, written by Kyle Killen

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Straw Dogs, written by Rod Lurie.

(That’s right, it’s a tie.)

Worst Screen Couple 

Rhys Ifans and Joeley Richardson in Anonymous

Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Brit Marling and any breathing creature in Another Earth

Mel Gibson and The Beaver in The Beaver

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake

Arthur

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Scream 4

Straw Dogs

Transformers 3

6 Trailers For A Savage Weekend


Yay!  It’s the weekend and that means that it’s time for me to share 6 more of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation trailers.

1) The Babysitter (1969)

It’s a story ripped “from your own living room!”  That alone is enough to make this trailer a classic.

2) Savage Weekend (1976)

Of course, Rod Lurie later remade this film as Straw Dogs.

3) Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

It’s Kung Fu Exorcist!

4) Teenage Graffiti (1977)

“No one does it like the teenager do it…”  This kinda looks like Dazed and Confused as directed by a Crazies-era George Romero.  I actually like this trailer a lot.  It has this vaguely threatening subtext to it.

5) Blood Mania (1970)

This film explores “the twisted soul of insanity…” Somebody has to do it.

6) All The Colors of the Dark (1972)

This is another old school Italian giallo film featuring Ivan Rassimov.  Rassimov had the best hair in Italian horror.

Is Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs The Worst Film of 2011?


It’s probably a bit too early to answer that question.  After all, we’ve still got 3 months left to go in the year and Roland Emmerich’s take on Shakespeare (a.k.a. Anonymous) hasn’t been released yet.  So, no, Rod Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs cannot be called the worst film of 2011 yet.  Instead, it’s just the worst film so far.

Straw Dogs is a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film.  In the Peckinpah film, David Sumner (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a pacifist who, upon moving to the childhood home of his wife Amy (Susan George), is repeatedly harassed by the locals until he finally takes his very brutal revenge.  It’s a flawed and uneven film that still carries quite a punch.  I wouldn’t say I’ve ever enjoyed watching Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs but it’s undeniably powerful film.  As for the remake, Peckinpah has been replaced with Rod Lurie, Hoffman by James Marsden, and Susan George’s controversial character is now played by Kate Bosworth.  None of these changes are for the better.

Lurie’s version of Straw Dogs almost slavishly follows the plot of the original.  He’s made just a few changes and none of those changes are for the better.  The most obvious change is that, while the first Straw Dogs took place in rural England, Lurie’s version takes place in Mississippi.  It’s pretty easy to guess Lurie’s logic here.  Lurie, after all, previously created the television show Commander-in-Chief in which President Geena Davis heroically struggled to save the nation from fundamentalists with Southern drawls.  Lurie’s vision of Mississippi is some sort of Blue State nightmare where everyone drives a pickup truck, goes to church, cheers at football games, and makes supportive comments regarding the War in Iraq.  In the original Straw Dogs, David Sumner is a truly a stranger in a strange land, an American who doesn’t realize just how out-of-place he is in rural England.  In the remake, David Sumner is just a guy on vacation from the West Coast.  He really has no excuse for being quite as dense as he is when it comes to not pissing off the locals.  By changing the locale, Rod Lurie essentially just makes his film into yet another example of Yankee paranoia.  This wouldn’t be such a problem except that Lurie seems to be taking it all so seriously.  He really seems to feel that he’s making a legitimate contribution to the whole Red State/Blue State divide.  Watching the film, I had to wonder if Rod Lurie truly believed that it’s impossible to get a cell phone signal in Mississippi. 

The other big difference is that in Lurie’s version, David Sumner is no longer a mathematician.  Instead, he’s now a Hollywood screenwriter who is apparently working on an epic screenplay about the Battle of Stalingrad.  (“I figured out a way to get Khrushchev in on the action!” he says at one point.)  To be honest, David’s screenplay sounds kinda boring and it’s hard not to sympathize with the “hillbilly rednecks,” (as David calls them) who ask him why anybody would want to watch his movie.  (The rednecks also ask him if he thinks that God had anything do with the Battle of Stalingrad.  Speaking as a nonbeliever, I have to say that this film was almost hilariously paranoid about any sort of religious belief.)  Part of the power of the first Straw Dogs came from the fact that David was an academic.  He was a man whose life was about theory and that made it all the more shocking to see him explode into action.  It also explained his non-existent social skills, because he was, after all, the product of a very insular, intellectual existence.  However, in the remake, David just becomes a condescending jerk who’s working on a screenplay for a film that most viewers would have little interest in actually sitting through.  (Add to that, it was hard not to feel that this new David was just Rod Lurie’s Mary Sue.)

