“I can’t wait to see what the intros to all your lists are going to be,” Story Screen’s creator, owner, and general mastermind, Mike Burdge chuckled to me one hot summer day at the Story Screen Drive-In. A sentence covered in all the lovable Burdge brand sass that friends and cohorts know all too well from the man. Story Screen’s top ten lists are a collection of carefully crafted “best of” rankings from our growing family of talented film nerds. January is a busy time for us and the family takes these lists very seriously. To us, it’s our Oscars and will dominate our film conversations for years to come.
I remember where my stubborn little mind drifted to after his remark, thinking to myself, “I’m just going to write nothing.” HA, yes that’ll show ‘em. In my stoic moment of galaxy brain proportions, I, Robby “BaeBae” Anderson will NOT write an intro waxing poetics about 2020, the flaming trash can that is somehow STILL BURNING. Or perhaps, I’ll write something short and sweet, a sentence that is both stabbing and hilarious like, “What a total shit show, anyway here’s ten movies.” Yet, here we are, in the year 2021, a cold night in my apartment; I am so reflective, I have more to say than short quips.
Even from the heat waves of summer, my life has changed. The Theater is closed (for now), I had to find another gig, which is actually pretty good so far. The world feels like it’s still on fire. In its best moments, it feels like the murky storm that washes the ashes away, leaving us to ruminate in the mud. I don’t feel all that cheery (couldn’t you tell?) and honestly, for many months, I’ve felt beatdown and unmotivated. Even doing the things I love have started to feel useless and I just want some level of normalcy to return. Even that feeling, longing for what I deemed “normal” comes with guilt. My year compared to a lot of folks hasn’t been all that bad. I’m here, and so many are not.
Something that glimmered throughout the year, like a bright flare through the smoggy pungent smoke: entertainment. Oh, glorious escape! While locked in our homes we bonded over zoom calls, discussing what our favorite heroes, villains, and little green babies were up to. It was as one 2020 fictional hero uttered, “VERY NIICE.” Stories exchanged around the virtual fire helped steer our conversations away from the trash can that is shockingly STILL BURNING.
There are ten films I’d like to highlight for you all this year (and a few shoutouts to other things). When making these lists I think it’s important to choose things that speak to you on a personal level. To simply choose “the best'' films seems like a cold exercise. So, as I have stated many times before: Hi, I’m Robby, my friends call me BaeBae, I’m co-head of telecommunications for storyscreenbeacon.com. I host many of our website's podcasts, I create a ton of content for our YouTube channel, I’ve edited a lot of the “Drive-In” commercials on our Instagram, and this isn’t a list of the "best films" of the year, this is a list of my FAVORITE films of the year. Without further ado, here are the stories that made 2020 a bit brighter.
10. Love and Monsters
Something you could say about all of these movies is a phrase that’s picked up a bit more traction in 2020: “I wish I could’ve seen this in a theater.” Love and Monsters has a big summer blockbuster energy. It’s a quirky flick and has a heart so big it pushes against the confines of its post-apocalyptic genre. The emotional core of the movie lies in the performance of Dylan O’Brien’s, Joel. Joel remembers the day normal ended and the monsters took over the surface, his inability to act at that moment, to become the hero the people he loved needed, haunts him for many years. Living in a communal underground pod with other survivors Joel finds himself as more of a pod-keeper than a real contributor to the team. His adventure kicks off when he learns his old girlfriend is in another pod only 85 miles away. Joel, crossbow in hand, sets off across the monster-covered lands to be with the woman he loves. Then he makes best friends with a dog. That dog becomes like a main character too; it’s wild. Love and Monsters feels classic, championing heroic morals like an adventure from the 80s, but with the modern aesthetic of today. What really helps sell this adventure (that you don’t get from the trailer) is just how GOOD the action and the design of the monsters are. Really impressive set pieces, and for a movie that could honestly skimp on the CGI and probably still be pretty charming, it doesn’t. Love and Monsters feels underrated, it has been deprived of its water cooler conversations, its cool summer night at the drive-in, its packed theater seats. The movie feels like this decade's Zombieland. It’s charming, character-driven, and having a joy ride in the seat of its genre.
