28 December 2020

Best Movies Seen for the First Time in 2020!

Our final ultimate end of year Movie List is coming soon, but we have another fun tradition around here - our picks for the Top Ten films seen in the Calendar Year 2020, regardless of original release year! The merit of this exercise is certainly contentious - it's certainly a personal list based on happenstance, but it's also a way to acknowledge ancient films I have either finally caught up and saw this year or a significant amount of 2019 clean-up. Hopefully you can take this as a way to check out some hidden gems or just what I liked from this past year. These were all new to me! Here we go.

#10: Paths of Glory (1957)

I'd like to consider myself a Kubrick fan, but I have missed out on many of his earliest work from the 1950s, which was actually his most prolific period, at least in quantity. A lot of it has been undervalued as most think he started with Dr. Strangelove (1964). I wanted to watch Paths of Glory just to be a completionist for a director I'd like to claim to be a fan of, but it really blew me away. It's half a war movie, half courtroom drama, and surprisingly applicable to the injustices, corruption, and mistrust of authority that we're seeing today. Kubrick finds the humanity in the hellscape of war and Kirk Douglas anchors this super underrated film.

#9: I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I watched this and want to watch it again but also definitely don't want to. It's far too long and dense, but it's also one of the most thematically rich films of the year. I would like to sum up the courage to check it out once more with a better understanding of the film's endgame. It stuck with me quite a bit afterwards and it's certainly on my list of best 2020 films, where we'll dive in a little deeper, but needless to say, it was good enough to rub elbows against the best films of any year.

#8: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

This film had good buzz coming off the end of last year but it never made it on my list. It's a little hard to access, you have to be into period lesbian artist dramas, but it is truly a masterpiece that had me thinking and digesting for a long time after. It is subtle, but also twisting and turning, with wide debate as to what the actual woman on fire is, literal or metaphorical. I immensely enjoyed this, it's beautiful shot and crafted both on and behind the screen.

#7: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Okay, so I dipped into some old creepy cult classics this year and I watched the Elvira movie on a whim and just loved it. It's fast, crisp, witty, and well-paced, with a significant subtext about being your own individual woman and taking pride in confident sexiness. It's a great relevant film for 2020. It's the kind of flick I knew I'd be coming back to at the end of the year no matter what. It just came out of no where for me. I've never been an Elvira stan or anything, but I appreciate her niche, even if it's more an evolution of Vampirella. That's a whole other story. Elvira is so much more ironic and meta, but also very genuine to who she is and what she represents. It's all fantastic.

#6: The Frighteners (1996)

This had been on my list for a while since I'd like to also be a Peter Jackson completionist, but I really didn't know too much about it. It's clearly the best non-Back to the Future movie Michael J. Fox has ever done and he plays against type really well. It's continually surprising with effects that hold up decently well (or at least decent by mid-90s standards), and even some that made me scratch my head today. It's a really tight story with well-balanced elements of humor and macabre, mostly thanks to Fox's impeccable charisma. It's amazing that we never had more vehicles for him.

#5: Color Out of Space (2020)

There have been a lot of Lovecraftian adaptations over the past century, and many more if you count the significant influence he has had on pop culture. He was also a white supremacist, which complicates every part of his legacy. Well, it's not often that a film can capture the unknowable horror of Lovecraft, simply because our imagination triggered by the written word is a much more simultaneously vague and leading bear to poke. Somehow Color Out of Space does the improbable and leads us down a mystifying wormhole of psychological terror and body horror. It's a lot of fun. There's no movie that I screamed "WHAT?!" at my screen more this year and I really enjoyed it.

#4: The Dead Don't Die (2019)

Jim Jarmusch made his vampire film with Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), which was okay, but his attempt at a zombie film was endlessly captivating. It's deeply meta in satisfying ways, goofy on its face, but lamenting a serious emotional subtext underneath. It's the best cast film maybe ever, but most importantly, it verily and truly doesn't take itself seriously. At all. And this never cheapens the proceedings, but enhances them.

#3: Buffaloed (2020)

This flew super under the radar this year, but I really enjoyed it as the funniest film of the year, and maybe the best. It's a movie all about the scams of the shady world of debt collection set in Buffalo, NY. Maybe it's the fact that I am originally from Western New York, or that the subject matter fits the rust belt area, and quite frankly, the slowly depleting middle class nationwide, but the whole thing was a lot of fun, led by what should be a career-catapulting performance by Zoey Deutch. Unfortunately I don't think anyone saw it. Go see it!

#2: 1917 (2019)

More catch up on last year's films, the final two slots go to movies I got in after the buzzer sounded for last year. I really think 1917 lived up the hype from last year - it should have been a contender for Best Picture, which at the time felt undeserving, but I've completely reversed my stance. I suppose that makes me angrier at its loss now. It joins a hundred years of movies trying to capture the feeling of war, but it still feels like a fresh take - using its medium to create the impact of desperation, friendship, loss, and constant life on edge. It was also a massive technical achievement, which has gone undersung.

#1: The Lighthouse (2019)

In any year where you see The Lighthouse for the first time, The Lighthouse is going to be the best movie of that year. Beyond the perfect performances from Dafoe and Patterson, one of the greatest character actors of all time as well as from who could become one of our greatest actors, the black and white cinematography, commitment to period speech and stylings, and genuinely trippy descent into madness, this is just a fun time for everyone. Bring the kids! But don't touch the gulls!

Well folks, that is our list for this year. Looking back at our midway analysis, unsurprisingly, my Top 4 at the midpoint all stayed the same, but I found The Frighterners retaining itself in my brain and moving up the list. Stay tuned as we will continue to unleash our Best of 2020 lists over the next few days. I will admit that this is always a weird one, but stay tuned!

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