April’s Failures

I guess I could begin this months’ failures with the same film as last time: The Batman. It was still in cinemas for most of the month, but I still didn’t work out my schedule to see it. It’s now on “home premiere”, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay £16 to watch it once when I’ve already preordered the 4K Blu-ray for £30-odd. So, that’s one that’ll be getting watched in June, then.

As for new releases at the cinema, there have been plenty worth a mention, but none that have actually dragged me out. Well, the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Bad Guys were never going to tempt me to spend cinema-level time and money, but I’m sure they’ll go on my watchlist once they hit a streamer I already pay for. Similar story with what looks like it’ll be the last of the Fantastic Beasts films (due to low box office), The Secrets of Dumbledore, although I’ll likely buy that one on disc to complete my collection. The nearest I’ve come to actually venturing out is Robert Eggers’ new one, The Northman, but obviously that didn’t happen either. There have also been strong notices for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which I was surprised to see screening at my local Odeon (I assumed it was an indie release that’d never make it near me). Other major releases that will go on the ‘some day’ watchlist included The Lost City (looks fun), Operation Mincemeat (should I watch The Man Who Never Was first?), and Downton Abbey: A New Era, I guess (I did watch the first movie, but haven’t seen the vast majority of the TV series, so how much do I care?)

Original movies premiering on Netflix included Judd Apatow’s COVID/making of Jurassic World 3 spoof The Bubble, which looked fun but didn’t review well so I’d forgotten about until now, and Richard Linklater’s autobiographical animation Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. But it’s Amazon who have the one that’s most likely to actually find its way to the top of my viewing pile: All the Old Knives, a weirdly meaningless title that hides a grownup spy thriller starring Thandiwe Newton and Chris Pine, amongst others. On Disney+, kid-friendly musical Better Nate Than Ever caught my eye with some solid reviews, but the trailer looks like, well, a live-action Disney movie for kids. I think it might be a Bit Much for my taste.

MUBI again have the most noteworthy post-cinema streaming premiere, with Japanese Oscar winner Drive My Car. They had quite a bit to add to my watchlist this month, in fact, including The Souvenir: Part II (I’ve not seen Part I, but it’s coming back to MUBI tomorrow), Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, The Second Mother (a film that, frankly, I know nothing about, but is a staple of the middle of Letterboxd’s Top 250), The Turin Horse, and Showgirls. Yes, that Showgirls; though, based on its listed running time, I have concerns it might be cut. They’ve also got the documentary that delves into the film’s critical rehabilitation, You Don’t Nomi.

Comfortably in second for such things was Sky Cinema, whose headliners included Dune (which I’ve seen, of course, but still not reviewed) and Venom: Let There Be Carnage (which I already own on disc). More pertinently for me, then, was Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark. I’ve not seen all of The Sopranos — not even close — so do I leave the movie until the theoretical future date when I’ve finally watched the TV series, or, as it’s a prequel, do I just go ahead and watch it anyway? (I don’t have an answer. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to either, dear reader.) Also, The Boss Baby 2. I enjoyed the first more than I expected, so maybe I’ll watch the second.

I don’t think there was anything so new on iPlayer or All 4— I guess they’re hampered in such things by still essentially being TV catchup services — but that does make them more reliable for older stuff worth watching, some of which I’ve never otherwise heard of, like When Eight Bells Toll, a 1970s spy-fi action-thriller with Anthony Hopkins, which obviously sounds up my street. Also the documentary The Truffle Hunters, although reportedly the BBC version is cut for time. Shame.

I don’t think Netflix or Amazon had any catalogue titles in the same league as any of those. I noted down a bunch of stuff for each, but it’s mostly watchlist filler I won’t get round to, or stuff I already own on disc and really should’ve watched. The one exception is Snake Eyes — not the Brian De Palma / Nic Cage thriller, but the G.I. Joe prequel starring possible-next-Bond Henry Golding. It’s the kind of weightless action movie I’ll bung on of a lazy evening someday. Speaking of which, Amazon also (re)added White House Down, which I’d like to rewatch sometime purely because it was quite fun. Whenever I see it pop up on streaming, I add it to my list for a rewatch; yet I’ve never felt any compulsion whatsoever to buy it on disc, despite my huge disc collection being full of total blind buys. Weird.

And talking of blind buys, that’s what makes up the majority of my disc acquisitions this month. Well, I think it always does. Just one thing I bought this month is something I’ve watched before: the BFI’s 4K edition of The Proposition, a film I haven’t seen since the cinema but liked very much back then. That said, I did pick up Network’s bundle marking 50 years of The Persuaders, which included all eight of the films in HD — except the films were edited together from TV episodes, all of which I’ve seen, so… Also in the TV/film grey area (in that it was definitely a TV programme, but it was a one-off feature-length production, so do we count it as a TV movie nowadays or something?) is the BBC’s 1950s production of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which finally made it to disc from the BFI, years after they first tried to release it (I can’t remember when that was, but it was only scheduled for DVD back then).

In the realm of things that are 100% definitely movies, the new Scream (that’d be the fifth Scream movie, sadly missing the opportunity to be called 5cream) is the only brand-new film entering my collection this month. Other new releases were catalogue titles, like Kino’s 4K release of In the Heat of the Night, which comes bundled with its two sequels on regular Blu-ray (did you know it had two sequels? I didn’t); or classic martial arts action from Eureka in the form of Yuen Woo-ping’s Dreadnaught and Sammo Hung’s Knockabout; or the grab-bag release Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror, featuring a trio of lesser-known entries from Universal’s cycle of horror movies in the ’40s and ’50s. And speaking of horror, that may be what Arrow is best known for releasing, but the only titles I bought from them this month were Rogue Cops and Racketeers, a small box set featuring a duo of poliziotteschi (crime/action films made in Italy in the ’70s), and 1990 neo-noir crime thriller King of New York, on sale in 4K.

Finally for this month, Indicator had one of their rare sales, which I used to pick up a mixed bag of titles that were on offer and also recent releases I hadn’t yet bought. In the latter camp were early Mexican horror The Phantom of the Monastery and P.D. James adaptation An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, while the former included The Gorgon (originally from the first volume of their Hammer box set series), neo-noir erotic thriller Jagged Edge, and their lavish edition of a Peter Cushing flick I’d never heard of, Corruption. Based on the fact the limited edition hasn’t sold out, even after being subjected to massive price cuts (I paid just £10.99), I guess a lot of other people hadn’t heard of it either. What inspired Indicator to give it the box set treatment, I don’t know.

March’s Failures

A quieter month in theory means more failures… but, who am I kidding, there are always tonnes of these. I’d probably have to watch ten times as many films to leave this column blank.

The most noteworthy oversight this month is undoubtedly The Batman. I’m a fan of the character anyway, and now they’ve made a version that sounds even more up my street — it’s regularly been compared to films like Se7en, my favourite movie ever. But life has conspired against me, and so I’ve not yet found a time to see it on the big screen. I still might, though I’ve already got the 4K Blu-ray on preorder anyway. That wasn’t the only new film at the cinema this month, although the likes of The Nan Movie and Morbius haven’t received the strongest notices. The new Michael Bay effort, Ambulance, sounds somewhat promising, though definitely something I’ll leave ’til streaming.

Even before that, the list of movies I’ve left to streaming that have now turned up on streaming is beginning to grow. It was a relatively strong month for Sky Cinema (which has ailed a bit over the last couple of years, between a dearth of new theatrical releases and distributors wanting to snaffle exclusivity for their own streamers), adding the likes of Fast & Furious 9, Reminiscence, Malignant, and Don’t Breathe 2; plus M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, Old, although I already own that on an (unwatched, natch) 4K disc. Sky are also the UK-exclusive home for Liam Neeson’s latest action trash, Blacklight, upending my previously-expressed notion that he had some kind of Amazon Prime exclusivity deal going on.

Talking of streaming premieres and Amazon Prime, the best they could offer this month was Deep Water, the Ben Affleck / Ana de Armas erotic thriller that’s had some kind of behind-the-scenes woes I haven’t bothered to follow. On the other hand, they’re also the streaming home for acclaimed Princess Diana biopic Spencer. You win some, you lose some. Netflix’s brand-new offerings were somewhat short on widely-discussed titles (no Oscar noms or headline-grabbing production issues here), but looked like a stronger slate overall. I’ve heard good things about Ryan Reynolds-starring sci-fi The Adam Project; post-apocalyptic Swedish thriller Black Crab seemed to shoot up their viewing chart; Nightride is billed as a “real-time crime thriller”, which sounds up my street; and I also spotted The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure, which looks like a Korean Pirates of the Caribbean. If it lives up to that vibe, which I got from its trailer, then it could be fun. Also not to be overlooked is Boiling Point, another real-time thriller — set in, er, a restaurant kitchen at Christmas — that I’ve heard is very good.

