2020, despite everything, the year was still too short. Too short to watch all the series and movies we wanted to see. By definition, this list is therefore a kind of provisional interim score. Yet in this crazy year in which the cinemas all together close for about six months, we saw a number of films that we would like to remember. To make the search a bit easier, this time we have also written where you can currently find these films.
1. For Sama (online.filmfestival.be, Sooner, myLum, Google Play)
There are such films that transcend the label “film”. For Sama is one of them, this is not a film, but existential viewing food. In For Sama is Waad al-Kateab who shows us, camera in hand, what is like in a besieged Aleppo. It depicts life, war, and death. She starts filming in 2012, finds love in a besieged city, gets married and has a child. All this in the raw reality. There are scenes in the film that we will never get erased. Children painting a burnt-out bus because it is the only form of entertainment left. A boy who cut paper boys, one for each of his friends who have left town. A mother who comes to collect her deceased child from the hospital. A newborn who is literally kicked to life. Heavy viewing food. And yet the film ends with a glimmer of hope.
2. A Hidden Life (Google Play)
We saw these on a big screen in the halls and we couldn’t be happier about that. Terence Malick dedicates this film to all silent heroes. People that hardly anyone knows about, but because of whose contribution – however small – we live in a different, better world today. The three hours – about a farmer who refuses to swear allegiance to Hitler and pays a heavy price for it – are beautiful and A Hidden Life we see once again all the style elements that are so characteristic of Malick come to fruition. The voice-over, the beautiful shots of nature, the contemplative silence: it all adds to the experience. The fact that both August Diehl and Valerie Pachner are two wonderful actors only makes that image even more beautiful.
Terrence has had Malick on for three years A Hidden Life sit assemble, but the result is good.
3. Sound Of Metal (Amazon Prime)
Matthias Schoenaerts was in the running for this role for a while. In the end it became Riz Ahmed (they look alike) who plays Ruben Stone, a drummer in a metal band who suddenly starts to lose his hearing. Sound Of Metal aptly depicts the process of acceptance that you must go through when you suddenly become deaf and the difficulties that come with when you can no longer communicate. Also with a very nice role for Paul Raci, the actor who was raised by deaf parents and speaks fluent sign language.
4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Google Play)
Abroad, this film about 17-year-old Autumn who moves from her conservative home state to New York to undergo an abortion was hailed, in Belgium it was silently dropped on Google Play. Do yourself a favor and check out this gem. The understated acting of first-time actress Sidney Flanigan (she previously worked as a janitor) is impressive, but the role of niece Skylar (Talia Ryder can be seen in the next year’s West Side Storyremake by Steven Spielberg), which moves to New York as moral support, is no less clever. It all happens without too many words and especially without judgment.
5. Soul (Disney +)
Soul was supposed to be in the cinema first, but due to permanent postponement under the influence of the corona pandemic, the film ultimately had only one screening in cinema: to close the Ghent film festival. A shame, because tucked away behind the Disney + paywall, fewer people will have the opportunity to discover this film. That does not alter that Soul is a gem.
The director is Pete Doctor who blew us off our socks a few years ago with Inside Out. Pete’s ambition hasn’t waned since then Soul he tells us an existential story about complex emotions. The story starts with Joe, a music teacher who dreams of an existence as a jazz musician. When he unexpectedly dies, he ends up in a soul world in which he discovers that he has not fully used his life. Together with 22 – a soul in search of her passion in life – Joe tries to find the way back to life.
6. The Farewell (Streamz)
In The Farewell we meet Billi (Awkwafina), a young man in his thirties who lives in New York and tries to give direction to her life. She came with her parents from China to New York when she was six, and although she now feels at home there, she still maintains close contact with her grandmother, whom she affectionately calls Nai Nai. Billi accidentally finds out that her parents are about to leave for China to attend the wedding of her only cousin, who has only been with his new girlfriend for three months. In reality, the party is an excuse to say goodbye to Nai Nai who has terminal cancer.
The Farewell is a soft, melancholic film that mainly made us think about the end of life. Should death come to seize us invisibly, or is it better if it announces itself well in advance, with a loud drum? After looking at it, we thought that we ourselves might want to remain in the dark about an impending fate.
