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Writer Kaveh Jalinous’ 10 Best Movies of 2020

Jan 07, 2021
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2020 has been a weird year for film, to say the least. It would be easy to dismiss the 2020 film slate as one that is filled with random, forgettable premium video-on-demand movies or a broad collection of average films only available on streaming services. The truth is, while 2020 has been a horrible year for most of the entertainment industry, the films have been exceptional. There’s been a mix of indie dramas, offbeat comedies, and even some Oscar-bait material along the way. It would be a shame to write this year’s films off because of the general disappointment of the year itself.

Here are my top 10 films of 2020, and while these are my favorites of the year, there are many honorable mentions including: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix), Boys State (Apple TV+), City Hall (virtual cinemas), Palm Springs (Hulu), Wolfwalkers (Apple TV+), Bad Education (HBO Max), The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime Video), Bacarau (rental on VOD services), and The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix). Happy viewing!

Words by Kaveh Jalinous

10

Mangrove

Of the five films in Steve McQueen’s stellar and worth watching Small Axe anthology, Mangrove is my favorite. The opening film in the series is an account of the Mangrove Nine, activists who in the early ‘70s lead a historical protest, for which they were arrested and the trial that followed. The film contains all of the qualities and themes that are present in traditional courtroom dramas. McQueen goes beyond these, however, by crafting a film that utilizes the uniqueness of the story it is telling with incredible performances. The result is a truly resonant project that has as much importance today as it did when it was happening 50 years ago. Mangrove, and Small Axe as a whole is guaranteed to be one of the main film outputs of 2020 that will be remembered, and celebrated, for years to come.

9

Another Round

There’s the stereotypical film about the downsides of alcohol, then there’s Another Round. The latest film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg tells the story of four high school teachers who, dissatisfied with their lives, decide to test a hypothesis that maintaining a steady state of light-drunkenness leads to more productivity and happiness in life. What follows is perhaps the most effective film genre-bending of the year. The film oscillates between being a laugh-out-loud comedy, to serving as a somber and emotional look at the destructiveness of alcohol. Some of the film’s ideas aren’t new in cinema, at times making the film feel repetitive. Regardless, Another Round is a unique look at the power of material pleasures. With an incredible performance from veteran actor Mads Mikkelsen at its center, you can’t get much better than this. Plus, the film’s final five minutes is hands-down the greatest scene of the year.

8

Shithouse

Possibly the most slept-on film of the year, Cooper Raiff’s debut feature – which he also wrote and stars in – is nowhere near as provocative as its title. The film follows an isolated and often sad college freshman, Alex (Cooper Raiff), who after six months at university, still has no friends and can’t let go of his mother and sister. Things change when he spends a night walking around campus with Maggie (Dylan Gelula), a sophomore he meets at a fraternity house party. As the night moves on, the two discuss life, college, and (as corny as it sounds) “putting yourself out there.” The real magic in Shithouse resides in Raiff’s honest and relatable script, containing a multitude of themes about growing up, compromise, and finding connection, as well as the undeniable chemistry between Raiff and Gelula.

7

Sound of Metal

After premiering at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Darius Marder’s much-anticipated Sound of Metal is finally available on Prime Video, and it is incredible. Starring Riz Ahmed in the center role, Marder’s film tells the story of Ruben, a drummer who begins to lose his hearing, and as a result, every part of his existence. That’s just the base premise of the film. What follows is an extraordinary look at the deaf community using some of the most innovative and incredible sound editing in a film, and a unique look at someone forced to reevaluate what truly matters in their life. There is much to praise about Ahmed’s spectacular performance. The film’s supporting actors, particularly Paul Raci, who plays the head of the deaf community, and Olivia Cooke, who plays Ahmed’s girlfriend and bandmate, also give incredible performances. All three, and the film itself, are definitely ones-to-watch at next year’s Oscars.

