This past year of “streaming in place” provided at least some much-needed respite from the multiple miseries, large and small, of the times in which we find ourselves. There was, however, little that was “normal” about 2020’s movie-viewing, and so the year-end custom of top 10 lists, etc., seems in some ways beside the point.
Be that as it may, there was much of interest in the movies that were available to us and much that, as a consequence, was not entirely “beside the point.” A season of wide-ranging home viewing took me far afield in a number of ways, which for me was one of the good things in this hugely fraught year. But I still managed to see a good many new or recent releases worthy of “top 10” consideration.
By my lights, the best of the lot include the following (listed alphabetically): Bacurau (Brazil), Beanpole (Russia), CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans (France), Corpus Christi (Poland), Da 5 Bloods (USA), Five Fingers for Marseilles (South Africa), First Cow (USA), Invisible Life (Brazil), Les Misérables (2019) (France), Mank (USA), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (USA), Marriage Story (USA), Martin Eden (Italy), Sorry We Missed You (UK), The Whistlers (Romania).
Kelly Reichardt’s wonderfully casual First Cow (see “Land of Milk,” CN&R, Dec. 10, 2020) stands out as my personal favorite from that group. Bruno Dumont’s CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans, with its soulfully imagined entertainment, is also a particular favorite. And I especially admire four others for their haunting, multilayered artistry: Beanpole, for its earthy, complex take on women caught up in pivotal moments of modern Russian history; Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as the conflicted couple; Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, with a group of black Vietnam vets revisiting the legacies of that war and that era; and Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, an Italian updating and reworking of the semi-autobiographical Jack London novel from more than a century ago.
A heartening global trend that continued in 2020 has to do with the rich sense of contemporary social issues emerging in artful films, regardless of genre and subject matter. I’d say that’s reflected in most, if not all, of the films cited above—including the Romanian police story/character study (The Whistlers), the Brazilian psychodrama (Invisible Life), the hybrid “westerns” (Bacurau and Five Fingers for Marseilles), and the not-to-be-confused with “Les Miz” crime drama from France (Les Misérables).