But for all that, the biggest streaming premiere of the month was surely the new Pixar on Disney+, Turning Red. If we ignore the empty-headed ‘controversy’ it generated (essentially, some middle-aged white men struggling with a story that wasn’t about a middle-aged white man), it’s meant to be very good — but I’m way behind on my Disney / Pixar viewing, so it just has to go on the list with Luca, Raya, Encanto, and probably a few others. In a very different mode, they were also the UK home for Fresh, a film which everyone has been talking about while trying to avoid the ‘surprise reveal’. If it’s not about cannibalism, the marketing has done a good job misdirecting my expectations. If it is about cannibalism, I’m not sure why everyone’s pretending it’s such a big secret. Maybe they’re just overly optimistic about what can be kept a surprise these days (the poster’s a dismembered hand packaged like a supermarket steak, c’mon!) Sticking with the big D, they also belatedly (it came out in the US back in January) debuted a belated (the last one was six years ago) continuation for the Ice Age franchise with The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild; plus, streaming debuts for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley; Jessica Chastain’s Oscar winner, The Eyes of Tammy Faye; and the second pandemic-delayed Kenneth Branagh Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile — it slipped in there on the 30th, just in time to make this the second month in a row I’ve mentioned it (after its theatrical debut just last month). I’m inclined to jump straight to buying it on disc, to go with its predecessor (which I enjoyed), and that’s out in April — so it may end up mentioned in my failures three months on the trot. Or maybe I’ll actually watch it — stranger things have happened.

Once the home to deep cuts from the arthouse archive, MUBI increasingly have dibs on new arthouse (read: foreign) hits, at least in the UK. This month that boiled down to the streaming premiere of Cannes winner Titane, but they’ve got a big couple of months ahead, with Oscar nominees Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World likely to feature in future editions of this column. All 4 do the same kind of thing later and freer, albeit with ads, recently including Bacurau, Rita, Sue and Bob Too (both their viewing windows now expired, unfortunately), Her Smell, and Ninjababy. There wasn’t so much noteworthy on the BBC iPlayer this month, although they’ve got back a couple of films I’ve been meaning to get round to for years, like If Beale Street Could Talk and Molly’s Game. I’m also going to mention La Belle Époque, which appeared on there just days after I posted my 5-star review, and is still available.

As always, we end with the place my disposable income goes to die: Blu-ray purchases… although the list doesn’t look so long this month. Indeed, day-one purchases were relatively thin on the ground: I picked up The Matrix Resurrections, because I loved it (and, er, didn’t pay for it first time round…), plus I imported Nightmare Alley on 4K (no UK release seems forthcoming, not even a retailer-exclusive Steelbook), and at the same time nabbed the new 4K release of The Sword and the Sorcerer — never seen it, no idea if I’ll like it, but I do sometimes enjoy a bit of ’80s-style Fantasy, so it’s the kind of thing that’s worth a punt to me. Rounding out my US order was a film I didn’t even know existed until Warner Archive put it out recently, the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, with a starry cast that includes Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, and Vincent Price. Other new releases of older titles that I’ve never included Hong Kong take on Nikita, Black Cat, and Eureka’s latest classic martial arts title, Odd Couple. And then, of course, there were sales and offers: my 4K collection continues to bulge out with Halloween Kills and Venom: Let There Be Carnage from a chart 2-for-whatever; and a bunny-themed double (sort of) in a Disney 2-for-whatever, with Jojo Rabbit and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A UK Criterion 2-for-whatever brought me Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and Topsy-Turvy (I used to love Gilbert and Sullivan’s work as a kid, but I haven’t listened to or seen any of it for ages). Finally-finally, a couple of limited editions I bought belatedly at near-as-damn-it full price before they disappeared forever: the HMV-exclusive edition of Almost Famous (it has both cuts in 4K, which the cheaper regular UK release does not) and Arrow’s Yokai Monsters set — the standard edition of which is already out, at a higher price point than the limited edition. What is the world coming to…

February’s Failures

Once upon a time, I never thought I’d be mentioning a Jackass film on this blog, but the release of revival movie Jackass Forever caused me to seek out the first two in the series, and I do intend to watch the rest eventually. Not going to the cinema for it, though. Or, indeed, anything else this month. Fare like Moonfall and Uncharted is very much in the “wait for streaming” camp for me — I’ll surely watch them both eventually, and it may even turn out I enjoy them, but they’ll wait. I did enjoy Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, so I was tempted by Death on the Nile, but, honestly, I’m still not sold on the whole “living with Covid” thing, so it’s going to take more than that to persuade me out to the cinema. Other things — like animations Belle and Flee — had more limited releases and I don’t even know if they came near me.

The return of the big screen doesn’t mean the streamers have let up on originals, although their quality continues to be variable. I’ve heard good things about Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Kimi, which went straight to Sky Cinema here in the UK, emulating it’s “direct to HBO Max” release Stateside. But their other originals — school shooting thriller The Desperate Hours and language-barrier romcom Book of Love — have received lesser notices. Netflix, on the other hand, could boast Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first film in almost a decade, Bigbug, and yet I’ve seen precisely one tweet mentioning it. Their latest reincarnation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, on the other hand, did seem to generate chatter, but little of it positive. And the less said about Madea and Mrs Brown teaming up for A Madea Homecoming, the better.

In that middle ground of “cinema releases coming quickly to streaming”, MUBI continue to rule with the likes of Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Icelandic folk horror Lamb, although Disney+ come close with Kingsman prequel The King’s Man and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. On a slightly slower track, Sky Cinema also had a pretty strong showing of stuff this month, mainly in the horror realm. We’re talking Freaky, The Forever Purge (I’ve got a couple of others left before I get to that, personally), Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth, and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (I quite enjoyed the first, so I’ll give it a chance). Also, not a horror but it looks horrific: Space Jam: A New Legacy. And quirky British true story comedy Dream Horse, which looks worth it just for the international cast’s attempts at the Welsh accent.

As usual, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and All 4 produced plenty of stuff from deeper in the archive that I’m happy to fill out my watchlist with while clearly being in no rush to get round to. Normally I’d include Netflix in that list, but I’ve not jotted down much on my shortlist this month; though MUBI had an uncommonly good showing, the standout being Jiro Dreams of Sushi right at the end of the month. Others of particular interest included The Passion of the Christ (I feel I really should’ve seen that by now), the 1950s version of Around the World in 80 Days, Ripley adaptation The American Friend, and Memento, which I haven’t revisited in many a year. I own it on DVD, but, naturally, it’s in HD on iPlayer.

Finally, the inexorable growth of my Blu-ray collection continued unabated, with a mix of new releases and sale pickups. Although I watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife in February, I picked it up in the series’ Ultimate Collection box set, meaning I now have 4K copies of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II on my watchlist. And that’s not all from the rewatch back catalogue, because HMV’s rolling offer of half-price UHD discs also allowed me to nab La La Land, Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, the original Scream, and The Shawshank Redemption — a rare film that I love (or like a lot, at least) but never upgraded to Blu-ray, so jumping from DVD straight to 4K feels like some kind of victory.

There were new releases in 4K too, of course, most prominently Dune: Part One (how I wish it said that on the spine — it inevitably won’t match the sequel), which I imported from France so I also have it in 3D, and The King’s Man. Could’ve just watched that on Disney+, or at least given it a go there first, but as I own the first two it was inevitable I’d buy it, so I just got on with it. And, as we all know, discs are better than streaming anyway. I also took a punt on adult fantasy animation The Spine of Night in 4K, imported from the US alongside a new edition of Candyman III: Day of the Dead — it’s meant to be a rubbish film, but it completes my Candyman collection. Unfortunately, it’s also a somewhat rubbish disc, with noticeably weaker picture quality compared to a German release from a while back. Still, lots of special features. If I actually like it when I watch it, maybe I’ll treat myself to the German disc too. Based on everyone else’s opinion, that seems unlikely.

UK labels continue to rollout martial arts classics — I feel like something must have changed in the licensing of these, because we got hardly any a few years ago, while now there’s at least a couple every month from 8 Films or Eureka, and now Arrow getting in on the game too. Anyway, this month’s releases included The Flag of Iron and Legendary Weapons of China from 88 Films, and Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon from Eureka, who also released silent epic The Indian Tomb on their Masters of Cinema line. They’d previously released Fritz Lang’s 1950s remake on DVD, which went OOP just before their release of the silent one came out. I presume that’s just a funny coincidence. And last but very much not least on the new release pile, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: A New Generation. Long-time readers will surely remember how much I loved his series The Story of Film: An Odyssey, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this sequel. Now I’ve just got to make room for its near-three-hour running time.

I’ve ummed and ahhed for years about upgrading my Charlie Chaplin box set to the Blu-ray version, especially as there have been a couple now, and the extra features vary, and the picture quality isn’t always the best. But Amazon cut it to such a low price this month, I decided just to give in — so that’s 11 features, a mix of ones I’ve seen and ones I haven’t. They may not be the very best available, but they’re a lot better than my DVD copies (which I can hang onto for the missing extras, because I’ll never make much reselling them anyway), and a lot cheaper than buying the films individually — which I can always do if I particularly love any of them. Criterion have put most of them out in the US, and are about to start bringing them to the UK, so we’ll see as they go along. Talking of box sets I’d overlooked but was tempted into by sales (it might not sound like a common problem, but it is for me), Indicator tempted me to grab their four-film John Ford at Columbia set this month; and because that wasn’t expensive enough to qualify for free postage, I also delved into their 5-for-whatever offer, picking up Eyes of Laura Mars, Modern Romance, Night Tide, See No Evil, and Time Without Pity. Their releases are so well-done, and their picks often so obscure but intriguing, that it’s easy to just keep buying them. Now, I just need to make the effort to actually watch more of them, too.

Looking at that (not-so-)little lot, it’s easy to see why my bank account felt severely depleted by the end of the month. Maybe in March I’ll finally resist the lure of sales… but there’s always all those exciting new releases… Oh, I’m damned.

