Josh Timmermann

writes about movies, music and other things at jlt/jlt. He lives in vancouver, bc

As of mid-December, I’ve watched considerably fewer new films this year than during any year I can remember but I’ve seen a few great ones, and more than a few awfully good ones, nevertheless. Most of the titles listed below (including eight of my top 10!) I screened at home as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, which did a commendable job of putting together a strong slate and accommodating viewers despite present constraints.

  1. Nam-mae-wui Yeo-reum-bam (Moving On, Yoon Dan-bi, 2019)
  2. Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2020)
  3. Suk Suk (Twilight’s Kiss, Ray Yeung, 2019)
  4. Služobníci (Servants, Ivan Ostrochovsky, 2020)
  5. Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, 2020)
  6. Mijn Rembrandt (My Rembrandt, Oeke Hoogendijk, 2019)
  7. Undine (Christian Petzold, 2020)
  8. Il traditore (The Traitor, Marco Bellocchio, 2019)
  9. Die Getriebenen (Merkel – Anatomy of a Crisis, Stephan Wagner, 2020)
  10. Ye heung, yuen yeung, Sham Shui Po (Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down, Leung Ming-kai and Kate Reilly, 2019)
  11. Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2020)
  12. She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, 2020)
  13. Été 85 (Summer of 85, François Ozon, 2020)
  14. Mank (David Fincher, 2020)
  15. Hammamet (Gianni Amelio, 2020)
  16. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner, 2020)
  17. Ninzu no Machi (The Town of Headcounts, Shinji Araki, 2020)
  18. Onward (Dan Scanlon, 2020)
  19. Sanzaru (Xia Magnus, 2020)
  20. Host (Rob Savage, 2020)
  21. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, 2020)
  22. My Mexican Bretzel (Nuria Giménez, 2019)
  23. Last and First Men (Jóhann Jóhansson, 2020)
  24. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, 2019)
  25. John Ware Reclaimed (Cheryl Foggo, 2020)

Initial encounters with older films

  1. Kurutta kajitsu (Crazed Fruit, Kō Nakahira, 1956)
  2. The Bigamist (Ida Lupino, 1953)
  3. Häxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)
  4. The Small Back Room (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949)
  5. Pengabdi Setan (Satan’s Slaves, Joko Anwar, 2017)

Jon towlson

author of global horror cinema today (MCFARLAND, 2021) & DAWN OF THE DEAD (AUTEUR/LIVERPOOL UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2021)

Films of the year (in alphabetical order):
AV The Hunt (Emre Akay, 2020)
His House (Remi Weekes, 2020)
Mank (David Fincher, 2020)
Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020)
Rebecca (Ben Wheatley, 2020)
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)
Synchronic (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2019)
Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2019)
Tesla (Michael Almereyda, 2020)
The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, 2019)

Vitalina Varela

Tomas trussow


Time (Garrett Bradley, 2020) / Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
Two films about two very different homecomings. One has a widow stepping out of a plane into the perpetual twilight of Lisbon to sift through the remnants of her late husband’s existence. The other follows a woman mustering all her strength and resources to secure her incarcerated husband’s release. Lost years become dust mites, crags in stone, crackling phone calls and home videos of happier times, and we are left with the resilience of two formidable women as they battle forces within and outside themselves to find their truest moment of clarity.

Ask Any Buddy (Evan Purchell, 2019) / Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2020)
Loneliness is such a sad affair, and so it’s satisfying to see two distinctly queer films bridging solitude with the euphoric potential of human connection. Purchell’s sinuous supercut of adult films produced during the heyday of gay liberation results in dreamy pockets of sensual communion in public spaces. Meanwhile, Tsai’s meditation on life’s mundanities finds its apex in an unexpected flowering of emotion during a hotel room encounter. As men of different stripes come together for a brief glimpse of ecstasy and then go their separate ways, the imprint of their passions casts an unforgettable coruscation.

