10. THE GOLDEN GLOVE
Coming in at number ten this year is Fatih Akin’s “The Golden Glove”, a German-made Crime/Drama based on the true story of Fritz Honka (played superbly by Jonas Dassler), one of the most vile serial killers throughout history who struck fear in the hearts of Hamburg residents in the early 1970s’. I caught this film when its hardcopy was widely released at the very beginning of the year, and it certainly wasn’t something I ever imagined would be on this list come the end of 2020 – but it’s been a crazy years and here were are. Despite the truly macabre subject matter and the sheer unapologetic manner that it’s presented in, I couldn’t help but be completely engaged by its filthy complexion. It wasn’t until it was over that I thought about what I’d just witnessed and how there were very few criticisms I could muster up – the tell tale sign of a great film. Never have I found a film so beautiful and crisp, whilst simultaneously coming off as completely grimy and disgusting. Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography is hands down some of the best I saw all year. The shot choices are wonderful, the edit is interesting, and the low-contrasting color grade makes for a fittingly bleak display. In addition, the attention to detail in the 70’s aesthetics and set design are truly impressive.
All the performances are top-notch, and credit where it’s due when it comes to the women in the cast. Whilst not overly sexually graphic (or at least not on-screen), to put themselves out there in such raw and revealing ways takes a lot of courage. Fritz Honka was one of the most repugnant men you could ever lay eyes on, having to pay for sex or lure desperate, disheveled and lonely women back to his squalid apartment. He was pushing 40 years of age when the murders began but in this film he’s portrayed by 24-year-old Jonas Dassler (who had very little film acting experience), who wears heavy prosthetics and delivers a mean-spirited but memorable performance. Speaking of which, I couldn’t not mention the fantastic makeup fx work. Check out the image of Dassler below (compare it to the image on the poster). The Golden Glove is like a cross between the Austrian film “Angst” and our very own “Bad Boy Bubby”, only far superior to both. I can only surmise that the Metascore of 38/100 on IMDb is purely down to the films subject matter. Sure, I needed to take a shower when the film ended but it didn’t make it any less accomplished.
9. PSYCHO GOREMAN
Number nine may just be the most bat-shit crazy and entertaining genre mashup of the year, “Psycho Goreman” a Horror/Comedy/Sci-Fi film from Steven Kostanski (The Void). It’s been a long while since I’ve had such a wide and permanent smile (we’re talking ear to ear) for almost the entire duration of a film more so than I had during PG. I saw this film at our annual “MonsterFest”, and although it won’t have it’s official Shudder and VOD release until the first quarter of 2021, I couldn’t exclude it from this Best Of list. Psycho Goreman is about as farfetched of a film as they come. It centers around confident and carefree, Mimi (played enthusiastically by Nita-Josee Hanna) and her unassuming brother, Luke (Owen Myre). After another one-sided backyard game among the siblings, Mimi unknowingly unearths a sacred gemstone that belongs to an evil monster hellbent on destroying the universe. Where to even start with this film, how about those performances! I wasn’t a huge fan of any of Kostanski’s previous films but there can be no denying that he’s discovered some real talent here, particularly when it comes to little Nita Hanna.
PG is chock full of funny dialogue that for the most part is nicely timed and well delivered by its actors. Nina presents as extremely bubbly, over-dramatic, and funny because of it. In addition, there’s good-natured banter between the kids and their father, Greg (played by Adam Brooks). Brooks has got a Jackie Earle Haley look about him, though he’s much more at home in the confines of comedy. Psycho Goreman is at its strongest comedically when the intent is to be as dry as possible. I can’t leave Matthew Ninaber and his control out of it either (playing Psycho Goreman himself). The voice work can be likened to something like Optimus Prime and he provides a lot of great one-liners. The detail and particulars in the various creature designs are some of the best I’ve seen in years, and the film isn’t without its perfectly placed gloriously gory moments. The CG additions are excellent as well given the film’s limited budget. If I had a criticism it’s that final act had some moments that felt a bit off tonally. All in all, If you love the world of video gaming, science fiction, and comedy then you’ll be sure to embrace Psycho Goreman.
