CoramDeo's Best of 2020

Well. That sure was a year.

I did at least enjoy some TV and Movies from it. Here are some of my favorites.

TV:

Top 5 Episodes:
  1. Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)
    • It might have been more mixed later on, but Star Trek: Picard premiered with a powerful first episode. Stewart's captivating performance (more on this later) brings a gravity to the return of one of Trek's most important characters.
  2. Fadeout (Arrow)
    • I'm one of the ones that loved Arrow's finale, warts and all. It's a show that I've always found to be of mixed quality, but it's easily the most consistent of the Arrowverse series when taken as a whole. The finale perfectly (for me) captured the energy of the whole series.
  3. Die Trying (Star Trek: Discovery)
    • It is here that Discovery's third season took a definite turn toward greatness, with a healthy dose of classic Trek and a world that is finally allowed to breathe and take on a life of its own.
  4. Grodd Friended Me (The Flash)
    • Yep. It's super campy. But nothing else this year made me clap my hands and cackle with sheer delight as much as this episode did. This is one of the reasons I love The Flash.
  5. The One Where We’re Trapped on TV (Legends of Tomorrow)
    • Did I mention I like Star Trek? Legends' loving tribute (and satire) of The Original Series was a joy to watch. The other parodies are also funny and well-done, and the character beats are as  top-notch as I've come to expect from this show.

Best Lead Performance: Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: Picard)
Stewart had accepted his age when Star Trek: Picard rolled around. In the TNG movies, especially First Contact, he could be seen as almost running from the years that he had accumulated. Almost Tom Cruise-like, he gained new life as an action hero but was in reality much older than his onscreen feats let on. In Picard, he is an old man, and it is in embracing this that Stewart has found an angle to explore more of Picard's character. Though the plot wavered at times, the writing of Picard himself was usually on point, and Patrick Stewart lent the character every ounce of his considerable abilities.

Best Supporting Performance: Tala Ashe (Legends of Tomorrow)
I'm always impressed by performers who can believably pull off two distinct characters in the same piece of media, and Tala Ashe had an additional challenge: One of them was replacing the other one, and I loved the original. But against all odds, I first begrudgingly accepted the new version of Zari, and then wholeheartedly welcomed the character. Ashe's performance, later encompassing multiple Zaris in the same episode, brought sympathy to a character I was predisposed to dislike.

Best Guest Performance: Jeri Ryan, ‘Stardust City Rag’ (Star Trek: Picard)
I may not have liked 'Stardust City Rag', but Jeri Ryan's performance was far from the reason why. Ryan returns to her original character and slips right back into the role, bringing with her the weight of such a long history that Seven of Nine must have experienced since we last saw her. Her dilemma and her moral struggle was impactful, and it's Jeri Ryan that sells it.

Best Score: Jeff Russo (Star Trek: Picard)
My immediate love for the opening theme of Star Trek: Picard cannot be overstated. I have since downloaded the entire score from Season One, and it continues to amaze me. Russo's command of the Trek music suite with its common motifs, themes, and instruments is astounding, and the new work he crafts from those tools is something to behold. I haven't loved a television score like this in a long time.

Best Direction: Hanelle Culpepper, ‘Forget Me Not’ (Star Trek: Discovery)
I'm coming to the conclusion that of the up and coming directors working in genre tv right now, Culpepper is my favorite. In 'Forget Me Not', her visual sense is on display, as is her capacity for silence and stillness. The imagery in 'Forget' is some of the best I've seen on Discovery to date, and some of its most effective moments come when the action slows down and characters are left to themselves - I'm thinking primarily of Adira's cello playing, which takes on two different tones depending on whether or not you know what's going on.

I'm really happy that I get to have so much Star Trek on this list. 2019 was probably the year of the superhero, but for me, 2020 was the year of Star Trek.


Movies:

Top 10:
  1. Wolfwalkers
    • The fourth feature from Cartoon Saloon, after The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner. All are animated films with strong cultural flavor and gorgeous visual styles. Now they have made Wolfwalkers, a film as mature and graceful as any I've seen in the last few years. With one breathtaking animated sequence after another, and a mature and well-developed story that still remains digestible for children, Wolfwalkers is a triumph.
  2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
    • Charlie Kaufman's latest employs his talents for surrealism and metaphor in impressive ways. His imagery is striking, his character(s?) compelling. Jesse Plemons, who has been making a name for himself steadily over the last decade, is excellent opposite Jessie Buckley. Both do impressive work with the extremely dense material written for them, and the claustrophobic and monotonous setting.
  3. The Vast of Night
    • It's impossible to watch this and not think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But this film, picked up by Amazon after a festival debut in 2019, carves out its own path. With an impressive focus on turning dials, flipping switches, and plugging things in and out, you won't find a more patient film in 2020. The long takes place considerable strain on the young stars, who hold up admirably and turn in impressive work. And, of course, that shot.
  4. Gunpowder Heart
    • Part of a series of films that were slated to premiere at the cancelled 2020 SXSW film festival, which were given a release on Amazon Prime for a limited time. Gunpowder Heart, or Pólvora en el Corazón, was my favorite of the ones I watched. Director Camila Urrutia and her Director of Photography Paolo Giron use their camera in tender and careful ways, filming their subjects with equal degrees of love and blunt accuracy. As the two women go in different directions, it's hard not to feel for their plight. Absolutely worth a watch if you can find it. Of course, I seem to be the only person in the world that liked this, so perhaps you should take this with a grain of salt.
  5. Bill and Ted Face the Music
    • Although Bill and Ted Face the Music has a message that amounts to a Coca-Cola commercial level of naive optimism, maybe that's exactly what we needed this year. A passion project for Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, this film plays with the formula of the original two Bill and Ted movies in entertaining and often hilarious ways. If nothing else, watch this for the two old friends returning, and for great comedic turns from Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Anthony Carrigan. This is a most excellent film.
  6. The Shock of the Future
    • Another Amazon SXSW release, Le Choc Du Futur is yet another creative-process film. This take on the formula could easily feel stale and tired, but Alma Jodorowsky is radiant in the lead role, and the production and sound design make it feel fresh and exciting. Much like The Vast of Night, there is a considerable and impressive emphasis on the lead character's physical interaction with her equipment. Again, if you can find a way to see this, I recommend it.
  7. The Invisible Man
    • A taut and sleek horror-thriller with great social commentary, The Invisible Man plays in the same areas as Get Out. And it's almost as compelling and engaging, until the final twenty minutes. The ending disturbed me in ways the filmmaker did not, I think, intend. Still worth a watch for the way Leigh Whannell crafts terror from empty spaces, the insanity of the film's twists and turns, and Elizabeth Moss' brilliant performance.
  8. Blow the Man Down
    • Coastal Maine in its blood and Fargo in its bones, Blow the Man Down has a lot going for it. An able debut from directors Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole, the film takes risks and they pay off. It's an idiosyncratic thriller in a very Coen brothers sense, and its excellent sense of location and culture gives it a unique feel. Young leads Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor carry the film ably, and they are bolstered by a powerful supporting turn from Margo Martindale.
  9. Mank
    • David Fincher returns with a flawed but interesting biopic about the writer of Citizen Kane. But much like the original film (hot take time I guess), I don't really care too much about the lead character, and am instead intrigued by the supporting cast. Amanda Seyfried and Tuppence Middleton in particular are quite compelling, and I always enjoy Lily Collins' performances. Still, Gary Oldman does a good job, and Mank is an interesting person in certain ways. This is just as likely to win Best Picture as anything else, so I recommend giving it a shot.
  10. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
    • I initially had The Trial of the Chicago 7 in this spot, but when I look back at it, this film moved me and challenged me much more. Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (more on him later) create an interesting central conflict of ideas, but it often feels as though the film is fighting itself as well. The modernity of the cinematography and style clashes with the fact that this is clearly meant to be a play (it was adapted from August Wilson's play of the same name). Still, it's engaging and it moved me more than I expected it to.

Best Lead Performance: Elizabeth Moss (The Invisible Man)
The fear is palpable in The Invisible Man, in part due to Leigh Whannell's direction. But it is Elizabeth Moss' performance that sells the film. Without her, it would fall entirely flat. Moss' command of expressions, of her little tics and mannerisms, instills in me the sort of overwhelming terror that few films can manage to do anymore.

Best Supporting Performance: Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)
This is a difficult one to write about. After all, discussion surrounding Boseman's work will forever be tinged with a profound sorrow that transcends his performances themselves. However, everything Boseman produces as Levee in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom glows with a magic I can't quite explain. His energy and the sheer power of his delivery are transcendent. It's exceedingly showy, but it works in the context of the film. It may be the performance of the year, and it will also go down as the performance of a lifetime.

Best Direction: Andrew Patterson (The Vast of Night)
Patterson debuted this year with The Vast of Night, and I'm absolutely thrilled to see where he goes from here. He's got the flourish of a man who knows he's done something impressive, but it is impressive. He combines some of the most remarkable technical achievements of the last few years with careful, methodical long takes that draw the audience in. The camerawork and the performances Patterson draws from his young actors put him instantly onto the list of people I'll be watching over the next few years.

Best Score: Bruno Coulais (Wolfwalkers)
Admittedly, I don't know nearly as much about music in films as I do about other aspects of filmmaking. It makes it more difficult to write about. However, the score in Wolfwalkers is gorgeous. The sweeping tones of Coulais' music perfectly accompany the breathtaking visuals. As a sensory experience, every element of the film works in tandem with every other element to form a work of beauty and wonder.

Best Cinematography: Miguel I. Littin-Menz (The Vast of Night)
From the insane tracking shot through the entirety of the small town in which The Vast of Night is set, to the lengthy slow zooms of Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz leaning intently into their radio equipment, Littin-Menz' cinematography is essential to the film's success. The flashy technical marvels, combined with patient moderation, make the viewing experience immersive and intense.

Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things)
Kaufman's Ending Things is perhaps the culmination of the eccentric and philosophically exploratory work that has populated his career. With pages upon pages of endless dialogue, stilted sequences of conversation that never quite get where they're going, and random shifting of time, location, and even characters, Kaufman does not pull any punches, nor does he alter his purposes for a general audience. His brand of heady, often insane exploration of memory, time, and life itself can and certainly does turn off many, but for me, it has rarely worked better than this.

Still to see:
-Tenet
-Nomadland
-Minari
-Soul
-First Cow
-Small Axe
-Sound of Metal
-The Mandalorian S2
-Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S7

This year was no 2019, to be sure, but it did have some great television and films in it. Here's to an even better 2021 for film, and a much better 2021 in total!

--
CoramDeo wishes he had one of them doomsday machines.

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

A lot of interesting choices here, and some I've noted to give them a try. I'm personally so glad to have Patrick Stewart back and acting in my life. Elisabeth Moss is indeed amazing.

Baby M said...

The Vast of Night is a true masterpiece. It's amazing what a first-time director was able to accomplish on a budget less than what the typical tentpole film spends on lunch and snacks for the crew.

Kayne said...

Wow, you just made me want to watch lots of movies I hadn't heard of yet! Thanks!