Thursday, January 7, 2021

My Year in Film - 2020 Favourites

In 2020, a lot of things were different. And so was my end of year review of films. Instead of the usual lengthy blog post, I did a series of instagram posts (reproduced here more or less unchanged) beginning with this here: "film of the year", only this year it is a collection of five films by Steve McQueen. Even before 2020, they were designed to blur the line between tv and film, as McQueen submitted them to festivals (some filmed in 35mm and 16mm) but wanted them to be as easily accessible as possible through the BBC and Amazon. In Switzerland through

But what's far more important: they may stand on their own, but you only get the full impact when you watch them in that order. Because McQueen counts on your remembering the background information provided by the films that came before.
Before I digress into a full blown review: McQueen is still a master of audiovisual storytelling that often requires no dialogue. He does not intrude, but shows us the humanity of so many characters.
There's a lot of era (and community) defining music, but hardly any musical score except for some Mica Levi magic. The filmmakers turn the Old Bailey into a church, let us experience a vintage house party and entertain us as much as they educate us.

If you're from the West Indian community in London, this may be the first time you see yourself and your friends on screen for that long. If (like me) you're from anywhere else, it's basically mandatory viewing. Because, as one character puts it, "education is the key..."

Favourite new releases

My favourite new releases of 2020 (many of them elsewhere released in 2019) in alphabetical order:
(* = Female director)

These are not necessarily the "best" films of the year, but the ones that impressed me the most in some way or another.

On the downside, I have only seen half of them in an actual cinema. On the upside - and that really surprises me - it is definitely the first time that more than half of my top ten were directed by women!
No animated film and no documentary has made the list.

Special Mentions

Although these films did not make my top ten, all of them are worth watching for several reasons. Two special mentions go to old favourites Spike Lee and Roy Andersson, the rest reflect my interest in color and lighting. Turns out that Netflix is the place for glorious black and white these days...

Cross Reactions between Revisited Films

Thanks to several analytical projects, I had an excuse to revisit a lot of favourite or at least interesting films in 2020.

Sometimes, I discover unintended similarities between unconnected films simply because I watch them within the same day or week. Thanks to such coincidental cross reactions I often see familiar movies in a different light.
Revisiting Todd Haynes' [SAFE] for a (canceled) lecture I not only found it to be his first masterpiece but also saw it as a great allegory - not for AIDS as is often suggested, but for our own time. Its disconnected protagonist, atmosphere, color concept and drone soundtrack suddenly made it a more realistic companion of THE NEON DEMON.

When I revisited both THE BIRDS and TAKE SHELTER for another canceled lecture about "fear + sound", I saw both films in a new way... For the first time, the café scene in THE BIRDS with all the different opinions about a looming unseen threat felt not funny but too close to home. I also noticed how much Jeff Nichols' film plays like a nightmare you might have after seeing the Hitchcock classic...


Great Films I Saw For The First Time in 2020

Here are some of my favourite older films I saw for the first time in 2020. The first three were on my imaginary must-see-list for many years - and still floored me!

Thanks to a recommendation by @mulmsie I caught up with LE TEMPS DU LOUP (TIME OF THE WOLF, 2003), one of the few Haneke films I knew nothing about.
Thanks to researching Morricone's music for a public lecture, I had a reason to watch classics like SACCO E VANZETTI (Montaldo, 1971) and guilty pleasures like the more preposterous Morricone-Tornatore-collaborations like THE BEST OFFER (2013). Speaking of preposterous premises: I also caught up with a few Kiyoshi Kurosawa movies.
Thanks to @mubi s Louis Malle selectrospective, I think I finally understood what makes those films tick. Special Mention goes to HUMAIN, TROP HUMAIN (1974) for making me watch how a Citroën car is built for 75 minutes without any notable commentary and not regretting any of it.

In the spirit of the first post about SMALL AXE, the biggest thank you has to go to the @criterionchannel for making seminal works of black cinema available to people outside the US!

Speaking of learning about black history: thanks to the National Theatre I enjoyed their production of "Small Island" including some bonus material on youtube.

Favourite TV Series

As sort of a blog bonus, the following were my favourite TV series of 2020. Since I usually watch TV pretty erratically (I don't really care when something is coming out), the list contains both old and new:

  • BOJACK HORSEMAN (final season, 2020)
  • FRIEDEN (Swiss Mini-Series, 2020)
  • KILLING EVE (season 1, 2018)
  • OZARK (seasons 1-3, 2017-20)
  • ROMAN D'ADOS 2002-2008 (2010) 
  • THE THICK OF IT (all 4 seasons, 2005-2012)
And somewhere in between theatre and tv, there was Simon McBurney's mindblowing stage performance THE ENCOUNTER (2015) designed for binaural headphones.

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