Caless’ Top 10 Films of 2020

The end of the year is usually a time for reflection, looking back at achievements and milestones, and setting up the new goals to be achieved for the new year. Any other year would be a normal process, but 2020 was not a regular year. A global pandemic, conspiracy theories, a strongly divisive political election, and the loss of notable heroes and figures in the entertainment industry cast a dark cloud akin to the alien ship’s hovering presence in “Independence Day”. This is not me being a Debbie Downer and throwing a pity party because even with the numerous negatives, there is a good bit of happiness and great moments that salvaged some of my sanity and usual positive demeanor. Cinema is always my place to escape the world’s problems and more than ever this year it felt like a personal version of Superman’s “Fortress Of Solitude”.

The pandemic sidelined most of the theaters in the country leading to my bedroom being the stage where new films debuted. It took some time getting used to the usual stranger sitting beside me in a dark theater being exchanged for my two cats and a loving girlfriend who shares my same passion for filmmaking. The experience of watching a film at home is greatly convenient and beats having to pay for a ticket and popcorn; on the other hand, the big screen, trailers, and the grand sound system is sorely missed and I hope that I can see the inside of a theater very soon. For now, these 20 films that made the cut for my best of the year each get a strong “must watch” recommendation for the memorable moments each of them provided me during the storm of this tumultuous year. Welcome to Black Nerd Magic’s Top 20 of 2020!!!!!!


20. SMALL AXE: LOVERS ROCK

19. SMALL AXE: RED, WHITE, AND BLUE

18. SMALL AXE: EDUCATION

17. TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL

16. MANK

15. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

14. CODED BIAS

13. ONWARD

12. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

11. THE INVISIBLE MAN


10. WOLFWALKERS – A 17th century Irish tale splashed with gorgeous animation, a story that is part coming of age, part action adventure, and part advocate against the debilitating effects of deforestation. Heartwarming for the soul and a delight for the ears due to the stellar voice acting cast/ear-worm musical soundtrack featuring the best of Irish culture staples. The Apple TV Plus streaming service gets a boost in being an option for cord-cutters based off this film as a whole.

 

9. TENET“Don’t try to understand it, just feel it” has become the meme associated with this high-concept action film but the phrase acts as a guide to becoming open to the risks and outside-of-the-box thinking required by Christopher Nolan’s new mind-bending roller coaster. The kind of film that requires more than just one sit down to understand all of the mechanics employed to pay tribute to the spy films of the 1960s and a reconstruction of what audiences are used to looking for in a summer blockbuster. “Challenging” is an apt term for the narrative and concepts but it is a test that I love to undergo to push myself past outdated conventions of what to gather from a piece of entertainment. My hope is that this film will eventually undergo the same legacy face-lift that “Inception” and “Interstellar” now currently enjoy.

 

8. CHARM CITY KINGS – The African-American coming of age story in the same vein of a “Lady Bird” that I have long been praying will become the norm. Thanks to director Angel Manuel Soto, that dream is close enough to realize, especially with the new focus of Hollywood advocating for more diversity. Meek Mill made his name off a successful rap career and looks to transfer that talent and grind into acting with a hell of a supporting performance. Remember this name: Jahi Di’Allo Winston. A young gifted actor whose name is going to receive more spotlight and praise as his career continues to grow in the near future.

 

7. DA 5 BLOODS – Spike Lee is a director who has never minced his message or employed a sugarcoating approach to stories of the African-American condition. A group of Vietnam War veterans travel back through the traumatic battlefield of war to uncover a reserve of gold that is rightfully theirs given the atrocities of their ancestors and the treatment they faced in the country they fought for in the name of honor. Delroy Lindo is a front-runner for Best Actor in a career best performance that has me still floored. This film is Netflix’s knight in shining armor of original content.

 

6. SOUND OF METAL – The journey of one man learning how to live life without his passion of music is sadness personified but the hope of change and the attention displayed on his growing understanding that life doesn’t have to be defined by a disability is a cinematic treasure. The awards season is going to be in love with Riz Amhed and it will be righteous and deserved. Pay attention to the subtle details hidden in the use of sound throughout this film which is able to excel in noise but also the power of comforting silence.

5. SOUL – No surprises when it comes to passing on exemplary praise to the work of Pete Docter as his new film is more of the same representing the best of what Pixar has to offer. This is animation focusing on the existential questions of life with a degree of craftsmanship and goodwill in its message of choosing right now to live life to the best it can be. The depiction of African-American characters and the markings of its unique culture, hairstyles, and musical fortitude that defines them bought nothing but tears and smiles to my face. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score is another trophy on the mantle for their celebrated career and I recommend heading straight to your Spotify and giving it a serious listen.

 

4. SMALL AXE: MANGROVE – A courtroom drama that feels tailor-made for the current social justice movement in America. A story that epitomizes the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and gives a lens to the contained disease that is prejudice and discrimination against minorities looking to make a better life than just being second class citizens. Steve McQueen’s tribute to the experiences of West Indian people of color fighting for their civil rights in the late 60s-early 70s in England represents the pinnacle of the wildly acclaimed Small Axe series.

 

3. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – A stunning fireball of dark comedy that is compelling and represents a big middle finger to rape culture, mansplaining, and the continued physical and mental harassment that are faced by women in a patriarchal society. Carey Mulligan dazzles in an enjoyable performance that ranks among the most entertaining to be seen in recent years. Confident writing and direction from newcomer Emerald Fennell cruises down the lane for a cinematic strike without using bumpers or cheap tropes to relay a powerful message of “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH”.

 

2. NOMADLAND – Nothing can beat the feeling of seeing humankind in their best element helping others and being compassionate to understand whats it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Frances McDormand proves again to be a treasure, further cementing her name as legendary in the acting profession. Chloé Zhao’s meditative drama centering on a woman traveling from place to place looking for a sense of self after the economic downturn of the late 2000s is lighting in a bottle. Rich screenplay full of memorable lines and a score that soars on cloud nine; there is nothing that this film does on an average level, every piece of the puzzle shines.

 

1. BOYS STATE – Spellbinding documentary that examines the woody swamp of political discourse through the eyes of young men on the precipice of obtaining a position in keeping democracy. No matter the side that anyone chooses on the government level, this is a must watch for educational purposes and for the human moments that transcend past anything conceived in imagination. There is a sense of understanding that won’t be found on the spaces of social media and internet messages boards; hearing clear and mature discussion between kids leaning towards Democrat or Republican is a breath of fresh air and something that should become more the norm in the United States. Another piece of fantastic filmmaking that can been seen on Apple TV Plus.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and follow along with his daily film thoughts on Letterboxd. 

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2020

What. A. Year.

2020 will be remembered as much for the way in which we watched movies as for the movies themselves. In a world shutdown by the COVID-19 virus, theaters closed and kept us indoors more often than not, watching streaming films at an increased rate while seeing major studio tent-pole releases constantly delayed. Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and more are locked in a battle to secure our subscriptions, and almost all of my Top 10 can be found on one of these services.

Along with the change in release dates came a change in the awards season. With the Academy Awards pushing back until late April 2021, some films that will be eligible won’t even release until January or February 2021. I’ve made the decision to go ahead and finalize my end of year list without seeing a few of those, though they will be a part of my annual voting as a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. This year, our award timeline was delayed as well, and so I do not have a list of my nominations and our winners to share. Hopefully I can remember to come back and edit links to those in after they are complete.

This year I saw a resurgence in gaming, partially due to the launch of a new seasonal podcast about video games called The Games We Love, partially due to some extra free time while working from home for several months, and partially due to the excitement of welcoming the next generation of consoles into my home. I also watched more series content than in recent years, going through all of “Friday Night Lights” with my best friend and watching a season here and there of countless other shows. As of this writing, I’ve still managed to see 166 new films this year, a whopping 29 of which are documentaries. Finding room in my Top 20 (much less my Top 10) for every film that I want to sing the praises of is usually incredibly difficult and this year is no different. There were less films that blew me away this year but the overall quality of what I watched is strong and encompasses a wide range of genres. Since it’s impossible for me to ever just settle on ten best films, you will see some of my favorites of the year in the #11-20 special mention spots, as well as couple of extra highlights. While there are no specific thoughts accompanying the #11-20 films, you can always find my thoughts on what I’m watching at my Letterboxd account, so be sure to follow me there.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society. But on Feelin’ Film we focus more on matters of the heart, so my Top 10 films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2020 – those movies that provided me an incredibly emotional or memorable experience of some sort. Another thing that factors strongly into my ranking is rewatchability, so think of this list as my favorites, which to me are the best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I always list my Top 5 Documentaries separately. It feels like every year is a great one for non-fiction filmmaking and 2020 was no different. I still have quite a few highly-acclaimed ones to see and may even come back and edit this accordingly when I do. Regardless, I’ve expended this genre’s list to a Top 10 this year due to there being so many great documentaries that I want to bring attention to.

This has been a relatively long intro and I appreciate you taking the time to read it when you could have just scrolled down to the lists. With that said, I won’t take up any more of your time.


BEST NON-FILM

TED LASSO (Apple TV+) – “Ted Lasso” is simply one of the best pieces of entertainment media (film, series, game) that I have enjoyed in year. This ten episode series is based on an old NBC Sports commercial and follows a college football championship winning coach to England where he takes over a floundering Premiere League soccer team, despite knowing next to nothing about the sport. It’s a recipe that could so easily have led to stupidity but instead this show, which can be binged in less than 5 hours, is utterly hopeful and positive at all times. As Ted navigates learning the sport, dealing with the eccentric and egotistical personalities of the adult players he coaches, and struggles with his own quietly hidden relationship issues, this show manages to always keep you smiling and leave you feeling inspired. Response was so great that before season one had even finished airing, Apple TV ordered seasons two and three, so now is a great time to discover it and experience the uplifting ability this show will have on your life.


THE DOCUMENTARIES

10. THE SOCIAL DILEMMA (Netflix)

9. THE DISSIDENT – Oscar-winning director Bryan Fogel (“Icarus”) returns with “The Dissident”, another strong contender that could win him a second statue, about the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and villainy of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is a gripping, immersive, and well-told piece of investigative journalism about the suppression of speech. The film covers a lot of information but its thriller style makes it go down easy. It features a fantastic score, too, and is incredibly urgent as the world becomes more and more fractured into sides who refuse to accept opposing viewpoints.