First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019) / Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
Surreptitious thievery sets these distinctly American features in motion. For Reichardt’s fortune hunters, it is the only way to get ahead on the unforgiving frontier and have their aspirations realised. For Hittman’s women, it is a desperate gamble to maintain their bodily autonomy in a country ensnared in political rhetoric over their reproductive rights. Neither film vaunts an American Dream, finding instead solace in the bonds we etch with our closest confidantes. Insoluble and resilient, they provide stability when our lives pitch out of joint, assuring us that we are never truly alone in our daily trials.

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020) / Tabi no owari sekai no hajimari (To the Ends of the Earth, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019)
Nomadland clearly distinguishes being houseless from being homeless: a wandering spirit does not need a permanent dwelling to belong on this earth. Zhao’s film honours that philosophy with a graceful empathy. Kurosawa’s, on the other hand, wrestles with this idea as it follows its bewildered heroine during a documentary shoot in Uzbekistan, where culture shock, career doubts, and foiled connections take their toll. The telling of cinema is, in its very fabric, a constant search for a home in an increasingly hostile world, and these films visualise the struggles and triumphs of this search for belonging.

Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, 2020) / Still Processing (Sophy Romvari, 2020)
Cinema can also extend to a search for closure and comfort: a home carved in the refuse of traumatic violence and pain. Johnson prepares herself for her father’s mortality by staging his death and spiritual rebirth like a blackly comic masque, filled with props and stunts that try to rob the Grim Reaper of his scythe. Romvari’s short film deals with death now passed, confronted by photographic remnants that begin the suturing of wounds long unhealed. Moments of wordlessness punctuate both works, decluttering aural space to give grief full expression before the filmmakers can seek the catharsis they long for.

Driveways (Andrew Ahn, 2019) / Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)
The pandemic has forced us to keep intergenerationality at the forefront, as interactions between the young and old continue to risk serious consequences. For this reason do these films reverberate so strongly. Two young boys from different worlds are enriched by the presence of elders, be it a saucy grandmother or a gruff war veteran; their bonds are a snapshot of relations greatly missed and a reminder of how much we are shaped by those who come before us. These films sing us sweet songs and embrace us with loving memories at a time when we need them most.

Om det oändliga (About Endlessness, Roy Andersson, 2019) / World of Tomorrow 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime (Don Hertzfeldt, 2020)
Andersson and Hertzfeldt share a beautiful thing in common: no image, concept, or evocation is too grand for their storytelling. The works they shared this year continue to fit snugly in their oeuvres, meditating as they do on the bizarre rigmaroles of existence when pasts and presents blend with interchangeable rhythms and usher us into fantastical realms and tableaux. These are films to inspire awe and fuel imaginative prowess. They pluck us from a world of strife and offer us the chance to get lost in their tapestries so that we feel revitalised by the scope of their originality.

David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020) / Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020)
Byrne sings of people coming to his house while McQueen recreates a London house party for young Caribbeans. Though separated geographically and temporally, these films are propelled by the potentialities held within song and movement. Dancing bodies and the communal euphoria of familiar music thrumming the air possess ineluctable sensations that transcend the screen. In a year like this, these films remind us that we are still alive from the sweat on our brows and the pulse that glows our hearts anew as we catch our breath and sweep the ground with our feet, yielding to a melodious intoxication.

