My Favorite Films of 2020 (1-7)
Despite a raging pandemic, films were indeed released in 2020, and some great ones too. I don't know know what I would have done without movies in general during this trying time, and these movies are just a small fraction of the ones that entertained and thrilled me and even give me hope.
7 La Llorona (dir. Jayro Bustamante)
This Guatemalan horror story is a slow burn, but one that delves into its country’s history of dictatorships and genocide in a creepy yet pointed manner. Just the baleful stare from Alma (Maria Mercedes Coroy) is enough to send chills down the spine, but Bustamante manages to take the best from what seems like Japanese horror movies to make some wonderfully creepy images around water as well as the best of Latin American cinema when portraying the dictator’s family and the insular house that he shields himself from the society that hates him. Latin America has had more than its share of the devastating effects of colonialism and failed revolutions, so it’s no wonder directors knowledgeable about that history can make such fantastic films about those subjects.
Available for online rental
6 Promising Young Woman (dir. Emerald Fennell)
This would have been the film that could have stirred up so much controversy if more non-cinephile people had seen it. It’s already sparked fierce debate among everyone, even women critics who were victims of sexual abuse. For me personally, I admired its colorful aesthetic that clashed (and complemented) the dark material and Carey Mulligan’s performance. Mulligan has shown great range in not just her choice of roles but within her roles itself and here she has to play calculating and tough yet also vulnerable and hurt. I honestly think I got more from the discussions and reviews I read about this film, and I think just for that reason, this film deserves to be remembered for years to come.
Streaming on HBO Max
5 Saint Maud (dir. Rose Glass)
A film that I think (or at least hope) could really be remembered long after this season is over. I was kind of astounded that it took place in the modern day since it so expertly hails back to the tradition of older styles of horror. (It was only when Jennifer Ehle's character mentioned finding someone "online" that it clicked.) It's religious horror from an intensely personal point of view and a film that both respects the power of religion yet also criticizes it as an avenue of potentially harboring delusion rather than alleviating it. Morfydd Clark is so commanding in a really difficult role that requires her to be both self-righteous yet also traumatized.
Streaming on Hulu
4 Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee)
Part Treasure of the Sierra Madre remake and part Vietnam war story, Da 5 Bloods is a sprawling masterpiece that is not quite big enough to cover all the themes that it wants to discuss. The treatment of Black soldiers as disposable weapons, though, is the most prominent theme and Spike Lee highlights the crap out of that. Delroy Lindo was robbed of even an Oscar nomination, but his mixture of Humphrey Bogart’s character in Sierra Madre and traumatized war vet is a performance for the ages. This may perhaps be Spike Lee’s greatest latter era film.
Streaming on Netflix
3 Bacurau (dir. Kleber Mendonca Filho)
This weird, very specific Western has so many small, yet provocative details that hint at a world far bigger than the story focuses on that it would be worth it to revisit this film and try to parse them apart. If you’re not the type to microanalyze film, this is one hell of a Western, a siege Western to be specific, that pits a small town against a bunch of foreign European and American elites that turns the whole trope of often indigenous people being considered the invaders in that scenario.
Streaming on Criterion Channel and Kanopy and available for online rental
2 First Cow (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
This Western (or, I guess, Pacific NorthWestern) features the gentlest heist I have ever seen, and a lovely portrait of a male friendship that is characterized by genuine care and the simple need to have enough to survive. It says plenty about capitalist society without blaring it to the rooftops. It also provides a gentle yet firm rebuke of the whitewashing and overmasculinization of American history. If anyone could make the Western a relevant form of film again (its influence has certainly not gone away) then it’s Reichardt with her unique viewpoint.
Available for online purchase
1 Small Axe (dir. Steve McQueen)
It’s infuriating that only a relatively small number of people have seen this, even among cinephile circles. I don’t know how a theatrical distribution model would have worked, but this anthology of feature length films is such a rich depiction of a specific community during a specific time that it should become the model for any similar stories told in the future. I knew next to nothing about the West Indian community in London, but the problems they face of over-policing and lack of access to equitable education are all too familiar to anyone knowledgeable about nearly any disenfranchised minority in any country. Yet this anthology takes time to celebrate joy, like the extended dance sequences of Lovers Rock, or even the joys of children taking pride in what they know in Education. I sometimes had a problem with Steve McQueen’s work as being a little clinical or antiseptic even if technically they are quite proficient. But here, it is clear he was speaking from the heart, and he certainly didn’t sacrifice any of his artistry to make these films.
Streaming on Amazon Prime