8. TIME (Amazon Prime Video) – “Success is the best revenge.” repeats Sunil Fox Richardson over and over angrily as she tries to convince herself to stay calm during yet another inhuman and unnecessary delay in the journey toward her husband’s release from prison. The resilience of this family on display is incredible and the way their story is told is both artistically compelling and emotionally evocative. This is an urgently needed piece that looks closely at the toll of injustice in America’s prison system, not from a broad statistics viewpoint but from a ground-level human one. The Richardson’s never once complain about having been arrested. They take full responsibility for their crimes but fight for fairness and changes to a system that, tragically, once it has its claws in you just never will let go. Their determination to make their family whole again and desire to see all justice system wrongs righted is hard to watch because you hate the pain and loss of time they’ve lived with, but ultimately an inspirational reminder that we (all of us) cannot allow this to continue in our world.

7. CONSOLE WARS (CBS All-Access) – Can’t really ask for much more from a 1.5 hour adaptation of a 576-page book. The original is definitely more in-depth and focuses even more heavily on SEGA’s perspective, but this visual version does it justice and is enhanced by the ability to show things such as the commercials and events of the console war era, which at times is much more effective than just imagining or trying to remember them when reading. This is a fantastic overview of this critical period of gaming history.

6. DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD (Netflix) – A filmmaker daughter and her aging father stage his death to help prepare for his eventual passing. I cried gobs and gobs because of course I was thinking about my own mom who passed away in 2014 and also remembering the struggles my grandfather had with Alzheimer’s before his death. But there is such joy in what Kirsten Johnson is doing that it far outweighs the sadness; the humorous stunt work, fantastical Heaven sequences, and enjoyment I had from seeing Seattle on screen helped to never let me wallow in the inevitability of what we’re seeing play out for too long at one time. Pictures and videos immortalize our loved ones in ways that fading memory never can quite match. This is beautiful. This is special. I almost feel guilty for peeking into someone’s intimate life story in this way, but I know that the purpose of these two sharing their passions together before Dick is gone forever and putting it on film for us to see in this intelligent, clever, and poignant manner is very much for themselves first and an inspiration for us second.

5. MISS AMERICANA (Netflix) – Taylor gets very raw and real in this documentary where she comes clean about just how hard celebrity life has been for her, in a way that we can never really understand, and puts into perspective how that can negatively affect someone’s emotional and mental well-being. I loved seeing the songwriting process, too. One of my favorite things about Taylor is her storytelling ability. That’s what makes her special, and it was a joy to watch some of these hits developing in their infancy. I also definitely appreciated her vulnerability about eating disorders, the Kanye stuff (that whole incident just makes me even madder now), disagreements with her parents, the awful experience of going through being sexually assaulted, and her struggle with trying to be the picture of who fans wanted instead of the person she actually is inside. Taylor has come a long way and deserves the right to grow and change and voice her opinions just like any of the rest of us do. I laughed, I smiled, I cried, I was brought back to many memories related to her music, and I came away from this feeling like I respect her and love her as an artist even more, but most importantly as a person who has feelings and thoughts and opinions. We so often think celebrities just exist for our entertainment. That may be their job, but there’s so much more to their lives.

4. BOYS STATE (Apple TV+) – A documentary that follows an annual event in Texas where a thousand 17-year-old boys join together to build a representative government from the ground up. It is cinematic, incredibly entertaining, super insightful, and a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s also eerie how much this serves as a microcosm of big-time American politics, but luckily manages to remind us that there is still some hope, as well.

3. TAYLOR SWIFT – FOLKLORE: THE LONG POND STUDIO SESSIONS (Disney+) – I adored this intimate and personal film that doesn’t just have Taylor playing her incredible songs from the Folklore album but provides a much bigger opportunity for her to discuss the stories behind their meaning and how they came to be written, as well as ruminate on her collaborative efforts with The National and Bon Iver. This is such a perfect companion piece to her Resolution Tour film, one that is full of her energy and showmanship. This shows a very different side of her and that is what makes her so special, the ability to be real in both ways and both places. It is an absolutely perfect music documentary on one of the greatest American singer-songwriters ever.

1b. THE LAST DANCE (Netflix/ESPN+) – What really needs to be said? This incredible 10-part documentary captured the attention of every major sports fa  every Sunday night over a month in 2020 as we watched behind the scenes coverage of and relived the Chicago Bulls 1997-98 championship season. Centered around that particular year and the end of a dynasty, the documentary simultaneously serves as a portrait of the career of NBA legend Michael Jordan. It is a riveting piece of work and one of 2020’s best overall cultural moments.

1a. THE HISTORY OF THE SEATTLE MARINERS (YouTube) – Since there are two sports documentaries essentially tied for my favorite of the year, I’m going with the more unique one in this top spot. This film (which you can view in chunks or as one 3.5 hour long supercut at the link above) immediately goes on my Mount Rushmore of sports documentaries. It is an incredible, engaging piece of storytelling and statistics that relives the franchise’s history from its highest highs and “what ifs” to the many, many years that have left fans feeling like the team is cursed. It is an ode to a city, a team, its icons and its villains, that manages to be both entertaining and supremely informational while never once losing my attention. Yes, I may be slightly biased because I’m also a fan of the team being covered, but the format is undeniably mesmerizing regardless, and this is a truly complete history of the team we Mariner fans sometimes hate to love. SoDo Mojo!


HONORABLE MENTION

HAMILTON (Disney+) – Hamilton the stage musical is a perfect piece of groundbreaking theater, one of the greatest shows of all-time, from the mind of absolute genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. And while this filmed version is missing that special energy that makes a live viewing so special, that is more than made up for here with the careful camerawork providing close-ups, unique angles, and tracking shots that allow for a more intimate and detailed experience than the vast majority of viewers would ever be able to have. The show is a masterpiece plain and simple, and I’m glad that they went this route instead of adapting (and lessening) it into a different media form. “Hamilton” the “movie” immediately becomes one of the things I will re-watch the most for the rest of my life. It is simply extraordinary.


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. SOUND OF METAL

19. GREENLAND

18. MONSTER HUNTER

17. ON THE ROCKS

16. GREYHOUND

15. WENDY

14. TENET

13. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

12. FIRST COW

11. ONWARD


10. THE INVISIBLE MAN (HBO Max) –  “The Invisible Man” put a new spin on a classic horror property with a sci-fi twist, plenty of surprises, and an all-too-real story from the perspective of someone who is tormented by her long-time domestic abuser. It is not always easy to watch and trigger warnings definitely apply, but for those who can stomach it, the painful brilliance of Moss’ exceptional traumatic performance, catharsis and a genuinely unnerving but entertaining experience is to be had. Universal has finally figured out what a new line of monster movies can look like, with truly evil and unredeemable villainous fiends and social metaphors delivering a contemporary vision all their own. Let’s hope this is the start of a great franchise and not just a splendid flash in the pan. (Hear our discussion about “The Invisible Man” in Episode 219 here.)

 

9. WOLFWALKERS (Apple TV+) – “Wolfwalkers” has so much symmetry that you’d think Wes Anderson directed it. This technique, and accompanying use of varying geometric shapes to display its 2D art style, result in some of the most visually striking, memorable, and sublime animation I’ve seen in years. The story hits emotional beats aplenty with its fable-like tale of friendship between two girls from different worlds and its single-parent relationship struggles. There’s also the historical setting to take in for those who want to learn about this traumatic period of English control in Ireland’s past. And there are some environmental messages here akin to what Miyazaki tackles in his wonderful film “Princess Mononoke”. The musical score is an absolute delight, too, with its traditional Irish folk sounds perfectly matching the wondrous colorful images. Cartoon Saloon puts out nothing but hits and this is simply next in line.

 

8. THE FATHER – With all due respect to the other leading men of the 2020 awards cycle, Sir Anthony Hopkins has entered the room. In a memorable (ironically) performance that absolutely floored me, he brilliantly transports us into the mind of an elderly man suffering from dementia. He navigates a range of emotions from lovable and harmless to infuriating and heartbreaking with delicate expertise. Combined with focused first-time direction from award-winning playwright Florian Zeller and an expertly adapted script of his own work, the story plays out (pun intended) at times almost like a psychological thriller instead of a straight drama. As his daughter (played lovingly committed yet on the cusp of a breakdown at all times by the wonderful Olivia Colman), and others, enter and exit his world, nothing is certain for character or audience, allowing us to feel the suffocating struggle that loss of memory must have on those who suffer from it, and provoking a level of empathy for them that I’ve previously not experienced.

 

7. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – Stylish, twisted, bitingly mean, deviously funny, and yet confidently firm in what it has to say about rape culture and those who protect it. Like its title, writer/director Emerald Fennell is a promising young woman, too, crafting a multi-tonal thriller that puts a new spin on a familiar revenge story in a way that definitely leaves a mark. It helps that the film is led by Carey Mulligan, in what is at least equal to the best work of her career, and features an expertly curated soundtrack. This is an ambitious and fascinating confrontation of a toxic masculinity culture that needs to disappear and the grief and trauma victims of it face.

 

6. CHARM CITY KINGS (HBO Max) – It’s not often that a film is as fresh to me as “Charm City Kings”. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything quite like the perspective of this coming-of-age story before and I was blown away by the feelings it left me with and the strong character development throughout. It follows a group of young teenagers navigating life in Baltimore while admiring a local biker gang, learning about masculinity and loyalty along the way. Ángel Manuel Soto has created something special and rapper Meek Mill is a revelation in a powerfully emotional supporting role.

