Posted in: by David Coursen, by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert C. Cumbow, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2020

A belated welcome to 2021 with one last look back at the best releases of 2020.

It goes without saying that this has been an unusual year in every way. It is no less true for the year in cinema, as theaters shuttered across the nation (in Seattle, they were shut down for more than half of 2020). Many films were delayed by studios, some independent films chose the Virtual Cinema route, other films went the more tradition video-on-demand, and an unprecedented number of major films debuted directly to streaming services. That leaves the question “What qualifies as a 2020 film?” more open to interpretation. It also disperses the releases across a more varied landscape, making it harder to see everything that one might have access to in more normal years. That’s one reason our annual accounting is delayed this year. We’re just trying to grapple with the changes and catch up with what we can.

With that noted, here are the lists of Parallax View contributors and friends.

Contributors listed in alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted)

Sean Axmaker

1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
3. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov)
4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
6. News of the World (Paul Greengrass)
7. The Assistant (Kitty Green)
8. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
9. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg)
10. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannel)

Absolute joy in a hard year:
Bill and Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot) and American Utopia (Spike Lee)

Great drama, dubious history:
Mank (David Fincher) and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin)

And a few more memorable films (in alphabetical order): Ammonite (Francis Lee), Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho), Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa), Da Five Bloods (Spike Lee), Emma. (Autumn de Wilde) (the last film I saw in a theater), One Night in Miami (Regina King), Palm Springs (Max Barbakow), Sound of Metal (Darius Marder), The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson), Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart)

Vasilisa Perelygina and Viktoria Miroshnichenko in ‘Beanpole.’ Photo credit: Kino Lorber

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

1. Dead Souls (Wang Bing, China)
2. Small Axe: Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen, UK)
3. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, U.S.)
4. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)
5. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Steve McQueen, UK)
6. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
7. The 40-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, US) 
8. The Assistant (Kitty Green, U.S.)
9.  Atlantiques (Mati Diop, Senegal)
10. (Tie): Small Axe: Mangrove/Lovers Rock/Education (Steve McQueen, UK)

Honorable Mention: Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie, U.S.), Bacurau (Kleber Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil)

And thanks to MUBI for, among much else, introducing me to the work of Yuzo Kawashima.

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in ‘The Vast of Night.’ Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Robert C. Cumbow

I watched about 230 movies during 2020 (and the few weeks since), but only 14 were 2020 films. Of those, seven make my Top 10. I’d call them the most interesting films of 2020 that I saw, rather than the best, because I saw so few 2020 releases. Lots of catch-up to do in 2021. Most looking forward to Tenet and Synchronic.

First Cow
When Forever Dies
Bacurau
Vast Of Night
The Invisible Man
Beanpole
A Muse

My best home movie-watching experiences of the year were:
Beau Travail on Criterion
The Grey Fox on Blu-ray at last
Mädchen In Uniform from Kino

I also loved catching up with:
Dragged Across Concrete
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in ‘Lovers Rock.’ Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Kathy Fennessy

1. House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora) 
2. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen) 
3. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell) 
4. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg) 
5. Mangrove (Steve McQueen) 
6. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles) 
7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)  
8. Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello) 
9. Relic (Natalie Erika James) 
10. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)  

Frances McDormand in ‘Nomadland.’ Photo credit: Searchlight Pictures

Robert Horton

(as published at Scarecrow Blog)
1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
3. Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky)
4. Fourteen (Dan Sallitt)
5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
7. Ammonite (Francis Lee)
8. (tie) Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov)
            Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
10. French Exit (Azazel Jacobs)

Very close to making the last spot: Major Arcana, And Then We Danced, The 40-Year-Old Version, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Sound of Metal, The Assistant, The Invisible Man, La Verite, Vast of Night, Collectiv, Sorry We Missed You

Carey Mulligan in ‘Promising Young Woman.’ Photo credit: Focus Features

Richard T. Jameson

First Cow
Nomadland
The Vast of Night
Lovers Rock
Beanpole
Mank
Promising Young Woman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The Assistant
A White, White Day
The Trial of the Chicago 7 / News of the World

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always.’ Photo credit: Focus Features

Kathleen Murphy

First Cow
Beanpole
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Lovers Rock (Small Axe)
Ammonite
The Vast of Night
A White, White Day
The Assistant

The Seattle Film Critics Society will announce their 2020 awards in February.

