Picking the top films of the year among those shown on-Island is always a challenge. With two independent film venues — the M.V. Film Center and the M.V. Film Festival — plus two more, it’s the best of the best.
My choices are based on a number of qualities, with the topmost being the subject matter, the cinematic qualities, the acting, and the current relevance. At the top of my list is Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” Besides being beautifully made, its subject matter goes beyond mob gangsters to say something about American life and culture.
Next for me comes “Pain and Glory,” Pedro Almodóvar’s story of an aging filmmaker’s past gay lovers. Beautifully made, it soars with Almodóvar’s ebullient colors and vibrance. “If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on James Baldwin’s story, is as relevant today as the in 1970s, when it is set. It won a Best Actress Oscar for Regina King, and Oscar nominations for Best Music and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Because it is about Harriet Tubman, a former slave, political activist, and abolitionist, “Harriet” captures one of the nation’s great untold histories. Another film that narrates a historically worthwhile story is “Mary Queen of Scots,” which won Oscar nominations for Makeup/Hairstyling and Costume Design. The film rescues Scotland’s Mary Stuart from obscurity, and describes her relationship with Queen Elizabeth I. Some may fault me for including “Downton Abbey” as last but not least among the year’s fiction films, but this film is as entertaining as the TV series was. It’s like savoring candy to watch British aristocracy go through their paces.
Both the M.V. Film Festival and the M.V. Film Center presented plenty of documentaries, and they are high on my list of favorites. As a celebrity who spent many summers on-Island, the subject of “Mike Wallace Is Here” is a winner for that reason, as well as his role as an important TV interviewer. “Apollo 11” illustrates the legendary moment in American history when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon with help from Michael Collins. New footage and audio recordings make this 1969 event newly exciting.
“The River and the Wall” is a powerful and cinematically beautiful illustration of the challenges that exist for immigrants in our country. Five friends travel 1,200 miles from El Paso, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico to demonstrate how building a border wall would impact the environment. “Fire at Sea” is a haunting story of a perilous journey across the Mediterranean that immigrants risk to escape persecution and violence in their own nations. An Oscar Best Documentary nominee, it’s told from the perspective of the Sicilians who rescue them. “After Parkland” is equally important in describing the aftermath of the terrible 2018 mass shooting in Florida. If you haven’t seen them, the coming holidays are a good time to watch any of these films.