David is in Mississippi because it’s the childhood home of his wife, Amy.  The character of Amy is problematic in both versions of Straw Dogs but, to be honest, I found her character to be even more illogical and insulting in Lurie’s remake.  In the original Straw Dogs, Amy is portrayed as an idiot who flirts with every man she sees, taunts her husband to the point of violence, and (by that film’s logic) puts herself in a situation that leads to her rape.  The character is, in many ways, an insulting stereotype but at least she’s a consistent insulting stereotype.  The remake’s Amy is presented as being a considerably stronger character.  She doesn’t openly flirt with the local rednecks, she and her husband are a lot more obnoxiously lovey dovey, and (as opposed to in the first film), it’s never suggested that she actually enjoys being raped.  Kudos to Lurie for trying to make her a stronger character.  Yet, at the same time, the remake’s Amy still does a lot of the same illogical things as the original Amy.  The original Amy at least had the excuse of being an idiot.  The remake’s Amy just comes across as being an inconsistent, poorly-concieved character.  Eventually, it becomes obvious that director Lurie wasn’t trying to make Amy into a stronger character as much as he was just trying to be politically correct.  (Another thing that the two Amys have in common is that neither one of them wears a bra.  It made sense in the original film because the original Amy was presented as being something of a wannabe flower child.  In the remake, it just comes across as Lurie’s dirty boy excuse to get a peek at Kate Bosworth’s nipples.  Seriously, who goes jogging without a sports bra?)

Anyway, the remake follows the path of the original.  David and Amy return to Amy’s home village where they meet Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie Venner (played by an amazingly hot and sexy Alexander Skarsgard).  David hires Charlie and his redneck buddies to repair the roof of an old barn.  Charlie, who is obviously still attracted to Amy, spends the entire first part of the movie subtly humiliating David and basically being a bully.  Somebody strangles Amy’s cat.  Amy says it was Charlie and his friends.  David replies, “I can’t just accuse them.”  Eventually, David is taken on a deer hunt by Charlie’s friends and while he’s gone, Charlie and his buddy Chris rape Amy. 

(In the original it was a snipe hunt and the sight of Dustin Hoffman searching for a nonexistent creature while his wife is being raped was quite disturbing and perfectly symbolized his character’s impotence.  In the remake, David is once again left alone in the woods but this time, he shoots and kills a deer and, unfortunately, James Marsden isn’t a good enough actor to let us know what that means.)

Amy never tells David that she was raped, nor does she go to the authorities.  (This makes a sick sense in the original.  In the remake, it just seems like an effort by Rod Lurie to degrade a previously strong woman.)  The next night, David ends up sheltering the local sex pervert in his house while Charlie and his drunken friends attempt to break in.  This leads to David revealing that, as opposed to being “a coward,” he’s actually as vicious a killer as everyone else in the film. 

In the original version, this was a disturbing revelation if just because Sam Peckinpah emphasized not so much the killing as the fact that, as the siege progresses, David begins to enjoy the killing more and more.  Once Peckinpah’s David has given into the reality that he too is an animal, you realize that it’ll be impossible for him to return to being the essentially decent man that he was before.  In the original, you start out cheering David’s revenge but soon, you just want it to stop.  Much like the originalTexas Chainsaw Massacre, the film is so thematically nightmarish that you end up thinking you’ve seen a lot more blood than you actually have.  It sticks with you.

However, since Lurie’s remake is a film devoid of nuance or subtlety, the sudden explosion of violence on David’s part is neither surprising nor all that exciting.  And since James Marsden is no Dustin Hoffman (to put it lightly), you don’t see any change in David once the violence begins.  He’s not a man turning into an animal as much as he’s just a 90210 reject with a scowl on his face.  He kills a lot of men but he looks oh so pretty doing it and Amy cheers him on every step of the way.  (In the original, Amy was terrified of her husband’s new side.  I would be too.)  Since Lurie isn’t a good enough director to generate a sincere emotional response to seeing David turn into a killer, he instead lingers over all the blood and gore like a pervert struggling to catch his breath while secretly looking at a snuff website.  In short, the original Straw Dogs condemned violence by pretending to celebrate it.  The remake celebrates it by pretending to condemn. 

