Top Ten Films & TV Shows Of 2020

2020 has certainly been a strange and troubling year with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the entertainment industry.

As the film studios and theaters suffered greatly from the mass closures for public safety, the television arm of the entertainment industry saw a boon since they had literal captive audiences eager for any new content.

Films

Even though many films scheduled for 2020 were postponed for the year, there were many other films that either had limited theatrical releases or managed to come out in the early months of the year before COVID-19 created the lockdowns. Hopefully as the now-availalbe vaccines are administered throughout the population, 2021 will see more of a return to normalcy as theaters will be able to safely re-open.

Please note many films that were released solely digitally or through streaming platforms were not considered for this list; a film had to have some kind of theatrical release even if it debuted in few theaters at the same time they were released digitally. Here are the ten best theatrical films of 2020.

10. Onward

Pixar’s other animated cinematic offering for 2020 was an uplifting and fun adventure that took place in a world where mythical and magical beings and creatures exist today. In the film, two elf brothers set out on a road trip across the country to temporarily resurrect their deceased father. As with most Pixar films, the characters and their emotions took center stage as the two realized their brotherly love for one another. 

9. The New Mutants

The sole Marvel film of 2020 turned out to be the coda of the Fox X-Men films, which was a surprise given it has been delayed so many times. Fortunately, The New Mutants turned out to be a decent superhero film about teenagers coming to grips with their superpowers and life as the film was tinged with chilling horror elements.

alone at the midnight sky

8. The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directed and starred in this introspective sci-fi film based on a book by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Clooney played a lone scientist in an arctic outpost who tries to warn the crew of a returning spacecraft not to come to Earth because it has undergone an extinction-level event. The film was a quiet and captivating character study of the scientist and the spacecraft crew as they struggled to survive in their hostile environments.

7. Underwater

Director William Eubanks is perhaps the most underrated director of sci-fi films today and his latest film continued to demonstrate this. Underwater may be filled with the usual tropes of a crew in an underwater research station being hunted by unknown, Lovecraftian creatures, but it was well crafted, claustrophobic and had the right amount of jump scares and unexpected character studies which elevated this film. 

6. Greenland

Gerard Butler starred in a surprisingly effective disaster film that smartly focused on a single family when cometary fragments crashed into the Earth. By staying with the family as they tried to make their way to safety, Greenland was able to directly show how the catastrophic event affected the family as they grappled with fear, uncertainty and confusion. 

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

Who would have thought that 2020 would have given us a winning film based on a popular video game character? It is more remarkable given the negative reaction to the first trailer which led to Sonic being radically re-designed more to fans’ liking. The effort paid off as Sonic the Hedgehog was a fun and endearing road trip/buddy film that delighted many viewers and not just fans. The road trip/buddy aspect of the film may be familiar but it worked as Sonic, the cartoonish alien, experiences life on Earth for the first time. 

4. #Alive

This South Korean film took a tired zombie/survival trope and reinvigorated it. In the film a young adult gamer is trapped in his apartment during a zombie apocalypse and as he undergoes bouts of loneliness and struggles to keep his sanity, he learns about survival and finding one’s inner strength. This character study made the film very engaging as we found ourselves rooting for the young gamer.

 

3. Color Out of Space

Nicolas Cage was in rare form in this macabre adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story. This horror/sci-fi yarn was quite unsettling in its first half which told the story of a crashed meteor’s unearthly physical effect in a nearby farm. By the second half, Color Out of Space metamorphized into a vivid and disturbing body-horror ordeal that was literally mind bending and shattering as the meteor’s alien influence transformed all life surrounding it, including the hapless farmer and his family. 

love and monsters dog

2. Love and Monsters

This exciting and more light-hearted post-apocalyptic film was a actually a coming-of-age story about a young man who learned to believe in himself as he set out across the ruined landscape of the U.S. to find his supposed true love. Sometimes it is compared to Zombieland, though that is not entirely accurate. In truth, Love and Monsters focused less on laughs and more on its endearing characters and imaginative, giant mutated animals that the film’s hero and his companion dog had to face during his difficult journey.

1. Soul

Two big films were released on streaming platforms (and had very limited theatrical releases), even though one of them (Wonder Woman 1984) had much more buzz and attention, Soul was not only the better of the two films but the best film of the year. The underlying themes may go over the heads of the younger viewers, though they and everyone else will be delighted by the film’s plot of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), as a struggling musician who dies and refuses to go to heaven. From there, he sets off on a spiritual and metaphysical quest to return to life filled with solid characters and relationships. 

Not only is Soul perfectly animated and chock full of visual delights, but like the best of Pixar, it examines the larger questions in life and its script is unexpected. At its heart, Soul is about…life and what one makes of it. However, it also forces the viewer to contemplate and appreciate the simpler and most relevant aspects of life, and in this tumultous year, this may be the most important message of all. 