Quentin Dupieux’s “Deerskin”, a bizarre Black Comedy/Thriller from France is another film I never expected to make this list but it comes in at number eight. I initially saw some promotion for the film late last year (it actually premiered at MonsterFest) but it didn’t look like something that appealed to me so I ended up giving it a miss. Upon a second glance, I saw Dupieux’s name jump out at me and remembered he was behind 2010’s “Rubber”, one of the most outlandishly self-aware but humorous movies in recent memory – needless to say I had to get my hands on Deerskin (not the actual skin.. you know what I mean) and boy am I glad I did. The film stars Academy Award Winner, Jean Dujardin as Georges, a man who appears to be having an identity crisis where in which he becomes obsessed with a designer jacket that causes him to squander his life savings while he attempts to make a film with a camera he gets. On the surface, Deerskin seems pretty straight-forward, albeit weird perhaps in the same way a Mark Duplass film is (Creep or Safety Not Guaranteed). Though surprisingly layers of nuance emerge as Georges manipulation takes center stage. Entangling a young woman and aspiring film editor named Denise (Adele Haenel) into his delusions, as he continues adding to his deer-made getup and becomes further fixated on surface value and individual style. Everything about this film is incredibly polished. The French alps make for a great backdrop and the cinematography showcases the beautiful landscape. Composer, Janko Nilovic employs an effectively dark and broody motif on what sounds like a cello which helps to maintain a sense of uneasiness over the brisk 70-minute runtime. The characters are engaging, particularly Georges, and as a viewer you get a clear insight into just how influence and exploitation work inside human interaction. There’s moments that are darkly funny, a few genuine surprises, and the ending is entirely justified but surprising in the same vein.
7. THE HUNT
Seventh on the list is Craig Zobel’s impressive Action/Thriller film “The Hunt”, starring Betty Gilpin, Ethan Suplee, and Hilary Swank. If memory serves me correct, The Hunt was a film that had plenty of controversy surrounding its initial release (which I think was slated for late 2019). The COVID-19 virus hit, coupled with the theme of gun violence in America rearing its ugly head and that was enough for the film to get pushed back to a VOD release in March. It’s a shame this didn’t get a wider release as it’s probably one of the best tongue-in-cheek, clever and perceptive genre blends in quite a while. The premise is akin to something like “Battle Royale” or “The Belko Experiment”, where a bunch of strangers wake up in an isolated location with no idea how they got there. Only to discover that they’re in midst of a life and death game in which only one person can survive. Right off the bat, The Hunt’s pacing is blistering. Co-writers, Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof introduce us to a multitude of characters in the first twenty minutes, and do so in amusing ways. More often that not that can be jarring, but the direction taken over the course of the first act ensures that such is not the case. Plenty of the comedy works and there are a number of universal gags that resonated, although I’m sure if you’re an American citizen or better up to speed on the ins and outs of political observations there’s more that’ll land and make sense to you. This ensemble of actors, some of whom only appear briefly on-screen, prove to be solid choices. This is the first time I’ve seen Swank in a while and it was great to see her go against type. The action sequences and fight choreography are impressive and the film boasts some rather violent deaths showcasing good practical fx work. The final set piece is cut together perfectly and I can safely say we haven’t seen an all female fight that impressive since Tarantino’s, “Kill Bill”. I can’t wait to watch this one again!
6. VICIOUS FUN
I don’t think there’s a more aptly titled film on this list than Cody Calahan’s “Vicious Fun”, a fierce and funny Horror/Comedy that takes place in the world of self-proclaimed serial killers. Joel (played by Evan Marsh), a sarcastic but likeable 1980’s film critic for a horror magazine, finds his life in peril after he stumbles upon a self-help group for serial killers following an alcohol-fueled night at a local bar. Presented by indie label “Black Fawn Films”, I saw a screening of Vicious Fun at the same festival as the earlier mentioned “Psycho Goreman”. I knew early in this film that I was going to love it. The stylish 80’s flair, the characters, the plight – all of it just worked. Joel is a man of simple pleasures, making for an entertaining protagonist. He’s hung up on his roommate Sarah but she doesn’t appear to feel the same way about him. Calahan doesn’t waste any time getting us in Joel’s corner and as soon as we meet the group of serial killers things start to heat up. Speaking of the gang. Ari Millen (who looks like the love child of Jai Courtney and Joey Kern haha) as Bob, does a fantastic job balancing ruthless with joviality and his performance serves as the barometer for the remainder of the cast. Amber Goldfarb as Carrie, a sort of quick-witted femme-fatale is lovely and knows how to kick ass. Familiar genre-player Julian Richings (Wrong Turn) is always great to watch, and the additions of both the brutish Robert Maillet, and funny man David Koechner (Anchorman) add something completely different to the mix of loonies. The pulsating synth score is amazing, the colorful lighting palette looks great, and the action sequences are a lot of fun. Vicious Fun has clear intent and delivers on all fronts. A film you can tell was made passionately by hardcore genre fans for hardcore genre fans. A special mention to Kristopher Bowman and Mark Gibson who play the two detectives – they’re both hilarious and provide some of the most memorable laughs in the film. What else can I say, it was a damn strong year for independent cinema.
