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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
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    TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2020 - an ongoing list


    Chris Knipp's Ten Best Movies of 2020

    1 THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2020)
    2 FIRST COW (Kelly Reichardt 2020)
    3 THE VAST OF NIGHT (Andrew Patterson 2020)
    4 SHITHOUSE (Cooper Raiff 2020)
    5 RESIDUE (Merawi Gerima 2020)
    6 LOVERS ROCK (Steve McQueen 2020)
    7 DAYS (Tsai Ming-liang 2020)
    8 GUNDA (Viktor Kossakovsky 2020)
    9 THE OUTPOST (Rod Lurie 2020)
    10 UNDINE (Christian Petzold 2020)

    THE CLIMB I knew Was my favorite when I saw it. It's so amusing, so cunningly made, such a feast of cinematic bravado and witty writing. Also so American while also partly a homage to France. It's a comedy of a toxic bromance, and original idea that's also close to mainstream comedy. No wonder Judd Apatow is envious. This is really also a collaboration, between two best friends, Kyle Marvin and Mike Covino, who play the friends in the comic toxic bromance the movie follows over a period of some years. This is the joint effort of a two-man team, we can only hope an ongoing one.

    FIRST COW I fell in love with when I saw it at Alice Tully Hall in the NYFF (seems so long ago), a place where a movie can really resonate (though I prefer the Walter Reade Theater, also at Lincoln Center). This is a very sweet and touching film and also an original approach to period - the gold rush era - that draws you in. This is a powerful example of the still, small voice of a dedicated independent American filmmaker - Kelly Reichardt now a very well established one - who ignores blockbusters and trends.

    THE VAST OF NIGHT is period, sci-fi, small budget, first film. I favor those. This seems to have been a good year for them. Major theatrical releases didn't make it through. VAST OF NIGHT is also really fun. This is a show of rare young talent (Andrew Patterson) and brilliant use of limited resources.

    SHITHOUSE is another tiny budget first film that really sings. The director wrote, directed, and starred in it, and it's a very sweet film about a shy college kid in his freshman year who has a breakthrough so he knows he's not going to drop out after all. The title is misleading. It's not a rough, offensive movie but a very gentle one. This came out of nowhere. From Cooper Raiff.

    RESIDUE is a recent discovery. I never heard of it till yesterday. Again a small budget first film, this one focused on Black American experience, formally innovative, remarkable in its use of non-actors, effortlessly evoking its milieu of a ghetto area of northeast Washington DC, Q Street, now gentrified, leading to the autobiographical protagonist's anger and alienation; and he's also suffering from survivor's guilt, as one who made it out and is doing well. Watch just the first ten minutes and you'll be blown away by the innovative imagery.

    LOVERS ROCK I chose from Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" series, the one of the three features in the NYFF that's most radical, because it is virtually plotless, and a participatory, musical, dance event that totally pulls you in. People will say it's not a movie, and this is good that it arouses debate.

    DAYS is gay, Asian, Slow Cinema. It is very slow, rather sad and lonely, about a momentary, partial connection between two men, one Tsai's longtime muse, Lee Kang-sheng, the other a young Thai masseur. It requires utmost patience and sympathy, and is very moving.

    GUNDA I saw on my small screen at home. But its visually stunning documentary footage of a giant sow caring for her brood of young piglets, in black and white, is so monumental I felt I was watching it at Alice Tully Hall (it too was part of the NYFF Main Slate). Another exercise in patience that winds up being very moving, and extremely simple, but a complex labor of love in the making. Unforgettable both visually and emotionally, a remarkable film.

    THE OUTPOST isn't an indie art film like many of these but a commercial release and possibly rather pro-military; it's a tribute to the American soldiers who won an exceptional number of medals for their bravery in the Afghan war battle depicted here, a specific one with specific people in it. This has Orlando Bloom and a son of Clint Eastwood and a son of Mel Gibson in it, but it's the character actor Caleb Landry Jones who gives the most remarkable and important performance. This is an unusually clear depiction of a battle and also the sound design, even on home equipment, is so well done that events are three-dimensional. This also came in the middle of the summer after a lot of pandemic lockdown and it was great to get a big, ambitious movie that was this well done. It was released in some theaters but I didn't see it in one.

    UNDINE is the only example I have here of sophisticated European filmmaking, in this case Berlin School, a reference to the well known myth of the aquatic maiden. It was a nice change of pace, in the NYFF, not the excellent Petzold's best work perhaps but something light and entertaining. This isn't the kind of year when you want to list THE PAINTED BIRD among your favorite films, dazzling tour de force of mise-en-scène though it may be.