Polls / Lists

The Village Voice Poll (Reconstructed) at Filmmaker

Sight and Sound / BFI

Slant

Roger Ebert.com

Indiewire Critic’s Poll

Other lists

2020 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1930

Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2020

Here’s the Parallax View list for 2019

Remembering those we lost in 2020

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix, ‘The Expanse’ returns on Amazon, ‘Tenet’ comes to VOD

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, the mother of the blues, and Chadwick Boseman (in his final screen performance) is the fiery trumpeter in her band in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020, R), a drama of music, power, ambition, and race in America set at Chicago recording studio in 1927. Tony Award-winning Broadway director George C. Wolfe helms the screen adaptation of the August Wilson play and Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman costar. Davis and Boseman are favored to get Oscar nominations. (Netflix)

Tenet” (2020, PG-13), Christopher Nolan’s high-concept thriller starring John David Washington as a nameless agent whose mission to save the world involves the unraveling of time, is a puzzle box of a mystery with spectacular set pieces. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh costar. Nolan insisted that it get a theatrical release when major theaters were closed during the Covid lockdown, where it made back a fraction of its cost. Months later, it now debuts at home. (VOD and Cable On Demand, also on DVD and Blu-ray and at Redbox)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘I’m Your Woman’ on Amazon, ‘The Prom’ and ‘Funny Boy’ on Netflix, ‘Let Them Talk on HBO Max

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

I’m Your Woman” (2020, R) stars Rachel Brosnahan as a housewife who goes on the run when gangsters come after her husband (Bill Heck), who has kept his criminal life hidden from her, and she’s forced to fend for herself when they come for her. Julia Hart directs this 1970s throwback crime thriller costarring Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake. (Amazon Prime Video, also available in HDR)

The Broadway musical comedy “The Prom” (2020, PG-13), about a group of stage actors who descend on a small Indiana town to support a lesbian couple barred from attending their high school prom, comes to the screen from director Ryan Murphy with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and James Corden as the Broadway performers. (Netflix)

Meryl Streep also stars in “Let Them All Talk” (2020, R) as novelist with writer’s block on a sea cruise with old friends (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest) she hasn’t seen in some time. Steven Soderbergh directs the film, which was partly improvised, and Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan co-star. (HBO Max)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: The House of Mirth

[Written for Film.com]

Gillian Anderson’s performance as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth is weirdly un-modern — the actress seems to have tapped directly into the mindset of the Edith Wharton novel, to a style predating ironic distance. Anderson maintains this even though the film’s dialogue and line readings are (rightly so) pitched in a way that heightens the artificial nature of the New York social scene, circa 1905. Anderson, whose performance often has a trapped, corseted intensity, gets Lily’s tragedy: It’s not that Lily doesn’t understand the rules of the game — it’s that she does, but she thinks her wit and beauty can skirt that calcified code.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: In the Mood for Love

[Written for Mr. Showbiz]

Listed in the Cannes festival catalog as “Untitled” and shown via a print lacking its final sound mix, Wong Kar-wai’s new picture is both more of the same and a tentative step in a new direction. Although the Hong Kong director continues his fruitful partnership with first-rate, Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and although In the Mood for Love is often gorgeously framed, lit, and color designed, there’s virtually none of the swoopy/slithery camera moves that frequently outran purpose and sense in Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. Instead the visuals respect the discretion and emotional delicacy of the two principal characters, nextdoor neighbors (Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) who gradually realize that their respective spouses are having an affair. Mutual pain draws them together, after a fashion (the spouses themselves are scarcely seen and remain faceless even then). But this being the hyperromantic yet inveterately lonely world of Wong Kar-wai, we should know not to count on the fulfillment that the wall-to-wall Nat “King” Cole song track yearns for.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Tom Keogh, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: 102 Dalmatians

[Written for Film.com]  

Shortly before the end of a promotional screening of 102 Dalmatians, an anxious Disney publicist leaned into the press row where I sat and announced that a couple of the film’s reels had been shown out of order. Did we critic types happen to notice, she asked?

Of course, reply my astute colleagues. I, however, keep my mouth shut. You could have shown me this shrill hunk of junk upside down and backwards, and I would have remained willingly obtuse.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

2000 Eyes: Battlefield Earth

[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

“Man is an endangered species,” alerts the introductory card to this adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s Star Wars inspired epic sci-fi novel. It should have warned us that logic was also hitting hard times.

