There have been some great releases this year, but let’s face facts: 2020 has left film fans emotionally, spiritually, cosmically washed-up.
The ongoing pandemic has made the release slate unpredictable and paralysed the global film industry, with distributors postponing tentpole movies like the eternally delayed No Time To Die, Black Widow, Soul, Candyman and Dune, to name but a few who have opted to skip 2020 altogether. What have we been left with? Netflix cackhandedly decided to re-edit Back To The Future Part II for no apparent reason other than sheer boredom, Disney pulled the Mushu-free Mulan release and not only dumped it on their streaming platform but had the unabashed gall to make subscribers pay an extra fee to watch what turned out to be an uninspiring missed opportunity, and there’s the never-ending turd-polishing Justice League chat that continues to beg the question: Who gives a vomiting Pazuzu what the Snyder Cut looks like?
As if that wasn’t enough, 2020 treated us to the untimely death of Chadwick Boseman, Sean Connery went to the great golf course in the sky and it somehow felt crueller to subject young viewers to this year’s nose-bleedingly mediocre The Witches remake than to transform the littluns into rodents, as per the coven’s dastardly plans. And when a film makes you sympathise with scamp genocide so fervently, you know something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
Oh, and remember the tinnitus-triggering Tenet? No, nor do we.
For all that bellyaching and the fact we won’t get many – if any – theatrical releases for the rest of the year (especially if cinemas remain no-go zones in December), there are still some very exciting movies coming out on streaming services before the end of 2020, especially from streaming behemoth Netflix. Make no mistake: it’s sad state of affairs, but this fourth quarter makes Netflix the organ grinders and cinephiles the monkey. But we take what we can get and quarantiners can’t be choosers.
With that in mind, here’s our pick of the 10 streaming titles card-carrying movie lovers should pencil into their diaries, even if they sadly won’t get to enjoy them the big screen…
(Netflix – out now)
We’re cheating a little bit with this first entry, as it was released at the end of October. However, it’s already one of our top films of the year, so we’d be remiss not to include it.
Having premiered to rave reviews at Sundance, His House is a bone-chilling, thoughtful and stunningly disorientating horror-thriller from writer-director Remi Weekes, one that justifies the festival buzz. His debut feature revolves around a Sudanese refugee couple (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku, both brilliant) who seek asylum in England. They struggle to adjust to their new life, attempting to assimilate to the culture as best they can. However, they soon experience disturbing phenomena in their new home in the shape of an apeth, a “night witch” which seems to have followed them from their war-torn country.
Many will be tempted to compare this timely tale to Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow or even (to a lesser extent) to Get Out, considering the rich social commentary at the heart of its narrative. Worthy touchstones though these are, His House stands on its own two feet as a film that deftly marries a dread-suffused atmosphere and typical horror beats with well-drawn characters, themes of unsurmountable trauma and survivor’s guilt, all whilst offering an urgent allegory about the refugee experience. Make it a priority watch.
The Life Ahead
(Netflix – November 13)
Adapted from the beloved French novel La Vie Devant Soi (‘The Life Before Us’) by Romain Gary (who wrote it under the pseudonym Emile Ajar), this Italian-language Netflix release has the potential to be something truly special. It comes out this Friday and stars Italian screen legend Sophia Loren, who makes her big screen comeback after a decade’s leave. She’s directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, and plays an ageing Holocaust survivor who befriends a 12-year old Senegalese immigrant (newcomer Ibrahima Gueye) after he attempts to steal from her.
Considering the source material, we’re in for a potent melodrama, and there’s already some awards chatter surrounding The Life Ahead. That said, Ponti and Loren need to avoid the material’s odd-couple potential for triteness, and have some big shoes to fill. Indeed, the novel has already been adapted for cinema by Moshé Mizahi in 1977: starring Simone Signoret, Madame Rosa was a stunning piece of work and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film that year. No pressure then.
(Amazon – November 20)
Many are labelling Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, which streams on Amazon from next week, as a TV mini-series rather than a full-length feature. The filmmaker behind Shame and 12 Years A Slave considers his BBC / Amazon co-produced anthology as a series of films, hence its inclusion on this list.
Comprised of five narratives that tell personal stories from London’s West Indian community, the streaming platform is releasing them all in one go, and we couldn’t be happier. Considering McQueen’s stellar directorial output thus far, as well as Letitia Wright and John Boyega’s involvement in two stories, which include Mangrove – which tells the true story of the Mangrove Nine, who clashed with the Metropolitan Police in 1970 – and Red, White And Blue, there’s every reason to get excited. Both aforementioned films opened the 58th New York Film Festival earlier this year, and initial reviews have described them as nuanced and probing studies of the Black experience.
So, whether you view them as a collection of films or a mini-series, Small Axe should be at the top of your November streaming queue.
(Netflix – November 24)
Based on the 2016 #1 New York Times bestselling memoir by J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, this generation-spanning drama exploring the American Dream sees a Yale law student returning to his hometown to confront his upbringing in an Appalachian family.
Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) directs an impressive line-up of A-listers, which includes Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Freida Pinto and Haley Bennett. That roster pretty much ensures that the director’s latest shameless bid for awards glory will be a frontrunner when it comes to the acting categories. Rumours suggest that Close – who plays the matriarch figure at the centre of a dysfunctional family unit – is likely to end up with her eighth Oscar nomination, and that Amy Adams might finally nab an Oscar after having unjustly been denied the award for her efforts in The Master, The Fighter, Doubt and Arrival.