    Next: Ten best documentaries of 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-16-2020 at 01:13 PM.

  2. #2
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    Jul 2002
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    From VARIETY a couple of top ten lists

    Selections from two of Variety's veteran critics. Debruge's #1 choice, A SUN, a 2 1/2-hour family saga from Taiwan, is a title not mentioned elsewhere and an impressive film. Maybe we should also watch A WHITE, WHITE DAY. I'm interested that Debruge lists THE OUTPOST, which is on my list but not many. My sister just recently watched THE PROM. I had not heard of it. From Variety, "The Best Films of 2020".

    Peter Debruge’s Top 10

    1. A Sun

    It’s somehow emblematic of the state of cinema in 2020 that the best film of the year, winner of six Golden Horse Awards in its native Taiwan, should land on Netflix, the media company that has benefited most from the void left by studios during the pandemic — and more fitting still that when asked, the company’s PR team didn’t realize they had even acquired the film. The good news: Netflix’s involvement means millions of worldwide subscribers have a chance to experience this epic redemption saga, which opens with a shock (as a man’s severed hand lands in a steaming hot pot) and continues to surprise as characters we think we understand at first glance gradually reveal what they’re capable of. Writer-director-cinematographer Chung Mong-hong’s masterful family drama is “The Godfather” grand, focusing on the dynamic between a black-sheep son and the father whose disappointment and shame risks eclipsing the young man’s redemption. Novelistic in scope yet oh so nuanced in the performances that carry us across the years, “A Sun” transcends subtitles to address universal truths about the way approval and encouragement works in parent-child relationships. (Watch on Netflix.)

    2. Saint Frances

    Just before American theaters shut down back in March, a handful of strong indies directed by women had just hit art houses — among them, “First Cow” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” — suggesting that the year might be on track to achieve at least some of its “50/50 by 2020” ambitions. “Saint Frances” wasn’t directed by a woman, though its candid comedic voice is every bit the creation of screenwriter-star Kelly O’Sullivan, who delivers a “Trainwreck”-like look at a 34-year-old eff-up struggling to figure out her life. O’Sullivan’s script doesn’t shy away from topics that are never/rarely/sometimes discussed in studio movies: abortion, menstruation, post-partum depression and same-sex motherhood. If the Oscars were mine to award, Charin Alvarez would get supporting actress honors for her role as one of the movie’s lesbian moms. (Watch on digital platforms.)

    3. Soul

    On first viewing, it’s hard not to compare Pixar’s “Soul” to the animation studio’s mind-altering 2015 hit “Inside Out.” Both films suggest revolutionary ways to think about big ideas: emotion in “Inside Out,” and personality (or purpose) in “Soul.” And both movies are the brainchildren of Pete Docter. And yet, while there are certainly similarities between them, they each seem like miracles to me: brilliant, intuitively simple cartoon metaphors for concepts so abstract they’ve confounded scientists and psychologists for centuries. Pixar’s been playing it safe lately with sequels and subpar originals like “Onward,” whereas “Soul” marks a return to what the studio does best — and a huge step forward. More than just a feel-good experience (though it’s warm and funny and life-affirming in all the right ways), the movie takes big risks, challenging the conventional thinking that its hero will be satisfied once he achieves what he wants, while giving audiences permission to reexamine their own priorities. (Watch on Disney Plus beginning Dec. 25.)

    4. Herself (Phyllida Lloyd, 2021 release)

    While drama depends on adversity and conflict — the basis of any good story — there’s something to be said for plain old human kindness, for people looking out for one another, even strangers. “Herself” has a healthy amount of both: This kitchen-sink marvel concerns a battered Irish mother of two (Clare Dunn) who finds the strength to leave her husband, only to realize how the patriarchy is rigged to protect the abusers more than their victims. But it’s also about how a few new connections circle around to support her seemingly impossible plan to move on. Director Phyllida Lloyd channels the likes of Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach in this uplifting tale of self-reliance … with a little help from one’s friends. (Watch in theaters Dec. 30, or on Amazon beginning Jan. 8.)

    5. Nomadland

    If “Herself” was about building a home of one’s own, “Nomadland” takes the opposite approach, following Frances McDormand (in full-immersion mode, surrounded by non-actors) as a widow who’s chosen to abandon her house and hit the road, living out of her van and picking up work where she can. To some, this may look like the ultimate form of freedom, although the movie doesn’t exactly romanticize her lifestyle. Rather, it’s a triumph of even-handed observation and empathy, like Agnès Varda’s “Vagabond,” as Chinese director Chloé Zhao (“The Rider”) turns her cameras once again on a community all but overlooked by American filmmakers. In its poetic, soul-searching way, the movie asks why some people check out of society and choose this route instead. (Played festivals and ultra-limited release, with a proper run planned for 2021.)

