Yeesh. That was a rough one, wasn’t it? Aside from all the obvious downsides to a global pandemic, we also had to face drastic delays across the board, as production in film, TV and gaming ground to a halt. Giving us the first year since 2008 without any Marvel films in cinema, as well as pushing plenty of companies to explore options in streaming, we’ve yet to fully see the ramifications of 2020, and how it might change the landscape of cinema forever.
Still, that’s a thought for another day. Today we’re here to get all of 2020s ducks in a row, and figure out which one is prettiest. So let’s get to it! Read on to find out the winners in film, TV and gaming for the 2021 Apaddlemy Awards. Or the Oscoars, if you squint really hard.
Winner – Da 5 Bloods – Having taken on white supremacy with 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee turns his unique brand of biting insight and racial commentary to the Vietnam War. Weaving together a personal story of comradery and sacrifice with a larger criticism of the expendability of black soldiers, Da 5 Bloods is a deep and powerful look at the lasting effects of war, wrapped up in a scathing indictment of American Imperialism.
The Invisible Man – A bold and contemporary reimagining of the classic Universal monster, The Invisible Man reframes the translucent terror as a metaphor for the lingering traumas of abuse. Making chilling use of negative space, this paranoid thriller rekindles that primal fear of things that go bump in the night.
Promising Young Woman – Feeding off of the frustrations and fury of the ongoing Me Too movement, Promising Young Woman is a timely revenge tale that’s sick of hearing Not All Men. With tinges of Tarantino and an outstanding lead performance, this tense thriller is often uncomfortable to watch, but utterly electrifying throughout.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 – The latest effort from writer/director Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 digs into the complex social and political machinations at work behind the infamous trial. Featuring a staggering ensemble cast and the sharp, witty dialogue that Sorkin is renowned for, this sizzling drama is guilty of being a good time.
Best Animated Film
Justice League Dark: Apokolips War – Serving as the grand finale to the DC Animated Movie Universe, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is about as comic book as a film can get. Bringing together plot threads and loose ends from 15 animated films, this is a sprawling juggernaut, whose scope and ambition is rivalled only by Avengers: Endgame.
Winner – Onward – Continuing the morbid tradition of dead parents in Disney and Pixar films, Onward twists the formula slightly by dangling the possibility of bringing one back. A more grounded story than its lavish fantasy backdrop might suggest, this imaginative odyssey explores the notion of brotherhood, and the malleable nature of familial roles, while delivering another exceptional emotional rollercoaster.
Soul – The most existential and introspective thing to come out of Pixar since 2015’s Inside Out, Soul‘s blend of afterlife pondering and body-swap silliness builds to a touching look at what it means to be alive. With the usual beats of family-friendly fun and gut-wrenching sadness, Soul is another strong entry in Pixar’s quest to break our hearts.
Wolfwalkers – An enchanting tale of bravery and kinship, inspired by Irish and English folklore, Wolfwalkers is a touching story, made all the better by its outstanding voice cast. Utilising a purposefully imperfect hand-drawn art style, this beautiful fable proves there’s still a place for independent animation in a landscape dominated by big companies.
Winner – Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) – Before his tragic passing late last year, Chadwick Boseman really swung for the fences in his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The young blood in the band, Boseman’s Levee is brash and cocky. While this is entertaining enough, its when the swaggering façade cracks that the magic shines through, with Boseman hitting some incredible emotional beats in his monologues.
Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods) – Proof that sometimes people don’t really come home from war, Delroy Lindo’s Paul is a layered portrayal of PTSD packed inside an angry, volatile man. Carrying a heavier burden than the other Bloods, Paul’s parenting failures and delirious jungle ramblings are highlights of the film, all thanks to Lindo’s performance.
Gary Oldman (Mank) – Arrogant, snarky, and perpetually three sheets to the wind, Gary Oldman’s performance as the titular Herman J. Mankiewicz is Mank‘s core selling point. From tearing down the Los Angeles elite with rambling, Shakespearean monologues to wrestling with the script of Citizen Kane, Oldman’s Mank is always a delight to watch.
Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) – As well as learning to convincingly play the drums in just seven months, Riz Ahmed also puts in a hell of a performance in Sound of Metal. Charting the 5 stages of grief after Reuben starts to lose his hearing, Ahmed’s bitter anger feels real and justified, feeding into the satisfaction of his eventual acceptance of his new life.
Winner – Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) – Given the nature of the film’s content, this role could easily have fallen prey to overacting and melodrama. Seemingly easily avoiding the pitfalls of this path, Carey Mulligan delivers a nuanced, devastating performance, balancing wry humour with barely-concealed grief. Most impressive is her knife-edge switch from faking being drunk as she confronts men with cold fury.
