Tag Archive: Tuppence Middleton


When we created last year’s preview of 2020 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best, mainly because what were to be the big box office hits were delayed to 2021 because of the covid pandemic.  All year we wondered what we’d get to see and what we wouldn’t–and thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and similar streaming services, an impressive array of movies kept us entertained, especially by way of genre content.  Ultimately we think the Best Movies of 2020 will stand up against any other year.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back tomorrow for our best on television and later this week for our print media picks and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020 here.  Wait no further, here are the Best Movies of 2020:

Best Film, Best Sci-Fi Film, Best Drama, Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Writing, Best Suspense/Thriller, Best Retro Fix The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime).  The man of many hats, writer-director-producer-editor Andrew Patterson dazzled us this year with the sleeper sci-fi film The Vast of Night, from Amazon Prime.  Amazon hadn’t before stunned us with a feature film, but this one sure blew us away.  We knew this was the #1 science fiction offering of the year at first viewing, but when we went back and watched films again, it also stood out as the clear winner for top prize.  Part American Graffiti, part The Twilight Zone and The X-Files, and filmed as faithfully to the era as a Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece (with Orson Welles flair), this story sneaks up on the audience thanks in part to its two talented young lead actors.  The script is impeccable and rich, dotted with great jargon that dances artfully like music from the characters’ lips.  Expert Chilean cinematographer Miguel Menz adds just the right lighting and camera angles for a film we hope can get recognized by the Oscars, if only so we can see more of these filmmakers and actors in the future.   Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi Film: Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Netflix).

Best Borg Movie, Best Superhero Movie, Best BorgBloodshot (Sony Pictures).  The story of slain soldier Ray Garrison provided the year’s best look at life as a borg.  What do you do with cybernetic enhancements, how do you use them, and what toll does take from your humanity?  Jeff Wadlow’s story really kicked in once the audience slides into the plot twist.  The Six Million Dollar Man didn’t get to decide to get his bionics, and neither does Ray.  Once you give up control of yourself to someone else, more and more of you vanishes.  Especially if the person in control is using you as a tool of evil.  The best superhero films tend to be about the B-level superheroes, and Bloodshot proved that true again this year.  Honorable mention for Best Superhero Movie: The New Mutants (20th Century Studios).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s one thing to make a film about a notably B-level filmmaker and arrive at a success like the 1994 acclaimed black and white biopic Ed Wood.  But when you try the same thing about one of the best films ever made, you’re practically set up for failure.  It would take some kind of miracle to take Jack Fincher’s clunky, meandering script for the new Netflix film Mank and make it work.  A hodgepodge of character study and Hollywood quotes, plucking half-truths and grand real-life names of Hollywood’s past, Mank misfires from poor directing decisions and camera work, a lack of understanding or attention to re-creating the magic of black and white film in the color era.  What could have been a love letter to one of America’s greatest celebrated films paints a picture of a screenwriter who, rightly or wrongly, comes off as an unlikeable drunk who couldn’t possibly deserve our attention.

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It was only last year that television viewers got a great look at the potential of theatrical quality, direct-to-Netflix films, via the superb, Academy Award-winning, black and white drama Roma (reviewed here).  Will the next black and white movie produced by the Netflix studios fare similarly?  Mank stars genre actor Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz (if you don’t know “Mank’s” large body of work, you at least likely know of him through his grandson Ben Mankiewicz, host of Turner Classic Movies).  Herman’s fame came from writing scripts for film classics, including The Pride of the Yankees (and he was a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz), and the off again on again critic’s pick for the best film of all time, Citizen Kane.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

