Monday, January 25, 2021

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Top Ten of 2020

From the 120 films that qualified, here is my Top Ten of 2020! Apologies to the films that just missed the cut: Ammonite, Dear Comrades!Driveways, I'm No Longer Here, Minari, MisbehaviourA Sun.

And now....the Ten!
released: March 6
seen: August 31
available on: Criterion Channel, Kanopy

I guarantee many of you have not seen a film like Bacurau - I sure haven't, though perhaps that says more about me than you. Is it action, comedy, drama, thriller? Baby, it's Bacurau. Filho & Dornelles do an incredible job creating every piece of the community, not just the mapping of it, but the histories and relationships and economics within it, and the outside, profit-motivated influences threatening its existence. It's a film best left unspoiled, so suffice to say that it's a genre-bending epic, a grindhouse sensibility with arthouse laurels.

Da 5 Bloods
released: June 12
seen: June 12
available on: Netflix

A bit of a mess, but dammit, a pure mess, a heartfelt, passionate throwing up of fury and forgiveness! Lee's epic about the Vietnam War, empire's exploitation of Black and Vietnamese, PTSD, and redemption, hits highs both unmistakably Lee-ian and impressively Shakespearian. Delroy Lindo is the Rage at the center, but sharing that center with him is the understated Clarke Peters as the Peace; two paths on the road to recovery. There have been many films about war and its aftereffects, but this one's at such a different doesn't always fit together, but it always works.

Let Them All Talk
released: December 10
seen: December 11
available on: HBOMax

Love to throw this on just to hang out with my girls. Just to vibe in its amber-lit dining rooms, walk the decks with Thomas Newman's lounge score in the background, check out the Kelvin Kranz books in the library. Subsequent viewings have shown the imperfections of improvisation, but they've also highlighted the strengths, such as the precise characterizations, their wardrobe, the navigation of interest and self-interest. It's a great achievement, an exquisite entertainment, and I can't to watch it again!

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
released: November 25
seen: December 18
available on: Netflix

This is how you adapt a play for the screen! The opening sequence: a familiar Hollywood opening of young Blacks running through the woods as dogs bark at their heels...only to reveal that they're not running from anyone, but to a Ma Rainey performance. The closing sequence, a nauseating dramatization of the hijacking of Black music. The rest full of monologues and music performances and raw emotion: the hunger of Levee, the power of Ma, their similar temperaments and different approaches. A movie that gets you excited about movies.

The Man Standing Next
released: January 24
seen: February 2
available on: rentable on iTunes, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Where's the line between a patriotic act and one of self-preservation? Our KCIA chief protagonist seems shockingly out of his depth as he realizes the government he helped to coup into existence is leaving him behind and its citizens under tanks. Despite his justifications that what he eventually does is for the good of the Republic, what we see throughout is a man not so much moved by conscience but by a desperate floundering as he faces the consequences of his earlier actions. A sophisticated, bleak thriller whose story resonates outside its setting.

Miss Juneteenth
released: June 19
seen: August 8
available on: Amazon Prime, Kanopy

Does a lot of beautiful things modestly. I love its dramatization of mother-daughter relationships, the attempts to fix the shortcomings of your past through offspring, that there are times when Mom will absolutely embarrass you out of nowhere, and times when the two of you can have a low-key extraordinary moment even with the power cut off. I love its depiction of someone who fully expected to be somewhere else but is making the best of it. I love its sense of community, from the familiarity of Turquoise's daily interactions to the history of the Miss Juneteenth pageant. Specific, empathic.

Promising Young Woman
released: December 25
seen: January 15, 2021
available on: rentable on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc.

Pulpy revenge dramedy. Cathartic - who doesn't want to see a bunch of disingenuous "nice guys" forced to face their true selves? Heartbreaking - the reasons for Cassie's revenge mission are horrifying, and the further down that path she goes, the more she loses herself in an unresolvable task. Hilarious - many line readings and small bits to choose from, but Laverne Cox's off-screen laugh at one point is joyous! Are there lessons about the hollowness of revenge? Eh, there is an emptiness it acknowledges, but first and foremost, this is about how the destructive force of rape and the systems that allow it.

The Vast of Night
released: May 29
seen: July 3
available on: Amazon Prime

A sci-fi mystery, patiently unfolding. There is an equal sense of horror as there is of wonder. The idea of some unknown known, something the government knows about and is willing to exploit its own citizens to maintain and cover up, is frightening. But the wonder, the idea that there is something more out there, something bigger than our's staggering, really. I don't know how to describe the emotion I felt watching it: not quite sad, can't accurately be described as nostalgic, but ... there was a sense of possibility that moved me.

Vitalina Varela
released: February 21
seen: December 3
available on: Criterion Channel

Vitalina Varela plays herself, in a story re-creating her arrival in Lisbon, her grief over the death of a spouse she hadn't seen for decades but never stopped loving, her anger at his long absence, her piecing together of his life through his friends. It is dreamlike, sets seeming to appear isolated in an inky void, all in darkness as Vitalina shuffles through, trying to hold on to something in this new land of desperation and poverty. Is there a resolution, closure? No. There's really no such thing, there can only be the next step, whatever that is. We need to see that.

We Are Little Zombies
released: July 10
seen: July 29
available on: rentable on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, etc.

I was grateful for this jet-black comedy about four kids who meet after their parents' deaths and just kind of...chill. The pitch has been about the band they form and its quick rise and fall; that part's covered pretty quickly, though it does get into how fan culture hijacks the narrative, making personal trauma into their public vendetta. What hit me most was the helplessness of childhood, a time when you're constantly being told how you should be reacting, feelings and emotions and expectations projected on to you. It shows us that, challenges it, and comes to terms with it.!

Tomorrow, the nominees for the 2020 Hollmann Awards!

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