Elisabeth Moss (The Invisible Man) – As ironic as it is that Scientologist Elisabeth Moss endlessly chases roles in which she escapes from oppressive forces, there’s no denying that she’s awesome at it. The paranoia and terror Moss emanates is palpable, ratcheting the tension up more and more in every scene, all the way to the final invisible twist.
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) – Fresh off her portrayal of Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of The Crown, Vanessa Kirby leads this harrowing drama with another outstanding performance. Understated, but still incredibly powerful, Kirby’s agony after losing her child is utterly gut-wrenching, and makes for some deeply affecting drama.
Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) – Channelling the passion and attitude of Ma Rainey and her fellow blues crooners, Viola Davis’ presence in this film is a glorious, dramatic statement. Opening the film completely enchanting the crowd, Davis’ Ma is a superstar, both on stage and off, and totally earns her moniker as the Mother of Blues.
Best Film Ensemble
Birds of Prey – One good thing to come out of 2016’s Suicide Squad is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Here, she’s better than ever, and she’s got a great supporting cast to clown around with. Smollett and Perez are perfect as Black Canary and Renee Montoya, Winstead is hilarious as Huntress, and McGregor is delightfully extra as Black Mask.
Da 5 Bloods – Alongside Lindo, the rest of the Bloods are cast fantastically, with their chemistry fuelling the most exciting moments of the film. Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isaiah Whitlock and Norm Lewis all make convincing, compelling old buddies, and Chadwick Boseman and Jonathon Majors also get some great moments as ancillary Bloods.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – While Boseman’s Levee and Davis’ Ma are certainly the standouts, the rest of the cast get plenty to do, building a believable blues troop to rally behind. Michael Potts and Glynn Turman both get their chance to shine, while Colman Domingo threatens to steal the show with his wizened, seen-it-all ball-busting.
Winner – The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Stacked with A-list actors, there’s little surprise that The Trial of the Chicago 7 is full of excellent performances. Eddie Redmayne and Mark Rylance deliver plenty of powerful drama, while Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong make a great comedic duo, but still with depth. Elsewhere, Frank Langella is insufferable as the obnoxious judge, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is captivating as Bobby Seale.
Best Visual Effects
The Invisible Man – Sure, the invisibility suit looks more than a little like a black golf ball, but the effects that bring it to screen – or not, depending on the scene – are terrifyingly good. Utilising a lot of ghostly tactics initially, the VFX ramps up when Cecilia reveals her hidden stalker, with the paint spill delivering a spine-chilling jump scare for the ages.
The Midnight Sky – Though space-set films are pretty common these days, it’s still rare that the effects look as tactile and impressive as they do in The Midnight Sky. Both inside and outside, the Aether looks pleasingly textured, with a level of detail that enhances the suspension of disbelief, and creates real tension when things start to go wrong.
Winner – Mulan – While overly reliant on visual effects (Hi, Disney), there’s no denying that Mulan has the budget to pull it off beautifully. The epic battles, particularly those involving Xianniang’s magic powers, are all suitably spectacular to behold; the sweeping landscapes, with CGI backing up some physical sets, create a great sense of scale for the avalanche and the Imperial Palace; and even Mulan’s bafflingly CGI’d horse looks OK.
Sonic the Hedgehog – A redemption tale for the ages, the second go at bringing the Blue Blur to the big screen (after that first, toothy version was widely mocked) actually looks pretty incredible. Both still and in motion, Sonic looks like he’s pulled right out of a Sega cartridge, helping make this surprisingly one of the better video game adaptations.
Best Makeup and Costume
Birds of Prey – Sure, we’re still yet to see Harley make proper use of her iconic red and black outfit, but she makes up for it with a dazzling array of other eccentric, character-appropriate costumes. The other Birds of Prey, while less ostentatious, also look great, and Ewan McGregor’s slick suits help to balance out the cheap look of his black mask.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Since the whole gimmick of Borat is dressing up in silly costumes, it should come as little surprise that the sequel goes all out. Both Sacha Baron Cohen and Maria Bakalova get to try out several ridiculous outfits, complete with wacky prosthetics, and emerge so over-the-top that they actually vanish into the characters.
Winner – Hamilton – Yeah it’s technically a stage show (and filmed in 2016), but it still counts. The blend of period-accurate pieces with more modern touches distils the overall tone of the show, while bestowing it with a unique aesthetic. The use of costume to designate new characters for the same actors works great, with Jones’ sizzling red dress as Maria Reynolds and Diggs’ striking Thomas Jefferson look being strong highlights.