7. Father Soldier Son (Netflix)
Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn are two journalists for The New York Times. In 2010 Catrin Einhorn made a piece about the life of Sergeant Eisch. That article and accompanying photo and video material were published in 2010, but the story kept haunting Einhorn’s mind. In 2014, she asked Leslye Davis to continue working with her on a story about the impact of war on the sergeant’s life. Gradually the two decided to make a movie.
Father Soldier Son shows a different perspective of war. A perspective that we do not consider enough: the toll on the families left behind. It makes this documentary a unique document and an example of the value of slow journalism. Davis and Einhorn observe and record, but make no judgments. That also feels like the right choice.
8. Uncut Gems (Netflix)
None other than Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a shadowy Jewish jeweler who runs a shop in the Manhattan Diamond District. He lives in overdrive, is always hunted and plagued by money worries. He tries to fill one financial hole by making a new one, always making up an excuse why things would go well this one time and all his problems would be solved.
Adam Sandler is playing in overdrive as Howard for more than two hours. Howard is always running somewhere, never seems to have time, always feels the hot breath of yet another creditor on his neck. And if he does take two minutes to stand still, he will shout and rant. That his life is so intense makes it Uncut Gems also to an intense viewing experience. The film lasts two hours and ten minutes. In that time, the viewer is barely allowed to breathe for a second. Still, we wanted to look again immediately afterwards.
9. The Lighthouse (Streamz)
This one was also hailed, but never came to a Belgian cinema release. However, there is much to say about this film in which Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers are slowly driven to madness by the long-lasting isolation. Make it dark in your living room and turn up the speakers, because the bellowing of the lighthouse alarm is an experience in itself.
10. 1917 (Streamz)
The plot of 1917 is quite simple: Corporal Blake is given a special assignment and may choose one companion. He chooses Corporal Schofield and together they must deliver a message to two battalions of troops ready for the attack, deep in enemy territory. The army command has learned that the Germans expect the attack and that the soldiers are walking straight into a trap, possibly resulting in 1,600 deaths. Small extra: Corporal Blake’s brother is also among the men.
Sam Mendes has already stated in interviews that he 1917 more as a thriller than as a war film and we understand what he means by this. 1917 is a race against time that impresses most in his shots, courtesy of cameraman Roger Deakins. We have noticed that a second viewing has already lost a lot of the tension of the film, but those images remain valuable.
11. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (Streamz)
Tom Hanks is arguably the biggest loser in the corona pandemic: Not only were he and his wife among the first known sick in March, three of his films did not hit theaters. On News Of The World we still have to wait, but this one A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood you can drink yourself warm.
Hanks plays Fred Rogers, the famous host of a children’s show. Rogers is interviewed by the cynical journalist Mr. Bird (Matthew Rhys). Who does not believe that someone with so much goodness in them can be real. A moving story about forgiveness and seeing the good in every person.
12. Limp (Netflix)
David Fincher has been walking around with this scenario since the 90s. It is only now that the blockbuster director like The Social Network, Gone Girl and Se7en this film, with a screenplay written by his father, has been made into a film. In Limp – his first film in six years – he tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz, screenwriter among others Citizen Kane and enfant terrible in Hollywood.
Fincher uses the story to tell something about the times of then and the times of now and apparently also wants to tell us that true creative souls have always had to fight for their place in the film industry. It is something different from what we are used to from Fincher and perhaps also his most personal and most challenging film. There are a lot of names and references in the film that lose their power if you cannot place them, but Fincher does here what Herman Mankiewicz did with Citizen Kane: don’t underestimate its audience. This is driven Oscar equipment.
13. The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (Netflix)
Screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin deals with the trial of some peaceful Protestants who fought the Vietnam War in 1968. The Trial Of The Chicago 7 may take place in the late 1960s, but you cannot ignore the fact that Sorkin is actually – tragic as it may be – telling a film about today. About peaceful protests that get out of hand. About growing discontent and about abuse of power by the police. And about politicians who vehemently deny that.
Aaron Sorkin wrote the script for Steven Spielberg back in 2007. Will Smith was still cast as Bobby Seale, Heath Ledger was on board as Tom Hayden. Time has of The Trial Of The Chicago 7 made another movie. But at the same time, he couldn’t have come at a better time.
14. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (Netflix)
When a new film arrives from the man who brought us work as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Anomalisa or Adaptation then we expect a lot. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things was a lot and yet not what we expected. Which we were happy about in retrospect, because that’s how Charlie Kaufman continues to surprise us.