    6. Mangrove

    Between the closing of theaters due to COVID-19 and the emergence of new streaming platforms such as HBO Max and Kino Marquee (a virtual cinema for art house releases), 2020 blurred the lines between television and movies in a big way. Few projects were more confusing on that front than Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” Amazon-backed anthology series, billed as a collection of five features about London’s immigrant West Indian population and set to debut at Cannes. In terms of sheer scope and intent, McQueen’s undertaking recalls Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Decalogue,” using each entry to celebrate the community — its music, cuisine and customs — while exposing the oppression they face. Whereas most of the episodes feel like long shorts (à la Alan Clarke’s “Elephant”), the 128-minute “Mangrove” is a powerful, full-fledged movie: a meaty civil rights drama centered on a group of demonstrators who stood up to ongoing police harassment, pleading their case before England’s highest court. (Watch on Amazon.)

    7. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

    Before his death, Chadwick Boseman cinched a final performance for the ages as Levee, one of August Wilson’s most iconic characters: a gifted horn player who anticipates a generation of crossover jazz stars in both his natural talent and more tragic self-destructive capacity. This sparkling 1920s-set Netflix original pits Boseman against an equally formidable (virtually unrecognizable) Viola Davis as the eponymous blues pioneer, as the two musicians butt heads over the course of a recording session. Ma Rainey wants to perform the songs her way, whereas Levee’s willing to adapt to the boss man’s wishes, setting up a showdown over the bending of Black culture for white consumption that defined the 20th century and which remains largely unresolved today. (Watch on Netflix.)

    8. A White, White Day

    Iceland may seem an unlikely place to set a Western, but that’s the feeling one gets from this pared-down character drama, which takes place on the country’s frosty frontier as a grief-wracked lawman (Ingvar Sigurdsson) attempts to move on from his wife’s death. Instead, he discovers a clue among her effects that suggests she’d been unfaithful, sending him into a tailspin of powerlessness and rage, rendered all the more unpredictable by the presence of his terrified granddaughter (Ida Mekkin Hlynsdottir). Director Hlynur Palmason explores the primitive aspects of masculinity itself in this timeless portrait, which might feel austere at times, were these two lead actors not quite so capable of thawing that chill through the unspoken dimension of their performances. (Watch on digital platforms or via Film Movement Plus.)

    9. Antebellum

    I may be one of the few Americans fortunate enough to have seen this blood-chilling social critique in a theater, since the “Twilight Zone”-worthy thriller wound up getting a digital release in the U.S. Even more than Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” co-directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s visionary debut takes full advantage of the big-screen experience. In the tradition of “Get Out,” the duo hatched a wickedly effective horror-movie metaphor for white supremacy’s enduring grip on American society, suggesting that there are those who would force their brothers back into slavery if given the chance. With so many people incapable of understanding what is meant by the words “Black Lives Matter,” it takes such an in-your-face allegory to shake them awake. (Watch on digital platforms.)

    10. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

    The pandemic has made virtually every 2020 release feel like a period film, made before social distancing and masks transformed even basic human interactions, and a distressing reminder of all we once took for granted. All year, film shoots shut down as stars ranging from Tom Hanks to Robert Pattinson tested positive. And yet somehow, in an act of bravery or foolishness or both, Sacha Baron Cohen managed to carry out his secret, below-the-radar “Borat” sequel, which turned out to be virtually the only 2020 movie to reflect our bizarre new normal — apart from a handful of terrific quick-turnaround docs, such as “Totally Under Control” and “76 Days,” that is. The bonkers “Borat” encore could be viewed as a documentary as well, recording for posterity how surreal the “U.S. and A.” has gotten since Cohen’s Kazakh alter ego last struck (joined this time by an equally fearless Maria Bakalova as his “daughter” Tuvar). Naturally, the project couldn’t wait, pegged as it was to the presidential election, and though some of the bits are in very bad taste — while others, like the Rudy Giuliani interview, reek of “fake news” — the satire shrewdly confronts the biases and bigotry now dividing our nation. The result is a perfectly demented time capsule that allows us to laugh at the absurdity of the moment. (Watch on Amazon.)

