Life was a mash-up of Jumanji and Contagion. Pet ostriches escape their homes and bears come to visit the suburbs while humans are quarantined in their houses. It’s a weird time to be alive. Fortunately, the best movies don’t require an IMAX cinema to be enjoyed. The disastrous Wonder Woman 1984 aside, here are my top ten movies of 2020.
10. The Assistant
The Assistant shows you how the Harvey Weinsteins of the world get away with whatever they want, through the perfect vantage point – his assistant. Julie Garner delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in this subdued yet gripping thriller. You don’t need to work in the entertainment industry to experience this – systemic oppression thrives in power structures where people are browbeaten to silence.
9. Dick Johnson is Dead
We’re all going to die at some point, so why not prepare for it now? Dick Johnson is Dead confronts death with cathartic humor. Painfully aware of how dementia affected her mother, Kirsten Johnson makes a documentary about his father’s death in anticipation of his own. Dreamlike sequences, staged deaths, and behind-the-scenes footage is all assembled with reverence. Most importantly, it teaches us that death should not be feared. We should appreciate how it teaches us to value life.
Nomadland is a movie about living a life that makes you happy without the schmaltzy sentimentality often found in Hollywood movies. Told through eloquent filmmaking by Chloe Zao with the most non-actressy actress of all Frances McDormand, it’s a poetic character study about living your life on your own terms.
Bacurau distills the best of different genres into one thrilling drama. Writer-directors Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles managed to make a weird western film that’s also part revenge-fantasy, dystopia, and folklore with a sociopolitical commentary. A group of wannabe man-hunters descends into an impoverished rural town. The townspeople are not only fighting for their lives from invaders. They’re also fighting for their place in a country that doesn’t care about their history.
The Collective is about a tale as old as time. A group of investigative journalists in a Romanian newspaper uncover healthcare fraud and corruption in the government. But the way it unravels through shoe-leather journalism is exhilarating and depressing at the same time. In the digital age where fake news has eroded free press, it’s important to have a reminder of what journalism can accomplish.
5. First Cow
First Cow is essentially a friendship between a traveling chef and a serial entrepreneur. They start a pop-up bakery selling biscuits in a poor settlement. The way this companionship blooms against a backdrop where men engage in violence over the most trivial of things is sublime. First Cow teaches us to choose gentleness, compassion, and trust.
Time, as its title suggests, is about the most precious thing you lose while waiting for justice. It’s the time that you lose and a life unlived. Garrett Bradley makes an experiential documentary about a wife fighting for her husband. What you take away from it, is so much more.
3. Lovers Rock
Lovers Rock has been summarized as a 70-minute long dance party. And it’s not exactly wrong, but it is incomplete. The movie is plotless, but within the dance floor, you’ll see entire lives told between people with minimal dialogue. It is a light-hearted yet electric ode to black immigrants defiantly living their lives in ’80s London.
2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a quietly sensational film that any woman can relate to. Even if you’re not a girl making her own way to an abortion clinic with her cousin out of town, the movie rings a powerful truth without making a big speech about it. It’s about the daily hostilities that girls go through in a society where the odds are determinedly stacked against them.
A Korean family moves to Arkansas. The father has put everything they have on a piece of land that he is determined to turn into a farm, while his family assimilates in ’80s America. Minari is a unique, lovely, and touching family portrait that if you aren’t rooting for this immigrant family’s success, there is something deeply wrong with you.