Bacurau was one of the first new movies I saw in quarantine. We recorded a podcast for it and I remember thinking it was cool but it wasn't really jiving with me. I appreciated its vibe but it just didn’t connect. While I was talking to my other co-hosts it was like I watched a different movie, and I learned that perhaps my inability to speak the same language of the film (the movie is also in Portuguese but that’s not what I mean) comes from the fact that it’s a love letter to John Carpenter, the big horror daddy of the film world. I had not seen all that many Carpenter movies, in fact, I think the only one I did see at that point was Halloween. This inspired us to do a John Carpenter retrospective podcast series, to educate my dumb ass, and educated I was. We watched them all man, even the weird ones like Dark Star, Elvis, Star Man, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, you get the idea. Of course, I fell in love with the director and developed some spicy takes of my own (Escape from L.A. is better than Escape from N.Y. don’t @ me). I spent a lot of 2020 with the man, but it is obvious that writers and directors Juliano Dorenelles and Kleber Mendonça Filhospent spent their lives with him. Yes, this movie is in many ways a love letter to Carpenter, but it is also so, so much more. It's a film that meditates on colonization from the perspectives of the invaded. The film's antagonists are a bunch of sociopathic white people, who treat the lives of others as points in a game. Sometimes it’s good when the bad guys are just bad, not just hiding a nugget of empathy fuel, like a narrative gusher or a jelly doughnut. It is a bit of a cliche to say the setting or environment itself is a character in a film, but it’s not so much that the small town named Bacurau is a character, it’s the community within. There is no central protagonist, it is this small community, who in tandem, work together to educate, heal and fight for themselves. The amazing, subtle performances within the film almost make it feel like a documentary. I am embarrassed it took me this long to come around on Bacurau; luckily, I decided to watch it one more time. It was the final flick I watched in my 2020 movie marathon prior to writing this list. Don’t let the homework scare you away from this special film, and if you’re versed in Carpenter, strap in, this one is special.
8. His House
It is on the record that I am a scaredy-cat. Most years I am elaborately tricked by the Story Screen family into seeing whatever nightmare A24 has cooked up, (I was worried that First Cow was actually about a spooky bovine), and usually such movies weasel their way into my list. Despite major blockbusters getting delayed, streaming services stepped up their game in 2020. The year had a treasure trove of amazing horror flicks and it seems appropriate because yeah... 2020 is the year of horror in many ways. His House follows two refugees fleeing to London, trying to make a new life for themselves and to be seen by the English government that handles such affairs as “one of the good ones.'' Our heroes, a married couple named Bol and Rial Majur, represent the conflicted feelings of immigrating to a foreign place. Whether to assimilate, to lose one's culture to start anew, the film weighs these philosophies as equally as our two heroes face them. What is any good metaphor without visuals to back it up? His House didn’t frighten me the way MEGA DOWNERS like Hereditary or MOTHER! did, but I wasn’t any less enthralled with its plot. The movie's horror elements are made all the more exciting because they are presented as cultural mysticism but have REAL consequences. This movie delightedly plays with the idea “it’s all in their heads'' briefly before revealing that the apparitions that haunt our heroes can do real-world damage to them. As with any good horror movie, the escalation of its plot is exquisite and has a turning point towards the end of the film that will have you exclaim, “What a twist!”
