There’s no overstating the fact that 2020 was a tumultuous year – economic woes, civil unrest and, of course, a global pandemic are all to thank for that. This author’s country was spared the worst of these calamities, yet faced a crisis of its own in the form of widespread bushfires that engulfed the Eastern seaboard, scars of which remain visible to this day.
What proved most distressing for yours truly, though, is how these events and more impacted the film industry, and his much-loved hobby of visiting the cinema. Huge tentpole releases that would have filled a theatre in any other year were either postponed or had their cinematic release pulled entirely, including those of movies that many were looking forward to.
Yet there is one thing hasn’t been pulled, and that’s a time-honoured tradition here on One Large Popcorn, Please! that many of you have been anticipating: The Fish Called Wanda Awards! Yes, the mock awards ceremony with a silly title is back again to recognise the best films of a catastrophe-plagued year.
In recognition of said year – and in-line with the concessions made by other such ceremonies – the 2020 Wandas have been opened to ANY feature-length film released in the calendar year, whether it premiered in a cinema, at a festival, on a streaming service or even on television. Even with this allowance, there are fewer nominees to consider, but all of the following winners are nonetheless worthy of their accolades.
And now, proceedings shall start with…
BEST ACTION FILM
Given they are best viewed on a large screen with amplified noise, it’s no surprise that many action films eschewed a streaming or on-demand debut, opting instead to await the day when large indoor venues are safe for the masses to visit again. One action flick that forwent this option was Christopher Nolan’s eleventh motion-picture, a loud and flashy affair that earns the right to be shown in theatres: Tenet. Hampered by flaws though it may be, the time-bending movie is overall satisfying thanks to slick visuals and a talented group of actors.
BEST SUPERHERO FILM
Eight features were vying for this Wanda in a saturated market just two years ago; in 2020 though, only one superhero movie braved the box-office, and it proved surprisingly polarising – there’s almost no general consensus as to whether Patty Jenkins’ colourful sequel is good or bad. This reviewer was one of the very few who not only liked the film, but enjoyed it more than its predecessor, noting the memorable villains, bright visuals, cheery tone and pertinent messages. For these reasons, Wonder Woman 1984 earns the seal of approval.
In recent times, Hollywood has mistaken Drama for Melodrama, believing that excessive yelling, swearing and crying make for a compelling narrative. Lee Isaac Chung wisely opted not to follow this trend and instead return to a more traditional style of storytelling, with his effort being calm and subdued without forsaking an engaging conflict. Beautifully presented and wonderfully performed by a gifted cast, Minari is a very special film, and a deserving front-runner for this year’s Oscars.
Honourable Mention: Da 5 Bloods
BEST BIOGRAPHICAL FEATURE
Very few stories about real-life figures translate well into film, despite how fascinating they are. David Fincher is one who recognises this dilemma, having directed a biopic that intrigues not so much through its narrative, but in how that narrative is told. Mank is an engaging portrait of a reclusive, little-known figure that not only emulates the pictures of old, but positions itself perfectly within the era it takes place, and its these traits that ensure it stands-out.
Honourable Mention: Bad Education
Many commentators have applauded Emerald Fennell’s fiery directorial debut for taking misogyny to task, which it does with aplomb; yet few have stated why her work is such a success, that being because it’s a damn thrilling movie. Promising Young Woman cleverly subverts expectations throughout, with the motivations of its protagonist opaque and the screenplay making plenty of turns, meaning that tension and suspense are plentiful. Although not as gratifying as it could be, this thriller is nonetheless one that entertains.
BEST AUSTRALIAN RELEASE
Even though the Antipodes escaped the worst of 2020’s global crises, the local film industry still suffered, with lockdowns forcing cinemas to close and distributors moving releases to a later date. One film that narrowly avoided the latter fate was a feature-length documentary following the journey of the late, fabled touring-car racer Peter Brock that proves far more fascinating than it ought to. Through interviews and archival footage, Brock: Over the Top offers an intricate, respectful portrait of a complex man that atones for the woeful mini-series that also shares Brock’s name.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Those who’ve keenly followed One Large Popcorn, Please! are no doubt aware of this author’s affinity for animation, having championed the artform and its purveyors on multiple occasions. He has also stated that some animated films not just match the quality of their live-action counterparts, but surpass them – a feat Pixar Animation Studios has achieved on multiple occasions. And in 2020, they did it again with the release of Soul, a deceptively thoughtful and mature reflection on the meaning of life.
Honourable Mention: Onward
BEST FOREIGN FILM
The impact of the pandemic on America’s major studios presented a perfect opportunity for international players to make their mark at the box-office, many of which prevailed in doing so. One such example is a Danish drama examining the pleasures and pitfalls of alcohol, led by universally-renowned actor Mads Mikkelsen. That film is of course Another Round, a humorous, complex and sobering experience that is made enjoyable by a likeable cast and perfectly-curated soundtrack.
A staple of the Wandas since their inception, in 2020 this category has a winner bordering on default, since it’s not as hilarious as recipients past. Yet although it lacks the hearty laughs of its contemporaries, Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of a Dickensian tale is certainly not devoid of humour, possessing some neat gags and clever fourth-wall breaks. Modest, charming and filled with character, The Personal History of David Copperfield is a comedy that does its source material (and its late author) proud.
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE
Every year brings with it a slew of movies that fail to garner widespread attention, which is more the fault of extraneous circumstances than the quality of a particular film. Much like last year’s Paddleton, the 2020 winner of this category was one this author knew nothing about prior to viewing it in a cinema, and found himself completely enamoured by screening’s end. The heartiest of recommendations is offered to the French mystery film Only the Animals, of which just one thing needs to be said: Walk In Blind.
Honourable Mention: Sonic the Hedgehog
Continuing with tradition once again, this recipient emulates many traits of a previous year’s “awardee”, in that it’s an Australian feature influenced heavily by the Western genre. That’s where the comparisons end though – where this latest film falters is in its ability to engage the viewer, being slow, uneventful and rather anti-climactic. While it undoubtedly has the best intentions in mind, showing a side of history rarely promoted in the modern age, The Furnace doesn’t have the bold direction or gravitas to back it up.
THE FISH CALLED WANDA FOR BEST OVERALL FILM
In the weeks before writing this feature, as yours truly was making his way through the remainder of 2020’s releases, it looked highly unlikely that a new Fish Called Wanda would be crowned. Past ceremonies have stipulated that any winner had to be the author’s favourite of the previous year, and would likely be included as part of his Favourite Films of All-Time, two factors that were difficult to apply to any of the pictures from 2020. But as the search neared its end, a winner was found at last, and that winner is…
There was no other feature-length release in 2020 that proved more resonant, profound or delightful than Pete Docter’s animated odyssey, which once more asserts Pixar Animation Studios as the dominant force in the artform and the director as its spearhead. More than anything though, Soul is a picture that this author very much looks forward to revisiting in the decades to come.