10. Time 🇺🇸
For 18 years Fox Richardson (aka “Fox Rich”), a modern-day abolitionist, filmed thousands of home videos for her imprisoned husband Rob. Convicted of bank robbery in 1997, Rich served 3 ½ years while the court sentenced Rob to sixty years in prison. In an 81-minute span, Garrett Bradley’s affecting black and white documentary “Time,” explains the memories Rob has brutally lost with his six children due to a prison industrial complex that, when it comes to black people, rarely fits the punishment with the crime. Bradley delicately edits the heartfelt video messages Fox recorded on VHS, along with the missed birthday parties, her impassioned speeches, and her building frustration in the face of an implacable system. Representing the width and span of Fox’s fight is the challenge of “Time.” Bradley can’t show every way Fox’s life has been put on hold, or every don’t call us we’ll call you. She can only show the result: A woman who’s been jerked around enough by a slow-moving system that she’s lost all patience. Bradley explicates not only how the prison industrial complex defrauds Black folks of more than time, but the undaunted resiliency felt by one woman to free her husband.
Available on Amazon Prime
9. Lovers Rock 🇬🇧
It’s almost criminal to only list two films from Steve McQueen’s five-part anthology series Small Axe. Especially when films like Red, White and Blue and Education are present. But if I had to choose two essential watches, the previously listed Mangrove would be one, as is Lovers Rock. More a mood piece than a concise narrative, Lovers Rock takes place at a 1980 West Indian reggae house party in West London, wherein a romance forms between two partygoers: Franklyn (Michael Ward) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn). The obvious highlight of the film occurs when Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” comes on the turntable, and morphs a tiny room into a mass of sensually swaying black bodies adorned in resplendent dresses and skin-hugging slacks. Tactile drips of steam run down the walls; the DJ’s voice booms; and then the music stops. But the singing doesn’t. Instead, artifice fades into a pure spirituality. Wherein the actors are no longer acting. They are freely existing as black people within a safe black space. Lovers Rock, however, is more than that one scene. It captures political resistance. It critiques predatory men. It’s the wild overflow of emotion that happens when the tensions felt in a racist society are released in the comfort of dance, food, love, and community. And it might be the best film of McQueen’s career.
Available on Amazon Prime
8. Minari 🇺🇸
It’s been over a year since I last watched Minari. I was lucky enough to see it at its Sundance 2020 premiere, with a crowd of friends. I didn’t know at the time how much of a treat that experience was. To laugh. To cry. To worry in unison with a throng of moviegoers. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, which unfolds to find a father struggling to realize the American Dream, inspired all of those shifts in emotion. Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica Yi (Han Ye-ri), along with their children David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho), are a Korean-American family who have moved from California to rural Arkansas. Jacob arrives with dreams of starting a farm so he might sell the resulting produce to a Korean market in Dallas. It’s a far-fetched dream that finds a wrinkle when Monica’s blunt free-spirited mother (Youn Yuh-jung) arrives to care for the children. Chung fits coming of age tropes, by way of a mischievous David’s tense relationship with his grandmother, in a narrative that follows a crumbling marriage, pressures of assimilation, and a failed American promise. No individual performance is lacking. No calamity rings false. And every roll up this Sisyphean hill makes the bumps this family discovers all the more worthwhile.
7. I’m Thinking of Ending Things 🇺🇸
A young woman (Jessie Buckley)—whose name we never learn—accompanies her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to visit his parents on their snowy farm. She is on the verge of breaking up with him. She just doesn’t know how. That’s the easy entry point. Everything else about Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things—from the opening credits’ microscopic font to the disintegration of familiar storytelling methods—is proudly inaccessible. It’s also, surprisingly, one of the funniest films of 2020. Key beats like Jake singing the “Tulsey Town” theme, a tongue-biting ditty that’s one half silly and another half Willy Wonka nightmare fuel, or the “directed by Robert Zemeckis” zinger—inspire viewers to side-splitting laughter. Toni Collette and David Thewlis, as Jake’s parents, are equally as hilarious in their weird quirks. Kaufman fits these atonal character notes into a composition that loves changing its narrative keys without any hint of a transition. I’m Thinking of Ending Things ponders dementia, depression, and self-fulfillment. How when we try so hard to please someone else, we ultimately lose ourselves. Of any movie on this list, Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the most likely to have its already apparent genius further revealed in time. It’s also just a maddeningly brilliant ride.
Available on Netflix
6. Martin Eden 🇮🇹
No one told Luca Marinelli that 2020 was supposed to be a terrible year. He first broke out in the Gina Prince-Bythewood directed superhero flick The Old Guard. Where he played Nicky, an immortal soldier, who compromised one half of a dream power couple, globe trekking with a team of immortal mercenaries to fight injustice. But it’s his dramatic turn as the titular character in Pietro Marcello’s gorgeous adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 autobiographical novel, Martin Eden, that he most shines in. Marcello substitutes Italy as the setting for London’s American story. Thereby, allowing him to tap into the historical political undercurrents of European thought and culture. See, Martin is an undereducated laborer who desperately wants to rise above his station. When he meets the wealthy Elena (Jessica Cressy), she awakens a thirst for knowledge in him, which leads to Martin dreaming of becoming a famous writer, so he might earn her hand in marriage. While Martin initially looks up to Elena’s family, the more he self-educates, the more he comes to despise their bourgeoisie slant in the face of his socialist lean. He also realizes that he’ll never be accepted into their inner-circle. That hurt fuels him to find fame as an author, self-mythologize his past, and regress into a new-money lush pained by rotting teeth. Marinelli makes this descent believable by imbuing this character with the kind charm and self-loathing that only comes from the sweetness of a dream, and the sourness of its realization.
Available on VOD