Because all the shows being cancelled, like many of us, I’ve spend more time sitting at home than I usually do. Take away not only the shows, but heading into Chicago for movie screenings, or just gathering with friends, it meant much more time in the Krypt. But what that means is that I’ve set a personal record for the number of movies that I’ve watched this year. I think previously my records were in the high 200s. I don’t think I’ve ever broken even 300. Well, this year, I’ve watched a total of 422 titles. So yeah, I took advantage of all of that extra time. Plus, while I usually tend to watch a lot of movies that I’ve seen before, 259 of that total were new movies, or at least new to me. That is one of the many things I love about cinema, that there will never be a time when there won’t be new titles to discover. Whether they were made last month, or a century ago, if you keep looking, you’ll find some amazing pieces of cinema out there.
As always, I need to preface this list with my usual statement that I consider all films that I’m watching for the first time as a “new films”. So for my Best Of, it would be for any film that I’ve watched for the first time during the year. So it doesn’t mean it has to be released in 2020. For my Best Viewings for 2020, the final ten changed several times before I finally agreed on the ones below. At first, most of them were from the last five years, which usually isn’t the case. But after going through and re-thinking some of my choices, there are a few older titles that I experienced for the first time that really blew me away. But as you can see in the honorable mentions at the bottom, there were quite a few exceptional titles that came out in the last couple of years. The final ten are listed below in alphabetical order.
Doctor Sleep (2019) – Going into this one, I had not read the book, so I had no preconceived notions or ideas what the movie was about, other than the trailer. And I just loved it. I think it was a very powerful and pretty scary at times, and loved where we see Danny after all these years. I also really was intrigued and fascinated by the way they tied the endings to both King’s original book and Kubrick’s film, since they were much different. I was also blown away by Alex Essoe’s recreation of Shelly Duval’s Wendy. Well done, indeed. Not often a sequel can be this effective, but it really does work and is well worth your time.
His House (2020) – A recent Netflix original that takes a simple idea of a haunted domain, but giving it so much depth and emotion, as well as giving us characters that you’d not expect thrown into this situation. But as the story plays out, it all makes sense. With Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as our main couple, they escape the horrors of their native country only to be thrust into another, but are so afraid of being sent back, they try to ignore what is obviously there. The question becomes what exactly is hiding within the walls of their new house? A nice little shout out to Javier Botet, though he’s tough to recognize him other than his body type! Which is a shame because he really is a true talent.
I Confess (1953) – This was a Hitchcock film that I had never gotten to for some reason, but earlier in the year when I was knocking off a bunch of those missed opportunities, I came across this one and was just amazed by it. In true Hitchcock fashion, it’s not about the secret but how long we go before it is discovered. We know who the murderer is right from the beginning, but spend the rest of the running time in suspense as we watch how this story is going to play out. Montgomery Cliff stars as a young priest that is desperately trying to honor his faith to a holy confession, even if it is for murder. O.E. Hasse also gives an outstanding performance as the caretaker of the church where Cliff is at.
Lured (1947) – This title was mentioned to me by a friend, and when I noticed the cast, I knew I had to see it. While it is more of a thriller / mystery than a straight out horror, it is about a serial killer. What really threw me was the main star was Lucille Ball, someone that I grew up with watching on TV in all of those comedic roles. And here she is alongside Boris Karloff, George Saunders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and George Zucco. I was really blown away at just how good she is in here. But honestly, the real stand-out is George Zucco, who is usually playing crazy characters in low budget films, or just little bit parts, but not here. He’s actually has a great supporting role that almost steals the movie.
The Nightshifter (2018) – I stumbled across this one on Shudder one night and was blown away. I love it when you come across something that has a new concept or idea, or at least is done in a different way. This story is about a man who works in the morgue… that can communicate with the dead. When he uses information he got from a corpse, things get a lot worse. Very effective and really well done.
The Old Ways (2020) – I got to see an advance screener for this one, which just starting hitting film festivals, and again was blown away. With a very small cast, the director delivers a great tale of ancient rites and magic that is still powerful today. The cast is small but does such a great job holding onto the viewer as the story unfolds, we have idea where this is going, but are more than ready to take the journey. It was great to see this small budgeted film be able to deliver the goods as much, or even more, than some of these bigger budgeted films from the studio system. Not sure when this will become available, but when you have the chance, see it.
One Cut of the Dead (2017) – I had heard some positive reviews of this film so decided to take the chance one evening. But I had no idea what the concept was even about. So about 15 minutes into the film, I asked my wife “has there been a cut yet?” Which then made me realize the title and what it meant. There was a lot of strange scenes where you’re wondering what in the hell they are doing. But when the second act starts, it turns into something different. Then when the third act starts, it will have you laughing while you remember the puzzling questions you had about the first act. Very original, and very well done. Really enjoyed this one.
