World of Reel‘s Jordan Ruimy is about to post the results of a Best of 2020 critic poll. (No filmmakers this time — just seasoned dweeb cineastes.) I’m seen the results but will reserve comment until Ruimy posts tomorrow (Friday, 7.10). Was I surprised by the #1 winner? Somewhat but not entirely. Let’s just say that the vote was to some extent political.
In this upside-down year a six-month assessment doesn’t carry the same weight as before. Award-consideration-wise 2020 won’t end until 2.28.21 — or just under eight months hence. A noteworthy percentage of possibly award-worthy films may open in January or February. So determining the best films released between January and June ’20 is merely a start.
Here are Hollywood Elsewhere’s top 2020 films, coming 10 days after the six-month mark. I’m clear on the top five or six, and the rest are surging or fading as the world turns. Oh, and by the way I’m not including Hamilton, good as it is, because it’s not a film but filmed theatre — a whole ‘nother deal.
HE’s top 2020 film is still J’Accuse (aka An Officer and a Spy), which I streamed in late March. My second favorite is still The King of Staten Island. My third, fourth, fifth and sixth favorites are Les Miserables, The Outpost, The Wild Goose Lake and Bad Education.
1. Roman Polanski‘s J’Accuse (An Officer and a Spy): [posted on 3.25.20] “J’Accuse has been crafted with absolute surgical genius…a lucid and exacting and spot-on retelling of an infamous episode of racial prejudice…a sublime atmospheric and textural recapturing of 1890s ‘belle epoque’ Paris, and such a meticulous, hugely engrossing reconstruction of the Dreyfus affair…a tale told lucidly…clue by clue, layer by layer. Pretty much a perfect film.
It’s absolutely criminal that more than 10 months after J’Accuse opened at the Venice Film Festival, this awesome drama can’t even be streamed. There’s apparently no disputing that Polanski behaved odiously with two or three women in the ‘70s, above and beyond the matter of Samantha Geimer. There’s nonetheless something fundamentally diseased about banning great art…about suppressing one of the sharpest and most exactingly reconstructed historical films ever made. The last time I checked many people were capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Brilliant film, personally flawed director — simple enough.
2. Judd Apatow and Pete Davidson‘s The King of Staten Island. [posted on 6.8.20] “A well-crafted film with heart and honesty and a relatable personality. And which ends…well, hopefully. You can say it’s too oddball fringe-y, too lower-depths, too submerged on its own weed planet and too caught up in nihilism and arrested development to connect with Joe and Jane Popcorn. Which I strongly disagree with. Because it’s funny and plain-spoken (if a bit dismaying at times) and it doesn’t back off from an unusual milieu and mentality, and certainly from Davidson‘s ‘Scott’, a layabout for the ages.”
3. Ladj Ly‘s Les Miserables (Amazon, opened in January,) [re-reviewed on 12.13.19]: “Ladj Ly‘s film is just as socially incisive as Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite, and it has no insane story-logic issues. And a much better ending. It would be a major miscarriage of artistic justice if Les Miserables doesn’t at least emerge as one of the Best International Feature Oscar nominees.”
4. Rod Lurie‘s The Outpost [reviewed 3.6.30] — “A U.S. forces-vs.-the-Taliban war flick based on Jake Tapper’s book, The Outpost is a rousing, highly emotional drill into another tough battle that actually happened, and another example of the kind of combat flick to which we’ve all become accustomed — one in which the U.S. forces get their asses kicked and barely survive.”
5. Diao Yinan‘s The Wild Goose Lake. [posted on 2.13.20] “In my humble opinion, Diao Yinan‘s The Wild Goose Lake is one of the most visually inventive, brilliantly choreographed noir thrillers I’ve ever seen. One of them surely. I probably haven’t felt this knocked out, this on-the-floor, this ‘holy shit’-ified by sheer directorial audacity and musicality since Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men.”
6. Cory Finley and Mike Makowski‘s Bad Education [posted on 4.28.20]: “HBO’s Bad Education is a somewhat riveting, fact-based drama about a bizarre heist in plain sight. The focus is the infamous Roslyn embezzlement scandal of the early aughts. But I couldn’t get it up when I tried to write about it. This was because I couldn’t quite comprehend the insanely self-destructive acts of administrative thievery that this film is…well, partly about. It’s also about the generally insane notion that living high on the hog is everything in life, and that all you need to sleep through this kind of brazen flim-flamming is a little vial of denial.”