Tuesday, June 18, 2024

List: David Giannini’s Top 10 Films of 2020

Ok, so we finally made it through 2020. I won’t make any hackneyed jokes about it being a terrible year because, let’s face it, you’ve heard them all. Let’s focus on movies instead! It has still been an odd year even when we limit it to movies. The Oscar season was pushed back, so for weirdo cinephiles like us, it kind of doesn’t seem like it’s over yet. The other thing that I notice as I compile this list is what’s missing. Usually, there is at least one movie on my list that sneaks its way on there because of a great experience I had seeing it with a crowd.  That’s…not happening this year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great movies, so here we go with the Top 10.


10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This will probably come up a lot, but it feels like more than a year since I have seen this. Director Eliza Hittman is on my to watch list no matter what the film is about at this point. After Beach Rats, expectations are sky high.  And amazingly, those expectations have been met. Hittman’s choices are all impeccable, even this early in her filmography. Her films, likely because she uses relatively unknown actors, feel so much more intimate than her contemporaries. With this film in particular, she uses the terrifying event of deciding about an abortion to examine female friendships to great effect. As in her previous film, Hittman takes common events that happen in secret and bring them into the light. 

9. Another Round

You may know Mads Mikkelson from Hannibal or god forbid, Star Wars. But he has a wonderful actor-director relationship with Thomas Vinterberg. In this film, Another Round dives into an area that most American films are afraid of, intimate male friendships. It is also about growth, striking a perfect balance, and pure enjoyment of life. The way this film gets there, however, is really the important part. With a top tier lead performance from Mikkelson, Vinterberg looks uncomfortably closely at how we grow and change, for better or worse. 

8. Ema

This one was very underseen. Honestly, if you caught this one, I am both impressed and surprised. This is easily the sexiest movie of 2020. There is a palpable energy to this film, full of people whom you are not sure you should love or hate. Many of them are despicable, and yet, under Pablo Larraín’s spell, you cannot help but be drug along with them. Both Mariana Di Girólamo and Gael García Bernal give passionate, dedicated, conflicted performances that almost make you feel dirty to be witness to. This is a cliché. at this point, but Ema does really feel more like an experience, or a piece of performance art, as opposed to a standard narrative film. But my god, the ride is worth it.

7. Nomadland

Look, a lot has been written about this already. It’s on every critic’s Top 10 list all around the internet. And about halfway through, I was in the opposite camp. But Chloé Zhao pulled it all together in the end. The script is particularly subtle and doesn’t quite follow the narrative rules that you may expect. Zhao also has a way of showing this country’s landscapes in a way that feels almost otherworldly. It is not simply beautiful, but has a texture that we rarely see on screen. But really, it helps that she cast one of the best actors of a generation in Frances McDormand. This is truly her movie and she carries it on her shoulders without a single false note.

6. The Assistant

Usually, I can’t stand when a film (purposefully or not) comes out that taps directly in to the zeitgeist of what is happening currently. The Assistant has obvious parallels to the “Me, Too” movement but never falls into the traps of becoming preachy. Kitty Green’s masterful direction absolutely deserves accolades. Her decision to make the villain seemingly all seeing and all knowing without ever making a physical appearance is a stroke of genius. This film will not let you escape without feeling the pure oppression of misogyny. There is a particular scene in which the lead character is questioned about her complaint, and it ranks up there with most uncomfortable scenes to sit through in the last few years. The Assistant is an absolute must watch, especially for men who think they are not part of the problem.

5. First Cow 

Kelly Reichardt is just not for me. Well, I could have said that before 2020. But then First Cow happened. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s just so pure. A lovely film about friendship, food, and understanding. Both John Magaro and Orion Lee are amazingly genuine in First Cow. When you watch a lot of movies, it is rare to feel purely transported, to never feel like you’re watching a movie on a screen. But that is absolutely what happened to me here. This honestly is now one of those litmus test movies for me. If First Cow doesn’t make you feel something, it might be time to see a cardiologist. 

4. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee has done it yet again. The man has made a lot of great movies and this is top tier Spike. He clearly trusts his actors completely and it shows in the performances here. I could talk for hours about all of the actors, but let’s be real, this is all about Delroy Lindo. An absolute powerhouse of an actor who has been largely ignored for decades came out swinging and gave his career best. It says a lot that, to me, the best moment of the movie is a scene in which Lindo is talking by himself with no one and practically nothing to play off of. And yet, this still isn’t a one man show. Even without Lindo, it is a good movie, but this performance pushes it past good and into great.

3. One Night In Miami…

Regina King can do anything. ANYTHING. This feature film directorial debut is assured, engaging, and empathetic. All four leads are very good to great, but to me, Aldis Hodge steals the show. He matches both the physicality and the personality of Jim Brown, without ever sliding into pantomime or impressions. This is a film about whether people, especially Black people, have a responsibility to use the gifts they have as weapons, or if they can simply be. King refuses to offer the audience easy answers, but instead trusts that we can all make our own choices. There is no real right or wrong here, and this would be easy to do, given how respected each of the lead characters are in real life. King takes difficult material and lets us slide into the room with the ease of a much more experienced director.

2. Sound of Metal

There are three reasons I love this one so much. Let’s get the sound design out of the way. In a movie like this, where the lead character loses his hearing, it is so important that we are enveloped by his new world. The sound design choices do this absolutely perfectly and I wouldn’t change a thing. Speaking of not needing changes, that brings us to Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci. There are very few perfect performances, but I could argue that both of these qualify. Ahmed’s willingness to dive into this world and portray a character that is sometimes not easy to root for really pushes the movie forward in a way I was not prepared for. And Paul Raci, he is getting a lot of love from critics, and I’m still not sure that it is enough. He has a gift of allowing his fellow actors space that is rare, indeed. But when he is allowed by the script to have emotional moments, he damn near steals the limelight, which is saying quite a lot given his scene partners.

1. Let Them All Talk

A lot was made online earlier this year when a writer called Meryl Streep underrated. Look, she’s not. No one with that many awards can be. But her performance here actually made me pause. She is making choices that no other actor would make. Her choices are so specific, so earned, and so true, that even though she is Meryl, for just a moment we forget. This may be her best performance in the last decade and luckily she is surrounded by phenomenal direction, an engaging plot, and four other actors who are on their best game. It is easy to negate both Streep (she’s always great) and forget about how wonderful Soderbergh is (2 movies a year), but Let Them All Talk ties all this greatness together in a perfect bow. My favorite movie of 2020 without a doubt.

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