Mulan – Barring the cardinal sin of omitting the iconic hair cutting scene, the live action remake of Mulan has a great aesthetic. From the elaborate getups used for meeting with the Matchmaker all the way up to the intricate Chinese army uniforms, everyone in the Empire is dressed to impress, and pulls it off with colourful flair.
Mulan – While it doesn’t fully capture the magic of the animated classic, one area in which Mulan‘s transition to live-action benefits it is the sense of scale. Drawing on the more fantastical, gravity-defying elements of classic martial arts films, the fight scenes in Mulan take on a more stylistic flair, keeping this from feeling like a pointless remake.
The Old Guard – The fact that Charlize Theron suffered horrific injuries on set says all that needs saying about the brutality of The Old Guard‘s action scenes. Balletic, bone-breaking combat is common for this team of immortals, and all those years of training show through with flawless choreography that gives John Wick a run for his money.
Winner – Tenet – When at any given point in your film, half of everything can be running in the reverse direction through time as the other half, it leads to pretty unique action sequences. While light on substance, Tenet fully utilises its conceit to deliver some outstanding set pieces, with timeline-crossing fistfights and backwards-driving car chases showing off lots of unconventional staging to great effect.
Wonder Woman 1984 – Lacking in anything as iconic as the trek across No Man’s Land in its predecessor, Wonder Woman 1984 still brings plenty of action. From the Gladiators-esque Amazonian tournament to the acrobatic final scrap with Cheetah, Diana’s second outing is full of high-octane excitement, which balances out the less polished plot.
Best Animated Series
Big Mouth Season 4 – Turning its particular blend of lewd comedy and relatable coming-of-age insights to a host of new problems, including anxiety and identity, Big Mouth Season 4 continues to deepen its mythos. Funny, filthy and flamboyant in all the right places, this series backs up its big mouth with heart and a sense of humour to match.
Winner – F is For Family Season 4 – Picking at the scabbed-over wound of an estranged father/son relationship, the fourth outing for the Murphy brood is one of their best yet. Character development is the key here, with the dynamic between Frank and his dad being a particular highlight, and the broad cast of lovable goofs all benefit. With plenty of 1970s-era struggles, F is for Family is still the animated authority on familial dysfunction.
Harley Quinn Season 2 – Continuing to be the best thing DC has put out since Christian Bale was gargling gravel as Batman, Harley Quinn Season 2 ups the stakes in every way. The story is more focused, the relationships are better developed, and the DC vault is plumbed even further, resulting in a hilarious and exciting season of anarchic action.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 – Drawing to a close this epic animated interquel in the galaxy far, far away, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 bridges the gap with Revenge of the Sith in spectacular fashion. Completing its arc of making up for the Prequels, this season brings epic action and new perspectives as it closes out its run with a flourish.
Best Comedy Series
The Boys Season 2 – After a successful first season, the creators were emboldened to dig further into the weirdness of the comics, and The Boys Season 2 benefits greatly from this. Bringing out more wacky villains and bizarre action, this wickedly funny superhero series is further defining its identity, feeling less like a spoof and more like its own bizarre beast.
Winner – Sex Education Season 2 – Teenagers and their sex problems continues to be a great source of comedy, with this sophomore season digging deeper into the depths of sexual dysfunction and coming up with gold. More relationships spring up, bringing complex, relatable problems of their own, and the mental health of characters is further explored, delivering some surprisingly affecting drama among the expected lewdness.
Ted Lasso Season 1 – A show about a perennially upbeat American making his way in England’s cutthroat football world could easily have been a huge miss, but Ted Lasso scores thanks to its sheer earnest. The title character’s unshakeable positivity seeps into the rest of the series, delivering a refreshingly optimistic comedy series.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 – The rarest of creatures, a spin-off that matches the quality of the original, the second run of this vampire mockumentary brings plenty more quotable moments. From the weird, possessed dolls to the instantly iconic Jackie Daytona, regular human bartender, Season 2 ups the weird, and delivers the laughs.
Best Drama Series
Winner – Dead to Me Season 2 – Billed as a dramedy, but succeeding too much as the former to be classed solely as the latter, Dead to Me Season 2 continues the complicated journey into grief, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Flipping the script offers a great refresh for the dynamic between Jen and Judy, and brings plenty of new tensions to their twisted lives, while still leaving room for the show’s signature black comedy.
