The Worst of 2020

“All of it,” I hear you cry. Yes, ok, ha ha, very funny. Obviously I’m specifically talking about the worst films of 2020.

Regular readers will know I normally include this list in my “best of” post — a sort of counterbalance to any chance of relentless positivity; a reminder that, for all the smooth, there’s always some rough. Maybe we don’t need that kind of thing for 2020, but tradition is tradition. Of course, putting this list in its own post is some kind of break with tradition anyway. But the reason is simple: I’m still working on my “best of” list — it’s a long’un, being 10% of my total viewing, and this being my biggest year ever. That also means the “best of” post will be a plenty long enough read without this little dose of misery in there. So here it is by itself instead.

A quick reminder: I select my best and worst lists from all 264 films I saw for the first time in 2020, not just new releases.



The 5 Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2020

As revealed in my stats post, I only handed out two one-star ratings this year. In retrospect, perhaps I was too generous, because to get this “worst of” selection down to just five films I had to leave out several movies that I really, really disliked. Here’s what I pared it down to, in alphabetical order…

Hunter Killer
This throwback-ish techno-thriller really wants to be an exciting submarine adventure in the mould of The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide, but it can’t rise above the level of ‘wannabe’. It’s mired with an implausible plot and bizarre casting (Gary Oldman is prominent in the marketing, but he’s barely in the film itself). It just doesn’t have the smarts to successfully emulate the Tom Clancy style it so desperately aspires to.

Lovers Rock
Sight & Sound ranked this the best film of 2020. Its appeal clearly isn’t limited to the arthouse crowd, because Empire ranked it 7th in their list. But I didn’t get it at all. If you told me director Steve McQueen tricked the BBC into paying for an elaborate ’80s theme party by just filming it, sticking some credits on his raw footage, and handing it over with the claim “yeah, this is a real movie — it’s got a screenplay credit and everything”, I’d believe you.

The Man Who Sleeps
Never mind being one of the best films of the year — this was ranked as one of the 250 best films of all time by Letterboxd users. It’s dropped off that list now, but not before I bothered to watch it, unfortunately. Like Lovers Rock, it’s a crushing bore; 70-something minutes spent watching a man do virtually nothing. Un homme qui dort? More like Un homme qui t’endort. [Full review]

Some Beasts
A family’s trip to a remote island goes awry when interpersonal tensions overflow into arguments and abuse. It’s a bit slow and self-consciously arty, but that’s not its real sin. That comes in the final 20 minutes, when it throws in an extreme plot development with no time — nor, I think, inclination — to responsibly engage with its consequences. I’m loathe to call any film “offensive”, but this probably comes the closest of anything I’ve seen. [Full review]

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman: The Movie still stands up as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Its sequels show you how a franchise can die. 2 and 3 are bad enough, but The Quest for Peace is by far the worst — a joyless anti-nuclear polemic, with low production values and iffy storytelling. The only bright spots are the talented returning cast, but they’re better appreciated by just rewatching the first one again. [Full review]


The 26 best films I saw for the first time in 2020.

The Past Month on TV #63

There’s all sorts of stuff I thought I’d’ve got round to for this TV column — Cobra Kai season 2; more of The Twilight Zone; Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit; finally starting The bloody Mandalorian — but I haven’t seen any of them. So, rather than keep pushing this post back and back, here’s what little I have watched that’s worth commenting on in the almost-two-months-now since my last TV review.

Young Wallander  Season 1
Young WallanderI think that Swedish detective Kurt Wallander’s USP, if he has one, was that he wasn’t some young hotshot maverick genius, like so many fictional detectives, but rather a middle-aged, somewhat disillusioned, almost workaday cop who got the job done. So a series about his younger days already seems like it might be missing half the point. But it’s worked for other TV detectives (most notably Morse in the acclaimed Endeavour), so why not? After all, seeing what police work in 1970s Sweden was like might be interesting — it’s certainly a different setting, anyway.

Well, that’s Young Wallander‘s first misstep: this isn’t about the young life of canonical Wallander, it’s a modern-day reboot. So, you’ve removed the obvious character traits and you’ve changed when it’s set — what makes this Wallander as opposed to Generic Swedish Cop? That was the question I had after watching the trailer and, sadly, I still wondered it after watching the series in full. At least the storyline is Wallander-ish, all about nationalism and refugees and how they’re treated. That may sound very timely, given what’s been going on politically over the last five to ten years, and it is; but it’s also the kind of thing Wallander’s original creator, Henning Mankell, often wrote about before that. But that makes it a mixed blessing: yes, it’s the kind of story you can imagine a ‘real’ Wallander text tackling, but it’s also such a present-day issue that that doesn’t matter; it’s the kind of plot any drama might choose to take on right now.

