It was a strange year, but still I’ve seen a lot of films and plenty of good ones. I think the end of the list is a little weaker than last year’s, but I decided it was better to keep the number and anyway I like every film and they are worth seeing. As usual the criteria is films seen for the first time through this year that get their first public screening in the past three years. The positions don’t matter much, I certainly like 32nd more than 52nd but I’m not sure if I like it better than the 34th, so they are more organized by zones than positions.
First this year’s shorts: my favorite one was Joshua R. Troxler’s If You Could Go Back, I Would See Her. A fascinating investigation on digital images through some essential elements. Another ten shorts that I loved: Corman’s Eyedrops Got Me Too Crazy (Ivan Cardoso), La France Contre les Robots (Jean-Marie Straub), Garden City Beautiful (Ben Balcom), Now, at Last (Ben Rivers), On an Island (José Luis Guerin), Personal Growth (Maximilian Le Cain, Vicky Langan), República (Grace Passô), Sebastian and Jonas Leaving the Party (Ken Jacobs), A Story From Africa (Billy Woodberry), The White Death of the Black Wizard (Rodrigo Ribeiro).
100) Mulher Oceano (Djin Sganzerla)
Mirror images of feminine existences, two forms of fiction to imagine giving a body to live in the world.
99) The Way Back (Gavin O’Connor)
I always enjoy how Gavin O’Connor treats the most well-thread of materials with such seriousness.
98) Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi)
Middle East as a post-colonial disaster as seen through European eyes. A lot of the film’s power come for arriving later and dealing with the consequences of its violence.
97) Ana/Ana. Sem Título (Lúcia Murat)
Lucia Murat moving very well between fiction and historical documents to use art to allow a history of trauma and resistance from the Latin America left to echoes today.
96) Freaky (Christopher London) and Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews)
In a year mainstream cinema took a vacation, these are two of the very few good movies. Love and Monsters has great creature design (it is a rare film with creative special effects) and the dog is wonderful. For a horror diretor Freaky’s London doesn’t have the best control of thriller mechanics, but his a great eye for concepts and his Young characters, some clever ideas and Vince Vaughn playing a young teenager has some inspired moments. A very enjoyable horror movie Face/Off.
94) True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
Kawase applying her direct and elemental cinema for family melodrama.
93) Skylines (Liam O’Donnell)
The good version of all those blockbusters that receive far too much media attention: fast, cheap. Offbeat, imaginative and very conscious of its own absurdities and the choreography work is very good.
92) Spring Blossom/Seize Printemps (Suzanne Lindon)
Teen French cinema between the memory of other films and the experience of the young director.
91) First Love (Takashi Miike)
Miike at his most mainstream highlighting how he became an increasingly better craftsman in the last decade.
90) Tesla (Michael Almereyda)
Less a biography of Nikola Tesla but a commentary on American myths about invention and enterprise.
89) Weathering with You (Makoto Shinkai)
Young love against the environment. As usual in Shinkai movies the animation is worth it by itself.
88) A Mulher de Luz Própria (Sinai Sganzerla)
Not really a profile of Helena Ignez, but an essay film about women artists, performing and owning their own image.
87) A Shape of Things to Come (J.P. Sniadecki, Lisa Malloy)
Alienation in a natural world in a very patient portrait film.
86) The Day of the Destruction (Toshiaki Toyoda)
Japan keeps imagining its malaise through monster movies.
85) Circumstantial Pleasures (Lewis Klahr)
Six musical movements applying aesthetic pressure to traces of American signifiers. It nearly gave me an anxiety attack.
84) Samurai Marathon (Bernard Rose)
Bernard Rose goes to Japan to make a very oddball samurai film that as usual highlights his formal control.
83) Last Letter (Shinji Iwai)
An Iwai experiment remaking in Japan the same movie he did in China two years ago, this one is more evocative and bittersweet and as usual he is a master at the art of epistolary romance.
82) Ride Your Wave (Masaaki Yuasa)
Another Japanese animation that is set apart how the very singular animation helps establish the relationship between the main character and the world.
81) Leap (Peter Chan)
Chinese ideological contradictions in a film about four decades of the country’s women’s volleyball program.
80) Um Dia com Jerusa (Viviane Ferreira)
A monument for Lea Garcia in a film about shared histories and their permanence.
79) Shine Your Eyes/Cidade Passaro (Matias Mariani)
On living in São Paulo, what the city does to us and the stories once can tell from it.
78) Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (Jia Zhang-ke)
Jia Zhang-ke uses literature to look at himself and his relationship with his province, a place and its time.