The Flight Attendant Season 1 – Kaley Cuoco’s first big live-action role since finishing The Big Bang Theory, this offbeat murder mystery is as much a showcase of her talents as it is an engrossing drama. With plenty of twists throughout its tense narrative, The Flight Attendant Season 1 is a dizzyingly good time, and one to watch for the future.
The Mandalorian Season 2 – How do you restore Star Wars’ reputation after the sequel trilogy? This is the way. Continuing to capture the essence of George Lucas’ galaxy, The Mandalorian Season 2 ups the stakes with exciting connections to the established canon, while still deepening the adorable bond between Mando and his tiny green sidekick.
Perry Mason Season 1 – The latest incarnation of a character that has appeared in numerous different media over the decades, Perry Mason Season 1 takes the literary lawyer back to his roots with a grounded, hardboiled detective story. Spinning a dense and gripping plot, this reboot is a great fresh start for the beloved character.
Al Pacino (Hunters Season 1) – The big-name casting of the series, legendary actor Al Pacino is absolutely not wasted on Hunters. Swinging from wizened and grandfatherly to burning with fury to dangerously sinister, all at a moment’s notice, Pacino showcases the breadth of his talent in this series, and helps to outweigh some of the weaker moments.
Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso Season 1) – In what could easily have felt forced or irritating with a different actor, Ted Lasso’s unique, indomitable spirit is sold 100% by Jason Sudeikis’ sincerity. Upbeat and oozing corn-fed charm, Sudeikis is a well-timed light of hope, optimism, and kindness in an otherwise cloudy year.
Winner – Jonathon Majors (Lovecraft Country Season 1) – A rising star of 2020, thanks to roles in Da 5 Bloods and this cosmic horror series, Jonathon Majors has proven himself one to watch. The emotional heart of Lovecraft Country, Tic is an easily likable hero, with enough depth and backstory to keep things moving when the plot dips, and when things take a turn for the tragic, the losses hit hard due to Major’s captivating performance.
Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason Season 1) – Stepping into the well-worn shoes of Perry Mason after so many others, Matthew Rhys brings a fantastic rough edge to the role, capturing the gruff cynicism of classic noir gumshoes. Wily enough to survive the streets and courtrooms alike, Rhys’ Mason is a great new addition to the character’s legacy.
Emma Corrin (The Crown Season 4) – Taking on a character as iconic and enduring as the late Princess Diana is tough, but you wouldn’t know it from the charm and grace with which Emma Corrin steps into the gowns and crowns. Carrying the difficult mental health storyline with sensitivity, it’s just a shame that we only get one season of Corrin’s Diana.
Hilary Swank (Away Season 1) – Criminally cancelled after just one season, Netflix’s spacefaring drama Away saw Hilary Swank deliver one of her best ever performances. Dutiful and driven in the beginning, Swank’s Emma is worn down as problems arise on the journey, until she is left broken and lost, leading to some outstanding fits of rage.
Jurnee Smollett (Lovecraft Country Season 1) – The other half of what makes Lovecraft Country so emotionally compelling, Smollett’s Letitia Lewis is initially an upbeat romantic foil for Tic, but quickly becomes much more. Facing terrors of her own, Leti’s enduring spirit, brought out by Smollett’s tenacious performance, makes her easy to root for.
Winner – Linda Cardellini (Dead to Me Season 2) – After vying for first place with her co-star, Christina Applegate, Cardellini just inches ahead with her incredible, heart-wrenching performance in the sophomore stop on this grief train. The complexity of Judy’s feelings in this season exposes a fascinating struggle within the character, leading to a great new dynamic moving forwards, and some exceptional drama from Cardellini.
Best TV Ensemble
The Boys Season 2 – The gruff gang of miserable bastards (and Hughie) return, and they’ve brought some real weird buddies to play with. Urban gets more depth as Billy Butcher, Starr’s Homelander grows more disturbing, Moriarty and Quaid get to develop their relationship further, and Cash is a fun newcomer as the psycho-Nazi Stormfront.
The Crown Season 4 – At the end of their two year tour through Buckingham Palace, the central cast of The Crown have left their mark, and some big royal boots to fill for the next set of actors. Coleman continues to shine as Queen Elizabeth II, Doherty is riotous as Princess Anne, and O’Connor even manages to make Prince Charles sort of sympathetic.
