Greetings, traveller. Ever since 2014, I have written on this blog about my favourite films of each year, but due to a certain global pandemic, the rundown has been missing since 2020. That year, my visits to the cinema were brisk and scattered. My viewing time was instead filled with ninety-five percent re-watches and come the year’s close, I found I had little new to talk about. Last year was a much more lively one for me in terms of film, but I stalled on the list again. It didn’t feel quite right to skip a year and short change some brilliant features which I have since caught up on.
So, although the timing is very much untimely, in the interests of consistency (and blogging tradition), I’ve taken a trip back a couple of years to rundown five of my favourite films from 2020, which I’ll follow up shortly with my top ten from 2021. As always, the choices are my own, but if there’s something you think I’ve missed, feel free to give me a shout. Please drop by my Letterboxd page for ratings and thoughts on a wider array of work.
Previous Year: 2019.
#5. Minari (dir. Lee Isaac Chung)
Kicking off the top five is director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical film Minari, charting the odyssey of a Korean-American father and his family who relocate to rural Arkansas. The father has dreams of starting a farm, living off the land, and realising the American dream, but his wife, two children, and mother-in-law are each at odds with their new surroundings, with tensions building.
Minari reminded me a lot of Hirokazu Koreeda’s work in sensibility and in how far reaching and multifarious its components are—it touches upon generational, familial, marital, religious, and cultural themes, perhaps not with as much nuance as Koreeda, but with all the heart and soul.
There are certain songs I love not necessarily for their relatability, or musicality, or creativity, but above all for their art in portraying a staunchly personal account with a keen vision and strong sense of authenticity. For me, Minari exists in a similar space to those songs, where I remember it fondly for its indelible voice and humanity.
#4. Red Post on Escher Street (dir. Sion Sono)
Next is Sion Sono’s experimental Red Post on Escher Street, a film born following a workshop Sono led for aspiring actors. The director felt that teaching alone wasn’t enough, so he decided to make a movie with his students. It’s a love letter to cinema, and particularly to the extras who so often invigorate the scene. The film follows an ensemble cast who apply to a casting call for a new film by a well-known director.
It takes a little while to warm up, but come the end, Red Post on Escher Street has much the same energy as Sono’s 2013 film Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, with an explosive final act that is brilliantly self-reflexive, relating aspects of filmmaking—acting, directing, producing, continuity—in the director’s distinct and spirited style.
In the final thirty minutes, he occupies the scene with great ensemble detail, building to an ending that is utterly rampageous. The vitality of the director and crew are purely infectious, leaving this viewer with a lingering pleasure that I find only Sono can muster quite so well.
#3. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (dir. Junta Yamaguchi)
The second Japanese film on my list is a single-take time travelling romp by director Junta Yamaguchi, in which a café owner discovers that his home PC monitor shows what will happen two minutes into the future, with another monitor in his café displaying two minutes into the past. After his friends get involved, they come up with the idea to place both monitors facing each other, creating a madcap Droste effect window into both the infinite past and future.
Shot on an iPhone between just one broad location, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes excels in ways similar to something like One Cut of the Dead or Coherence—it’s astoundingly creative in the face of a small budget, with extravagant ideas that become all the more spectacular knowing how practically and enterprisingly they’ve been implemented.
The script by Makoto Ueda is strong, some of his sensibilities from previous anime work carry over well here. The acting is a bit theatrical in the way some Japanese indies are, but it works in a sort of whimsical way. The film is a joyous one through and through, with a concept that plays—much in the same way as One Cut of the Dead—to the sheer virtuosity of filmmaking in ingenious ways, to the absolute delight of the viewer.
#2. Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
In at number two is Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, bringing back collaborators from 2012 film The Hunt in a story about four disillusioned teachers who—based on a theory which purports humans are born with a blood alcohol content deficiency—decide to maintain a constant daily alcohol intake, which they believe will boost their creativity and mood.
Another Round is brilliant in its nuanced and measured approach to alcohol, relating tales of tragic dependency and self-destruction like you might expect, but balancing it with camaraderie and buoyancy, tactfully not as counterpoint or ham-fisted moral comparison, but as two sides of the same coin.
The film reserves judgement, with persuasive characters who push a layered analysis of something which is often viewed in absolutes. There’s a keen, manifold sincerity to the screenplay, but beyond the strength of the narrative is a thoroughly charismatic cast, where a lot of pleasure is simply in spending time with these characters, who are bid adieu with one of the most memorable endings put to screen in recent times.
#1. The Father (dir. Florian Zeller)
My favourite film of 2020 is Florian Zeller’s drama The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins as an elderly man with progressive dementia. Adapted from his own play Le Père, Zeller stages the film largely inside central character Anthony’s apartment, where he becomes increasingly paranoid and confounded with details of his life and surroundings.
The Father is a hugely affecting film, and I appreciate it’s mastery, not only in portraying characters and afflictions which come across as very sincere, but also in how it explicates Anthony’s mind in the structure and editing. Yorgos Lamprinos, the editor of the film, spoke in an interview about how the The Father doesn’t work in the same way a lot of other non-linear films do. “If you take the puzzle that is this film and you try to put it together, you can never do it. This film never becomes linear. That’s the whole point of it, because Anthony’s head works that way,” he says.
It’s such a strong and revealing depiction of dementia; one which I haven’t seen done to this striking effect before. Needless to say, Anthony Hopkins is completely ensnaring in this role. On first watch, I found myself compelled by his character and situation, and on second watch, I found myself in awe of the filmmaking and narrative aspects. It’s the complete package, and I can’t think of a single element that I wish were different.