Possessor (2020) – Not sure why, but I had never gotten to Brandon Cronenberg’s directorial debut, Antiviral (2012). But after hearing some great stuff about his latest, I checked it out and was just amazed. He is definitely his father’s son, because he gives us a tale that is right out of something David would have brought us. I loved the originality of it, I loved that we’re not really sure where this is going, story wise, and has a great kick at the end. This guy is definitely going to follow is father and have one hell of a career.
Synchronicity (2015) – Time travel movies are a bitch to do well, while they usually have you spending more time either finding flaws in their theories or time lines, or it is just a garbled mess that makes no sense. But there are a few that do it well, and this is one of them. Director Jacob Gentry, one of the directors behind the standout film The Signal (2007), gives us a slightly futuristic tale, that gives more than a nod to Blade Runner (1982), about an inventor that is on the verge of creating a time machine, but is worried about a strange woman who he thinks is trying to steal it. Could she be working for the man that is paying for the research, or something else. It is one of those films that as it plays out, going back and replying previous scenes, giving you plenty of those moments where it’s kind of like when a light bulb goes off and you sort of see behind the curtain. Very impressive. Plus, always nice seeing Michael Ironside working!
The Vengeance of Lady Morgan (1965) – The reason this is on my list is on my list not just because I thought it was a great film, but also because it is a perfect example of discovering one of those almost lost titles that are more than worthy of your attention. Plus, I love the fact that while you think you know what kind of film it is, it moves off the obvious path and gives you something a little different. Beautifully shot with some amazing gothic sequences, added with a great cast of Euro-cult stars, like Paul Muller, Erika Blanc, and Gordon Mitchell, it really makes this one stand and definitely one you should seek out.
For some honorable mentions, here are the ones that almost made it in the final ten, but not quite. You’ll also notice that all of these came out either in 2019 or 2020, which is pretty impressive since I’m not usually that impressed with newer films. Once again, these are listed in alphabetical order.
Amulet (2020), The Dark and the Wicked (2020), The Hunt (2020), The Influence (2019), The Owners (2020), The Platform (2019), Relic (2020), Shirley (2020), Underwater (2020), The Vast of Night (2019).
I also want to make mention of three documentaries that I saw this year, all of which came out last year, and all are just brilliant. The first one is Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson, directed by David Gregory, the main honcho from Severin Films. I completely understand not everybody is going to pronounce their love of the films directed by Adamson, but I for one am a big fan of them. Yes, they are not that great, some being barely watchable, but there are a few that I just think are amazing, even in a Turkey Day sort of way. I also admired what Adamson was doing, especially with what he had. He was very creative in some of his pictures and how he marketed them.
This documentary not only shows that, but also a lot more behind the scenes of this man, and his life, and unfortunately, his tragic end. Getting to hear from the people that knew and worked with him is endearing and sad, with many of them still feeling the pain of this loss. Kudos to Gregory for bringing attention to this real maverick of independent cinema.
The second one I stumbled across on Amazon Prime and did not expect it to hit me away as much as it did. Growing up in the early 70’s, the Planet of the Apes films were big, especially for us kids. From the cartoons to the live action series that was on Saturday morning, and all the toys that helped market them, it was very popular. Making Apes: The Artists Who Changed Film is about the making of this film, but in regards to the makeup effects and the people behind it, mainly John Chambers, the main makeup guy in charge, and his assistant, Tom Burman. Burman wrote and produced this love letter to Chambers and the craft itself, making a film which would inspire so many people to get into the field of makeup special effects. It really is a touching tribute not to just the film series, but those that made it possible to look as good as it does. Remembering that this was 1968, which a lot of makeup products and techniques were still being created and developed, it makes the end result even more impressive. A very heartfelt tribute that needs to be seen.
The last one seems like it is a pseudo-docudramas about Italian director Lucio Fulci, called Fulci for Fake (2019), but is really about an actor doing research about the man by talking to those that worked and knew him. It is a fascinating look at this enigmatic director and maybe why he was the way he was. We get to not only hear about him, but see plenty of old family footage of him and his family. I guarantee you’ll see and learn more about Fulci than you thought before. A really nice tribute to this incredible talented director that still seems to be underappreciated in most of the cinematic world besides the horror genre.
If you haven’t seen any of these, I strongly urge you to check them out. I guarantee you won’t look at the subject matters the same way.