77) Genus Pan (Lav Diaz)
More studies on Filipino inherent fascism from Lav Diaz. The horror of the open road.
76) Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley)
Normalcy rotten from within.
75) The Dark and the Wicked (Bryan Bertino)
On principle, I’m not a big fan of one note very serious recent horror movies, but I make an exception for something this mean. A general malaise of family rot taken to its logical extreme.
74) Underwater (William Ebank)
The unknown just outside the frame and the tactile movement inside it.
73) Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (Gu Xiaogang)
Characters imprisoned on pictorialism and how they negotiate moving through it.
72) Yãmĩyhex, the Women-spirit/Yãmĩyhex, as Mulheres-espírito (Sueli Maxakali, Isael Maxakali)
A strong desire for fiction to center the world it is rendering.
71) S01eo3 (Kurt Walker)
To live on digital images. On the communities we create.
70) Summertime (Carlos López Estrada)
On false american utopias. Like many musicals, one sings to hide how desperate one truly are.
69) Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
Less a dramatic adaptation than a series of annotations on Alcott’s novel and its possibilities today and very successful on those terms.
68) Generations (Lynne Siefert)
The use of places in a post industrial economy.
67) Red Post on Escher Street (Sion Sono)
As usual on Sono’s movies about filmmaking, the industry and exploitation goes together, but on this one things are desperate yet funny.
65) Cade Edson? (Dácia Ibiapina) and Entre Nós Talvez Estejam Multidões (Pedro Maia de Brito, Aiano Bemfica)
Two portrait documentaries about occupations and resistance, two different ways to imagine political action.
64) In The Dusk (Sharunas Bartas)
The emptiness of Lithuanian life in the immediate post WWII going from the austere to the physical.
63) Alice et le Maire (Nicolas Pariser)
How to give form to a discussion on the practice of political power.
62) The Year of Discovery/El año del descubrimiento (Luis López Carrasco)
Politics and history at the bar table.
61) Isabella (Matias Piñeiro)
A more introspective Piñeiro, but still packed with great scenes and as usual Maria Villar and Agustina Muñoz are very good.
60) This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese)
Living at the outskirts of a process of modernization. The lead character is wonderful and the care with framing and lightning is visible, but it interests me less from this plastic qualities than the relationship it established with the place .
59) I’m Your Woman (Julia Hart)
In the dark as tension rises. A very precise conceptual thriller.
58) Ordem Moral (Mário Barroso)
The mix of attention to theatre of things and stripped down staging that often makes the precision of Portuguese drama. Some great work from Maria de Medeiros.
57) Voices in the Wind (Nobuhiro Suwa)
As often in Suwa’s work it is a movie that complete erasure the distance towards the drama. A near unbearable film about grief and loss.
56) Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu)
The horror of good manners. It is a very 21st century ghost story that longs for its very 19th century horrors. A contradiction, an exasperation, but a fascinating political object in both how transparent and impossible it can be.
55) Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari)
The labor necessary to keep cinema alive and the camarie of those who keep it going.
54) Filmfarsi (Ehsan Khoshbakht)
An essay film on pre revolution Iranian mainstream cinema now banned and only available on bootleg VHS copies. As a Brazilian, rhis hits hards when I think about the Cinemateca Brasileira situation. On the permanence of images,what they say about their time and their political power.
53) Fire Will Come/O Que Arde (Olivier Laxe)
Elemental fiction about the relationship between man and nature.
52) Punk Samurai Slash Down (Gakuryû Ishii)
Two years ago when I included Bitter Honey in my list I said Gakuryû Ishii was getting mellow with age, so he decided to do this send-off of samurai films to show that he might be on his 60, but remains the same young punk.
51) My Sweet Grappa Remedies (Akiko Ohku)
The subjectivity and the places and things around. On self-discovery and arriving at the world. A film equal parts graceful and radical.
50) I Was At Home, But… (Angela Schanelec)
Ozu reimagined. A filmmaking of tricks on filling and unfilling the frame. That long conversation midway through Is magical.
49) Rogue City/Bronx (Olivier Marchal)
Cop turned polar auteur Olivier Marchal would love to be called “the French Michael Mann” and he has early Mann novelistic sense down if little of his romanticism. Great cast, great shootouts and very well imagined world of suspended law and violence of state police. This was along with Spike Lee’s film the only relevant movies Netflix put out this year despite the algorithm did its best to hide it.
48) Magic Lantern (Amir Naderi)
The underrated Iranian filmmaker Amir Nederi back in the US making a remake of Preminger’s Laura in the realm of digital images.
