Did they really do a full Academy Awards show for 2020?

Third-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao, the first woman of color to win the Best Director trophy, share a moment on the set of Best Picture winner Nomadland. Zhao also wrote and edited the film and both are credited as producers. Image courtesy Searchlight Pictures.

I spent January dicking around, procrastinating on the usual year-end routines for a film writer. Going through those particular motions after 2020, acting like we’d gotten a full slate of movies, felt dishonest. It felt boring. I didn’t do a top 10 list. I struggled to write a “most important films” list even in the presence of fascinating case studies like Birds of Prey, Trolls World Tour and Mulan, I couldn’t bring myself to. I ended up just blathering about Tenet and the HBOmax move two months after the fact and leaving it at that.

But most of the merit to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is in the normalcy of the routine and the bully pulpit winners get. This is how the people behind the curtains of the world’s most powerful factory for history’s most democratizing art form express and perform their values, how they view the work they’ve done and what they want to see going forward. After a year when the basic acceptance of reality became a partisan issue, there’s more merit to that performance than usual. It’s not about pretending we had a full slate of movies last year, it’s about the symbolic power of the awards.

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Guy Ritchie must be stopped

Images courtesy United Artists Releasing.

2/10 Fourteen months into a lockdown that feels like it will never end even as it draws to a close, the world under coronavirus is still uncanny. Masks are still as mandatory as they ever were, work is still remote and the theatrical release schedule is still in a strange state of disarray. Now, the first weekend in May, 13 years after Iron Man established it as Marvel’s signature time slot, is dedicated to people who still think Guy Ritchie is an auteur.

Los Angeles- Security professional Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) begins work at an armored truck company. He is mysterious and aloof with his coworkers, but soon becomes the center of everyone’s attention when he single-handedly slaughters a crew trying to hold up one of his deliveries. Hill’s coworkers eventually begin to speculate that he is some kind of vengeful spirit who had come to them to avenge himself on Los Angeles’ apparently extensive and thriving network of armored truck robbers.

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Dreamy ‘In the Earth’ kicks off the era of COVID reaction films

Images courtesy Neon.

7/10 In the Earth is meant to be a better class of COVID-19 era horror, and it’s all right. It certainly has the pandemic on its mind, at least.

In the throes of a global pandemic, park ranger Alma (Ellora Torchia) escorts scientist Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) on a supply run to assist an old colleague who is searching for a homeopathic cure for the virus. The research site is a two-day hike into the forest, which is purported by ancient Celts to be haunted by the spirit of the woods, Parnag Fegg.

The film is packed into three stilted acts – one of Alma and Lowery marching through the woods, one of them being kidnapped and tortured by a weirdo who lives there and one after they finally reach Olivia Wendle’s (Hayley Squires) research site.

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‘Mortal Kombat’ finally accepted as official first good video game movie

Mortal Kombat delights in iconic moves from the game, such as Sub Zero’s blood dagger. Images courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

6/10 It’s been said too often by too many people that there has never been a good cinematic video game adaptation – too often and by too many people because that isn’t true. There are plenty of perfectly enjoyable video game movies. Max Payne is a personal favorite, Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Tomb Raider are at least good enough to be thought of as movie franchises now, and Detective Pikachu and Rampage have delighted in recent years.

Much of this impression is rooted in the mid-90s, when the first generation of arcade rats were coming into adulthood and movies were first being made to cater to them, and New Line Cinema released Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, two of the most reviled movies ever made. The crowd of people who prefer video games to movies anyway took these low-quality offerings as a personal slight, and they haven’t stopped complaining about it for a quarter century.

Now it’s 2021, and with New Line Cinema still in charge, though it’s owned by Warner Bros. now, and the third Mortal Kombat movie, which was conceived as a sequel but took so long to get off the ground they reworked it as its own franchise starter, has finally hit theater and computer screens, and it’s a blast.

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‘Voyagers’ a lusty ode to lust itself, too concerned with source material

Images courtesy Lionsgate.

9/10 Voyagers is a spectacular exercise in film editing and set design, a wonderful tribute to the rage of puberty and a slightly overcommitted tribute to William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies, which ends up being its main downfall.

Aboard the Humanitas, late 21st century- The Humanitas hurtles through space on an 86-year multigenerational mission to colonize the first habitable planet humanity has discovered. Its crew, who appear to be in their early 20s, have been genetically engineered specifically for the voyage and raised in isolation so they will not miss home during a journey only their grandchildren were meant to see the end of. The only crewmate who was not bred for the mission is Richard Alling (Colin Farrell), who raised the children and joined the mission to help them see it through, knowing he would die onboard.

Chris and Zac (Tye Sheridan and Fionn Whitehead) discover that the blue medication they are given every day is a drug meant to kill their sex drive and dampen their pleasure response, and they stop taking it. The two and their followers go through what is essentially a compound puberty, gaining an early-20s sex drive in a flash, but also exploring non-sexual ways to stimulate themselves for the first time. Chaos reigns onboard.

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