My blogging habit has been so dire that I not only neglected to post my favorite films of 2020 until several days ago – I hadn’t even posted my 2019 list either… And 2019 was probably the best year in cinema since 1999, which was widely regarded as a vintage year [chef kiss]. So let’s get stuck in because this is way overdue as is…
1. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Undoubtedly his best film since Jackie Brown. And to be honest I’m on the fence as to whether it might actually beat that to the title of his best film ever. It’s certainly his most mature, and the publication of his (sub-par) novelization proves that there are much greater depths to the whole thing that what we ever saw on screen. It is also the first Tarantino film I had a genuine emotional reaction to. That ending got me right in the feels and made me walk away with a heart full of optimism. A true Hollywood fairy tale.
2. Portrait of a Lady On Fire (Céline Sciamma)
I adore this film. There’s just something about stories of impossible love which resonate with me. Here, the pacing is perfect, the cast is intimate, everything about it is just optimally calibrated. Since seeing it the first time, I quickly devoured Sciamma’s back catalogue (this is undoubtedly her best film so far) and her upcoming Petite Maman is one of my most anticipated movies. Honestly, it’s fantastic. Noémie Merlant is amazing.
3. Uncut Gems (Josh & Benny Safdie)
Punch-Drunk Love was once the definitive serious Adam Sandler movie… I think this may have stolen the crowd. It’s not quite as stressful as many of the Letterboxd reviews made out (although reading them to prepare myself for the film made me actually laugh out loud on several occasions). This is a fantastic, nerve-racking and hilarious film. Someone said it’s their new go-to Passover film, and I have to agree. Frankly the fact it’s only number 3 on this list just goes to show what a great year 2019 was.
4. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)
Where do you even start with this film? It’s about a childlike soccer superstar with two ugly stepsisters who unwittingly gets drawn into a web of intrigue involving the Portuguese answer to Brexit, lesbian detectives undercover as an orphan son and a nun, and giant fluffy dog. It’s a madcap, batshit crazy, and hilarious piece of cinematic genius. An immediate cult classic. Brilliant.
5. Us (Jordan Peele)
I actually preferred Peele’s second feature. It might not be quite as tight as Get Out, and some may complain that he hadn’t quite figured out exactly what everything means – but I actually liked that you were invited to try and figure out what everything meant and interpret it in whichever way most spoke to you. It’s entertaining, it’s scary, it’s a thinker. What more do you want?
6. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Honestly, at this point, what is there left to say about Parasite? It’s a Hitchcockian film for these economically disparate times with one hell of a twist. It’s the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. It’s the third film on this list to be part of the Criterion Collection.
7. Midsommar (Ari Aster)
I was disappointed by Aster’s previous effort, Hereditary, so didn’t get caught up in the hype for what appeared to be a contemporary spin on The Wicker Man. How wrong I was. Midsommar is an incredibly ambitious and competently-executed film. At it’s core, it is a meditation on grief, catharsis, and self-worth. It’s very long though. But stunning.
8. Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)
The story was somewhat familiar to be thanks to that episode of The Grand Tour, and with the involvement of Matt Damon and Christian Bale and that awards season release date, I figured I knew exactly what this was going to be. Once more, I was wrong. This was no much better than I expected. It’s a grand old-fashioned movie of the kind they don’t make any more, but with a very modern vibe. It’s so long, but it doesn’t feel it. It is, quite simply, a lot of fun and incredibly entertaining.
9. Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach)
Another bleak drama from Ken Loach, but as necessary as ever in a world that doesn’t seem to comprehend just how bleak everyday life actually is for the vast majority of people. This is a scathing indictment of capitalism at its worst, told through a personal (and very tender) story. The film also deals with the tribulations and toxicity of contemporary masculinity. Special mention must go to Debbie Honeywood whose docile voice (both anti-alarming and reassuring) who forces you to recognize that strength and resilience have more than one form.
10. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)
A beautiful, captivating, and impressive debut. There are certain moments (like when they’re cleaning leaves from the roof) that become actual Moments, shot and presented in such a way that the film transcends the sum of its parts and stands apart and above so much other contemporary cinema. It feels both heartfelt and a statement. Joe Talbot is an exciting new voice. Jonathan Majors can do no wrong.
Honorable mention: Les Misérables (Ladj Ly)
A contemporary French answer to Do The Right Thing.