What was supposed to be a great year for film dismembered into a nightmare. The Oscars’ generally known to be the most prominent event for the film world proved to be 2020’s last stretch of normality. Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’ crowned in a new era in Hollywood, a more diverse and inclusive one. It promised a world were all cultures would be celebrated and seen for the intellectual masterpieces they are yet the months that came afterwards were taunted by cinemas shutting down, big blockbusters being pushed back and some even cancelled their cinematic release completely and premiered their movies on streaming platforms. 2020 might have been the bleakest year in cinema history yet we have found movies and tv shows to cherish, ones that provided us with comfort in the difficult time we were living in, some taught us a lesson about corporate greed and the effect on the climate and society and some provided a shoulder to cry on. Last year was unlike any other yet with these pieces of heaven we were transported to another magical land for a small moment in time and for that we are grateful. Here are our favourite movie and tv releases of 2020.
The King of Staten Island – Judd Apatow
‘The King of Staten Island’ sees Judd Apatow return to a story he has told many times before, an adult man having a hard time realising reality and maturing at the same rate as everyone else yet this time it comes with a twist. Although Apatow’s direction with these movies always proves to be a hilarious treat for everyone who lays their eyes on them ‘The King of Staten Island’ excels in also giving the viewer a dramatic background story that pulls on your heartstrings.
Pete Davidson who plays the main character Scott Carlin has co-written the movie as well as used his own life as inspiration. Scott like Davidson lost his dad as a young kid whilst working as a firefighter. This event let to a childhood trauma manifesting in losing grip of reality and searching for an endless pursuit of childhood bliss. Things seem to change rapidly for Scott when his sister, Claire (Maude Apatow) goes to uni and his mum, Margie (Marisa Tomei) seems to find love with another firefighter (Bill Burr). Throughout the two hours and sixteen minutes, the movie never seems to falter in either depth, comedic relief or emotional engagement. Although Davidson’s character is somewhat of a stoner with no actual plans or goals in his life apart from his occasional dream of being a tattoo artist his charm exceeds the premise and the viewer roots for him even when he tries to undermine Ray Bishop’s (Bill Burr’s character) quest to provide love and comfort for Margie Carlin.
In between the trials and tribulations Scott appears to come to the realisation that to one day make his mother proud he has to grow up and become the lovely successful man he is bound to be. With Scott’s growing friendship with Bishop and his fellow colleague firefighters, that include the likes of Steve Buscemi, he gets his life in order and has proven to have become a better man without losing his good-natured heart. With this massive character growth also comes a years-in-the-making romantic relationship as Scott Carlin finally realises his childhood best friend Kelsey, is the one who compliments him.
‘The King of Staten Island’ is a tragedy disguised as a comedy with a real-life happily ever after. The warmth transpires to the viewer and the every-so-often nudges to Davidson’s dark comedy make this movie a delight for everyone who likes this type of comedy. Fans of Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow have found a new piece of tangible comfort for the years yet to come. ‘The King of Staten Island’ is not just a wonderful piece of cinema but is also a love letter to Staten Island. Staten Island is often depicted in a sarcastic manner with quotes from Scott who asks “If you have money, why would you ever live in Staten Island?”, a funny remark made by Davidson’s character knowing that he himself still resides in Staten Island after years of success on SNL, his stand-up specials and his budding acting career. So if you were wondering which tragicomedy hit you’d have to watch next, please look no further because ‘The King of Staten Island’ was one of the movies bringing light to 2020.
Text by: Lauren Dehollogne
Dark Waters – Todd Haynes
Have you ever heard of the brand Teflon? For most, it is the rather handy, artificial black layer covering the inside of pans to achieve the wanted non-stick effect. But anyone who has had the chance of watching Todd Haynes’ latest cinematic piece ‘Dark Waters’ might think a bit differently. As an unsettling, slow-drip thriller about big corporations and their collateral damage – in this case, people, the movie is a fictional take on a true, horrifying story about a synthetic polymer that was discovered by chemical megacompany DuPont, which we now know as Teflon.
Adapted by screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan from the New York Times magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, the film follows corporate lawyer Robert Bilott’s (played by Hollywood star and activist Mark Ruffalo) long-fought environmental case against the DuPont chemical conglomerate. For decades, the company had been hiding its use of the cancer-causing, man-made acid PFOA – now thought to be present in the bloodstream of 99 percent of Americans – and was then found to be illegally dumping those very same chemicals in the soil of West Virginia, contaminating the water supply, and leading to cancer cases in the local community and widespread deaths of cattle. The most shocking part – DuPont continued to use its toxic materials for years, knowing full well – because of the company’s own research – what disastrous effects those materials might have on anyone who came into contact with them.
A tale of the horrors caused by capitalism and how it can empower the wrong people and ultimately lead to corruption, ‘Dark Waters’ isn’t just packed with information that stays with the watcher long after the credits have rolled, but additionally is a pleasure to the eyes and thanks to its amazing cast a standout cinematic highlight of the year. In the end, it underlines what many films have been shining a light on for long – accountability and how the government is ultimately constructed to protect those who cause the most harm.