    Honorable Mention: Bad Education

    There’s no question in my mind that Cory Finley’s terrific second feature is a “movie”: This ultra-smart, surprise-packed look at a Long Island public-school embezzling scheme was conceived for the big screen, shot on 35mm and premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival. Then again, it’s a sign of how radically the industry is changing that “Bad Education” was acquired by HBO and released to television, where it went on to win an Emmy for best TV movie. Such categories aside, this incredible true-crime story deserves wider attention still, showcasing a career-best performance by Hugh Jackman and pitch-perfect support from Allison Janney as a pair of educators who meant well, but twisted the system to their own advantage. (Watch on HBO Max.)

    Owen Gleiberman’s Top 10

    1. Mangrove

    There’s been a lot of talk in the last four years about “resistance,” and one of the things I often resist about that talk is how much of it turns out to be…talk. (As in: moral one-upmanship on Twitter.) But Steve McQueen’s brilliant and wrenching drama, set in London in 1969 and ’70, is a revelatory look at how resistance happens, how it catches fire from a desperate spark, starting off as a desire that turns, over time, into something as vital as breathing. McQueen tells the true story of Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), who opened the Mangrove, a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill that became a meeting place for the Black community and a hub for activism. The British police didn’t like it; the Mangrove, in its way, had too much mojo. So they carried out a campaign of harassment, raiding the restaurant, which provoked a series of protests and clashes with the cops (the white word for this: riots), culminating in the Mangrove Nine being put on trial. McQueen dramatizes the high-court proceeding as a test of courage (far more than the Chicago Seven, Crichlow and his fellow defendants knew they stood a good chance of going to prison), as a wily display of underdog legal strategy, and as the momentous turning point when British police racism was called out by the authorities. McQueen’s staging, at once anguished and outraged, casual and masterly, takes you back in time, forging a timeless movie that stirs you to the core.

    2. Sorry We Missed You

    The gig economy is about something bigger than Uber. It’s an incarnation of a new kind of living, where people toil without security, and the more that workers are told they’re independent the more they wind up feeling like indentured servants. That’s why a month of “good jobs numbers” doesn’t capture the experience of a middle class that’s holding on by its fingernails. But director Ken Loach captures that experience, more than any other filmmaker of his time. In his lacerating drama about a Newcastle day laborer, the carrot-topped family man Ricky (Kris Hitchen), who goes to work as a delivery-van driver for PDF, a 21st-century company that pledges to empower and enrich its employees, Loach has caught the hamster-wheel spirit of the way we live now — the technology that promises ease but makes things trickier, the wages that creep up and shrink at the same time, the workday that gets ever more frenetic. You may think, “Why do I need to see a movie about this when I’m living it?” But Loach charts Ricky’s journey with the suspenseful attack of a leftist-progressive Hitchcock.

    3. Mank

    David Fincher’s glittering and immersive drama about the drunken, pensée-spewing, brilliant-but-washed-up screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), and how he wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” is a movie I’ve seen twice and would gladly see again. That’s because there’s an intoxicating mystery at its heart. It’s about how creativity works — in particular, the way it worked in Old Hollywood, where the intricate allure of power was the hidden engine of the Dream Factory. Much of the time, we see Mankiewicz gallivanting through Hollywood in the ’30s, rubbing shoulders with Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, stooping to do a bit of work between drinking and gambling jags, cultivating a relationship with the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his silver-screen inamorata Marion Davies — played by Amanda Seyfried in a performance of soft-bitten perfection. What we know, and Mank doesn’t, is that everything he’s doing is the research he would pour into “Citizen Kane,” the movie that broke the mold of Hollywood because it was powered by more reality than Hollywood could contain. I wish “Mank” didn’t swallow Pauline Kael’s line about “Kane’s” authorship (that Mank was the movie’s mind and Orson Welles its grand showman). Yet it’s a film that revels splendidly in the gamesmanship of the imagination, and Oldman creates the most layered (and charming) portrayal of a lush I’ve ever seen.

    4. The Outpost

    One of the triumphs of American cinema in the last 40 years is that it’s taken the wars our soldiers have fought — bravely, starkly, tragically — and given them the humanely harrowing big-screen dramas they deserve. The Vietnam films are classic and legion. “Saving Private Ryan” looked at World War II through a lens of violence so authentic it redefined that war in the mind’s eye. “The Hurt Locker” memorably evoked the booby-trapped, life-is-a-land-mine quality of the war in Iraq. Arriving with less fanfare, in part because the pandemic forced it to become a small-screen experience — a living-room war — instead of the big-screen spectacle it cried out to be, Rod Lurie’s riveting, wounding, cathartically staged combat movie, based on a book of reportage by Jake Tapper, now stands as the film that showed us the war in Afghanistan. Most of it is set at PRT Kamdesh, an outpost built to promote counterinsurgency in a remote valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush Mountains. Telling the story of a group of soldiers trapped in this insane cul-de-sac, Lurie reaches a new plateau as a filmmaker, and not just because of the dizzying kinesthetics — the bullets flying everywhere, the Taliban warriors who can’t be seen. Lurie catches the soldiers’ complex camaraderie, the way they bust balls as a form of brotherhood, torn between a need to save themselves and a readiness to sacrifice themselves. Scott Eastwood and Caleb Landry Jones lead a cast that’s vivid enough to stand with the fractured platoons of “Apocalypse Now” and “The Hurt Locker.” They’re trying to fight their way out of a deathtrap, which becomes the film’s metaphor for a quicksand military endeavor that never ends.

