Thursday, January 7, 2021

Top 20 Most Memorable Films We Discovered in 2020

Sometimes movies just stick with you. Whether it’s part of the performances, a certain scene, or even just a piece of trivia – there are somethings that have staying power. 
This list is not about whether or not a film is good. Memories are neutral. I remember the first time I was seriously rejected, just as well as I remember my first kiss. This list, instead, looks at those flicks we reviewed in 2020 that we know we’ll remember years from now.
A lot of the memorable moments involve plot twists and endings. For that reason, we’re issuing a:

20 – Vivarium (2019)
Vivarium was not a good film. It worked for critics because it was cerebral and added up to something – it had a message. But, to the average movie-goer is was boring, slow, repetitive, and more than a little annoying.
There are, however, some scenes that stand out. There’s one, in particular, that I know I’ll remember well into the future.

In this scene, Gemma has had enough of her alien non-child and attacks him with a pick axe. He inhumanly crawls away and lifts the sidewalk up as if it were a blanket, then crawls underneath. Using her weapon, the protagonist wedges the sidewalk open and follows to find some kind of mirror universe.
The visuals are insane and impossible to forget.

19 – Unhinged (2020)
Unhinged was not a perfect film, but it was thrilling. Russell Crowe is unstoppable when he can be as creepy, and tough, as he wants to be.
His performance is part of why Unhinged is unforgettable, but it’s the realism of the plot that really drives it on home. (No pun intended.)

The movie focuses on road rage, and starts off with a bunch of real-world examples. Then it flows into the story of a young divorced mother trying to get to a job on time and bring her kid to school. She inadvertently starts a psychopath on a rampage that he focuses on her. It’s not deep, but it’s effective.
Thinking about it makes me think of the worst road ragers I’ve come across in my travels. Equally, when I see an instance of road rage, it makes me think of this film. There’s been times since, where it’s caused me to hesitate on my horn, and I don’t use it much to begin with.
It’s the kind of thing that sticks with you.

18 – The VelociPastor (2018)
This movie wasn’t for me, but I’ll be damned if it hasn’t been burned into my retinas against my will.
The VelociPastor is one of those films that was made to be bad. No one making it was trying to create something of substance. It was their intention to do something fun with friends and make a flick that was completely balls-out weird as fuck.
In that way, they succeeded.
This movie was definitely the one that made us say ‘what the fuck?’ the most. The part I remember best, is in the very beginning. The pastor’s parents die in an explosion and instead of wasting time and money on CGI effects, we got this:

I have to say, it is one of the few part that DID work for me. I just about died laughing. It was a great move for a parody film, and one I don’t think I’ll see replicated.

17 – Project Power (2020)
I, personally, enjoyed this movie as a whole. I thought it was well acted and had some seriously cool action sequences. Then again, I’m almost always going to like something starring Jamie Foxx or Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Regardless of that, I don’t think enjoyment of the plot is a necessity to enjoy Project Power, and that’s where that staying power comes from.
Say what you will about the film, it was still one of the most gorgeous films to come out this year – at least where CGI is concerned.

There are moments in the film that I will absolutely never forget because of just how astounding they were to watch. I could have watched the whole thing on mute and still given it a favorable review. 

You see some of the moments in the trailer. The way Gordon-Levitt’s face ripples when the bullet hits the side of his head, the flames coming off the fire elemental… it was all impossible to look away from.
I will never forget some of the visuals in this flick.

16 – The Cleansing Hour (2019)
There’s a lot about The Cleansing Hour that sticks out in my mind. Alix Angelis’ performance, for one. The entire premise, as another. Nothing beats the ending, though.
Throughout the entire film, the demon possessing Lane has forced them to stay connected to the internet – broadcasting the entire ‘exorcism’ to millions of fans. It blackmails them, saying that Lane will die if they pull the plug.
Some basic possession stuff happens, and a whole story is revealed that turns the characters against each other. Almost predictably, they complete the exorcism – seemingly just in the nick of time.
Lane is saved! But the story is not over. 