47) Bad Hair (Justin Simien)
A terrific monster movie about social roles and images that makes great use of the kind of off-putting and violent image that the genre can offer for political cinema.
46) The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack)
Texturas do trabalho industrial americano.
45) On Paradise Road (James Benning)
Benning talking with himself through lockdown.
44) Spellbound/Les Envoutés (Pascal Bonitzer)
The alluring power of death.
43) There Will Be No More Night/Il n’y Aura Plus de Nuit (Éléonore Weber)
When the camera is a war weapon. We’ve been in a virtual war period since Iraq I, but few attempts to deal with the actual horror of rendering real lives into an artificial proposition have achieve such a chilling effect than what Éléonore Weber gets here by using actual US/France army footage surveying Middle East.
42) Telemundo (James Benning)
Watching people watching other movies in the middle of it finding an essay on power and how those relations are perceived by us.
41) Liberté (Albert Serra)
Albert Serra playing at Jesus Franco.
40) The King of Staten Island (Judd Apatow)
Apatow always wanted to make a James L. Brooks’ movie and this is probably the closest he will get. Moments of behavioral truth caught in the middle of a rather conventional narrative. The fire station scenes are great.
39) Chico Rei Among Us/Chico Rei Entre Nós (Joyce Prado)
A reaction against erasure. About the many ways Brazilian official history follows a whitewashing process that systematizes this erasure of Black roles through our history. It is a film that is very good at finding the lunks among religion, economy and race throughout Brazil’s history.
38) Fanny Lye Deliver’d (Thomas Clay)
A mix of liberation tale and horror western. Paganism as a way for freedom. Director Thomas Clay is very conscious about British horror film traditions and makes good use of folk horror (as well as multiple echoes of Witchfinder General) while rethinking them through a brutalist register.
37) War/Guerra (José Oliveira, Marta Ramos)
A war film with strong Samuel Fuller influence. About the permanence of the colonial wars from the point of view of the colonizer. A game between the filmmakers and actor José Lopes. It is also a film about the distance between the colonial power and current Portugal that often feels like a very late answer to Miguel Gomes’ Tabu nostalgia.
36) Oh Mercy/Roubaix, Une Lumiere (Arnaud Desplechin)
Arnaud Desplechin loves to tell stories, it is what always moves him, on this one a little crime story on small town France. The meeting of two routines of crime investigation and the bitterness and resentment of small town life and how in cinema they are expressed through the same game of repetition and performance. And there’s Roschidy Zem at the center, as usual one of cinema’s best screen presences.
35) Língua Franca (Isabel Sandoval)
The fraught relationship between self and the world and the competitive impulses of giving oneself and withdrawal and the different ways those play depending on who you are given a lot of careful thought and visual imagination by Sandoval. A very strong film both in how it establishes the attractions and faers of its main character, a Filipino trans woman living illegally in the USA.
34) Yesterday There Were Strange Things in the Sky /Ontem Havia Coisas Estranhas no Céu (Bruno Risas)
Brazilian 2020 ghost story: just moving along with the certainty that everything will work out eventually despite all the decay and increasing breakdown because there should be something just outside the frame (perhaps a flying saucer) that will suddenly save us. Extra points for being the most São Paulo movie anyone has made in São Paulo in ages, a fascinating portrait of place and ways of living long left behind by standard discourse.
33) Sportin’ Life (Abel Ferrara)
It is a diary about 2020 according to Abel Ferrara and so a great film essay about how life feeds cinema.
32) Gloria Mundi (Robert Guédiguian)
Twilight of European social democratic project. A film of great moments even if I’m not sure the symbolic ending comes off quite as Guédiguian hopes to, but there’s this scene between Ariane Ascaride and Gérard Maylan getting a ride home that is a small marvel, the horror of living acknowledge there between those two actors (whom the filmmakers has been filming together for around 40 years) that cinema rarely gets to.
31) CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI (Yuji Shimamura)
Na essay on killing. An action movie based on pure inaction in action. The most famous battle of Miyamoto Musashi when he killed over 500 imagined in a single shot of around 75 minutes far from spectacular, Japanese action star Tak Sagaguchi attacking a never ending number of extras. A conceptual action film somewhat between a videogame and art film.
30) Let Him Go (Thomas Bezucha)
A neowestern about ownership, not of a place or things as usual in the genre, but of people, in this case a 3 year old child whose grandparents decide to recover from his mom and her new family. One of the high points of this year narrative cinema, of agonizing tension as one Waits for the train to just go off the rails. Two distinct halves, the first in the minor key of aging marriage negotiations and the back half very violent. A film with plenty to say about the intersection between territorialism and violence. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are both wonderful.
