Tarek’s Top Ten Films of 2020

Tarek’s Top Ten Films of 2020

This year was unexpected and uncharted. Many films were transitioned to streaming or experienced postponed release dates. Cinemas closed, opened with limitations, and then closed again. Many communities were fortunate to have new opportunities to see movies in freshly created or revived outdoor film venues, including restored drive-in locations, pop-up drive-ins in parking lots or stadiums, and outdoor movies in gardens or back-yards. Those experiences were not the same as sitting comfortably in a traditional movie theatre, but thanks to technology and limits on some rules impacting films being lifted, I was still able view many great films during the pandemic. While I am eagerly waiting to see movies that have been postponed, here is my top ten films of 2020!

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7: This was an experience I was thankful to have in a theatre a couple of days before it came to Netflix. During this time frame, I was eager to return to Landmark Century Centre Cinemas in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It has always been my favorite location for art-house flicks and is always dependable showing great movies.As luck would have it, I saw this film on a whim with no real expectations. However, when the film began, I quickly became hooked on all the elements in this adaptation which is based on the true story of the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention. Writer and director Aaron Sorkin’s work soars with spectacle. The dialogue is top-notch, and the suspenseful and legal situations are so real.  The acting by Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella, Sacha Baron Cohen, and many other celebrities is heroic and breathtaking. This film spoke to me at a time when my mind had not been on cinema news due to my ongoing frustrations with the pandemic and current politics. The Trial of the Chicago 7 left me with many mixed emotions since this is a true story, and everything about it just blew me away.  
  • First Cow: The goal, plot and period of this film moves through vast scenery in a time of limited resources. The movie’s recipe for success involved a cook and a Chinese immigrant trying to grow a business and make a profit in Oregon. The film may seem quiet, but it moves effectively through its foundation-building between the two characters, King-Lu and Cookie (Orion Lee and John Magaro). It is a film about building trust and success with limited access to technology and is thorough as it shows the challenges that both cultures must go through to achieve success. Director Kelly Reichardt delivers a captivatingly beautiful film of trial and error. It is magnificent.
  • Nomadland: This was a drive-in experience that was simply amazing. I saw it at an outdoor venue as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. Given that it was October, there was something very invigorating about viewing the film’s rural Nevada scenery in an outdoor setting. The film is about the life of an individual after the 2008 recession and the performance is brilliantly done by Frances McDormand. The movie portrays the reality of life for those who face hard times in an economic crash and how they find ways to stay on their feet despite financial constraints. McDormand’s character lives out of her van and works at a warehouse and barely gets by, but she makes the best of it. The concept of never giving up spoke to me with Nomadland, especially because so many Americans are currently in crisis like the main character is due to the pandemic. I felt the directing by Chloe Zhao made Nomadland hit close to home for many individuals, but in a positive way.
  • On the Rocks: Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors because of her 2003 masterpiece Lost in Translation. On the Rocks is like Lost in Translation in many ways because of the concept of finding reconnection. Bill Murray plays the father of Rashida Jones, and Rashida Jones is someone who feels she is not paid attention to by her husband who is played by Marlon Wayans. Murray’s character is a heartfelt, but also egotistical father. He tries to find connection with his daughter again, but in the weirdest of ways ranging from trying to spy on her husband to going on crazy adventures. In spite of his egotistical behavior, he also shows generosity.  Overall, it is a touching movie about the reconnection between daughter and father, while also trying to find the right answers for later in life.
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always: This is a film that may leave viewers feeling that the adolescent issues hit close to home. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a nail-biter filled with many emotions. The story of a teen who is pregnant with a life she feels disconnected from takes the risks to go from Pennsylvania to New York to have an abortion with her cousin tagging along for support.  Autumn (played by Sidney Flanigan) takes strides to try to dismiss this big deal of a problem due to how her home-life already is. Her cousin Skylar (played by Talia Ryder) wants to be the best support, but with both being under 18 with very little money, the challenges they face in the big city of New York result in a range of emotions and obstacles. Director and writer Eliza Hittman delivers a film about trying to determine what is right to do in negative situations, but her directing also reminds viewers that it is never a bad idea to ask for help.
