For many years, my pre-pandemic modus operandi for the month of December has been this: Catch up on all the new movies I’d missed in the previous 11 months. I wasn’t able to do that this year, so I’ve decided to give you the movies I enjoyed most this year from 2000 to the present. Like all my other lists (except for the Rewatches list), these were all first-time watches. These are presented in chronological order, then alphabetical for those released in the same year. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy here.
The Station Agent (2003) Tom McCarthy (DVD borrowed from a friend)
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) is surprised to discover that he’s inherited a gift from his deceased boss (Paul Benjamin): a railroad depot in a small New Jersey town. Fin’s passion is trains, not people, so when some of the locals try to get to know him better, Fin retreats to the security of the depot. That is, until they start knocking on his door. A delightful film. Thanks to my friend Dana for letting me borrow it.
Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón (Arrow Blu-ray)
Unexplained infertility threatens to destroy mankind’s future at a time when Great Britain is one of the few nations that still has a functioning government, although a massive police state threatens to deport (or kill) all illegal immigrants. I’m still speechless after watching this dystopian movie that’s absolutely horrific in light of our current situation. This film deserves an in-depth review, but I don’t think I can bring myself to rewatch it anytime soon. Great performances from Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Clare-Hope Ashitey, and Michael Caine with tremendous direction by Alfonso Cuarón.
Departures (2008) Yojiro Takita (Interlibrary loan DVD)
A cellist (Masahiro Motoki), laid off from his orchestra, finds work as an undertaker’s assistant. Even though I knew where this was going most of the time, I loved it.
The Headless Woman (2008) Lucrecia Martel (Criterion Channel)
I’ve only seen two of her films, but Lucrecia Martel has become one of the most fascinating filmmakers I’ve encountered in years. (I have also developed a high regard, if not outright love, for Argentine cinema in general.) The Headless Woman is the story of Vero (Maria Onetto), a well-to-do woman involved in a car accident that leaves her disturbed and disoriented, although she’s physically unharmed. The people in Vero’s life slowly recognize that something’s not right about her, seeking in their own way to bring her back to normal. Yet there are deep issues here. As is the case with the tremendous Zama (2017), Martel spells nothing out, but any effort the viewer undertakes in watching the film will be richly rewarded.
The Limits of Control (2009) Jim Jarmusch (Arrow Blu-ray)
So many have dismissed this film as lesser Jarmusch. I’m not so sure about that… I discussed this movie and Transit below in a post on challenging films.
Mother (2009) Bong Joon-ho (Kanopy)
(Not, this is not the Jennifer Lawrence movie of the same name.) More crime thriller than horror film, this film from Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) deserves more attention and discussion. Kim Hye-ja plays a mother seeking to prove her soon is not guilty of murdering a local girl.
The Man from Nowhere (2010) Lee Jeong-beom (Amazon Prime)
John Wick (2014) was based largely on this film, but the Keanu Reevess movie can’t even come close to this Korean title.
Anthropoid (2016) Sean Ellis (Kanopy)
Two Czech soldiers (Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy) parachute into their occupied country to assassinate Nazi high official Reinhard Heydrich. Almost no one talks about this WWII thriller from just a few years ago. It’s one of the best, least formulaic WWII films in a long time with superior period design and detail, strong performances, and good writing. See it. Read more about it as my third Letterboxd Watchlist movie this year.
Transit (2018) Christian Petzold (Amazon Prime, Kanopy)
Discussed (along with The Limits of Control) here.
Bacurau (2019) Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles (AFI Silver Virtual Screening Room)
Yowza, you’ve gotta see this one! I’m hoping to write a full review eventually (I wrote six pages of notes), but this Brazilian film takes place in the near future in a small, remote village where strange things begin to happen after the death of the village matriarch at the age of 94. Bacurau contains elements of westerns, science fiction, horror, revenge, and plenty of other genres. A must-see.
Blow the Man Down (2019) Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy (Amazon Prime)
Jojo Rabbit (2019) Taika Waititi (Library DVD)
Young Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) can’t wait to become of full-fledged member of Hitler Youth, but he encounters many bumps along the way, including several conversations with his imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler. If you have any reservations (and many people do) about the film’s first 10 minutes, just keep watching. Jojo Rabbit successfully walks the thin tightrope between comedy and tragedy, powered by tremendous performances by Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (doc. 2019) Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman (Library DVD)
We’re seeing so many music-related documentaries these days there’s not that much to distinguish them, yet Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is a better-than-average effort. Ronstadt’s career came to a close in 2011 due to Parkinson’s Disease, but the film’s producers spend only a brief amount of time on what’s been lost, focusing instead on Ronstadt’s amazingly varied career, allowing most of the story to be told by the people who know her best.
The Whistlers (2019) Corneliu Porumboiu (AFI Silver Virtual Screening Room)
The Whistlers has a great premise: How can criminals carry off a heist and communicate across large distances without the use of electronics? By learning a whistling language (an actual language used by people from the Canary Islands, where parts of the movie were filmed). Filled with twists, multiple flashbacks, and lots of subtitles, The Whistlers requires some work, but it’s certainly worth the effort. One critic stated that The Whistlers is the film the Coen brothers would’ve made if they were Romanian.
Da 5 Bloods (2020) Spike Lee (Netflix)
Spike Lee’s newest film about four African American Vietnam veterans returning to the site of the war, both to honor their fallen squad leader and to seek buried treasure, touches on many themes (perhaps a few too many), but is a very effective film, often brilliant. The movie also features an unforgettable performance by Delroy Lindo.
The Vast of Night (2020) Andrew Patterson (Amazon Prime)
Previously discussed here
Next time: My Science Fiction and Horror discoveries from 2020