Hello! If you’re reading this, that means you made it through the tumultuous year of 2019 and you are living and breathing in 2020! Nice! Proud of you. Your reward for living is a nice little grocery list of films curated by me.
As tradition here at Story Screen for the fourth year in a row, I will be presenting you with a list of my favorite films of the previous year. While my contributions to Story Screen were unfortunately more limited than they have been in years past, (due to real life obligations) I still went out and saw quite a number of movies, and the list below is comprised of the films which resonated with me the most. Once again, this is not a ranking of the best films I saw this year, but the ones that impacted me significantly. The ones I revisited the most. The ones that lingered in my head for days, weeks, and months after I saw them. The ones that sparked discussions that left me the most excited and contemplative. The ones that were the most “my shit.” There were a lot of great ones this year! I hope you gain something from reading this list, whether it is a film you have yet to discover, or an affirmation of your own wonderful taste, I’m sure. I’m fine with either.
Before I get into the actual numbered list, here is an unordered list of films I enjoyed a great deal but just didn’t quite make it into the final 10.
The Honorable Mentions:
Dolemite is my Name Shazam! Alita: Battle Angel Marriage Story El Camino Us 1917 Under the Silver Lake John Wick Chapter 3 Climax Midsommar
Now then, onto the list itself! This list is spoiler free, as I implore you to seek these films out if you have not already.
10. In Fabric Directed by Peter Strickland
“The hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the recesses of the spheres of retail...”
Did you ever have the experience when you were a kid when your mom dragged you inside an incredibly busy department store? Restless consumers yelling and tearing through the aisles looking for the best deal. The smell of cheap perfume making your tiny eyes water as your mom holds you by the arm, as the lifeless eyes of the display mannequins stare you down… Yeah that’s pretty much the vibe this movie is going for, and it is spectacular. A hypnotizing and at times, hilariously bonkers mood piece by Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy).
9. Knives Out Directed by Rian Johnson
“The complexity and the gray not lie in the truth, but what you do with the truth once you have it.”
An effortless crowd pleaser. Rian Johnson successfully manages to fully resurrect the long dormant murder mystery drama into something new, exciting, and modern. I know it’s cliche to say that Rian Johnson is good at “subverting expectations,” but rearranging the unfolding of information and drama to the audience made the film feel fresh and stand out amongst the genre itself, as well as many other films this past year.
8. One Cut of the Dead Directed by Shin’ichiro Ueda “Don’t stop shooting!”
Without getting into too many details, (because this movie works best when you know as little as possible going in) One Cut of the Dead triumphs as a screwball Japanese Comedy, as a horror film, and as a tribute to the chaotic and collaborative process of independent filmmaking. If you have a Shudder subscription, this is an essential watch.
7. Mister America Directed by Eric Notarnicola “I have permission from First Amendment to be here.”
I have a pretty firm disbelief in using numbers and stars to rate movies, but if I were to rate Mister America, I would use the On Cinema method and give this film 5 bags of popcorn and a bag of cold McDonald’s french fries. Mister America is a deeply funny send up of the awkwardness of local politics, anchored by a terrific comedic performance by Tim Heidecker, who blends together real life character performance art - reminiscent and rivalling the best of Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters - with the kind of eclectic humor that can only come from someone like Heidecker.
6. Uncut Gems Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie “I mean this is old school, Middle Earth shit.”
Howard Ratner (portrayed beautifully by Adam Sandler) is balancing on a tightrope, but it’s not an ordinary tightrope, it’s an unstable tightrope that can snap at any second while people are throwing shit at him and below him is a pit of hellfire and hungry Alligators. For every correct step he takes, he takes an equally cataclysmic misstep, causing him to almost slip into the fire. We, as an audience, are helpless to do anything. We can only watch. We want Howie to make it to the end of the rope, but at the same time, we contemplate that maybe he deserves to fall into the pit of fire. Either way, watching him walk the tightrope is a visceral and unforgettable experience that reminded me why going to the movies can be a special experience.
5. The Lighthouse Directed by Robert Eggers “He believed that there was some enchantment in the light. Went mad, he did.”
Echoing early German Expressionist filmmakers like F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, while telling a distinctly modern tale of sexual repression through isolation, The Lighthouse is only the second feature film by director Robert Eggers, which has to be something of a minor miracle. The meticulously crafted dialogue, the career defining performances of both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, the exquisite black and white 1.3:1 cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, and the spiraling madness of the story, rival the classics of Edgar Allen Poe, forming together to create a very special film that I know I will be discussing and arguing about for years.
4. The Art of Self-Defense Directed by Riley Stearns “I want to be what intimidates me.”
You know, there’s another movie out there about a meek and emasculated man beaten down by societal wrongs who gives in to violent urges and lashes out that many people are talking about, but I believe Riley Stearn’s, The Art of Self- Defense, deserves just as much recognition. Playing out like a twisted amalgamation of the directing and writing styles of Yorgos Lanthimos and The Coen Brothers, the film balances an intelligent evaluation of modern toxic masculinity, while delivering an absurd premise of the criminal underworld of a karate school that engages effectively from beginning to end. There are also standout performances from both Jesse Eisenberg, delivering his best performance since The Social Network, as well as Imogen Poots and Allesandro Nivola, both of whom I’m always pleasantly surprised to see in small roles in other movies getting to shine as leads here. It’s a quaint and disturbingly dry movie that lingers and connects with me with every rewatch.
3. Parasite Directed by Bong Joon Ho “It's so metaphorical.”
My years of fanboying Korean cinema is finally paying off! Fuck yeah!
If you haven’t seen Parasite yet, you’ve probably at least heard of it, and it is every bit as great as people have been saying. A masterful work by a masterful director. Much like One Cut of the Dead, Parasite should be experienced with as little prior knowledge about it as possible. So I’m just gonna leave it at that. Go watch Parasite. Like right now. Then let’s talk about it.
2. The Irishman Directed by Martin Scorcese “What kind of man makes a call like that…”
Only an editing god like Thelma Schoonmaker can make three hours fly by. What a beautiful piece of work The Irishman is. This movie is about life itself. What are you doing with your life? Are you putting your time on this earth to good use? Are you making sure that you are there for the people you care about? Will you let it all go to waste? The Irishman accomplishes so much emotion and pathos in its last hour that most TV shows couldn’t accomplish in entire multiple season runs. I was devastated and profoundly moved. A true achievement in filmmaking.
1. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood Directed by Quentin Tarantino “When you come to the end of the line with a buddy who is more than a brother, and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell.”
You know, I didn’t expect that I would have two movies two years in a row about cultists getting their asses kicked as my number one. What does that say about me? Who knows! What I do know is that Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is Tarantino at his most sincere, at his most mature, and at his best since Inglourious Basterds. The film is a love letter to many things. It’s a love letter to a time both gone by and a time that never existed. It’s a love letter to lives lived and lives never existed. It’s a constant conversation of fiction and reality, reckoning with the past, what could have been, and what never happened. It’s a beautiful and soulful film. It’s the film I’ve revisited the most out of any others this year, and it brings me joy to see even an egomaniacal director like Tarantino grow and mature as a filmmaker and a storyteller.
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