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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The Boys’ Second Season Beats The Sophomore Curse

The second season of The Boys just finished streaming on Amazon Prime a few days ago and its final episode “What I Know” was a tense and satisfying season finale. It concluded many story arcs while paving the way to new directions in the third season. Yes, there will be a deserved third season for this great TV show.

The Boys continues the storyline from the first season of a ragtag group of powerless vigilantes (led by the always-talented Karl Urban as former merc Billy Bitcher) and their struggle against the Seven, a group of superheroes, and the corporate forces that support the Seven.

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, the Seven are actually a bunch of sociopathic and flawed individuals without any redemming qualities…except for a couple of characters. The leader of the Seven, Homelander (Anthony Starr), is the worst of the lot; basically think of him as Superman without the morality to keep him in check.

Part of the appeal of The Boys, aside from its dark and macabre humor, was seeing the desperate plight of the Boys fighting against the odds to expose the Seven and their sponsoring corporation, Vought International. As it stands the Seven are huge celebrities and revered by billions, complete with corporate sponsorships and connections throughout society.

One of the more interesting plots in the season dealt with Stormfront (Aya Cash), the newest member of the Seven, who is actually a former Nazi and a terrifying presence in the show. What made her so fearful was not how her electrical-based powers made her nearly unbeatable but her violent, racist demeanor. What is worse is that Stormfront is able to successfully hide her true self and Nazi past to the general public. After killing a supposed super terrrorist, she quickly becomes the latest media darling, which Homelander sees as a threat to his own popularity. The two eventually join forces, becomes society’s latest power couple, and start spouting dangerous messages and dog whistles about super terrorists and immigrants that echoes our current, dark events.

The paths of Homelander and Billy Butcher cross in that Homelander kidnapped Butcher’s wife, Becca (Shantel VanSanteen), years ago, raped her and forced her to bear his son, Ryan (Cameron Crovetti). Becca is imprisoned in a rural home and tries to raise Ryan to be as normal as possible because the young boy is developing his own superpowers and she does not want him to grow up to be a monster like his father. However, in the second season, Homelander takes more of an interest in his son and wants him to be more like himself. This conflict between Becca, Homelander and Butcher comes to a tense and powerful conclusion in the final episode and is heartbreaking for many reasons.

Meanwhile, Butcher’s gang is trying to expose Vought by releasing information to the public that Vought International is actually responsible for creating superheroes with a substance called Compound V, which was given to infants. The full ramifications of the expose were not as thoroughly explored as it could have been in the season. That is probably because there are only so many episodes alloted to the season, but it did lead to some terrific moments such as in the fifth episode “We Gotta Go Now” when Homelander nearly loses control in front of hundreds of protesters and imagines himself killing them with his laser vision.

homelander loses control

Contrasting the nastiness of the homicidal Homelander and Stormfront are Starlight (Erin Moriarity) and Maeve (Dominique McElligot). Starlight/Annie January is secretly giving information about Vought and the Seven to her boyfriend Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), one of the Boys, and a younger brother figure to Billy Butcher. The relationship between Annie and Hughie form the heart of the show and is fraught with danger as Annie tries to keep her ties to the Boys confidential. Meanwhile, Maeve/Maggie Shaw not only has to fight her own disillusionment with being a superhero, but she was outed as a lesbian by Homelander. Now her privacy is destroyed as she is thrust in the media spotlight. This naturally has a detrimental effect on her relationship with her partner Elena (Nicola Correia-Damude), who doesn’t have powers and Maeve knows Homelander did this to keep her in line by subtly threatening Elena.

While these personal story arcs were well done and were engaging, some characters were short changed in The Boys’ second season. Notably the other members of the Boys, Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), Serge (Tomer Capon) and Kimiko (Karen Fukuhara), a mute superhuman refugee. They do have storylines, notably Kimiko as she grapples with her fear of Stormfront, but so little screen time is given to them. Hopefully, they will be given more to do in the next season.

There is another percolating subplot concerning a cult, called the Church of the Collective, modeled on Scientology, that has strong sociopolitical ties. Two former members of the Seven, A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) and the Deep (Chace Crawford) become members of the church and through them we see its hypocrisy and corruptive influence. It is clear the Church of the Collective will have more screen time in the next season as will Congresswoman Victoria Neuman (Claudia Doumit), an anti-superhero politician with her own agenda. 

Despite its few flaws, the second season of The Boys beats the sophomore curse of many second-season TV shows. Most of its dark humor hits the marks and its gross-out moments are truly squeamish, like the instance with the exploding heads in “Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker” or in “The Bloody Doors Off” where Mother’s Milk encountered a superhuman with a prehensile penis that is more of a tentacle! Needless to say the final confrontation between the heroes and Stormfront will leave everyone cheering at the top of their lungs.

