Top 15 Films of 2020 – Allen’s Picks
11) The History of the Seattle Mariners
Is this entry a bit of hometown bias? Maybe. But there is no denying that Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein has made arguably the best documentary of the year with The History of the Seattle Mariners. As part of the Secret Base YouTube channel (under their “Dorktown” banner) Bois and Rubenstein guide us through the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the only baseball team to never make a World Series appearance. Utilizing a staggering display of charts, graphs, newspaper clippings, and gameplay footage, the doc builds an argument that the Mariners are the most fascinating team in the MLB. What was a six-part series was combined into a near four-hour epic – which is saying a lot given that the team has not been relevant in two decades. From arson, jello pranks, synchronized vomiting, and a magical playoff series where the stars aligned for one shining moment, The History of the Seattle Mariners is a story that goes far beyond the game.
Is Hamilton a film or a recorded stage play? The answer is both. Shot over a three-day span in 2016 with the original Broadway cast (many of whom would depart the show soon after filming), the musical covers the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton during and after The Revolutionary War. The brainchild of writer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show is filled to the brim with R&B, hip-hop, soul, funk, and traditional show tunes. It is a moving and contagious story of America’s birth featuring a cast representative of the modern day. Every performer is in peak form, handling the avalanche of dialogue/lyrics with passion and energy. The cinematography and editing cuts between wide angles and intimate closeups. No other musical this year hits with as much power and grace – I have not been able to get the music out of my head since watching it.
9) His House
The best horror film of the year is writer/director Remi Weekes’ His House. But to simply call it a “horror film” would be an injustice. At its heart, the story shows the struggles of immigration – how people uproot themselves from their native countries in search of a better life but never fully leave their pasts behind. Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku star as Sudanese refugees who have moved to an unnamed English town only to confront micro-aggressive bigotry. To make matters worse, something has followed them from Sudan and is now haunting the walls of their rundown apartment. His House shows how the choices we make live within us, whether we want it to or not. It is equal parts insightful with its social commentary and terrifying with its scares.
Borrowing elements of The Twilight Zone, Steven Spielberg, and Cold War era sci-fi, The Vast of Night is an ingenious tale of a small New Mexico town being invaded by…something. The narrative takes an old school approach with a modern twist. The intelligence of the writing (Andrew Patterson, Craig Sanger) and direction (Patterson) keep us on the edge as we watch two young people (Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz) try to uncover the mysterious presence in their community. The sound design and dialogue are razor-sharp, not only in building suspense but in revealing character traits as well. It’s rare to find a movie made up mostly of small conversations to be this engrossing, tense, and entertaining.
7) Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s war film is big, bold, messy, passionate, and visionary. He follows a group of black Vietnam War veterans returning to Vietnam to not only recover the remains of their squad leader (the late Chadwick Boseman), but to retrieve a cache of gold bars they hid there. They each grapple with the effects of not only participating in battle but fighting for a country that treated them as second-class citizens. At the center is Delroy Lindo – giving a career best performance – as a character so traumatized by his experiences that he flirts with losing himself to the darkness. Lee tackles the material with the eye of a cinephile, playing with editing, film stock, screen ratio, narrative structure, and so on – all to create a piece of art that is quintessentially his own. It’s refreshing to see an experienced filmmaker swing for the fences, and with his latest Lee has hit a homerun.
What is Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things about? Is it about a young woman (Jessie Buckley) meeting her boyfriend’s (Jesse Plemons) parents? Is it about an old janitor (Guy Boyd) fantasizing about his youth and a lost love? Is it both, is it neither? While we could go down the very deep rabbit hole that is Kaufman’s narrative, what I took away were the emotions. I thought of love, loss, and of people dwelling in the nostalgia of their past while yearning for a better future. It is equal parts hilarious and terrifying, and by the end I was deeply moved. While the surreal nature may be a turn off for some, I embraced the fact that I had no idea where the story was going. Sometimes the best movies are the ones that require active participation from the audience. In this case, the reward is worth the effort.