Saturday, January 2, 2021

What Film Made You Happiest in 2020? PLUS The Unseen Film Award goes to....

Thank you John DiBello

With Covid causing sea changes in the world  I realized that there was no way to even remotely attempt the Unseen Films Awards for 2020 (On the other hand there is an award so jump all the way to the bottom to see who it went to and why). Frankly no one was watching the same things and because the release schedule got changed and changed and…. Some films suddenly were moved to 2021 or pulled from the release schedule. 

While we weren’t watching the same films, we were all watching a ton of films.  I have been getting notes from people all over the place concerning the great  films they were discovering. Some even found there way on to Unseen.

In having a discussion about what , if anything, to do about a year end community wrap up someone mentioned films that made them happy.  And with that a bell went off. Instead of a discussion of the best films, I would let everyone talk about what films made them happiest. Going to my email and twitter lists I sent out requests for people’s happiest film. I sent out the question to a wide variety of people who made me curious as what the film that delighted them would be.

There was no restriction- any film or film related thing you saw in 2020 was eligible. I wanted to know what and why.

While some people declined. A lot of people responded and the responses were wonderful.  Some responses were straight forward. Some were not. BC Wallin’s response was a such a masterful essay  I had to publish it as the first piece in the last week of summing up. Ernie Stevens (from JOE AND ERNIE CRISIS COPS) wrote a moving piece about what CRIP CAMP meant to him and Nate Hood bled joy from his soul about CATS. Eden talked about the films as a means of solace. Other pieces came in as just a title, while others turned the question into something else.

I have been charmed by every piece I received.

What follows are the responses more or less in the order they were received. I have been told that I will still be getting more responses, and if so I will add them below. And if you are reading this and want to add your own choice for the happiest film you saw this year please feel free to add it in the comments.

 Lesley Coffin - Biographer, critic is one of the worst movies Ever made but it was the last movie I saw in theaters before the shutdown and one of the best movie going experiences I ever had. The collective experience was pretty amazing, including the delightful commentary by what was probably a 6 year old saying what we were all thinking And have had many discussions about the train wreck since Covid started (especially showing it to my mother we could finally be back together). It was definitely a movie for 2020.

Alec Kubas Meyer- Director, YouTuber, Unseen Films writer
I'll give you the exact opposite, because there really wasn't a "Happy" movie that stuck with me through the whole year, though I did see Birds of Prey in IMAX twice in a week because I really, really loved it and had a ton of fun... so maybe that? (Freaky is the only other movie that I really had a ton of fun with in 2020.) In any case, Burning was the movie that stuck with me throughout the whole year. It's something I've thought about at least once every few days since I first saw it in February. I always feel sad immediately afterwards, but it has really resonated in 2020 as a film about the way the powerful truly prey on the weak in a way that even Parasite wouldn't touch. I love it, and it makes me miserable.

Jason Kartalian- Director, writer, producer
The film that I enjoyed the most this year was Borat 2 or its long title Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. It was in your face funny, timely and surprisingly touching. Sasha Baron Cohen was wild, fearless and insane but the true soul of the film was formed by a remarkable performance by Maria Bakalova. The film is quite an achievement.

Patrick Meaney - Director, Producer, Distributor
I tried to take advantage of this being (hopefully) the only year where all we could do was stay at home and watch movies by catching up on a lot of vintage films and directors that I hadn’t seen before, and the film that resonated most was Brian De Palma’s Sisters. I hadn’t seen many De Palma films before, and this one just blew me away with its narrative that swerved between an ominous romance, a dark murder investigation and a psychedelic horror freakout. It was a great example of taking advantage of a lower budget to go all out stylistically, with masterful split screen shots, and disturbing dream sequences. And, in the dark times of the lockdown, it inspired me with some new ideas for a project to tackle once things are open again. 

Ariela Rubin - Unseen Films writer
I would say My Octopus Teacher. It was just really sweet and mind blowing too. How a human and octopus can make a connect. It’s something I never would have suspected. I also watched all the Back to the Future movies (I think I had seen the first one years ago but didn’t remember it) and they all just made me smile. They were just fun movies to watch! And I saw Airplane for the first time which I also really enjoyed, a lot more than I expected to :)

Dor Dotson - Film Social Media Marketing Consultant
DRIVEWAYS, for its sheer quality and sense of authentic connection.
CITY SO REAL, for its sincere, warm portrayal of resilience both of a group and of so many compelling individuals
TED LASSO for its kindness and wholesomeness if you’ll allow a TV show because it is just THAT GOOD

Wendy Feinberg- Programmer of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series
One new one that I just watched made me happy - THE CALL OF THE WILD. And one I watched again in 2020, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, also made me happy. I am sure there are others. I have many that made me sad.