January’s Failures

Oo-ooh, wouldja look at this? After three years as just part of my monthly review, Failures has gone and got its own dedicated post! Well, it was getting ridiculously long to be just a part of something else. There’s just so much stuff to see every month, and so much of it I don’t see…

We begin, as ever, with the big screen, where there’s something of a sense of things being back to normal, at least in terms of what’s being released. I think the closest to what could conceivably be called a blockbuster this month was the new Scream, while the rest of the UK release schedule was filled with belated bows for things like Licorice Pizza, Belfast, and Nightmare Alley. Let’s be honest, they’re not things that would tempt me out to the cinema in the best of days (I’ll wait for an at-home option), never mind in Covid times.

I’m not alone in such thoughts, of course, and so the streamers continue to trot stuff out to capture our fleeting interest, though there weren’t any particularly big guns this month, unless I missed something. I think Netflix’s biggest offering was Robert Harris adaptation Munich: The Edge of War, as well as a UK debut for Chloë Grace Moretz sci-fi Mother/Android. Moretz used to be on track to be a genuine movie star, but nowadays I feel like I only see her turn up in direct-to-streaming stuff no one seems to know is coming — like, out of nowhere, there’ll be a new film starring her on Netflix or Amazon now and then. I don’t know if that’s a deliberate career choice or a case of reduced options…

Meanwhile, over at Prime Video, there was George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Tender Bar, starring Ben Affleck, and acquired fourquel Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. I watched the first of those last year and thought it was moderately likeable, so maybe I’ll get to the fourth one day. There’s also Copshop, which I think they’re billing as a Premiere rather than an Original, or something? I can’t remember, and I can’t be bothered to load it up right now just to check. I guess it’s the difference between “stuff we own and will always be here” and “stuff we’ve bought exclusive rights to for a bit”. Sky’s ‘originals’ always feel like they’re in a similar limbo. This month those included Save the Cinema, which looks like a pleasant ‘little Britain’ kind of film, and Naked Singularity, which is apparently a heist movie starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgard. Again, having heard no one mention it doesn’t exactly suggest it’s worth one’s time.

As usual with Sky, more interesting were their other premieres — the likes of Pig, A Quiet Place Part II, The Paper Tigers, and No Sudden Move. That last one’s actually been on there since October, but somehow I’d missed that it was a new Steven Soderbergh film. I need to catch up on his stuff. They also had Nobody, which I’ve seen and really should’ve reviewed, and Supernova, which I bought on disc and really should’ve seen and reviewed. Over on Prime, there was Demonic — which catches my attention purely because it’s the latest from Neill Blomkamp, a director who’s star has faded to the point where this got very little attention during its cinema window — and, eh, a bunch of older stuff. If I listed everything I deemed worthy of bunging on my watchlist, we’d be here forever.

Netflix’s catalogue offerings all felt like hand-me-downs: The Gentlemen, after it was on Prime for yonks last year; and Dolittle, after it had been on iPlayer all over Christmas. Talking of iPlayer, they offered The Souvenir (which used to be on MUBI) and Mary Queen of Scots (which used to be on, er, Netflix). But, hey, at least you expect a free TV-schedule-derived streamer to be a relatively-late-to-the-game kinda place for these things. Still, iPlayer does a decent job nowadays, what with also offering the likes of The Sisters Brothers, sci-fi Little Joe, Lady Macbeth, and Personal Shopper. Plus, you’re more likely to find older classics there than pretty much anywhere else, which this month included In the Heat of the Night and a bunch of war films. You can find some similarly interesting stuff on Channel 4’s catchup — the main thing I want to try to catch from last month is Topsy-Turvy, which hasn’t been on UK TV for a ridiculously long time. It’s quite long though, and C4 does force adverts on you, so I can see myself failing at that again in February.

I’m still subscribed to MUBI, though considering they add a film a day and this month I’ve only long-listed three to mention, and the only one I’m going to bother to mention is Céline Sciamma’s debut, Water Lilies, I do wonder if I should be. (There’s a bunch of stuff on there I keep meaning to catch up on, though.) As for Disney+, they seem to mainly be focusing on series right now, but did offer Marvel’s Eternals weeks before its disc release. Seems to be the way things are going.

And talking of discs releases, yeah, I still bought dozens of the things. No such thing as a post-Christmas slump for me. Brand-spanking-new releases included the 4K discs of Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duellast month I mooted that I should watch the latter on Disney+ before committing to buying it. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Hope I like it! Of course, most of my purchases are blind-buys anyway — I did exactly the same with Donnie Yen action-thriller Raging Fire. Exactly the same, because it was also a Zavvi-exclusive Steelbook that’s the UK’s only 4K release. Other new releases included more Asian action in Eureka’s double-bill of Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son; the mystery of a missing hammer in a nudist camp in Patrick; and importing the 4K of Blood for Dracula, aka Andy Warhol’s Dracula, to go with last month’s import of the 4K of Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.

You’d think January sales might account for much disc purchasing this month, but not really. I nabbed Blade in 4K when it was randomly cheap on Amazon the other week; and I think silent drama Piccadilly was slightly reduced when I picked it up — but that’s about it. Although I did get the limited edition of anime In This Corner of the World for a steal. Places like HMV are still selling it for £20, but there’s a guy on eBay who has it for a fiver. Seemed worth a punt, and it paid off. Otherwise, there were a couple of things that came out late last year and I didn’t get for Christmas (the BFI’s release of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and StudioCanal’s 4K disc of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and a semi-random US order. I almost order in ‘bulk’ from the US these days, to average out the cost of shipping. There’s always stuff I want to pad out an order, anyhow. This one was provoked by a Criterion sale (from which I only got High Sierra and Hitchcock’s The Lodger in the end), plus the new release of Gambit (the Michael Caine / Shirley MacLaine one) and some more new releases that are still in the post. I used it as a chance to also get Kiss Me Kate (in 3D) and Vincent Price I Am Legend adaptation The Last Man on Earth.

Finally, I also bought the animated Transformers movie — fully known as The Transformers: The Movie, of course — on 4K. But does that really count as a failure when I consciously bought it to watch “sometime this year” as part of WDYMYHS? Something to mull over ’til next month…

2021 Statistics

Enough about my shiny new look (although, if you missed all that, you can read about it here) — let’s go back to digging through the remains of 2021. And we begin (or, rather, resume) with one of my personal highlights of the entire year: the statistics. Regular readers will know what this is all about, but if you’re new to these parts and enjoy things like percentages and graphs… oh boy, you’re in for a treat!

Before we begin, a quick word that, because I’m a Letterboxd Pro member, I also get a yearly stats page over there. My 2021 stats can be found here. I don’t only log new watches on Letterboxd, so any overlapping statistics will be slightly different, but they mainly have different categories (like repeat cast & crew members — so you can, for example, find out which actor appeared in the most films I watched last year).

And now…


I watched 207 new feature films in 2021. That means it ranks 3rd all-time, passing 2015’s 200 by a solid seven films, but coming far shy of the top two: 2018’s 261 and last year’s 264.

I also ran my Rewatchathon for the fifth year in 2021. I’ve spent all of that time thinking I ought to include it in the statistics properly, and all of that time not getting round to deciding how exactly to incorporate it, and now it’s over — I’m doing something slightly different next year. Well, maybe that will finally compel me to square the circle. Anyway, I rewatched 33 films — short of my target of 50, but not that bad else wise. That makes a combined total of 240 films, which is another distant 3rd place finish, behind last year’s 310 and 2018’s 311.


NB: I have no rewatch data for 2007 and only incomplete numbers for 2008.

I also watched four short films last year, which is my lowest total for those since 2016. A shame after the past two years saw me set new records each year, but then I’ve never made a concerted effort to watch shorts. Maybe I should. As always, the only stat they count towards is the total running time, and they barely make a dent there. To wit: the total running time of new features was 357 hours and 12 minutes, while adding the shorts bumps it to 357 hours and 58 minutes — just a 46-minute increase. That’s my smallest “others” total ever, barely even visible on the graph below (it’s 1 pixel high).

Here’s how that viewing played out across the year, month by month. The dark blue line is new feature films and the pale blue line is my Rewatchathon. Last year I included a pale green line for shorts, but that seemed a bit pointless this year. Last year I noted that, while the precise values of the graph changed each year I’d been running it (since 2018), the rough shape stayed the same: quickly climbing to a peak in April or May, then lower and bumpier to the end of the year. 2021 bucks that trend entirely, with the high point coming in February, before it almost tapers off, but spikes up dramatically in August and December, traditionally two of my weaker months. What does this tell us? Maybe not to rely too much on precedent.

Next up, the formats on which I watched those films. Despite my continued advocacy (and purchasing of) physical media, it’s digital that once again romps away with the crown here, accounting for 150 films, or 72.46% of my viewing. That’s down slightly from last year’s 73.9%, but is still above the 2015–2021 average, which is 58.5%. I’d definitely like to get it down closer to 50%; or, even better, to see Blu-ray beating it, considering I buy so many of the darn things.

Of course, a lot of individual formats and services contribute to that digital total. The top spot therein is a tie between Amazon, topping the list for the fourth time in five years, and downloads, each with 35 films (23.3% of digital). Downloading was second last year, so that isn’t actually a huge change. The same could be said of the next few places on the chart: last year Netflix and Now tied for third, while this year Netflix is there by itself, with 26 films (17.3%), and Now is just behind, on 22 (14.7%); and iPlayer comes fifth, with 16 (10.7%). Last year there were three other services to mention: AMPLIFY!, which didn’t occur this year; YouTube, which I didn’t watch anything on this year; and Disney+, which retains that position kinda by default, with seven films (4.7%). Rounding out the digital services were MUBI on five (3.3%), All 4 on three (2%), and Apple TV+ managing a solitary one (0.7%). Most of their original content seems to be TV, although they did have a couple of other films that interested me, so that really should’ve been higher — but then I could say that about all the streamers (I mean, just look at my failures list each month).

