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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    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.


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