Every year, there is a slew of massive cinematic disappointments. While this continues to leave people frustrated, it is an unfortunate inevitability. As a cinephile, you will never make it through a year without a Batman v Superman or Terminator Genisys. Although it’s easy to make this the subject matter of your film-focused discussions, there are plenty of positive things to look back on each and every year.
Alongside the disappointments, you’ll find a number of films that defied expectations. Sure, the DCEU collapsed on itself in 2016, but there was also a sequel to Ouija that blew the original out of the water. We have these preconceived notions about the quality of cinema before we even see so much as a trailer. We believe that we can predict how good something is based solely on the cast, crew, and premise. Sometimes it’s not that easy.
That’s exactly why we present this list every year. This list exists to showcase movies that, according to most, didn’t stand much of a chance. However, for some reason or another, they put a middle finger up and showed everyone why it’s better to wait and see the results. Below, you’ll find ten releases from 2020 that had no business being so good.
1. The Invisible Man
Remember when Universal Studios decided to create a cinematic universe composed of ill-advised reboots of Universal Monster movies? After two box office thuds and some scathing reviews, they threw that idea out the window and decided to take a different approach. If The Invisible Man is anything to go by, that approach is working out in their favor.
The Invisible Man works because it’s not trying to be a big-budget blockbuster. While Dracula Untold and The Mummy aimed to tell big-budget action stories with bloated special effects budgets, Leigh Whannell’s latest feature focuses more on reality. It doesn’t try to provide the same level of escapism. Instead, it seeks to make viewers aware of the horrors of real life.
Yes, we said horror. The previous Universal Monster reboots may have delved into action territory, but The Invisible Man wisely avoided following suit. This time around, you’ll be treated to a straightforward horror flick with a hint of social commentary. The balance between horror and social commentary works so much better than whatever the hell they were doing with Tom Cruise in The Mummy.
This is a genre that frequently underperforms critically. Even well-established franchises like Insidious bounce between fresh and rotten on the tomatometer. That alone makes this a surprise hit. When you consider Univeral’s recent treatment of these classic characters, then you’re in for an even greater surprise.
2. Let Him Go
Prior to the release of Let Him Go, director Thomas Bezucha had yet to really deliver anything resembling a hit. Monte Carlo and The Family Stone did well enough at the box office, but they underperformed critically. That all changed this year when he dabbled in something very different.
Bezucha doesn’t really have a storied career, but that didn’t stop him from having a “type” of movie. His three previous releases were all sappy romantic dramedies with adequate (albeit cliché) writing. They were fun time-wasters, but they rarely stayed in your head for more than a couple hours.
That’s what makes Let Him Go such a surprise. You won’t find much comedy in this neo western starring Kevin Costner. Things are much darker this time around, and while bleak doesn’t always mean better, it sure as hell does this time around. Suspenseful moments are hiding in every corner, so the average viewer won’t have much time to breathe in-between important scenes. Maybe it’s not as traditionally fun as The Family Stone, but it’s far more engaging.
3. The Way Back
In a lot of ways, The Way Back is a very traditional coaching story akin to Fright Night Lights and Any Given Story. A down-on-his luck family man decides to take a coaching opportunity that proves to be an uphill battle. As the struggles of the job begin to multiply, so do the many troubles haunting his everyday life. When it comes to the narrative, very little comes out of left field. You have seen some variation of The Way Back before.
In spite of that, this is still Gavin O’Connor’s best film in nearly a decade. Following lackluster reviews for Jane Got a Gun and The Accountant, the hit-or-miss director once again returns to the genre that has allowed him to make a name for himself. Sports dramas may be his thing, but when they’re so consistently good, it’s not worth complaining.
The Way Back may be formulaic, but Ben Affleck’s all-too-real performance as an alcoholic man trying his best will likely garner some sort of emotional reaction. As always, O’Connor knows how to keep the audience’s interest as well. Though you likely know where things are headed, you’ll still have a hard time feigning disinterest throughout this heartfelt motion picture,
Host isn’t the first horror movie to take place behind a computer screen, but it very well might be the best. The Den, Unfriended, Followed, and V/H/S have all taken stabs at this cinematic conceit, and while none of them are outright disastrous, they simply don’t reach the heights of this cinematic surprise. In the aforementioned films, the found footage element had a tendency to feel gimmicky and unremarkable, but Host is different. There’s a clear purpose behind the presentation of the story.
The set-up is simple: a group of friends affected by the COVID-19 pandemic decide to perform a séance during one of their weekly Zoom reunions. As is the case with most horror flicks, this does not go the way they had anticipated. From there, audiences get the opportunity to enjoy roughly forty minutes of perfectly orchestrated chaos. Glass breaks, ghosts appear in the background, and people disappear. It might sound like another run-of-the-mill paranormal movie, but it’s not.
First-time director Rob Savage understands how to build tension. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether or not he breaks new ground; he doesn’t need to. Because of flawless pacing, clever dialogue, and excellent sound design, there’s more than enough to keep the average viewer happy. Host is a spine-chilling reinvention of the found footage genre that deserves to be on rotation every Halloween.
5. Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Comedy sequels rarely hit the mark. For every 22 Jump Street, there’s Ted 2, Dumb and Dumberer, and Evan Almighty. This is common knowledge, but there’s another type of sequel that people don’t pay as much attention to: the long-awaited sequel. People waited 15 years for a sequel to Escape from New York, and the best we got was an uninterested Kurt Russell trying to stay awake 100 minutes. Tron Legacy, Basic Instinct 2, and Independence Day: Resurgence all have something in common: they were too little, too late.
Those types of movies aren’t always dumpster fires. Let’s not disrespect Blade Runner 2049. Still, the fact remains that these success stories are rare. Now if you combine those two types of sequels, you get something even dicier. Remember Zoolander 2? Neither do we. When comedy sequels take their sweet time, they are almost consistently abysmal. If they’re not abysmal, they’re still usually disappointing to some degree.
If these first two paragraphs all just seem like an opportunity to throw countless movies under the bus, don’t worry – there’s a point to all this. As fun as it can be to rip on cinematic failures, it’s also fun to praise the cinematic endeavors that somehow manage to pull off the impossible. That’s why Taste of Cinema is happy to announce that, after a 14-year hiatus, our favorite Kazakh journalist did the unthinkable; he gave us a comedy sequel that was worth the painstakingly long wait.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm does not top the original. Considering the surprise success of Sacha Baron Cohen’s first outing, that was an improbable feat. It does however, provide 90 minutes of riotous entertainment with the sharp political satire that was desperately needed in 2020. It will shock you, it will make you cringe, and most importantly, it will make you laugh.