7. Palm Springs
It’s been said before, but I do think it holds some weight, Groundhog Day stories hit a bit differently now, huh? When we were all trapped inside everyone had their routine, and it was a perpetual cycle of attempting to seek the new normal. Every day for Nyles (Andy Samberg) is the same: waking up on someone’s wedding day in Palm Springs. For me, and I’m sure for others, the most relatable element of the movie is Nyles nihilistic (that’s on purpose right?) attitude towards his strange circumstances. Nyles has to find a reason to live, a reason to exist. I know I had spurts of failing to move forward in quarantine. Just playing videos and drinking a bottle of whiskey because hey…we might not even be here tomorrow, and if we are, does it even matter? Nyles has to find love in consequences and break free of the monotony he found comfort in. There’s more to life than drinking and fucking, to drink and fuck with meaning! With purpose! To live a life, with a beginning, middle, and end. All of this contained in a film that is also having a ton of fun with the concept and rules of a “Groundhog's Day” story. The film is hilarious and heartwarming, has a magnificent cast, and culminates in a solution to its dilemma that feels smart, while also making you ask yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” It is so rare for comedies to exceed this well, while having this much on their mind, and Palm Springs has it all.
6. One Night in Miami...
Regina King cannot be stopped. One Night in Miami... is King’s directorial debut, and it is a stunner. Adapted from and written for the screen by Kemp Powers, the film imagines what happened on a fateful night where Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown were all in the same room together. Stage plays when adapted to the screen have a fairly good success rate, but it’s also interesting to see the strategy involved. King makes brilliant use of the few settings at her disposal, you know the hotel room that these titans of history conversed and argued in better than your own home. Yet despite its few settings, the film is never stale. Every angle our heroes are presented in is spectacular. Visually, this is what you want to see out of a play adapted to screen - cinematography pushing the drama to new heights. As to be assumed from something adapted from the stage, the dialogue and performances reign supreme here. This cast brings some of the most powerful performances of the year and I have to highlight my personal favorite, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X. Every time he spoke I was enthralled. Power’s dialogue is as poignant as ever. The arguments between our heroes tackle the complex issue of civil rights still rings true even today. I can’t wait to see what King directs next. One Night in Miami... is a cinematic debut that will be remembered for all time.
5. Feels Good Man
A lot of really incredible documentaries came out this year but Feels Good Man felt the most important to me. It was a movie that once I finished I wanted to force the world to watch, to scream, “THIS IS THE TRUTHHHHHH.” We’ve all seen him, the frog, the myth, the meme, Pepe the Frog. This documentary uses its incredible visual flair to tell the story of frog creator, cartoonist, and generally really good dude, Matt Furie, as he tries to reclaim a character that has become the face of so much hate. Of course, Matt didn’t know that Pepe would become an internet sensation - one of the most iconic and recognizable characters in the cultural zeitgeist - when he first posted him on Myspace.com. The film deals with the concepts of ownership of ideas and artistic intent, but it is also heavily rooted in the internet's darkest corners. 4Chan, Reddit, all of these spaces have meme-ified Pepe to endless degrees, oftentimes for hate, like our (now) former president, and his legion of white supremacist voters. The film uncovers a lot about our recent digital history, warts and all. It also takes the time to dissect what goes into a hateful Pepe the Frog meme, how a lot of these 4Chan posters used him as an outlet to post about the way they felt - their sadness and isolation - and how what was almost a beacon of empathy, quickly turned into one of hate. It became less about expressing your feelings and more about hating and attacking those who made you feel this way. I’m just scratching the SURFACE of what Feels Good Man, discusses. They have a dude in the documentary that explains how Hillary Clinton fainted in 2016, and how it happened by hive mind mentality wishing something into existence, creating a type of cultural magic, and honestly, I kinda believed him! And he looks crazy! Go watch Feels Good Man, to me, it’s not only one of the best movies of the year, but it’s also one of the most important.