Danielle Solzman- Writer, Director
I don't know if I'd use the word happiest but Jurassic World is the film I've turned to the most while in quarantine (4 viewings)

Nora Lee Mandel- Writer
My interpretation of "happiest" these days is not comic - but humanistic. By that criteria, my favorite most humanistically heart-warming film is the fiction/documentary hybrid THE MOLE AGENT (Chile) directed by Maite Alberdi, not particular lines, but how the charming titular detective character/80-year old Sergio Chamy seems to bring out the best in all the elderly people in the pre-pandemic senior citizen residence.

Melanie Addington- Programmer Oxford Film Festival
Minari such a refreshing American tale of the South, of generational conflict, of family bonds, and lead Alan S. Kim is a delight.

Elizabeth Whittemore- writer, editor, actress, singer
If John Waters wrote an "I Love Lucy" episode it might resemble something like FAIRYTALE. Little did we know how long this pandemic would last and how hard hit the entire entertainment industry would be affected. FAIRYTALE gave me everything I was missing and so much more. The overall idea of being accepted for who we are, wrapped in oversaturated, tongue-in-cheek nostalgia is beautiful madness. Based on the stage play, also starring our leading lady Filippo Timi, Fairytale is a complete surprise and pure delight. Oh, oh, OH! The costumes! They are their own character as far as I'm concerned. With a set that rivals Pee-Wee Herman's playhouse from every angle, performances that will tickle your funny bone, and a script that gets more entertaining as it rolls along, I cannot stop telling everyone I know, especially theater fans, about this film. (Liz's original review is here)

Thessa Mooij- Publicist
Steve McQueen, Small Axes, LOVERS’ ROCK With festivals and theaters shut for most of the year, I saw much less films than usual. ’TV” series (I vote for tearing down borders between film, TV and online), making music and historical non-fiction took over my brain space. This makes me even more grateful for LOVERS’ ROCK lighting up my life. No year’s worth of lesser films to slog through first. But after months of lockdown a piece of pure cinema that celebrates the power of music and community. You don’t even need the music, just voices joined together, riding the waves of a melody and beat.

Seongyong Cho- Writer and Far Flung Correspndent
Early in this month, I was considering writing a piece on HBO TV movie "RKO281" (1999), so I came to revisit "Citizen Kane" (1941) with the audio commentary by late Roger Ebert, and I was surprised as the movie and Ebert's commentary energized and delighted me a lot. To be frank with you, I have often doubted whether I really feel joy and excitement as watching and reviewing countless films every year despite not getting paid at all, but this very happy experience with "Citizen Kane" reminded me again that I still like movies a lot, and now I am ready to embrace whatever I and other audiences are going to watch during the next year.

Steve Kopian- Chief cook and bottle washer at Unseen Films
It is a weird thing in that I was asking everyone what film made them happiest this year and I really couldn’t come up with something. Actually the problem was I over thought things and tried to figure out what made me happiest. The truth of the matter is that the happiest Movie was actually two events over the course of a week. The first was the Port Jefferson Documentary Series screening of Rock And Roll President in the park. It was for me a return to a kind of cinematic normalcy. It was a good film with a good friend and a chance to meet another in person. This was followed by the trip my brother to the Riverside Drive In outside Pittsburgh where I watched the Blood Island films one night and King Kong Vs Godzilla the next. Bliss Bliss and Heaven, not to mention my first vacation in decades.

Shaun Clark-Animator
The film I have chosen is 'The Man Who Planted Trees' directed by Frédéric Back based on Jean Giono's short story. The film was made in 1987 using coloured pencils on frosted cell to bring the drawings to life. I first saw this film in the early 90’s when I became interested in animation and shared the film this year with somebody as it reminded me of her father who plants acorns in the mountains every year. Watching the film again during the summer of the pandemic helped shine some light into the darkness. It is a story about recovery from tragic events, determination and commitment to make the world a better place. 

Justin McConnell- Director, Producer, 
LOVE & MONSTERS: Full disclaimer first - do I think this is the best film I saw this year? No, there were plenty of films that to my mind were objectively better. However, it was the one that brought me the most joy while watching it. The kind of movie that brought me back to the feeling of watching something big and fun in the cinema. It's a simplistic and charming crowd-pleaser with lots of fun monster designs, a generally positive tone, a small but fun role from Michael Rooker, and a great dog performance. And to know it was written by a screenwriter responsible for two other genre highlights this year (Underwater, Spontaneous), added to the joy, as it's always nice to find a new reliable creative working in the mid to high-budget space. All three of those films don't really feel like they are written by committee, they have the kind of personality to them that comes from trusting in a creative team, and I appreciate seeing that's still possible at larger budgets.

Joe Kopian- Unseen Films zombie expert
Not technically a movie the second season of the Korean series Kingdom was perfect fun.

Lisa Sanford- Disney Expert and occasional Pink Bunny
THE OLD GUARD: Focusing on an army of (mostly) immortal warriors, it felt strangely relevant in COVID times - the repetition and boredom of lockdown life, the helplessness, the feeling of existing rather than living. Whether it was escapism or a history lesson, I got something different out of it each time I watched, and it added a dash of magic and hope to a year that really needed it.