The year is 3000 and the place is Earth. After a millennium of brutal subjugation by the Psychlos (seemingly an unholy mating of Star Trek’s Klingon and Ferengi races), humans live like cavemen in the irradiated wilds, foraging through a dying Earth. Rebellious young Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper, in flowing locks and an unchanging expression of determined sincerity) searches for a better land and discovers a race of intergalactic corporate pirates, eight foot alien slavers sucking the planet dry of resources in the name of profit.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: South of Heaven, West of Hell

[Written for Amazon.com]

If you’ve never heard of South of Heaven, West of Hell, there’s an excellent reason. If you have heard of it, it’s probably because you stumbled upon the information that it marks the directorial debut of singer-actor Dwight Yoakam, who managed to sweet-talk a spectacularly quirky cast into abetting the enterprise: current girlfriend Bridget Fonda and her papa Peter; indie-world luminaries Vince Vaughn and Billy Bob Thornton (for whom Yoakam made a memorably loathsome villain in Sling Blade); character-acting stalwarts Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, Luke Askew, and Scott Wilson; and such icons of the florid fringe as Bud Cort, Paul Reubens, and Michael Jeter. All should file for workman’s comp and alienation of audience affection because they got themselves mired in one of the dumbest, most inept, most tediously self-indulgent messes in the history of showbiz hubris.

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Posted in: Actors, by Kathleen Murphy, Essays

Sean Connery: The Man Who Would Be King

Originally published in Film Comment in 1997

Just back from the Crusades after twenty years, Sean Connery’s Robin Hood peers up at an abbey window to espy his onetime Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) decked out in nun’s habit. “What,” demands her scruffy swain, “are you doing in that costume?” “Living it,” she retorts. In Robin and Marian, Richard Lester’s superb deconstruction of sustaining, fatal legend, Robin is a player past his prime, so taken by his own heroic mask he would choose to die under its weight. In fashioning one of his finest performances, Sean Connery must have called upon something of his own struggle with a devouring fiction, the near-loss of his own face to a single fixed expression of heroism.

In forty years of filmmaking, Sean Connery has climbed into a remarkable variety of cinematic costume: suits from Savile Row, uniforms of every stripe, American West gear, exotic regalia from loincloth to kilt to Spanish grandee’s piratical splendor, the robes of a Benedictine monk, the sturdy tweeds of an elderly British archaeologist, and the slightly seedy duds of a boozy publisher. He’s been spy, soldier, scientist, submarine captain, cop, poet, miner, thief, messiah, sheikh, fertility god, and dragon. No matter the clothes, period, or genre, Connery displays the sangfroid of an instinctively naturalized citizen, at home from Sekandergul to Oz.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

Still Life: ‘Robin and Marian’

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Ripeness has gone to rot with a vengeance in Richard Lester’s latest film. In some wasteland out at the edge of the world (patently not a holy land) a one-eyed old man and some women and children hide out in a cracked, ungarrisoned castle and do not guard a golden statue coveted by King Richard the Lion-Hearted (Richard Harris), because it’s really only a stone, and besides, it was too heavy to carry away from the turnip field where it was dug up. Not even Robin Hood’s still-illusioned alchemy can shapechange the “pig” who peevishly orders the castle razed and its inhabitants butchered back into a lion-hearted monarch. Richard’s death is flung like accidentally accurate doom from above; but Justice in this diminished world is old and one-eyed, its bolt flung in fallibly human long shot rather than sent as sign of any god’s terminal exasperation with a hero long fallen from divine or mystic or even human grace. The heroic vision that Richard once embodied, and gave Robin a taste for, is apparently laid to rest where it went bad—in a stony land of too much sun and too many senseless massacres. But although Robin, Little John, and we watch the king’s funeral cortege in longshot, it soon becomes clear that Robin has managed to internalize some vestige of the former dream, and now means to take it home—home to the cool green fastnesses of Sherwood Forest where it first thrived.

Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as Robin and Marian

If Nicol Williamson’s practical Little John finds sustenance in plain bread, the sights he’s seen in the wide world, and his love for Robin, Sean Connery’s Robin Hood is hooked on more exotic fare. Grizzled, just this side of being old, he lacks the cleverness to buy cynicism as life insurance, but is just simple enough to be a hero. He’s hardly ever able to contain the gay, brave boy who, untouched by time and circumstance, struggles free to shout “I’ll save you!” to an uncooperatively grownup Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn). Bergman’s knight in The Seventh Seal comes home from the Crusades to seek God among the ruins, but finds only ruins and, inevitably, death. Lester’s peasant-knight returns to quest for a present, if not a future, in the past, and ends by putting a period to a life that cannot, will not dwindle into obscurity and old age, but must burn out in a flash of meaning. There must be a beginning, a middle, and a proper end. Some richer, more resonant image must replace that of a spent king bleeding in the foreground of an empty stonescape, a uselessly burning castle thrust up in the dusk behind him, a monument to death without dignity or purpose.

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