Or how I learned to stop worrying and love wearing a mask while social distancing
Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
As someone who has spent a good chunk of his life in movie theatres, I can tell you 2020 has been a challenge. But the impact hasn’t been as pronounced as initially expected, at least from an audience perspective.
Saskatchewan theatres have remained open for most of the pandemic with social distancing measures in place, so the most noticeable effect for moviegoers has been limited selection. Features that have been released, such as Tenet, have stuck around for months like in the ’80s. On the plus side, smaller titles have gained more attention than they would have in normal times (The Nest, Never Rarely Sometimes Always).
This model isn’t sustainable. Movie theatres cannot survive at limited capacity or just playing the artsy films we love reviewing in this magazine (“please, tell us more about of the daring nature of Danish cinema”, said no one ever). So, while the jury is still out on the future of cinema, this is what I learned in the year of coronavirus.
The joys of the “collective experience” are greatly exaggerated: Fellow critics love to point out cinema will never die because of the transformative power of watching a movie in community. I’ve experienced the joys of the collective experience — most recently when the Invisible Man sliced the neck of the protagonist’s sister (um, spoiler alert). But far more often I find myself inconvenienced by cell phone users, loud talkers, loud chewers and people airing out their feet by taking off their shoes or emitting other noxious smells — so much so that I’ve resorted to sitting in the front rows to avoid other patrons. Then again, it could just be me.
And yet, the theatre’s immersive abilities remain uncontested: By now, you must have experienced the joys of watching a movie at home: the pausing, the terrible lighting, the unsolicited family commentary track, the bathroom breaks, the texting. Cinemas can still free you from all that and allow you to get lost in a movie again without having to answer “who’s that?”
Theatres are safer than initially thought: Here’s a surprising bit of info. Not a single case of Covid-19 has reportedly been traced back to a movie theatre in Canada. Cinemas have been excellent at cleanliness and preserving social distance. In the short window between shutdowns in B.C., I visited the local venues four times, with fewer misgivings each visit.
Invest in a big TV: It’s not even a matter of access to theatres. As streaming services capitalize on captive audiences, they have become the main providers of content, some of which was originally made for the big screen. With the pandemic expected to linger into summer, and with Netflix and Disney+ poised to become the biggest players in entertainment, it’s pretty much inevitable.
Nobody missed blockbusters that much: Sure, I would love to have seen Black Widow or Dune, but maybe a break was needed regardless of the pandemic. Wonder Woman 1984 did decent numbers given the circumstances, but there wasn’t that much of a craving for a superhero movie despite a full year without one. In times when talk about multiverses is all the rage, and a major pileup of expensive releases is expected later this year, it’s fair to wonder if there will be an audience for all of it.
Filmmakers can’t defy the pandemic by themselves (I’m talking to you, Christopher Nolan): No title released in 2020 embodied hubris like Tenet. Not only was it crafted in a way that required multiple viewings to fully grasp, Nolan forced the studio’s hand by demanding a theatrical release. Tenet struggled to recover its production cost (US$362 million at the box office against a $200 million budget, not counting promotion) and didn’t become the think piece that Nolan expected it to be. The characters and plot just weren’t interesting enough, no matter how massive the set pieces were.
The repertoire titles desperately need a refresher: To compensate for the lack of new major releases, many theatres have gone for tried-and-true titles. Like most people, I enjoy Back to the Future and Ghostbusters. But why not try less accessible movies? There’s a reason Hocus Pocus was the most successful of the re-releases: it wasn’t an obvious choice (the movie bombed when it first came out).
People really like movie theatre popcorn: I never developed the Pavlovian association of movies and popcorn, but my wife has. Earlier in the pandemic we were allowed into the theatre just to buy popcorn and discovered we weren’t the only ones. Maybe it’s all the processed butter, or that “pimply teenager first job” smell, but it tastes different.
Thumbs up, thumbs down: Here are my picks for the top ten and five worst movies of 2020.
- Wolfwalkers: 2D animation that’s relevant and profound while still entertaining, not to mention, gorgeous to watch.
- Nomadland: Best movie nobody has seen yet. Hopefully, it will be accessible by the time it sweeps the Oscars.
- The Nest
- Another Round
- Sorry We Missed You
- Pieces Of A Woman
- The Traitor
- Da 5 Bloods
- Promising Young Woman
- She Dies Tomorrow: The fact that she doesn’t die tomorrow is the least of this terrible movie’s problems. The movie is so full of itself, it doesn’t bother to tell you what it’s about.
- All My Life: Should be retitled “Diabetic Coma: The Movie”.
- Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
- Brahms: The Boy II