Her Socialist Smile (John Gianvito, 2020) / Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2019)
A year of inertia is one where the autodidact can flourish, and here we have films devoted to the making of political individuals. Negotiating socialist principles with striking erudition, Helen Keller used her beliefs to fight for the greater good; in contrast, Marcello’s individualist crumbles from disillusionment when his compass goes awry. Despite differing outcomes, these films reject formal simplicity to portray their self-edifying subjects with disarming acuteness, reinvigorating the parameters of the cinematic space in the same way Keller and Eden are actualised through the politicised discourse that is the lifeblood of their souls.

koen van daele


Top Five
First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019)
Malmkrog (Manor House, Cristi Puiu, 2020)
Le sel des larmes (The Salt of Tears, Philippe Garrel, 2019)

Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran, Hong Sang-soo, 2019)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, 2020)
Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2019)
Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil, Mohannad Rasoulof, 2020)
Siberia (Abel Ferrara, 2020)

City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, 2020)
The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, 2020)
Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó együttlétre (Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, Lili Horvát, 2020)
Mila (Apples, Christos Nikou, 2020)
Pieces of a Woman (Kornél Mundruczó, 2020)
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)

Dorogie tovarischi! (Dear Comrades!, Andrei Konchalovsky, 2000)
Gagarine (Fanny Liatard, Jérémy Trouilh, 2020)
Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky, 2020)
Medena zemja (Honeyland, Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov, 2019)
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)
The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, 2020)

76 Days (Hao Wu, 2020)
Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)
The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer, 2020)
Limbo (Ben Sharrock, 2020)
MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard, 2020)
Une nuit à l’opéra (A Night at the Opera, Sergey Loznitsa, 2020)
Un pays qui se tient sage (The Monopoly of Violence, David Dufresne, 2020)
Undine (Christian Petzold, 2020)
Yi zhi you dao hai shui bian lan (Swimming Out till the Sea Turns Blue, Jia Zhang-ke, 2020)


Nicholas de villiers


Released for the first time in 2020:

  1. Rizi (Days, Tsai Ming-liang, 2020): A queer diasporic meditation on sex work as care work, with callbacks to Tsai’s earlier films The River and I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone.
  2. Landfall (Cecilia Aldarondo, 2020): A lyrical, urgent documentary about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane María with crucial lessons about disaster capitalism and popular struggle against corruption.
  3. October Rumbles (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2020): A short film made for The Polygon Gallery reflecting on the rainy season.
  4. Gretel & Hansel (Oz Perkins, 2020): One of the last films I saw in a theatre, a smart feminist revision with gorgeous lighting reminiscent of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
  5. Circus of Books (Rachel Mason, 2020): More of a portrait of the filmmaker’s family than the gay porn shop they ran, but with important historical perspectives on censorship, homophobia, and queer community.
  6. Paris Is Burning deleted scenes and outtakes (Jennie Livingston, 2020): Newly available with the Criterion release of Livingston’s 1990 drag ball documentary, an entirely different potential film emerges with more of a focus on queer kinship and domestic life outside the ballroom.
  7. World of Tomorrow Episode III: The Absent Destinations of David Prime (Don Hertzfeldt, 2020): The third instalment of Hertzfeldt’s animated science fiction series about cloning, time travel, and memory with his trademark dark humour and unique digital aesthetic.
  8. 2020: An Isolation Odyssey (Lydia Cambron, 2020) A brilliant tribute to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey filmed in isolation with shot-for-shot matching of the final bedroom scene.

I am also grateful to my local independent cinema, Sun-Ray Cinema (Jacksonville, FL), for their pop-up drive-in programming, which often spoke to the moment with films like Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975).

Other films re-watched during isolation that took on a new relevance during COVID-19/quarantine: The Hole (Dong, Tsai Ming-liang, 1998), 301/302 (Park Chul-soo, 1995), Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954), Caged (John Cromwell, 1950), Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988), Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise, 1971), and The Thing (Jon Carpenter, 1982).

Effective Online Festivals:
Asian Pop-Up Cinema (a Chicago-based festival moved online, with rental programming of East Asian cinema): I watched Survival Family (Sabaibaru famiri, Shinobu Yaguchi, 2017), screened for Father’s Day, also relevant to our current sense of disaster/survival.

Queer Asia COVID-19 Community Support Screenings (June & July): I watched the Shanghai drag culture documentary Extravaganza (Matthew Baren, 2017), which made me miss queer nightlife. I appreciated the fact that the screenings were free but with suggested donations to queer community support organisations selected by the filmmakers.

