Kyle Amato is a Boston Hassle staff writer and film critic living in Somerville, waiting for the Brattle to reopen. He will be covering the Sundance Festival for the first time in January, so stay tuned!
I refuse to reflect on the year at large. We all feel the same. It sucked. What didn’t suck were the films. Though we miss theaters like we miss a limb or a spiritual connection to God, they will return, and it will be as though they never left. Until then, we can hold onto the good and the great, like the ten films I’ve gathered below!
10. BACURAU (dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles)
As stated by Fran Hoepfner in her killer essay, Bacurau deserves to be celebrated on the big screen. I promise I won’t harp on this for all ten entries, but it’s true! The tale of a small town fighting back against all manner of oppressors, Bacurau is violent catharsis in movie form. It builds like a thriller and pays off handsomely. The cast is great, headlined by Sonia Braga, the queen herself. It was the first film of 2020 I wished I could see in theaters, but it would not be the last.
9. SHIRLEY (dir. Josephine Decker)
Claustrophobic, sweaty, nightmarish… all qualities found in Shirley Jackson’s novels, and this impressionistic ‘biopic’ (it is not a biopic) about how unpleasant married academics can be. Elisabeth Moss continues to double down on projects where she can be an absolute freak, here embodying the spirit of Shirley Jackson’s genius and despair. Decker’s shaky cam can be an understandable turnoff for some, but here it adds to the queasiness of the Jackson-Hyman household, a place where ideas and passions collide, damaging anyone in the crossfire. The film’s climax, in which Shirley must convince her new friend that life is worth living– even though she scarcely believes it herself– is one of the most compelling in ages.
8. NOMADLAND (dir. Chloe Zhao)
This will probably get Best Picture, right? Frances McDormand sits with people and hears their stories. It’s really just a beautiful film to let wash over you, never wallowing in the sadness of poverty, simply putting human faces to these struggles. There is joy to be found in this kind of freedom, though a just world would never allow people to fall through the cracks like this. Zhao is gifted at working with non-actors, never coaching them to take on theatrical manners. I hope Eternals isn’t a disaster so we can move on from it without incident.
7. MARTIN EDEN (dir. Pietro Marcello)
An uncommonly beautiful man faces unfortunately common problems of class, labor, and education. An Italian twist on Jack London’s novel landing somewhere between Varda and My Brilliant Friend, Martin Eden is a beautifully shot film about the hottest man alive understanding his value in a cruel world. Luca Marinelli deserves everything.
6. SHE DIES TOMORROW (dir. Amy Seimetz)
All jokes aside, She Dies Tomorrow has a phenomenal lead performance from Kate Lyn Sheil, whose face captures the strange serenity that anxiety can bring, even if that means knowledge of one’s certain death. It’s a film about being normal!
5. SOUND OF METAL (dir. Darius Marder)
No matter what happens, you’re still you. Unfortunately for heavy metal drummer Ruben, that includes traumatic hearing loss. Riz Ahmed gives a shockingly gentle performance, the best of the year. As with any film centered on disability, I worry about negative portrayals, but the Deaf community can take pride in Sound of Metal. Ruben starts to see his loss as a gain, but can’t quite take the leap in the most human way. Paul Raci and Olivia Cooke do career-best work too, of course. If this doesn’t win the sound design Oscar, what is the point of all this?
4. THE NEST (dir. Sean Durkin)
Obviously any movie where Carrie Coon snarls “Don’t you fucking touch me” and smokes like a goddess was going to make it into my top ten, but The Nest is even more than that. Sometimes you just want to watch a movie where things don’t get better! Sometimes you want to watch Jude Law fail! We love a marriage that is crumbling for reasons other than adultery! I also got to interview Durkin and he seems like a cool guy, so there’s that.
3. DRY WIND (dir. Daniel Nolasco)
This might be unfair, as Dry Wind (Vento Seco) is technically still on the festival circuit, but it’s my list and this movie fucking rocks. Every year I ask for a gay film that’s not just a coming out story, and so often I am denied this. Fortunately, Brazilian director Daniel Nolasco (who I spoke with during NewFest) answered my prayers with a story about a lonely man stuck in his ways, consumed by desire but far more consumed with jealousy. When we allow queer stories to exist beyond heterosexual appeasement, we get Dry Wind. We get a film about leather culture and rawdogging in the woods with a protagonist who isn’t an American twink or a white woman in the past. We get the best musical sequence of the year, born of the tiniest amount of human contact that feels like an invitation to live again. I have no idea when people will be able to see Dry Wind, but I can only pray it is soon.
2. WOLFWALKERS (dir. Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart)
The finest of Cartoon Saloon’s magnificent Irish animation trilogy, Wolfwalkers feels like the culmination of all the studio has set out to achieve. Once again we are transported to a stunningly painted world, but Wolfwalkers moves with a boldness of story and character beyond even the fantastic Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. It has to be seen to be believed. Fuck the English!
1. FIRST COW dir. Kelly Reichardt
“I’ve got you.”
What else is there to say about First Cow? Perhaps, “moo?” We all know this story of two men bound by circumstance and tasty treats is the finest film of the year, gifted to us in a sublimely crafted cinematic experience. Reichardt guides us through this tale of greed and survival with the naturalistic touch of a master, and we are all richer for it.
Right now Boston’s most beloved theaters need your help to survive. If you have the means, the Hassle strongly recommends making a donation, purchasing a gift card, or becoming a member at the Brattle Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, and/or the Somerville Theatre. Keep film alive, y’all.