29) First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
More tales from frontier life by Kelly Reichardt. Going back to western as American cinema origin myth and trying to imagine other ways of living.
28) Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
Journey to the guts of imperialism. The heart of darkness remains undefeated. Like most Lee’s films it is a proudly incoherent text, full of digressions, more interested in put together questions than solve them. It is incapable of escaping the imperialist realities that produce it, but making fascinating moves along the way. It is not everyday someone set to do a maximalist Fullerian epic. Great pulp. And there’s a very inspired Delroy Lindo performance.
27) Phantom Ride (Stephen Broomer)
The possibilities of the open road and the weight of the past that haunts it.
26) L. Cohen (James Benning)
More or less like reading a Greil Marcus essay about Cohen as some myth-poetic figure lost on American landscape.
25) Alone (John Hyams)
A terrific minimalist thriller by one of current genre cinema better formalists. The overwhelming physicality is what really sets it apart: steel, nature, bodies, everything here weights a lot. The only flaw Alone has is that the first act is such a good short film. an imaginative rework of Spielberg’s Duel for current paranoias, that the remaining movie can’t quite sustain it, but Hyams gives his best shot.
24) Siberia (Abel Ferrara)
An abrasive journey to the end of self with great accumulative power. Physical cinema of escaping na original sin at the end of times in a remarkable work of moving through negotiations, tasks and existence by Willem Dafoe.
23) Un soupçon d’amour (Paul Vecchiali)
Time, theatre and the specifics of drama. Roles one play and the ways the film image accommodate them.
22) Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)
The origins and consequences of poison. A terrific paranoid thriller of privilege ruined and the uncertainty about our future.
21) Cabeça de Nego (Déo Cardoso)
First rate political teen movie. One of Brazilian cinema’s smartest takes about our democracy who it covers and who It doesn’t . And the movement from didacticism to convulsion is very strong. A film that knows how to set the scene for discourse and allow it goes as far as it can.
20) Red Moon Tide/Lúa Vermella (Lois Patiño)
In a great year for Lovercraftian nightmares, Red moon Tide was the best one. When Armando de Ossorio meets the contemporary semi documental experimental cinema. Part a look at a Spanish seaside community, part an exercise in imagining its difficulties through the openings of a cinema with taste for the mythic. Patiño’s talento for the evocative put to very good use.
19) My Donkey, My Lover and I/Antoinette dans les Cévennes (Caroline Vignal)
A self-discovery “westerne” in which Laura Calamy finds out that between man and donkey, it is always better to pick the donkey. Very funny and directed with a loto f care by Vignal, especially her control of time and space. Calamy is great and so is the donkey. Mainstream cinema at its best, it sounds easy, but it isn’t.
18) Tommaso (Abel Ferrara)
An exile tale from a man who should long be dead: his world, his ghosts, his hopes. Sort of the flip side of Blackout’s addiction story which it refers to multiple times. When one seeks damnation through a whole life what happens when one reaches the other side? Ferrara and Dafoe again, mixing together in a narrative very much in the first person. A confession of sins, but about the present and not the past. A film about surviving.
17) Sertânia (Geraldo Sarno)
The last Cinema Novo movie. Sertão imagined throughout history and what remains. a study of light and place, the violence of bodies and its imagination.
16) Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Turner Ross, Bill Ross IV)
Bar as a film space. What is strong here is less the suggestion of documentary surface, which is certainly very credible, but the power of the feelings expressed. The mix of elegy for a place and the weight it brings with it. The figure of the bar patron through film history is recognized, bohemian life as freedom, but also its neurotic charge. The film crafts through those contrasts a very rich image pushed by the way the Ross manages to suggest truth in its fictional portrait.
15) The Whistlers/La Gomera (Corneliu Porumboiu)
I like Porumboiu, but The Whistlers was one of my most pleasant surprises of the year as I just expect such an evolving and well-thought neo noir from him. It is an update of 70s crime film. A movie about how Cold War paranoia was canalized to the dog eat dog world of United European and the role cinema plays to facilitate it.
14) Farewell Song (Akihiko Shiota)
On the act of ending things, a musical about expressing oneself outside of music. Of the thin limite between youth and adulthood, the kind of film Akihiko Shiota always did great.
13) Undine (Christian Petzold)
Petzold’s love for fiction, his place and his actors is in peak form. He remains one of contemporary cinema’s last classicists if by that one means a certain disposition towards his material and how to express it through images. His cinema is constantly haunted by old forms, tales, images but it is worth interrogating how they are reconstructed. Old myths and how they resonate in the modern city.
