What a torrid year for cinema with few big releases, film festivals cancelled and production halted across the world. We look back at 2020 before picking out our film recommendation of 2020.
A Devastating Year
Like so much elsewhere in 2020, Covid-19 had a profound effect on the film industry.
All cinemas in the UK were closed on 20 March as part of national restrictions, mirroring a similar shutdown across the globe. Eagerly-anticipated productions such as The Batman, Matrix 4 and Jurassic World: Dominion were halted and films due to go into cinemas such as Wonder Woman 1984, Death on the Nile and West Side Story received ever-rescheduled release dates.
Tenet became the first blockbuster to get a cinema screening with the easing of restrictions – it was shuffled from its original release date of 17 July to 31 July then to 12 August and finally internationally released 26 August (each postponement estimated to cost Warner Bros. between $200,000 and $400,000 in marketing fees).
With audiences choosing not to return in droves to the reopened but socially-distanced cinemas, the 25th James Bond movie No Time To Die announced on 2 October that there was in fact plenty of time to die and would be delaying its release until April 2021. Within days, without that tentpole movie to draw audiences, cinema chains Cineworld and Picturehouse announced they were closing completely with Odeon scaling back and closing 25% of the cinemas during the week. With the Tier system introduced to the UK, cinema remained piecemeal in terms of releases and distributors found new avenues to bring their films to audiences.
Enola Holmes, originally intended for a cinema release, debuted on Netflix in September. The Prom had a limited release in US cinemas but mostly premiered in December on Netflix.
December saw the shock announcement that Warner Bros. Pictures would simultaneously release its slate of 2021 films both as theatrical releases and available for streaming on HBO Max for a period of one month.
Our Rec (and Not Recs)
Despite a thrilling opening siege at the Kiev Opera House, Tenet dissolves into an incomprehensible and frequently inaudible dud.
Highlight: a cameo of Michael Caine serving up… well basically Michael Caine eating dinner and taking the money and running.
Lowlight: most of it, but especially the big set piece ending is infuriatingly convoluted with multiple timelines playing out simultaneously. Presumably designed to encourage multiple re-watches, only a lip-reading masochist would attempt such folly. Tenet is NotRec’d.
Wonder Woman 1984
The ageless Amazonian, Diana, returns in the much-rescheduled Wonder Woman 1984, a muddled adventure featuring a wish-granting magic gemstone – a MacGuffin every bit as hokey as it sounds.
Highlight: at least, WW84 breaks away from the doom-laden, darkness-shrouded, angst-mongering that dominates much of the DC cinematic universe. The bright 80s aesthetic channels some of the innocent, uncomplicated fun of Superman II – where heroes were heroes and villains were bonkers with mad plans of world-domination.
Lowlight: the long, messy, ill-focused script whose purpose often is as clear as Diana’s plane. Not forgetting some special effects stinky enough to rival the CGI of Cats.
Gal Gadot brings beauty, athleticism and all the pizzazz of wet cardboard to the title role which might explain why director Patty Jenkins keeps her sidelined for much of the film. The golden lasso of truth compels me to advise that Wonder Woman 1984 is NotRec’d.
Les Traducteurs (The Translators)
And so we come to The Recs favourite film of 2020: Les Traductuers, a French mystery / thriller directed by Régis Roinsard. Whilst it is yet to have a general UK release, it did manage an appearance in February at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020.
What’s it about?
The world is eagerly anticipating publication of the final book of the global bestselling “Dedalus” trilogy. Think The Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter at their peak. The author in this case is neither a purveyor of mythological nonsense or the darling of the transphobes – no the identity of the Dedalus books is also a mystery.
The film begins with a potpourri of nine international translators (les traducteurs of the title, bien sûr!) arriving at a glamourous, high security bunker where they are to internationally translate the last volume for simultaneous global publication. Suitably ensconced and cut off from any contact with the outside world, they are given the first pages and their dream job begins. Until the ruthless publisher receives a blackmail demand and the first 10 pages of the novel appears online. Surely it can only be one of the translators? But how are they masterminding such a cunning plan?
Why is it a Rec?
From the off, Les Traducteurs is a sleek twist on the tradition locked-door tradition of mysteries. The scribble of translators (well you come up with a better collective noun) are a suitably questionable carousel of suspects. Like a modern Agatha Christie, the story has plenty of red herrings and surprise twists – including when the film takes you by surprise with a sudden genre switch!
It is strong on claustrophobic atmosphere, a page-turner’s pace and meticulous plotting. “It is almost mathematics, a kind of puzzle where when we move a piece, we move everything else” suggested director Régis Roinsard.
If you enjoyed Knives Out, you’ll probably love Les Traducteurs. Seek it out!