5. THE WAY BACK
Gavin O’Connor comes storming back on the scene with “The Way Back” (pardon the weak pun), his best film since 2011’s “Warrior” and landing at number five in the best films of 2020. The Way Back is primarily a drama about one mans battle with alcohol addiction (something Affleck has been battling himself), it just so happens to be wrapped up inside a sports movie. Ben Affleck, in what is perhaps the best performance of his career (next to The Town), stars as Jack Cunningham, a once proud basketball protégé who walked away from the game. Years later he reluctantly takes on the head coaches job at the very same school where he finally gets a shot at redemption with a new group of young men. I’m a sucker for an emotional sports film, and that’s exactly what I found in The Way Back. It’s a heavy film dealing with an all too familiar issue that continues to control and ruin the lives of countless families. This film is all about Affleck, and what’s more, is that this one hits about as close to home for him as any film could. He’s a recovering alcoholic who has had his fair share of ups and downs, and so tackling a role like this head on likely served as some kind of catharsis for him. It’s a little slow and perhaps not all of the supporting players are explored as well as they could’ve been, but those gripes aside, it’s actively shot, beautifully scored by Rob Simonsen, and poignant in its depiction of someone with dependency issues.
4. THE INVISIBLE MAN
Why does it not surprise me that our very own talented Writer/Director, Leigh Whannell has yet another film popping up in an end of year top movie list. Whannell’s last film “Upgrade” was a stellar Sci-Fi/Action love letter to classics like “Robocop” and “Escape From New York”. Earlier this year he bought us the loose remake of H.G Wells and The Dark Universe’s Horror/Thriller “The Invisible Man”, starring Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Aldis Hodge. A lot of movie-goers get quite negative when it comes to modern remakes of films, and although I was a fan of the original Claude Rains film from the early 30’s, I couldn’t have thought of a better one to contemporize. Leigh opts to ground the drama by venturing into the delicate topical issue of domestic violence. In turn, the film is more focused on the dynamic of that kind of attachment and how difficult that is to broach any kind of parting, rather than say the bells and whistles or science fiction elements much more present in something like “Hollow Man”. Moss plays Cecilia, a woman whose abusive husband takes his own life, but she suspects it’s all an elaborate hoax. A series of coincidences support her suspicions but matters are further complicated once she begins being hunted by someone no one can see. The core beats of the original story and film stay true in Whannell’s version but everything is visibly modernized to our times and advancements in technology. The performances are very good, the cinematography looks sharp, and the sound design is diverse so as to maintain optimal suspense. There’s some flaws in the films own lore or logic, most notably in the restaurant sequence. Even still, there are a number of great scenes that build tension nicely and the climax is a rewarding one.
3. RICHARD JEWELL
#3 comes in the form of old, trusty, and reliable Hollywood legend, Clint Eastwood and the true story of “Richard Jewell”. Richard Jewell was a security guard who became an instant hero after thwarting a terrorist attack at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. When the FBI ultimately leaked information to the media, overnight he became the chief suspect in the case despite there not being a single piece of concrete evidence. I’d heard about this film for years, back when Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill were attached the project. Despite not knowing anything about the real life story I was still eager for its release, as I can categorically say that Eastwood has rarely put a foot wrong over his journey as a filmmaker. Clint’s ability to put the right people in the right roles is uncanny. Some would’ve said that he took a risk casting Paul Walter Hauser, a relatively unknown before “I, Tonya” in the titular role, and in fact in his first sort of lead role, but boy did it pay dividends. He’s such a joy to watch in this film, a naïve loveable oafish mummy’s boy that you feel for across the entire duration of the film. The entire ensemble is wonderful and includes the likes of academy award winner, Sam Rockwell in a confident and charming role as Watson Bryant, Jewell’s lawyer. Kathy Bates, who earned herself another Oscar nomination for her role as mother, Bobi Jewell (of which I feel she was robbed of by Laura Dern). Rounding out the cast are Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde who both have interesting character arcs as well. The technical elements are all top-notch, the dialogue is engaging with enough light-hearted moments to break up the heavy drama, and the re-creation of the event itself looks to be entirely authentic. This is just a terrific film about a true event in American history.