“Trapped! The Cinema of Confinement” (July & August): The Korean Cultural Centre UK and Birkbeck, University of London collaborated with a new season of Korean Film Nights curated by a collective of MA students from Birkbeck responding to life in the time of pandemic, drawing on the resources of the Korean Film Archive (free films on YouTube). It was nice to have the opportunity to revisit 301, 302 (Park Chul-soo, 1995) with a smart introduction by the curators.

Black Star Film Festival (August) (a Philadelphia-based film festival focused on films about and by Black, brown and indigenous people from around the world): I was grateful to watch Cecilia Aldarondo’s urgent and moving documentary Landfall, accompanied by great discussions with the filmmakers.

Global Taiwan Institute Taiwanese Film Week (October 21–29) (free video-on-demand screenings subsidised by the Taiwan Ministry of Culture): I watched Long Time No Sea (Zhiyou dahai zhidao, Heather Tsui, 2018), The Great Buddha+ (Dafu pu la si, Huang Hsin-yao, 2017), The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (Xue guanyin, Yang Ya-che, 2017), Wansei Back Home (Wan sheng hui jia, Huang Ming-cheng, 2015), and The Receptionist (Jiexianyuan, Jenny Lu, 2016). These films made me miss Taiwan profoundly, and it is important to look to Taiwan right now as a positive example of an effective pandemic response.

Peter Verstraten


Films that I watched in Dutch theatres in 2020, except for numbers 9, 13 and 30. In order of preference:

  1. Fellwechselzeit (Time of Moulting, Sabrina Mertens, 2020)
  2. Nanfang chezhan de juhui (The Wild Goose Lake, Yi’nan Diao, 2019)
  3. Dylda (Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov, 2019)
  4. Mosquito (Joao Nuno Pinto, 2020)
  5. Tantas Almas (Valley of Souls, Nicolás Rincón Gille, 2019)
  6. Adoration (Fabrice Du Welz, 2019)
  7. Lillian (Andreas Horvath, 2019)
  8. Fanny Lye Deliver’d (Thomas Clay, 2019)
  9. Seules les bêtes (Only the Animals, Dominik Moll, 2019)
  10. Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2019)
  11. Uncut Gems (Benny and Josh Safdie, 2019)
  12. A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)
  13. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)
  14. Muidhond (Tench, Patrice Toye, 2019)
  15. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)
  16. La Gomera (The Whistlers, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2019)
  17. Mank (David Fincher, 2020)
  18. White on White (Théo Court, 2019)
  19. Dark Waters (Todd Haynes, 2019)
  20. Tenet (Christopher Nolan, 2020)
  21. J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy, Roman Polanksi, 2019)
  22. The Painted Bird (Václav Marhoul, 2019)
  23. Yokogao (A Girl Missing, Kôji Fukada, 2019)
  24. Tlamess (Alaeddine Slim, 2019)
  25. Jipuragirado japgo sipeun jimseungdeul (Beasts Clawing at Straws, Yong-hoon Kim, 2020)
  26. Öndög (Egg, Quan’an Wang, 2019)
  27. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot, 2019)
  28. Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello, 2019)
  29. Metri Shesh Va Nim (Just 6.5, Saeed Roustayi, 2019)
  30. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019)
  31. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
  32. La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, 2019)
  33. Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, 2019)
  34. Atlantique (Atlantics, Mati Diop, 2019)
  35. Duelles (Mother’s Instinct, Olivier Masset-Depasse, 2018)
  36. Ema (Pablo Larraín, 2019)
  37. 1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019)
  38. Buladó (Eché Janga, 2020)
  39. Fransutz (A Frenchman, Andrey Smirnov, 2019)
  40. Três Verões (Three Summers, Sandra Kogut, 2019)
  41. Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019)
  42. Beolsae (House of Hummingbird, Bora Kim, 2018)
  43. Der Fall Collini (The Collini Case, Marco Kreuzpainter, 2019)
  44. O que arde (Fire Will Come, Oliver Laxe, 2019)
  45. Family Romance, LCC (Werner Herzog, 2019)
  46. The Nest (Sean Durkin, 2020)
  47. Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi, 2020)
  48. Waves (Trey Edward Shults, 2019)
  49. Farewell Paradise (Sonya Wyss, 2020)
  50. Little Joe (Jessica Hauner, 2019)

