2020: The Year in Review

Yes, it's the end of another year and time to find out what's been happening this year on your favourite website with the words "cinema" and "essentials" in the name. This year we have Top Tens, lame jokes, weird web searches and even some sexy pictures. 

So grab your brew of choice, make yourself comfy in your favourite chair, and we'll get started. For me that means slouching decoratively on the sofa, with a decent cup of coffee and a plate of dark chocolate digestives (the king of biscuits!). Are you comfortable? OK then, let's start.

The China Syndrome 

So, it's been a weird year and Christmas was virtually cancelled for many people for the first time since Oliver Cromwell. Fortunately, we managed to avoid another lockdown after the Prime Minister promised that it wouldn't happen again. 

Instead, we were designated a "Tier 4" zone, where you can't leave the house except for work or exercise, and everywhere is shut except for food shops. What do you mean that just sounds like another lockdown? You are such a cynic!

This year's lockdowns have at least given us the opportunity to do all those things we've been meaning to do, but never got around to. So I decided to use my time productively and set some goals. 

I decided to write a few dozen in-depth posts on major classic films, start doing daily yoga sessions, paint the spare bedroom, take up lifting weights again, run five miles a day, improve my French, brush up on my German, learn the basics in Italian and Spanish, start work on my novel and learn to play the piano.

Obviously, none of that happened.

But, as I've said before, I'm very good at loafing, so I decided to brush up on my skills in that area instead. You can never have too much practice.

So, anyway, what's been happening on the site this year? 

Well, Cinema Essentials celebrated its 3rd birthday in July. I assume there would have been street parties and firework displays, if it hadn't been for the lockdown. I marked the occasion by sharing my hard-won blogging advice in 12 Lessons from 3 Years of Blogging.


I only took part in 3 blogathons this year. 

I wrote about The Belles of St. Trinian's for the Rule Britannia blogathon and came up with some choices for 6 Favourite Films of the 1960s

I also wrote about the comedy Left, Right and Centre for the Classic Movie Blog Association's "Politics on Film" blogathon. Excitingly enough, mine and some of the other posts were turned into an e-book, Politics on Film, so I'm now a published author. Yeah I know - but it still counts. 

It still counts! 

The Year I Got Interviewed

I was interviewed by John Greco of the Classic Movie Blog Association earlier this year.  It was actually fun - it's the only time I think I've been interviewed without someone asking me "Why do you want this job?" And I've never been able to sneak jokes about Bond films into any of those interviews. Not yet anyway. 

Alastair Sim & George Cole in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's

Two Cheers for St. Trinian's!

I did my first series this year which was on the St. Trinian's films. I had lots of comments and emails about this, and people were begging me, but I still went ahead and did it anyway.

This came about as I was looking for something funny to watch and Blue Murder at St. Trinian's was on BBC iplayer. I hadn't seen it for years, but remembered liking it. I noticed they had the first one as well, The Belles of St. Trinian's, so thought I might as well watch that first. They also had the third, The Pure Hell of ..., so I decided to track down the other two, The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery and The Wildcats of St. Trinian's, as I'd never seen them. Wildcats is actually on Youtube in a poor copy, but it's only for diehard St. Trinian's fans or masochists. The Wildcats of St. Trinian's will be featured on the site next year and after that I promise it will all be over. 

World War II Shorts

A few World War II short films have turned up on the site this year - Squadron 992, Miss Grant Goes to the Door and 3 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' short films from Ealing Studios.

The Talking Pictures channel have shown some of these from the Imperial War Museum archive recently. I started writing a line or two on each just to remind me which ones I'd seen, then decided to turn a few of them into posts. 

So there might be a few more of these random short films appearing next year on unlikely subjects. They make a change from 7000 word posts on Dr. Strangelove or Alien anyway. Even I can't get a 5000 word post out of a five minute film.

Now with Book Reviews!

Our first ever book review. This came about after Wolfman's Cult Film Club wrote about Joe Jordan's book on Robert Wise and the author kindly asked me if I would accept a review copy. I've previously been offered screener copies of films, but never anything I was all that interested in watching, let alone writing about afterwards.