As solid as the cast is though, the Oscar-baity trailer doesn’t fill us with much confidence. The jury is still out, so head to Netflix later this month to find out whether this could bag Howard and his cast a fresh batch of Golden Baldies, or whether it ends up as the broad and desperate awards come-on the marketing suggests.
Sound of Metal
(Amazon – December 04)
Sound Of Metal premiered in Toronto last year and has done the festival rounds since – it finally goes online on December 4 on Amazon Prime. It stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone, a heavy-metal drummer whose life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.
We were lucky enough to catch a screening of Sound Of Metal earlier this year, and it’s a doozy. Ahmed is at his finest here, topping even his visceral and affecting performance as another musician in Mogul Mowgli, which screened in Panorama at this year’s Berlinale; he ensures that this character drama dodges the shop-worn clichés linked to disability. The way in which director Darius Marder and co-writer Abraham Marder sensitively handle the material and the portrayal of the deaf community is commendable, as well as the manner in which they avoid all the awards-bait pitfalls. All in all, Sound Of Metal is an extraordinary feature-length debut and a gripping watch throughout.
(Netflix – December 04)
Directed by David Fincher, who works from a script by his late father Jack Fincher for his first feature film since 2014’s Gone Girl, Mank is Netflix’s latest – and most promising – bid for Oscar glory. Shame about the title though.
This hotly anticipated biographical drama starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, follows the life of the overlooked Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz. First reactions have been extremely positive, praising the filmmaking and stating that it’s both a sophisticated love letter to Hollywood as well as a nostalgia-free takedown of the film industry’s knotty realities. Other echoes suggest that it’s unapologetically dense and pure catnip for cinephiles. We’ll have to wait until December 4th to see whether it’s Fincher’s masterpiece or if it’s a little too tailored to film buffs, thereby alienating more casual viewers. What’s for sure is that both Oldman and Seyfried seem like nomination locks for the acting awards. And what’s not to love about the prospect of David Fincher finally getting his long overdue Best Director statuette?
(Netflix – December 11)
Based on the Broadway musical and helmed by Ryan Murphy comes this story of Emma, a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. She’s been banned to do so by the head of the PTA. Enter self-absorbed stage stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden), who are in need of a career boost and decide to lead a group of thesps to conservative Indiana to help out Emma.
This one could go either way. Murphy has made a name for himself as the creator-writer-director of TV shows like Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, Feud and Pose, but his big screen directorial credits include the passable Running With Scissors and the gouge-your-eyes-out terrible Eat Pray Love. On one hand, Murphy returns to his Glee roots here and this potentially feet-stomping romp stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key. On the other hand, the trailer suggests a saccharinely twee musical, one that also stars James Corden. Shudder. Head to Netflix on December 11 to see whether this is more Broad-yay or Broad-nay.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
(Netflix – December 18)
Once you’ve stopped snickering at the title, make sure to Sharpie this one into your diaries – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom promises to be (alongside Mank) one of the most discussed films of this fourth quarter when it comes to awards consideration. *Cue Netflix maniacally laughing at all of their awards prospects.*
Directed by Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe, this Denzel Washington-produced adaptation of August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name centres on the tensions that arise during a fateful recording session of “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey (the always wonderful Viola Davis) in 1927.
Part of Wilson’s American Century Cycle series, which chronicles 10 stories of Black lives which span over each decade of the 20th Century, there’s another bittersweet reason why this film is so anticipated: it features Chadwick Boseman’s final film performance, following his passing earlier this year.
We can’t wait and will be tuning in mid-December to see if this hits all the right notes.
The Midnight Sky
(Netflix – December 23)
George Clooney directs and stars in this eerily prescient post-apocalyptic drama about a lonely scientist (with an outstanding beard) living in the Arctic who must race to prevent a group of astronauts from returning to Earth after a mysterious global catastrophe has wiped out most of the planet.
Details have been kept firmly under wraps for this adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel ‘Good Morning, Midnight’. We know it’s a big budget sci-fi thriller which has been described by Clooney as Gravity meets The Revenant, and whose supporting cast includes Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Sophie Rundle, Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir.
While the trailer errs towards the predictable, that eye-wateringly good cast and the close-to-home echoes to our pandemic predicament indicates that The Midnight Sky should be a monster hit for Netflix. It drops online just in time for the holidays.
(Disney+ – December 25)
While you may have noticed that Netflix’s streaming monopoly is in full force for the remainder of 2020, Disney+ do have an ace up their sleeve in the shape of the new Pixar movie, Soul. Written and directed by Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out), it bypassed cinemas this fall – much to the chagrin of cinemas – and is being released digitally on Christmas day.
Not content with simply personifying feelings in Inside Out, Docter now anthropomorphises the concept of the soul in an existential tale that follows a middle-school music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who dreams of being a jazz performer. Before he can get his big break onstage, he gets into an accident that causes his soul to be separated from his body and wander into The Great Before, a place where souls are assigned personalities. There, he teams up with 22 (voiced by Tina Fey) in order to return to Earth before his body dies.
If it can make good on its concept, Soul should enchant and hopefully provoke a few face leaks. Here’s hoping it at least provides the heart-warming seasonal balm everyone so badly needs this year.
There we have it. Take your pick(s) and keep your fingers crossed that kinos can reopen in December – as great as the streaming output is, nothing beats a big screen experience.
Take care of yourselves and hopefully see you at a screening soon.