At the close of 2020, it’s time to consider the 10 best films of the year. With the pandemic still raging and discouraging us all, it seems that no films won the prize for being spectacular, let alone outstanding. Maybe the pandemic can be blamed for this. Here are my picks, nevertheless.
Documentaries topped the list, often because of their subject rather than their cinematic excellence. Two were about world-class singers: the great storytelling singer, “Harry Chapin: When in Doubt Do Something”; and the musician who put Canada on the map through his singing, “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.” A short from the Manhattan Film Short Festival, “The Stick,” about a little girl who makes a stick come alive in response to her parents’ upcoming divorce, wins as another favorite.
“Oliver Sacks: His Own Story” narrates the life of the celebrated neurologist and storyteller. Finally among documentaries, my pick is “The Way I See It.” This engrossing film describes the work of Pete Souza, the White House photographer who visualized presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to, later, Barack Obama. Souza earned the film’s recognition.
Moving on to biopics, I choose “Ammonite,” about paleontologist Mary Annings, a woman whom most film viewers probably haven’t heard about. It addresses lesbianism in an era before it was accepted. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a compelling treatment of the singer, stars an almost unrecognizable but powerful Viola Davis as the celebrated African American musician. The late Chadwick Boseman, who played the trumpeter Levee, died of colon cancer; this is his final role.
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” is a delightful and classic version about one of Charles Dickens’ best characters. One interesting aspect of this complicated film is its multiracial cast. “Emma.” with a period after its unusual title, narrates the Jane Austen 19 century story with lovely cinematography. The film satirizes the period from a charming point of view. “Mank” reveals the true making of “Citizen Kane” and the alcoholic Herman Mankiewicz, who probably wrote it. It tells an important part of that masterpiece’s history. My picks would be remiss without at least one funny tale. That goes to “My Dog Stupid,” a hilarious story about a would-be writer with writer’s block and the dog that adopts him, for better or worse.
If you haven’t seen these 10 bests, make sure you look for them online. Many runners-up include, first of all, “The Donut King,” about the Cambodian family that builds a food empire from that tasty pastry. Particularly in light of California’s massive fires this year, “Rebuilding Paradise,” about the immolated town, verges on making my top 10 list. Another close contestant to consider is “The Fight,” about the work of the liberal activist organization the American Civil Liberties Union. Last but not least comes “Citizens of the World,” the warmhearted tale of three retirees looking to move abroad. Enjoy them, too, and happy New Year!