Honorable Mentions:

Bill & Ted Face the Music, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), The Invisible Man, Peninsula, Possessor, Vivarium

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Streaming Wars & The Decline Of Cinemas

As we all know the current COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted our society in so many ways. In this case, with our entertainment viewing options. Given the infectious nature of the coronavirus most movie theaters have shut down in response for the safety of the audience and their employees. Most films scheduled to be released this year either had limited releases (like Tenet) or were re-scheduled for next year and beyond (such as The Eternals) or wound up available for viewing in the safety of our homes (namely Mulan) through streaming services or video on demand (VOD).

One ray of hope is that a few vaccines will be available starting in a few weeks, which should hopefully end the pandemic in 2021 and we can resume our formerly normal lives. Or will it, at least when it comes to cinemas?

The movie theater industry has always been insecure over its propects of survival whenever a new type of medium came into being. Back in the 1950s, film studios were convinced films were doomed because of the mass introduction of television. Later the same fears arose with the rise of home video and cable networks and streaming services. Then the industry had to compete with other forms of entertainment like video games. Yet, throughout all of the competition, cinemas survived. But now many fear it appears as if they will finally close because of the pandemic.

Of course, the pandemic will not last forever, but it exposed the drawbacks of the movie-going experience which is more socially based than most of us realized. Also, film studios have found ready audiences with home media which has grown with the rise of the streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max.

The studios have realized what was important to their bottom line was not necessarily new content but a vast library that will keep streaming subscribers. It may not make sense but it is true. Look at Disney+, they have existed for just over a year and the only premium original content they debuted was The Mandalorian. Yet, the service has over 73 million subscribers who enjoy their library of Star Wars films and specials, Pixar films, Disney classics and Marvel-related films and TV shows. Technically the service does not have to introduce new content to keep their subscribers although this concept may be tested if Disney+ fails to deliver on its many promised premium Star Wars and Marvel shows.

Meanwhile, Netfilx has an exhaustive library of content but much of it is licensed and the service is losing many of them. This is why Netflix has cranked out so many original films and TV shows like Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy and at one time Marvel-based shows like Daredevil and Luke Cage.

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Supernatural Carries On In The End

Supernatural aired its very last episode “Carry On” a couple of nights ago, which brought an end to the long-running horror/fantasy series about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), and their adventures in hunting supernatural forces. As a series finale it left me feeling unsure about how I felt about it. But the more I think about it the more I feel that its penultimate episode “Inherit the Earth” would have been a better finale.

*Major Spoilers will follow*

“Carry On” was a fine episode and basically served as a coda to the lives of the Winchester Brothers. Some may think the very last episode should have been some kind of epic throw down against the forces of evil but Supernatural ended the way it began with a monster-of-the-week episode. In this case, a nest of vampires. Honestly this was the least interesting element of the episode. What followed after the vampires were killed was more important. OK, final warning on spoilers ahead.

Dean died after the vampires were killed after being impaled on a metal rod sticking out of post. It was a bit of a surprise and kind of underwhelming as far as deaths go. That is because the two brothers (and their allies and enemies) have been killed before multiple times in the show and then resurrected. It was hard to believe this was it. Or that the show creators felt this was best to finally kill Dean off in a sort of mundane manner. Yet others may feel it was appropriate that the great Dean Winchester not die in some epic battle but during a humdrum mission. I disagree, and find it surprising that Sam would not try to find a way to resurrect his brother.

winchester heaven

The scenes that followed with Sam Winchester mourning his brother with only Dean’s recently adopted dog for company was heartbreaking. However, by this point I was wondering if the show ran out of money because of the lack of guest stars. Sure, we got to see Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) in heaven with Dean, but none of the other mainstays like Castiel (Misha Collins) or Jack (Alexander Culvert) showed up. I read that this episode was filmed after the show’s shutdown ended (thanks again COVID-19) and the showrunners did not want to risk bringing in many people unless necessary. Still, the lack of mourners/guest appearances robbed the impact of Dean’s sudden passing.

As Dean explored heaven (basically shown as the empty backwoods and roads of middle America), scenes were intercut showing Sam moving on with his life as the song by Kansas, “Carry On Wayward Son”, the show’s unofficial theme song, played. He fathered a son he named after his brother; we don’t see who the child’s mother was, presumably it was his girlfriend Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), but we never got a good look; and Sam grew old and died with his adult son at his side. Cue to tears as Sam and Dean Winchester were finally reunited in heaven. The end.

As I mentioned earlier “Carry On” was fine by itself but the nitpicks kept nibbling me. It was great to see at least Sam being able to live out a normal life past hunting monsters, but it was sad that Dean was not allowed this destiny and God knows he deserved it since he was the more spiriturally troubled of the two. His death while being a Hunter was appropriate, but it should not have felt so mundane.