The demon possesses one of the dead bodies in the room and they learn it wasn’t who they thought, but the actual devil. He reveals his true form in a sickening body-horror transformation scene, but it’s not the others in the room he’s concerned with. He leans down to stare into the camera and speaks some Latin before biting into the wire and disappearing.
It’s confusing. Strange. Nothing seems to have happened. In fact, I started to roll my eyes.
Then the camera cuts to what’s happening all around the world. People watching the stream have been infected with whatever the devil did and are starting to grab weapons. Shooting and slicing through anyone who hasn’t been affected.
It’s the end of the world, and it started with a liar and a fake exorcism.
That ending is going to stick with me for a LONG time.

15 – Midsommar (2019)
When I first saw Midsommar I didn’t really get the hype. There were a lot of scenes that seemed on the melodramatic side and others that just seemed to go on forever. Over time, though, something changed.
This is one of those films that produces more meaning, and packs a heavier punch, the longer you ruminate on it. It helps to watch it more than once. That is actually what makes it so memorable.
It’s rare to find a film with this kind of re-watchability.

When I buy a video game, I take re-playability into account. Are there side quests? Are there hidden trophies? Are there collectables? Are there multiple options? These are all questions that come to mind when I’m preparing to lay down $60 for a new game. That’s a lot of money. I don’t want to spend it on something I’m going to play for 4 hours and never touch again.
The same questions don’t come into play when I look into watching a movie. Even if I only watch it once, it’s fine.
Midsommar has so many nuances that as you re-watch it over and over again, the story develops more meaning. You understand more about the characters. You get to the ending easier. And that re-watchability is what I find incredibly memorable.

14 – Extraction (2020)
The story for extraction is a bit basic, but the way it was shot, was not.
I’ll admit, I couldn’t recount any of the non-action scenes if someone asked me to. However, I could blow their mind with some behind-the-scenes trivia on how the fast-paced scenes were shot.

That’s what you get when you hire a stunt man as a director, though. It felt like every single scene had some kind of long-take, should be impossible, shot in it. Sam Hargrave, the director, wound up acting as the camera man for almost all of those impressive shots.
In one scene, he had to be strapped to the front of a car driving at stupid-fast speeds in order to get the shots he wanted. In another, he flat out jumped off a roof. Every risky shot he made, was worth it. In the end, we wound up with crazy action gold.

13 – A Quiet Place (2018)
This was a very well-made film. I’m a post-apocalyptic fan and always knew that it would be added to a list of my favorites. I didn’t know how badly it would seek to fuck me up, though.
Many of the scenes were memorable. When Lee signs that he has always loved his daughter to her, just before he dies – I cry every time. It’s a gorgeous moment of closure for a little girl who thinks her father resents her, and a phenomenal piece of cinema.
It’s not the most memorable moment, though.
That honor goes to the scene at the beginning of the film that makes Regan think her father resents her in the first place.
In the beginning we are being introduced to a world that has already ended. The aliens have landed and won. Humanity must continue to survive in total silence or be destroyed. In the middle of it all is a family that has been saved because their daughter is deaf. They know sign language. They can communicate without speaking.
During a supply run, the parents need to wrangle three kids. One of those children is sick and one is very young. 

The young boy finds a toy and begins to play with it, but the parents catch him and take it away, removing the batteries. When they turn to leave, carrying their sick son with them, Regan takes the toy and gives it back to her brother.
The young child, not understanding the danger, takes the batteries back and puts them into the toy as they’re all leaving.
As an audience member, it’s something that made me tense, but not too much. Early on in a movie, there doesn’t tend to be too many important deaths. On top of that, a lot of films shy away from killing kids. It’s something that makes almost everyone feel especially bad.
By the end of that scene, though, the toy starts making noise and that child is scooped up and eaten by one of the aliens.
It’s horrific and done during a time in the film where people feel mostly safe. It’s completely silent up until that moment, as well. We're forced into the belief that silence is safety. It was a brilliant way to train the audience to associate anxiety with sound.