One of the news items from this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was a push of completed Disney and Fox movies out several months to insure full movie theater returns for the studio, while pushing out the door in advance of a full audience return films like The New Mutants and Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, now arriving October 23.  Those of us excited for the next all-star Hercule Poirot adventure can be glad that at least means a home release sooner than later.  In the meantime Amazon Prime has a brilliant BBC production of a classic mystery novel, previously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, and adapted most recently in 2013, of The Lady Vanishes.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The 21st century contest was whether The Current War or The New Mutants was going to be delayed longest before their inevitable release (The Current War for the Weinstein scandal and The New Mutants for the Disney-Fox merger and now the COVID-19 pandemic), and so The New Mutants wins–or loses–still with no release date.  At least The Current War–technically The Current War: Director’s Cut, was worth the wait.  Particularly if you put aside the inevitable choices in historical interpretations of the real-life historical figures and facts involved and instead marvel at the nicely realized cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung (Hotel Artemis), production design by Jan Roelfs (Gattaca, 47 Ronin, Ghost in the Shell), costumes by Michael Wilkinson (Justice League, Tron: Legacy, Watchmen), snappy writing and pacing thanks to Michael Mitnick, and a fantastic cast of familiar genre actors, adding The Current War to your streaming list is an easy choice.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

By the time of his death in 1982, science fiction writer and future visionary Philip K. Dick wrote some 44 novels and 121 short stories.  A master storyteller, Dick’s short story writing was often simple and straightforward, but it was packed with amazing worlds, prescient technologies (and glimpses at what would be real problems resulting from those technologies), plus truly unique and inspiring ideas and ideals.  The real genius of Dick can be found in these quick stories.  The 2017 British and American co-production Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is a science fiction series of ten episodes inspired by ten of his short stories, available now in the U.S. for the first time via Amazon Video.  If you find you’re not a fan of the series, don’t hold it against Philip K. Dick–the episodes are only very, very loosely based on his short stories, opting instead to expand on the stories and update most of the settings and plots, including swapping new technologies for those he wrote about.  Ideally those new to Dick’s works will be inspired by the ideas in the series to delve into his written works and experience his creations for themselves.

Written and directed by a variety of filmmakers, Electric Dreams is a hodgepodge of styles, storytelling, and continuity. Surprisingly the writers opted against sticking with the magic of Dick’s stories, deleting key memorable scenes, and choosing to add extra subplots with a few stories barely recognizable from their source material.  Most of the updates detract from the underlying story.  Three episodes fare the best–coincidentally or not, these are episodes that stay the truest to Dick’s own work.  The rest are less compelling, but each has its high points, either via surprisingly good special effects and production values for TV, or the choice of and performances by the actors (including Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, Source Code), Anna Paquin (X-Men series), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Total Recall), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Terrence Howard (Wayward Pines), and Anne Reid (Hot Fuzz, Doctor Who, Marchlands).  Based on one of the best of all Dick’s stories, Impossible Planet follows the original story to create the best episode of the series, taking viewers on a final voyage home accompanying an old (more than 300 years old) woman played by Geraldine Chaplin (even this episode cuts the most powerful scene from the short story).  The Father Thing takes its time getting to the story, but once there it keeps the guts and spirit of the original story.  Loyal to the source material, it also has a great John Carpenter-esque soundtrack and Greg Kinnear is perfectly cast as the father.  For a person who was not remembered as a family man, Dick’s stories involving children are among his best and “The Father Thing” is no different.  Ideas furthered in a story familiar to most sci-fi fans, “The Minority Report,” are examined in The Hood Maker, complete with precognitive telepaths and the concept of pre-crime.  The episode follows the original story, and its “buddy cop” duo would make a great spin-off series.

The remainder of the series offers concepts that will be familiar to fans of Dick’s works, particularly those short stories previously committed to film, including “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” adapted into two Total Recall films, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, John Woo’s Paycheck, The Adjustment Bureau, and Next (from “The Golden Man”), among others.  Many Dick full-length novels have made it to the big screen, too, most notably Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? released as Blade Runner, and although it does not credit Dick, The Truman Show is obviously sourced in Dick’s novel Time Out of Joint.  In addition, recently Dick’s award-winning novel The Man From the High Castle made it to home video as another Amazon series.

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