Jesse Plemons and the amazing Jessie Buckley play a couple. She is going to meet his parents for the first time. And then they get stuck in a snowstorm. An elusive, but also wonderful and melancholic film where some of the best moments take place between two people talking to each other in a car. Just imitate him.
15. Systemsprenger / System Crasher (Sooner, myLum, Google Play,)
In System Crasher we step into the difficult life of nine-year-old girl Benni. Benni (an impressive Helena Zengel, 11 years old) struggles with life. She suffers from sudden fits of anger and aggression, absolutely does not want her face to be touched and has a mother (Lisa Hagmeister) who cannot or will not take care of her. Benni ends up in youth care. That we quite System Crasher hoping for a happy ending for Benni, despite her unruly behavior, is the strength of the film. We would like to see more of that little Helena Zengel. She will soon be seen alongside Tom Hanks in News Of The World, on Netflix.
16. Little Women (Streamz)
Little Women had to make do with the prize for Costume Design at the most recent edition of the Oscars, and that was just a bit too little. Little Women is already the fourth adaptation of the famous book by Louisa May Alcott from the second half of the 19th century, which describes the lives of the four March sisters. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is their ambitious writer and moves to New York to get her stories published, Meg (Emma Watson), the eldest, dreams of love and a family, Amy (Florence Pugh), wants to marry rich and her perfecting painting and then there is Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the silent and gifted pianist.
At first sight they are ordinary people with ordinary lives. And yet they are all special. Most of the story focuses on Jo, who wants to remain independent, earn her own money as a writer and refuse to link her fate to that of a man. As a whole remains Little Women something banal, but because there was both great talent in front of and behind the camera, we found that extraordinary in the ordinary while watching.
17. Rocks (Sooner, myLum)
This movie reminded us The Florida Project. Rocks – the nickname of a 15-year-old British-Nigerian girl – fights against the same poverty and neglect. The teachers at school encourage her to think about the future, but the problems she is experiencing in the present swallow her completely. When her mother suddenly disappears – and not for the first time – she has to take care of her little brother. Above all, she does not want to show anything to the outside world. The young protagonists are non-professional actors, but you cannot find fault for a moment.
18. Lynn + Lucy (Streamz, Sooner)
Lynn + Lucy starts as a story about two childhood friends who visibly have a hard time in life. One (Lynn) became a mother at a young age, Lucy continued to party a bit longer, but has now also given birth to a child. The two are still close friends and also live opposite each other. Until a dramatic event puts a firm strain on the friendship between the two. You are left with a lump in your throat.
19. Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix)
Kirsten Johnson did the most vulnerable thing a documentary maker can do: she made a film about the death of her father, together with him, by letting him die in all kinds of ways.
“The idea of ever losing this man is unbearable,” she says somewhere. And at the same time Kirsten Johnson knows that that moment is not far away anymore. Born in 1932, Richard “Dick” Johnson has always been a psychiatrist, but now he suffers from Alzheimer’s and the moment when the world has to say goodbye to him is drawing near. As a kind of therapeutic preparation, Kirsten decides – with the permission of her father – to make a film about his death.
20. The Stig
Also The Stig had a very unfortunate release date (in the week of the lockdown) so that the documentary about the rehabilitation of cyclist Stig Boeckx did not receive the attention it deserves. Even those who don’t know or don’t like cycling – like ourselves – will admire the Stig’s perseverance. Eric Goens – who made this film together with Stig – shows once again that he is a master interviewer and does not leave any difficult questions unanswered.
21. The Last Black Man In San Francisco (Streamz)
When we went to watch this film in cinema Lumière in Antwerp, we were alone in the halls of summer. Just to say that this film that had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival has not received enough attention.
The film revolves around Jimmie Fails who strives to get back the house his grandfather built. Together with his friend Montgomery, he makes a weekly trip through San Francisco to the house, where they mourn the changed neighborhood. When they see the opportunity to live in the house – as squatters – they don’t hesitate for a moment.
22. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (Netflix)
Crip Camp is after the Oscar-winning American Factory the second documentary co-produced by the Obamas to be released on Netflix. Also now we understand why, because Crip Camp has a lot to say about how we as a society deal with people who are “different”, and about inclusion.
It is nice to see how people with disabilities fight for their own lives. For their independence. And it is nice to see how a seemingly small good deed – organizing a summer camp for a few young people – can have very big consequences. Consequences that have changed the lives of many people with disabilities.