So as this tumultuous year that was 2020 comes to an end, at least we all got time to self internalize a lot of our own lives and maybe we go into 2021 with a lot more gusto and spontaneity.
In all those hours we had at home, I managed to watch a shit ton of films and shows this year. And unlike most years, I kept track of all the films I watched. So before I share the 10 best films I watched this year, I'd just like to say that these are not films of 2020, just films I watched this year. It's purely my personal preference and if you don't agree, that's alright. I have a very particular taste in film and after looking back at the films I loved and the films I hated, I can see how I have a preferred style.
Also as I have a film in my top 10 that isn't really a film but I loved it, I am first mentioning two honorable mentions which would have made it. Hope these selections in films can lead to some interesting conversations or experiences for you guys.
Perfect Blue (1997) - Japanese
Directed by Satoshi Kon
It took me longer than most people to find out about the genius who is Satoshi Kon. His films have been a spectacle and an inspiration for many across the world. But amongst all his major films that I managed to watch sometime around March, Perfect Blue stood out. A subtle story that escalates into perfect chaos, mental health issues, and dealing with problems of Stardom, fame, and even the side effects of a traumatized human psyche.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) - English
Written & Directed by Eliza Hittman
As much as the title of this film had me drawn in, when I read the synopsis of the film for the first time, it had me confused. The story of a young girl trying to travel interstate to get an abortion done seems like a plot suitable for a moving short film and not thick enough to fill up a 101minute film. And yet this film never seemed long and always had you gripped until the very end. A very to-the-point film that tells a compelling story through beautiful acting and marvelous direction by Hittman.
10. Ema (2019) | Written and Directed by Pablo Larrain | Spanish
This film was suggested to me by a close friend of mine earlier in the year because of its musical score by Nicolas Jaar. And honestly, on first viewing this film kind of submerged its own plot with breathtaking visuals, grade, and phenomenal musical score. But it was my second re-watch that made me take in this beautiful film in all its glory. Ema seems like the epilogue of a heartbreaking story. The main crisis has already occurred and all we see is the aftermath, the ripples that create further ripples. Larrain drifts us through the suffering of a couple whose adopted son has been taken back by child protection services. But there is so much to this film than the surface plot
I love films that acknowledge other artforms and use them to tell stories. In Ema, the medium of dance is used to further the story and pain that flows throughout the script. Our protagonist changes her style of dance from more contemporary work to hip hop so that she can express her frustration and anger through harsher and faster movements. A mesmerizing aftermath film that is so different from the rest of all of Pablo Larrain's work.
9. The Summer of Miracles (2018) | Written and Directed by Prasanth Vijay | Malayalam
I find myself lucky that I have gotten the opportunity to watch this film as it still makes its rounds at film festivals around the world. The film lends to the style of a world created by Taika Waititi but is situated in a small town in Kerala. A young boy who is obsessed with the thought of being invisible and goes to no lengths to be able to do so. An innocent story that shows the hardships of a small-town family from the eyes of an imaginative young kid. This film makes you smile from ear to ear from start to finish but also makes you reflect on a lot more grim and serious subjects. It really made me think of Jojo Rabbit as I watched this film, therefore me comparing the screenplay to that of a Waititi script. It makes me happy to see films from suburban India, especially Kerala having so much attention to detail and compelling storytelling.
8. The Invisible Man (2020) | Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell | English
I didn't go into The Invisible Man expecting much. Yet it is one of the two horror films that made it to my top 10 this year. If you know me then you know how Horror is easily my favorite genre of films but never do good horror films come out. The Invisible Man is an exception. Leigh Whennell's interpretation of the classic by H.G.Wells in our modern world is a masterstroke.
A paranoid woman believing that her ex-boyfriend has discovered invisibility and is stalking her is a great setup. But where the film could have suffered from cheap horror tropes, it instead creates this story between her, the camera, and thin air. The film's cinematography blankly stares at empty spaces where you expect something to be there, but there isn't. The way the film convinces even us how there is an invisible man behind her blends well into us believing the supernatural.
For people who hate horror for the fiends, ghouls and ghosts but like the sense of fear and anxiety, The Invisible Man is the perfect film for you.
7. Paterson (2017) | Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch | English
If someone ever told you that you can't make a film without a conflict or record a mundane lower middle-class life of a family without anything significant happening... Make them watch Paterson.
This film tells the story of a simple bus driver who notices normal mundane things as he drives or as he sits at home and writes poems about it. We see every day of his in a week(literally) and nothing changes. It is a human story about normal life. And it isn't boring. It is a beautiful tale of a simple man and I still can't express my absolute love for Adam Driver in this film. This actor has exceeded all my expectations with every film I see of his. A surreal performance by him in Paterson makes this film the best film for all ages. I promise you, you will take something from this film as the credits roll. And what you take will be different from what your parents will take or your friends will. Yet it will all be beautiful. And we will continue to live the same life every day as we all do.
6. Boy (2011) | Written and Directed by Taika Waititi | New Zealand
Boy boy boy boy boy... I'd be scared to venture into the mind of Taika Waititi if I ever got the chance. Boy is a very similar story to that of Taika's more recent film Jojo Rabbit. Both films talk about a very serious issue through the eyes of a child's imagination. And we see this grim and bleak world in an array of colors.
