Best and worst of 2020

Here are my top five lists for best and worst films I watched for the first time in 2020! If there’s a review for a movie, it’s linked in the title.

Best:

  1. The wicker man (UK, 1973)

I’d avoided watching this for many years because I’d seen too many male writers describe the naked dancing scene as sexy (spoiler alert: it is not, in fact, sexy), but the Switchblade Sisters episode finally convinced me to watch it. I am so happy I did. It is so well made and original. Where else are you going to find a movie that can use its low budget to its advantage and revive a medieval European narrative tradition (martyr’s lives) at the same time?

2. Amrapali (India, 1966)

A perfect movie and I live in hope of one day seeing the full version. Everyone is beautiful and half-naked, I love the ship, all the songs are sung by a woman, the dancing is truly excellent, and after 54 years, it’s more feminist than any Indian movie from 2020 I watched.

3. Dragonwyck (USA, 1946)

Another perfect movie, insane and beautiful and campy but also genuinely creepy.

4. Malaal (India, 2019)

Almost a perfect movie, elevated from good to great by an amazing, amazing ending that sent it soaring up into the highest tier of camp.

5. The Wedding Guest (UK/USA, 2018)

A movie for when you want to watch Dev Patel be beautiful and trapped and doomed for an hour and a half. Also, a wonderful and complex performance from Radhika Apte.

Worst:

  1. Shimla Mirchi (India, 2020)

I could only stand 20 minutes of this, but it deserves its place here anyway. Lures you in with Rajkummar Rao/Hema Malini and a great opening number, but the actual movie is like being beaten over the head with a placard that reads WOMEN AREN’T REAL PEOPLE! WE WOULD NEVER TREAT AMITABH THIS WAY 🙂

2. Ginny weds Sunny (India, 2020)

I did finish this, basically because I could not believe it would not somehow redeem itself by the end (it didn’t). This one’s lure is a Vikrant Massey rom-com, but instead it’s the same effect as Shimla Mirchi, except Vikrant Massey also has bad hair.

3. Horror Express (UK/Spain, 1972)

Another trap, this time baited with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing sharing a bunk, and then they are basically never on screen at the same time again. However, Telly Savalas is in it for about ten hilarious minutes.

4. Aankhen (India, 1993)

Why is it like this? Why? (the answer is: David Dhawan)

5. The personal history of David Copperfield (UK/USA, 2019)

Another one I couldn’t finish. Cuts up the story in little 2 minute snippets where every character basically gets a cameo, nobody has enough lines to have character development or even an emotional arc, and the result is a bunch of actors trying to out-ham each other. David Copperfield is not even a character, he is just the straight man in a movie-length improv scene. This is what happens when you want to hire the maximum amount of big names, but don’t have the money to keep them in the movie for more than one scene and you don’t rein them in (see also: Cats, which was a more coherent movie). Shame about the fantastic costumes and the only acceptable version of Clara I’ve ever seen (book included).

Maharaja (India, 1998)

Maharaja is beloved by Govinda fans, so I had been looking forward to it. Sadly, I didn’t really like it and would describe it as an endearing mess that steals liberally from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

But it does feature a full on Govinda kiss, so it has that going for it.

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Le giornate del cinema muto 2020: Ballettens Datter (DK, 1913)

Ballettens Datter is a star vehicle for Rita Sacchetto, a very important avant garde ballet dancer of the early 20th century.

As far as movies go, this is silly but very watchable, especially for a 1913 feature, and worth it for the excellent cinematography and for Rita Sacchetto. I wouldn’t call her the greatest actress, but she has an extremely compelling and charismatic screen presence, and it’s easy to imagine her holding a whole theatre spellbound.

Spoilers for a 107 year old movie.

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2020: Where Lights Are Low (USA, 1921)

This year Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is entirely digital, which is great because it means I can actually go! It’s super cheap, too.

On top of that it has a special gift for us nerds in the form of a new Sessue Hayakawa film.

The National Film Archive of Japan has restored this from a print in Belgrade. I can’t compare prints (obviously), but the restoration looked great. It was wonderfully scored by Philip Carli.

This movie is very silly, but I loved it.

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Aankhen (India, 1993)

When a Govinda movie is very popular with the general public, you know you have to brace yourself, so I put off watching Aankhen for the longest time. But I knew I was in for it eventually.

Govinda fans are kind of lukewarm about this movie, and they are always right. I hated the first half, the second half was okay. On the Govinda scale, it’s a “Govinda is the only bearable thing in the movie” even though honestly he doesn’t deserve it. He only acts a little in the second half, the rest of the time he is definitely not trying.

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Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (India, 2020)

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is the movie that happens when someone reads an announcement for an academic talk about how 70s masala films are kind of gay, and then is like: “Interesting idea. What if I make this into one of those mid-level local films that are popular now?”

Let me preface this by saying of course it’s great this movie got made and it did well. It’s better than about 95% of Hindi films right now, which I don’t even do the honour of watching. But I have a bone to pick with it, because it’s a gay mainstream Bollywood movie that references the homoeroticism of all my gay faves from the 70s, and IT BORED ME.

But how?

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Malaal (India, 2019)

I have a love-hate relationship with Bhansali, because I hate the stories and the morality of his films and love his aesthetics and how campy he is. Depending on the balance between each, I end up loving some of his stuff and hating the rest. He only produced this and didn’t direct it, which is probably why I loved it. Thanks to Angie for telling me about it.

Malaal is a remake of a Tamil film I have not seen, but more obvious to me is the influence of Titanic, a film I like in theory and hate in practice. It’s set in the year Titanic came out, but there is really no attempt at any kind of period setting except a few film posters, a few men’s vintage shirts, and the lack of computers and mobile phones. The lack of phones really is the reason for the period setting, I think, because it makes the plot make more sense.

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Rosita (USA, 1923)

I first watched this colour restored version of Rosita at Il Cinema Ritrovato last year, but didn’t have time to review it then, so I rewatched it recently and am reviewing it now.

Rosita reminded me of a good modern Bollywood movie, because it is so very mainstream, but it’s not simple. It’s a heroine movie like a big Bollywood actress would make at the top of her career, or the female flipside of say, a Fairbanks adventure movie.

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