2020 Through Film

With January, World War III was a real (if remote) possibility, Australia was still on fire and the Covid-19 strain was creeping its way through East Asia, with the first recorded cases found outside China on the 13th. By the end of the month, the World Health Organisation had dubbed the crisis a real one, and our collective consciousness started to accept this wasn’t actually a bad science-fiction movie. Bad Boys for Life (Dir. El Arbi, Fallah) also quietly released, a reminder of a time before what we know was turned on its head and we were still naive and familiar with “outside”. Oh, how ignorance is bliss. 

Bad Boys for Life followed a similar timeline to the year for me. At first it was easy to turn my brain off and enjoy Smith and Lawrence’s chemistry and some paper-thin plot, as it was easy to shut out the reports of a new “monster virus” coming to infect us all. By the end, I was horrified at the lack of any definable reason, at the chaos of it all. Bad Boys ended, predictably, in a massive shoot-out with some cool shots but lacking in any definable meaning. There was nothing predictable about what was to come in the real world. Things seemed to be happening all the time which would be the worst of many other years, and it was only January. Brexit negotiations were at a snail’s pace and Iran promised severe reaction to the US assassination of Soleimani. Bad Boys for Life ended and I wanted nothing more than to shut the whole thing out and move on to the next story, to a better month. But, as the year would prove, new stories would be few and far between. 

February provided a further spread of coronavirus, with the first deaths in Europe recorded. The atmosphere was tense as a taut bowstring, but there was still a general acceptance of things blowing over eventually. Sonic the Hedgehog (Dir. Fowler) saved its face after the Lovecraftian original design of the movie prompted protest from fans, and it turned out to be a pleasant little film if a bit generic. I’m a sucker for nostalgia and Jim Carrey, so anything short of a disaster would have been enough for me here. A surprise hit this month was The Invisible Man (Dir. Leigh Whannel), possibly the first release to capitalise on the pandemic by offering its premiere to streaming as well as classic theatre releases. This is still on my watchlist but the month was a sort of calm before the storm, a bit of relative normalcy which many knew would soon end. 

March saw a final push for studios to release what they had before the inevitable happened. Pixar’s Onward (Dir. Dan Scanlon) made less than its budget, and a few limited releases such as A24’s much lauded First Cow (Dir. Kelly Reichart) and Escape From Praetoria (Dir. Francis Annan) similarly failed commercially. It was now that studios began to panic, as the rest of the world had been for a while now. Many industries were at risk of collapsing, particularly those which relied on audience/user engagement in physical places. Future tentpole releases such as Bloodshot (Dir. David S F Wilson) went straight to video. By March 20th, much of the world was in lockdown and everything continued downward. 

April plodded along and people started to grow restless. Streaming services were the real winners, with shows like Tiger King (Dir. Eric Goode) becoming worldwide phenomena (The lady is definitely sus). Everyone was stuck inside and shows like this became our interaction, with millions turning to social media to hypothesise and laugh in equal measure. I don’t have to tell you how lockdown can destroy momentum, confidence, optimism. For many, the last year has given us (too much) time to reflect and grow but the difficulty in not seeing loved ones, the uncertainty of everything has led to great anxiety and discomfort. Coupled with the splitting of the world into factions, made all the worse by the fire-stoking narratives of mass media and we found ourselves in a uniquely precipitous position. One that was about to come to a head in the next month.

With May came anger and societal activism not seen in many years. George Floyd was murdered by a police system whose callousness and racial prejudice have been in our view for a long time, but this time the world had had enough. Perhaps the lockdowns fanned the flames, but protests spread across the Globe like wildfire. For the first time in a long time, the US government could not (although they tried) sweep this under the rug. Still it took far too long for justice to even begin to be considered, and to this day the issues behind the murder remain, and the government continue to protect those responsible. But it was a start, a promise not only by Americans that this will no longer be tolerated. Everything else took a back seat, including the pandemic. 

June and July were calmer in a sense. Perhaps people had begun to get used to being locked down. Da 5 Bloods (Dir. Spike Lee) reminded us that the issues that led to the killing of so many African-Americans in the United States have remained since its creation, and as protests began to wind down, it appeared that little change would actually occur once again. With everything on each individual plate, the people would have to accept the eventual arrest of the officers responsible and some vague promises and soothing words, which certainly didn’t come from the orange man-child in charge. There is only so long the people can be properly mobilised, and by the middle of the year, with so many disasters behind us, people were tired. Maybe Biden can help in this regard. By the end of June things seemed to be opening up again, and we had Hamilton (Dir. Thomas Kail) to look forward to in July on Disney+. 

Tenet (Dir. Christopher Nolan) was the first big-budget film to be released in cinemas in what felt like an age. The release came in August as things started to open up slowly, and I think Nolan genuinely believed that the film would be a big hit. It did surprisingly well considering, but not good enough as more lockdowns were announced. I really enjoyed it, and it was incredible seeing a film from a top director after so long relying on Netflix and Disney+ for content. Post-release, almost the entire slate of Warner Brothers movies were delayed and promised for streaming. This includes Dune (Dir. Denis Villeneuve), possibly my most hyped film of all time, and it bears an ominous potential future for the film industry. Fantastic movies like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Dir. George C. Wolfe) and Mank (Dir. David Fincher) succeeded due to their relationship with streaming services, but what will come of the cinema? Even a massive Christmas release like Wonder Woman 84 (Dir. Patty Jenkins) is on HBO Max, and these rely on much less certain statistics than classic releases. Hopefully the next year can prove more positive, as it will be a sad thing to lose that shared experience of sitting in a cinema to experience the latest release. 

Of course, these are very small things in the grand scheme of a year that revealed some of the depths of humanity’s existence. The prospect of a vaccine giving us back our “normal” lives is an exciting one, and one that takes precedence. 2020 has challenged us all, and I hope we can one day sit together in a darkened room and take in the sounds and images that can transport us to worlds beyond our own, and inspire us to reach the limits of our potential.