Bertrand Tavernier’s achingly beautiful A SundayintheCountry records one bittersweet day in the turn-of-the-century life of Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux), a 76-year-old painter in pastoral retirement. It’s Indian summer, that lavishly spendthrift season poised at the edge of winter. Edouard and Irène, the old man’s offspring, pay him a visit. An uneventful day, really, punctuated by little pleasures, small-scale estrangements and reunions a family gathering is always sure to promote. Still, in the privileged time-warp of this particular Sunday in the country, M. Ladmiral meets himself coming and going, from playful child to played-out graybeard. Every frame of the film mirrors a life’s promises and foreclosures.
Tavernier begins with an evocative prologue, uninsistently establishing the visual and spiritual dialectic that ultimately sums up a man and his art. While the screen’s still a black background for credits, we hear childish voices singing. Once in a while, a mildly remonstrating adult interrupts, bringing their spontaneity to heel. Then, an exasperated, maternal query: “When will you stop asking so much of life, Irène?” Black screen gives way to the film’s first image, window-framed: an exquisite Monet landscape of trees banked beyond a lawn, leaves and grass shimmering in liquid light. The camera passes through the open window so that the outdoor scene seems to become accidental art, uncomposed—but still held within the film’s own painterly frame of reference.
[Original published in The Weekly(Seattle), July 13, 1983]
It’s 1938 in the French-African village of Bourkassa and Lucien Cordier, the one-man local constabulary, can’t get no respect. The lone inhabitant of the jail, an ancient black trustee who once poisoned his wife, must have been incarcerated long before Lucien’s time, because Lucien never arrests anybody. Let one of the locals start getting rowdy and Lucien, if he can’t run the other way, does his damnedest to look the other way. Small wonder that the principal resident predators, a pair of bored pimps, don’t hesitate to make public sport of him, or that his immediate superior, a half-day’s train journey removed, treats him the same way. Lucien fares little better in his own home: his wife Huguette refuses to sleep with him out of general disgust and also because she’s busy carrying on with a live-in lout named Nono, who may or may not be her brother. All in all, Lucien Cordier is a congenital, if affable, loser.
He’s such a loser that when he finally, grandly announces “a decision,” it’s that “I decided I don’t know what to do.” This decision is imparted to his big-town superior, Marcel, who has his usual fun scrambling Lucien’s already-dim wits and booting his ass. Somewhere in the course of this lazy-afternoon exercise, Marcel carelessly gifts Lucien with An Idea: if you’re kicked, kick back twice as hard. Serenely bearing what he takes as carte blanche for retribution, Lucien climbs back on the train, returns to Bourkassa, and straightaway shoots down the pimps.
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)
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)
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.
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
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)
(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
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
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
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.