Top 5 Movies of 2020

22 Dec

The movie-viewing experience was different this year- no bucket of popcorn, no trailers, no sitting in hushed silence with a crowd of strangers. I’ve missed going to the movies, which for me means the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco, where I saw my last in-theater movie, “Little Women”, in February. Little Women didn’t make the cut, but a few other gems I saw on streaming made it. My top movies of 2010 are here, as well as 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

What the Constitution Means to Me: To not address what it means to be an American in 2020 is to have a huge blind spot as an artist. It is to ignore, as John Mulaney memorably said, that there is a horse loose in the hospital. Broadway actress Heidi Schreck took audiences through a two hour meditation on the Constitution- living, breathing document that serves current and future generations, or a stale idea that has kept countless Americans captive? Is it the reason we’re so exceptional? Are we even that exceptinal, after all? Schreck takes audiences from the stale VFW hall in her hometown to a current day look at real-life competitors in constitution debates around New York City. What was surely a thrilling night of theater became a thrilling movie.

The Old Guard: This movie was an unexpected treat: a perfectly-made action thriller, where the action consisted of more martial arts and hand-to-hand fighting than gunslinging, there were clear lines between good and evil, and the classic trope of the, well, old guard initiating the newbie. Charlize Theron has proved to be a great action star after “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde”, and she ably leads this movie too.

A Hidden Life: This movie is for Terrence Malick fans only. I saw it in the early days of January and still vividly remember the music, the imagery, but mostly the urgent moral message at its core. What a way Malick has found of addressing the Trump era: the true story of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian who saw the fascism creeping in around him in the guise of Hitler and National Socialism, but also in the neighbors in his village, who we see ostracize his family as he is imprisoned for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army. We see how choosing fascism must have been deceptively easy, and choosing to stay true to one’s beliefs must have been extraordinarily difficult. The fog rising over the hills surrounding this Alpine village, the laughter of Franz’s children at play- Malick captures moments of beauty in this otherwise hard morality tale. It’ll haunt you.

Hamilton: What to say about Hamilton that hasn’t already been said? All I can say is that when it ws released on Disney Plus on July 4th, I was beyond excited. I had seen it on stage the previous fall, so I had some idea what to expect. But to see the original Broadway cast, expertly filmed, and to capture the raw energy of a live show, was something else. It’s also a time capsule of a time when black and brown Americans proudly wrote themselves into the story of America, which in the Trump era felt like an act of rebellion, and a relic of a long bygone time.

American Utopia: I’m not sure if this is best referred to as a concert film, or a Broadway musical, since it’s alternately both and neither. But it’s electrifying. I’m not necessarily a big fan of Talking Heads or David Byrne, but I love the way that he expertly mixes story, history and theatrics with his greatest hits in this show. The lighting and gray suits all lend it a signature look, and Spike Lee directs it with the oomph it must have had in the original performances. Thank God it was filmed. Lightning in a bottle was captured here. In a year when we couldn’t go to concerts, this was the next best thing.

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