As the beliefs of Boy change through the film, so does the tone of the film. It is honestly a film I don't wish to talk a lot about because it's a film I wish everyone experiences. It's not a niche story that only some will enjoy. Just go blindly into watching this heartwarming film through the eyes of the craziest Michael Jackson fan from a small village in New Zealand.
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2020) | Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma | French
A portrait of blooming love between two strong women through the course of one painting the other. I don't know what else can be said about this film. Céline makes sure to hypnotize you in her island of solitude with remarkable cinematography that purely plays with natural lights. Growing within it is the natural chemistry of understanding, knowledge, friendship and then love that escalates at a steady pace. A powerful queer empowerment film that paints a beautiful picture of our society by not showing society itself. Something my father noticed while we watched this film together was how there is not a single male character in the whole film after she sets foot onto the island. The film pivots around women and their bond. A true testament to French filmmaking as Céline Sciamma proves herself against the greatly competitive scene of French cinema.
When I watched this film earlier this year, I was so sure this would easily be the best film I would have watched. Nothing could have possibly beaten it. And yet as the year went by 4 other films made it way above it.
4. Hamilton (2020) | Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Directed by Thomas Kail | Musical
Okay, so this is what I mentioned in my Honorable Mentions as a pick in my top 10 that isn't really a film. But I can't help it. As someone in India who hasn't had the luxury or privileged to see Broadway Musicals, the Hamilton film that came out this year was so refreshing. Initially scared to go into a 3hour film, I finally decided to give it a go. And even 7 months later, that play doesn't stop playing in my head.
I am a great fan of Musicals, and ever more of the theatre. Hamilton is a beautifully choreographed play with amazing music, stellar performances, and an enthralling story.
The blend of modern music and Hip hop into a story set in the early 20th century was seamlessly spectacular. If you let me loose I can't stop singing praises of this play and the experience I had watching it, not once or twice but thrice. And then having all the songs of the musical in a playlist on Spotify that I listen to regularly as well.
It is marvelous writing by Lin-Manuel Miranda that makes it all come together in the end. To construct a three-hour play with not a singular dialogue that isn't a musical piece and still no piece seems forced or half-assed.
If you haven't experienced the theatre of Musicals, Hamilton will get you addicted. I promise.
Let's watch it together once?
3. La Llarona (2020) | Written and Directed by Jayro Bustamante | Guatemala
If you have stumbled upon my blog, then I've already written a huge essay on this film. My favorite horror film of this year, La Llorona IS NOT THE SAME FILM AS "The Curse of La Llorona". This is a masterful horror film from Guatemala that blends reality to fiction.
The film retells the myth of La Llorona but through the family of a hated Ex-dictator who was overthrown by a newly formed democracy in the country. As the house and family are cursed by the citizens who faced massive genocide due to the dictator, La Llorona invades their home to destroy it from within.
This film does not carry any cliched horror movie tropes and has a purpose for causing fear. The horror rarely comes into play through a woman in a white gown but instead through the breaking apart of the family. As the kids in the family question their grandfather's past actions, he starts to hear the faint cries of a woman at night.
This film is a stellar example of how to adapt and retell old horror myths.
One of my favorite horror films of all time, I won't be surprised if you don't agree with why I rate this film higher than the likes of Boy or Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but I have a bias for horror films as by personal preference, La Llorona is a gem coming out of Guatemala.
2. I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) | Written for the screen and directed by Charlie Kaufman | English
This was a film that was requested to me by several people ever since it came out on Netflix. Everyone asked if I had watched the film and how it seemed like a film I would really enjoy. Curious as to how much hype this film had built for me, I kept delaying it for a more suitable time when I could give it a watch. And when I finally did watch it, I couldn't stop. As soon as I finished the film I hit replay and watched it again. Then woke up the next morning and instantly watched it again. In the end, I had over 12-13 pages of notes as I finished watching it for the third time and still I believe I can find something new the fourth time I watch it.
What's hard is to talk about this film without giving spoilers. But it's a complicated experience. It isn't a film for everyone and many might walk out of it thinking "WTF did I watch? That made no sense."
It is a film you need to watch twice to fully digest it and maybe that isn't the kind of film for you, but knowing Charlie Kaufman and the fucked up world he creates each time, this is simply his best work.
As I can't give spoilers it feels like I can't even talk about this film as anything about the plot feels like a spoiler once you internalize it.
This film has made me a forever fan of Charlie Kaufman and probably my favorite screenwriter of all time.
If you have watched the film, PLEASE TELL ME cause I'm so so so eager to discuss the philosophy of this film but the people closest to me still haven't watched it.
1 . Mommy (2014) | Written and Directed by Xavier Dolan | French
Mommy is the story of a violent-loving relationship between a rebellious teenage son and an emotionally charged widowed mother. A French Canadian film by a 25-YEAR-OLD DIRECTOR(!!!!) Xavier Dolan, Mommy is one of the best films I've got the luxury to watch in my youthful lifetime.
The first thing that catches your attention since the very first frame is the 1:1 square aspect ratio of the film. If you don't seem to make the connection, the film makes sure to remind you of the reason for this choice as it is that of a retro cell phone camera. Xavier gives us the illusion of this film being portrayed from the eyes of a youthful figure. It's impossible to overlook the minimalistic simplicity of the plot and the intensity of the relationship it portrays.
At the same time, Xavier makes you despise the characters in the frame as well as feel sympathy for them. It is simply a breathtaking experience and even more breathtaking to realize that a 25-year-old was at the helm of it all.