Some people would have you believe the 2020s didn’t actually start until 2021. Probably the same people who insist that, because there is no year 0, the 20th century didn’t start until January 1st 1901. Seems a little pedantic if you ask me.
Films watched in January 2021:
- It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)
- His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
- Charulata (Satyajit Ray, 1964)
- Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
- The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
- sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)
- A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, 1998)
- The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)
- Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
- In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
- The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)
Films reviewed, but not watched in January 2021:
On occasion, I’m asked why I tend to single out 2018 as one of the worst years in the history of cinema. The answer is similar to why rock critics tend to single out 1974 as the single worst year in the history of their own field. If you’re not giving it much thought, it seems like a weird choice because 1974 certainly didn’t have a dearth of good music – far from it, in fact; superb albums such as Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, and Henry Cow’s Unrest all saw their release in 1974 – and that’s only barely scratching the surface.
No, to fully comprehend why the year has such an infamous reputation, you have to look at what was topping the pop charts at the time. Should you do so, you’ll realize the year was a hotbed for the most lightweight, kitschiest tunes imaginable (and some that go beyond that because most sane people couldn’t imagine tunes that lightweight or kitschy). The 1970s may be worshipped by cinephiles and music fans alike as a time for artistic freedom and daringness, but it’s easy to forget just how certifiably lame both mediums could get if you weren’t there seeing the cheese unfold (unmold?) in real time. Just to name one example, I have little doubt “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace would’ve been the worst popular song of any year leading up to 1974, but on lists lambasting the worst songs of that particular year, it seldom cracks the bottom ten (and if it does, it usually hovers around #6 at worst). The sad thing? I can believe it was indeed not the worst song of that year. Todd in the Shadows put it best in his own assessment, realizing that when baby boomers say the 1970s was a worse decade for music than the 1960s, they meant that “it’s not that the good music was less good; it’s that your average music got so much worse [emphasis not added]”.
That’s more or less where I stand when it comes to my assessment of 2018 for films (and the 2010s in general when it comes to cinema), although it wasn’t even that 2018 had an unusually high number of bad films; if anything, 2017 had far greater number of infamously bad films with The Last Jedi being worse than anything I saw in 2018 – and keep in mind that 2017 somehow managed to be worse even without Dinesh D’Souza around to stink up the joint. No, instead my declaration of 2018 being one of the worst years in the history of cinema is based off of the fact that the good films of 2018 were indeed decidedly less good than those of 2017 with Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace being the sole, standalone, Western effort that can claim to be truly great. And the worst part is that it would’ve slipped underneath my radar had I not been watching Rotten Tomatoes like a hawk because it got practically no coverage from the press. Because I tend to see acclaimed films exclusively and distributors had no idea what they were doing, that is why I can say, in this case, the average films became worse.
As late as 2017, I found myself siding with critics over average moviegoers. But, then something changed; suddenly, critics began missing the mark with increasing frequency, coming down to weaker conclusions, lashing out at their audience when they didn’t see eye-to-eye, and relying on emotions over logic. I tend to cite The Last Jedi as the moment film critics jumped the shark, but I think we also have CinemaSins’s disinterested, anemic style of criticism to blame for this sudden shift. They themselves should get several Sin Points for officially making objective criticism uncool in the film critical circle because as a result of their antics, anyone could become a certified film critic as long as they played nicely with the prevailing sensibilities, credibility be damned.
Granted, I had seen plenty of films that didn’t live up to the critical hype before 2018 (District 9, Nightcrawler, and Ex Machina to name a few – and if we’re extending it to older films I saw at home before or after 2018, then Vertigo, Blowup, and Breathless can be added to that list), but that was usually limited to a once-per-year deal (if at all). In 2018, on the other hand, the critical darlings typically came in two flavors: lightweight (Eighth Grade, Gloria Bell, etc.) or quixotic (Hereditary, Vice, High Life, etc.). While film critics praised the directors thereof for their vision, it just reinforced the idea that they were seriously lagging behind artists in other mediums in terms of creativity (most notably anime and video games). It’s what happens when your medium has ruled the entertainment world for decades and has grown complacent as a result.
This brings us to Upgrade, which is not only emblematic of everything wrong with 2018 as a year for films, but contemporary Western science-fiction. I have, on numerous occasions, referred to the 2010s as the Dark Age of Science Fiction due to the narrative shifting away from the wonderment of what new technology could bring to a romanticized, Luddite lament over a world angry screenwriters felt was changing for the worse. It’s like what would happen if those annoying edgelords who post misanthropic comments in YouTube videos and TvTropes pages somehow managed to coopt an entire genre. While I’m sure at least some of them had humanity’s best interests at heart, it’s difficult to dismiss the idea that most of them were simply mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore – and wanted to make sure every single one of their audience members knew they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it anymore by the time the credits rolled. There’s a world of difference between spinning a cautionary tale and venting to your audience for two hours.