Text by: Laura Weingrill
Happiest Season – Clea DuVall
‘Happiest Season’ follows the story of lesbian couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) who attend the latter’s annual family Christmas Party. The twist – Harper is not out to her overbearing family so Abby (who was set to propose on Christmas Day) is deemed a stray and quite literally shoved back into the closet.
‘Happiest Season’ is a story told by a lesbian filmmaker tackling perhaps the most stereotypically straight genre: the Christmas Rom-Com. Clea DuVall – best known for her work on cult film ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ – manages to refrain from inserting personal ideology into the movie and instead keeps it an honest representation of queer love.
The Christmas Rom-Com genre thrives on a tried and tested formula, always resulting in a happy ending. Happiest Season doesn’t disappoint on that front – it’s funny and heartwarming and will leave you feeling warm and cosy, like any other Christmas classic.
Despite all the typical cheese, break up and make up, this is a movie about the struggle queer people face when they attempt to mold themselves to society’s heterosexual expectations.
A mainstream Christmas movie featuring a lesbian couple is the type representation the LGBTQIA+ community needed 20 years ago. Happiest Season is the first of its kind and a feat to be celebrated. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. With all of its visible queer love and festive cheer, the film is a must-watch.
Text by: Vanessa Valentine
Emma – Autumn de Wilde
‘Emma’ is a romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’. The film directed by Autumn de Wilde was released in early 2020 and presents Anya Taylor-Joy, also known as Beth in ‘The Queen’s Gambit, as the main character Emma Woodhouse.
The film illustrates the relationships between different families, romantic misunderstandings and reflects the romantic agendas of youthful and determined Emma. In contrast to adaptations of other classic anglophone novels such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Keira Knightley and ‘Little Women’ released in 2019 who appear to be portrayed rather dramatically and in an introspective manner, ‘Emma’ carries a light-hearted, humorous and even ironic atmosphere. This lets the viewer observe Emma’s romantic agenda from a more playful perspective. The collection of musical pieces underlines the impish and youthful ambience that Emma Woodhouse contributes to the story. The colourful choice of costumes and scenery also mirror that ambience. The soundtrack, which is also available on music streaming platforms, does an amazing job at placing the viewer into the setting and mood of the early 19th century – big mansions, nature, fancy gatherings and dinner parties.
One can clearly see that this is a rather modern reflection of the novel by Jane Austen and may not capture the classic elements of the literary piece as well as other interpretations but it is joyful to watch contradicting characters, such as the assertive Emma Woodhouse and the naïve Harriet Smith, embody their peculiar attributes. Sometimes this is achieved in an even stereotypical or exaggerated manner which captures the irony of the film. Still, the production borrowed the majority of the character’s lines from the original novel, maintaining the storyline close to the original material and therefore, we can witness Emma’s character development.
Classic literature lovers who prefer movie adaptations to be very similar to the atmosphere of the original work must keep in mind the ironic and light-hearted intentions of this interpretation. It is a fresh and modern version of a classic novel and certainly not something you would expect. For very critical viewers it might take some time to recognise and accept the idea behind this execution, but it is definitely an enjoyable and entertaining film to watch!
Text by: Alexa Zsigmond
Soul – Pete Docter
‘Soul’ is a 2020 American computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama film produced by Pixar, the film was released and available to stream on Disney + on December 25th of 2020.
This film could not have been released at a more perfect time than 2020, the year where everyone has realised to appreciate what they have as life is simply just too short.
A heartwarming film that is perfect for all ages, ‘Soul’ strives to help us remember that life itself is a blessing, even when it doesn’t go as we planned.
Joe the main character is a middle school band teacher, whose life hasn’t gone the way he expected and is still trying to achieve his dream career, although he ends up passing away before getting that chance and tries to get his soul back to his body, whilst having some life lessons along the way.
The main aim of the producing of ‘Soul’ was to teach kids and adults, to appreciate the simple things in life and to not get too tangled up in chasing what you think may be your dream, whilst forgetting about everything that you already have, as throughout the film Joe learns he is already blessed in life by having his family and friends around him.
Seen as 2020 has been a year about appreciating the little things in life, Pixar has produced a truly life reflecting film, of big-hearted quality of so many Pixar movies before it that makes even a mediocre life seem like something to be appreciated.
Text by: Jessica Janes
Bridgerton – Chris Van Dusen
‘Pride and Prejudice’ meets ‘Gossip Girl’- Netflix´s newest hit series ‘Bridgerton’, proves to entail the best of both and is everything we never knew we needed. Based on the book series by Julia Quinn, the Netflix hit is set in the 19th century during the Regency (1811-1830) in Great Britain. Pregnancies, High Society drama, a ‘Wildest Dreams’ Taylor Swift violin cover: this show has it all. While the show mainly focusses on Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Bassets (Rege-Jean Page) passionate love story and Daphne’s sexual awakening, it discusses the way women were viewed in the 19th century, explains the pressure of men by society, the duty for women to get married to be financially stable and black & white skin colours living peacefully together. Meanwhile, the show is talked through by “Lady Whistledown” who gossips about the High Society of London and is not revealed until the very last episode.