  • David Byrne’s American Utopia: This concert film had me jamming with positivity as it blew me out of the water. The directing, the choreography, and the songs were all amazing and I felt it was the virtual experience that I needed. With most live events being cancelled or on hold due to the pandemic, this one really lifted my spirits. Although different for director Spike Lee, this film is breathtaking and incredible. The different fragments of the concert, the great music that many know from The Talking Heads, and the presentation were all just terrific.  I enjoyed it so much that I still find myself listening to the music from this film.
  • Da 5 Bloods: Director Spike Lee delivers again in this war thriller that is structured with history mixed with fiction, and it is one hell of a thrill ride. The film gears on African American Vets who plan to finish a treasure hunt from a fallen squad member. The vets are Paul (played by Delroy Lindo), Otis (played by Clarke Peters), Eddie (played by Norm Lewis), and Melvin (played by Isiah Whitlock). The fallen squad leader is Chadwick Boseman who was incredible in this war phenomenon. (May he rest in peace). The hunt has many unexpected moments, but where the brilliance comes into play is the remaining parts of the Vietnam War, and how the Vets still possess such aggressive and violent behavior which fills this treasure hunt with many emotions. Da 5 Bloods will challenge its viewers incessantly due to the many unexpected outcomes that will blow audiences away.
  • The Nest: This was a film of tension and egotistical behaviors. Despite its darkness, director Sean Durkin delivers a seeping and sallow journey through the eyes of Rory O’Hara and Allison O’Hara (played by Jude Law and Carrie Coon). The film is set in the 1980s and Rory is an entrepreneur with many hopes and aspirations.  He moves his family into an English country manor believing he is successful with his career. His wife, Allison, questions the decision but goes along with it. As their time living in the manor goes on, tensions begin as Allison discovers unexplained debts. Those debts and stressors only get worse as Rory continues to remind Allison that he is going to make them a wealthy family. Sadly, much of what he explains is inaccurate, and more disasters arise. The Nest is about trying to find what is right, but also wanting to believe others. The conflict between Law and Coon in this powerful drama had me glued to my seat, and I could not help but wonder what the outcomes of the many debts would be.
  • Mank:  Many of director David Fincher’s films involve a unique pattern of mesmerizing directing, cinematography, and storytelling usually accomplished through technology. Mank is not a suspense thriller like we are used to from Fincher, but instead a biography and true adaptation that is surreal. His father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay but passed away a few years ago. Jack Fincher lived in the era of Herman J. Mankiewicz and the film is made through the eyes of Fincher’s father. Mank gears on the early days of Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman), and it focuses on the early days of Citizen Kane and the film industry in the 1930s. The dark moments in the film are amplified by the use of faded cinematography as it continues through the sad, angry, and irritated life Herman J. Mankiewicz (Mank for short). Now I loved this biopic, but it was different for Fincher because you need to pay close attention to the dialogue and various scenarios. Oldman delivers the performance of his career, and the filmmaking could not be better to fit the time frame of the 1930s. I found myself astonished by its knockout directing and acting and clearly feel it is a masterpiece. 
  • The King of Staten Island: This was a comedy that I wish more comedies were like these days. Directed by Judd Apatow, The King of Staten Island gears on the life of Scott (played by Pete Davidson), a young man who struggles to grapple with grief, drug abuse, and being a tattoo artist after the death of his father at a young age. It is a faithful and honest comedy that is based on Davidson’s life. Sadly, his father died on 9/11. This film is an honest representation of Davidson today and he fits the role perfectly with his bizarre humor and crazy scenarios. Marisa Tomei plays his mother, and Bill Burr plays the boyfriend of his mother. These three actors make The King of Staten Island a hysterical yet touching comedy that will have many laughing until it hurts.

While 2020 was not the year we expected for movies, we had to adjust our expectations and find films that were entertaining, especially since many of the ones we were expecting have still not been released and others went right to streaming due to cinemas being closed. Despite the challenges, I did my best to ensure I had memorable movie experiences. I hope that 2021 brings us some light, we can catch what we have been waiting for, and that there are more brilliant movie experiences ahead.


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