A very distant second place in the format war goes to Blu-ray with 51 films (24.6%) — just a third of digital’s tally, I’m ashamed to point out. It’s the format’s 14th year on this list and its 4th highest total, which doesn’t sound too bad, but as a percentage it pales besides the 40% I was hitting a decade ago.

Between them, digital and Blu-ray accounted for a staggering 97.1% of my viewing in 2021, up on the 95.5% they represented last year. To be precise, that’s 201 out of 207 films. The remaining six were split equally between three other formats — again, to be precise, that means DVD, TV, and cinema each clocked just two films (0.97% each). Here’s a graph showing how much DVD has fallen — something that should improve next year, at least a bit. (If you want an idea of how much it might grow, 2018 had exactly 12 DVD watches.)

A similar “once mighty, now not” slump has befallen TV across the decades, its place in my viewing schedule now definitively overtaken by streaming.

And finally, the cinema, brought low by Covid for the second year in a row. More films that I was interested in were screening, but is it worth the risk? And we’re all hoping 2022 will be better, but how much is still a question mark. We’ll see in a year’s time…

In amongst all that, I watched 24 films in 4K — a drop from last year’s 40, but still above any year before that (2019’s total was 15, for example). On the other hand, I watched just three in 3D, my lowest total there since I got my 3D TV back in 2017. New releases on the format are dwindling (even Disney, who were previously reliable with Marvel and Pixar titles, now only release the former on 3D BD in Japan, with no sign of the latter), but I’ve still got a not-insignificant pile of 3D discs I’ve bought and not watched yet. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that all of my 2021 3D watches were films I don’t own or can’t get on disc, so were downloaded by other means (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Topping both of those this year was the number of films I watched in SD. Yep, really. Between some downloads, some streams, and those couple of DVDs, I watched 25 films in SD in 2021. At 12.1% of my total viewing, that’s actually the second highest percentage since 2016. What’s more interesting is that, although it means the percentage fluctuates somewhat, the actual number of SD titles I’ve watched has been pretty consistent for years: the average for the past six years is 23.6, most falling in the 23–25 range. While it’s nice to watch as much in HD (or even UHD) as possible, there are some titles that are just so hard-to-come-by that one has to settle for lower quality. While “SD” might make many of us think of DVD-level quality, several of this year’s SD titles were more “recorded off TV to VHS then ripped to digital”-level. Yeah, they looked and sounded awful, but when that’s the only way to see the film at all…

Of course, it tends to be older films that only exist in such low quality, and my viewing on the whole skews newer (though don’t get me started on the fact some brand-new productions still receive DVD-only releases). But as the new decade continues to get underway, the question is: how new? It took the 2010s until 2012 to usurp the 2000s at the top of my decade chart. Could the 2020s manage it a year earlier? In short, no — but it’s close! The 2010s are still in first place, but with only 46 films — that’s their lowest since 2012, coincidentally. It represents 22.2% of my viewing this year, the lowest-ever percentage for a top decade (at the same point, i.e. in 2011, the 2000s still had 35.2%). And the 2020s are snapping at their heels, just three films behind on 43 (20.8%). The margin between these two decades was 33% last year, but this year it’s just 1.45%.

In third place comes the ’90s with 22 films (10.6% — exactly double their percentage in the last two years). That’s their best total ever, their highest placing since 2017, and their best percentage since 2010. Why did they do so well? Oh, don’t ask silly questions (i.e. I have no idea. Chance, I guess). There’s an even bigger surprise in fourth place, though: the 1930s with 18 films (8.7%). Their previous best showing was last year, with just six films (2.3%), and their previous best percentage was way back in 2008, at 3.8%. And with the 1940s coming in fifth with 16 films (7.7%), also their best-ever result, could this be a preview of years to come? Well, I have set myself the task of watching at least 12 films noir next year…

Things continue to ping back and forth in time as we move down the chart. Next is the ’80s on 15 (7.2%), followed closely by the 2000s on 13 (6.3%), followed even more closely by the ’70s on 12 (5.8%), and right behind them are the the ’50s on 11 (5.3%) — far down the chart though it may be, it’s still their highest ever total. Indeed, never before have so many decades reached double-figure tallies in a single year.

Rounding out the list, the ’60s have an uncommonly low five (2.4%), while bringing up the rear are the 1920s on four (1.9%) and the 1910s on two (0.97%) — not their best result (2007 and 2010 were both higher), but only the sixth time they’ve featured at all in 15 years. Finally, no features for the 1900s & earlier, but they were represented by a single short film, for only the third time ever (the previous occasions being 2013 and 2020).

There’s somewhat less variety in where films came from, with the USA once again dominating countries of production, having a hand in producing 140 films. However, at just 67.6% of my total viewing, it’s their lowest percentage ever (down from last year’s 68.6%, the first time it had been below 70%). There’s nothing wrong with US movies, but there’s a whole world out there and it’s nice to spread one’s viewing around a bit. To wit: there were a total of 35 production countries represented in my viewing this year, the second best ever (behind last year’s 40, when there were almost 28% more films, so, y’know, fair enough). Some of the more unusual ones (in terms of my own viewing) included Latvia, Estonia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Peru, and Romania.

Back at the top end of the chart, the UK took its usual second place, with 54 films (26.1%). France returned to third place, a position it’s held for six of the ten years I’ve been monitoring this stat, with 18 films (8.7%). Hot on their tail was Japan on 17 (8.2%). Also in double figures were Canada (15, 7.2%) and Germany (12, 5.8%), and coming seventh with seven was Australia (3.4%). China, Denmark, and India were tied on four (1.9%) each, while four countries each had three, eight countries had two apiece, and the remaining 13 had one film each.

All those US and UK films mean that English was the most dominant language, as always. It was spoken to at least some degree in 183 films, or 88.4% of my viewing, a percentage that’s up from the last three years. As I say, this count includes all films where it was spoken enough to merit listing, even if it wasn’t the primary language. Perhaps I should start making a note of just the main spoken tongue for the sake of the statistic… Also as usual, the language in second was a long way off. This year it was Japanese in just 11 films (5.3%). No others made double figures. But overall there were 27 spoken languages (plus five silent films), which isn’t bad. Some more rarely-heard languages this year included Amharic, Estonian, Kiowa, Somali, Tupi… and Klingon.

A total of 178 directors and eight directing partnerships were responsible for the films on 2021’s main list. 16 of them helmed multiple films, led by Leo McCarey with five. Second place is shared, with three apiece from David Hare (the Worricker trilogy) and Reginald Le Borg (all among the Inner Sanctum Mysteries series), while Ishirô Honda helmed two plus one film in a ‘partnership’ (that would be the US cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla, where Honda’s original work was supplemented with US material by Thomas Montgomery). The remaining 12 had two films each, and they were: Jack Bernhard, Bob Clark, Cameron Crowe, George Cukor, Joe Dante, Paul Greengrass, Tom Hooper, Ben Lewin, Anthony Minghella, Mike Nichols, George Stevens, and James Whale.

For a few years now I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. 2020 saw a new high reached, but sadly 2021 sees it slip back again — although it’s still above 2019, just, so there’s that. My viewing this year included 13 films with a female director (12 solo; one as part of a trio with two men), which comes out as a measly 5.94% of my viewing. As I put it last year, it’s debatable whether the onus should be on me to seek out more films directed by women or on the industry to give more directing gigs to women, but ultimately it’s a bit of both — though I’d argue with more weight on the latter, because I just watch the films I watch; I neither avoid nor seek out female directors especially. Anyway, I do hope this graph will continue to improve in the future, though I’m not sure it will ever approach 50/50 (considering all the older films I watch, which are predominantly directed by men to a farcical degree).

We’re approaching the end now — broadly speaking, because before I dig into 2021’s star ratings, it’s time for an update on a couple of viewing projects I vaguely have on the go. First, the IMDb Top 250: at the time of writing, seven films from my 2021 viewing appear on that famed list. However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by two, to 28. That’s my poorest showing since 2012. I feel so close to the end now (just 11.2% to go) that I really would like to get it finished off. Of course, new releases ping on all the time (there are currently four 2021 releases on there), but that’s life — if I finish the rest of the list, I can bop them on the head as and when they pop up. Anyway, the current positions of the seven I saw this year range from 52nd (Cinema Paradiso) to 222nd (La Haine).

My next viewing project is the one I call my “50 Unseen”. As regular readers will know, at the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases. I’ve continued to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’ down the years — which is how I know that 2021 was a particularly poor year for this particular mission. Where previously I would watch at least one film from every list, this year I only managed to hit eight of the 14; and from most I only watched one film, leaving my with a total of 21 films across all 14 lists. That’s the lowest since 2010 (when I only had three lists to work from!) In fact, the last time I watched that few films from even just the newest list was in 2014. And speaking of the newest list, in the first year of watching 2020’s 50, I watched 12 of them — the lowest ‘first year’ since 2010 (again), when I only watched eight films from 2009’s list. You might think this is because 2020 was a poor year for new films, thanks to the pandemic, but there are plenty in that 50 I very much want to see, I just… haven’t. Maybe I’ll finally catch up on them in 2022.