12 – Host (2020)
Host was memorable for a different reason.
I loved the hell out of Host. I thought it was a very smart film, and it brought new life to a basic Ouija/haunting plot. Although I would consider a lot of what happened memorable, it sticks out to me more based on the situation surrounding it.
In 2020 we all had to deal with the corona virus. Anyone who wasn’t essential or stupid, locked down. I think a lot of people assumed it would be easier than it was. I know, as an introvert, I can often forget that humans are social creature. We survive best in packs.
That loneliness and boredom led to an overconsumption of entertainment – but it was hard to relate to much of it at that time. We couldn’t go out. We couldn’t have friends over. Anything we watched could only be escapism, because it wasn’t relevant anymore. Life had changed, and we didn’t know how long it would last.

Then came Host.
To my knowledge, it was the first flick that was filmed, and set, entirely in Zoom, during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It was amazing, and I’ll be revisiting it many times in the future. More importantly, though, it’s a time capsule. It shows the atmosphere of 2020 for what it was, for better or worse.
A few films have done it since, but Host came first.

11 – The Call of the Wild (2020)
I hate the reason The Call of the Wild is so memorable.
The thing is, I enjoy the story of this film. I like the book, I like some of the past adaptations, and a ton of stories that were inspired by the original. The marketing was not the best for this particular flick, but it really shouldn’t have been that bad.
I hate to say it like this, but the reason this adaptation didn’t hold up is because of the dog.

If this exact film came out in the 90s, with no changes, I’d have been fine with it. Might have been one of the best of the year, even. However, we’re in the 21rst century and this movie was made by production companies that have money. There’s absolutely no reason for how badly the dog in The Call of the Wild was rendered.
The shark in Santa Jaws (2018) was better.
If this were an indie film, it might have been a little distracting, but it would have been fine. If I’m laying down $20 to go see a mainstream movie in a theater, I don’t want to be distracted by how bad the CGI is.
It’s not the best way for a film to be remembered, but here we are.

10 – Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Anna and the Apocalypse is what you get when you mix Shaun of the Dead and High School Musical. It is hilarious and good-clean-zombie fun. When I saw it this year, it instantly became one of my favorite films ever. The whole thing is memorable just for the total randomness it is. Still, there’s one song that stands out.
Anna is the main character of this flick and she’s a basic teenager. She's in secondary school and about to move on when zombies attack. Naturally, the movie focuses on her life a little before the apocalypse. Her school is filled with cliques. It’s based in England, but it’s not really different in that way. The rebels, the nerds, the jocks, the indie kids/hipsters… simple formula. Universal, really.

The song that sticks out the most is “Soldier at War,” and it comes in while Anna and her friends are trying to escape some zombies while hiding under an inflatable pool. The rebels are grouped together, of course, and come across the protagonist. It’s their song that makes the most memorable cut.
It’s not just interesting because it’s catchy – though it is. It’s also different in that it shows a group of people who are not afraid of the zombies and, in fact, kind of enjoy kicking their asses. That’s not something that pops up a lot in horror films, unless there’s some kind of seedy underbelly to the group – which this doesn’t really have.
Check it out, but be prepared to have it stuck in your head for the foreseeable future.

9 – The Hunt (2020)
The Hunt was decent. It was action packed and had some good acting, especially from Betty Gilpin.
Of its content, the most memorable moment would be the beginning. The camera follows one character as though they’re going to be the protagonist, but that character dies. So, the camera follows someone else, and then they die. It pulls the same hunt for a main character a few times before it settles on Gilpin’s character.
As interesting as that was, it’s not what's going to stick with me the longest.
In fact, it didn’t even make this list based on the content. It’s one of the most memorable of the year because of the controversy surrounding it.

You’re going to find a great many different stories about what that controversy is, though.
Some sources say that the drama went down because of a school shooting happening near the intended release (which would have been in 2019) and it caused this overly violent film to postpone. Others say it was based on the politics, which was kind of backed up by the Cheeto-in-Chief tweeting about how it was created to cause chaos.
Whatever the height of the controversy, the movie was actually pretty benign. It made both liberals and conservatives look like idiots, and the one person who walks out alive is never said to be one or the other. It WAS violent, but no more so than most horror films these days.
Still, the controversy is unforgettable.  