During the ‘intelligent lockdown’ (as it was called in the Netherlands) from March 12 to June 30, I re-watched older movies, at least one a day. Here is a random list of ten special delights from that ‘behind closed curtains’ period, shot in ten different countries.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger, 1950)
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)
Ana y los lobos (Anna and the Wolves, Carlos Saura, 1973)
Revolver (Sergio Sollima, 1973)
Duelle (une quarantaine) (Twilight, a quarantaine, Jacques Rivette, 1976)
Barwy ochronne (Camouflage, Krzysztof Zanussi, 1977)
Eye of the Needle (Richard Marquand, 1981)
Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari (Vengeance is Mine, Shôhei Imamura, 1979)
Revanche (Götz Spielmann, 2008)
Dast-neveshtehaa nemisoosand (Manuscripts Don’t Burn, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2013)

There is only one chance to a first impression. That’s why I watch new titles when a regular release is to be expected preferably in cinema (and that partially explains why my world poll list has many titles from 2019). In the case of an average film, online is not really a nuisance, but in the case of a great film, it is a bummer. I guess Reichardt’s First Cow might have impressed me more if I had seen it on the big screen in the company of other festivalgoers.

Fiona Villella


Favourite films (streamed online; exhibited commercially or at festivals; in 2020, Melbourne), in alphabetical order:
Anne at 13,000 Ft. (Kazik Radwanski, 2019)
Atlantique (Atlantics, Mati Diop, 2019)
High Ground (Stephen Johnson, 2020)
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)
In my Blood it Runs (Maya Newell, 2019)
Judy versus Capitalism (Mike Hoolboom, 2020)
Kajillionaire (Miranda July, 2020)
Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)
Small axe: Mangrove; Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020)
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, 2019)
The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)
Trouble with Being Born (Sandra Wollner, 2020)
Uncut Gems (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2019)
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019)
Wonder Woman 1984 (Patty Jenkins, 2020)

Memorable specially curated online events:

  • Filmmuseum München’s Mark Rappaport Streaming Retrospective
  • Static Vision’s Daisuke Miyazaki double (Yamato [2016] + Tourism [2017]) plus director Q&A
  • Melbourne (virtual) cinemathéquè & ACMI’s Run away with Tilda Swinton double: Orlando (Sally Potter, 1991) and I am love (Luca Guadagnino, 2009)

Special mention:
Netflix’s Hayao Miyazaki and Youssef Chahine ‘packages’


Mark William Watkins


Rivers of Blood and Nonsense

The most memorable films and series this year for me were: Mangrove (Steve McQueen, 2020); The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, 2020); the less than two-minute 3 Brothers: Radio Raheem, Eric Garner, George Floyd (Spike Lee, 2020); Lovecraft Country (Misha Green, 2020); The Comedy Store (Mike Binder, 2020); The Mandalorian (2020); and The Queen’s Gambit (Scott Frank and Allan Scott, 2020).

