CINEMA RETROSPECTIVE-2020 EDITION
2019, 2019 MID YEAR, 2018, 2018 MID YEAR, 2017, 2016, 2015
The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with Summation of the Year in Film

A Comprehensive Look at 2020 in Film

(012321) 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 and Totally 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 The Invisible 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.

2) 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

3) First Cow
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.

4) 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.

5) 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 in English

6) Collective
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 subtitles.
Streaming at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/collective

7) 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.

8) 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: Borat 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.

9) Tenet
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.

10) Mank
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
14. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
15. Killionaire
16. Beanpole
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 www.reelmoviecritic.com or the Examiner) go to https://www.artinterviews.org/best.
 

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.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

 

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