    5. The Trial of the Chicago 7

    The Chicago Seven were a marquee team of anti-war radicals, and such a magnetically disparate crew — two yippie freaks, two buttoned-down SDS leaders, one middle-aged bald suburban pacifist, a pair of mild-mannered academics — that they were like the Beatles of late-’60s insurrection. There’s plenty of ready-made drama to their saga, but how do you keep it from freeze-drying into a time capsule? Instead of playing up the ’60s circus of the infamous conspiracy trial (the theatrics are there; they just flow by), writer-director Aaron Sorkin digs into the psychodrama of what the defendants were going through. The rivalries, like the one between Abbie Hoffman (the preening media showman of the revolution) and Tom Hayden (the quiet ethical center of it), express political-spiritual rifts that haunt us to this day, and Sorkin doesn’t just restage the trial. He rediscovers counterculture history by turning it into a present-tense conflagration. The performances are memorable: Sacha Baron Cohen, all combative joy as the irrepressible Abbie, the electric Yahya Abdul Mateen II as the transcendently morally furious Bobby Seale, and Frank Langella, who turns the cantankerous Judge Hoffman — Abbie’s namesake and Oedipal nemesis — into a totem of American corruption. Sorkin movingly captures what the trial was really about: that a “conspiracy” to take to the streets to speak wasn’t a violation of America but, rather, a fulfillment of it.

    6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is 17 years old and pregnant. She’s far from ready to have a child, but she’s from rural Pennsylvania, a state in which she can’t obtain an abortion without parental consent; she’s far from ready to ask for that either. So she rides a bus into New York City, accompanied by her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), who has financed the trip with cash she stole from the grocery store they both work at. Eliza Hittman’s intimately accomplished film tells the story of that journey, and does so with an open-eyed curiosity and dread that has you hanging on every random encounter, every telling tremor of a young woman’s doubt and faith. Nothing that happens is predictable, yet nothing is charged with “drama” either. This may be the closest an American filmmaker has come to the cleansing austerity of the Dardenne brothers. The film’s moral challenge is that what appears, at first, to be a practical quest — can Autumn make it to the abortion clinic? Will she have enough money? Is the dude Skylar met on the bus a knight or a pest? — turns out to be anything but, due to the subtext of ambivalence Autumn feels that dares not speak its name.

    7. The Prom

    An ecstatic shot of showbiz effrontery and (yes) vulgarity that’s also a shiny bauble of fun, though the ultimate defiant joke of Ryan Murphy’s message musical is how wholesome it is. It tells a tall tale worthy of Preston Sturges for the Instagram age: a quartet of down-on-their-luck Broadway actors journey to the distant planet of small-town Indiana, all to help a high-school senior attend the prom with her girlfriend. The message of tolerance hits home because the film makes it more personal than political. Sure, it knows that Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) and Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) have the right to go to prom, but the real question is: Why is everyone around them so scared of that? The musical numbers are deliriously infectious concoctions, staged by Murphy with a classical pizzazz that takes you back to the rounded pleasures of the studio system. And Meryl Streep and James Corden lead a cast whose members invest everything they’re doing with so much joy that they give you a high-camp showbiz high.

    8. Minari

    In America, the moment we hear the word immigrant, we tend to get a lot of images in our heads, a lot of which are clichés. But Lee Isaac Chung’s lyrically transporting family drama takes you inside the immigrant experience with a humanity so forthright yet offbeat that it stirs you and wakes you up at the same time. It’s the 1980s, and Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife, Monica (Yeri Han), who originally came from South Korea, have actually been in the United States a long time, laboring at a poultry plant in California. But then they move, with their two children, to a stretch of empty fertile green land in the middle of Arkansas. It’s as if they’re planting themselves in the garden of a new life, setting down roots for the first time. Jacob plans to farm the land, and he’s a wily and industrious novice agriculturist, but the dream he has set for himself proves to be a steep climb. Chung has a complex sense of family dynamics; we never feel, as we might in the Hollywood version of this story, that life is easier than it is. Steven Yeun, in an indelible performance, makes Jacob an avatar of the American Dream who experiences himself, at times, as a kind of stranger-in-a-strange-land version of Job. Yet by the end, this land is his land.