For what it’s worth, the other nine I watched came from 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2019 (all one film each), and 2015 (three films — why so many more, I don’t know).

All of which means that, in total, I’ve now seen 497 out of 700 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s exactly 71%, the first time this percentage has dropped year-on-year since 2009 (it was 73.2% last year). On the bright side, that’s still above where it was the year before last (70.3%), so it’s not a total disaster. (As usual, my new list of 50 misses from 2021 will be in my “top ten” post, sometime soon.)

And so, to conclude the statistics for 2021, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

Now, I need to provide a similar caveat to last year: this stat factors in every new film I watched in 2021, even those for which I’ve yet to publish a review — which, this year, is 98% of them. That means there are some where I’m still flexible on my precise score — those films I’d award, say, 3.5 or 4.5 on Letterboxd, but which I insist on rounding to a whole star on here. For the sake of completing these stats, I’ve assigned a whole-star rating to every film, but it’s possible I’ll change my mind when I eventually post a review (it’s happened before). Still, this section should remain broadly accurate.

Starting at the top end, then, in 2021 I awarded 25 five-star ratings, which means 12.1% of the films I watched got full marks. That’s at the lower end of my range, which historically spans from 11.9% to 21.2%. I’d put that down to harsher marking rather than poor quality: there were quite a few 4.5-type films where I eventually erred towards the lower score.

As usual, the most prolific rating was four stars, which I gave to 88 films. At 42.5%, that’s a sliver up on last year’s percentage (which was 42.1%), which rather suggests the lower number of five-star films wasn’t all that much due to those 4.5s after all… unless a lot of 3.5s got the rounded-down treatment too, of course.

Well, there were 63 three-star films, which is the third highest tally ever, behind 2018 and 2020 — both years in which I watched more films. So, really, that’s only appropriate. The historic range of my three-star ratings spans all the way from 19.6% up to 38.0%, so 2021 coming in at 30.4% actually puts it somewhere in the middle.

Indeed, the real gains are to be found among the two-star films, which number 29 — the highest-ever for one year, and the first time there I’ve given out more two-stars than five-stars (although they did draw back in 2012). It comes to 14.01%, which isn’t actually the highest ever… but it is close, because 2008 reached 14.4%. Again, this brings up the usual debate: was this a weak year, or is my scoring getting harsher? I think, at this point in my life, the latter is definitely a factor.

Last, and most definitely least, I handed out just two one-star ratings, which is only 0.97% of my viewing. That’s very typical: I’ve awarded two or fewer single-star scores in 10 out of 15 years, and only three years have pushed its percentage above 1.5%

Finally, the average score for the year — a single figure with which to judge 2021 against other years, for good or ill. The short version is 3.5 out of 5 — that’s the first time it’s dropped below 3.6 since 2012, when it was an anomalous 3.4. Indeed, that’s the first 3.5 score in 15 years (there are five 3.6s, six 3.7s, and two 3.8s). To go to a few more decimal places, it’s 3.507 — still my second-lowest scoring year ever, but it doesn’t stick out quite as egregiously as 2012’s 3.352. Still, it’s only the third time the score’s been below 3.600 (2019 was the other, on 3.589), so it is a low one, whichever way you cut it. Again we ask: was it a weak year, or is my scoring getting harsher? As I said before, I am beginning to feel it’s the latter.

All of which said, let’s not forget: it’s still a pretty good average overall. I mean, it’s well above 3.0, and 3 is a positive score. A ‘true average’ might be 2.5, but then I’d have to watch a lot more bad movies, and who wants to do that? Maybe I could try to watch even more very good / great films, and then maybe the average would rise again… or maybe I’d just worry I was being too lenient. No, at this point I feel I’ve demonstrated a degree of consistency in my marking — so long as the average is in the 3.5–3.7 range, I feel like I’m getting things about right.

And so, I’m sorry to say, the stats are over for another year. I know I’m changing things up from 2022, so will this post look significantly different next year? Y’know, probably not: I love this stuff too much to stop working it all out.


My picks for the best and worst films I saw in 2021. And then my review of 2021 will be over, and you’ll have seen these blue-ish stripey mid-post graphics for the last time!

My Most-Read Posts of 2021

2021 was a relatively quiet year for me, review-wise — I made just 55 posts, vs. over 120 in each of 2019 and 2020, and over 200 in 2018 and 2017. Nonetheless, that’s still enough from which to draw a Top 5, right?

Normally I do a “TV Top 5” and “Film Top 5”, but, as I only posted three TV columns last year, that seems a little pointless. Instead, here’s an overall Top 8 — because of course all the TV posts made the very top of the list, and this means you can deduce the film-only Top 5 if you want to.

Also, the graph in the header image was made with accurate figures, if you want an idea of the posts’ success relative to one another. (A less balloon-obscured version is available here. If you think the two on the left, 7th and 8th, look the same height, they’re not — but they are very, very close: the difference between them has come out as just 1 pixel.)

My Top 8 Most-Viewed New Posts in 2021

8) Psycho Goreman
One of just four reviews I posted in 2021 of new films I watched in 2021. Two of the other three are also in this top eight, while the fourth (Muse: Simulation Theory) came 12th overall. Also worth mentioning (as much as any of this is): Psycho Goreman beat the post in 9th place by just one hit. That was the 100-Week Roundup XXII, for what it’s worth.

7) The Man Who Reviewed Some Films
A four-film compilation, including The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Man Who Sleeps. Was one of those responsible for its popularity? Or is it a unique combo of four fairly-popular films? Who can say. Maybe people were just intrigued by the title.

6) Nomadland
The 2020 Oscar Best Picture winner finally made it to a wide UK release in April 2021, occasioning my review. The mix of awards season success and “new release” status likely explains its success here.

5) The Past Christmas on TV
The 2020 edition of my Christmas TV overview, including Cinderella: A Comic Relief Pantomime for Christmas, Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks, Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse; a roundup of comedy specials, including Ghosts, The Goes Wrong Show, Not Going Out, and Upstart Crow; plus brief words on Blankety Blank and Have I Got 30 Years for You.

4) No Time to Die
A new James Bond film was too significant to miss — especially one as long-awaited as this — and so it broke my (inadvertent) long run of not posting reviews, and proved unsurprisingly popular with readers, too.

3) Death to 2020
Now, normally this wouldn’t count, because I posted it last year. But I posted it at 11pm on December 31st, and in that first hour it only gained 11 hits, so — under those unique circumstances — it seemed unfair to leave it out entirely. More than unfair, it would be inaccurate: a highly successful post, that could’ve been missed off both the 2020 and 2021 lists due to a technicality of posting time. Anyway, I expect it did well because reviews of Netflix content often do… and because it’s probably more a TV special than a true film, and, as we know, TV reviews usually do best of all. To wit:

2) The Past Month on TV #67
including Dial M for Middlesbrough, It’s a Sin, more of The Twilight Zone, WandaVision episodes 5–8, and A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote. I expect the combo of It’s a Sin (one of the best-received TV series of the year) and WandaVision (the much discussed debut Marvel Disney+ series) is responsible for this.

1) The Past Month on TV #66
including Cobra Kai season 2, Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series 3, Staged series 2, more of The Twilight Zone, and WandaVision episodes 1–4. All very popular shows, so it figures they would add up to the #1 spot.

Eighth Grade (2018)

2019 #148
Bo Burnham | 94 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Eighth Grade

I confess to never having heard of Bo Burnham before the buzz generated by this, his debut film as writer-director. According to his Wikipedia page, he started out as a YouTuber, turned that into a standup career, and from there has been a musician, actor, screenwriter, and poet — plus, with this, film director. It’s the kind of trajectory that challenges your perception of what being a YouTuber is good for. Of course, other “content creators” have jumped beyond the confines of the video streaming site before, but generally to eye-rolling effect for any of us old enough to be outside the sway of popular youth culture. But Burnham bucks that trend too, because in Eighth Grade he’s produced a mini masterpiece of distilling the teenage experience.

The film introduces us to the life of Kayla (a star-making performance by Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old girl so shy and insecure that she doesn’t seem to have any friends at school, but who still spends most of her time engaged in typical modern teenage activities: glued to her phone scrolling through social media, and posting her own content that no one anyone actually views. (At this point we’ve all been there, right?) The videos she posts online are perky and optimistic, presenting a front of having her life together. In reality, Kayla’s middle school experience has been miserably lonely, and as it comes to an end she hopes for a better time in high school. (If the American high school movies we’ve all seen are anything to go by, her chances can’t be good…)

In some respects, Eighth Grade is wholly focused on showing us the present day. The specifics of what it depicts are very much “modern American teenager”, with pool parties, active shooter drills, living through social media, their eyes glued to phones, etc; even the plot-prompting transition from middle to high school isn’t necessarily relevant to those of us outside the US education system. But if you look past the modern milieu to the fundamental feelings underneath, they’re universal and speak across the generations. This is the most truthful movie about what it’s actually like to be a teenager I think I’ve ever seen. It really captures the uncomfortableness of being a not-popular teen, both for good (well done Burnham & co, you conveyed your point) or ill (it can be as squirm-inducing as living the real thing). And if you watch it and think “eh, I don’t remember my teenage years being like this”, I’m afraid to inform you that you were quite possibly one of those kids making life a bit awkward for the rest of us. Sorry.

