Babyteeth is an original film that couldn’t possibly be pinned down to just one genre. In many ways, it’s a film about futility and finding meaning within the chaos, and as a result the tone is just as messy and unfiltered as the lives of its characters. The off-kilter comedy shifts and crushing moments of disparity come in equal measure; this is a film that seeks to understand all of its characters as sensitive, yet flawed people.
The entire ensemble is filled with performances worthy of nomination, particularly Eliza Scanlen as Milla, the cancer-diagnosed teenage girl whose coming-of-age story is sidetracked by her wacky family and love affair with the unusual drug dealer Moses. The realism with which the film presents the familial characters and the ways in which they adjust to fit Milla’s needs are completely rewarding by the end.
4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman’s deeply upsetting third feature is a film instilled with empathy, compassion, and unflinching braveness. Hittman doesn’t feel the need to call the viewer’s attention to the issues that the film addresses, and simply grounds them with her road trip story of a teenage girl (Sidney Flanigan) who is forced to take a long trek in order to get an abortion. Flanigan’s deeply sensitive, expressive work as a victim caught in an unthinkable scenario is unlikely to leave the mind of any viewer.
While the film has been routinely praised for the material it covers, Hittman shows a clear eye for making didactic choices to show the various procedures Autumn must go through. The mounting anger that builds comes from the slow revelation of the institutional barriers in place, which become all the more overwhelming for a young girl isolated from her family and any sense of normalcy. It’s a masterclass in patience.
3. Another Round
One of the welcome surprises on Oscar nominations morning was seeing Thomas Vinterberg score a Best Director nomination for his profound, hilarious film Another Round. While the film is sure to walk away with the prize for Best International Feature, it’s disappointing to see that the Academy Awards couldn’t make the jump and nominate the film for Best Picture. Another Round is often deceptively insightful, navigating the complexities of a midlife crisis with equal tragedy and humor.
Mads Mikkelsen delivers one of his finest performances ever; Mikkelsen’s role as a teacher reengaged within his life work when he takes up binge drinking personifies the spirit of a man relearning what his priorities are and reassessing the person he’s become. There’s hardly a more memorable, unique, and rewatchable cinematic moment from 2020 as the now iconic dance sequence that concludes Another Round.
2. Da 5 Bloods
It’s frequently infuriating to see that the Academy Awards so rarely recognize the work of Spike Lee; Lee is not only one of the most important and influential figures in the past fifty years of American filmmaking, but he also takes bold swings and makes divisive films that are ripe for rediscovery following their initial release. Few filmmakers combine so many stylistic impulses and pack their films with as many ideas as Lee, and his revisionist Vietnam epic Da 5 Bloods is one of his most complex and hallucinatory works to date.
Combining the war-torn loss of humanity of Apocalypse Now with the corrupting nature of treasure from Lee’s favorite film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Da 5 Bloods is an incendiary exploration of the experience of the Black soldier. Each character is instilled with a different rhetoric that speaks to their own experience, with Delroy Lindo’s role as a guilt ridden veteran who turned to hatred ranking among the best in recent American cinema.
1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is among his purest distillations of the trek into loneliness, a personification of the road to nowhere that’s packed with allusions and disturbances that come from Kaufman’s unique philosophies on existence. It’s nearly impossible to soak in all the ideas that Kaufman has within an initial viewing, but perhaps even more impactful than the wealth of character history and rewarding contradictions is the perpetual dread and sadness that Kaufman builds as he builds towards his unnerving climax.
The Academy Awards often judge films that can be easily assessed and defined within the moment, leaving less room for movies that take their time to sink in and require extended exposure in order to be rewarding. While some of Kaufman’s more obviously quirky films gained him prior nominations, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is removed from any inclinations towards capping his stylism. Even if I’m Thinking of Ending Things failed to receive a single nomination, it should be remembered as one of the few masterpieces of 2020.