The previous episode “Inherit the Earth” could have and probably should have served as the series finale for Supernatural. The Winchesters had their final confrontation with Chuck/God (Rob Benedict), after he wiped out all forms of higher life on Earth. In their confrontation, the brothers were outmatched by Chuck, but he was defeated by Jack the Nephilim, who absorbed his powers. Afterwards, Jack became the new God and restored the universe in a cosmic reset before he vanished to become one with reality.

“Inherit the Earth” concluded with a great montage showing all the characters the Winchesters met during Supernatural’s run as the two drove off in Dean’s car while Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” played. To me this was how Supernatural should have ended. A bit open ended as Sam and Dean Winchester ride off into the open road looking for their next adventure now that they and the world were finally free of Chuck’s control.

If it matters that much to any fan, it’s best to stop watching Supernatural with its penultimate episode and just imagine Sam and Dean Winchester lived happily ever after hunting ghouls, evil ghosts, demons and whatever supernatural force came their way. If not then consider “Carry On” to be an acceptable, if sad, coda or epilogue to their lives and the show itself.

José Soto

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2020

As we settle into the new year it’s that time to look ahead for what films await us in 2020. A quick look will show that the superheroes will be taking a breather on the big screen along with some of the more notable franchises. Still, there are plenty of promising offerings for this year. As before keep in mind that not all of the films will actually be released in 2020 or on the dates listed below, and some of them will turn out to be disappointments, while something that may not even make it into the other mention list will turn out to be tomorrow’s classic.

10. Black Widow (May 1):

Finally! Black Widow gets her own overdue solo film, but is it too late? The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MC) Phase Four offers the MCU take on spy thrillers that is obviously a flashback/prequel film (no spoilers for anyone who has not seen Avengers: Endgame).

Tomorrow war

9. The Tomorrow War (December 25):

Chris Pratt stars as a soldier in a future war against aliens. The catch is that humanity is forced to recruit soldiers from the past to win the war. If this is anything like the classic Edge of Tomorrow then genre fans are in for treat.

8. Antebellum (April 24):

Very little is known about this horror thriller from the producers of Get Out and Us. It has something to do with a writer trapped in between our reality and one during the period before the Civil War. But their credentials and the disturbing and mysterious imagery shown in the trailer make this film a must see.

7. Free Guy (July 3):

Think of this film as a live-action Wreck-It Ralph, sort of. Ryan Reynolds stars as a Non-Playable Character (NPC) in a Fortnite-like video game who evolves beyond his programming. Now aware of his limited existence, the NPC decides to take a more proactive role in his virtual world and become the hero.

6. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5):

Gal Gadot returns as the titular Amazonian warrior in this sequel that takes place in the 1980s. The more modern setting juxtaposed with Wonder Woman’s heroics are refreshingly different from Wonder Woman’s grim World War I backdrop. Another plus is that the previous film’s humor and kinetic superheroic action will continue in this sequel.

5. BIOS (October 2):

Tom Hanks stars as a dying scientist and the last person on Earth who builds a robot companion for his dog and the trio embark on a journey where the robot has to learn to be more “human”. Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik helms this sci-fi film which combines the retrospective nature of Hanks’ classic Cast Away with high adventure.

4. Godzilla vs. Kong (November 20):

The epic showdown between two of the biggest and most famous kaijus takes place in the fourth Monsterverse film. Many have complained about the previous film’s (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) poorly defined characters and plot, but many others cheered the jaw-dropping visual treats of giant monsters battling to the death. Hopefully, the latest Monsterverse film will deliver more of this to fans.

3. A Quiet Place, Part II (March 20):

The first film about a family surviving in a world overrun by lethal aliens was a chilling and tense surprise thanks to John Krasinski’s (who also starred) masterful direction. A Quiet Place, Part II continues the journey of the family from the first film as they venture beyond their home to the outside world and learn they don’t only have the aliens to worry about.

2. Dune (December 18):

Acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, having won accolades for his work on Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, gives us his take on the most revered sci-fi novel of all time. This version of Dune promises to be more faithful to the source novel than the David Lynch film from the 1980s. Already boasting an impressive cast, expect Dune to be lavishly presented with exceptional production values and effects. Also note that this version of Dune will only cover the first half of the novel, which is about a young messianic figure’s trials on a desert world in the far future, whose actions will reshape the universe.

1. Tenet (July 17):

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest film is clouded in secrecy but appears to be a high-octane spy thriller about preventing World War III. Tenet stands out from say another James Bond or Jason Bourne thriller by being laced with disorienting and not-so-subtle twists in the vein of Inception.

In fact, some are already speculating Tenet could be a sequel or spinoff to Inception only this time the emphasis is on time. Even without the off-key imagery of time flowing backwards in several spots, Tenet looks like another provocative, mind-bending action-packed fest from the auteur.