In a year marked by an 8 minute 46 second snuff film extracted out of the routine of daily life by venal and absurd law enforcers, what’s more relevant and painful and, thankfully, cathartic than Mangrove? The opening of a Black-owned business, West Indian Londoners celebrating in the street… our first corrupt white cop about 8 minutes in. The intro of our grousing antagonist announces the diagrammatic conflict at hand. Will this all be historically accurate but simplistic, earnest and conventional? No! McQueen moves pretty swiftly through the predictable spasms of racial hatred that follow to get to the real point – a rousing British courtroom drama. Yes, it’s prototypical, in many ways, in its dramatic structure and tropes, but also, firstly, beautifully constructed. The Old Bailey setting, a wood-panelled, vertiginous, archaic space with an oppressive symmetry, is ruled by ridiculous customs against which our counter-culture protagonists stand out. This section of the film opens with an unnerving aerial shot accompanied by ominous rising strings and something like loose castanets that remind of rattling bones. A haunted place. The scenes that follow are often composed and edited like a foggy dream; hand held, floating focus, blown out lighting, aggressive cropping, tilted framing. The period-correct ska and reggae seem anachronistic only because of the setting. McQueen inserts quick shots of historical photos, an animated collage, a reference to Hamlet’s ghost, all very subtly. Because the actual events happened over three months, a solid, controlled rhythm to the scenes is also important. McQueen balances bits of disturbance with a timeless quality which helps us grasp the defendants’ fraying nerves, their growing sense of injustice. All this bravura filmmaking is just a setup for incendiary cross-examinations or speeches of resistance to the status quo performed with absolute magnificence by Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby and Rochenda Sandall, topped off by a continuous four minute shot of a heated showdown between Wright and Parkes. Letitia Wright, man.

When the real world is tipped out of balance by corrupt forces, cinema can actually time travel back to events that provide working strategies for defiant response. And for mental health. Cinema’s super powers are a gift.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 performs the same trick, responding to the intentional confusion of today’s very real acts of police brutality and white supremacy with historical lessons from 50 years ago. Another courtroom drama where the production design drops us into a seemingly perfect reconstruction, and the inherent rules of conduct force those on different sides of a culture war to clash. What do we learn? Oppressive systems require concerted efforts of alliance, strategic thinking, and wit to defeat, if even momentarily. We need the Abbie Hoffmans as much as we need the Bobby Seales. Dave Chappelle and AOC. A team-up of fools and warriors.

Watchmen (Damon Lindelof, 2019) is still very present and relevant. Its re-contextualised source material added Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Cal Abar and Regina King’s resolute Sister Night, made the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 a new kind of Krypton. Watchmen pushed that subsumed atrocity back into the public consciousness, in seeming provocation of the on-going attempts by the Conservative Right to ignore and even side with the current violence enacted on communities of colour. In 2020, Lovecraft Country picked up that blue baton. It elevated its rote pulp material with the horrific spectacle of Jim Crow America and filled its soundtrack with critical examples of the poetry of resistance – Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”, Sonia Sanchez’s “Catch the Fire”, Sun-Ra’s “Space is the Place”. It also dealt straight up with its namesake H.P. Lovecraft’s virulent racism. Daring authorial choices infused some otherwise brainless entertainment with thought enhancers, lessons in just dealing. It felt shamanistic, not least due to a very trippy vision called Beyond C’est and, maybe not unrelated, a lot of cathartic “lemonading” with baseball bats. Jurnee Smollett’s Leti Lewis took out our collective rage on 2020.

The storytelling shorthand of drama should be exhausted by now, right? Monsters and/or racists on one side, law-abiding working folk on the other. The diagrammatic construction of diametric opposition. Fantasies like The Mandalorian and Watchmen continue to rely on the same setup as always, just as classics like Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) do, where the dispossessed clash with an evil Empire, an Order of the Cyclops, or just someone of the other skin trying to maintain their dominant status quo. Sadly we’re a long way from replacing the comic book narratives of conflict. We still need Star Wars and Marvel to help us fight our coming fights, at least emotionally. What’s the great 2020 lesson? Notions of bigotry and xenophobia previously understood to be evil are now accepted as normal. Politicians and police take notes from Hydra, Thanos and Darth Vader and we need to know how to fight them. An expanding police state makes it harder for everyone to live freely and fairly and increases the likelihood of dying for nothing. With his enraged snippet 3 Brothers, Spike Lee asked one question: “Will history stop repeating itself?” The answer seems decidedly no.