 

5. SMALL AXE: LOVERS ROCK (Amazon Prime Video) – This movie is a vibe. Steve McQueen offers a prime example of not padding a story just to hit some arbitrary runtime. This is one night, one party in a West London neighborhood in the 1980s, and the narrative doesn’t need more than that to completely immerse us in the experience of these would-be lovers and others just wanting to dance the night away in carefree bliss. There is no overarching conflict or problem to solve, just a few instances of natural interpersonal drama between party-goers throughout the evening. The aesthetic is incredible with a hazy cinematography as if the camera was shooting through the clouds of marijuana smoke that fill the house, and the music is flat-out incredible, provoking an involuntary response for the viewer’s body to move to the sweet rhythms and lyrical sexiness of Mercury Sound’s reggae jams. In the film’s final moments it captures the hope and feelings of newfound love beautifully and realistically, and leaves us with a smile that will go down as one of 2020’s best film moments for me.

 

4. NOMADLAND – “Nomadland” is a tremendous portrait of the American vagabond uprooted by recession, constantly moving as a means of survival, while simultaneously experiencing the world around her in a way that so few of us ever really do. Chloé Zhao’s use of non-actors again elevates her film, giving it a sort of slightly dramatized documentary feel. Hearing the real-life stories of nomads that Fern meets on the road and watching her learn about their ways was enlightening and humbling, showcasing a segment of humanity that is far less reliant on luxuries than I will likely ever be. Joshua James Richard’s sweeping, majestic Midwestern cinematography captures beautiful landscapes in wide glory but Zhao knows when to have him come in close to show us the incredible emotional tolls on Fern, thanks to what I believe is a career-best performance by the great Frances McDormand. And Ludovico Einaudi’s melancholic and moving score triggered tearful eyes nearly every time it sparingly appeared.

Above all else, “Nomadland” is an inspiration, much in the way that something like “Into the Wild” has always been for me. It offers an awakening to the very real struggles some face in the 21st century, and reminds us that home truly is where the heart is, while no doubt leaving a lingering mark on your soul. Zhao’s storytelling approach is truly something special and combined with her unique cinematic eye and gift in editing this film proves that “The Rider” was no fluke and she is one of the most important voices in American filmmaking right now.

 

3. RIDE YOUR WAVE (Hoopla) – “Ride Your Wave” walloped me emotionally and is my new favorite film from Masaaki Yuasa. It’s a romantic dramedy anime with relatively restrained use of fantasy elements (for Yuasa, at least) and a reoccurring musical theme that gives me strong “La La Land” vibes. It also teaches how to make great coffee, which is a huge bonus! The film is gorgeously animated with a softer style that perfectly fits the tone of its story and has nuanced emotional depth as it deals with love, loss, and what it means to move on. It’s also an extremely accessible anime for mainstream animation fans and nice to see something in the genre that focuses on adults and not teens. Year after year, I continually find myself drawn to romantic stories in anime and while that has mostly been Makoto Shinkai pictures, I’m thrilled to find other directors hitting those same chords that resonate with my heart.

 

2. THE WAY BACK (HBO Max) – “The Way Back” is not without its typical sports cliches in the personalities and stories of the basketball team players, but it is also a film that completely subverts them when it comes to its overall primary character arc and ending. It’s an addiction drama about how we cannot change the past, but how we can affect the future, one step at a time, and of the impactful part relationships and passions play in that process. It is a feel-good basketball story with a dose of exciting in-game action, some hearty laughs, and plenty of sincere feels, made even more special when you consider the cathartic personal role it played in Ben Affleck’s own recovery. Director Gavin O’Connor has cemented himself as the king of this genre and is now 3 for 3 with sports drama masterworks. (Hear our discussion about “The Way Back” in Episode 260 here.)

 

1. SOUL (Disney+) – At first, you might not think “Soul” is Pixar’s most perfectly entertaining film from start to finish. It definitely feels like some of their heaviest existential drama to date and is less accessible for younger kids, but it all comes together to pay off brilliantly in an absolutely triumphant and moving final act reached through a screenplay that deftly navigates complicated concepts. What personality traits are we born with and how do we choose our passions are among the big questions asked by Pete Docter and crew this time around, and it will certainly get you thinking about your own life, how you got here, and where you’ll go next. The score by Reznor and Ross is my favorite of the year and the film’s vibrant visuals (which look incredibly different when in New York or in the spirit world) are stunningly gorgeous, unsurprisingly making me very sad that I wasn’t able to see this in a theater. Thankfully, for viewers who do find it a bit abstract, the talking cat helps keep it light despite the big ideas and characters dealing with death. Ultimately, “Soul” is a tender film and one that is refreshingly all about hope and realizing just how incredible every day of life is whether we have attained our dreams or not.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted, and follow along with his daily film thoughts on Letterboxd. 

Announcing: Substitute Summer Blockbuster Tournament

In 2018 and 2019, Feelin’ Film hosted a Director Battle Month tournament in which multiple directors with four films each faced off in a March Madness-style bracket. The winning film in each quadrant was then covered on the show as one of our August episodes. This year, we’re doing something a little different, and instead of films grouped by specific directors, we are hosting a tournament pitting the biggest summertime box office winners of all-time against each other in the ultimate showdown to establish Feelin’ Film’s favorite summer blockbuster. To make it more interesting and fair, we’ve used box office numbers adjusted for inflation.

How It’s Going to Work

The bracket has been divided by month so each quadrant represents the films released during that time seeded in order of box office haul. The months included are May, June, July, and a combination of April/August.

Beginning on August 4, a selection of polls will be posted in our Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group every Tuesday-Friday through August 21. Members of the group (which is open for anyone to join!) will first determine two play-in winners for each quadrant. These initial polls will each feature the #15-22 box office winners for the given month and the top two vote-getters will enter the tournament field. There are some heavy hitters in these play-in match-ups that could give our #1 and #2 seeds some serious trouble when the main tourney begins!

After the voting ends on August 21 and the Final Four is determined, the Feelin’ Film team will get together and record a podcast episode debating and deciding what the championship match-up, third-place winner, and ultimate victor will be. If we can find a way to record this episode live and engage in chat, we will, but at the very least we will release a special episode of the podcast with this conversation where we battle it out and announce the results.

We’re extremely excited for this event and hope that you’ll join us in the Facebook group for voting and discussion as we collectively determine our favorite Summer blockbuster!

The Field

MAY

JUNE

JULY

April/August

The Full Bracket (before Play-in winners) can be seen below and downloaded. Feel free to follow along at home and make your own predictions as to what film will emerge victoriously.

Substitute Summer Blockbuster Bracket

Aaron’s Top 100 Movies (2020 Edition)

Recently I made a major change to how I rate films, doing away with half-stars altogether in favor of a simplified system with only 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 stars as an option. My hope is that by taking away the additional complication of half-stars, I will be able to more accurately rate films on the first go-around. It’s no secret that I struggle with hype and I often find myself using half-stars only to scale ratings back when the end of the year rolls around and I take another look at them. Additionally, and more importantly, I’ve come to thoroughly embrace the conversations that we have about film online in places like our Feelin’ Film Discussion Group and in person at work. What I desire is for the words in my written reviews, on my podcast, or spoken in conversation to tell you more about my feelings for a film than the number assigned to it. To that end, simplifying my ratings means if you want to understand what distinguishes films in a certain group (say my 4-star rating) from each other, you’ll have to actually read what I have to say or… gasp… ask me about them.

With this change came a mass re-rating project, and after completing that and noticing that I am 2.5 years removed from my last Top 100 list, this was the perfect opportunity to give it an update. As always is the case, gray hairs emerged during this painful process as I tried to distinguish between beloved films. As always, my list is ever-changing, but this serves as a current reflection of my personal cinematic taste – a snapshot view of the cinephile that I am at this moment in time. I hope that as you read through this list you might be able to learn a little about who I am as a person by seeing what type of stories I love the most.

Note: For the purposes of this list, any film with an asterisk (*) after it represents its series or trilogy and is only used in cases where all films of the series are rated as 5-star. The arrows and numbers after each title them are just a fun little addition that shows a film’s movement since the last edition of this list. You can see the previous editions here:

2017 Top 100
2018 Top 100

This is my list. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

#1 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring *  —  —
#2 The Princess Bride 3
#3 It’s a Wonderful Life 1
#4 Top Gun 11
#5 Before Sunrise * 4
#6 Casablanca 3
#7 La La Land  —  —
#8 12 Angry Men 4
#9 The Last of the Mohicans 7
#10 Interstellar 4
#11 Die Hard 46
#12 The Lion King 40
#13 Jaws 5
#14 The Dark Knight 7
#15 Jurassic Park 2
#16 Toy Story * 2
#17 Your Name. 41
#18 Raiders of the Lost Ark 1
#19 The Prestige 8
#20 Beauty and the Beast 44
#21 Star Wars 7
#22 The Shawshank Redemption 19
#23 Sleeping Beauty 15
#24 Black Hawk Down 46
#25 Full Metal Jacket 13
#26 The Sound of Music 10
#27 Memento 40
#28 Lawrence of Arabia 9
#29 Titanic NEW NEW
#30 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 36
#31 The Wizard of Oz 11
#32 Children of Men 27
#33 Kill Bill * NEW NEW
#34 Singin’ in the Rain 11
#35 Groundhog Day 42
#36 Back to the Future 25
#37 The Departed 56
#38 Gladiator 13
#39 Mary Poppins 21
#40 The Social Network    
#41 The Nightmare Before Christmas 9
#42 Scream 1
#43 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl NEW NEW
#44 Hell or High Water 36
#45 Terminator 2: Judgment Day NEW NEW
#46 My Neighbor Totoro 1
#47 Fast Five NEW NEW
#48 The Incredibles 28
#49 Lost in Translation NEW NEW
#50 Gone Girl NEW NEW
#51 Blade Runner 2049 * 41
#52 Forrest Gump NEW NEW
#53 Tombstone 3
#54 Fight Club 20
#55 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs NEW NEW
#56 Happy Gilmore NEW NEW
#57 The Fault in Our Stars NEW NEW
#58 The Rock NEW NEW
#59 The Bridge on the River Kwai 15
#60 Se7en 31
#61 Armageddon NEW NEW
#62 Young Guns NEW NEW
#63 Avengers: Infinity War NEW NEW
#64 The Great Gatsby NEW NEW
#65 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade NEW NEW
#66 Alien 53
#67 Kubo and the Two Strings NEW NEW
#68 WALL*E NEW NEW
#69 Ex Machina 3
#70 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 35
#71 The Avengers NEW NEW
#72 The Cabin in the Woods 12
#73 Pitch Perfect NEW NEW
#74 The Hunt for Red October NEW NEW
#75 Inception 48
#76 Creed NEW NEW
#77 Wreck-it Ralph NEW NEW
#78 Reservoir Dogs 10
#79 Little Women NEW NEW
#80 How To Train Your Dragon NEW NEW
#81 Almost Famous 51
#82 Friday Night Lights NEW NEW
#83 TRON: Legacy NEW NEW
#84 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban NEW NEW
#85 Crazy, Stupid, Love NEW NEW
#86 Gravity NEW NEW
#87 Les Misérables NEW NEW
#88 Hamilton NEW NEW
#89 Con Air NEW NEW
#90 The Empire Strikes Back 44
#91 10 Cloverfield Lane NEW NEW
#92 Reality Bites 23
#93 Rashomon 60
#94 Vertigo 70
#95 Moon 10
#96 Rocky NEW NEW
#97 First Man NEW NEW
#98 Passengers NEW NEW
#99 Whiplash 21
#100 A Star is Born (2018) NEW NEW
  • It’s not unlikely for films to enter/leave/re-enter this list, but any film that has dropped out at one point and come back on is still designated as “NEW” just to keep things simple.

