It should surprise no one to hear me say that 2020 was a unique year. This “uniqueness” manifested itself in many unfortunate ways and we are not denying that here at SoulRide. But on the lighter side, this historic annus bizarro resulted in me – and probably many of us – having a unique movie-watching year. Little theatre-going, for one thing. But for me the difference was felt in sheer bulk, sheer quantity. It was a record-setting year for viewing for me, one I don’t expect to better until I retire. Then I hope to obliterate these numbers.
It goes without saying then that my numbers are way up from last year and the year before. During 2020, like many of you, I was forced to sit at home for roughly eight weeks. While I had it illuminated for me that isolation was less comfortable for some and challenging and borderline lethal for the physical and mental health of others, for me and with my family situation, it brought about nothing but time, the precious time I always wish I had. Time I spent watching 337 movies or 95 more than the amount I watched in 2019. 2020 featured an astounding 66 movies watched during the month of April; a record for me that may never be broken. Of my 337 films watched, 170 of them I watched for the first time, or 45 more than last year. I was able to get to the theatre eight times, down only six from last year. Not bad considering I only got out to see a movie during January and February of 2020.
Along with a huge jump in numbers, there was a related jump in highlights – and lowlights. As I said, I did get to the theatre some before they shut down and I enjoyed – in consecutive weeks, actually – 1917, The Gentlemen, The Rhythm Section and Clint’s Richard Jewell. In the latter film, the plight of the character affected me so that I remember getting quite emotional as I walked home through the theatre’s parking lot. A major theatre disappointment was Bad Boys for Life; I expected it to be hilarious but found it deadly dull.
As I did in 2019, I enjoyed a Cinema ’70 series and tried to watch a number of 50-year old films. I got to 18 of them and, again, there were highs and lows. The highs included Colossus: The Forbin Project, Crescendo with Stefanie Powers, the film Roger Moore said was the favourite of all he had made, The Man Who Haunted Himself, was excellent as was moustachioed Rock Hudson’s war film, Hornet’s Nest. I love blaxploitation films for their hard edge so when one is kind of goofy, like Cotton Comes to Harlem, I was disappointed. Equinox was a supernatural horror film that has apparently been praised by both George Lucas and Ray Harryhausen but I thought it was lame. The Rebel Rousers was a biker flick that was unbearable despite a decent cast and Zabriskie Point was surreal and hard to watch though I emerged with a fascinated respect for it.
Maybe the biggest movie highlight of the year was A Sadness I Chose, the feature film debut of my youngest son, Palmer Wells. My wife and I had to do some sacrificing to facilitate his work in our house and elsewhere over a period of months but she and I were proud of not only the finished product but his dedication and his hard work. I suggest you join the growing throng of viewers who are enjoying this award-winning film on YouTube. Take a look here.
As in past years, there were a few films I watched multiple times. Again, I enjoyed more than once films of Elvis Presley’s and this year they were Fun in Acapulco and Kid Galahad. In December, I also doubled up on one of my Top 25 favourite movies, The Thin Man.
Here are the rest of the highlights and lowlights of the films I saw for the first time in 2020.
In a Lonely Place (1950) — Every spring, I gravitate to film noir and the spring of 2020 found me sitting at home for eight weeks so I made myself a list of all the noirs and neo-noirs I wanted to watch and I got through most of them. I always hear that Lonely Place is the favourite film of noir expert and host of TCM’s Noir Alley Eddie Muller and I decided I needed to see it. The film and the performances of Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame are indeed striking. Sometimes the memories of having watched a film can add to the sheen of a movie. Here I was, in lockdown, hunkered down in my basement late at night watching maybe the greatest film noir ever made. It has an effect on me and I go outside for a walk afterwards to ponder it. The surreal quiet and emptiness of the streets made for perfect contemplation of the film and I recall the experience – though things were crazy and uncertain at the time – with much fondness.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) — I don’t much truck with films about the devil so I had avoided this film for years. Hallowe’en of 2020, though, had me curious enough to check it out – courtesy my kids’ subscription to Amazon Prime. The satanic elements aside, here was an absolutely riveting mystery film. While you understood the premise and “knew” basically what was going to happen, watching it play out slowly and with much suspense was unsettling, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Hard to watch and hard to look away, I emerged with much respect for Mia Farrow who I had never much cared for. And much props to William Castle, the purveyor of schlock who has this one fine masterpiece on his resume.
Silent Night, Lonely Night (1968) — The wonder of discovery. How often have you stumbled blindly upon a film and been enchanted? How many times have you been flicking channels or searching the streams idly and something has caught your eye? Often in the past, I’ve had Turner Classic Movies on in the background and a film has started. I prick up my ears and eyes, dial in and 90 minutes later I’m gobsmacked. This is a good feeling. Christmas of 2020 found me searching for classic Christmas programming on good, ol’ YouTube. I started a playlist someone had built that started with some well-loved chestnuts from Rankin-Bass and then went into the delightful and new-to-me Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas. After this came a quiet film that starred Lloyd Bridges and Shirley Jones from 1968 called Silent Night, Lonely Night. At first I was heavily NOT interested because of my feelings towards the premise. But I was slowly drawn in to this tender and melancholy tale of life, love and infidelity. A true diamond I found in the rough, you can read my thoughts here.
