What helped you get your through the Pandemic Lockdown? Did you start off watching “Tiger King”; feeling equal parts incredulous and ashamed to enjoy such low-brow reality programming? Did you greedily stream “The Queen’s Gambit”; pulled in by the outstanding production design and riveting performance by Anya Taylor-Joy? Or maybe it was the gaudy colors and color-blind casting of “Bridgerton” that brightened your nights. When you look back on this year of streaming our lives away, what do you remember and what did you appreciate? Perhaps it’s all a bit of a blur and now that things in the U.S. are opening up, you’re not looking back but forward.
Awards shows were delayed and the metrics for how works could be nominated were changed. As befitting a year that permitted little access to movie theaters, streaming films were considered for awards. The Academy rolled out an Inclusivity and Diversity Mandate for film production that may have benefitted some movies. We can celebrate that there was more films starring people of color and women–and for the first time, two women were nominated in the directing category!
In many ways, this strange year leveled the playing field. Critics and those on award-nominating committees, often screen films in consideration at home or see them months and sometimes, years, in advance at film festivals. This year we have a film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 (“Promising Young Woman”) in competition for Best Actress with a film that debuted on Hulu last month (“United States Vs. Billy Holliday”)! Will members of the Academy award films that are fresher in their minds or will they beat the Pandemic Fog and rewatch some of these earlier films?
A few films may find less appreciation for having to be seen at home on a smaller screen. “Midnight Sun” and “Nomadland” have wonderful nuanced performances by George Clooney and Frances McDormand, where so much is communicated in a look or in quiet contemplation. The worlds they inhabit, lose some resonance and awe when not projected as intended. Likewise, the insider’s look at Old Hollywood: the glamour, the technical prowess of the filmmaking, and the extraordinary performances of Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, lose their luster without the big screen/theater sound treatment.
What seems more important to me, is not what film or performance is deemed BEST by any group or body. What’s most important is what spoke to you, moved you, brought you into new worlds or new understanding of our world. That’s what movies have the power to do. They not only comfort us and entertain us, they change our perspective. Here are the films or series that brought me to another place.
“The Queen’s Gambit” Netflix series thrilled me with it’s unusual story and well-crafted settings. Like an extended chess game, I was intrigued by the puzzle of this woman’s mind and the damage she survived. The image of the moving chess pieces as shadows on her ceiling lingered in my mind and the costumes were fantastic. One of the last films I saw before theaters closed was “Emma” (also amazing costumes). To see Anya Taylor-Joy inhabit two such different characters with so much assurance is a wonder.
“The Sound of Metal” brought me into a world I’d never imagined. Riz Ahmed is a revelation as the drug addict struggling with deafness. This was a year where we made space to see other communities and had the time to try to understand new perspectives. With the brilliant sound design that put us into this character’s perception, “The Sound of Metal” gave us an insider’s look at a specific deaf community.
I’ve written about the startling audacity of “A Promising Young Woman” and I’m beyond thrilled that it’s bringing accolades to director/writer Emerald Fennel and the star, Carey Mulligan. My friends who’ve seen it, have told me, they wish this everyone would see this film. Fennel has crafted a revenge film that has moments of joy and comedy and horror. It doesn’t preach a message, it forces you to feel it in your soul.
And speaking of soul…my favorite animated film was “Soul”. I’m a big fan of animation and will often see even the blandest kiddie fare. This year wasn’t a banner year for animation in my book. I loved the painterly scenes of “The Wolfwalkers” and enjoyed the parable and lovely family in “Over the Moon”. “Soul” had a wonderful set of characters, an interesting look at the Afterlife and a sizzling soundtrack. Where I found more joy was in the many Pixar animated shorts that were released this year. Many are available to stream for free on YouTube.
I loved “Nomadland” so much that I’ve seen it three times; once at a Drive-in, once on my laptop and once in a theater. Director Chloé Zhao was nominated four times for this year’s Oscars. Best film, best directing, best adapted screenplay and best film editing. This touching film is a lyrical look at Americans who’ve been left without a safety net by economic uncertainy and must find their own way to create a home.
What brought you joy this year? I hope that as we look back on this year and look forward to our new future, we can continue to seek out new perspectives and celebrate diverse stories that spark conversations. See you at the theater.