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My Favorite Films of 2020 (14-25)

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.

25 Wolfwalkers (dir. Ross Moore & Tomm Stewart)

These Cartoon Saloon films manage to feel mythic in a way that the old Disney films and the best Studio Ghibli films do. Wolfwalkers feels like a story book come to life, one in which you could get lost in the illustrations even if it is mostly two-dimensional. It also manages to examine the effects of colonialism naturally (the English colonization of Ireland specifically) without being overly didactic.

Streaming on Apple TV+

24 Weathering With You (dir. Makoto Shinkai)

Makoto Shinkai loves his weather and teen love stories, and while this doesn’t exactly compare to his Your Name, it’s still a wild love story about a girl who can control the weather to an extent. Shinkai animates water in many ways: sometimes terrifying and other times gasp-inducingly beautiful and is worth seeing for the spectacle, though the story doesn’t exactly rise above what you might see in non-feature anime.

Streaming on HBO Max and Hoopla and available for online rental

23 True History of the Kelly Gang (dir. Justin Kurzel)

There’s a willingness to deconstruct this narrative about the Kelly Gang, an infamous group of outlaws/vigilantes that found sympathy among people who hated the British government in Australia, that is propped up by decades of legend and exaggeration. It's on the maximalist side not just in terms of the cinematography (that last battle is quite a sight to behold) but also the performances as well, in that the actors are almost so insistent on archetypes. Nicholas Hoult as an especially despicable British constable is quite memorable.

Available for online rental

22 The Kid Detective (dir. Evan Morgan)

This might be the best Adam Brody performance I've seen from him. No knock on him, but he seems really convincing as a has-been who peaked way too early and is struggling with years of disillusionment. Also, the balance between typical, twisty noir and small-town drama is quite fun to watch, especially when it gets seedier and seedier to the point that it's almost too dark.

Available for online rental

21 I’m No Longer Here (dir. Fernando Frias de la Parra)

This film about a young man who belongs to a very niche culture in Mexico is special for its specificity and its desire to show that not all immigrants are the same. We see Ulises and his isolation from not just Americans in general but other Latino people, and his struggle should feel real to many immigrants or children of immigrants. It’s also beautifully shot, thanks to director Fernando Frias, who directed several episodes of Los Espookys, which is itself a visually interesting show.

Streaming on Netflix

20 Collective (dir. Alexander Nanau)

Probably one of the most gripping thrillers that came out last year, not least because it is all real. This expose about the mass corruption in healthcare and government in Romania is pretty bleak, but I guess it's still kind of inspiring to see that there are people who work tirelessly even when the odds are as overwhelming and hopeless as it is here. It also manages to make this problem more immediate by putting us in a more procedural setting and eschewing other documentary tropes such as talking heads.

Streaming on Hulu and available for online rental

19 Beanpole (dir. Kantemir Balagov)

It's kind of insane that a relatively young director like Kantemir Balagov (under 30 when this film came out) made such a complicated and rich film that interweaves war, intrigue, sex and complicated emotional drama into one fascinating narrative. I love how Viktoria Miroshnichenko gives such a pure and naive performance and how she uses her physicality to perform in ways that we don't expect. Her relationship with Masha is a complicated and dark but not devoid of genuine deep feelings for each other, which are only underlined by the shared trauma that went through.

Streaming on Kanopy and available for online rental

18 Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)

Four middle-aged Danish schoolteachers decide to keep a certain alcohol level all throughout the day to inject joy in their lives. As much of a setup for a dumb comedy as this sounds, there's a pretty distinct air of melancholy undercutting some of the more comic moments. Apparently, Vinterberg's daughter died in a car crash and influenced the direction of this movie, which is a bit less about mid-life crises and more about finding joy in life without derailing yourself. Vinterberg's intimate direction and compositions are perfect for a movie about introspection and small triumphs rather than big showy displays, though when he finally does let go, it's pretty glorious.

Streaming on Kanopy, Hulu and Hoopla and available for online rental

17 The Empty Man (dir. David Prior)

A pretty great horror film about a bogeyman that could give the Candyman and Babadook a run for their money. It was buried because of the pandemic, and the version that was released in theaters was basically a rough cut. But even in this relatively unfinished form, there's also enough artistry and seriously creepy imagery and use of tension to distinguish this from usual horror fare. James Badge Dale is a believably haggard and almost reluctant lead. This film was probably meant to set up a “Conjuring” - like universe, and it’s a shame that it probably won’t happen.

Available for online rental

16 I’m Thinking of Ending Things (dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his partner (Jessie Buckley) are on the way to meet Jake’s parents in the middle of snowbound nowhere. She is thinking of ending things...with him. Or is she? Identities shift and time and reality are purely subjective in this mysterious dive into someone’s psyche. Whose psyche that is might be up for debate. Pure solipsism in art sounds pretty insufferable, but Charlie Kaufman might be the only artist who can get away with it. He definitely did in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. It's because he is so intensely self-aware and willing to harshly critique his characters, which probably stand in for himself to some extent. I appreciated the skill of the performances from both Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, how they change so subtly that you don't realize just how dramatic the shift is until much later in the movie. Also, the surreal nature of his images and the gorgeous gorgeous cinematography from Ida and Cold War artist Lukasz Zal are so in tune with the script and story that it felt like I was looking at one of the best drawn and written graphic novels that I had ever seen. Like any Charlie Kaufman film, this deserves multiple watches, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

Streaming on Netflix

15 Possessor (dir. Brandon Cronenberg)

Brandon Cronenberg certainly had a big family name to live up to, but I think he delivered quite well for his second feature. His movie about a hitwoman who possesses other people’s bodies to carry out her missions is high-concept and Cronenberg knows it. Possessor plays like the heady sci-fi that it is, but also as a gut-wrenching splatterfest that would satisfy even the sickest of horror freaks. It plays on notions of identity in interesting ways too without seeming too didactic. Also Andrea Riseborough, despite not even being on screen all that much, gives one hell of a performance, giving a seemingly buttoned-down, singleminded character more depth.

Streaming on Hulu and available for online rental

14 A Sun (dir. Chung Mong Hong)

This Taiwanese film about troubled youth is probably the most gorgeous film that came out this year. The first scene of the film where a hand is chopped off into a bowl of hot pot is striking in it unexpected violence but also somewhat misleading as to the tone of the rest of the film. It’s more of an intimate yet sprawling portrait of the two families who were affected by this violent crimed how the trauma of that event extends far beyond the two young men involved but also on the relationships between and within both families. Films about family drama can often be repetitive and predictable, yet A Sun manages to be surprising in both its presentation and its storytelling. It’s a shame that this was basically buried on Netflix despite being Taiwan’s entry into the Academy Awards because it deserves to be seen.

Streaming on Netflix

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