By Chris Crymes
Just because COVID-19 wiped out the ability to enjoy film in theatres that doesn’t mean 2020 didn’t have its share of incredible films. While theatres were forced to shutter their doors, streaming services stepped up to the plate with some poignant and focused films. Blockbusters of previous years have given way to digitally released, deeply personal contemplations on the human experience and that focus offered a break from 2020s news onslaught.. Without further ado, here are my top choices of 2020.
#1 “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
My top movie of 2020 is one that brought me back time and time again to crack its narrative code. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” isn’t just a horror-tinged spiral, it’s a story of one coming to terms with a life ill spent and there’s a beautiful tragedy in that. Writer/director Charlie Kaufman and cinematographer Lukasz Zal entrench the viewer in a cold and fleeting world that unravels the reality of its characters in ways that can only be brought to life on screen. Stand out performances include the perfectly pensive lead, Jessie Buckley, as well as her boyfriend’s parents portrayed by the immensely talented Toni Collette and David Thewlis, who seamlessly jump ages throughout their segments of the film. Filled with narrative twists, subtle contemplations and stellar performances, this isn’t a movie for those easily bored or confused, but well worth the trek through Netflix.
#2 “Bad Education”
It’s not every day you get to see an established actor give the performance of their career. That’s exactly what Hugh Jackman brings in “Bad Education,” and not just Jackman, this film is stuffed with dynamite performances. Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Annaleigh Ashford and practically the rest of the cast deliver some of the realest characters making this real story feel even more true to life. This film brings a plethora of narrative bombs in its hour and 48 minutes. You’re never safe from finding out a character you thought was well intentioned is actually a conniving monster. The script, direction and even musical choices are all impeccable, but it’s Jackman’s catastrophically complex superintendent Frank Tassone who elevates this from a compelling true story to a great film. If you haven’t seen it yet, give it a good watch on HBO Max.
Ah, “Minari,” or as I think of it: cinematic comfort food. I was fortunate enough to catch a virtual screening and, frankly, it is just what everyone needs. “Minari” is that warm cup of chicken noodle soup when you’re sick. It’s a hug from your Mom when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s simply an inspiring, down home, grassroots story of chasing the American dream. This is a heartwarmingly unflinching depiction of not just family, but also what it means to come together and make a home. Perfectly casted, acted and shot “Minari” brings a real feel to this 1980’s Arkansas town. Over the course of the film’s two-hour runtime, this tale of a Korean/American family making their run at farm life will run you through a full gamut of emotions, breathtaking highs and tear-filled lows. Check it out when it’s full release premieres in limited theaters Feb. 12 and on streaming services Feb. 26.
#4 “Sound of Metal”
Here we have a film of powerful loss, but also discovery. “Sound of Metal” recounts the frantic days of metal/punk drummer Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed giving his latest in a long line of stellar performances, as he loses is hearing from years of hard fought touring. The other highlight of the film is the immaculately detailed sound design. Director Darius Marder takes viewers with hearing and audibly introduces you to the deaf community. “Sound of Metal” utilizes such extreme measures to portray the experience of one losing their hearing, that it must be seen and heard to be believed. “Sound of Metal” isn’t just about this experience itself, this film’s performances are another example on this list of nothing short of genuine. The majority of the supporting cast is deeply involved members of the deaf community. Ahmed learned American Sign Language for the film, and his teacher in real life plays the same role in the film. If you have Amazon Prime Video, rock your night with the “Sound of Metal.”
People often spout out platitudes about the old ways of filmmaking going away. Examples usually hover around practical effects, movies being shot on film, and, more often than the others, 2D animation. Well, if films like “Wolfwalkers” are still being made, then the brilliant old ways are still with us. This is a film animated to emulate the look and feel of a Gaelic storybook, and accomplishes this feel and then some. Not just visually, but also through the story and characters. This film also looks to fill a much-needed gap in children’s adventure movies, specifically for girls. In a genre perpetually dominated with male protagonists, here we have a tale with men in supporting roles. The two top roles are filled by little girls, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Wolfwalkers” fills audiences with childlike wonder not seen since classic Disney films. Seek this magic out on Apple+.