Kayla

Much like bullies, indie movies often revel in taking nice people and kicking them down, because, hey, life’s shit and that’s probably what’s gonna happen. Without spoiling where the story goes, it makes a welcome change to see a film where realism isn’t abandoned (Kayla’s life doesn’t become plain-sailing) but in which the nice, sweet, quiet character nonetheless sees their life improve, rather than believe things are gonna get better only to have their expectations crushed. Well, there’s a certain degree in which the optimistic hopefulness of being a tween is contrasted with the crushing reality of being a teenager, but there’s a positive message along the lines of “these things shall pass” that I think remains good advice to many people struggling with a particular time in their life.

Talking of specific times in one’s life (this is a tenuous transition, I admit), the certifications handed to Eighth Grade (at least in the UK and US) are a bit daft. To clarify for the benefit of those of us on the outside, the US’s 8th grade is for 13- to 14-year-olds; the equivalent of Year 9 in England (other UK and Anglosphere countries may vary). So it’s somewhat amusing that a film explicitly titled Eighth Grade is officially limited to over-15s in the UK and over-17s in the US (I know R is a little looser than that, but you get what I mean). You feel that the certifiers are, not for the first time, somewhat out of step when it comes to the realities of kids’ life experiences. I doubt that’s a major problem (I’m sure plenty of people don’t stick rigidly to the ratings), but it is, perhaps, a stark reminder that things like the boundaries of film certificates require constant review and revision if they want to remain relevant.

Something that I think will remain relevant is Eighth Grade. As I said, it already transcends its depiction of current teenage lifestyles, so it stands to reason that, as time goes on, while it will cease to accurately reflect the specifics of young people’s lives, it will continue to encapsulate how it feels to be that age.

5 out of 5

Eighth Grade placed 9th on my list of the Best Films I Saw in 2019.

2020 Statistics

It’s the first Monday of the new year — glum, right? Well, here’s something to cheer you up: the best part of any and every year — the statistics! Woo! Yeah! Etc!

For any newbies, or those in need of a refresher, this is where I take all the films I watched for the first time in 2020 (listed here) and analyse all sorts of stuff about them to see if anything interesting shakes out. As this was my biggest year ever, there’s bound to be a few “new highest” whatnots; but where things might get interesting is in categories with percentages and the like — does watching so many more films change the percentage that was directed by women, or the percentage I watched on Netflix, or… well, there are many things to discover.

I’ll also mention that, as I’m a Pro member of Letterboxd, you can find additional stats there — or, rather, here. I also log shorts, some TV, and all rewatches on there, so any comparable stats (e.g. my most-watched directors) won’t match up; but I don’t think there’s actually much duplication, and they also include a bunch of stuff I don’t (actors, crew members, genres, etc), so it’s worth a look if you just can’t get enough of graphs and numbers.

Speaking of which, here’s a beautiful load of exactly that…

I watched 264 new feature films in 2020, my highest ever, pipping 2018 by just three films. After 14 years of doing this blog, my average final total is 152, so 2020 is a 74% increase on that. But it’s also worth noting that my viewing habits have changed a lot since 2015 (the first year I reached 200 films in a year): my average total for 2007–2014 was 111, while for 2015–2020 it’s 208. Of course, even compared to that, 2020 is up 27%.

Normally I’d now tally up how many extended or altered cuts I watched as a separate number, but with my Rewatchathon now in the game, it doesn’t quite work like that anymore. So, for example, I watched Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux and counted it towards my main list because it was a significantly different cut to whatever I’d watched before; but when I watched and reviewed Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 3D, it was only the 3D that was different, so I counted it towards my Rewatchathon.

I probably ought to do full-blown stats for my Rewatchathon too — I’ve been running that side challenge for four years now, so it’s about time I gave it equitable standing in these stats — but I still haven’t started collecting the necessary data throughout the year, so… Maybe next year, eh. What I can tell you is that I rewatched 46 films, for a combined total of 310. That’s one behind 2018’s 311, my previous high. (I still haven’t worked out full rewatch numbers for 2007–2016, but from previous research (mentioned in 2017’s stats) I know none of them got higher than 223.)


NB: I have no rewatch data for 2007 and only incomplete numbers for 2008.

I also watched 65 short films in 2020, an extraordinary number by my standards: I’d only watched 85 in the preceding 13 years of this blog, so this year alone saw my all-time total increase by over 76%. Last year was my previous best individual year, when I watched 20 shorts; this year represents a more-than-threefold improvement on that. (Short films don’t count towards any of the following stats, except for where they’re explicitly mentioned in the running time one… which is up next…)

The total running time of the 264 new features was 459 hours and 41 minutes. That’s actually down slightly on 2018, despite watching three more films — obviously I just watched shorter films on average. Besides, the drop is just 88 minutes, which is 0.3% — barely anything. And if we add in the 65 short films I watched in 2020, the total running time of all my new film viewing is an astonishing 469 hours and 19 minutes — that’s equivalent to 19½ solid days; almost three weeks of nonstop film viewing. It also means 2020 overleaps 2018 by some 391 minutes (6½ hours), aka 1.4%.

Here’s how that viewing played out across the year, month by month. The dark blue line is new feature films, the pale blue line is my Rewatchathon, and the pale green line is shorts. As you can see, the shorts line goes literally off the chart in November — that’s because I set this graph to be based around the main list number of new films, but I watched a ridiculous 53 short films in November. (Obviously I could’ve adjusted the graph to go up higher, but that wasn’t as fun.) What’s also interesting is if you go back and compare this graph to the two times I’ve done it before, in 2018 and 2019: the shapes certainly aren’t identical, but I feel like they share an overall pattern, i.e. I hit a peak around April/May, and the back end of the year is generally lower.

Now, the ways in which I watched those films. Attentive readers may have noticed that, earlier this year, I switched from differentiating “streaming” and “download” at the top of my reviews to just listing all such viewing as “digital”. I drafted a paragraph about the whys and wherefores of that change to include in a monthly review, but I’ve not got round to polishing it up enough to include. In short, when I first started using those terms there was a notable difference between them — streaming was low quality and unreliable, downloads were pretty good. Nowadays, it’s the other way round, if anything (for example, Apple TV+ will stream in 4K but only lets you download in 1080p), and sometimes there’s no difference at all (if I download something from iPlayer to watch later, it’s no different than streaming it from iPlayer, quality-wise). So, in that spirit, “digital” now becomes a single category in these stats; but, behind the scenes, I’ve still noted what came from where (much as I do for the different streaming services), so I’ll come to that in a mo.

With streaming and downloading bundled, it’s no surprise that digital is my most prolific viewing format for the sixth year running, accounting for 195 films, or 73.9% of my viewing — almost three-quarters! A poor show for a physical media advocate, isn’t it? It’s a bit trickier to show you comparisons to previous years, for obvious reasons, but I’ve run the numbers and can tell you it’s their highest combined total ever, besting 61.9% in 2016. In the five-year period 2015–2019, my overall percentage for digital was 52.8%, so this is a definite increase on the norm.

If we break it down into various formats and services, the winner was Amazon with 60 films (30.8% of digital). If I didn’t count digital as a block, Amazon alone would be my #1 format. It’s back on top after Netflix overtook it last year, but this year Netflix isn’t even second — that goes to downloads, with 47 films (24.1%). In fact, Netflix comes joint third, tied with Now TV on 32 films (16.4%) each. Does make me wonder if I’m wasting that £11.99 a month… In fifth is iPlayer with eight (4.1%), although three of my downloads came from there, so you could argue it’s 11 (5.6%). And this is exactly why I’ve bundled all of this stuff together. Next was AMPLIFY! with seven (3.6%) — also arguably responsible for more, because I got some screeners related to it. Bringing up the rear, on Disney+ I watched five films (2.6%), and I even watched three (1.5%) on YouTube. As a final note, I technically watched zero on Apple TV+ — it’s been a real waste of the free year I got for buying a new Mac, because I had no way to watch it on my TV until recently. I did watch their original movie starring Tom Hanks, Greyhound, though I downloaded it so I could watch on my TV, so again it’s counted under downloads rather. My free year runs until February, so maybe it’ll factor properly in next year’s stats… although most of their original content is series, so I doubt it’ll represent much.

Alright, onwards! In second place as Blu-ray with 57 films (21.6%). That’s actually its second highest total (behind 82 in 2018), but its lowest percentage of my viewing since 2016 (though last year it was less than 1% higher on 22.5%). It’s a consistent runner-up when, considering how many I buy, it really ought to be a clear first.

Between them, digital and Blu-ray accounted for an exceptional 95.5% of my viewing this year. The remainder was spread thinly between three more formats. In third place was good old DVD with just six films (2.3%). That’s its lowest total since 2012, back when six films was 5.6% of my viewing.

Next up, in fourth place, believe it or not, is cinema. Well, I actually only managed four trips to the big screen before the year went haywire, so it still only accounts for 1.5% of my 2020 viewing. I’m not always the greatest cinema goer, but I’ve picked it up in recent years, meaning that’s the least I’ve been since 2015.

Finally, the once-mighty television. From 2009 to 2012 it was my highest-ranking format. Now, it’s fallen to its lowest ever total, and by some margin: it represents just two films (0.8%) in my 2020 viewing, while its previous poorest performance was 10 films, all the way back in 2008.