2. THE GENTLEMEN
Coming in at runner up for the best film of the year is Guy Ritchie’s deliciously pulpy Crime/Comedy caper, “The Gentlemen” which sees him return to the lofty heights he reached all those years ago with “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. It’s a travesty that more people aren’t talking about this film and what’s more is that no one saw fit to nominate it in any category at the Oscars. I think it may just simply be because it’s Ritchie and the type of film he excels at just happens to be one the academy cares none for. I’ve never been one to buy into that. You critique a film on its merits regardless of theme content or genre, anyway I digress. The Gentlemen is near two hours of witty, and almost always colorful rhetoric delivered at break neck speeds amongst a boys club of characters portrayed by a powerhouse cast of character actors. These interactions circulate inside a stylish veneer consisting of entertaining introductions to characters, striking edits, and a classic soundtrack. The Gentlemen simply has to enter the conversation around the best writing of the year. I aspire to write discourse even half as interesting and engaging as Ritchie does, it’s such a treat to hear and a real change of pace from the generic beats in a lot of screenplays. The film revolves around Mickey Pearson (played by Matthew McConaughey) an American expat who is trying to sell off his extremely profitable marijuana empire in London. This venture triggers various plots, schemes, and blackmail as an array of assorted individuals try to steal it out from under him.
Where to even start with the cast. McConaughey takes on something a little different here, funny, edgy but controlled. Charlie Hunnam as Ray, Mickey’s right hand man, returns to his foul-mouthed English roots and it suits him. He delivers a funny performance and has some of the best lines in the film. Colin Farrell is hilarious every time he steps into a comedic world full of gangsters and thugs and this is no excpetion. If you thought he was good in “In Bruges” or “Seven Psychopaths”, he’s even funnier as Coach, a local gym owner who gets caught up in the business of others. Announcing himself with a surprising career best performance is Hugh Grant as Fletcher, a cunning tabloid journalist who knows more than he lets on. Everyone is at the top of their games in this latest film from Ritchie but Grant really does steal the show. Scenes get flipped on their heads, twists and turns transpire and the non-linear approach to the narrative works wonders in a film like this. The film is fairly scare on the violence but if you’re easily offended by extreme profanity and an abundance of it, you’re probably better off steering clear of this one. But for those who value exceptional writing, don’t miss The Gentlemen.
It should come as no surprise that my number one film of the year was Sam Mendes (American Beauty) Drama/War epic “1917”. To be perfectly honest, in the end it wasn’t even close. Not only was 1917 a fantastic story about two young men tasked with an impossible mission in the midst of World War One, but it was groundbreaking in laying claim to the first feature length film to be entirely shot to look like one continuous take. A monumental challenge that Oscar-winning DP, Roger Deakins and his team were entrusted with – the result, another academy award. What’s more is that lead actor George MacKay, who plays Lance Corporal Schofield, appears in every frame of the films two hour runtime – that’s not something we often see. The best cinematography of the year is obviously a great selling point, but without an interesting and absorbing narrative the film could be seen as just a pure technical feat. The bond built between Schofield and fellow Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) highlights the unwavering brotherhood that those who served in the armed forces share among each other. Tension is amped up to eleven for almost the entire duration of the film even though action is on the relatively thin side. You still feel like you’re there. Trampling through the mud, smelling the gunpowder, experiencing the elements. The choice to opt for very little in the way of conventional score was a good one – it keeps things feeling real. There isn’t a component of 1917 that doesn’t surpass the rest of what I saw this year. An incredible film.
Well that’s 2020 done and dusted! I didn’t get to see everything that was on offer but I hope there’s some good recommendations in here for readers. Until next year….