Okay, you may be saying, so it’s not a great film.  But is it really the worst of 2011 so far?  After all, Alexander Skarsgard gives a charismatic, bad boy performance and James Woods has a few good scenes as a venomous former football coach.  And director Lurie, while he may be incapable of keeping the action moving at a steady pace, does manage to make Mississippi look pretty.  That’s all true but I still say that Straw Dogs is the worst movie of the year so far.  Why? 

Because it’s not only a remake of a film that didn’t need to be remade but it’s also a remake that was apparently made by people who don’t have a clue about what made the original an important film to begin with.  It’s a film that’s gloriously unaware of its own tawdriness, a sordid mess that can’t even have fun with the possibilities inherent in being a sordid mess.  Arrogantly, director Lurie invited you to compare his film to Sam Peckinpah’s by not just ripping off the film’s story (as countless other enjoyable films have done) but by claiming the title as well.  It’s a film that represents Hollywood at its worst and for me, that’s why it’s earned the title of worst film of 2011 so far.

(One positive note: Perhaps this terrible, insulting remake will encourage someone to track down the original Straw Dogs and see how this story was meant to be told.)

15 Upcoming Films That Are Going To Suck


In just another few days, the summer movie season will end and we’ll enter the fall.  The fall movie season is when all of the prestigious, massively hyped “quality” films are released.  These are the films that everyone is expecting to see remembered at Oscar time.  We expect more out of films released in the Fall and therefore, when a film fails to live up to the expectation of perfection, we are far more quicker to simply damn the whole enterprise by exclaiming, “That sucked!”

Below are 15 upcoming fall films which I think are going to “suck.”  Quite a few of them are “prestige” films though a few of them most definitely are not.  However, they are all films that I fully expect to be disappointed with.

Quick disclaimer: This list is based on only two things, my gut instinct and the advice of my Parker Brothers Ouija Board.  These are my opinions and solely my opinions and they should not be taken as a reflection of the opinions of anyone else involved with this web site.  Got it?  Good, let’s move on to the fun part:

  1. Anonymous (10/28) — Roland Emmerich takes on the burning issue of whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote his plays.  Who cares?  I’m sure this will spark a lot of discussion among people who found The Da Vinci Code to be mind-blowing.
  2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (12/21) — Deal with it, fanboys.
  3. The Ides of March (10/7) — It’s a political film directed by and starring George Clooney!  Watch out for the smug storm that will surely follow.
  4. Immortals (11/11) — Yes, it will suck but it will still probably be better than Clash of the Titans.
  5. The Iron Lady (12/16) — Bleh. This is one of those movies that they make solely because Meryl Streep needs another Oscar nomination.  Nobody will see the film but everyone will talk about how brilliant Meryl was in it.
  6. J. Edgar (TBA) — So, when was the last time that Clint Eastwood actually directed a movie that you didn’t have to make excuses for?
  7. Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol (12/21) — Honestly, has there ever been a Mission Impossible film that didn’t suck in one way or another?
  8. Real Steel (10/7) — How do I know this film is going to suck?  Go look up the trailer on YouTube and you can see that little kid go, “You know everything about this fight game!” for yourself. 
  9. Red State (9/23) — A satirical horror film with a political subtext?  Well, let’s just hope they’ve got a great director…
  10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (12/16)It’s the law of diminished returns.  The better the original, the worse the sequel.  That said, I really hope I’m wrong on this one.  I loved Sherlock Holmes.
  11. Straw Dogs (9/16) — It’s a remake of the old Peckinpah classic except now, it’s a Yankee Blue Stater getting attacked by a bunch of Redneck Red Staters.  Yankee paranoia is so freaking tedious.  Add to that, Straw Dogs has been remade a few million times and never as well as the original.  At least those remakes had the decency to come up with their own name instead of just trying to coast on the credibility of a better film.  This travesty was written, directed, and produced by Rod Lurie.  Shame on you, Rod Lurie.  (Of course, the toadsuckers over at AwardsDaily.com are madly enthused about this film.)
  12. The Three Musketeers (10/21) — Is anybody expecting otherwise?
  13. Tower Heist (11/4)Brett Ratner continues to encourage us to lower our standards with this action-comedy.  The film’s villain is played by Alan Alda and is supposed to be a Bernie Madoff-type so expect a lot of tedious pontificating from rich actors playing poor people.
  14. War Horse (12/28) — This might actually be a good film but, as a result of all of the hype, it’s going to have to be perfect or else it’s going to suck.
  15. W.E. (12/9)Madonna makes her directorial debut with … well, do I really need to go on?