12) The Man in the Woods (Noah Buschel)
A study on the problems of nostalgia. One of the few genuine political American films of the past years thinking about the regressive appeal of the past in very current terms. As usual Buschel has a theatrical very artificial style that his own and his big cast has a lot of pleasure with his dialogue.
11) All Hands on Deck/À l’abordage! (Guillaume Brac)
Very low on conflict and high on possibility as it fits a vacation film. Brac’s art is so simple to look effortless based on create a comfortable world to let his young cast loose. And what wonderful young actors did he find out. It brings to mind 80s Rohmer, but without the hand of God to push his characters, but only their own urges.
10) It Feels So Good (Haruhiko Arai)
Cinema of bodies in eruption. About disappearing into another body until the Earth trembles. Director Haruhiko Arai is a screenwriter and critic who started his career with Koji Wakamatsu and Masao Adachi around 50 years ago and he has worked with many important Japanese filmmakers since including one of my favorite 70s ones, Tatsumi Kumashiro, and It Feels So Good is very close in spirit to one of his artier pinkus. Two great performances and some remarkable work with screen space.
9) Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
Eliza Hittman’s biggest talent is a knack to paint a radical subjectivity from inside a naturalist tableaux. A filmo f constant negotiation, in which every political talking point (it is a movie about a working class young woman trying to get an abortion) filtered through action, through the constant fight of every situation. Polítics of living.
8) The Salt of Tears/Le Sel des Lermes (Philippe Garrel)
Garrel doing a Rohmer film in some ways, a moral proposition out of a series of sexual encounters told from a benign but harsh distance that is happy to just observe the clashes and destruction. It is really a film of fatherhood and the failing to passing wisdom, the closet Garrel’s comes to make an old man’s film which might explain the violent reaction by some sections of current criticism to in love with affirming its own trendy irrelevance. And as usual every gesture is captured with beaty and weight that belong to Garrel only.
6) É Rocha e Rio, Negro Leo (Paula Gaitan) and Light on Tropics/Luz dos Tropicos (Paula Gaitan)
Paula Gaitan gives us two gifts this year, 7 hours between them and centuries of history. Light on Tropics is mythopoetic walkabout through the idea of the Americas as space beyond the colonial prison. Epic of rediscovery, cinema for a new world. É Rocha e Rio, Negro Léo is a conversation with her son in law Negro Léo, one of Brazil’s best young musicians, about Brazil, being Brazilian, 2020. A meeting on a Sunday afternoon, as radical in its own way as the previous film, especially in how it allows him to formulate a thought with no interruptions, a radiography of a country and its project like few. Films of civilization.
5) Days (Tsai Ming-liang)
Since announcing his “retirement” around the time of Stray Dogs, Tsai Ming-liang free from the needs of pretending to deal with narrative has been concentrating more and more in the physical presence and face of his muse Lee Kang-sheng. Days is in such way a culmination of a decade long increasing austere aesthetic investigation. Filmmaking of existence, of acting as a way of being at its best.
4) The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo)
Hong Sang-soo and Kim Min-hee keep doing tremendous work together. Neste filme criando uma série de encontros para uma mulher aproveitando alguns dias longe do marido, um filme de grande perspectiva de história e de promessa de futuro. Sobre a necessidade de se reinventar para seguir em frente.
2) City Hall (Frederick Wiseman) and Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)
Two másters of cinema in their 90s coming from opposite perspectives and exploring the fascination and limits of, respectively, public service and the idea of law and order. Two films that continue long term projects (Eastwood’s study of contemporary American heroism, and Wiseman’s of civilizing institutions) that remain very rewarding. I’d say Eastwood and Wiseman are the two greatest American filmmakers of the last half century so it is great to see them in peak form.
1) Love Affair(s)/Les choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait (Emmanuel Mouret)
Late on Love Affair(s) a minor character tells about his experience playing a lover for an afternoon, and hoe playing that role is a memory that haunts him, how that pretend relationship (no actual bonds, no concessions) seemed more alive than his own marriage. It is sort of Mouret’s film in one single moment: all those love tales sliding into each other, all frustrating, but haunted by the promise of what they could had been. Mouret love tell stories and he loves romantic delusions and how they met. This film is the result of two decades of consideration and development of a style by one of best figures of contemporary narrative cinema. Plus Emile Dequenne and Vincent Macagaine plays a former couple, and that might be as close to na ideal casting as current cinema can conceive.