    9. The Invisible Man

    Leigh Whannell’s galvanizing spin on the H.G. Wells classic is the rare popcorn movie that channels serious concerns in a charged and even revelatory way. Elisabeth Moss is ferocious and vulnerable as Cecilia, who squirms out of an abusive relationship only to find herself being haunted by her tech-mogul ex. He has invented a technology that turns him invisible (it involves wearing a bodysuit of complex mirrors), and this allows him to stalk and terrorize her in chilling ways that spook the audience as much as they do Cecilia. Whannell works wonders with the visual effects, not just because they’re ominously dazzling but because he has thought his way into the invisible man’s strategic deviousness, most spectacularly in a restaurant scene that leaves you tingling with horror. Yet because the force that’s terrorizing Cecilia literally can’t be seen, her pleas for help fall on disbelieving ears — a buzzy and haunting metaphor for every abused woman who ever felt like her tormenter was visible to no one but herself.

    10. American Utopia

    You could call it “Stop Making Sense 2020,” and you wouldn’t be wrong (it has a number of the same songs), but Spike Lee’s bedazzling film of David Byrne’s 2019 Broadway rock show in some ways heightens the euphoria of Jonathan Demme’s 1988 concert classic. Byrne, with silver hair and an ice-blue suit, singing and dancing on a bare stage with 11 fellow musicians (who carry wirelessly amplified instruments that give them the freedom to roam), has never been more of a shamanistic showman or poetic rock star. (He is also, in the what-the-heck freedom of his late middle age, a pretty funny stand-up comic.) Yet the quirky paradox of the Byrne persona — the supreme distance he feels from his fellow humans along with the yearning desire to bridge that distance, the chill-funk moves that now make him a hipster professor of rock ‘n’ roll — has never been more playful or entrancing. Lee shoots the show from a hypnotic array of angles, bringing us so close to the performers that he almost breaks the fourth wall. The movie has room for songs about love, television, social-anxiety disorder, and, in one stunning sequence, the killing of African Americans by police. It flows and builds, ending on an ecstatic walking-around-the-theater version of “Road to Nowhere” that catches the spirit of an America torn between utopia and the abyss.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Mike D'Angelo's 2020 top list

    (This is on his website, "The Man Who Viewed Too Much," and changes. This probably isn't its final form. The movies are each ranked according to the numerical rankings he has given them, which he acknowledges to be "needlessly precise." There are an additional 38 titles listed below these ten. It's D'Angelo's list that led me to watch SAVE YOURSELVES!, a very entertaining film, and THE NEST, which is unpleasant, but good.

    2020 Top Ten List
    The Nest (Sean Durkin)
    Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen)
    Tenet (Christopher Nolan)
    Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kirsten Johnson)
    Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
    The Old Guard (Gina Prince-Bythewood)
    76 Days (Hao Wu & Weixi Chen & Anonymous)
    Save Yourselves! (Alex H. Fischer & Eleanor Wilson)
    David Byrne's American Utopia (Spike Lee)
    The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell) "Ratings are on a needlessly precise 100-point scale."

    Latest version of D'Angelo's list (Jan. 16, 2021:

    Shithouse and I Am Greta have moved into top positions.
    The Nest (Sean Durkin)
    Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen)
    Tenet (Christopher Nolan)
    Shithouse (Cooper Raiff)
    Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kirsten Johnson)
    Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
    I Am Greta (Nathan Grossman)
    The Old Guard (Gina Prince-Bythewood)
    76 Days (Hao Wu & Weixi Chen & Anonymous)
    Save Yourselves! (Alex H. Fischer & Eleanor Wilson)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2021 at 03:26 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    Other movies. (Features.)

    On the Rocks

    We should have a list of movies that were fun and special but maybe not quite best of the year material - or just encountered too recently to digest completely.

    ON THE ROCKS (Sofia Coppola 2020).

    Among movies not much on best lists that seemed to me special is Sofia Coppola's ON THE ROCKS with Rashida Jones (the daughter of Quincy Jones) and Bill Murray. You could only watch this on Apple TV. I got an Apple ID and subscribed to Apple TV just so I could watch it. I cancelled Apple TV afterward. It was worth it. I enjoyed the knowing picture of posh New York life and Bill Murray's elegant portrayal of a cool but politically incorrect dad (an art dealer who has his own chauffeured Mercedes with a driver called Musto, knows the Maitre Ds at all the best joints, and buys and sells Hockneys and Twonblys) who encourages his daughter to investigate a mistaken suspicion of her husband's infidelity probably just so he can spend time with her.