The production itself is a strange international hybrid: made by Swedish production company Yellow Bird (though actually shot elsewhere in Europe, I believe), but with a British writer and mostly British cast speaking English, while thankfully not trying to emulate the accent. That’s except for Wallander himself, who’s played by a Swede, who has kind of retained his accent. In a story all about national identity, it’s kind of ironic that Wallander sounds like the only Swedish man in Sweden.

I can see why the Wallander rights-holders would want the brand to continue, because it’s been very popular in various incarnations, in particular the Swedish series starring Krister Henriksson and the British series starring Kenneth Branagh. But between those, and the previous series of Swedish TV movies starring Rolf Lassgård, every one of Mankell’s original novels has been adapted twice, plus the invention of about 30 original-for-TV stories — so, if you want to continue the character, a new direction does feel called for. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. It’s too generic, lacking any uniqueness that makes you feel this is a story that could only be told — or even should be told — using the Wallander brand. Even leaving that aside — if you had no previous attachment to the character and so just approached this as an original cop drama — the series is less than great. It’s not outright bad, just thoroughly middling, with an underwhelming finale that leaves plot threads dangling; and it’s not clear if it’s meant to be a realistic “not everything gets tied up” ending, or if they’re hoping to pick up on them in a second season.

The only good thing to come out of all this, for me, was that it’s reminded me I still have a bunch of adaptations starring Lassgård that I’ve never watched, so it’ll be nice to go visit those. And then revisit the Henriksson series at some point, because it was excellent; and maybe the Branagh one too, because that was also really good. But if Young Wallander manages to bag itself a recommission, I’m not sure I’ll bother with it.

Jonathan Creek  Series 5 Episodes 2-3 + 2016 Christmas Special
Jonathan Creek: Daemons' RoostI noted last time that Jonathan Creek seems to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. It was a huge hit when it first aired in the ’90s, and a revival in 2009 was a big ratings success too, but the sporadic specials made since then have seen it drift further and further from the spark that once made it special. The nadir was the premiere episode of series 5, which didn’t even function properly as an episode of the show. The remaining two instalments of that short run are better, but still nowhere near the series’ early-day highs. The third one, The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, includes an array of terrible subplots that make you wish it was considerably shorter (it’s only an hour long but feels like two), but its mystery is still the nearest these latter-day Creeks have come to its heyday.

A saving grace comes in the last (for now) episode, 2016 Christmas special Daemons’ Roost. Is it the last-ever episode? Many online listings treat it as such, but the four years since it aired means if another episode popped up it wouldn’t be the longest gap in the series’ history. But if it is the last time we ever get to see the character, it’s actually not a bad one to go out on; in fact, thought it was a real return to form. As with many later episodes, it struggles to get Jonathan involved in the case — daft, really, because, after he had the same problem right back in series 1, writer David Renwick came up with a way to just throw Jonathan and Maddy into the case every episode… then undid that after series 4, since when we’ve once again been subjected to long-winded reasonings for Jonathan to get involved. So, once again, it takes a while to get going (Jonathan doesn’t get properly involved until 40 minutes in), but once it ramps up there are some neat mysteries and bags of Gothic atmosphere. I always feel Creek is at its best when it’s invoking that almost Hammer Horror vibe. There are also some nice nods to the series’ history, which is the main reason it feels like it could serve fittingly as a “finale” if needs must.

Though, personally, I’d love to see Jonathan reunited with Maddy for one final case; and I’m happy to wait for a one-off special when Renwick’s got a good idea, because we’ve seen how wrong it goes when he forces it.

Also watched…
  • Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers — After enjoying his Netflix special that I watched last time, I watched the other. This one starts dark… and gets darker. I loved that, but I can see he’s not for everyone.
  • Demetri Martin: The Overthinker — After enjoying his Netflix special that I watched last time, I watched the other. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much — it was, ironically, overthought. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
  • Small Axe Episode 1 — Just to note that I’ll be counting these as films, because that’s what they are, really, aren’t they? I suppose the counterargument is it’s an anthology miniseries because they’re premiering on TV, but nah — especially as several of them actually premiered at a film festival.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 11 Episodes 2-4 — I’m even way behind on Bake Off! I’ve managed to avoid most spoilers, at least, so I’ll catch up soon.

    Things to Catch Up On
    His Dark Materials series 2This month, I have mostly been missing His Dark Materials, the second series of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy. Of course, I’ve been missing lots of stuff (that was kind of the theme of my introduction, remember?), but that’s one of the most pressing to me personally. You might argue The Mandalorian, also on its second season, is even more pertinent, what with it regularly being thoroughly discussed online, but I’ve not even started that yet. His Dark Materials, on the other hand, I do expect to watch soon.

    Next month… His Dark Materials season 2, probably. What else, only time will tell.