There are a few jokes the Story Screen fam likes to make about me. I haven’t seen any movies and Robert loves animation. Not so bad as far as jokes are concerned, and I can confirm they are very accurate. Here’s a movie that I have seen and yes it’s animated. I’m so happy I watched Wolfwalkers before making this list; it is something so special. It's a tale set in 1650, about a girl and her father who move from England to a bustling town in Ireland, and on the outskirts of that town, deep within the labyrinth of woods, are a pack of mysterious wolves. I, a simple idiot, did not see the film’s twists and turns coming. This is a story that has all the makings of a classic: friendships, daring adventures, and mystical consequences. The film feels more like classic Disney than a flick from the house of mouse has in years. Not to throw too much shade at Mickey and company. The animation in this film is MINDBLOWING. Wispy line work, bright beautiful colors, and when the tension rises, there are incredible action sequences. I actually cried in the middle of the film because of just how happy the movie was making me. I love a good classic tale. Wolfwalkers' whole vibe from music, aesthetics, accents, and more will have you feeling like you’re going through a stroll at the Renaissance Fair. Don’t bother watching a trailer, just believe me, go watch a cartoon and feel like a kid again.
3. Sound of Metal
There’s a level of fear that Sound of Metal taps into. I think people who have all of their senses have anxiety about losing any of them. The story of a drummer in a metal band who loses his hearing is the perfect pitch for a flick. The film feels intimate, akin to films like The Wrestler. The camera is always intimately close to our hero Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed. We see his fear at the beginning of the film; we see his perseverance. We see his mistakes up close and personal. Sound of Metal is in your face, but it’s also in your head. Riz Ahmed's performance will have you feeling like you’re his best friend, just praying, wishing, that he’ll make the right choices, and yelling in anguish when he doesn’t. This movie doesn't present itself as a tragedy, at least not in the way you would expect. One of the most fascinating elements of the film is the deaf community. Ruben finds himself having to learn sign language but he learns so much more in the process. The deaf community doesn’t see themselves as missing anything. Music, beats, tempo, are all elements that do not belong solely to the hearing. These things can be felt, vibrations can connect us. Ruben learns these things…it’s when he rejects them that the most heartbreaking moments of the film occur. The way the film deals with sound is endlessly impressive, it really communicates to the audience what Ruben is hearing and what he’s not hearing. The sound editing and mixing are some of the movie's strongest technical elements and I really hope it is properly applauded for it. For all of the tragic moments that lead to Sound of Metal’s conclusion, for all of the revelations and rejections, it’s in the final moment that you’ll feel astonished by its greatness, leaving you silent and at peace.
2. Butt Boy
Butt Boy was pitched to me as: “it’s the most Robby movie that’s ever been made.” I hate how easy I am to figure out because…it’s true. Is it so wrong to love a satirical noir that’s filmed brilliantly, has a synth score, and is perfect from start to finish? I think not. Yes, yes Butt Boy is Robby AF. It's a noir mystery about a detective who must solve the case of a disappearing child, and all trails lead straight to the bottom, a man’s asshole. Chip, a suburban man with a Lovecraftian hole is wreaking havoc on the world and only one alcoholic detective can stop him. The movie is ridiculous in premise but is played straight. These are dire consequences and the film never breaks its serious tone, even when things reach LEVEL 10 NARRATIVE INSANITY. In many ways, it reminded me of Rian Johnson’s Brick, another film that uses genre to set an unlikely setting for a noir. I was on the edge of my seat during the film. “What’s this dude’s ass gunna eat up next!” is a sentence I didn’t think I’d yell at my television. I loved the score, I loved the cinematography, I loved the simple archetypes of the characters. The movie spoke to me because it’s a movie I wish I thought up. What makes this a "Robby movie?" What makes any movie a "Robby movie?" I’m still figuring that out, but I know it when I see it, and apparently, others do too. I’d imagine it’s a bit of subverting a genre, with neon lights and a synth soundtrack. I’m a sucker for that shit. Even if you’re not me, I’m sure you’ll love this movie; it is FUN. Remember fun? Butt Boy for a while was my number flick of the year, it met my sensibilities head-on and I loved it for speaking my language, but right before the polls closed on my 2020 list, I watched one more flick…
1. Promising Young Woman