8 – 365 Days (2020)
This film is as memorable as it is because of how bad it is.
365 Days (alternately known as 365 dni) sits at a high of 0% critics, and 29% audience, score on Rotten Tomatoes and yet, somehow, had such positive word of mouth that it caught our attention. That’s how this glorified porn wound up on our schedule.

It’s not the film itself that we’re going to remember. It’s just how much faith we lost in humanity that it ever came to our attention to begin with.
I can’t even add a clip to this list. It’s so close to being a full-on porn, that I can’t find anything even remotely appropriate. I’d tell you to go watch it yourself, but that would be a waste of nearly 2 hours of your life. Let’s just move on and try to burn it from our brains.

7 – Ready or Not (2019)
It’s really difficult for me to not just say “Samara Weaving’s scream” here.
To be fair, this was one of the first films that really made me start looking at Weaving as a modern-day scream queen. Her performance is practically perfect, and it’s very difficult to not remember every moment of it.
It’s the movie itself that really gets me, though.
I was so surprised that this was not a basic bitch slasher film. Aside from that, the humor of it is what makes the whole thing so memorable.

The depictions of family members using weapons they’ve never seen in real life is paired with someone hiding in a bathroom to watch a quick YouTube tutorial, for one example.
It’s all like that. The writers don’t go with the easy story. Instead, they take any expectations they know people are going to have and subvert them in the funniest way possible. I felt like the creators were living rent free in my head just to troll me.
The ending is insanely memorable, too.
Also, Samara Weaving’s scream.

6 – Hamilton (2020)
We all know what I’m going to say here. What’s most memorable about Hamilton? The music.
Long before this movie came out on Disney+, I had the soundtrack memorized. When I saw it put to screen, though… it was a whole different story.
The songs I found to be most memorable when listening to the album are not the songs that I would pick from the film. On Disney+, the song that will visually stick with me the longest, is "Hurricane."
Set with the choreography, it is one of the most goosebump raising moments I’ve seen in anything.
Hamilton stands in the middle of the stage and he begins to sing. It’s quiet. A memory. Then the tempo picks up and the stage begins to revolve around him in two different directions while dancers in white make their way onto it, spinning like the winds of a hurricane. They lift furniture and people and there’s a flash as it all pauses. It looks like a force of destruction coming in on him… but there’s quiet. For just a moment.

(Couldn’t find a clip of the performance, but it can be found at the following time on the film on Disney+: 1:56:20)

And Hamilton never moves. He stands in the middle of the stage, the world turning to madness around him.
I feel like every one of us related to that moment during the pandemic.
Of course, there were other memorable moments only found in the stage performance. Death guiding the bullet. The varied and nuanced performances of Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom Jr., Anthony Ramos, Chris Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Okieriete Onaodowan, and Phillipa Soo. The spittle from Jonathan Groff that became a meme.
Hamilton was a nearly 3 hour masterpiece that is memorable because we needed it.

5 – The Invisible Man (2020)
Watching Elisabeth Moss play a gaslit protagonist (Cecilia) that seems to be slowly going crazy as she’s stalked by her invisible ex was one of the best film experiences of the entire year. I could just cop out and say that it was her entire performance that made the movie memorable. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was part of it. It’s one single scene that stands out in my mind when I think back, though.
It’s made very clear throughout the film that Cecilia’s sister (Emily) doesn’t really get the depth of what’s gone wrong in her life. Emily helps her to the most minor extent possible, and doesn’t give her the time of day to explain what’s going on most of the time.

That makes it a bit of a shock when she actually shows up to a restaurant Cecilia’s asked to meet her at.
I expected the scene to go one of two ways. I figured it was either going to lead to some kind of reconciliation, or the invisible ex would do something to drive her off.
The scene went completely off the wall, though, as the ex actually slits Emily’s throat and frames Cecilia. It came out of no where and broke through the safety of a scene that didn’t feel tense.
I believe that scene alone is going to keep me from making off-the-cuff predictions so easily in the future.

