A Comprehensive Look at 2020
During this dismal dispiriting year, many movie theatres were closed most of the
time, and the year ended with the future of some chains in doubt (AMC has stated
that they don’t know if they can stay open.)
With Covid and political division spreading, and mass Black Lives Matters
protests, Russia recently launching a cyber-attack against the US,
consumers of all types of art seemed to grow more receptive to socially
conscious works. It’s no coincidence that Marvin Gaye’s classic and most
environmentally themed protest album, What’s Going On, was elevated to number 1
in the most recent Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time Poll.
Unsurprisingly, some of the best art works of 2020 dealt directly with social
issues such as the incompetence and corruption of government bureaucracy (Collective
Under Control), capitalist and imperialist driven militarism and racism in the
army (Da Five Bloods), environmentalism and ongoing human caused climate change
(Weathering with You and
Planet of the Humans), the reemergence of fascism
(Martin Eden), bias and classicism in the court system (Trial of the Chicago 7),
sexual harassment and gender discrimination (The Assistant and
Man), prejudice in the arts (Ma Rainey’s Big Bottom and The 40 Year Old
Version), and gentrification (Vampires vs. the Bronx which cleverly used
vampirism as a metaphor for gentrifying elites.)
Now here is my list of the best films of the year...
1.) Martin Eden
Magnificently acted film about an inarticulate and alienated
loner who falls for a woman above his social class and
gradually ends up drifting toward fascism. This fictional
film which masterfully incorporates historical archival
footage evokes the great Italian Neorealist classics such as
Bicycle Thieves as well as French New Wave films. Luca
Marinelli, the male lead, delivers the most multi layered
and finest acting performance I saw all year, and this is
the best adaptation of Jack London novel I can recall.
Recent developments in the global political landscape make
this more relevant than ever. In the current United States
climate, the frustrated, inarticulate, working class
protagonist could have easily been a Trump supporter.
Several prominent critics (including the New York Times’
Manohla Dargis) picked this as the best film of the year. In
English with Italian subtitles. Available for streaming on
KinoMarquee at https://kinomarquee.com/film/venue/5f6cc6d35e8e250001bc197f.
Da Five Bloods
Spike Lee’s engaging and
enraging elegiac tale of a group of African American veterans who regroup in
Viet name to find some money they hid away during the war, and they also want to
recover the body of a fellow soldier. This explores war time racism as well as
any film I have seen, as well as imperialism, greed and capitalist driven
militarism, and it may be Spike lee’s strongest film in years (I have not seen
the highly acclaimed Utopia though.) Featuring one of the last and best
performances by the justly praised Chadwick (Black Panther) Boseman as the
inspirational Storm ‘in Norman who like T’challa inspires people with his innate
charisma and leadership skills. This also works as a kind of corrective to
Apocalypse Now and other mostly all white war centered Viet Nam flicks.
Streaming on Netflix
This beautifully developed and magical little Indy film is about two desperately
impoverished men who join forces to sell biscuits in the old West. The plan
involves stealing a neighbor’s milk at night while he sleeps, and one of the
high points features one of the men unburdening himself to his cow. This creates
a great scenario with very little plot and since so little happens almost
everything seems significant (like in a Wong Kar Wai or Ozu film ), this
minimalistic anti-western by fine director Kelly (Certain Women) Reichardt
throws out almost everything usually associated with westerns except for the
setting. Udderly enchanting.
Available for streaming at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/first-cow.
i’m thinking of ending things
This difficult but rewarding continually shifting Metafilm is about a couple
that goes on a trip together and either the woman wants to break up or the man
wants to kill himself or both. This plays out like a novel that takes place as
it is being written and is continually changed by the screenplay writer and
perhaps the audience. Charles Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation)
has created the year’s most intelligent albeit intentionally frustrating script
which may make you doubt reality (it did for me). The title is supposed to be
all in small letters.
Streaming on Netflix.
Weathering with You
Terrific Japanese animated film about a nature
goddess who embarks on a romance with a young man, but her elemental
responsibilities (relating to preventing climate change) threaten to split them
apart. This under recognized film presents a much more socially conscious story
line and a more relatable heroine than either
Wonder Woman or
Captain Marvel (I
also think this film is far better than either one of them.) This lushly
romantic and unexpectedly hopeful film made me feel something akin to a
religious experience. This is currently streaming on Netflix, but I saw it in a
movie theatre preview before Covid erupted , and I think seeing the huge
landscapes and bright colors on a big screen magnified the intensity and
pleasure of the experience, and the high ranking on my list is based on my big
screen theatre experience. This is as good as a Ghibli film and far better than
most recent Disney films.
Available in either Japanese with English subtitles or
Eye opening documentary about a
scandal in which surrounds a fire in Romania that occurred in 2005 and ended up
taking down a whole political party. Government officials and big pharma
knowingly made many mistakes such as allowing doctors to use watered down,
ineffective disinfectant to increase profits which resulted in many unnecessary
deaths . Disturbing film will engage and outrage you. In Romanian with English
Streaming at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/collective
Planet of the Humans
Spell binding and unflinching documentary
about the eminent destruction of the planet due to global warming points the
finger at both the right (for ignoring and even denying the problem exists) and
the left (for offering false and overly easy solutions.) Produced by Michael
(Roger and Me ) Moore, but far better than the films he directed recently. The
scene which captures a lone orangutan’s devastating reaction to his forest being
torn down is one of the most devastating things I ever saw in a film.
Trial of the Chicago 7
Wonderfully well-acted film about one of the most
notorious trials ever in which police tried to railroad protester leaders who
were at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The whole ensemble cast is convincing,
but the standout is Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance (he had a good year and also
did a well-received Borat sequel:
Subsequent Moviefilm) as Abbey Hoffman. Written and directed by
Aaron Sorkin, who created some of the best ever shows ever including The West
Wing. Streaming on Netflix.
Christopher Nolan (who has become one of the best sci/fi action film
makers) directed this much more intelligent than necessary James Bond-like film
about people who come from the future who can reverse entropy which causes them
to movie backward in time (this is based on inversion, a real, contemporary
scientific theory.) and in the process they encounter other versions of
themselves. Available on multiple streaming services.
Handsome historical biopic that was shot in black in
white explores the unhappy but eventful life and career of
Herman J. Mankiewicz, the brilliant screen writer who penned
the script for Citizen Kane. Gary Oldman gives a riveting,
tour de force performance as the lead character and Amanda
Seyfried (who is also terrific) is utterly transformed in
her performance playing a sympathetic Marion Davies, the
real-life celebrity who was unfairly trashed in Kane. This
draws from critic, Pauline Kael’s absorbing writings on the
subject. Director Dave Fincher has mastered many of Orson
Welles’ signature techniques such as deep focus which he
uses to great effect here. The soundtrack was composed by
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (of Nine Inch Nails), who
always do excellent film scores and the two of them just got
inducted into the Rock Hall Of Fame this year.
Streaming on Netflix.
Also for your consideration....
11. The Assistant
12. What Did Jack Do? (David Lynch short)
13. Joan of Arc
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
17. The 40-Year-Old Version
18. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
19. My Octopus Teacher
20. Ma Rainey’s Big Bottom
If you want to see some of my previous top 10 lists (some
were published on
the Examiner) go to
Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges and has reviewed films
for The Star and The
Examiner. He is an avid film buff and an author.
writings by Vittorio Carli go to
His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also
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