What a weird year. It’s the first time I saw none of my Top 10 on a screen bigger than my television. I’m not gonna go into how the pandemic affected everyone’s life in tragic and miserable ways (Borat’s already got that covered), but I will say I had some extra time this year. Which means that if you’re not a fan of the written word and prefer the audio/visual medium (let’s face it, if you’re a movie lover, you definitely prefer the latter), I’ve created a montage of all my cinematic favorites of the year.
You can find the Video Top 10 list here:
For the rest of you, I just hope you’re doing okay. Hang in there. We’ll get through it together. In the meantime, here’s some films that could help take the edge off.
10. Another Round
What a life! A group of friends decide to live (a little) drunk at all times. It sounds like the premise of a broad comedy but Thomas Vinterberg’s direction and the performances ground the material into an empathetic look at the male midlife crisis. Mads Mikkelsen, usually known for his villainous turns in blockbusters, is especially good as the main character who’s trapped in a life that he wants to escape. Lastly, brace yourself for the absolute best last five minutes of a movie this year.
In all the hubbub around the release of Tenet over the summer, it was easy to forget that it was actually a movie (y’know…with a plot, dialogue and characters) instead of a lightning rod for conversation about the future of cinema. Is it the last movie we might get to see in a movie theater surrounded by strangers? Is it a referendum on the artistic merit of male auteur filmmakers? Is it any good? The answer to that last one is a resounding yes. Christopher Nolan’s use of visual trickery (namely playing footage in reverse) was simple yet completely satisfying to see on such a large scale. It was the first (and far from the last) movie I tremendously regretted not seeing on the big screen.
8. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
In all the weird art that came out during the pandemic (from movies imitating Zoom meetings to SNL sketches imitating Zoom meetings to actual Zoom meetings that go on so long they feel like a Polish Oscar contender), who could have imagined that the most trenchant piece of art would be a Borat movie? It makes a certain amount of sense. It was an extremely weird, crazy year so why not have it documented by a weird, crazy fictional journalist. This time, Borat’s joined by his daughter (an incredibly engaging Maria Bakalova) and the two of them travel across America, creating a stunningly odd time capsule of a film.
When you think of David Fincher, serial killers and the dogged police officers who chase them usually spring to mind. However, he’s got his sentimental side, too (just look at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button!). Mank was written by his late father, Jack Fincher, and contains a wistful sense of melancholy throughout. Gary Oldman is exceptional as the titular screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz, and his scenes with Amanda Seyfried’s Marion Davies are endearingly sweet. Mix that with elegant production design and gorgeous black and white photography and Fincher’s created a world I wish I could briefly visit (I’m certainly not clever enough to hang out with Mank for very long).
A touching, thoughtful look at the life of an artist (a jazz pianist played by Jamie Foxx), Soul manages to find humor and, dare I say it, soul in the little things. Its depiction of New York City and the afterlife are inventive and beautiful in equal measure. Also, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross mixed with the jazz compositions of Jon Batiste give the movie a bold musical identity.
5. La Llorona
Is it a horror movie? An urgent call for action about acknowledging past human rights abuses? A feminist reckoning against powerful misogynists whose time is at an end? Guilty on all counts. María Mercedes Coroy is appropriately offputting as a strange woman who comes to work as a maid in a house besieged by protesters. Beautiful cinematography and a spooky narrative combine to create the year’s most atmospheric film.
4. The Trial of the Chicago 7
It’s always worth calling out an actor or actress who appears multiple times on this list. This year, Sacha Baron Cohen is Brian Bolt’s 2020 Cinematic MVP, here playing the irreverent Abbie Hoffman. But he’s just one of the many terrific cast members in the best ensemble of the year. Needless to say, Aaron Sorkin’s script is remarkably good. I much prefer him working in the Big Important Issue mode, talking about ideals like Truth, Justice, and Equality instead of explaining the odds of winning a poker game (looking at you, Molly’s Game).
3. Love and Monsters
Talk about a good movie being buried by the pandemic. Half dystopian creature-feature and half coming-of-age comedy, Love and Monsters is filled with clever riffs on familiar genre conventions. The tone is extremely well-balanced, delivering laughs and suspense in equal measure, all while adding plenty of practical effects to make the digital monsters more realistic. What starts out as a seemingly one-note Walking Dead parody (complete with Michael Rooker!) turns into an incredibly good-natured story of a boy just trying to find romance in a world of tentacled beasties.
2. First Cow
A movie that’s seemingly made for just me. It’s a story about a man who makes biscuits and everyone loves his biscuits. Is it also a tale that’s sneakily about how capitalism ruins everyone’s life? Sure, but it’s really about friendship, a sweet cow, and, lest we forget, perfectly golden, crispily textured, fantastically fluffy biscuits.
1. Promising Young Woman
Easily the year’s best script and performance. Carey Mulligan is truly astonishing as Cassie, an avenging angel who’s out to wreak havoc on the men who’ve wronged her. Or is she? The story contains delicious twists and turns that are too good to spoil here. Suffice it to say that Emerald Fennell’s acid-infused script and candy-colored direction announces the year’s most exciting new cinematic voice.
And lastly, here’s the only Oscar ballot that matters. Look on, ye mighty, and despair.