When the credits rolled I jumped up from my couch and started pacing around my apartment. I was hyped, I was jazzed, I had tears in my eyes. I felt things. Promising Young Woman is my favorite movie of the year, with a fucking bullet. A revenge story that should be mandatory viewing material for all people everywhere. Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra, a woman whose life was in disarray after a sexual assault during her time in college. Cassandra now goes to bars at night, pretending to be drunk, tricking men into thinking they can have their way with her until she reveals she hasn’t been drinking at all. This isn't revenge, no. She does this for a bit of sport, but also as a means of reckoning for all men everywhere, putting herself into harm's way to educate the drunken date rapists of the city that never sleeps. The revenge is when she tracks down all of the parties involved in an event that took her closest friend away. Cassandra does dastardly deeds to these people, things that disrupt her status as the hero of this film. What I found so intoxicating about Promising Young Woman was its attitude. Unapologetic, powerful, rarely did it let us rest from its thesis of fucking over the monsters who ruined her life. Though in its quiet moments, revealing the times in-between trapping men at night, the film shows a side of Cassandra that is still soft but scarred with trauma. Her glimmer of hope in finding normal, in putting the past behind her, tricks the audience for a brief moment. This is not the moral of this story, it could not be the moral of this story, let the past die, heal beyond it. The moral compass of this film is spattered in blood; it isn’t clean, it isn’t wholesome. It is revenge. Promising Young Woman looks great, sounds great, and has some accurate coffee shop moments - which I understand is a weird thing to highlight but as a full-time barista (again) I connected with it. The way the film conveyed purgatory, how a traumatic event can stunt forward momentum is striking. Promising Young Woman is about consequences, it’s an exercise in giving the audience the blood it should crave, no matter what the cost. I love the mess of a movie it becomes by its conclusion. In a time where the powerful seem to face no consequences whatsoever, this film can feel like a cool breeze. Bold, unapologetic, ravenous, and screaming to the world that it’s had enough, yes, yes I am fully forever here for Promising Young Woman.
The Last of Us Part 2
It's probably one of the most divisive pieces of media all year. The Last of Us Part 2 was not overwhelmingly met with critical acclaim. Yes, by now you have heard of its many game awards, technical achievements, and woman with large biceps, but surely you’ve heard a neckbeard or two, call it: "SJW TRASH." Luckily, those people are pieces of shit. Of course, that isn’t to say you can’t have thought-provoking criticisms of The Last of Us Part 2, but to me, this game is perfect. I played through the double-headed revenge story three times, and to answer your question, "Yes, I do think there is something wrong with me." But until the neurologist gets back to me let me explain. I loved the gameplay of TLOU2, how its gut-wrenching brutality either begged you to stop or commit to it being the only option. I loved how its story felt like a proper extension of all the things that the first game exceeded at, especially the absence of choice. This is NOT a choose your own adventure game. The game chooses to return control to you after a cinematic scene, forcing you, the player, to commit to a death you may be morally against, or bloodthirsty for. This is the dance TLOU2 performs so well. This is how it punctuates a story that even if it wasn’t interactive, it would have you on the edge of your seat. I understand if a post-apocalyptic story about a virus that ravages the world isn’t your cup of tea right now, but it really was mine. Never has a piece of media so affected me emotionally. I was straight up ugly crying even during the parts that maybe didn’t call for it. I’m a huge fan of this franchise and its characters, and I just want everyone to be happy damn it! Perhaps I’m a contrarian in nature, or maybe I just like to drink a hot cup of “anti-fan-service” sometimes. TLOU2’s discourse reminds me so much of what happened around Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one of my other absolute favorite pieces of media. Of course to the haters, I think they should imagine me as the Kermit the Frog drinking tea meme and hear me say, “I’m sorry you didn’t love it as much as I did.”
Thank you for reading my list, and as always thank you to all the creators, artists, and designers that help bring these stories to life. Of course, thank you to the Story Screen family for lifting me up in my time of need and giving me a much-needed outlet to express myself and yell about The Last Jedi. For now, let's see what we can do about that trash can that... OH MY GOD, IT’S STILL ON FIRE!
Co-Head of Podcasting
Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RoBaeBae