3 Brothers Radio Raheem, Eric Garner, George Floyd

Jason Philip Wierzba


Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy: “I am not poor, I am not rich; nihil est, nihil deest, I have little, I want nothing: all my treasure is in Minerva’s tower…I live still a collegiate student…and lead a monastic life, ipse mihi theatrum [sufficient entertainment to myself], sequestered from those tumults and troubles of the world…aulae vanitatem, fori ambitionem, ridere mecum soleo [I laugh to myself at the vanities of the court, the intrigues of public life], I laugh at all.”

  1. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, 2019) – We programmed it (theatrical).
  2. Jeanne (Bruno Dumont, 2019) – Cinéma Moderne, Montreal (online).
  3. A Portuguesa (The Portuguese Woman, Rita Azevedo Gomes, 2018) – MUBI.
  4. The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, 2020) – Toronto International Film Festival (online) and then Calgary International Film Festival (theatrical).
  5. The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, 2018) – MUBI.
  6. Casa de antiguidades (Memory House, João Paulo Miranda Maria, 2020) – Toronto International Film Festival (online).
  7. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020) – Calgary International Film Festival (theatrical).
  8. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019) – We programmed it (theatrical).
  9. Tommaso (Abel Ferrara, 2019) – We programmed it (online).
  10. Krabi, 2562 (Ben Rivers, Anocha Suwichakornpong, 2019) – We programmed it (theatrical).
  11. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, 2020) – Toronto International Film Festival (online).
  12. Prière pour une mitaine perdue (Prayer for a Lost Mitten, Jean-François Lesage, 2020) – CUFF.Docs (online).
  13. Oukoku (Arui wa Sono Ie ni Tsuite) (Domains, Natsuka Kusano, 2019) – MUBI.
  14. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019) – Calgary theatrical run.
  15. Wilcox (Denis Côté, 2019) – Cinéma Moderne, Montreal (online).
  16. Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran, Hong Sang-soo, 2020) – Calgary International Film Festival (theatrical).
  17. Uncut Gems (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2019) – Calgary theatrical run.
  18. The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw, 2020) – Calgary International Film Festival (theatrical).
  19. She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, 2020) – Google Play.
  20. VHYes (Jack Henry Robbins, 2019) – Calgary theatrical run.

Barbara Wurm


On Beliefs and Strength (aka Weakness)
Malmkrog (Manor House, Cristi Puiu, 2020)
Sutemose (In the Dusk, Sharunas Bartas, 2019)
Siberia (Abel Ferrara, 2020)

On Verbal (and more) Beauty
The World to Come (Mona Fastvold, 2020)
Di yi lu xiang (Love after Love, Ann Hui, 2020)
Melodiya strunnogo dereva (The Melody of String Tree, Irina Evteeva, 2020)

On Present Pasts
Francuz (The Frenchman, Andrej Smirnov, 2019)
Dau. Natasha (Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel 2020)
Dau. Degeneratsia (Dau. Degeneration, Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Ilya Permyakov, 2020)

On Furor
High Ground (Stephen Maxwell Johnson, 2020)
Surge (Aneil Karla, 2020)
Shirley (Josephine Decker, 2020)

On Hidden Emotions
Səpələnmiş Ölümlər Arasinda (In Between Dying, Hilal Baydarov, 2020)
Spy no tsuma (Wife of a Spy, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, 2020)
Amants (Lovers, Nicole Garcia, 2020)

On Winners and Losers
Selva Trágica (Tragic Jungle, Yulene Olaizola, 2020)
Moj jutarnji smeh (My Morning Laughter, Marko Đorđević, 2019)
Pinocchio (Matteo Garrone, 2020)

On Toro and All
Mandibules (Quentin Dupieux, 2020)