Link to list on Letterboxd

Like it? Hate it? Think I’m crazy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

A Criterion Adventure (2019)


SETTING THE STAGE


For film enthusiasts everywhere, especially those, myself included, who live for the underappreciated masters and the nooks and crannies of cinema history, November 29, 2018 was a dark day, the day FilmStruck died. FilmStruck had been the all-too-short-lived streaming home for the revered Criterion Collection and their streaming partners, notably Janus Films. FilmStruck had also recently partnered with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to provide access to an abundance of classic American cinema. Altogether, in addition to offering a large selection of films released on the Criterion label, the service had also provided its subscriber base with a wealth of ever-shifting selections, both foreign and domestic, from across the many decades of film history.

FilmStruck ad post-TCM partnership

After having experienced the Criterion Collection in past years as merely happenstance as I explored various acclaimed films that happened to be on their discs, 2018 marked a shift of intentionality as I purposely began seeking out films associated with the label, especially once I finally made the decision to dive into FilmStruck. Fortunately, I’m a huge proponent of physical media, especially Blu-ray, and so that already represented the majority of my watching, but I quickly discovered many titles on the channel didn’t have Blu-ray releases. Nevertheless, come January 1, the start of my 2019 adventure with the label, discs were now pretty much my only source when it came to anything Criterion-related. That’s not to say I didn’t stop making astonishing, thrilling, and awe-inspiring discoveries on disc. In fact, the majority of my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries in 2019 were from discs in the Collection. But there’s a lot to be said for the convenience and depth of streaming.

Fortunately, the darkness and despair was short lived, as soon after FlimStruck closed, it came to light that Criterion itself would be providing a streaming service. Finally, after much anticipation, on April 8, the Criterion Channel launched, and I began to discover just how deep the rabbit hole would go. The channel’s extensive partnerships would enable them to provide an even more diverse array of films than FilmStruck had. Right off the bat, I experienced one of the new channel’s most ingenious means of helping its viewers to discover films we may never have otherwise seen. Curated collections. 

columbia noir
Criterion Channel home page on launch day

Day one, the first major collection was right there on top of the screen, Columbia Noir. If this was the launching point, a whole group of compelling Columbia Studios films, the vast majority of which had no Criterion ownership, along with a whole host of other films, in and out of the Collection, I knew I was in good hands.  So now, with a full arsenal of available Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases and Criterion Channel possibilities I was ready to dive into all sorts of new territory. By the end of 2019, I had experienced 134 of them for the very first time with representation from every decade from the 1920s through the 2010s. 

Here’s the full list of Criterion-related titles I watched in chronological order by release date.

 


CRITERION COLLECTIONS


I wish I could tell you about all the great films I watched throughout 2019, but instead I’ll have to stick to the highlights. Without going into detail, I am particularly happy with 3 box sets I began and will finish in 2020, not a bad film in the bunch and two genuine masterpieces–The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Playtime. Those sets features the talents of filmmakers Jacques Demy, Jacques Tati, and the collaborations of Marlene Dietrich and her frequent director Josef Von Sternberg. Along the same lines, many of my channel experiences came via the aforementioned curated collections, which focus on either a specific filmmaker, actor, creative theme or a combination of those. The one and only collection I completed beginning to end, though not for lack of trying, was Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck, in which she played a wide variety of characters, from a long-suffering mother to promiscuous lover to faith healer to a mail order bride fighting for the love of her husband. That last character is found in The Purchase Price, one of the least appreciated films in the collection that was in fact my favorite of the group. 

Rosalind Russell & John Boles in Craig’s Wife (1936), dir. Dorothy Arzner

There was plenty I enjoyed from the other collections I partook from, whether I saw many as in the launch day Columbia Noir collection or merely a couple as in the Fred and Ginger grouping that featured who else but Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a pair that can’t help but put a smile on your face with their chemistry, dancing talent, and synchronicity. The noir set gave me the opportunity to finally discover Fritz Lang’s genre masterpiece The Big Heat as well as his also outstanding, though underrated Human Desire. I was additionally grateful for the opportunity to explore the contributions of women in early cinema through a trio of Dorothy Arzner films, one of the pioneering women directors, headlined by Craig’s Wife, as well as a pair of George Cukor films that put a spotlight on his complex, unforgettable heroines. Both The Women, which features the unique casting of 130 female speaking parts and not one male on camera, and A Woman’s Face made for rich and heartfelt viewing.

My other big push came at the very end of the year as I simultaneously gobbled down soon-to-be-expired entries from the Val Lewton and MGM Musicals collections wherein I found some fun, some thrills, and three new favorites, from an ultra dark classic horror mystery featuring Satan worshipers and suicide, to emotional romantic drama in musical form provided by the likes of Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, to a film of pure joy, silliness, and dreams of romance with the sunny Debbie Reynolds being pursued by the awkwardly charming Donald O’Connor. Those films are The 7th Victim, For Me and My Gal, and I Love Melvin, in that order.

Yasujirō Ozu

About mid-year, after having seeing there were a massive number of Yasujirō Ozu films on the channel, a master director I had discovered the previous year and whose work intrigued me, I was inspired to try something truly ambitious, my biggest film-watching project to date. I would begin a chronological deep dive through every Ozu film I could access. By year’s end, I had journeyed through his first 10 films, though a couple only exist in part. It’s been an immensely rewarding experience watching them in order to see the growth of his film-making skills, the types of stories he tells, and to see his style progress over time. In the few short years these first films have covered, I’ve been able to pick up on subtle shifts in direction such as his heavily Hollywood influenced beginnings to him starting to develop his own distinct style. My favorite of these early years, Tokyo Chorus, is a deeply emotional family drama where a man loses his job trying to stand up for a coworker, which throws his family into hardship. Those who look ahead know emotional family drama would become a mainstay in Ozu’s work.

 


TOP 10 CRITERION DISCOVERIES


Now we come to the main event, the best of the best, where I highlight my top 10 Criterion-related discoveries of 2019, plus an honorable mention. These were the films that grabbed the whole of my heart, mind, and spirit, showcasing complete package film making, from script to cinematography to acting to direction to music.

Note, these titles were extracted from my overall list of my top 20 first-time watches during 2019.


Honorable Mention:
La Jetée

Year: 1962
Director: Chris Marker
Genre: Short, Drama, Romance
Cast: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux, André Heinrich, Jacques Branchu, Pierre Joffroy, Étienne Becker, Philbert von Lifchitz, Ligia Branice

A 28-minute genius work of art. The time travel plot, as mind bending as it is, is simply window dressing to the meditation on love, memory, and the attempt to attain the unattainable or regain what is forever lost that lies beneath. Rarely has so much been accomplished with so little. Through [almost] nothing but a set of still pictures and narration, Marker sets our imaginations alight, and we ourselves become captivated with this entrancing woman once frozen in a snapshot of memory.

Upon the prisoner’s re-entering the past, the juxtaposition of music and image creates a transportive experience that makes you want nothing but to rest in those peacetime moments indefinitely all the while knowing the apocalypse is just around the corner. Likewise when the time-traveling prisoner and the woman he was seeking are together. There is so much life in the still images that you can almost sense them moving but in the way that life moves when you’re sitting quietly with someone you adore simply adoring their presence, and time just fades away. And then comes a look. Just briefly, but one that you will never forget. But these moments are fleeting, and time in fact does go on and that moment is forever gone.

 


#10 – Arsenic and Old Lace

Year: 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller
Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton Peter Lorre, James Gleason, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander, Grant Mitchell

Who knew a movie featuring serial killer sisters that’s directed by the guy who made such moving slices of melodrama like It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington could be so freaking funny? Cary Grant kills it as the just-married and utterly flummoxed Mortimer Brewster who is simply trying to get ready for his honeymoon at his family home when he stumbles across a corpse upon which his aunts happily reveal to him that they’ve been killing lonely bachelors as a service to them. As if this wasn’t wild enough, Mortimer’s brother Teddy thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and his other brother, Jonathan is himself a murderer on the run with his own dark intentions. But murder turns to farce as the comedy of errors and miscommunication pile up. The plot is beautifully orchestrated, but the sheer incredulity alone that Grant hilariously shows at the ever increasing madness around him is alone worth the price of admission.

 


#9 – Solaris

Year: 1972
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Georgiy Teykh, Sos Sargsyan, Olga Barnet

Even more than the main character Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) and despite her not showing up for some time, Solaris thrives on Natalya Bondarchuk’s magnetic portrayal of Hari, Kelvin’s long-dead wife who has suddenly appeared again… and again… and again. Kelvin himself represents a relatable everyman, and it is through him we are transported from what remained of his life and relationships on Earth into a surreal, contemplative, and ever more disturbing experience on a nearly empty space station in growing disarray. The station is hovering over an alien ocean world full of fog and mystery. Through Kelvin, our attention is ever drawn to Hari, and it is the intimacy her present manifestation shares with him, an intimacy defined by their past relationship, through which Tarkovsky provides the core of his exploration into what it means to be human.

