Okay, guys, I usually spend two weeks going through my list, but this year I’ve been super-busy with my new job, so instead I’m just going to dump this list on you today. I will try to glean some tips along the way (and I may break those out into pieces later.)
(One thing I usually do is list the movies I haven’t seen, but this year it’s most of them. I used to get through this time of year using screeners that I borrowed from a friend, but the studios have stopped sending out screeners, which makes it a lot harder for me to get caught up on what I missed.)
Runner-Up: Belfast. Betsy skewered this movie effectively when she said, “This scene reminds me of a scene from A Christmas Story, but in that movie the parents looked like real people and here they look like fashion models.” I agree that the attractiveness of the parents was a distraction. Also, as someone of an Irish Catholic background, it was annoying that the movie was basically saying “It really sucked to be protestant in Belfast in 1968, because everybody wanted you to join the anti-Catholic militias even when you didn’t want to.” Yeah, you know what would suck worse? Actually being the target of those militias. So my sympathy for their situation was limited. But this was a fun movie to watch. It was beautifully shot and I felt for the boy.
5: The Mitchells vs. the Machines: I liked Encanto a lot, Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon were fun, but this was the best kids’ movie of the year. The story was a lot of fun but it was the 2D scribbles on top of the 3D animation that made it such a delight. I absolutely fell in love with the abundant amount of life that erupted from this heroine.
4: Licorice Pizza: What a strange movie! Anderson has just gotten weirder and weirder and doesn’t really seem to care if we’re on board, which is risky, but in this case it really pays off. It was fun being in his very strange head. All notions of structure are blown out of the water, but the scenes are indelible and that’s ultimately more important. There’s a lot of Bertolucci in this movie and that’s all for the good!
3: Summer of Soul: Certainly the best time I had at the theater this year! Questlove could have just cut this amazing footage together into a world-class concert movie, but he does a lot of great structure work (You don’t realize until you do your research later that nothing is in order) and it’s so wonderful that some many people were still alive (and looking great) 50 years later and got a chance to react to themselves. It becomes a celebration of survival. It’s just a shame he couldn’t convince Sly to appear!
2: The French Dispatch: I was horrified that this movie didn’t get a best picture nomination! It’s my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Rushmore, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve loved a lot of his movies. Recreating the feeling of reading an entire (especially good) issue of “The New Yorker” was so unlike anything I’ve seen onscreen before, but worked beautifully. All of the performances were amazing. Anderson has a reputation for allowing his tone to overwhelm the artistic choices of his performers, but, of all his movies, this one seemed the most driven by the power of the acting.
1: Don’t Look Up: You really can’t be surprised at this, can you? The Big Short topped the list a few years ago. Vice made the list. So I’m obviously an Adam McKay fan. I do feel like some of the negative reaction to this movie has been because of what it was doing right. It was supposed to piss you off and disgust you with your own behavior, and I think that people have chosen to be pissed off at the movie instead of themselves. I thought it was funny that this was supposed to be a movie about our reaction to climate change but ended up being more about Covid. That’s a sign of great art: The story is meaningful enough to grow beyond the creator’s intent.