4 – The Platform (2019)
There is no one scene in The Platform that sticks out. Instead, it’s the whole film.
Throughout the movie we are shown a pessimistic and jaded look at humanity and greed. It’s so realistic to what I believe would actually happen in such a situation, that it left a lasting impression.
In the world shown, the characters inhabit a vertical prison. There are 2 people per cell and, presumably, 150 levels. Every day, once a day, a platform full of gourmet food – stuff requested by the inmates themselves – lowers into the prison. If everyone only takes what they order, then there’s enough food for everyone.
That’s not what happens.

Instead, every single layer, the prisoners stuff themselves as much as is physically possible. As a result, there’s never enough food to go around.
We follow the main character, Goreng, as he gets switched from level to level every month. We see the higher levels spitting and pissing on the lower ones. We watch as he gets trapped on a lower level with no food. We watch people resort to cannibalism.
It’s haunting and unforgettable. It’s a scathing commentary on greed and a very visual representation of why trickle down economics is a scam.

3 – Onward (2020)
The ending of this film straight-up made me ugly cry in the theater.
COVID-19 was a thing, but lockdowns hadn’t been called for yet when I went to go see it. So, there weren’t that many people in the room. That means I didn’t disturb anyone.
It was a Pixar film. I naturally expected some feels, but they decided to give me the one ending I never saw coming. It caught me off guard and elevated it to one of the most memorable kids films I’ve ever seen.

Throughout the entire movie, the main character (Ian) and his brother (Barley) are trying to get the bottom half of their late dad to a place where they can revive him fully. The spell only works for one day and Ian is absolutely obsessed with getting to meet his father. Because the man died when Ian was very young, he has no full memories of him.
I figured they would get to what they needed and get the dad back just in time for about a 60-second piece of closure. Something sweet and tear jerking, but ultimately happy… if a bit bittersweet.
Instead, there’s a huge fight scene and, Ian being the only one able to do magic, leaves to take care of it. He lets his brother see their dad. Meanwhile, Ian can only watch from a distance.
It was fucking heartbreaking. I had no idea that Pixar had the balls for that. It was the perfect ending.

2 – Marriage Story (2019)
This movie was outstanding, and it should have probably been on our favorite new discoveries for last year, but Cat had some triggering issues. As a result, we opted not to revisit it.
That’s what’s so memorable about it, though. It was a VERY honest flick.
Every moment of argument, of betrayal, of heartache felt real. You could sympathize with every character. You could feel their tears and hopelessness.
The one scene that stands out, is when Charlie and Nicole are arguing in his new apartment.

It’s not an action sequence. The camera doesn’t pull any stunts. There’s no outside influence. The scene is just about two characters in their emotions, rising to a climax of pain that results in the crossing of a line. It’s an argument we’ve all had with someone. A lost friend, our parents during puberty, an ex. It’s relatable and so superbly acted that you can see the excess saliva in their mouths and the tears running down their cheeks.
Watching it causes the heart to race and ache. You want life to get better and, at times, you don’t even know who to side with.
It’s one of the most perfectly scripted and acted argument scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

1 – Jojo Rabbit (2019)
This movie was only surprising because it worked. I don’t think anyone expected that from a dramedy about World War II. The holocaust is just way too sensitive of a topic to be joked about. Still, Taika Watiti somehow pulled it off.
It helped that he didn’t leave out the gut punches.
There was one scene in this movie that absolutely fucked me up.
In the film, Jojo spends a lot of time with his mother. She’s a resistance fighter, but she’s very careful with her work and she tries to shelter Jojo from it. It’s hard, because he idolizes Hitler. He’s a young German boy growing up in the time of the Third Reich. He’s been indoctrinated, raised into the beliefs that he only has because he doesn’t know there’s another way.

As he spends time with his mother, the camera can be seen focusing on her shoes now and then. They’re a unique pair. Red and white, while most of the clothing in the film is seen as shades of grey. They’re one of a kind.
In the scene, Jojo is walking around when he finds a blue butterfly, and joyfully follows behind it until it leads him to gallows.
We never see his mother, but we see her shoes. They dangle beside Jojo's head and leave no question as to what has happened.
The scene is an instant lump in the throat, and one that is unforgettably tragic.

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