Clearly, human individuals are unique in a way that other creatures are not, a distinct nature that even a carbon copy cannot emulate, try as they might. Another side of our humanity is our attachment to one another, none more so than in that unifying relationship of marriage, where two become one flesh. The longing that comes from the loss of that relationship can be so intense that perhaps one would consider a carbon copy substitute, even knowing it’s not the same person?

 


#8 – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Year: 1943
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Cast: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Adolf Wohlbrück, Roland Culver, James McKechnie, Arthur Wontner, David Hutcheson, Ursula Jeans, John Laurie, Harry Welchman, Robert Harris

An epic rivaling the indomitable Lawrence of Arabia that gives flesh and meaning to what had seemed a mere caricature of a man. The viewer is faced with such human complexity in this study of the fictitious General Clive Candy (Roger Livesey) that he is himself forced to contemplate the whole of his own past, how it has affected his present, and what the impact will be on his future and the future of those who will come after him.

The depth and weight Powell and Pressburger were able to instill into the film is even more profound when one considers it having been made in wartime, when the fate of the world was yet unknown. They also demonstrate an attempt to understand the nature of that present war and how it came to be that all of Britain (and the world) was fighting for its very existence against the disastrous threat of Nazism. The acting is chock full of so many delightful subtleties and the dialogue is incredibly well written, detailed with emotion and color and memory. I also must give special attention to Deborah Kerr’s extraordinary multi-role performance, no doubt helped by the costuming and makeup talent.

 


#7 – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Mireille Perrey, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Jean Champion, Pierre Caden, Jean-Pierre Dorat, Bernard Fradet, Michel Benoist

Jacques Demy is a master manipulator of the heartstrings and intimately familiar with the intense passions and longing that come with young love. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg left me with bittersweet tears and a tight ball of conflicted emotions as sadness and joy fought against one another within my soul. But it’s not only emotions Demy demonstrates artistry over. The frame throughout explodes with bright, bold colors and he collaborates with composer Michel Legrand to provide a soul-stirring musical score with powerful songs. Though this is no Hollywood musical as every word of dialogue is sung, often in a subdued, melancholy manner due to the ever-present conflict even amidst joy, which plays in subtle ways against the colorful backdrops.

While Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève takes center stage through much of the film, every romantic relationship and desire, whether given short or significant attention, is fueled with earnest intention and truthfulness. There is absolutely nothing casual about any of the romance. But speaking of Deneuve, the pained longing and desperation expressed in her face and eyes broke me. Through her and Guy’s (Nino Castelnuovo) forced separation, we are made to feel the misery of the not knowing and the consequences of the impossible choices that life and our own actions force us to make when we’re desperate not to have to make them.

 


#6 – Wild Strawberries

Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Gunnar Sjöberg, Max von Sydow, Åke Fridell, Ann-Marie Wiman, Gunnel Broström

A deeply introspective tone makes Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries immensely relatable, despite the often surreal quality of the film and the vast age difference between 78-year old doctor and widower Isak Borg and the average viewer, especially when we discover he and his much younger estranged son Evald suffer from a similar darkness of the soul that has brought each to their own crisis point. Victor Sjöström plays Isak with such sensitivity that he makes us care about his inner turmoil all the while he’s showing himself to have become an insensitive and grumpy old man to those he should be closest to.

The film opens with a surreal nightmare, which sets Isak face to face with the immediacy of his mortality with vivid symbolism. This begins a literal and figurative journey, the former a shared road trip with his pregnant daughter-in-law battling her own demons and with those they pick up along the way, including a girl named Sara, played by Bibi Andersson, who reminds him of the Sara he thought he would marry as a young man (also played by Bibi Andersson). These encounters on his literal journey propel Isak into a deep inner journey of sentiment, regret, and hope that serves to change how he sees himself and the world around him.

 


#5 – The Big Heat

Year: 1953
Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Peter Whitney, Willis Bouchey, Robert Burton, Adam Williams, Carolyn Jones

Never has so much tension been wrought out of a boiling pot of coffee and rarely does a final line land with such foreboding potency. WIth a screenplay written by actual former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat unleashed upon the world one of the most brutal film noirs of the classic era. With no holds barred, Lang unhesitatingly reveals the world as a place that feels cold, hopeless, vicious, and full of infidelity. It’s a world populated by the mafia, dirty cops, and promiscuous women, and by making it clear that no one is safe, good or bad alike or anywhere in between, Lang establishes an environment loaded with tension, both for physical danger as well as moral compromise.

Glenn Ford is ideally cast as the good guy homicide detective Sergeant Bannion who starts out a positive well-intentioned family man but soon finds himself caught up in mob brutality while trying to solve a case. In his anger and frustration, the cracks in his good-guy persona quickly develop and he starts to look and more like the criminals he’s pursuing. Gloria Grahame is also outstanding as Debby Marsh, girlfriend to Vince Stone, second-in-command to the local mob boss. Despite the company she keeps, she demonstrates an awareness and intelligence and an appreciation of moral uprightness in Bannion when he stands up to a nightclub singer who Vince abuses. It seems to be the spark she needs to seek a way out of the only lifestyle she’s known. So while one character is on the descent, the other is rising up.

 


#4 – The Elephant Man

Year: 1980
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Biography, Drama
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon, Helen Ryan, John Standing, Dexter Fletcher

Carrying on the torch of early 20th century filmmakers like Tod Browning (Freaks) who want to inspire us to care for those society has rejected and abused, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man eschews the distortion of surrealism for the distortion of humanity and a trumpets a desperate call for empathy and kindness. Lynch’s most important choice is to unmask John Merrick (the eponymous character’s real name) early on. The more he shows us John’s (John Hurt) intelligence, faith, ability to create and appreciate beauty, and his longing for human connection, the more monstrous those who would be cruel and take advantage of him appear. By the point he’s crying out that he’s a human being, not an animal, he’s the only one present who isn’t acting like one.

Hurt’s performance is one for the ages, both in physically presenting himself as this horribly disfigured man as well as from the soul that pours out of his eyes. Anthony Hopkins is likewise terrific as Dr. Treves. We sense his deep compassion for John and yet he’s hardly perfect as he comes to realize about himself. Despite his good intentions, he realizes he and his hospital staff are treating John with the same lack of humanity as John had endured in the circus. I loved seeing the pure care and affection that Mrs. Kendal (Anne Bancroft) had for John. She is wholly unaffected by his outward appearance, seeing straight into the soulful kindness and goodness of the man’s heart. And she’s proud to show him honor in public as well. What an inspiration!

 


#3 – Autumn Sonata

Year: 1978
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama, Music
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman, Halvar Björk, Marianne Aminoff, Arne Bang-Hansen, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Linn Ullmann

After several previous attempts to fully appreciate the morally, philosophically, and artistically dense films of Ingmar Bergman, this one was the key to finally unlocking my ability to love one of them. I adore movies that make me feel, and let’s just say that if you ever wanted to know what the emotional equivalent of going 12 rounds with a prize fighter would be, my suggestion would be to watch the pulse-pounding bout herein between Bergman regular, Liv Ullmann and the incomparable Ingrid Bergman, who play a daughter and her estranged mother respectively. That daughter, named Eva, is the troubled wife of the village pastor, and her mother Charlotte is a highly accomplished and well-traveled pianist. Both have to face the disappointment and frustration that has come with choices that were long ago made, especially those due to Charlotte’s career pursuits.

If we’re honest, emotional baggage is always going to be a factor between mothers and their daughters. Ingmar takes advantage of this reality by heaping insult onto injury and creating deeply complex individuals whose fully fleshed out characters and rich histories bear scars that run incredibly deep. Reconciliation is the unstated desire, but as long-held secrets, selfish desires, and bottled up trauma are dredged up even the possibility of achieving that reconciliation is going to unleash all kinds of misery, frustration, rage, and despair. For 90 minutes, Ingrid and Liv are this mother daughter pair. With exacting performances that never once cross the line into overacting, they are taken to the limit as emotion pours out of each of them in a mesmerizing, soul-crushing plea for understanding and appreciation. By the end, the viewer feels as exhausted as the couple on the screen.

 


#2 – Barry Lyndon

Year: 1975
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Krüger, Diana Körner, Gay Hamilton, Frank Middlemass, Arthur O’Sullivan, Godfrey Quigley, Leonard Rossiter, Philip Stone

It amazes me how Kubrick could seemingly take any genre and make a masterpiece out of it. This is his take on a 1700s period film. The sumptuous beauty of the cinematography presents an experience akin to a relaxing stroll through a gallery of richly detailed paintings, complete with narration and a gorgeous classical music compositions, except in the rare moment when the calm is unceremoniously broken and even the camera is set loose in the ensuing chaos. In contrast to the beauty of the camerawork is the only sometimes sympathetic man at its center, Redmond Barry, played to subtle perfection by Ryan O’Neal.

Barry is repeatedly given opportunities to put his past bad choices behind him and start anew, often in even better shape than he was before, but he keeps failing to overcome the lusts that drive him leading him to spurn those opportunities. He finds pleasures for a time, but those pleasures, those choices to act evilly towards not only strangers but eventually even his own wife and stepchild come at a severe cost. The defining duel of the film is masterfully filmed with immaculate detail and taking what had been a mostly relaxing viewing up to that point and ever so slowly infusing ounce upon ounce of suspense, creating intense discomfort for the characters on screen and the viewer alike.

 


And my #1 favorite Criterion discovery of 2019 is…

 

Bicycle Thieves

Year: 1948
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Genre: Drama
Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda, Vittorio Antonucci, Giulio Chiari, Elena Altieri, Carlo Jachino, Michele Sakara, Fausto Guerzoni

Such a simple premise–a man’s search for his stolen bicycle through the streets of post World War II Rome, an ancient, endlessly fascinating city of contrasts. Shot on location (no sets) with only untrained actors (though you’d never know it), this prime example of Italian neorealist cinema blurs the line between fly-on-the-wall documentary and fictional narrative. Director Vittorio De Sica demonstrates how such an event that would seem a mere inconvenience to many feels like a life and death predicament to the impoverished Antonio Ricci and his family. Through Antonio’s desperate urgency, he being played by the remarkable Lamberto Maggiorani, a factory worker by trade, we understand that failure is not an option. He must recover his bike, or he won’t be able to work, and his family will starve. Along for the search comes his son Bruno played by Enzo Staiola, equally photogenic and adept at showing a range of emotion as he watches his father’s growing desperation.