Will Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7
Should Win: Promising Young Woman
Although Nomadland’s the frontrunner, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the movie’s a little too miserable for Oscar voters. Trial is the perfect feel-good candidate that’s also a good movie.
Will Win: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
Should Win: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Zhao seems to have this one locked up this year, but I’d love to see Fennell upset. Promising is filled with her excellent taste in every frame, from the superb costuming to the perfect casting.
Will Win: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Gary Oldman, Mank
Boseman’s pretty undeniable in Ma Rainey’s, I just wish the movie was better. Oldman gets to deliver dozens of bon mots in Mank and does so with self-assured gusto. It’s too bad he’s recently won for Darkest Hour (not a great flick) since that’ll probably work against him here.
Will Win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Should Win: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
In a just world, Mulligan finally gets her Oscar for a tour-de-force performance. I will accept no other outcome.
Best Supporting Actor:
Will Win: LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
Should Win: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Paul Raci is astounding in Sound of Metal but it would be very cool if Stanfield could add the phrase “Academy Award Winner” to the front of his name.
Best Supporting Actress:
Will Win: Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
Should Win: Amanda Seyfried, Mank
I’d love to see Seyfried win here but Youn is really terrific in a role that could’ve easily been one-note.
Best Original Screenplay:
Will Win: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Should Win: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
Again, I will accept no other outcome.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Will Win: Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, The Father
Should Win: Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, The Father
The story structure is compelling and the dialogue gives Hopkins the opportunity for an incredible showcase.
Best Animated Feature:
Will Win: Soul
Should Win: Soul
Wolfwalkers is really the only other competition here, but this year, Pixar made a beautiful and touching movie.
Best Animated Short:
Will Win: Burrow
Should Win: Burrow
No stop motion this year. Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I’ll go with Burrow, I guess. It was cute.
Will Win: Joshua James Richards, Nomadland
Should Win: Erik Messerschmidt, Mank
The cinematography of Nomadland is the best thing about it, but Mank’s gorgeous black and white photography is my preference.
Best Film Editing:
Will Win: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen, Sound of Metal
Should Win: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen, Sound of Metal
This one might go to Trial for its flashback editing structure, but I’m going to go with Sound of Metal, which used its editing to really put the audience in the main character’s headspace.
Best International Feature Film
Will Win: Another Round
Should Win: Another Round
La Llorona should really be here but, in its absence, Another Round would be a delightful win.
Best Documentary Feature:
Will Win: Collective
Should Win: Collective
It’s an agreeable bunch of nominees and as much as I want to see The Mole Agent’s Sergio putter up to the awards stage, Collective filled me with righteous anger and that’s usually a sign that it’s a winner. Bonus points for the Romanian sports writers for reminding me so much of the Millenium office in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Will Win: Do Not Split
Should Win: Do Not Split
A real boots-on-the-ground depiction of pro-democracy protesting that made China censor the Oscar coverage. I could see voters going for A Concerto is a Conversation for something more feel-good, but Do Not Split is fiery filmmaking.
Best Production Design:
Will Win: Peter Francis, Cathy Featherstone, The Father
Should Win: Peter Francis, Cathy Featherstone, The Father
As much as I love the recreation of old Hollywood in Mank, the production design in The Father shapes the story in a compelling way.
Best Costume Design:
Will Win: Ann Roth, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Alexandra Byrne, Emma.
I don’t feel particularly strongly about any of these movies. The yellow shoes are a pivotal plot point in Ma Rainey, but the pastel color palette of Emma gives it a splendid stylistic flair.
Best Original Score:
Will Win: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, Soul
Should Win: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, Soul
Tenet should really be here, but, since it’s not, I’ll go with the bisected Soul. Both sides of the movie’s score (the pulsing electronic rhythms or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross mixed with the emotional jazz of Jon Batiste) are wonderful. Movies should really try to do this kind of experimentation more often.
Best Original Song:
Will Win: “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Should Win: “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Since No Time to Die managed to release a song but not a movie in 2020, this is Will Ferrell’s year. “Husavik” is a genuinely emotional climax to a very silly movie and deserves the win. Billie, 2021 is all yours.
Best Live Action Short:
Will Win: White Eye
Should Win: White Eye
I’m a sucker for a long shot, and this short’s got style to spare. The star power of Oscar Isaac could lead to a long shot but, in terms of pure filmmaking, White Eye’s the best of the bunch.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Will Win: Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Should Win: Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti, Pinocchio
If the Academy had any nerve whatsoever, Pinocchio would win this easily. It’s creepy. Very, very creepy. I challenge you to look at that spine-chilling snail woman or the repulsive chimpanzee judge and tell me it’s not outstandingly rendered.
Will Win: Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh, Sound of Metal
Should Win: Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michellee Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh, Sound of Metal
The biggest change in the Oscars this year was combining the Sound Mixing and Sound Design categories into one, big SOUND category (cue “Also sprach Zarthrustra”). I’m gonna go with Sound of Metal because it always helps to have the name of the category in the title of your movie. Just wait until my directorial debut next year: Adapting a Song: The Visual Effect of a Costume Short.
Best Visual Effects:
Will Win: Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher, Tenet
Should Win: Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher, TenetAs much as I’d love to see the slimy denizens of Love and Monsters get their due, Tenet gave us the greatest spectacle of the year.