Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Top 10 Films of 2020 So Far (and 10 More to Anticipate)

It’s the official halfway point of the year! It’s an unusual time in moviegoing history, of course, since most theaters remain closed and a number of film festivals have been cancelled. As a result, I’ve seen fewer films than I would have at this time other years – ninety, which is still a lot of movies. To celebrate this milestone and, more importantly, a strong slate of films that were in fact released, here are my top ten films of 2020 so far, as well as ten more that I saw at the Sundance Film Festival that have all been acquired and are expected to be released later this year. Additionally, don’t miss ten great films that I saw and ranked in 2019 that were officially released in 2020: “Olympic Dreams,” “Big Time Adolescence,” “Only,” “Judy and Punch,” “Yes, God, Yes,” “The Short History of the Long Road,” “Come As You Are,” “Standing Up, Falling Down,” “Troop Zero,” and “Driveways.”

Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)

1. Wendy

It’s been eight years since director Benh Zeitlin broke out with the astonishing “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and retelling the classic story of Peter Pan in an incredibly imaginative and wondrous way is a formidable use of his talents, which include an excellent selection of child actors.

2. Weathering with You

This Japanese animated film from GKIDS may look like a movie for kids, particularly as it follows a young girl with an unexplained power to control the weather, but it deals with sophisticated themes in its marvelous and mesmerizing portrayal of magic.

3. Corpus Christi

This Polish Oscar nominee for Best International Feature is an intriguing, captivating look at a man who feels a deep commitment to religion that he needs to act on despite the limitations set by his lengthy stint in prison.

4. Downhill

The American remake of the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure” might look more like a slapstick comedy, but its blend of uncomfortable humor and dramatic undertones makes for a wholly enjoyable experience.

5. Les Misérables

Not to be confused with the famous musical or its 2012 cinematic adaptation, this French Oscar nominee for Best International Feature feels even more timely now than it did upon its initial release, tackling police brutality and the pent-up sentiments of those who have been unfairly profiled and targeted.

6. And Then We Danced

This Swedish film presents an endearing love story embedded within a world dominated by a love for Georgian dance, a pull its protagonist feels as his family life and sexual orientation threaten to stand in the way of achieving his dreams. Its international success is a testament to the importance of its message, which many in Georgia attempted to stifle.

7. Aviva

There isn’t another film quite like this one, which blends dance and gender into an eye-popping combination, navigating the facets of personality typically attributed to male or female and using visual representations to display them. It’s a dizzying, beautiful ride that leaves much to be pondered even once it’s over.

8. Premature

This is a film that could have just been about another couple whose pairing is complicated by factors both within and beyond their control, but the sincerity with which it presents that story and the authenticity emanating from its performers make it so much more than that.

9. Saint Frances

Aimlessness has never felt quite so appealing, as this film’s main character is given opportunity after opportunity and usually does the bare minimum required. Its narrative is an endearing and occasionally surprising one, grasping humor and depth from interactions that might have been expected but still feel poignant and involving.

10. The Banker

Controversy over the rights to make this film and a subsequently delayed release meant less of a showcase of the trailblazing nature of the story it tells, featuring two Black men who figured out a creative way to get ahead in a society that kept telling them they couldn’t. Samuel L. Jackson is a particular delight.

And here are ten more films that may just be released before the end of 2020, or possibly next year. Keep an eye out for them.

1. Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan is extraordinary as a young woman who makes it her mission to expose the behavior of men who take advantage of women. It’s so much more than a simple revenge movie, full of biting comedy and an on-point emphasis that citing the worse behaviors of others is a weak and ineffective defense. Originally slated for release by Focus Features in April, new date TBD.

2. Herself

This Irish film begins violently, with a mother physically assaulted by her abusive husband during an attempt to run away with her young daughters. What ensues is an extremely moving and affirming tale of someone determined to take charge of her life, all too aware of the many impediments that stand in her way. Acquired by Amazon Studios.

3. Nine Days

This film posits a fascinating perspective on what it means to be alive, with one man auditioning a group of individuals for the chance to live, tasking them with close monitoring of other people’s existences on TV screens and rationalizing decisions and morals. It’s a stunning and intensely thought-provoking science-fiction take. Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics.

4. Palm Springs

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti make an absolutely fantastic pair in this hilarious comedy about an obnoxious wedding guest who accidentally brings the bride’s sister into his never-ending time loop. The performances and writing are equally enjoyable. This one will be available soonest – it’s coming to Hulu on July 10th.

5. Black Bear

A filmmaker leaves the city to spend a weekend at the country house of the couple that lives there, unaware that her presence will reveal unexplored issues in their relationship and darker questions about the significance of choices and the permanence of identity. Acquired by Momentum Pictures.

6. The Killing of Two Lovers

This film’s title indicates its protagonist’s boundless fury at his wife’s willingness to consider a relationship with another man when their marriage is clearly not working, but the film itself presents a much wider, sophisticated portrait of the elements of family and the challenges that must be overcome in difficult times. Acquired by The Exchange.

7. The 40-Year-Old Version

Though its title sounds just like Judd Apatow’s directorial debut, this black-and-white film written by, directed by, and starring Radha Blank couldn’t be more different. It’s about so many things, but primarily a struggling playwright determined to reinvent herself, facing critics and obstacles at every turn. Acquired by Netflix.

8. Minari

The winner of both the grand jury prize and audience award for the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance is an unassuming story about a Korean-American family that moves from California to rural Arkansas. It tackles themes of assimilation, productivity, and identity with the help of a tremendous cast. Produced by A24.

9. Ema

A normal film about two parents dealing with the fallout from an unsuccessful adoption experience might be compelling enough in its own right, but Chilean director Pablo Larraín frames this story in the context of music, with its title character frequently performing dance numbers that serve to convey her emotions. After a one-day-only online release on May 1st, Music Box Films will distribute at a later date.

10. Uncle Frank

This film starts as two interwoven stories, one featuring a young girl yearning to leave her sheltered, conservative South Carolina upbringing and the other centered on her Uncle Frank, whose life in New York City looks like nothing his family could ever imagine. Both are equally involving, and writer-director Alan Ball’s latest project deftly moves between comedy and drama. Acquired by Amazon Studios.

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