De Sica expertly fuels our empathy for the Riccis right away as the film opens with a bit of tragic irony. Antonio, desperate for work is informed there’s a job available for him. The catch, he must have a bicycle. The irony is he had one and had to pawn it to put food on the table. His wife Maria (Lianella Carell) takes charge and decides they can live without their bedsheets and pawns them–because there’s nothing else of significance left to pawn–to get Antonio his bicycle back. With such a precious possession back in hand, we are in suspense every moment the bicycle is not under Antonio’s watchful eye. Later, at times as the needle-in-a-haystack search continues, we are further enlightened to Antonio’s miserable condition as he is surrounded by hordes of bicycles, the very thing he needs, but not one is his. We also see how Antonio’s desperate condition and the decisions it leads him to make affect young Bruno.


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

2020 Oscar Locks

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Feelin’ Film circles, whether it be the Facebook group or our active Twitter community, you’ve likely heard the following phrase: Jeremy is always right. Listen, I don’t know who came up with it and it’s really flattering, but for a guy like myself who just oozes humility, it’s a bit embarrassing. It also happens to be completely true. It’s a pretty heavy cross to carry that would crush most men, but it’s one that I am glad to bear. As everyone’s favorite Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. With this in mind, given that it’s Oscar season and knowing that some people like to make Oscar season a little more interesting, I thought I would give back to you, the normies, and provide you with the stone-cold locks to win the major Academy Awards in 2020. So without further ado, for the second year in a row, here are Jeremy’s Oscar locks! You’re welcome.


Best Supporting Actor

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Al Pacino, The Irishman; Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Should’ve been nominated: Christian Bale, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Full disclosure, I haven’t seen The Two Popes or A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood so I cannot speak to the work done by Hopkins or Hanks, but I absolutely adored all of the work that the other nominees did this year. The Irishman was stellar across the board thanks in part to Al Pacino’s stunning performance as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci’s wonderfully understated Russell Buffalino. But Brad Pitt gave my favorite performance in what was (spoilers for later) my favorite movie of the year and so he is my personal pick to go home with the statue.

Will win: Ultimately it looks like this is a two-horse race between Pesci and Pitt that will be won by the man who should be People’s Sexiest Man Alive until he dies, Brad Pitt, as Pesci loses a few votes to Al Pacino from those wanting to reward The Irishman.


Supporting Actress

Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Margot Robbie, Bombshell; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Should’ve been nominated: Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers; Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

I want to win: In my opinion, and I know this is controversial, Margot Robbie gave the best performance of those nominated this year. Her portrayal of the fictional amalgamation of real victims, Kayla Popsil, was absolutely dynamite and made me want to go punch everyone who has ever responded to a woman who has alleged sexual abuse with anything other than love and compassion straight in the throat.

Will win: Laura Dern. The odds are completely in her favor. And she was great in Marriage Story. Of course, she was. She’s Laura Effing Dern. But she was better in Little Women.


Best Actor

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory; Joaquin Phoenix, Joker; Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Should’ve been nominated: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

I want to win: If you would’ve told my 17-year-old self in December of 1997 as I watched the girl I was in love with look up at the screen and drool all over Jack Dawson that I’d ever be on Team DiCaprio, I’d have told you to pound sand. But here we are. 

Will win: Look, Joaquin Phoenix is going to go home with the statuette. Whether you liked Todd Phillips’ Joker or not, there’s no denying that Phoenix gave an absolute powerhouse performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus he lost weight, and you know the Academy can’t resist an actor who went on a diet for a role.


Best Actress

Charlize Theron, Bombshell; Renee Zellweger, Judy; Cynthia Erivo, Harriet; Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Should’ve been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Awkwafina, The Farewell

I want to win: I’m going to be honest, until I read this list, I thought Megyn Kelly played herself in Bombshell, so I’m going to go with Charlize Theron. I do reserve the right to change this to Cynthia Erivo after I watch Harriet with my daughter tonight. 

Will win: All signs are pointing to Renee Zellweger at this point. By all accounts, it’s the one really bright spot in what was otherwise a bland, formulaic biopic.


Best Director

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Todd Phillips, Joker; Bong Joon-ho, Parasite; Martin Scorcese, The Irishman; Sam Mendes, 1917

Should’ve been nominated: Greta Gerwig, Little Women; James Mangold, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is my favorite movie that I saw in 2020. Parasite is the best movie that I saw in 2020. A movie that is equal parts family drama, horror, dark comedy, and social commentary should collapse under the weight of its own ambition, but it’s never less than perfect. I’m not into foreign film because I don’t like to read, but I’ll never miss another Joon-ho project. 

Will win: At this point, I think it’s a toss-up between Joon-ho and Mendes and I wouldn’t be upset with either of them. I’ve already praised Parasite and 1917 is an absolute masterwork in warfare storytelling. I think Joon-ho walks away with it.


Best Picture

1917; Parasite; Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joker; The Irishman; Jojo Rabbit; Little Women; Marriage Story; Ford vs. Ferrari

Should’ve been nominated: Uncut Gems; Avengers: Endgame

I want to win: Here’s the thing, I really liked all nine of these movies. All of them were in my Top 25 of 2020 and all but Marriage Story were in my Top 15. But my favorite was Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino’s patience in telling the story along with his always great writing and some dynamic performances make it a movie I’ll revisit over and over and I’d love to see it win.

Probably will win: This is a tough one. 1917 has a lot of momentum, but so does Parasite. And we all know that the Academy loves a story about its golden age, so I think Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has a great shot as well. Currently, the odds are on 1917 bit it’s a pretty close race. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood takes home the industry’s most coveted prize on Sunday, February 9th. 

There you have it. Those are my picks. You can trust me or you can look at the odds. But remember, I’m always right.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

Patch’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 was weird for me when it came to film. In some ways, it wowed me. In other ways, it made me shake my head. Sandwiched in between an epic franchise finale and retellings of classic favorites were some real gems (cut and uncut).  Below is the best of the best, for me at least. As with every year, not everything could make my top ten, so here are my honorable Top 5 Best of the Rest of 2019.

THE BEST OF THE REST

5. Brittany Runs a Marathon

4. Luce

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home

2. Waves

1. Avengers: Endgame


THE FEATURE FILMS

Without further delay, here are my 10 favorite films of 2019. If you haven’t had a chance to see them, hopefully, this list will help encourage you to seek them out soon and draw your own conclusions

10. UNCUT GEMS – One of the surprise performances of 2019 is Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems”. As a gritty New York gambler, Sandler shows us the life of trying to make a fast dollar, and his performance carries the film all the way to its surprising conclusion. His performance combined with the fantastic cinematography put me right in the tough streets with him, hoping that I don’t get caught saying or doing the wrong thing, for fear I might get a bullet in the chest.

 

9. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD – Quentin Tarantino is a director that I can respect and value, but also dislike and dismiss based on personal preference. There are few movies I can watch more than once with him in the director’s chair. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” stands out as one. Tarantino succeeds in crafting his own history, using a combination of real-life celebrities of Hollywood past as well as fictionalized characters representing those personalities that lived so prominently of that era. Two of those characters, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, and their friendship carry the story, something I didn’t expect from QT. That relationship becomes the catalyst for the film, and it’s the thing that captured my attention more than anything. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

8. JOKER – A friend of mine said to me after seeing “Joker”, “if this was about a guy named Arthur Fleck, without the whole Joker origin story, it would have been just as impactful.” I completely agree. What Todd Phillips does in this story is invite us into the chaotic world of mental illness with the pressure of having that mental illness in a world that expects you to behave as if you don’t. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an outstanding performance and journey succumbing to the monster he eventually becomes. It’s a hard movie to watch and one of the few I hesitate to revisit because of the impact it has. But it’s one that will be the most memorable of 2019 for me. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY – I love it when a movie makes me feel happy. What I thought was going to be a nice little throw-away popcorn flick turned out to be one of the most memorable films of the year. It is anchored by Saraya Knight, an up and coming wrestler with dreams of being in the WWE, but the emphasis extends to the importance of family, of being connected to a common set of people, believing in each other’s dreams and how success and failure can shape each person’s life. It also doesn’t hurt that it takes me back to my days growing up watching “rasslin” every Monday night and Saturday afternoon.

 

6. MARRIAGE STORY – What a gut punch. “Marriage Story” acts as a mirror in a lot of ways in exposing the honesty of real relationships. It’s a raw vantage point seeing how two people come to grips with the fact that they, as a couple, aren’t happy, and have to deal with it knowing that there will be collateral damage no matter what. I see that in my marriage, in the hard conversations that expose the messiness of choosing to be together. But “Marriage Story” also reminds me that, at the heart of relationships is the ability to choose, and though I don’t agree with some of the choices made by our main characters, I am reminded that that ability is crucial. The film isn’t pretty, but it’s honest, which makes it a valuable watch for anyone. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – Independent movies don’t get enough love. I’ve learned to accept that. Limited theater distribution, smaller marketing, and sometimes a simple narrative can hinder the buzz that these films deserve. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is no different. Centering around a relationship between a couple of rejects pursuing a better life, this film invites us to join them on this journey and accept them for who they are as they grow to accept each other. Family doesn’t have to be defined by blood, and this film sells that message in a way that makes a believer out of me. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. PARASITE – I hope that we get to cover this on Feelin’ Film at some point. So much has already been said about this fantastic film. The social commentary is both obvious and subtle at the same time, giving the audience enough to think about but not overselling and overshadowing a fantastically entertaining story. There are so many “wow” moments in this film, twists and turns that keep me wondering what’s really at work here. It’s definitely worthy of the accolades that it has gotten and I hope that more people get a chance to appreciate what Bong Joon-Ho has crafted.

