Covid closes the cinemas and the future looks online.
Well, wasn’t 2020 the worst year since America dropped the Atom bomb? Not just because of Covid-19 which has a 1.81 million death toll, but also because of the killing of George Floyd and the numerous celebrity deaths - we lost Sean Connery, Caroline Flack and Barbara Windsor this year among countless others.
It’s hard to believe that 2020 all started out so well. Certainly for the film industry when Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’ (2020) scooped up the Best Picture Oscar. After decades of snobbery and celebrating mainstream prestige, the Academy finally opened their eyes to the beauty of foreign-language film-making.
‘Parasite’ was a remarkable film - I don’t think there’s been a better Best Picture winner in recent years. It could very easily and would definitely have made the No.1 spot in my list of the ‘best films of 2020’. Except the majority of people saw it in 2019, starting with when it first played at Cannes in May last year. It was talked about so much in 2019’s yearly round-ups and in the run-up to 2020’s Oscars that I really think we’ve just about had enough of it for one year. And that’s why it doesn’t feature in this year’s list, but neither does any film released before February 10th which is when the Oscars were held.
From then on, it was all downhill. The infection rates spiked and the death toll peaked and most of the world went into lockdown. As they did so, for the first time since World War II, cinemas across the world were forced to close. How could there be any movies with no cinemas to show them?
If the Covid-19 pandemic did anything at all, it was skyrocket and fast-forward the rise of streaming services. In September this year, TV streaming statistics reported that 6.7 million (24%) households signed up to 2 services or more. Cinemas have long been at risk from the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Curzon Home Cinema or whatever, but this pandemic put out the possibility that they just might not survive come the New Year.
Studios delayed their biggest budget tentpole blockbusters in hungry desire for good-value cinema money when the pandemic is over. The delay of the latest James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’ (2020) - which was expected to draw back the crowds to the auditorium seats in November - was responsible for the closure of the UK’s biggest cinema chain - Cineworld which closed all 600 of its theatres both sides of the Atlantic.
Traditional cinema-goers were faced with an option. Do they endanger themselves in a pandemic world by going to the cinema and risk getting Covid? Or do they stay at home, download the new movie from Spike Lee on Curzon and have a family evening in for half the price of a £30 family cinema bill?
It’s certainly the case that people’s homes don’t smell of popcorn or hot dogs and taking a bathroom break is pretty easy when you’re sitting on your sofa - you just have to press pause. Unlike, at the pictures, where you have to sneak out halfway through the latest Christopher Nolan blockbuster.
Is it a wonder that Disney dumped two of 2020’s biggest releases - ‘Mulan’ and ‘Soul’ - on their own streaming service Disney Plus?
To be honest, I think studios need to “man up” a little and just accept the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would in non-Covid times. If the vaccine prevails and the infection rates go down, 2021 could see a flood of blockbusters with big-budget leftovers from 2020 hitting the cinema every week. I just worry that, if this goes on for too long, there might not be any cinemas left to even show ‘Black Widow’, ‘A Quiet Place: Part II’, ‘Dune’ and countless others.
Still, hope is on the horizon. Several vaccines have been approved, Trump is on his way out of the White House and a Brexit deal has been reached. It’s now all on 2021 to see if we can come out of this any stronger…
Here’s a selection of my 2020 highlights. Please note. I’ve included many titles that didn’t get a cinema release. A sign of the future of movie watching?
No big screen medium has suffered more in 2020 than the blockbuster. Gone were the days of a summer stuffed with studio tentpoles competing for the big bucks at the local multiplex. I wonder whether this whole tentpole culture will have to change and we can no longer depend on one big movie to hold up a cinema for a month.
Warner Bros. took a major gamble putting ‘Tenet’ (2020) - Christopher Nolan’s latest head-scrambler - at the newly-reopened pictures back in August. I can’t say it was a gamble that paid off. ‘Tenet’ was predicted to kickstart the post-pandemic cinema industry, but it barely scraped $200 million against its $200 million budget; rounding up with a very miniscule $362.6 million.
I guess there is some hope that ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020) scooped up the biggest post-pandemic, face mask-wearing Box Office numbers with an estimated $16.7 million in North America over Christmas weekend. That is despite the film being released simultaneously on HBO Max.
Is this proof that movie-goers still have the appetite for the big screen? Perhaps. Only time will tell. I just think it’s terrific that a female-led blockbuster is doing as well as it is.
American Indie Cinema
Oddly enough, independent cinemas are doing better than they have in years; reporting solid numbers with sold-out screenings and encouraging blockbuster fans to give arthouse films a try.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried to book tickets at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema only to find shows are sold out. I guess cinemas like Broadway don’t depend on big-budget tentpoles (most of which are being delayed) for their revenue and I sincerely hope this new rise in independent cinemas gives low-budget films a platform for mainstream success.