The Most Popular Posts This Year

Based on the number of page views, the most popular posts published this year were:

1. 6 Favourite Films from the 1960s 

2. Dracula (1931)

3. Who Dares Wins (1982) 

4. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

5. Cinema Essentials Interview with the Classic Movie Blog Association

6. The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)

7. Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957)

8. Some Will, Some Won't (1969)

9. Classic TV: Regan (1974)

10. Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Yes, many more people read about the Ronnie Corbett comedy Some Will, Some Won't than about Dr. Strangelove or The Seventh Seal. That must tell us something, although I'm not sure what. 

Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Seventh Seal.
A nice try from Ingmar, but less
 popular than Ronnie Corbett

The 10 p DVD Challenge

Have you noticed how cheap DVDs are now? I mean, dirt cheap. I was waiting for my bank to open one day (yeah I know, I'm such a big shot) and noticed the charity shop next door (what's the US equivalent - is it a thrift store?) had their DVDs and CDs by the open door. I thought I might as well have a look while I was waiting. 

I stopped buying CDs and DVDs years ago, mainly because I was concerned about the environmental impact of all that plastic. In the charity shops now you can see the tail end of the DVD revolution. Most places are selling DVDs and Blu Rays for £1 or 50 p each. (£1 is about $1.34 at the moment)

One amazing little shop around the corner was selling DVDs for 10 p each. Or, as the sign helpfully put it:

"10 p each. Or 10 for a pound"

Yeah, I managed to work that out. 

Charity shop DVDs hit the sweet spot of recycling, getting a bargain and helping charity, three of my favourite things. And I've found it useful to have physical copies of films. More than once I've written a post, then wanted to check a quote from a film and found I'd already deleted it. (D'oh!)

My Favourite First Time Viewings This Year

One of my favourites this year was Mandy (1952), starring Jack Hawkins as a speech therapist and Phyllis Calvert as a mother with a deaf child. I'd wanted to see this one for a while. It's an Ealing film made by Alexander Mackendrick and is known as "Crash of Silence" in the US. 

I finally saw the excellent WW2 documentary Desert Victory (1943), and enjoyed Filmed in Supermarionation (2014), a documentary about Gerry Anderson puppet series of the 1960s, which might still be on Amazon Prime in the UK if you're interested. This isn't just a straightforward documentary, as it's introduced and linked by the Parker and Lady Penelope puppets from Thunderbirds.

It took me a while to catch up with The Hateful Eight (2015), which is good-ish, although it's talky, self-indulgent and overly violent, like most Tarantino films since Pulp Fiction, and the decision to do it in 70 mm is almost perverse. 

Writing about Film and TV Inspired by The Great Train Robbery inspired me to check out the TV drama The Great Train Robbery (2013), starring Luke Evans and Jim Broadbent. This is a pretty good drama and informative too. This may still be on Amazon Prime as well.

The gang in the TV drama The Great Train Robbery (2013)

Not as good, but I quite enjoyed the oddball oil prospectors comedy-drama Oklahoma Crude (1973) with Faye Dunaway, George C. Scott and John Mills. I watched this because I like the stars and it's rare to see Mills in an American film. Also The Boys (1961), an obscure courtroom drama that's a little underrated, Official Secrets (2018) based on the true story of an Iraq War whistleblower, Wilde (1997) with Stephen Fry perfectly cast as Oscar Wilde, and Martin McDonagh's drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). 

Most of the best films this year were repeat viewings, including The Seventh Seal (1957), Peeping Tom (1960), The Longest Day (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1963), Dr. Zhivago (1965) (sorry Maddy!), The Conversation (1974), Mona Lisa (1986), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Gladiator (2000) and The Damned United (2009).

Worst Film of the Year

The worst film this year was The Uncanny (1977), a horror anthology about killer moggies. This is appropriate, as one of the worst last year was The Monster Club (1980), another anthology from the same producer, Milton Subotsky.

I don't know why I keep watching these things, because they're rarely any good. I think I just like the anthology format, they always have interesting casts, and this one had Joan Greenwood in a rare later film role. I also thought I might as well see the rest of these from this producer (plus the very similar Tales That Witness Madness) and complete the set.

What are Cinema Essentials readers looking for?

People come to visit this website from all over the world, thanks to the magic of the internet. These are some of the searches that have brought people here this year: 

cooking for two is same as cooking micheal caine funeral in berlin  [Er, if you say so]

1970s trucker movies  [They must have been disappointed] 

Dial m for murderousnesss  [One of Hitchcock's lesser known films]

Murder on nile boat  [I think that's lacking something as a film title]

A Christmas Carol relevant version [Relevant to what?]