    RESIDUE ( Merawi Gerima 2020)

    I discovered Gerima's RESIDUE on Netflix almost by chance and it was so impressive I put it on my ten best list right away. I've reviewed it here. Don't miss this immersive, artistically innovative depiction of what it's like to be an educated young African American returning to his ghetto D.C. home and feeling the double alienation of being an escapee looked on as an outsider now and encountering rampant gentrification as young whites take over the nice old houses and rehab them.

    MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM (George C. Wolfe 2020)

    Have not put the Denzel Washington-produced adaptation of August Wilson's MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM directed by George C. Wolfe (also Netflix) on a list or written a review of it. But it's a must-see for a glimpse of August Wilson's writing and to witness the immensely moving final film performance of Chadwick Boseman, who luckily got a chance to play some historic roles along with the blockbuster stuff, the Avengers, Captain America and Black Panther. He should be remembered for playing Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and James Brown - the first major league black baseball star, the first black Supreme Court Justice, and the Godfather of Soul. Such hugely different black leaders, and he could embody them all with equal fluency. I won't ever forget seeing him the first time in GET ON UP at a sparsely attended matinee performance and me and a young black man walking out and looking at each other and just saying, "Wasn't that amazing?" Yes, it was amazing. He was a meteor, a bolt of lightening. And then he played a major tragic role in a play by the greatest black American playwright. And he didn't get just a few roles; he has 33 acting credits on IMDb. But he was just beginning to show what he could do.

    A SUN (Chung Mong-hong 2029)

    A Variety reviewer I've followed and respected for years, Peter
    Debruge, put A SUN (Chung Mong-hong) (from Taiwan), which is on Netflix, as No. 1 on his 2020 Best List. So I watched it. It's intense - and 2 1/2 hours - but somehow it has not left a lasting impression. A Taiwan newspaper said it is a typical family conflict for that country, and maybe that's the problem, it's not universal. Anyway this is another one I've recently seen but not written about. I may need to reconsider and do so. Peter Debruge isn't the only one; Deborah Young in Hollywood Reorter is more critical but still sums it up as "An engrossing stunner."

    He also had some as others do that I would like to see but don't have access to or haven't gotten to yet. Here are just a few of them:

    SOUL (Disney, coming)
    MINARI (Lee Isaac Chung)
    A WHITE, WHITE DAY (Hlynur Palmason) (Iceland) (now seen: see review)
    BAD EDUCATION (Cory Finle) (TV movie)
    HERSELF (Phyllida Lloyd)
    ANTEBELLUM (Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
    ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (coming Christmas Day))

    Phyllida Lloyd made THE IRON LADY, so I'm not sure. MINARI, about a Korean family in the US, has gained praise from Bong Joon-ho and great interest from Asian-Americans. I've heard about A WHITE, WHITE DAY for a long time and maybe now I'll finally get to it. (P.s.: I did.) ANTEBELLUM has gotten terrible reviews, but it needs to be seen due to the timely subject of racism.


    Also to be made is a best documentaries list. Here listed alphabetically are my main current favorites.

    76 DAYS

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2021 at 03:29 PM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    One out of three ain't bad.

    Notice what Jonathan Rosenbaum says in the note on FOXTROT. I too am asked to make an annual best list before I have seen a lot of the movies being mentioned by critics on their more insider, early-bird, lists, and made up my half-baked oddball 2020 list in response to the Indiewire Poll. So here that is: INDIEWIRE CRITICS POLL.

    According to this poll, the "top" films of 2020 are NOMADLAND, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, and FIRST COW. One of these, the third, seem to me well worth mentioning and remembering fondly. The other two seem works of ostentatious mediocrity, and I'm not tempted to revise my list to mesh better with this poll of 220 people. Sometimes it seems reputations are acquired by osmosis.