 

3. FORD V FERARRI – I don’t get a chance to see movies in the theaters more than once, so when I do, it’s got to be worth it. “Ford v Ferrari” is probably the most entertaining movie of 2019 for me, and it’s one that I had the pleasure of seeing twice on the big screen. There is a completeness in telling the story of Carol Shelby, Ken Miles, and their pursuit to bring Ford motor company back to relevance in the 1960s. James Mangold, in his meticulous direction, puts us so close to the action of LeMans as well as the intimacy of the relationships he takes care of in this story. I didn’t come away feeling wowed by what I saw, but rather getting a complete story, one that entertained me from start to finish. There wasn’t a single moment that stood out as the big moment, but it wasn’t necessary. Everything worked, and I can’t wait to experience it all again. (Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

 

2. LITTLE WOMEN – What the heck? It’s no secret that period pieces are not my thing, and had it not been for Sam Mendes’ “1917” releasing in early 2020 instead of on Christmas (for my area at least) this was going to be a rental, easily. But as I learned in watching “Lady Bird” this year, Greta Gerwig can make me feel deeply in spite of my preconceptions of what a movie is supposed to be. “Little Women”, driven by a solid female cast, manages to tell a story that is both 200 years old and also still relevant today. Saoirse Ronan anchors the narrative as Jo March, and the supporting cast of her sisters propel it to entertaining heights. Watching the film reminded me of how important it is to understand yourself, how difficult it is for women to navigate a world dominated by men, and how family can bring out the best in a person, even through conflict and pain. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)

 

1. BOMBSHELL – Movies that can entertain, educate, and provoke thoughtful discussion will always rise above any other, and “Bombshell” doesn’t miss any of those beats. When corporate America treats sexual harassment prevention training as a box to be checked to avoid liability, its importance is lost. “Bombshell” should essentially replace that training and be standard viewing for any employee working today. Solid female-led performances by Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margo Robbie help expose the toxic environment of Fox, and John Lithgow, portraying the sleazy Roger Ailes puts the exclamation point on that world. Much like last year’s “Hearts Beat Loud”, this film comes at a disadvantage, namely releasing late in the year against “Uncut Gems” and “The Rise of Skywalker”. If not now, hopefully, the early part of 2020 will bring it more of an audience and allow the message of “Bombshell” to explode beyond just the film world. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)


Patrick “Patch” Hicks calls Little Rock, Arkansas home with his family of four (his wife, son and three pets). When he’s not podcasting, he works as a multimedia designer and is also dabbling in the art of writing and directing. You can find him floating around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and his home on the web, ThisIsPatch.com.

 

 

Aaron’s Top 10 Films of 2019

2019 is coming to a close and what a wonderful year of movies we’ve had to wrap up the decade. This year I saw 175 new films, 26 of which were documentaries. Finding room in my Top 20 (much less my Top 10) for every film that I want to sing the praises of is always incredibly difficult and this year is no different. The process of narrowing down my favorites to the top ten films of the year was a painful experience that required a lot of reflection and time. The ranking you see here changed constantly right up until I hit “post”, but now what’s done is done and I have to live with it. Since it’s impossible for me to just settle on ten, you will see some of my favorites of the year in the #11-20 special mention spots.

With regards to my criteria, when it comes to ranking films critically, I do that as part of my membership in the Seattle Film Critics Society (see my nominations here and our award winners here). But on Feelin’ Film we focus more on matters of the heart, so my Top 10 films are often ones that I found the most affecting in 2019 – those movies that provided me an incredibly emotional or memorable experience of some sort. Another thing that factors strongly into my ranking is rewatchability, so think of this list as my favorites of the best.

In order to make this a tad easier on myself, and also because they truly are a unique medium unto themselves, I have listed my Top 5 Documentaries separately. It feels like every year is a great one for non-fiction filmmaking and 2019 was no different. At least two of these below would be featured in my Top 10 of the year if these lists were combined; I had to make some very hard cuts in limiting this list to just a Top 5. But as they say… “it’s what it is.”


THE DOCUMENTARIES

5. UNTOUCHABLE (not the 2019 documentary about Harvey Weinstein) The first documentary I saw in 2019 was this film by David Feige that started making festival rounds in 2016 and finally got its release this year. The film follows Ron Book, a Florida lobbyist and father to a daughter who has been sexually abused, on his campaign that leads to some of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. The film is special because of the way it gives equal space to the stories of both victims and offenders, as well as their respective loved ones. It is an incredible example of what documentaries at their best can be – not just informative, but balanced and thought-provoking despite covering very difficult to watch & complicated subject matter. While never losing sight of the pain these crimes can cause, it challenges our long-held perception of sex offenders, forces us to see the effects of our strict justice system on them and their families, and offers statistics that question whether our laws are even making a dent in rehabilitation or prevention. (Hear our discussion about “Untouchable” in FF+ here.)

4. LOVE, ANTOSHA – Get ready to cry your eyes out and then embark on a (surprisingly long) quest to watch all of the late actor Anton Yelchin’s films. This film is so well-constructed as a documentary that tells the story of Anton’s life, but its power is in sharing the stories of what he meant to so many people, who could see in him what he maybe never could. It is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to a brilliant artist and wonderful human being gone far too soon.

3. SEA OF SHADOWS – I was blown away by the incredible access to both the bad guys and Mexican governmental agencies that this filmmaking team was able to have. “Sea of Shadows” is a documentary (which feels like an intense geopolitical thriller about cartels and other international criminal groups) that follows journalists teaming with activists and military to expose and take down powerful black-market fish bladder traffickers. The film is engaging and riveting in the way it brings this story of gross human exploitation and the destruction of our planet’s environment/animal kingdom to the forefront of public minds.

2. FOR SAMA – Many films have been made about the Battle of Aleppo, a 4.5 year conflict during the Syrian Civil War, but none like this. Told entirely from a young woman’s perspective, Waad al-Kateab becomes a journalist and documents her life in a sort of video log time capsule dedicated to her daughter Sama. It is an intimate, ground-level perspective otherwise unseen that captures the struggles of Waad’s life as she transitions through falling in love, becoming part of the resistance alongside her doctor husband, and eventually motherhood. It is visceral and painful in a way that caused me to have tears welled inside my eyes for almost its entire runtime. But though it is a horror film, it is also a love story, one that shows the cost yes, but also the deep devotion to justice and freedom that drives the resistance to protect one another and strive to reclaim their homeland from tyranny. It was unforgettable, and I hope that for the sake of retaining our humanity in this world as many people as possible will see it. Tough to get through? Absolutely. But worth it in every way for the beautiful relationships that exist within the chaos, and the inspiring hope these parents bring to not just their own child but the next generation as a whole.

1. APOLLO 11 – For the second year in a row, a documentary provided my most incredible IMAX theater viewing of the year. Composed entirely of newly discovered raw archival footage from the actual launch, mission, and landing, “Apollo 11” is an editing marvel that shares with the world an immersive experience from the past. Presented entirely free of any commentary and backed by one of the best musical scores of the year, this is technical filmmaking mastery at its finest. I held my breath, cried tears of pride and awe, and felt my bones rattle and my seat shake – all part of a spectacular experience that was one of my most memorable ones this decade. (Hear our discussion about “Apollo 11” in FF+ here.)


THE FEATURE FILMS

20. THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART(Hear our discussion about “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part in Episode 149 here.)

19. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (Hear our discussion about “Spider-Man: Far From Home” in Episode 174 here.)

18. BATMAN: HUSH(Hear our discussion about “Batman: Hush” in FF+ here.)

17. THE FAREWELL(Hear our discussion about “The Farewell” in FF+ here.)

16. A HIDDEN LIFE

15. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

14. FORD V FERRARI(Hear our discussion about “Ford v Ferrari” in Episode 198 here.)

13. TOLKIEN(Hear our discussion about “Tolkien” in FF+ here.)

12. MISSING LINK(Hear our discussion about “Missing Link” in Episode 160 here.)


  • I broke this into a Top 11 because I couldn’t bear to cut (heh) “Uncut Gems” from my Top 10. It’s that great. #SorryNotSorry

11. UNCUT GEMS – Remember. To. Breathe. “Uncut Gems” is an E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E. This is a one-of-a-kind stylish anxiety attack that captures the highs and lows of compulsive gambling like I’ve never seen before. It often feels like complete chaos and manic screaming of dialogue throughout, but that is actually the Safdie Brothers in complete control of a career-best performance from Adam Sandler. It’s terrifying to watch unfold – like a horror movie without the slashing or supernatural – and the gigantic breath I finally took at the end is like the greatest gasp of air I’d ever had. Bonus points for a huge sub-plot involving Kevin Garnett and one of the year’s best scenes where said NBA superstar caresses a rock lovingly.

 

10. BOMBSHELL – There’s always room for a stellar biopic with Oscar-worthy performances and a biting script in my Top 10, and this year it was director Jay Roach’s riveting story of how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO and a culture of toxic sexism. It is a slick, entertaining, and highly uncomfortable film that is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It tells this very important story from a perspective that audience members may never experience otherwise, opening my eyes via dramatization in a way that mundane and cheesy workplace sexual harassment videos never have. I feel empowered to look for, notice, and stand up against sexual harassment of any form anywhere it exists. (Hear our discussion of “Bombshell” in Episode 205 here.)

 

9. TOY STORY 4 –  Shame on me for doubting Pixar and one of the most perfect trilogies of all-time. It took me two viewings, but once I took in the film detached from my expectations of what a Toy Story film “should” be, I fell in love. Not only is it heady and thoughtful in ways the series has never quite tried, it still packs the emotional punch I expect and crave. I laughed my ass off. I cried hard. I became obsessed with Forky. New characters won me over and this fourth entry manages to somehow create a new conclusion that makes perfect sense. (Hear our discussion about “Toy Story 4” in Episode 172 here.)