Alex Gunnis 39 steps  [I don't think Alex Gunnis was in that one]

Quartermaster and the pit  [It's back, for a second year running!]

the wicked german woman officer in 633 squadron  [That's Anne Ridler in the Nazi uniform - she obviously has her fans. And no, I don't know her phone number]

633 sqiuadrom. [Don't worry, Google knows what you mean]

Film Smokey [Any ideas?]

who dares wins 1982 orangery [Is it really that orangery?]

show ripley bending over on the set as their filming alien on camera  [Whatever turns you on!]

And now, in a special feature, I will answer your questions from Google.

"So tell me, young fellow, what is it that you wish to know?"

These are actual questions from the search engines:

where was 633 squadron filmed  [Mostly at Bovingdon airfield in Hertfordshire, but see here]

did Jayne Mansfield sing in sheriff of fractured Jaw  [Hmm ... I don't think so]

evil under the sun filming locations  [Yorkshire and Mallorca. Which does rhyme if you say it right]

how was murderer caught in dial m for murder  [Er, something to do with a key?]

why pauline hickey?  [Why indeed]

Where is glamour model Pauline Hickey now?  [Running an alpaca farm in the Cotswolds. And that's either completely untrue or an amazingly good guess]

In movie 633 squadron how was Erik Bergman tortured  [I've seen various theories on this and I've concluded that it's best not to ask!]

What makes bicycle thieves an art film?  [Do your own homework!]

My Favourite Posts This Year

Other than the St. Trinian's posts, especially The Belles of St. Trinian's and Blue Murder at St. Trinian's, my favourites this year were:

Who Dares Wins (1982)

This SAS thriller isn't that great and its rep is pretty low, but I liked it as a kid (well, I liked the action bit at the end) and I felt it had plenty of interesting elements that were worth exploring. 

Quiz (2020)

This TV mini-series about the "coughing major" on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? got good reviews and I was interested in the story, as I'd read an article about it by the authors of Bad Show, the book this was based on. I also thought this would be a break from watching something that I'll write about afterwards. I'll just watch it and that'll be it. Lol. Obviously not.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

This is the Francis Ford Coppola version with Gary Oldman. I was inspired to watch this again after writing about the 1931 Bela Lugosi film. This full-blooded take is just as entertaining as I remembered, but it's clearly not for everyone. There were some surprisingly strong reactions to this - some people love the film and some really hate it! I like it quite a bit, especially the old-timey special effects. I also think Gary Oldman is the best screen Dracula. Yes, really!

Gary Oldman in Dracula. I had quite long hair as a student, and would love to have rocked this look. And to say Dracula's line "I have crossed oceans of time to find you". I tried it on the woman who delivers my post, but she just looked at me funny. 

The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971)

Another anthology, but this one is a comedy. It's actually a great idea - 7 vaguely linked comic stories by top writers - and it has a fascinating cast. There's only one problem. It's not very funny. Still, it's an interesting film for students of British comedy. 

The Seventh Seal (1957)

I found this difficult, because it's a really dense film and I felt like I could have done with a second viewing to untangle it more, but I was reasonably happy with this post. I'd like to cover more foreign language films, but they're not very popular, so I seem to do one a year. 

Film and TV Inspired by the Great Train Robbery

This came about as I was watching The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (obviously) and thought about how many films there are inspired by The Great Train Robbery. I did turn up one that I hadn't heard of, the German TV film Hooper's Last Hunt, that I found on a German TV database. 

16 Alternative Takes on Sherlock Holmes

I'd had this in mind for ages, but never got around to doing it. I did consider including a few others, including Mr Holmes and Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, but decided they weren't quite alternative enough. 

Dr. Strangelove (1963)

I was pleased with this, although it's very long. As I mentioned in the review, there's a lot of sexual references and imagery in this film and I had to decide where to draw the line. As with my piece on Alien, I decided not to push that angle too far, because there is such a thing as good taste. I did seriously consider including this picture of a refuelling probe on an air force jet, which is one of the first images you see in the film:

This was obviously chosen by Kubrick for its resemblance to something else. I was going to caption this picture: "Not tonight, darling, I've got a headache!"

I ran through some other possibilities, most of which would have done a Carry On scriptwriter proud, but in the end I decided against it. After all, this is a serious website, not The Benny Hill Show. I don't like to let good - or even not very good - material go to waste, so I thought I'd share it with you for a cheap laugh.

