It has been over a year since I joined the rogue’s gallery of upstate cinephiles known to most as the Story Screen family! In that year, I saw enough terrific movies from a variety of sources to make narrowing down a list of 10 great films an extraordinarily difficult endeavor. There are some films that I would have loved to see before the deadline that may have made the list if I had seen them previously like Widows, Destroyer, or The Favourite, but we can’t always see everything, can we? However, I believe I have successfully catered a list of 10 films, with the same criteria of last year’s, that both were widely impressive on a technical level, as well as strongly affected me on an emotional level. This list will be as spoiler free as possible. I hope, through my list, that you discover films that you may not have heard of previously, and that you will gain an interest in watching them, or that this list will inspire you to finally get around to watching that one film you’ve been meaning to watch for a while.
Before jumping straight into the ordered top 10, I would like to give a shout out to 10 other great films that just missed the cut. If this were a less competitive year in film, one or many of these would have definitely made my list. Consider this an unordered “11-20” if I were to expand and make a top 20:
BlackKklansman First Man Searching First Reformed Suspiria Mission: Impossible - Fallout The Night Comes For Us Isle of Dogs Mid90s Overlord
I would also like to give a special shout-out to Eighth Grade, as the best movie I saw this year that I could not finish. Bo Burnham crafted the awkward and anxious experiences of middle school so goddamn perfectly onto film, that it is just too pain-inducing for me to get through. One day I will power through it. One day.
Now, onto the official list!
10. Have A Nice Day A thrilling and darkly funny film, it reminded me of the stylistic cinematography of Wong Kar Wai with the sharp wit of the Coen Brothers. This Chinese animated film by director and animator, Liu Juan, was a late edition, but I was so impressed by it, that it had to put it on my list. Its simple and minimal animation, as well as its slower pace, makes it a grounded and relaxed film, letting its story and atmosphere wash over you as you take it all in. While having a simple premise, the narrative takes enough twists and turns throughout, as well as has a menagerie of memorable characters to make Have a Nice Day an easy recommendation.
9. You Were Never Really Here
What an absolutely chilling experience this masterfully crafted film was, and yet it left me in the end with a feeling of hope and optimism. The film is an absorbing and introspective character study as it subverts and humanizes the type of anti-hero we’ve grown to love over many years of cinema, showing the character archetype in a new light. Joaquin Phoenix provides one of my favorite performances of the year, providing equal measures of childlike sympathy and relentlessness. The violence felt similar to that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, showing the beginning and end of a violent occurrence, while using clever editing and cinematography to obscure the event itself, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
8. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
This is like a high quality buffet of everything I love about the Coen Brothers. Pitch black humor and pitch black themes. Unlike other anthology films I’ve seen in the past, every one of the shorts delivered, and they all highlight just how talented and versatile the Coen Brothers are as filmmakers. If I were to rank the shorts individually, I would rank them:
6. The Mortal Remains 5. Near Algodones 4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 3. The Gal Who Got Rattled 2. All Gold Canyon 1. Meal Ticket
7. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse I think a major similarity between both animated films on my list is that their animation styles are so unique and so exclusive to the films the animation shapes. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like Into The Spider-Verse and I don’t think I’m going to see animation that knocked me off my ass the way it did for a very long time. Not only is the animation drop-dead gorgeous, it also gave me a feeling of pure sincerity, optimism, and excitement no Spider-Man film has ever come close to since the original Raimi trilogy. What an absolute delight.
6. Sorry to Bother You
If there were more comedy-oriented directors as visually inventive and hysterically funny as Boots Riley, the world would be a better place. Merging the breakneck visual gags of an 80’s Zucker Brothers film with a biting social commentary on modern capitalism and race, Sorry to Bother You was an unexpectedly brilliant film that brings what I love about using comedy in a visual medium to the forefront. This film GOES places, as no one with little prior knowledge of this film would ever accurately guess how this film plays out beginning to end accurately. Seriously, if you haven’t checked this one out, go into it blind. You’ll be glad you did.
Alex Garland continues to prove that he is one of the strongest voices in modern day science fiction film. Annihilation is presented so beautifully and poetically that watching the film feels like a dream. That is, until it feels like a nightmare, with some of the most terrifying creatures I’ve ever seen on film. What carries Annihilation, most of all, is its strong thematic center, as well as its mostly all female cast, as its metaphors and symbolism blossom like a flower the more times I’ve watched the film, making it a wonderful film to return to this year, and I imagine for many years to come.
4. Revenge You can read a more thorough analysis on why I believe Coralie Fargeat’s subversive rape revenge film is one of my favorites of the year here.
I did not expect one of my top three favorites of the year to debut out of YouTube Premium, but hey here we are, and what an unstoppable freight train of a movie this is. I would describe it as Scott Pilgrim meets Battle Rap directed by music video legend Joseph Kahn. It is a brilliantly written and breakneck-paced comedy satirizing our modern media culture, taking no prisoners on commentary. And yet at the same time, it leaves on a morally ambiguous note, hopefully igniting future discussions on the use of language and offensiveness in terms of context, and what we can do to identify context versus actual offense. Of all of the films on my top 10, this is probably the one I’ve revisited the most, showing different groups of people this film not only for their entertainment, but also to gain their perspective on what the film is trying to present. If you haven’t jumped the gun on a YouTube Premium free trial yet, this film is worth doing so.
2. Hereditary If Bodied is the film I went back to the most, Hereditary is one that would be the most difficult for me to revisit. A24 has been distributing and producing quality horror films for quite a few years now. I’ve greatly watched many of them and a few of them have appeared on my top 10 lists of years past, but none of them left me quite as emotionally broken as Hereditary. The film’s portrayal of horror through imagery, writing, suspense, and sound, is so visceral and raw that it almost became too much to handle at points, constantly reminding me to breathe in the theater. But these scares would not be as effective if I didn’t care about the story, and thankfully, Hereditary builds an absorbing family drama with themes of grief, guilt, neglect, and mental deterioration on top, rounding out to an all-time modern horror classic, and it is one that has stuck with me since I’ve seen it, and I guarantee it will not leave my head for a long time. #ToniColetteforOscar. You can hear more detailed thoughts on this film on the Hot Takes episode I’m on here.
Of course it’s Mandy. It had to be Mandy. Mandy is a very special one. I could print out every frame of this film and hang it on a wall it’s so beautiful. How do you make a chainsaw battle so artful? There’s really nothing like Mandy. I could try to make appropriate comparisons, but I always end up coming up short. I guess the closest it would be is 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Hobo with a Shotgun. Otherwise, it’s a truly unique cinematic experience. I was in awe. That’s all I can really say about it without going into spoilers, and you should definitely go into this film knowing as little as possible. Seriously! Go watch it. My list is done. You can go do something else now, preferably watch Mandy. It’s on Shudder! See it on the biggest screen you possibly can and take it all in. It’s just so terrific. Fuck man. I think I’m gonna go watch it again myself.
Thank you for reading!
Jeremy is younger than he looks, and has passionately studied the art and craft of filmmaking for as long as he can remember. He is currently a freelance wedding videographer, and is also heavily involved in Competitive Fighting Games. IG: jeremyko95
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