Cinemas were closed for almost a year. Films went digital. Streaming prevails. Festivals went online. Yet, here’s the best of 2020.
I still went to the nearby cinema until early March 2020. The last film I saw on cinema was Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot. Since then, relishing the cinematic experience in 2020 was never the same.
By the end of March, most cinemas had already closed their door indefinitely (only a few of them finally has finally opened again with a completely new set of protocols in December 2020).
By then, it’s been an excruciating time for movie aficionado. With cinemas unavailable, streaming services become the last resort. Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+ and HBO become the primary “cinema.” Indonesian-bound streaming services like Mola TV, KlikFilm, and Bioskop Online along with over-the-top services like Viu and WeTV complement. I even went on and compiled free websites to stream films legally back then.
Then, film festivals had gone online as well. Special screenings were going online as well. Award-darlings were getting picked by streaming giants. Everything went to the small screen; but, that’s all we had.
Picking up the usual top movies for Sinekdoks’ Best of series is tougher than the usual. The number of new films seen in a year had depleted but not significantly. Tent-poles are decreasing in numbers, but international features are increasing due to the surprisingly accessible means in 2020. So, here we go 20 films with some honorable mentions for Best of 2020.
20. Wonder Woman 1984 (Petty Jenkins)
Gal Gadot showcases her charisma to make the highly likeable Wonder Woman a more sympathetic heroine in this sequel. In a strange year like 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 comes back stronger, tougher, and grittier; and she’s there to inspire us to come back the same way when we’re ready.
19. Night of the Kings (Phillipe Lacôte)
In a jungle-bound prison, life is like in a notorious fairy tale—mythical, murky, and magical. A young convict is tasked with an ‘Arabian Nights’-esque mission to tell stories all night long to save up a political regime. With each passing story, Night of the Kings delves into the long history of Ivory Coast full of traditions, crimes, and politics signifying the power of storytelling as a political tool.
18. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
It’s a tough watch—not because of distressed theme or challenging nature, but because of the familiarity of its theme and how close it is to the ground. Built upon repressed emotions, Hittman opens an unbiased, classic pro-life and pro-choice discourse without judging and weighing in on any of them. In the end, everything comes in circle in this a powerful story providing balanced narrative over unexpected pregnancy at its center.
17. Mogul Mowgli (Bassam Tariq)
A thoughtful identity drama is the nerve that moves Mogul Mowgli while Riz Ahmed’s poignant performance is the brain. The story of a multi-background rapper losing his body to an auto-immune disease portray the dilemma perfectly. The end-result is heavy with cultural subtext and floods of emotion, but, the story itself is never heavyweight.
16. Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)
Make this a double bill with Mogul Mowgli and we have a series of Riz Ahmed‘s finest performances, equally poignant and affecting, about self-acceptance from two different musicians. This time, it’s a metal drummer whose hearing is everything he’s been proud of but now has to learn being deaf. If it’s not his career-defining performance, then what?
15. The Assistant (Kitty Green)
This thought-provoking film perfectly captures the #MeToo movement from its root as it unapologetically parallelizes the backstory from Harvey Weinstein’s case. With Julia Garner delivers a breakthrough performance as an assistant, it unravels one day in a messed-up company that normalizes rape culture and toxic patriarchy.
14. Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
Starting out as a story of star-crossed lovers between a proletariat man and a bourgeoisie woman, Martin Eden moves exponentially into a complex discourse about socialism versus individualism. Luca Marinelli channels the protagonist’s emotion with precision and heartbreaking determination. Marcello’s insightful direction juxtapose the story with some documentary moments adding a historical insight for audiences.
13. Palm Springs (Max Barbakow)
Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg lead the fresh time-loop rom-com manifesting the insecurity of us living in a year that feels like a loop. The familiar formula doesn’t make the trip to Palm Springs a little less worthwhile experience. Samberg and Milioti inject the much-needed allure while JK Simmons, while underused, adds a reflective thought that makes the journey wholesome.
12. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
Carey Mulligan carries a vigilante quest in this rape-revenge thriller that feels familiar, but operates on a distinctive modus operandi. Aimed for precision in the narrative, direction, and lead performance, Promising Young Woman is a thriller that stings hard and never let go. Fennell complements the vengeance with highly energetic romp and vibrant visuals whose bittersweet after-taste lingers.
11. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell)
Whannell continues his brilliant portfolio with a high-concept body horror combining gaslighting behavior and tech terror. The horror works on multiple layers on equally high notes, not only in the new renditions of HG Wells’ classic horror. In the process, Elizabeth Moss brings about a helluva performance that only gets more harrowing as the story progresses.
00. Honorable Mentions
Before moving forward, here are some films I’m grateful for even they don’t make it to the top 20 lists. The honorable mentions go to A Sun (Chung Mong-Hong), Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov), His House (Remi Weekes), The Half of It (Alice Wu), Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić), Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman), and Pixar’s Soul (Pete Docter) among many others.
10. First Cow (Kelly Reitchardt)
Exquisite chemistry between the leads (John Magaro and Orion Lee) milks warm and captivating narrative for Reitchardt‘s film about the age of opportunity. There’s a cow in the story and there’s also an early dwellers of America looking up for the ancient concept of American Dream in the making. However, all that matters in this film is a beautiful bond called friendship.
09. Mank (David Fincher)
Working on his father’s script, Fincher deconstructs the controversy, the style, and the production drama of Citizen Kane with thorough observations of Hollywood’s politics and economics in the 30s and 40s. At the same time, he vocally shouts out his anti-auteur theory belief with a moving story. All is syncretized into the subtle yet furious story about Herman Mankiewic-out of nowhere-z, portrayed eloquently by Gary Oldman.
08. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles)
Bacurau is everything at once. It’s a wholesome Brazilian socio-political commentary turned into a full-fledged Western exploitation movie with Udo Kier in it. The story is bizarre, but look on the subtext, and everything in it becomes on point. After all, it’s a political statement.
07. Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa)
Nominated for Best Foreign Film in Oscars 2020, this Polish uplifting drama is a sharp commentary for Catholic church. This thought-provoking character study about an impostor who becomes a likeable, people’s priest is a satire to the clerical distance between the church and the churchgoers. Bartosz Bielenia‘s performance makes the via dolorosa even finer.
06. i’m thinking of ending things (Charlie Kaufman)
Kaufman‘s Netflix-produced film is an exhaustive observation of human psyche that might feel baffling or compelling depending on how you perceive the story. Jesse Plemons‘ story is a sad one; Jessie Buckley‘s story is a struggling one. They coalesce into an enigmatic crisis that only gets deeper into a through-and-through Kaufmanesque enigma.
05. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan might not be the catchiest title, but it has a clever angle—a headline that describes the narrative honestly and fluently. Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Borat only comes to the US when the country’s at its funniest moment. And now, fourteen years after his first American venture, it’s a perfect time for another adventure that deserves a five-star laugh.
04. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
This Spike Lee’s joint is a history lesson, socio-politic lesson, and an important anti-war lesson. Released at the moment when the Black Lives Matter peaks after the murder of George Floyd, this joint serves as a poignant reminder of how African-Americans always fight the battles that aren’t theirs and ends up being the victims of unfairness. This couldn’t be more timely than ever.
03. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)
The director’s semi-autobiographical drama doesn’t always speak spoken American language; but, it fluently and proficiently speaks the working language called “American Dreams” from the perspective of a Korean-American family. Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri takes the center-stage between dreams, cultural identities, and family. Minari exudes grace, innocence, and enough authenticity in delivering a sentimental yet beautiful story of hope taking root.
02. Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)
Under Vinterberg‘s helm, Mads Mikkelsen is once again miserable teacher. This time, he’s coping up with an experiment to prove Skarderud’s theory that human body lacks of 0.7% blood alcohol. His whole performance tends to be melancholic, but there’s tenderness in what he’s done and there’s an excruciating longing in the way he acts, especially in the final dancing scene.
01. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
House is a place, but home is where the heart is. That’s what Zhao‘s docudrama about American nomad majestically fine-tunes. Frances McDormand‘s subtle yet nuanced performance complements Zhao’s sensitive directing that matches up the cinéma vérité style and the elegiac atmosphere looming in the twilight background. It’s not just a story, it’s a picture of life.
That’s a wrap. Find this list on Letterboxd by clicking here and Instagram below.