The rise of streaming has certainly benefited American indie films. I’ve seen several of my favourite films of the year on streaming services such as Eliza Hittman’s brilliant abortion drama ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ which skipped cinemas and was available on multiple platforms.
My favourite American indie of the year, though, was ‘Clemency’ - a stirring, tough, but ethereal drama about Death Row with Oscar-worthy performances from Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge and Wendell Pierce. I watched that on Curzon over the summer.
Streaming has certainly given independent cinema a platform that appeals to more than just the niche, arthouse market. Expect to see David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ and Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ featuring heavily at next year’s Oscars (if there are any). I just hope smaller films get the recognition they deserve.
What a brilliant year it has been for British Film. There have been so many outstanding titles from a wide range of BFI-funded productions.
I loved ‘Lynn + Lucy’, for example, from acclaimed British shorts director Fyzal Boulifa which is a really bleak and brilliant look at how tragedy can rip apart a friendship.
In Ireland, but directed by a Brit was ‘Calm with Horses’ - a terrifically tense gangster drama with doses of equine therapy and two outstanding performances from Cosmo Jarvis and Niamh Algar.
Even away from the cinema, the distinction between TV and Film continued to be blurred by Steve McQueen’s immaculate ‘Small Axe’ series. The opening film in that - ‘Mangrove’ about the Mangrove Nine - opened the London Film Festival. I saw it on a big screen at Broadway and so it features in my top 10 of the year.
The best Brit film of the year, though, was ‘Rocks’ which really put Director Sarah Gavron on the map as the mistress of British feelgood realism. It had a genuine sense of light and dark which any film about childhood and adolescence needs.
For all the troubles going on on the globe, world cinema really came into its own or, should I say, came of age in 2020. With most American blockbusters delayed or dumped on streaming services, cinemas across the globe began showing local fare that didn’t rely on the States for the big bucks. As a result, we saw an influx of foreign-language films showing up on multiplex schedules.
Of course, the year’s success for World Film was skyrocketed by South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ taking home Best Picture. It was a fantastic movie - the most close to perfect I’ve seen in a decade. But, again, most people saw it last year and the Oscar it won was recognising last year’s movies. And so I class it as last year’s movie…
What was definitely this year’s movie was Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ from France which I saw at Broadway back in March. What a wonderful film that was - classical yet sexy and costume-heavy, but cinematic. It was certainly the sexiest movie of the year with the scariest singing sequence of the year.
World Cinema really benefited from the rise of streaming too. I can’t tell you the amount of foreign-language movies I watched on Curzon and BFI Player over lockdown. ‘System Crasher’ from Germany, ‘Bacurau’ from Brazil, ‘The Orphanage’ from Afghanistan, ‘And Then We Danced’ from Georgia...The list goes on, I tell you. But my favourite was ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’.
There’s always a turkey in every year and, to be honest, 2020 was one big Turkey of a year. As I said, the s**test year since America dropped the Atom bomb.
The bad movies kept coming at the start. I nearly tore the cinema screen to pieces when watching the dreadful horror film ‘The Turning’. There were some really bad horror films this year - ‘The Grudge’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Brahms: The Boy II’ just to name a few.
The worst was ‘The Ringmaster’, though - a disgusting and disrespectful slice of torture porn from Denmark. It made me feel sick to be human. More sick than watching Guy Ritchie’s Mockney claptrap ‘The Gentlemen’ which was a misogynistic, racist mess. If so many bad things happened in 2020, they somehow felt ok and bearable compared to watching ‘The Ringmaster’.
Like I said, I’ve stuck to movies released in the UK in 2020 for my final ‘best of the year’ list. Although I’ve bent my rules of only allowing films that have played at the cinema (there’s even one film on this list that played on TV!).
And ‘Parasite’ would definitely have made my No.1 spot had it not featured so heavily in the run-up to 2020’s awards and on critics’ ‘end of year’ lists last year. Either way, here are a couple of movies that didn’t quite make the final list:
Many people will question if this is even a film at all as, the first part in Steve McQueen’s brilliant ‘Small Axe’ TV series, it played on BBC1 in November. I saw it on the big screen at Broadway when it opened the London Film Festival, though, and was so blown away by it. It’s a biopic about the trial of the Mangrove Nine which became the first judicial acknowledgement of racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police. The story couldn’t feel more contemporary than it does in this #BlackLivesMatter year and, despite being made for TV, it looks more cinematic than most big-budget motion pictures.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
2. Everybody's Talking About Jamie (on Amazon Prime)
3. Help (on All4)
4. The Green Knight (on Amazon Prime)
5. The Alpinist
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