Kicking things off with our annual top 10 lists is Amanda-Marie! If you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to this week’s podcast where we discuss more about the best films of the year and stay tuned for the rest of our lists dropping throughout the week!
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
This film had all the elements of a classic Marvel film with intense action and humor but also had what many Marvel films are lacking with the exception of Black Panther, representation. The friendship between Shaun (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) is refreshing as finally, not every superhero needs to fall in love. Liu is the perfect, dorky guy next door. I loved him in Kim’s Convenience, so I’m psyched that he’s finally getting bigger roles. I’m excited for the next film and to see where the story takes us.
- The Harder They Fall
Directed by Jeymes Samuel
The costumes, the lingo, the humor, the sheer fact that we got to see this many people of color in a Western, are only a few of the things that made this film awesome. Though it’s meandering and too Tarantino-esque at times with its violence, it’s certainly worth seeing for the performances and original story. I’m excited that Jonathan Majors is finally getting recognition as the amazing actor he is and hopefully this will open up more avenues for him to do more action films.
- Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
Directed by Garret Price
In this documentary, the depictions of Woodstock ‘99 are horrifying. The sewage, the mud, the sexual assaults, the angry white men, the rage, the security that wasn’t really secure, all of these elements completely consume this event, creating a cluster of complete chaos. And the fact that one of the cofounders, John Scher, still thinks that it’s the fault of MTV that the festival got out of hand, among some other unpopular opinions of his, is just mind boggling. With the recent tragedy at the AstroWorld Festival, apparently we haven’t learned much from the past and need more reminders of these absolute disasters so that we finally make improvements to ensure people can simultaneously be safe and have an amazing experience.
- The Outside Story
Directed by Casimir Nozkowski
The Outside Story creates a nostalgia for the New York City we once knew, before masks, vaccination cards, and crap tons of hand sanitizer, when you could go into neighbors apartments without worry. It captures the quirkiness of New York City neighborhoods, and Brian Tyree Henry experiences every bit of this weirdness when he leaves his keys in his apartment and has to interact with his neighbors in order to get back into his home. The premise is simple, but gives Henry the space to be more than the typical funny sidekick.
- Judas and the Black Messiah
Directed by Shaka King
Daniel Kaluuya is captivating as Fred Hampton. The way his words slip and slide together in his speeches, the “right ons” and the “ya digs,” his anger, intensity, and conviction, are all beautiful to witness. He’s persuasive and bold, making it easy to see how people would have followed him and the message of the Black Panthers. LaKeith Stanfield, who plays Bill O’Neal, is the perfect foil to Kaluuya, as he’s always one moment away from the Panthers finding out that he’s a spy for the government, and on top of that he’s turning against people he actually agrees with. The film shows the complicated nature of O’Neal and the Panthers, while really giving Kaluuya a platform to shine. I’m still buzzing with excitement not only for this film but also for Kaluuya’s Oscar win.
- Free Guy
Directed by Shawn Levy
Even as a NPC, nonplayer character, in the world of a video game, Ryan Reynolds is still classic Ryan Reynolds. He’s charming, sarcastic, and clueless in an incredibly endearing way. He’s the only human that could make a live action version of Pikachu cute and loveable. And he’s the only person that could make you pick up your next video game and think of the background character walking along the street, differently. He brings humanity to anything and does a great job playing an NPC that becomes more and more human as his daily routine is interrupted and he falls in love for the first time. Every year I look for a film that tells a story that’s different from anything I’ve seen before and this, as well as Don’t Look Up and The Mitchells vs the Machines, definitely check off my originality boxes. My only complaint is that I wish his friend, Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) wasn’t just a sidekick. He certainly added more comedic relief but he always plays the same type of character, which is the sensible, advicing-giving guy. I hope he gets to be more front and center in future films.
- Don’t Look Up
Directed by Adam McKay
This is a film that will unfortunately predict how we’ll act when it’s actually the end times, as it perfectly depicts how divided we are as a country. It somehow encompasses everything we’re dealing with right now: the pandemic, global warming, the class divide, the influence of big tech in government, how a mob mentality can influence normal people, etc. Though it definitely hits you over the head as to how relevant it is and wants to be, the humor, the absurdity, the cameos and the grounding performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence keep you engaged. It’s sad to know that even when we have a comet hurtling toward earth, and everyone has told us we’re going to die, that we’ll still question it to the very end.
Directed by Rebecca Hall
Passing is a slow burn. We start to see the cracks in Irene (Tessa Thompson) as paranoia and jealousy take hold upon the reintroduction of a long lost friend into her life. This friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), passes as white and is married to a particularly vocal, racist man, John (Alexander Skarsgård). Maybe part of Irene wants to be like Clare. Free, able to exist in whatever circle she pleases without worry of being found out as black. But maybe part of her is also in love with her friend. Though they’re never physically romantic, the way Clare and Irene stare at each other tells you everything. The jazz score, the black and white photography, the tension that we feel as Clare keeps inserting herself into circles with other black people, tempting fate to be found out, all of it is just captivating.
Directed by Bo Burnham
I’ve been a fan of Bo Burnham since his first videos on Youtube. He’s always been awkward, creative, nervous, and anxiety ridden, and it’s refreshing that his immense stardom never changed those things. He’s as endearing now as he was sitting in his childhood bedroom recording raps on a keyboard. I only wish I had this funny and tragic film during 2020 when I definitely needed it. In Inside, Burnham turns 30 by himself in a room with disco lights, wearing only black underwear, capturing just how bizarre and isolating quarantine birthdays are. And though my 30th birthday last year was very different from his, I too wasn’t able to see my family and can relate to the feelings of strangeness that come from entering a new decade during such an awful time. He also captures the other bizarre aspects of the pandemic, like trying to communicate with your mom over Facetime and the random bouts of frustration or sadness that need no explanation. Burnham has this way of knowing us, maybe even better than we know ourselves. If anyone was going to capture the reality of the pandemic and not the curated social media experience we often get from celebrities, it was going to be him, and I’m so glad this strange piece of art exists.
- The Mitchells vs the Machines
Directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe
The Mitchells vs the Machines is by far the best animated film I’ve seen this year. As robots take over the world, a family tries its best to not only survive but also keep their relationships intact as their eldest daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), drifts further and further away, especially from her father, Rick (Danny McBride), who can’t seem to understand her obsession with creating YouTube videos of their dog and her desire to go to film school. Despite all the craziness of the robots, the story and family are very relatable. The whole thing is about how technology can separate and unite us. And even though our family may be weird, we still love them, and if we keep the lines of communication open, they’ll hopefully always be there to support us, even if they don’t completely understand us. It’s one of the funniest, most heartfelt films I’ve seen this year, and I hope it wins all the awards.