In amongst all that, I watched 13 films in 3D (almost double the measly seven I watched last year) and 40 in 4K — a new high, being a 167% increase on the 15 I watched last year. Together, the two formats made up 20.1% of my viewing — not bad, especially when you consider that a lot of discs on both my 3D and 4K ‘to watch’ piles are films I’ve seen before (but not in that format).

Which brings me to the UHD vs. HD vs. SD chart. Contributing to the UHD numbers is mostly streams, some 4K Blu-ray discs, and a download or two. HD includes most of the majority of my streams and downloads, Blu-ray discs, cinema trips, and one TV screening. Contributing to SD were the handful of DVDs, plus a few streams and downloads, and the other TV screening. The final tally shows 201 films in HD (76.1%). Add in UHD and that’s a total of 91.3% in HD formats, the first time my viewing has been over 90% HD (2018 came 0.4% short). Of course, that also means it’s the lowest ever for SD — the actual number of films I’m watching in lower definition is surprisingly stable (it was 23 this year, bang-on the average of the last five years), but watching more films overall means the percentage drops.

Moving on to the age of films, now. 2020 marks the start of a new decade (yeah, okay, it doesn’t really; but most of us will still count films from 2020 as part of the 2020–2029 decade, so tough luck, pedants). That might shake up these stats in the years to come: it’s normally the current decade that tops my chart, and it only took the 2010s until 2012 to take the #1 spot. It was close-ish with the 2000s for the next few years, but it was firmly in the lead by the middle of the decade. Will the 2020s chart a similar course?

Well, they’re not there yet: for the 9th year running, the most popular decade was the 2010s, with 120 films — though at 45.5% of my viewing, that’s their lowest percentage since 2013. That’s partly because the 2020s have come in strong, bagging second place with 33 films (12.5%). That’s a much better percentage than the 2010s managed in their inaugural year: in 2010, the new decade accounted for just 5.65% of my viewing. Back to 2020 and, together, the past 11 years accounted for 57.95% of my viewing, which is more in line with the 2010s other recent performances.

In third place we find the ’80s with 24 films (9.1%), a massive increase on their uncommonly poor 2019 (when they accounted for just three films, 1.99%). They’re closely followed by the 2000s on 22 (8.3%) — that’s twice as many as last year, which was also an uncommonly weak year for the decade.

It’s a drop down to fifth place, where the ’90s are on 14 (5.3% — the exact same as last year). Not far behind is the ’60s on 12 (4.5%), and it’s the same drop to the ’40s on 10 (3.8%), and the same again to the ’70s on eight (3.0%).

Rounding things out, the ’50s have seven (2.7%); there’s a tie between the 1920s and ’30s on six (2.3%); while the the 1910s bring up the rear with two (0.7%). (No features for the 1900s & earlier, but they were represented this year by one short.)

From “when” to “where”: countries of production. As always, the USA absolutely dominated this category, having a role in producing 181 films. However, with that being equivalent to 68.6% of my total viewing, it’s actually the USA’s lowest percentage ever, almost four whole points below their next lowest, 72.4% in 2018. In related good news, there were 40 different countries involved in the production of at least one film — that’s my highest number ever, trouncing the 32 from 2015. Some of the more uncommon ones (for my viewing) included Algeria, Lithuania, Malaysia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Uganda.

Back at the top end of the chart, the UK was second, as usual. Its 71 films was its most ever; that’s 26.8%, which has been bettered, but not since 2013. Also making double figures were Canada (21, 7.95%), France (18, 6.8%), China (16, 6.1%), Japan (15, 5.7%), and Germany (14, 5.3%). Next was Spain (7, 2.7%), after which there were four countries tied on four films each, another four on three films, 10 on two films, and the remaining 14 had one film each. Perhaps the most notable omission was New Zealand, leaving 2020 as the first year since 2013 where I didn’t see any films from there. And they’ve had such a good year, too!

Such a wide variety of countries must lead to a wider variety of languages spoken, right? Well, this year’s films featured 30 spoken languages (plus ten silent films) — not the most ever, but close: the only year higher was 2017 with 32. Of course, the most dominant was still English, which was spoken in 223 films. At 84.5% of my viewing, that just slips under last year’s 84.8% to be the lowest ever. In distant second was French, spoken in just 18 films (6.8%). The others to make double figures were an uncommonly strong showing for Spanish (14 films, 5.3%) and a weaker than normal year for Japanese (11 films, 4.2%). Also, China was represented across multiple languages: not just Mandarin and Cantonese, but also Hokkien and Shanghainese, plus some films where it was only listed as “Chinese”, unfortunately. Other languages that I don’t think have come up in my viewing before included Aboriginal, Catalan, Samoan, and Swahili.

A total of 225 directors and 23 directing partnerships appear on 2020’s main list, the most ever for both tallies. No surprise, given I watched my most films ever; but bear in mind that I only watched three fewer films in 2017, but there were 23 fewer directors credited that year. I ought to work this out as a percentage sometime… Also worth noting is that the number of partnerships is slightly complicated by some Disney films that mixed and matched directors. For example, the likes of Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, and Hamilton Luske have multiple credits each, but with a different lineup of co-directors each time. If we lump all the different combos together as “Disney guys”, the number of partnerships drops to 20… but that’s still the most ever.

The most prolific director this year was Jack Kinney, who worked on all four of those “Disney guy” films (Clyde Geronimi and Hamilton Luske have three credits each). Outside of those, I watched three films directed by Denis Villeneuve — it would’ve been four, as I was intending to catch up on all his early work before Dune came out, but then Dune got delayed. I’ll finish that project in 2021, then. Directors with two films apiece were John G. Avildsen, Michael Bay, Kathryn Bigelow, Danny Boyle, Ruben Fleischer, Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe, Sidney J. Furie, Greta Gerwig, Marielle Heller, Alfred Hitchcock, Paul Leni, James Mangold, Steve McQueen, and Rob Reiner. Plus, if we factor in short films, there was David Lynch (one feature and two shorts), Terry Gilliam (one feature and one short, which is often counted as part of a feature, so…), Jon Watts (one feature and one short), and Jules White (two shorts).

Since 2015, I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. After a dip in 2016, it’s been steadily increasing in percentage terms, but last year female directors were still only credited on eleven films — seven as sole director, three as part of a directing partnership with a man. Counting each shared credit as half a film, that represented just 5.63% of my viewing. 2020 sees a significant improvement: this year, there were 33 films with a female director (28 solo, five paired with a man), which equates to 11.44% of my viewing. That’s a big improvement, but still not really good enough. It’s debatable whether the onus should be on me to seek out more films directed by women or on the industry to give more directing gigs to women (ultimately, it’s a bit of both, though I’d argue with more weight on the latter) — either way, hopefully this number will continue to increase in the future, and this graph can begin to look a lot more equitable.

At the end of my annual “top ten” post, I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases, and over the years I continue to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’. For the second year in a row, I failed to see at least one film from every previous list; but I did better than last year! In 2019, I only watched a total of 37 films from across 7 of the 12 lists. In 2020, I watched 54 films from 11 of the now-13 lists. That’s no record, but it’s a big improvement. To summarise, I watched one each from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2015; two each from 2010, 2013, and 2017; and eight from 2018. (For completism’s sake: the two years I missed were 2011 and 2016.)

That just leaves my first year of catching up on 2019’s 50. Of those, I watched 34 — a new record for the best ‘first year’ ever, just beating the previous high of 33 from 2017’s list that I watched in 2018.

In total, I’ve now seen 476 out of 650 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s 73.2%, a healthy increase from last year’s 70.3%. That percentage has increased every year for the past decade, from a lowly 25% after 2009 to where it is today. Hopefully it will continue on up in 2021. (As always, my list of 50 for 2020 will be included in my “best & worst” post later this week… month… however long it takes me…)

At the time of writing, 20 films from my 2020 viewing appear on the IMDb Top 250. 20 from 2020? Neat. However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by 15, to 30. On the bright side, at this rate I might finally complete the darn thing in 2022 (getting there has only taken, um, all my life so far). Anyway, the current rankings of ones I saw this year range from 30th (Parasite) to 248th (The Battle of Algiers).

And now, all of a sudden, we’re at the end… almost. To conclude 2020’s statistics, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

As always, this includes every new feature film I watched, even those without a review (which, this year, is most of them). That means there are some where I’m still flexible on my exact score — films I’d happily award, say, 3.5 or 4.5 on Letterboxd, but which I insist on rounding up or down to a whole star on here. (I occasionally consider beginning to use half-stars here too, but there’s something kinda fun about having to force every film into one of just five broad groups.) For the sake of completing this stat, I’ve assigned whole-star ratings to every film, but it’s possible I’ll change my mind on some when I finally post their review. That might render this section slightly inaccurate, though, honestly, who’d even notice?

This year I awarded 39 five-star ratings. That’s exactly the same number as in 2018, which suggests some level of consistency. It also makes this year joint second, with 2015’s 40 still the standout for volume of five-star films. In percentage terms, I gave full marks to 14.8% of films I watched, which is comfortably inside my historical range (which spans from 11.9% to 21.2%).

The most prolific rating was four stars, given to 111 films. That’s also a second-place finish, though, with the most four-star ratings having been the 122 I awarded in 2018. Nonetheless, four-stars has been the biggest group in 13 out of 14 years of this blog’s history, and this year it encompassed 42.1% of films, which is again somewhere in the middle of a range that spans from 31.5% to 53.3%.

