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A Year in Film Discussion: 2020

09:00 January 20, 2021
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Fritz: The year 2019 was a wonderful year for movies. I could even make the argument that it was the best year for film in the past decade. But 2020, on the other hand, was an awful year for everything, and movies were no exception. There's an existential threat to movie theaters (I'll talk more on this in a moment), but even the movies that have made it to theaters or streaming haven't been anything special. My favorites from 2020 include HBO's Bad Education, two films starring Tom Hanks—Greyhound (moved from theaters to Apple+) and News of the World (theatrical), Jon Stewart's Irresistible (a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release), and Christopher Nolan's theatrical release Tenet. However, I'm not sure that any of them would even crack my top 10 from 2019.

Did any movie actually wow you in 2020, the way Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood wowed us the previous year?

David: Nothing in 2020 was as dynamic as Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, but I did see some very good films, including Miss Juneteenth, Sound of Metal, Synchronic, and Alone (all of which had limited theatrical releases while streaming at the same time or a few weeks later). I also liked Uncle Frank from Amazon Studios.

Fritz: Recently, the second COVID-19 stimulus bill was passed, which included approximately $15 billion in aid for movie theaters and live music venues. One thing I learned in 2020, when all theaters were closed in New Orleans (mid-March to mid-May, roughly, when the venerable Prytania reopened), is how completely unsatisfying movie-watching is for me when I have to do all of it from my couch. There's no substitute for a theater, no matter how much people gush about streaming, and I do think many film/culture writers online show a distinct pro-streaming bias because you'll never seem hip, cool, or edgy defending something that's over 100 years old, such as movie theaters. But I think the physical space of theaters is important. In this short-attention-span age, it's important to have a place where you're not checking your phone or your laptop or being interrupted by phone calls during a movie (yes, some moviegoers break these rules in theaters, but the majority do not). And while other moviegoers can be frustrating sometimes, it is cool to watch movies among people, just as it's cool to watch live music among people and watch live sports among people. It's a communal experience.

Speaking of Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, I'll always remember the delighted roars from the crowd when they realized why Leonardo DiCaprio was running back to his shed at the end of the film. What are your feelings about this?

David: I wholeheartedly agree. There is no substitute for seeing a movie in a theater. You turn your phone off for approximately two hours, forget about your own troubles, and become involved with the story and characters on-screen. I have so many fond memories of seeing movies in a packed theater.

I remember I was at a sneak preview of the horror/comedy Tremors (1990), and the scene came up when the creature crashes through the underground bunker of the survivalist husband and wife characters, played by Michael Gross and Reba McEntire. As the couple backs away from the monster, the camera pans with them to reveal a wall of guns behind them. The audience roared with laughter and then applause as the couple started blasting away at the monster. Once they killed it, I don't think I could hear any of the dialog for the next two to three minutes because of the audience's thunderous laughter and applause. It was such a fun experience. You can't get that from streaming on your couch.

Do you think going to see movies in a theater will eventually come back in full force?

Fritz: It will take time, but I do think that people want to go out, especially after the pandemic, when people have either been at home or severely limited in their movements. At the very least, I think that there will always be a market among film buffs for the theatrical experience, the same way music buffs kept the market for vinyl records alive through cassettes, CDs, and iTunes. Locally owned, independent theaters might have more room to creatively pivot than AMC, Regal, or other chains, though. And don't get me wrong: While the Prytania is my favorite, I still have very fond memories of the Regal Esplanade 14 because it's close to my parents' house, and I've been taking my nieces and nephews for years (as of the writing of this article, Regal has suspended ops at all of its theaters, including its local ones, but says they plan to reopen eventually).

I also said this in a recent review, but I'll repeat it here. If someone reading this wants to support their favorite local movie theater but is skittish about sitting in an auditorium, you can still help movie theaters. Every theater, including the AMC ones, will let you walk in and buy takeout concessions without buying a ticket. I think most people have gotten takeout from a restaurant during the pandemic. So my message to readers is this: Get takeout from your favorite movie theater, too.

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