6

Time

At just 81 minutes, Time may be the shortest film on this list, but it is one of the most powerful. A documentary that will haunt viewers long after the first watch, Garrett Bradley tells the story of Sibil Fox Richardson, a modern day abolitionist, as she fights for the release of her husband, Robert, after his excessive 60-year prison sentence for armed robbery. Fox does all of this while raising their six children. Capturing 20 years worth of time using Fox’s home video footage and present-day black-and-white filmmaking, Bradley has created a documentary that sheds light on the atrocities of the prison-industrial complex in a new way. She doesn’t just present fact after fact, rather, she truly shows, through the time lost by the Richardson family, how horrifying the system is and how far-reaching its impact can be.

5

Nomadland

This film took the top prize at both the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is an expertly filmed, beautiful look at the versatility of the American Dream. The film centers around Fern (Frances McDormand), who decides to live her life as an American nomad after her previous life is upended by the recession. Living in the back of her van, Fern explores the natural beauty and hidden wonder of the countryside, meeting new acquaintances and confronting her past along the way. Nomadland is slow and contemplative, yet impossible to look away from. The film is anchored by an astonishing performance from McDormand, as well as incredible supporting performances from David Strathairn and real-life American nomads. Zhao’s latest film once-again proves her incredible skill as a director.

4

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

One of the films that had an untimely release the week before stay-at-home orders were announced, Eliza Hittman’s poignant and emotional film, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, has flown far under the radar throughout the entire year. The film follows teenage cousins, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and Skylar (Talia Ryder), as they travel from Pennsylvania to New York for Autumn’s abortion. Throughout the film, everyone Autumn and Skylar encounter try and talk them out of going through with it. While the film is more cerebral than action-packed, Hittman’s subtle shots and incredibly poignant script are truly commendable. These, paired with powerhouse performances from Flanigan and Ryder make Never Rarely Sometimes Always an emotional experience that focuses less on the choice aspect of the abortion and more on the journey to getting one.

3

Minari

A24 is fast becoming the go-to studio for coming-of-age films, particularly in light of its successes: Lady Bird, Moonlight, mid90s. Even so, there isn’t a coming-of-age film quite like the studio’s newest film, Minari. The film centers around David (Alan Kim), a Korean-American boy growing up in Oklahoma after his father (Steven Yeun) moves his family there to farm, make money, and truly live the American Dream. The film speaks volumes on growing up in the countryside, the immigrant experience, and what it means to become “truly American.” With incredible performances from the principal cast, as well as impeccable direction from Lee Isaac Chung, Minari is a film that has the potential to dominate next year’s Academy Awards.

2

David Byrne’s American Utopia

David Byrne’s American Utopia captures one complete performance of the former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s famed Broadway show. Even with this simple and straightforward premise, the Spike Lee-directed picture has a lot of heart. The film captures the essence and spirit that made Byrne’s show such a success, whilst serving as a perfect antidote to a year filled with chaos and turbulence. As the performance moves from song to song, from dance to dance, it is nearly impossible not to fully invest into the rhythm and energy that Byrne and his ensemble create on stage. A film watching experience that is impossible to forget.

1

First Cow

Decades into her directing career, Kelly Reichardt has proven she can make movie magic out of the simplest scenarios – although her understated work is often misinterpreted as “too boring.” Her newest film, First Cow, is no exception. Set in 1820, the film tells the story of Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee), two men living in the American West who decide to start a baking business, stealing milk from the cow of the territory’s wealthiest landowner, Chief Factor (Toby Jones), to make it all possible. First Cow’s meditative nature is why the film works so well. Filled with beautiful visuals, heartfelt dialogue, and one unforgettable cow (played by Eve the Cow), the film is the perfect story of the American Dream: the sacrifices made, the friendships made, and the troubles that arise from pursuing goals. With a powerful on-screen dynamic between Magaro and Lee, Reichardt’s film is one that is simple, yet elegant. The film requires some patience, but as a result, it will leave you with much to take away, as Reichardt redefines the true nature of America once again.

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suryashankar
January 15th 2021
12:50pm

Thank you dear, for giving ideas to the best movies.