Chocko- Unseen Films writer and one of the mad minds behind Planet Chocko
Beastie Boys Story, the documentary by Spike Jonze was a favorite movie of mine from 2020. The doc is a recording of the surviving members of the Beastie Boys at the sold out King’s Theater in Brooklyn. Mike Diamond aka Mike D and Adam Horovitz aka Ad-Rock recall their early punk rock days and meeting Adam Yauch aka MCA which led to the formation of one of the most influential hip hop groups to come out of the 80’s...The Beastie Boys. Founding member Adam Yauch sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 but he lives on in the music, stories shared by his fellow MC’s and the many videos featured in the movie. I’ve been a fan of the Beastie Boys ever since catching their video “She’s On It” on music channel U68 and running to the mall to buy their first album “Licensed To Ill” the day it came out. The documentary was a well done, fantastic and emotional trip down memory lane and ultimately a story about friendship with a killer soundtrack that will make your head snap back and forth.

Kenji Fujishima- writer/editor
Frederick Wiseman's 1989 documentary Central Park is a great film by any measure, but seeing it at home while stuck in COVID-19 quarantine gave it an extra aching resonance. It's exactly the kind of teeming life, humanity, and freedom Wiseman so heartwarmingly captured in the film's wide-ranging three hours that this global pandemic severely curtailed. Amid the terror and frustrations of 2020, Central Park felt like an oasis: a vision of post-COVID normalcy that we'll hopefully approach in the new year

S. Schneider- Unseen Films Writer
Space Jam - An oldie I've seen countless times, but a true favorite. This movie carries a timeless sense of nostalgia for me that puts me in a good mood any time I see or put it on. An action & humor packed story of perservernce that was especially important in 2020 dealing with all the uncertainty & fear over all the unknown dealing with the virus.

Mr C- Unseen Films Writer and Mad Mind Behind Planet Chocko
I honestly didn't watch many movies in 2020. For most people, watching films in any format lends a little or a lot of distraction away from the everyday struggles and god knows we had plenty this year. For myself, I couldn't even stay focused to watch a movie in one sitting. Depression? Attention deficit disorder? But when I finally did crack an old DVD laying around, GIRLFIGHT which was Michelle Rodriguez's debut film, it encouraged me to see things through and persevere just like Rodriguez's character did in the movie. Although Girlfight's main plot was a young lady who is coming of age despite being misunderstood by teachers, issues with her father, & peers, she finds refuge in the ring with boxing which introduces other struggles. I wouldn't say this film made me happy but it did make me clench my fist and injected some emotion in me to say hey, let's move on - let's fight - let's live! Strangely enough, I made it a double screening and conveniently put in Robin Williams' - ONE HOUR PHOTO and yeah that injected some old feelings too! Maybe my life is not that bad which made me happy!

Sam Juliano- Writer, actor
1) First Cow
2) Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
3) Sound of Metal


On March 12th, the day before NYC locked down, Frank and Trace try to convince Nate Hood he'll be safe from Covid if they send him and Tom Servo into outer space to watch bad movies

And lastly I need to give  Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu aka The Mads the Unseen Film Award for 2020.  I know there wasn't going to be any award  but as I was putting this list of things that made people happy together they kept getting mentioned repeatedly - seriously.

Granted  they were the last theatrical cinema that John DiBello, Bully, Nate Hood and I attended before the quarantine hit (the night before New York City closed down we saw their live performance of THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS), but the truth is when I was putting this piece together they were mentioned repeatedly by Randi Mason and  others, even the one's not participating, as literally the first thing that made them happy.  Generally it was "the thing that made me happiest that I saw was the Mads live streams." to which they would add "but I can't include them because they aren't a movie" I argued argued they were, but no one wanted to put them forward. 

Randi gushed about the shows from top to bottom adding that she  loved that they went the extra mile and had special guests. "I loved when they brought out Victoria Price" and "As a result of their having Svengoolie on we are now fans"  

Because Trace and Frank were constantly cited as the thing that made people the happiest in this crappy year of Covid the Unseen Film Award goes to  Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu aka The Mads. As Willie Wonka said "So shines a good deed in a weary world." You guys you are both wonderful and you have blessed the world by bringing light into the darkness. The joy and laughter you have given to everyone was truly a highpoint in one of the worst times. 

And I, and the entire Unseen Films family, would love to give you all a group hug but social distancing rules prevent it.

The next night of their live show, which is an evening of short films, will be January 12th. For tickets and more information go here  
Because the award was unexpected and because social distancing prevents us from meeting up to give you the award so here is a picture of Frank and Trace when they met Bully The Little Stuffed Bull at the Alamo. Please feel free to photoshop a major award over Bully. 

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