Sunday, March 14, 2021

jeffery berg's top 10 films of 2020

Here goes my top 10 films of 2020. 

An overriding theme of these, and many of the films of the year, are characters staking out anew in the midst of societal and institutional corruption and chaos. Many of these films have a distinctive style and look (three happen to be in black and white), soundscape, and a tight, individualistic lens.



I was drawn to the story and striking look (filmed in black and white by cinematographer Andrey Naydenov) of legendary Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky's retelling of the Novocherkassk massacre. Through the plight of a stalwart party member (Julia Vysotskaya, in one of the many compelling turns by female actors this year) in search of her missing daughter, the piece becomes more complicated and haunting.



One of the more unsung films of the year, Residue shows the violence of white gentrification of black neighborhoods, as a screenwriter wrestles with the past and unrecognizable present of his D.C. roots. I was really into director Merawi Gerima's use of sound and visuals to create an engrossing portrait of unease and memory.



Perfectly-plotted, visually remarkable revenge escapade. It feels its from a place of love for movies and pop, without feeling gimmicky and aloof from its salient core subject matter. Many clever films like this one can hit hard on the first watch but lose steam on subsequent viewings, but Emerald Fennell's picture becomes more layered and interesting in afterthought. 



Compelling American dream drama of a Korean family in rural late-80s Arkansas, told in a gentle, moving way by Lee Isaac Chung. The ensemble cast is very strong, as is the lush score by Emile Mosseri.



Another relatively unsung gem of the year. Set in the Chicago burbs, Kelly O'Sullivan's acting and witty, observant script are excellent in a portrayal of a nanny's complicated relationships, including a new friendship with the 6-year old girl (Ramona Edith Williams) she's in charge of.



A daring, delirious vision of venomous Hollywood told through the story of Herman J . Mankiewicz completing the script of Citizen Kane. Highlights are the immaculate crafts of David Fincher's crew, the rich cast and supporting players, and Fincher's late father's (Jack Fincher) bubbly, electric script.



An ebb / flow and slow unraveling of a friendship told with wry, deft care by Dan Sallitt and the film's two leads Tallie Medel and Norma Kuhling. Time flits by and wry insights abound in the perfectly-calibrated dialogue.



Quite simply Time is an extraordinary documentary of the effects of a man's incarceration on a wife (Fox Rich) and her family. Garrett Bradley's film focuses on the painful minutia within the bureaucracies of a corrupt system--sometimes the outcomes of lives ticking by in the length of a phone call. 



Early on in the year, I watched this gripping tale by Eliza Hittman of a young woman's (Sidney Flanigan) travels from Pennsylvania to New York City to get an abortion, and never forgot it.  



It feels a bit anticlimactic to have this at the top spot, as its gotten plenty of praise, but I found this humanistic movie to be extremely potent. A mesmerizing look at the real lives of nomads, told through the perspective of Frances McDormand's amalgamation of characters. McDormand is amazing, per usual, but perhaps more grounded and complicated than ever here, and Chloé Zhao's direction is rich and sensitive. I look forward to seeing cinematographer Joshua James Richards' work here in a theater one day.

honorable mention


This is just one sliver in Steve McQueen's (one of my favorite directors of the young 21st-Century so far) Small Axe series. Ultimately I considered the collection more miniseries than movies, and didn't want to bump any films off the list, but there was no scene I saw this year (or in many years) as electrifying as the dance sequence set to Janet Kay's "Silly Games." I watched this truly immersive, out-of-this-world moment on a laptop for the New York Film Festival in a time where dancing in groups wasn't (and is still not quite yet) possible.

other notable films of 2020 (in order of preference):

A White, White Day, Crip Camp, The Assistant, Ammonite, A Sun, Driveways, The 40-Year-Old-Version, Let Them All Talk, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Wild Goose Lake, Sibyl, The Truth, Spontaneous, Possessor, La Llorona, Collective, Kajillionaire, Nova Lituania, First Cow, Sorry We Missed You, Alone, Boys State, Impetigore, The Rental, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, Dick Johnson is Dead, Black Bear, One Night in Miami..., Athlete A, A Secret Love, Corpus Christi, And Then We Danced, An Easy Girl, Sound of Metal, Another Round, The Wolf House, Soul, Da 5 Bloods, Shirley, The Inheritance, Babyteeth, Premature, The Invisible Man, I’m No Longer Here, The Mole Agent, Pieces of a Woman, Dark and the Wicked, The Nest, Zombi Child, Goldie, The Calming, The Painter and the Thief, Silence & Darkness, Bacurau, Miss Juneteenth, Happy Old Year, Beanpole, Jezebel, Vitalina Varela, The Disciple, Relic, Welcome to Chechnya, The Turning, Host, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, Deerskin, The Swerve, My Octopus Teacher, I Carry You With Me, The Midnight Sky, Fauna, The Vast of Night, The Whistlers, She Dies Tomorrow, Howard, Circus of Books, Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on ‘The Exorcist,' The Trial of the Chicago 7, Disclosure, Rewind, The Life Ahead, Emma., Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin - ***

A look back at my top 10 films of 2019 (which feels like ages ago)

-Jeffery Berg

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