Other Upcoming Films:

 Bill and Ted Face the Music (August 21): The Wild Stallyns are back in another goofy time travel adventure; Bloodshot (March 13): Vin Diesel stars in the first live-action Valiant superhero film about a mercenary with nanite blood; Eternals (November 6): The other MCU film coming out this year will showcase the history of the MCU spanning millennium and characters; Ghostbusters: Afterlife (July 10): A new take on Ghostbusters which hopes to recapture the nostalgia for the original films; The Invisible Man (February 28): Elizabeth Moss portrays a woman haunted by her supposedly dead abusive lover who is actually alive and invisible;

Malignant (August 14): Writer and director James Wan adapts his graphic novel about a man with an alien tumor that gives him superpowers;  Morbius (July 31): Sony brings to life another Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero; The New Mutants (April 3): Just when we thought the final Fox X-Men film was dead and buried, we find out it will actually be released; Onward (March 6): The first Pixar film of the decade features two elves who are brothers that set out on a trip to revive their dead father; Raya and the Last Dragon (November 25): In this Disney animated film, a warrior searches for the last dragon; Samaritan (December 11): Sylvester Stallone stars as a long-lost superhero;  Sonic the Hedgehog (February 14); Internet rage changed the look of the popular video game character, now it’s up in the air if the film will actually be good;  Soul (June 19): The second Pixar animated release features a new soul who discovers the afterlife; Venom 2 (October 2): Tom Hardy returns in the sequel to the surprise superhero hit about the anti-heroic alien symbiote; Underwater (January 10): Scientists are trapped on the ocean floor and are preyed upon by mysterious creatures; The Witches (October 9): Robert Zemeckis directs this adaptation of the Roald Dahl fantasy book; After Yang (TBD); A father and his daughter try to save her robotic nanny; Stowaway (TBD): This variation of “The Cold Equations” takes place on a journey to Mars;  Voyagers (TBD): Reportedly this film is marketed as Lord of the Flies in space.

 

Haunted Houses In Space

Alien, Event Horizon, Ship of Fools, Pandorum, Hull Zero Three, Life, Nightflyers, Dead Space, the list goes on. The basic premise of these stories are the same and boils down to a haunted house in space. It may sound like an odd combination, the haunted house in space, but when executed, this meshing of two genres usually produces some imaginative and scary sci-fi horror stories, films, TV shows, games, etc.

Why is this so? It all goes back to the concept that both genres when blended deal with the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what lies out in space, what we’ll encounter. But a core aspect of the classic haunted house story is the location itself. In such stories the protagonist is stuck in an old house and has to confront ghostly or demonic forces. Many of them are very terrifying and what makes them even more unsettling are their alleged basis on real events like The Conjuring films.

With sci-fi horror films the premise is moved out of rickety old houses and into a sci-fi setting, usually a spaceship or space station or a planet itself. Obvious examples include the mentioned films and games. Let’s focus on Alien. On a side note, its premise wasn’t new when the film came out in 1979 as a similar film It! The Terror from Beyond Space hit theaters way back in 1958.  Anyway, the crew of the space freighter Nostromo are hunted in their own spaceship by a murderous extra-terrestrial or xenomorph. Here you have the Nostromo, a spaceship, taking the place of the haunted house while the xenomorph is a perfect stand-in for a demonic entity or a ghost that is difficult to track. Adding to the horror element of Alien is the claustrophobic feel the spaceship emits. Corridors are dark and foreboding, hiding unexpected perils.

This type of setting highlighted the cult classic Event Horizon, a film that its director actually envisioned as a haunted house story in space. The spaceship design of the title ship is Gothic, cold, and even a bit Lovecraftian. Meanwhile, the non corporeal forces the rescue crew face are perfect updates on demonic forces and spirits as the film infers the spaceship Event Horizon actually traveled to hell and back.

What made the concept of Alien and others even more chilling is that unlike the traditional haunted house story, the characters don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re genuinely trapped. They cannot exactly just step outside the spaceship, it’s they’re life-giving oasis in the inhospitable environment of outer space. A common complaint about haunted house stories is that if a house is haunted why not just leave it and move someplace else? This doesn’t take into account poltergeists and demons that follow a victim everywhere, or the financial burden with suddenly leaving a home, but the question does have merit. The alien or other threat is on a spaceship deep in the cosmos? You’re stuck, my friend. Unless you want to take your chances with a lifepod in the middle of space, which ironically is how many of these sci-fi horror stories conclude. It’s that or take your chances and confront the threat head on.

Thinking about the characters’ limitations and the somewhat plausible nature of the threat then it’s easy to see why this type of sci-fi horror story is superior to a traditional haunted house tale.