Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Taking On 2020 - Top Films So Far

Hard to believe that we have reached the halfway point of the year, though I guess anything is believable these days, am I right? Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week. Please, try the beef. And while you're at it, let me tell you about some of the best films I watched this year. While my Raw Numbers are not where I would like them to be, I was surprised when making this list that there were a number of tougher cuts to get down to ten. As usual, I track all the eligible entries (ones I did not see at a festival last year) on a running Letterboxd list if you want to see all the things in consideration or get an idea of what I've missed. The Virtual Theater experience has been super helpful in catching up with things that got pushed theatrically, and streaming services have also pumped out a lot of quality features this year. Of course, the biggest miss thus far is First Cow, which was set to open locally the week everything shut down. Anyway, how about the list?

10. The Trip To Greece

Michael Winterbottom's celebration of traveling, food, and meditation on mortality is what seems to be the final installment in the series, and finds Coogan and Brydon in strong form as they play to variations on the greatest hits of the series. The land and food are both filmed beautifully, and there's a central conceit built around them following Odysseus's path back home, which is a fun idea to build around and gives this trip a different type of purpose that gets explored in further detail throughout the film. And, probably most important to a comedy, it's funny.

9. Disappearance At Clifton Hill

While I saw Blow The Man Down and, personal favorite, Vast Of The Night last year, Disappearance At Clifton Hill is not completely out of place when looking at those two films. Much like the former, it's a modern noir that goes heavy on the plot, which is compelling on its own, but you get a strong central performance from Tuppence Middleton and surprisingly effective camerawork by Albert Shin. It would be easy to let the script do the heavy lifting, more so when the anchor of the film is working at such a high level, but the technical craft is what elevates this above just a solid thriller.

8. Emma.

Autumn de Wilde's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel has a tough job, as most adaptations of such time tested works do, especially ones that have been made and remade in various forms over the years. But what it gets right is the style of Austen's comedy, modernizing it just enough without losing the aspects that have made the novel a classic. The dialogue is sharp, Anya Taylor-Joy is completely captivating in the central role, and the film's visual aesthetic is marvelous in its use of color.

7. Onward

One of the things I enjoy about this halfway mark check in is that I get to write about things that will likely fall away by year's end. While Pixar's latest wouldn't be confused with an indie film, and it has a couple subplots that I think hurt the film, but when you push past all of that, kind of just take Ian's quest for a pretty good driving force, you get maybe Pixar's most purely successful and mature emotional exploration with Barley's story line. The animation, as one would expect, is polished, but there's one scene in particular that comes from such a raw, emotional place that it elevates the entire film.

6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Speaking of a scene doing a lot for a film, I'm sure there's plenty of writing about The Scene at the near center of Eliza Hittman's latest. A lot of faith is put in Sidney Flanigan to command the screen in this moment, especially after giving a performance that asks her to be incredibly detached a lot of the time, and she delivers with such force that it propels the film from that point until its conclusion. While the film is fairly straightforward from a plotting standpoint, there's a depth to the characters and the way everything is constructed that makes it one of the year's more hard hitting dramas.

5. The Assistant

The night I saw Kitty Green's The Assistant, I was actually supposed to be seeing a soon to be canceled showing of Yuasa's Ride Your Wave (a film I still haven't had a chance to see), which was fine in the sense that Green's film was high on my interest list, but not something I was able to go in to with the right frame of mind. Methodically paced, Green's exploration of silencing and power dynamics in the workplace leaves just enough gaps to keep the viewer engaging with the text without surrendering control of the narrative. It's not necessarily a film about answers, but, in reality, does any mirror have answers?

4. Da 5 Bloods

Switching to a much more lengthy production, Spike Lee's latest shows him grappling with ideas that he has been dealing with his entire career, but here you have Lee placing the present right alongside the past. You get some of that in BlacKkKlansman, but jumping between the two time periods lets the film engage with all the major ideas at the heart of it, and ties in with the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that Lee threads with a strong and uncompromising hand.

3. The Way Back

Perhaps the most surprising film on this list, even more than the Pixar, comes in the form of Gavin O'Connor's Ben Affleck vehicle. While it would be easy to fall in to the typical trap of a white guy saves urban youth, it (for better and worse) mostly uses the school portions as a backdrop that leaves a much more clear look at personal loss and grief. It's an, unsurprising, investigation of masculinity, but one that is largely uncompromising in its exploration that is propelled by an amazing performance from Affleck.

2. Shirley

From one amazing performance to another, Elizabeth Moss continues her streak of dominance in Josephine Decker's latest, a quasi-biopic that functions much more a take on a Gothic horror than a traditional exploration. Decker's camera, a wandering style that seems at odds with the traditional biopic, works perfectly with Moss's take on Shirley Jackson, keeping the viewer always guessing exactly how in control of everything Jackson is, and how much is being filled in by the moment.

1. Weathering With You

Makoto Shinkai's follow up to the fantastic Your Name earns the top spot by once again blending the supernatural with the emotional. Dressed in beautiful visuals, and some breathtaking sequences, Shinkai's latest soars when it focuses on the connections between its characters. While not as hard hitting as the previous film, this one still struck me as a remarkable accomplishment both in scope and execution, with a heart at the center that rivals the most dramatic live action films of the year.

And that brings us to the end of the first half of the year, at least what I was able to get to during the first six months. So what do I need to catch up before I finalize the list in another six months? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!

Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also, I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at twitter.com/r_thor1.

And if you want to know what I'm watching, listening to, playing , and reading you can follow my tumblr account!

© 2020 Richard James Thorne

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