2011: The Year In Film So Far


Greetings from the former home of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Crossville, Tennessee!  Yes, Jeff and I are on our way back to Texas.  It’s been a wonderful vacation but I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing a movie at the Plano (or Dallas) Angelika on Sunday.  I’m not sure which movie but, as long as it’s a movie, I’ll be a happy girl.

That’s because I love movies.  Movies are what I schedule my life around.  My birth certificate says I was born in 1985 but I know that I was born in the year of Brazil, Prizzi’s Honor, Blood Simple, and After Hours.  If each year can be judged by the quality of the films then how is 2011 looking now that we’ve reached (and passed) the halfway mark?

Right now, as I sit here in this hotel room in my panties and my beloved Pirates shirt, I’d say 2011 is shaping up to be an average year.  There’s been a few films that I loved and there’s been a few that I’ve absolutely despised but for the most part, this year is shaping up to be comfortable and rather bland. 

Much as I did last year at this time, I’m going to take a few minutes to mention a few high points (and low points) of 2011 so far.  Agree?  Disagree?  Make your opinion known.

Best Film (So Far): Hanna, without a doubt.  Joe Wright’s stylish thriller hasn’t gotten half the acclaim that it deserves.  Runners-ups: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Incendies, Jane Eyre, Kill The Irishman, Of Gods and Men, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch, The Source Code, Super, 13 Assassins, The Tree of Life, Win Win, X-Men: First Class

Best Male Performance of the Year (so far): Paul Giamatti in Win Win.  Runners up: Bobby Cannavale in Win Win, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher, Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, and Rainn Wilson in Super.

Best Female Performance Of The Year (so far): Sairose Ronan in Hanna. Runners up: Lubna Azabal for Incendies, Ellen Page for Super, Amy Ryan for Win Win, and Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre.

Best Ending (so far): The charmingly low budget zombie film that runs over the end credits of Super 8.

Best Horror Film (so far): Insidious.

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (so far): A tie, between Sucker Punch and Red Riding HoodRed Riding Hood, as a matter of fact, was so underrated that I had to see it a second time before I really appreciated it.

Best Bad Film: Beastly.  Silly but kinda fun in a really, really odd sort of way.

Worst Film of The Year (so far): The Conspirator, a bore of a movie that was apparently filmed through a filter of grime.  Runners up: Priest, The Beaver, Battle L.A. (sorry Arleigh, Leonard, and Erin), Season of the Witch, Your Highness, and The Green Lantern.

Biggest Example of A Missed Opportunity This Year (So Far): The Adjustment Bureau, which could have been a great Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-type of film but instead, turned out to be just another predictable and shallow example of new age triteness.

The Get-Over-It Award For The First Half Of 2011: The Conspirator, a film that attempts to be relavent by using the 19th Century to comment on political issues from 2006.

My Prediction For Which Film Will Be The Most Overrated Of 2011: Last year, I predicted The Social Network and, surprise surprise, I was right.  In fact, the folks at AwardsDaily.com are still bitching about how The Social Network lost best picture to The King’s Speech.  (By the way, a few other choice pieces of wisdom from Awards Daily: The Beaver is Jodie Foster’s best film ever and only elitists should be allowed to comment on film.)  This year, I’m going to predict that the most overrated film of 2011 will be the unnecessary remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

My Prediction For What Will Be The Worst Film Of 2011: The winner here is another remake — Rod Lurie is remaking Straw Dogs and this time, he’s setting it in the South.  You know what?  Go back to Vermont and fuck yourself ragged, you dumbass, blue state elitist.  

So, that’s 2011 so far.  There’s still quite a few films that I’m looking forward to seeing: Another Earth, The Debt, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Hugo, and most of all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.