 

8. JOKER – Todd Phillips’ “Joker” is exceptional, elevating the type of stories we are accustomed to from our comic book characters into previously uncharted artistic territory. As Phillips’ muse, Joaquin Phoenix carries the film with a phenomenal physical performance that imbues the titular villain’s tormented soul with both a growing madness and a painfully affecting pathos. It took a lot of nerve for Phillips to depict a “beloved” villain in this way and style,  knowing that many fans would not approve, but his approach allows for a powerful conversation to be had about mental illness and violence. I was completely enthralled throughout the film, both with its narrative and its artistic elements. I left the theater floored and impressed beyond belief. (Hear our discussion about “Joker” in Episode 191 here.)

 

7. PARASITE – What hasn’t already been said about director Bong Joon-Ho’s delightfully dark social satire? It’s a commentary on class warfare and capitalism that plays out in a funny yet thrilling story that crosses several different genres and surprises at every turn. Worthy of every bit of praise and all of the awards that it is winning this year, “Parasite” is one of the best live-action foreign films of the decade and should be seen knowing as little as possible.

 

6. 1917 – “1917” is an astonishing exercise in immersion that left me utterly shaken. It is a true technical marvel, with emotional power that creeps up slowly, and then forces the viewer to reconcile with the futility of war in a manner that lingers long after the credits roll. Featuring my favorite score of the year and the best cinematography, as well, the film is stunning on every level, a tour-de-force in the genre, and an absolute must-see theatrical experience. (Episode coming in January 2020)

5. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON – A simple, moving adventure story of friendship and family. Never condescending. My eyes were hardly dry throughout. I love this movie. Every single moment. The cinematography, the score, the acting, but of course the story most of all. And for me, the depiction of people on the fringes – a care center runaway with Down Syndrome and a troubled thief –  who come together and become a non-traditional family is one of the sweetest I’ve ever seen. (Hear our discussion about “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in Episode 199 here.)

 

4. WEATHERING WITH YOU – It’s no secret how much I adore Makoto Shinkai’s “Your Name.” This film also features a central teenage romance with fantastical elements and natural disasters on the horizon but is a much more serious and dramatic work that takes its time moving the story along and has Shinkai exploring the very real issue of climate change (and humanity’s conflicting response to it) through the decisions that its romantically inclined protagonists face. In what has become the norm, Shinkai delivers breathtaking visuals yet again and they perfectly synchronize with another beautiful RADWIMP’s score. There is just something about how Shinkai consistently tells stories that move me deeply and affect my soul in ways that very few filmmakers do. “Weathering With You” is an incredibly layered animated dream and I can’t stop thinking about its characters, their relationships, and the challenging situations they must deal with, but also what my own feelings about those things ultimately say about me.

 

3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD –  Where Quentin Tarantino’s storytelling shines the most in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is in the relationship between movie star Rick Dalton & his stuntman/best friend Cliff Booth. Their friendship is touching and hilarious, and their stories are compelling enough on their own to carry a nearly 3-hour long movie. In addition, the satisfying and respectful retelling of Sharon Tate’s tragic murder within this alternate history grounds this film in the time period that QT is clearly making a love letter to. I could watch these characters in this world for hours upon end and never tire of it. Exceptional production value and acting all around plus great messages about friendship and how we remember people make this a slamdunk top film of the year for me. (Hear our discussion about “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” in Episode 178 here.)

 

2. MARRIAGE STORY “Getting divorced with a kid can be one of the hardest things you can ever do – it’s like a death without a body.” I relate very deeply with much of what’s depicted in this story, and from personal experience, I agree that divorce *is* like death without a body. What makes “Marriage Story” brilliant to me, is that Baumbach captures the waves of changing emotions and challenges that many, many couples face perfectly, despite the setting being that of two celebrities parting ways. “Marriage Story” is a reflection of this beautifully flawed couple that gives insight into the awful process of divorce, and it hurts like hell to experience but can also serve as a cautionary tale for those in relationships now. It is the rare film that comes along that has impeccable filmmaking artistry, is entertaining, and has a huge personal relevance, making it an easy choice for this spot on my list. (Hear our discussion about “Marriage Story” in Episode 203 here.)

 

1. LITTLE WOMEN – When was the last time a pure drama, period piece, with Hollywood star power, contending for awards had a PG rating? Greta Gerwig’s masterful retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic is a love letter to the source material that is as delightful as it is artistically terrific. Updated with a fun new meta twist that could have gone terribly awry, instead, Gerwig’s storytelling device highlights the theme of owning your own story and hammers home Jo’s arc in an impactful new way, while also portraying Amy’s important story quite powerfully, like we haven’t seen before. The acting is just as brilliant as you’d expect from this supremely talented group of young actors, and supporting roles by such veterans as Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, and Chris Cooper are every bit as perfectly cast. Each and every element of the film adds to its delight – from the production design to the score – and it’s likely Gerwig’s film will go down as the best telling of this famous story for many a viewer, and may just inspire a whole new generation of little women too. (Hear our discussion about “Little Women” in Episode 207 here.)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Aaron’s 2019 SFCS Award Nominations

Having the honor of participating in an annual film awards voting group is one of the greatest joys in my life. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and sacrifice too. After watching 166 films released in 2019, some of which I greatly did not enjoy and others which I cannot wait to watch again, I’ve finally narrowed down my favorites or best or whatever you want to label them as. Presented below are my nominations for the 2019 Seattle Film Critic Society Awards. In the past, I have attempted to use strategy by not making nominations that I believed would have plenty of support elsewhere. This year, I decided to avoid getting that tricky, and instead have made my choices that I can fully stand behind and proudly champion. Many categories were extremely difficult and caused me great heartache. Where possible, I’ve listed my “Sixth Man” award for that nominee who just narrowly missed my field.

* A note about eligibility – Due to our voting deadline, access to films, and/or personal time constraints, the following late releasing films were not screened by me prior to these nominations: “Dark Waters”, “A Hidden Life”, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, “Cats”, “Jumanji: The Next Level”, and (to make my daughter happy) “Spies in Disguise”.

* Additionally, I have chosen to remove Animation and Documentaries from my Best Picture lineup in order to allow more room for live-action feature film nominees.

(All nominees in alphabetical order)

BEST ACTION CHOREOGRAPHY

1917
Ford v Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Shadow
Triple Threat

VILLAIN OF THE YEAR

Divorce – Marriage Story
Joker – Joker
Mysterio – Spider-Man: Far From Home
Red Dress – In Fabric
Swiper – Dora and the Lost City of Gold

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (under 18 at time of filming)

Anna Pniowsky – Light of my Life
Isabela Moner – Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Julia Butters – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Noah Jupe – Honey Boy
Paola Lara – Tigers Are Not Afraid

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1917
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Spider-Man: Far From Home

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1917
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

I Lost My Body (Dan Levy)
Uncut Gems (Daniel Lopatin)
Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)

BEST FILM EDITING

1917
Apollo 11
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Marriage Story

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Bombshell
Dolemite is My Name
Little Women
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Rocketman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1917
Joker
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Shadow
The Lighthouse
*Sixth Man* – Monos

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE

The Farewell
Monos
Parasite
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – Promare

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Apollo 11
For Sama
Love, Antosha
Maiden
Sea of Shadows
*Sixth Man* – American Factory

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Missing Link
Promare
This Magnificent Cake!
Toy Story 4
Weathering With You
*Sixth Man* – The Lego Movie 2

BEST SCREENPLAY

Bombshell (Charles Randolph)
Joker (Todd Phillips, Scott Silver)
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz)
*Sixth Man* – Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Avengers: Endgame
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Marriage Story

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Nicole Kidman – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell
*Sixth Woman* – Taylor Russell – Waves

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Song Kang Ho – Parasite
Sterling K. Brown – Waves
Zack Gottsagen – The Peanut Butter Falcon
*Sixth Man* – John Lithgow – Bombshell

BEST ACTRESS

Awkwafina – The Farewell
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Jessie Buckley – Wild Rose
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Scarlett Johanson – Marriage Story
*Sixth Woman* – Lupita Nyong’o – Us

BEST ACTOR

Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems
Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
*Sixth Man* – Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes

BEST DIRECTOR

Jay Roach – Bombshell
Josh & Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Sam Mendes – 1917
Todd Phillips – Joker
*Sixth Man* – Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

BEST PICTURE

1917
Bombshell
Ford v Ferrari
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Uncut Gems
*Sixth Man* – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Total Count by Movie: Bombshell (9), Marriage Story (9), 1917 (8), Joker (8), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (7), Little Women (5), Parasite (4), Ford v Ferrari (4), Uncut Gems (4), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (3), The Peanut Butter Falcon (3)


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

2019 Feeler’s Choice Award Winners

It’s our 3rd Annual Feeler’s Choice Awards and this year we couldn’t be more proud of the selection of films. Thank you so much to all of the incredible members of our free-to-join Feelin’ Film Facebook Discussion Group who participated by nominating and then voting to make these awards a success. There is no doubt that these winners are very representative of the varying cinematic tastes we have in the Feelin’ Film community. Be sure and listen to the 2019 Oscars & Feeler’s Choice Award Recap episode to hear us discuss these.

Best Costume Design BLACK PANTHER (Ruth E. Carter)
Best Documentary Feature FREE SOLO
Best Animated Feature SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Best Original Screenplay EIGHTH GRADE (Bo Burnham)
Best Adapted Screenplay BLACKKKLANSMAN (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee)
Best Original Song “Shallow” (A STAR IS BORN)
Best Original Score FIRST MAN (Justin Hurwitz)
Best Sound Editing A QUIET PLACE
Best Visual Effects AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Best Cinematography ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)
Best Actor in a Leading Role Bradley Cooper (A STAR IS BORN)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Michael B. Jordan (BLACK PANTHER)
Best Actress in a Leading Role Elsie Fisher (EIGHTH GRADE)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Emily Blunt (A QUIET PLACE)
Best Director Alfonso Cuarón (ROMA)
Best Picture ROMA
Poignant Performance of the Year John Krasinski (A QUIET PLACE)
E-Motion Picture of the Year ROMA

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

Film earning multiple awards were:

A Quiet Place – 3
Roma – 3
Avengers: Infinity War – 2
Black Panther – 2
Eighth Grade – 2
A Star is Born – 2

We look forward to having even more participation next year, so come be a part of the community at https://www.facebook.com/groups/feelinfilm.