From Intimacy to the Big Sad World (and back) – Non-Fiction
Irradiés (Irradiated, Rithy Panh, 2020)
Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi, 2020)
Walchensee Forever (Janna Ji Wonders, 2020)
A metamorfose dos pássaros (The Metamorphosis of Birds, Catarina Vasconcelos, 2020)
City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, 2020)
O jednoj mladosti (Once Upon a Youth, Ivan Ramljak, 2020)
Yi zhi you dao hai shui bian lan (Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, Jia Zhang-ke, 2020)
Schlingensief – In das Schweigen hineinschreien (Schlingensief – A Voice that Shook the Silence, Bettina Böhler, 2020)
Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky, 2020)
2012. Vot takaja revoljucija (2012. A Revolution like That, Evgeny Mitta, 2018-2020)

Neil young


shorts x3
Thorax (Siegfried A Fruhauf 2019)
13 (Isobe Shinya, 2020)
Nenad (Mladen Bundalo, 2020)

[I discovered the last two online via IDFA {Amsterdam}, the only 2020 film-festival I “attended” online {I was on the jury of a different section}. Thorax I’d seen first in 2019, but only via my 10-year-old laptop; experiencing its assaultive luminous majesty outdoors after dark at a festival in Palić, Serbia on a warm September evening was a whole different ball-game. Fingers crossed that 2021 provides an opportunity for a similar sensory immersion in 13, an ethereal contemplation of time and space filmed on 16mm from the director’s roof over a period of five years, conflating myriad time-lapse sunsets captured over a 13-second period.]

longs x 3
Ford vs Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019)
The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, 2020)
Nemesis (Thomas Imbach, 2020)

oldies x 3
Im Lohmgrund (In Lohmgrund, Jürgen Böttcher, 1977)
a-ha: Lifelines (Jesper Hiro, 2002)
Penda’s Fen (Alan Clarke, 1974)

[during the March-May period when Vienna’s cinemas were closed, I relied on DVDs for evening entertainment; the Austrian Filmmuseum’s three Böttcher releases proved a goldmine. Im Lohmgrund is his masterpiece, an atmospheric, unadorned 27-minute documentary about sculptors working in an East German quarry which I’d be quite happy to have screened at my funeral. Also responsible for Rangierer (1984, 22min), which Christian Petzold has described as his favourite film, Böttcher is still around and turns 90 on July 8th 2021. Celebrate him! Lifelines, a music-video which extensively samples Morten Skallerud’s 1991 12-minute time-lapse travelogue Året gjennom Børfjord (A Year Along the Abandoned Road), provided a truly epiphanic experience when I stumbled across it one hectic night in August, quite by chance, playing on a video-jukebox in a Vienna pub {Café Chicago, Laxenburgerstrasse}. After paying for a replay and watching it thunderstruck through tearful eyes, I {admittedly somewhat beer-emboldened} promptly texted dozens of pals around the world informing them it was maybe the greatest single “film” I’d ever seen. An exaggeration, of course, but on sober reflection not such an egregious one.]

wild-cards x 3
The Age of Ichiro (Jon Bois, Alex Rubenstein, 2020)
Similarities (Alex Kasses & THISplay, 2020)
Murmuziek: Votez pour moi! (Zorobabel, 2019)

[Ichiro is the 47-minute fifth and penultimate of the 220-minute online documentary The History of the Seattle Mariners, more tellytastic than television and more cinematic than cinema. Never has “inside baseball” been more of a compliment. I wouldn’t normally even consider installations for such a list but Similarities is an emphatically cinematic beast, running for months in a glass box at Vienna’s Museumsquartier, diverting by day and entirely spectacular after dark. Votez pour moi! I saw at Rotterdam back in January, it’s a music-video for a rap-ensemble doing time in a Brussels jail. I strongly believe that only those likewise forcibly imprisoned are entitled to use the word “lockdown” to describe their circumstances.]

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