Other highlights include: later day Sinatra in The First Deadly Sin, And Two If By Sea: The Hobgood Brothers, an excellent documentary on surfing twins C.J. and Damien, another great doc, Beyond the Sea: The Mariel Boatlift which I wrote up, The Vast of Night, Fifties radio/sci-fi recommended by Koop Kooper, and two great noirs, one new, one old; Gun Crazy (1950) and Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn (2019). I was also pleasantly surprised by Bruce Willis’ remake of Death Wish and by Clint’s The Beguiled (1971). I had fun with the Live Tweet Gang from #TCMParty watching the concert film T.A.M.I. Show (1964) and watching the countdown to the YouTube premiere of another great documentary Herb Alpert Is…. During Christmas I discovered the unique and intriguing Christmas Eve (1947) starring George Raft and Randolph Scott.
The Third Man (1949)/The Night of the Hunter (1955) — I know, I know; here’s where ya’ll want to take me out back and smack me around, I know. These two films are considered among – what? – the five or six best noirs ever made so, during my springtime descent into dark alleys and back streets I made sure to watch these two. I think my issue with The Third Man was it’s setting; not Los Angeles or New York, or even Chicago, Kansas City or even North America! This British film being set in Vienna really threw me. And perhaps it was The Night of the Hunter‘s rural setting that didn’t seem right. Additionally, the ending seemed like scenes from two other movies spliced into this one. I will say this; I totally understand that these films are good. I get that. Because I didn’t “latch” with them on first viewing does not comment on their quality and I feel I will need to revisit them in the near future. Like a lot of the best films ever made, they bear repeated viewings.
Super Fly (1972) — Daddy loves him some blaxploitation and this year I was embarrassed never to have seen the most notable – after Shaft – of this genre. I’ve never watched Super Fly mostly, I think, because Ron O’Neal has a unique “look”, one that seems to me to be different from that of Richard Roundtree’s in the Shaft film. I could not find a stream that offered me Super Fly so I went shopping for it on DVD/Blu-ray but found it expensive enough that I hesitated, it being a movie I’ve never seen. So, for the first time, I bought it on YouTube! Unfortunately, the film is low-budget in a bad way. It is not compelling or action-packed enough to make you forget this. Luckily, now I own it (**eyeroll emoji**). I will stick to Curtis Mayfield’s excellent soundtrack.
They Call Me Trinity (Lo chiamavano Trinità…)  — Here was a hard lesson for me and this may come down to my own expectations, too. I spoke earlier about how it is the dark drama that I like about blaxploitation so when they play it goofy I tune out. Almost the exact same can be said for spaghetti westerns. When Sergio Leone teams with Ennio Morricone, I enter a state of bliss. There is a distinct aura to a good spaghetti western. This world is dire, it is desperate, it is dangerous and things will likely not work out. People will die and knowing that they died to the sweeping sounds of Morricone’s orchestra likely will be no solace as they collapse into the hard Spanish dirt. Conversely, if you put a couple of clowns on horseback and send them on a slapstick adventure that, to me, is the opposite of what a spaghetti should be. Trinity killed two birds for me; it was part of my Cinema ’70 series and it was a western to watch early in the year, which is something I like to do. If only I had enjoyed it.
Other lowlights include: What’s New Pussycat? – ridiculous. How disappointed I was with The Pride and the Passion (1957). Although it stars Frank Sinatra, it sat on my Yet to Be Watched shelf forever, probably because of its 132-minute length. But sitting home for two months allowed me to get through even the longest movies – and still have time for six more. Not only does Francis play a Spaniard but the film simply dragged for me. I was so pumped to watch Model Shop (1969) one night on TCM. I had heard so much about the remarkable location shooting. While seeing much of Los Angeles circa 1969 was great – so was seeing dishy Alexandra Hay – the film just laid there. Sometimes “nothing happens” is okay but not here. Add to this the loathsome character Gary Lockwood plays and this is a dud.
I hoped that Zero Dark Thirty (2012) would do well telling the fascinating story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and while the hunt may have been portrayed well I was repulsed by the fictional character played by Jessica Chastain. The script had her acting in a clichéd and generally irredeemable manner. It was my own fault to assume Operation Petticoat (1959) was a drama but this comedy fell flat for me. My man, Tony Curtis, plays a guy so insubordinate that I almost hated him. The comedy was cornball and it was much too long. Joining the list of neo-noirs I watched but couldn’t understand or appreciate or enjoy was Point Blank (1967), a film that looks great but during which, nothing happens. I have much respect for another neo-noir, Dragged Across Concrete (pictured above, 2018) owing much to the cast including Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn and Don Johnson and to a compelling and unique story. But “slow” is not a strong enough description for this film that at 159 minutes almost seems 3 hours too long. These last two could bear a second viewing.
Films from 1920’s – 1940’s — 53 (+9)
1950’s — 39 (+9)
1960’s — 60 (-2)
1970’s — 58 (+36)
1980’s — 30 (+2)
1990’s – present — 97 (+42)