Now, technology, the excessive usage thereof, and tech companies are absolutely not beyond criticism, but much like how film critics abandoned objectivity like a dead trend once CinemaSins took off, I have to wonder why so many artists around that time felt abandoning or shunning technology was a preferable alternative. I can’t look at the idea of technology restoring one’s hearing and hypothetical implants that could allow a paraplegic to walk again and thinking to myself “Yeah, we need less science in our lives”. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but considering that science-fiction writers in the 2010s were far better at pointing out problems than proposing solutions, I find I can’t help but extrapolate a hypothetical solution based on what they’re complaining about.
Speaking on a more general level, I find that if a 2010s film fails, you can comfortably bet your bottom dollar that it’s because the writers didn’t think through their implications. Upgrade has much in common with Ex Machina in that, because its own writer did indeed not think through his implications, it is deeply anti-intellectual. It’s to the point where I’ve even asked myself which one is worse, and more often than not, I am stumped for an answer. Upgrade at its best is better than Ex Machina at its best on top of being far less pretentious, but that just made it a far bigger disappointment when it crashed and burned in the final act. Even if I were to definitively say which one is better somewhere down the line, I want to make it perfectly clear that neither film could be considered a winner; the real question is which film fails less. Regardless, if you’re looking for an actual good science-fiction piece from around the same time, stick with Blade Runner 2049.
My Games of 2020 – With 2020 over, there are many year-end lists in the blogosphere. From what I’ve gathered, 2020 was actually a fairly good year for gaming despite all the craziness. Gaming Omnivore details some pretty interesting ones, reminding me that I need to check out Hades at some point.
The Worst of 2020 – And in the opposite direction, we have Ola G writing a “Worst Of” list for 2020. You’d think that the pandemic would halt the creation of bad art, but some managed to find a way. Granted, some of the pieces featured weren’t actually released in 2020, but it made for a rollercoaster either way.
Entitlement Gone Wrong – What is it with the most boisterous people ending up being the most thin-skinned? Ospreyshire muses on this strange bit of cognitive dissonance in a poem of his.
Looking back and ahead: 2021 – Once again 2020 is over. It sucked. Therefore, Nepiki wrote about what to look forward to in 2021. Thanks for the shout!
The Women who Preceded Google – Ever wondered how people found out stuff before the invention of online search engines? Desk Set, which Ruth of Silver Screenings reviews, provides a possible prototypical solution.
Gushing about Bastion – Speaking of Supergiant games I should check out, Aether talks about Bastion. If what I’ve heard of it is true, it’s a stellar example of video-game storytelling, which is something I can totally get behind.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) Movie Review – Wonder Woman 1984 is shaping up to be one of those legendary disasters in the same league as The Last Jedi, though unlike the latter, it appears this one didn’t wow critics. Lashaan Balasingam’s takedown is definitely worth reading.
Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus Review – Scott of the Wizard Dojo has been checking out the Oddworld series. Puzzle-platformers are pretty difficult to get right due to the sheer amount of opposing forces of the two genres, so seeing a successful example has definitely piqued my interest.
Games In 2021 I’m Excited For – Seems as though there are plenty of interesting games to look forward to in 2021. Stephen Brown the Honest Gamer takes a look at several potentially interesting ones.
CD-PROJEKT RED Approach to Developing on Consoles was Wrong? – Were AAA gaming companies contractually obligated to be in a scandal in 2020? A year where everyone was stuck at home should’ve been a slam dunk for them, but many of them completely blew it. According to Emon Yagami, this includes CD Projekt RED’s botched launch for Cyberpunk 2077. Probably not the best idea to release your game on a console that can’t handle it.
Seven things that remind me of my childhood – Being part of the reason he writes what he writes, AK muses on seven things that give him a sense of nostalgia. I do like that he doesn’t go the “Everything was so much better back when I was a kid” route with it.
154 – Matt of Hi-Fi Adventures takes a look at Wire’s third (junior?) album 154, which is named after the number of gigs the band had played by that point. I would go as far as saying it’s my favorite Wire album, though I did like seeing what Matt had to say about it.
Links to my articles:
- Upgrade (3/10) [Penalized]