More noteworthy were the 91 three-star films — the highest number ever (sailing past 2018’s 76) and, at 34.5%, the highest percentage since 2013’s 35.8% and third highest overall (the top spot goes to the only year three-stars outnumbered four-stars, 2012). I have tried to be a bit firmer with my marking in recent years (by reducing the number of times I think “oh, go on, just nudge it up to a 4, then”), so I guess this bears that out.

At the “bad” of the scale, there were 21 two-star films, which ties with 2018 for the most ever, but at 7.95% is actually one of the lowest results ever (only 2011 and 2016 can boast a lower percentage). Finally, I handed out just two one-star ratings, which equates to 0.8%. These really are my rarest of the rare: I’ve awarded two or fewer in 9 out of 14 years, with the highest total being five (in 2012 — a bad year, clearly).

Finally, the average score for the year — a single figure with which to judge 2020’s quality against other years, for good or ill. The short version is 3.6 out of 5, which is the same as four previous years (including last year), below eight years, and above just one year. If we expand that out a few more decimal places, at 3.621 it’s actually my third-lowest year ever, only besting last year’s 3.604 and 2012’s bizarrely poor 3.352 (I said it was a bad year). That said, we’re talking very small margins here — I’ve had to go to three decimal places to separate the years out; and, at one decimal place, my average score has never gone above 3.8 or below 3.4. So, 2020 was perfectly fine, as this graph shows.

And that’s that for another year. FYI, this has been my most verbose stats post ever — its word count is even higher than some of my older ones that also included the entire list of films I’d watched that year. So congratulations if you made it to the end! Fun, wasn’t it? (If you’re itching for more, don’t forget my Letterboxd stats for 2020.)


With all that analysis done, my review of 2020 is nearly at an end. All that remains is my best and worst of the year, coming just as soon as I can work it out and write it up (my long list is pretty darn long this year!)

My Most-Read Posts of 2020

For the first time since I moved my blog to WordPress, my number of views went down this year. *sob* Partly that’s because 2019 had one exceptionally large month (when people flooded in from IMDb to read my thoughts on Game of Thrones’ final season), but it was more than that, because 2020 didn’t even reach the same level as 2018 — though it was close in the end, coming just 0.2% short.

As for individual posts, this may technically be a film blog, but since 2017 my most-read chart has been dominated by TV reviews. That was the case once again in 2020 — well, if it was going to happen any year, it would be one where we were mostly stuck at home. Despite that, a film review did break into my overall top five… although that was a direct-to-Netflix movie, so some would argue it’s TV anyway.

Nonetheless, here I once again present two top fives: one for TV, one for film. If you want to know my overall top five new posts, the #1 film slots between #2 and #3 on the TV list. Also of note: the image at the top of this post is accurate, so the top two TV posts were far out ahead of anything else. Why? Who ever knows.

My Top 5 Most-Viewed New TV Posts in 2020

5) The Past Month on TV #61
including Archer season 7, The Crown season 2, Derren Brown: 20 Years of Mind Control, The Great British Bake Off series 10, Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Jonathan Creek series 3–4 + specials, Lucifer season 5 episodes 1–8 (aka season 5A), Red Dwarf: The First Three Million Years, The Rookie season 2 episodes 1–17, and the best of The Twilight Zone #9.

4) The Past Month on TV #59
including Daniel Sloss: X, Doctor Who: The Time Meddler, Elementary season 6 episodes 1–14, what passed for Eurovision 2020, The Great British Bake Off series 9, Jonathan Creek series 1, Lucifer season 4, the RSC’s Macbeth with Christopher Eccleston, The Rookie season 1 episodes 16–20, Star Trek: Picard season 1 episode 8, and the worst of The Twilight Zone #3.

3) The Past Month on TV #55
including Doctor Who series 12 episodes 3–5, The Goes Wrong Show series 1 episodes 3–5, The Great British Bake Off series 1 episodes 1–3, His Dark Materials series 1, a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Picard season 1 episode 1, the best of The Twilight Zone #6, and the Twin Peaks pilot and season 3 episode 8 in UHD.

2) The Past Christmas on TV 2019
including Criminal: United Kingdom season 1, Doctor Who series 12 episodes 1–2, Dracula, the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, The Goes Wrong Show series 1 episodes 1–2, In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss, Miranda: My Such Fun Celebration, and Vienna Blood series 1.

1) The Past Month on TV #56
including the 92nd Academy Awards, the British Academy Film Awards 2020, Death in Paradise series 9 episodes 3–8, Doctor Who series 12 episodes 6–10, Flesh and Blood series 1, The Goes Wrong Show series 1 episode 6, Good Omens, The Good Place season 3, Lucifer season 3 episodes 16–24, McDonald & Dodds episode 1, My Dad Wrote a Porno, The Rookie season 1 episodes 1–6, Star Trek: Picard season 1 episodes 2–3, and the best of The Twilight Zone #7. Whew! No wonder it topped the list with all that variety.

My Top 5 Most-Viewed New Film Posts in 2020

Some might say this is also a list dominated by “TV”, because Netflix original movies make up three of this top five, and another was a Disney+ premiere. There’s just one theatrical release here — but then, 2020 was hardly a year in which theatrical releases were dominant anywhere.

5) Hamilton
The filmed version of the cultural phenomenon, performed by the original Broadway cast in its original staging. Is it a film? Is it a documentary? Is it just a filmed concert and so should we consider that its own form at this point? Whatever your opinion, this was a highly anticipated event — brought forward from its intended October 2021 theatrical release due to the pandemic — that helped cram even more subscribers onto Disney+.

4) The Old Guard
One of Netflix’s many attempts to kickstart an action franchise, this one starred and was directed by women, helping it tap into the general cultural zeitgeist and therefore generating conversation — and clicks.

3) 1917
An actual honest-to-God theatrical release! Remember those? A popular hit as well as an awards frontrunner, so no surprise it attracted plenty of clicks considering I posted my review while it was on the circuit.

2) Extraction
Another big Netflix franchise starter (this one already has a sequel in the works). It was reportedly Netflix’s biggest movie ever (back in July — I don’t know if that’s changed since), so it’s no surprise people wanted to read about it.

1) Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Mixed reviews greeted this attempt to spoof the unspoofable, as some Americans attempted to take on the singular phenomenon that is the Eurovision Song Contest. It wasn’t a resounding success, but with some fab performances (the always wonderful Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens), surprisingly good songs (there’s Oscar buzz for Husavik), and even a catchphrase or two (“SING JAJA DING DONG”), this was kind of a breakout hit.

Death to 2020 (2020)

2020 #264
Al Campbell & Alice Mathias | 71 mins | digital (UHD) | 2:1 | USA & UK / English | 15

Death to 2020

As if the line between film and TV wasn’t becoming blurred enough already, 2020 has torn it to shreds. It’s now basically up to streamers whether they brand something as “a film” or a “special” or whatever (some individual websites might insist on labelling any Netflix original movie as “TV”, but I’m not sure anyone’s listening). This feature-length one-off from the makers of Black Mirror is, officially, “a Netflix Original Comedy Event” — so it’s a TV special, really, isn’t it? I probably shouldn’t be counting it as a film. Oh, but who cares?

Despite the lack of familiar title format, Death to 2020 very much follows in the footsteps of the Wipe series of year-in-reviews specials Charlie Brooker used to make for the BBC. It’s both documentary and mockumentary: it recaps the real-life events of the year, with minimal diversion into satirical fantasy, but archly commented on by an array of actors portraying fake experts. The Netflix budget means some properly big names are involved: Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant, Lisa Kudrow… the list goes on. The prime absentee is Brooker himself, only piping up occasionally as an offscreen interviewer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it focuses on the major events of the year from a UK/US perspective — other countries (like Australia, China, and… um… I think that’s it) only enter the equation when events there affect everyone else (like, y’know, starting a global pandemic). That makes sense given who made it, but maybe less so for Netflix as a global company. But then, not everything needs to appeal to everyone. I’m sure if they had a French satirist on the books, they’d be producing a Franco-centric special.

A cast of dozens!

It’s to Death to 2020’s disadvantage that, this year, we’ve all been paying more attention to the news than ever. That might seem like a benefit — a knowledgeable, informed audience means you can cut straight to the jokes with minimal prompting — but I think instead it means we’ve already heard most of the humour. We’ve spent all year making these gags ourselves, trying to alleviate the doom-laden (inter)national mood. The other, related, problem lies in trying to appeal to an international audience. In trying to keep things accessible for both sides of the pond, Brooker and co avoid getting into the weeds of local politics. Brexit is briefly mentioned rather than deconstructed; US politics is limited to the election. Specificities of lockdown life are dodged almost entirely. Trying to stick to broad, globally-familiar topics seems to keep the humour similarly generalised.

Nonetheless, it starts out quite funny, even if they’re mostly riffs we’ve heard before. But around the time it hits the killing of George Floyd, the jokes dry up. If you’re not a racist dickhead, there’s little funny about the organisations that supposedly protect us instead arbitrarily murdering people. Death to 2020 knows this and picks its targets carefully, but it seems to kill the humour nonetheless — the jokes continue, but the humour in them dries up.

It turns out the biggest problem isn’t unoriginality or too broad a target audience, but rather that 2020 was such a shitshow that it’s just no fun to be reminded of it, even in an intentionally comedic context. It doesn’t help that we’re facing a 2021 that promises at least several months of being equally as bad. Maybe one day we’ll be able to look back on all this and laugh, but just as likely we’ll prefer to forget.

2 out of 5

Happy New Year, dear readers! It can’t actually be any worse… right?