The story is not without cliché as proven by Daphne’s and Simon’s first introduction. At a ball, unpleasant Nigel Berbrooke goes up to Bridgerton disturbingly saying “he had always amused her, ever since he was….” and Phoebe ends the sentence with “……all but five?” She finds herself running away from him and basically into Simon Bassets arms. Simon and Daphne could be anything but different from one another. While 21-year-old Bridgerton is very inexperienced and protected by her mother from the big world, Simon seems to have earned his reputation as a “womanizer” during ball season of the 19th century. After Lady Whistledown declares Daphne as “ineligible” Simon and Daphne make a pact. Simon, who had sworn to himself to never marry, would be left alone by women and Daphne’s reputation would have been rescued. All the while their ruse had another difficulty, they had to maintain from falling in love but *spoiler alert* they do.
Nevertheless, Simon’s and Daphne’s relationship is based on a lie. While Simon told her he “could not have children” Daphne accepts it and truly trusted him until after a while getting vaguely suspicious. All the while Hastings had angrily promised to his father, that he was letting the name “Hastings” die with him, and therefore, never get children.
Simon’s father emotionally abused his son for his stutter when he was a child. When young Simon proudly showed his process to his father but ends up having, what stutterers call a blockade, his father ends up saying he was “as useless as his mother”. His relationship with his father explains his attitude towards Daphne being unable to be emotionally available by the end of the show.
All in all, the Netflix hit show is addicting, and most of all: fiction. It provides a world to dream about, to romanticise about when in reality, not everything was all that glamourous. We can only hope Netflix will renew it for a second season, but due to its popular demand, the future seems very bright.
Text by: Hannah Lipfert
Euphoria – Sam Levinson
In 2019 HBO brought us to hit show ‘Euphoria’ starring Zendaya as main character Rue, a sweet but troubled drug-addicted teen that battles several mental health issues alongside her addiction. With the global infection rate of Covid-19 going up, the filming of ‘Euphoria’s’ second season had to be halted and therefore it had set out to be a year without the return of the breakout series.
Luckily this didn’t happen and although the second season is still some time away two in-between episodes were announced. The first one that focuses on Rue’s recovery after a relapse in the last episode of the first season was released in early December. The hourlong episode sees Rue dream about a life she eventually can have with Jules (Hunter Schafer) and sitting in a diner on Christmas eve with coach and recovering addict Ali (Coleman Domingo).
The episode named ‘Rue’ sees us going into her psyche. Ali tries to deflect the feelings of loss and despair that Rue keeps on battling with and hopes to break through the young girl’s mind that seems to find drugs the sole solution to a small piece of happiness now that Jules has left her and disappeared. Ali seems to be the perfect person to coach Rue to sobriety. He doesn’t judge her if she relapses or about her deteriorating mental health, the only thing he requests is honesty. He symbolises hope and the feeling of agony all at once.
Ali’s quick-witted humour and an unfiltered look on reality shows Rue every part of himself. He doesn’t shy away from the horrible actions he has done in his past and even tells Rue about his relapse after years of sobriety yet within his stories a silver lining takes place. Yes, at times he has made his life a horrible mess and the drugs often made him a person he never intended to be yet after all of the hurt he has had to deal with and all of what that he has inflicted Ali still turned out to be a good person trying to make the world a better place. Ali shows Rue that she is worth fighting for.
This episode is unlike anything ‘Euphoria’ has shown us before. The connection between Rue, Ali and the viewer seems to surpass fictional bounds. ‘Euphoria’ often known for its glitters, make-up and amazing fashion sense stripped it back with the first part of the in-between episodes. It might not be exactly as to what the first season had shown us but it provided a tale in its purest form. The rawness and honesty is something many people identify with and therefore ‘Euphoria’ has transcended to a new level in TV history.
DARK – Baran bo Odar
Parallel worlds, different versions of the same characters, and time shifts on top – that is what makes Netflix’s German drama ‘DARK’ the twisty and brilliant cinematic rollercoaster ride it has become over the years. With the release of its third and final season in 2020, the sci-fi series enters a completely new, unseen chapter, putting the cherry on top of the insane labyrinth it had created with its first two seasons.
As with a lot of shows, but specifically with this one, spoilers can kill any story that is just about to bloom, so here’s a short, cautious, spoiler-free intro: co-created by the great Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, ‘DARK’ is set in the fictitious German town of Winden, where the show picks off right during the aftermath of a child’s disappearance. Throughout the series, it exposes the secrets of, and hidden connections among four estranged families as they slowly unravel a sinister conspiracy that spans several generations. Throughout its three seasons, ‘DARK’ explores the existential implications of time and its effects upon human nature. Each episode is more dark and ominous than the last, as reflected in both the stunning colour palette and the phenomenal soundtrack. While the visuals and the music may be haunting at times, the story is so gripping that you won’t be able to turn away. Through this grim lens, it focuses on the fragility of life, the power of love, and the pain of grief. Highlighted by its amazing cast and meticulous writing, ‘DARK’ isn’t just a cinematic star of 2020 but deserves the spot in the top 10 ranks of series favourites of all time.
Text by: Laura Weingrill