Winner – Sex Education Season 2 – Taking on a more diverse range of storylines and highlighting more side characters inevitably leads to a wealth of fantastic performances. Butterfield and Anderson continue to be a fantastically unorthodox mother/son duo, Gatwa’s Eric and Mackey’s Maeve both get very welcome expanded roles, and Outalbali and Ezeudu slot well into the team as excellent new secondary players, Rahim and Viv.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 – The band of oddball bloodsuckers are back for more vampire weirdness, and their stupid domestic squabbles prove funnier than ever. Guillén’s Guillermo gets fleshed out a lot more, Berry is hilarious as Lazlo’s alter ego, Jackie Daytona, and Mark Hamill’s vengeful old vamp makes a great addition to the crew.
Game of the Year
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla – A brutal medieval saga spun with strands of shady politics, fragile alliances and shocking betrayals, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is pretty much the best Game of Thrones video game ever made. With bloody, muddy combat and a stunning open world to explore, this wild Viking tale is Assassin’s Creed at its very best.
Ghost of Tsushima – Delivering the sprawling samurai adventure that gamers have been wanting for years, Ghost of Tsushima paints a gorgeous picture of feudal Japan as players traverse a thrilling story of honour and sacrifice. With an inventive approach to the open world and flawless swordplay, this is the ultimate samurai fantasy, and an epic gaming experience. For more, check out the full review here.
Winner – The Last of Us Part II – Faced with the near-insurmountable challenge of living up to the legacy of its iconic predecessor, The Last of Us Part II pulls out all the stops to deliver not just an incredible follow up, but one of the best games of all time. Tightening the combat while pushing narrative boundaries with its twisted revenge story, this exceptional sequel raises the bar in every way. For more, check out the full review here.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales – A shorter experience than 2018’s Spider-Man, and all the more impressive for it, this semi-sequel takes everything that worked in the first game and builds on it, while ironing out some of the creases. With fun new powers and a charming protagonist, Spider-Man: Miles Morales proves there’s room for two spiders in this web. For more, check out the full review here.
Best Performance in a Video Game
Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us Part II) – After turning in an exceptional performance in The Last of Us, Ashley Johnson returns to voice an older, more hardened version of Ellie in the sequel. Burdened by the first game’s events, Johnson’s Ellie is tortured and volatile, in a fascinating departure that is as captivating as it is intimidating.
Daisuke Tsuji (Ghost of Tsushima) – Though the samurai practice emotion control as part of their creed, Jin’s struggle between his honour and his duty is wrought with doubt and despair. Most prominent in Jin’s arc with his uncle, the shame and guilt that surround his new role are palpable thanks to the depth of feeling in Tsuji’s delivery.
Winner – Laura Bailey (The Last of Us Part II) – Even overlooking all of the toxic vitriol surrounding the release of The Last of Us Part II, coming into an established franchise as a new character is tough. With an expansive role and some exceptional voice work from Bailey, Abby manages to not only stand alongside Ellie, but in some ways, outshine her, with her vulnerability and fury hitting the perfect tone for this universe.
Nadji Jeter (Spider-Man: Miles Morales) – As a breakout side character in 2018’s Spider-Man, it was heartening to see Miles shifted so quickly to starring status. Unsure of himself as he grapples with his new powers, Jeter’s Miles is an effortlessly charming and endearing protagonist, with that inherent goodness that makes Spidey so timeless.
Up The Geek Legacy Award
Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Marvel’s What If…?)
First rising to international fame with his role as Prince T’Challa/Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman quickly asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with, both within the MCU, and Hollywood at large. Having made a strong impression in his debut, Boseman returned to the MCU the following year, leading a nearly all-black cast in the cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther.
After making history starring in the first superhero film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Boseman reprised the role of T’Challa in Avengers’ Infinity War and Endgame – two of the biggest movies of all time. As well as embodying historically notable black figures across his career, including James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, Boseman was a dedicatedly charitable man, most recently donating $4.2 million in PPE equipment to help hospitals fighting Covid-19 in black communities.
The darker side of this meteoric rise is that just as Prince T’Challa graced screens in 2016, the man behind the mask was fighting a battle of his own, as he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. Choosing to keep his condition a secret, Boseman continued to work, and indeed, turn out some of his most dynamic performances, as mentioned above. Despite fighting the disease with a determination worthy of a true superhero, Boseman died at home with his family on August 28th 2020.
Boseman is confirmed to have recorded work for Marvel’s upcoming What If…? animated series – appearing in at least one episode that sees T’Challa picked up from Earth by Yondu instead Peter Quill – so we haven’t quite heard the last of him yet. With this final performance, Boseman will cap a tragically short, but impressively robust career, and leave behind a role that meant so much to so many, and secured his status as an icon.
Rest In Power, Wakanda Forever.