The Late, Great Sean Connery

Cinema Essentials does have literally 2 or 3 female readers, and having included a gratuitous picture of Pauline Hickey, there really ought to be something for the girls too. 

So to even things up, here's a sexy picture of one of the most suave and handsome men in the history of the cinema. Yes, it's the late lamented Sean Connery, who sadly died this year. Here we remember Sean in his prime, in one of his most memorable films. Ladies (and gents, if you're so inclined) prepare to swoon: 

And that is why the Romans never successfully invaded Scotland. The whole idea was just too disturbing. 

Wow. Did it just get hot in here? Yes, I admit it, even I swooned a bit there. 

Yes, that was Sean in John Boorman's 1970s sci-fi oddity Zardoz. Personally, I don't know why people make fun of him in that outfit. I dress like that all the time, and it's never done me any harm - apart from getting arrested three times. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. 2020 is coming to an end and hopefully next year will be a huge improvement on this one. Scientists have already developed a vaccine and are hard at work tweaking it, testing it and shaking it about in test tubes. Soon they will be jabbing us in the arm with it (let's hope it's in the arm anyway). 

You may have noticed there was also a US Presidential election this year. After 4 memorable years Donald Trump, the world's most modest man, is leaving the White House. Assuming he doesn't barricade himself in and change all the locks. 

And after four years of 50% of Americans going totally crazy, they can relax and take it easy. Because now it's the turn of the other 50% to go totally crazy. And that, folks, is democracy. At least Americans know how Brexit feels. 

Replacing Donald Trump as President is simple Joe Biden. Joe Biden, of course, died in 1997. But he's so public-spirited that he was revived and wheeled into place to stand in front of Kamala Harris and save the Democratic Party America in its hour of need. And if that doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, then what does?

Even More Final Thoughts

Thanks as always to all my regular readers and commenters. Special thanks go to everyone who nominated me for blogging awards this year. All awards are kept on the virtual mantelpiece, where I polish and admire them every day.

Don't forget that the New Year is a perfect time to start a new habit, break a bad one, or otherwise start anew. I hope you all had an enjoyable, socially distanced Christmas and wish you all the best for a healthy and prosperous 2021.


  1. Hi Jay, here is one of your 2 or 3 female readers. Thanks for that funny post. I needed a good laugh. This crappy year of course had to end on a downbeat note. Never before have the words "Happy New Year" sounded so enticing!

    When, not if, this is all over, I never ever want to hear the word "lockdown" again, or see a mask. Apparently some TV shows were filmed (don't ask me which, I wouldn't watch them anyway) recently with the whole mask/Covid thing worked into the plot. Who for puppy's sake will ever want to rewatch them later?? I want to forget that this whole awful yearlong Twilight Zone episode ever happened. And never be reminded of it again.

    I absolutely love the internet searches. There's a lot of weird people out there. And that's me saying that.
    Speaking of which, that picture of Pauline... Can you say mooooo??
    I was going to say, thanks for a picture of a halfnaked Sean Connery. Much appreciated. But...did it have to be this one?? I'm trying to unsee this now. :) How much did they pay him to get into this costume, I wonder?

    "I don't know why I keep watching these things, because they're rarely any good."
    Yes, about that. Why do you watch and review movies you find awful, like The Wildcats of St. Trinian's? (I'm sure they actually are awful). :)
    I guess I'd simply consider this a waste of time.

    PS: My answer to the question "why do you want this job" is usually: "I really don't want this job at all, but I need the money."

    A Happy New Year to you, and everybody else. I never meant that more.

    1. Yes, in the wise words of Wolfman, "2020 can do one".

      The great thing about that Sean Connery costume is that every element is so improbable. The ponytail and zapata moustache are actually the least worst elements. You're just left staring at it wondering what was going on. I think John Boorman must have been having a nervous breakdown or something. In Connery's defence, he was trying to shake off the Bond image in the early 70s. And, as we can see, he was trying Really Hard.

      I don't think I've reviewed that many bad movies, have I? And St. Trinians is a special case, because I decided to do the lot and I was curious about how bad the last one could be. And it's at least bad in interesting and unusual ways.

      The funny thing is employers tend not to like the "I just need the money" answer. They can be very fussy like that.

      A Happy New Year to you as well. Not long now ...

    2. That Connery outfit is in the same category of ghastly as Borat's mankini. I need eyebleach to unsee this. :)

      As for employers, who needs 'em? Oh wait...


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