    I'm with them on LOVERS ROCK too. I'm surprised at some of the other items that keep coming up, TIME, MARTIN EDEN, BACARAU (surely overrated), DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD, based on a tasteless but attention-getting gimmick...and so on. I still have not seen and hope I will like MINARI. A medical issue had got me out of action right now. I should not be writing this. . .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-17-2021 at 10:59 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area


    [From VARIETY]

    Best Motion Picture – Drama
    “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
    “Mank” (Netflix)
    “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) (WINNER)
    “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
    “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)

    Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
    Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”)
    Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) (WINNER)
    Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”)
    Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)
    Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”)

    Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
    Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) (WINNER)
    James Corden (“The Prom”)
    Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”)
    Dev Patel (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”)
    Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”)

    Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
    “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios) (WINNER)
    “Hamilton” (Walt Disney Pictures)
    “Music” (Vertical Entertainment)
    “Palm Springs” (Neon)
    “The Prom” (Netflix)

    Best Director – Motion Picture
    Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
    David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix)
    Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios)
    Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix)
    Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) (WINNER)

    Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
    Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”)
    Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) (WINNER)
    Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)
    Gary Oldman (“Mank”)
    Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”)

    Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    “Normal People” (Hulu/BBC)
    “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) (WINNER)
    “Small Axe” (Amazon Studios/BBC
    “The Undoing” (HBO)
    “Unorthodox” (Netflix)

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”)
    Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”)
    Shira Haas (“Unorthodox”)
    Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”)
    Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) (WINNER)

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”) (WINNER)
    Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”)
    Julia Garner (“Ozark”)
    Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
    Cynthia Nixon (“Ratched”)

    Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
    Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”)
    Olivia Colman (“The Father”)
    Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”) (WINNER)
    Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”)
    Helena Zengel (“News of the World”)

    Best Television Series – Drama
    “The Crown” (Netflix) (WINNER)
    “Lovecraft Country” (HBO Max)
    “The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus)
    “Ozark” (Netflix)
    “Ratched” (Netflix)

    Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language
    “Another Round” (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
    “La Llorona” (Shudder)
    “The Life Ahead” (Netflix)
    “Minari” (A24) (WINNER)
    “Two of Us” (Magnolia Pictures)

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama
    Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
    Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”) (WINNER)
    Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
    Al Pacino (“Hunters”)
    Matthew Rhys (“Perry Mason”)

    Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
    Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
    Kate Hudson (“Music”)
    Michelle Pfeiffer (“French Exit”)
    Rosamund Pike (“I Care a Lot”) (WINNER)
    Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma”)

    Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy
    “Emily in Paris” (Netflix)
    “The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)
    “The Great” (Hulu)
    “Schitt’s Creek” (CBC) (WINNER)
    “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV Plus)

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy
    Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”)
    Nicholas Hoult (“The Great”)
    Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
    Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”) (WINNER)
    Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”)

    Best Original Score – Motion Picture
    “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix) – Alexandre Desplat
    “Tenet” (Warner Bros.) – Ludwig Göransson
    “News of the World” (Universal Pictures) – James Newton Howard
    “Mank” (Netflix) – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
    “Soul” (Pixar) – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste (WINNER)

    Best Original Song – Motion Picture
    “Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) – H.E.R., Dernst Emile II, Tiara Thomas
    “Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Daniel Pemberton, Celeste
    “Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead” (Netflix) – Diane Warren, Laura Pausini, Niccolò Agliardi (WINNER)
    “Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Leslie Odom Jr, Sam Ashworth
    “Tigress & Tweed” from “The United States vs. Billie Holliday” (Hulu) – Andra Day, Raphael Saadiq

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama
    Olivia Colman (“The Crown”)
    Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”)
    Emma Corrin (“The Crown”) (WINNER)
    Laura Linney (“Ozark”)
    Sarah Paulson (“Ratched”)

    Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
    Emerald Fennell – “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)
    Jack Fincher – “Mank” (Netflix)
    Aaron Sorkin – “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) (WINNER)
    Florian Zeller, Christopher Hampton – “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)
    Chloe Zhao – “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    Bryan Cranston (“Your Honor”)
    Jeff Daniels (“The Comey Rule”)
    Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”)
    Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”)
    Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”) (WINNER)

    Best Motion Picture – Animated
    “The Croods: A New Age” (Universal Pictures)
    “Onward” (Walt Disney Pictures)
    “Over the Moon” (Netflix)
    “Soul” (Walt Disney Pictures) (WINNER)
    “Wolfwalkers” (Cartoon Saloon)

    Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy
    Lily Collins (“Emily in Paris”)
    Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”)
    Elle Fanning (“The Great”)
    Jane Levy (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”)
    Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”) (WINNER)

    Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
    John Boyega (“Small Axe”) (WINNER)
    Brendan Gleeson (“The Comey Rule”)
    Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
    Jim Parsons (“Hollywood”)
    Donald Sutherland (“The Undoing”)

    Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture
    Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”)
    Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) (WINNER)
    Jared Leto (“The Little Things”)
    Bill Murray (“On the Rocks”)
    Leslie Odom, Jr. (“One Night in Miami”)

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-01-2021 at 06:01 PM.


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