What is important is that after watching The Boys’ second season, you are left wanting to see more, and thankfully we will. 

José Soto

 

Let’s Hear It For The Boys

The Boys poster

As if anyone hasn’t seen the ubiquitous advertising, The Boys is a new superhero TV show streaming on Amazon Prime, and what makes it stand out from the standard superhero fest we’ve seen is that the superheroes are actually the villains and the main stars in the show are ordinary humans trying to undercut the superhumans.

In the world of The Boys, superhumans have been around for decades and are slickly marketed as celebrities to the public by the corporation Vought International. The company sells their superhumans as wholesome and patriotic heroes but the reality is that the superhumans are deeply flawed, amoral and let their power get to their heads. In other words, the superheroes feel they are above the law and act behind the cameras and campaigns without impunity.

The Seven

The main “superheroes” featured in the show belong to a superhero team called The Seven, and are basically knock-offs of the Justice League, with the Superman-type, Homelander (Anthony Starr) being the worst of the bunch. He knows he is basically a god and is treated as such by the adoring public. Literally draped with the American flag, Homelander is not above invading people’s privacy, rape, and needlessly killing people. Not all of The Seven are bad. Annie January (Erin Moriarity), is a new recruit called Starlight and she genuinely wants to do good and make a difference. The problem is the harsh reality of her co-workers disillusions her and causes her to question The Seven and how their heroic actions are solely carried out to please Vought’s marketing executives.

At the start of The Boys, one person’s life is changed forever by the superhumans. He is Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), an ordinary salesperson in New York City. His girlfriend is accidentally killed by a speedster called A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) who was speeding towards a crime scene. A-Train shows little remorse for smashing through Hughie’s girlfriend and is more concerned about not getting in trouble and not having his reputation ruined. Hughie, of course, is enraged by A-Train’s attitude and quickly becomes disillusioned by the Supes. He meets Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a grizzled and salty freelance operative for the CIA who hates all the Supes. Billy recruits Hughie and old colleagues/mercernaries such as Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) in a clandestine mission to gather intel on the Supes and bring them down. It goes without saying that the inventive and creative ways Butcher’s bunch defeats their superpowered prey is often humorous and grossly effective.

meet the boys

Comic book readers know by now that The Boys is based on a comic book series published by Dynamite Entertainment and created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Eric Kripke developed the show, which is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Before the show came along, many doubted that the comic book could be adapted because of its graphic content. It was so severe that the original publishers of The Boys, Wildstorm Productions, cancelled the series early in its run because it was too anti-superhero.

Thankfully, the show has been able to capture the spiteful and dark humor nature of the comic book. It provides viewers with a wry look at how superheroes would be actually perceived by the normal public and examines the implications of superheroes in our world. It is a lot like Watchmen only with more humor and not as bleak.

Even though it only has eight episodes (Amazon Prime already renewed it), The Boys is already one of the best superhero TV shows ever shown. It out-gritted previous grounded superhero shows like Daredevil and successfully emulates that feeling of engagement that Daredevil and the first season of Heroes used to hook viewers. All the characters are well cast and intriguing, even though a lot of their actions are barbaric and will make you wince. Make no mistake, this is not a standard superhero show for kids. It is jammed with graphic violence and sex acts; much of it is strangely fascinating to watch in a morbid fashion, such as the scene where Hughie’s girlfriend is suddenly turned to pulp by A-Train. But the highlight of The Boys isn’t the over-the-top violence or uncomfortable scenes,, but the characters and their situation. We are instantly involved and drawn towards Hughie, who is the confused and angry soul of the show. He is a decent man who witnessed a terrible act and is driven to want to do something but is wracked by his conscience. Meanwhile, Billy Butcher comes off as a foul-mouthed and cynical thug who has seen it all. But deep down he is embroiled in sadness and rage over his past. Butcher channels these intense emotions towards his drive to bring down Supes, especially Homelander. While we quickly come to despise Homelander and other Supes like A-Train, other Supes like Starlight and Queen Maeve (Domminique McElligott) are much more sympathetic as they struggle with their public image and their personal feelings.

hughie and starlight

Aside from the intriguing characters, The Boys carefully unveils the evil nature of Vought International with enough grim nuggets per episode to keep you watching. The company’s actions are quite horrific given the sunny nature they project to the unassuming public about their brand superheroes. In many ways, it is a sly commentary about the media in our lives and how public perception is easily manipulated.

Along with the superhero shows on the DC Universe app, The Boys is heralding the next step in superhero TV shows. If upcoming shows like Watchmen and the offerings from Disney+ match the quality of The Boys then we are in for some must-see viewing.