The Top 5 Films of 2020 so far

Since I did my Top 5 Books of 2020 so far on Monday, I thought I would look back at some of my favourite films from the last six months. Despite not having set foot in a cinema since March, I’ve managed to see a fair few amazing movies. Most of these you will have heard of and there might be some overlap with 2019, especially where USA/UK release dates differ. But here is my top 5:

5. Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi)

Jojo RabbitSet in Germany during World War II, our titular Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a young boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi). However, his life is about to be turned upside down when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house. In some ways Jojo Rabbit shouldn’t work and admittedly there are plenty of people who dislike this film. But I really enjoyed it, I loved the blend of humour and pathos and how the film switches tone midway through. The use of modern music was also a nice touch, adding a sense of modernity to a period piece. The music, performances and humour elevated the story, which could have been very paint-by-numbers if these elements weren’t there. It is a highly original work and one that I recommend.

 

4. Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

Little WomenI don’t think this one needs much in the way of plot explanation. This is Gerwig’s adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic following the March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen). Despite feeling like the 1000th adaptation, this Little Women feels very new and fresh. The idea of starting near the end of the book and flashing between past and present was cleverly done and helped make aspects of the story, like Jo and Friedrich’s relationship come alive. I also really loved the focus on Amy, a character I normally despise. Gerwig’s writing and Pugh’s performance made her a very sympathetic, likable person, one that you root for just as much as Jo. The second half of the novel feels more fleshed out here which also benefits her character tremendously. Fans of Alcott will really enjoy this.

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Celine Sciamma)

Portrait of a Lady on FireAt the end of the 18th century, painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travels to a small island off Brittany for a commission. Her job is to paint a wedding portrait of the Countess’ daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). But the longer she stays on the island, the more her feelings for Héloïse grow, and soon the women embark on a doomed love affair. This is a very quiet, beautiful film about love. It is slow-paced so people interested in action won’t like this but I found it quite contemplative. It helped me to think about the characters and their different plights. The theme of looking, whether that is through art or even the removal of the male gaze, is also delicately handled and crafted. The relationship as well felt very believable and Merlant and Haenel had great chemistry. Plus by the end I was welling up.

2. A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick)

A Hidden LifeThis film is based on the true story of Austrian Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) whose refusal to fight for the Nazis ultimately leads to his execution. Interspersed with his experiences in prison, we also follow his wife Fanny (Valerie Pachner) who is ostracised by the community the family live in. This is the longest film on this list, clocking in at an impressive 2 hours 54 minutes, and not a single minute feels unnecessary. In a similar way to Portrait this is a slow-moving, contemplative film, one which reflects on morality, humanity and religion. Malick takes time to delve into these themes and explore them. It is also just beautiful to look at – all of Malick’s films are stunning –  with the shots of St. Radegund particularly breath-taking. People who are already fans of Malick’s work will love this and another film that had me near tears at the end.

1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-Ho)

ParasiteMy number one – and pretty much everyone else’s in 2019/20 – is Best Picture winner Parasite. The destitute Kim family weasel their way in to the wealthy Parks’ lives via Kim Ki-Woo (Woo-sik Choi) becoming the tutor of Park Da-Hye (Ji-So Jung). Of course nothing quite goes to the plan, and we discover the Park house has more secrets than previously thought.  This is brilliantly paced and plotted. Nothing is superfluous; every scene has a purpose and the plot is constantly moving. Parasite also blends genres effortlessly. It moves between drama, comedy, and horror with ease, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. You never knew what to expect next, and the climatic scene is so intense and riveting it is hard to look away. The use of stairs to reflect class, a major theme of the film, was also well done and cleverly arranged. Parasite thoroughly deserved all the praise and awards it has been receiving.

 

And that’s it! My top 5 films so far this year. Looking back, I notice that 3 are Oscar winners and the top 3 all debuted in Cannes last May (Parasite obviously in both categories). In fact, choosing the order of the top 3 was very difficult as any of them could have claimed the top spot. If I had done this list next week perhaps A Hidden Life would have been number 1, who knows?  Hopefully in the next six months there will be plenty more films for me to enjoy, and we can see if the rankings change come December.

Top 5 Books of 2019 So Far

Hi everyone! It’s hard to imagine we’re nearly halfway through June and 2019 already. It seems to have flown by. Last year, I did my top 10 books of the year so far, and because I really enjoyed it I thought I would do one for 2019 too. However, looking back over the last six months gave me a bit of a problem. For my top 10 lists I never include rereads (or rewatches in the case of films) so I can’t include The House on the Strand which I adore. A lot of the books I’ve read so far in 2019 have been good but not great, and I have been struggling to create a top 10, a list of books which I have had a great experience reading. So, I have decided to do a top 5 for books instead, with me doing a separate top 10 for books and films at the end of December. It still gives an indication of my mid-year reading but I’m not recommending books I only felt ‘meh’ about. But without further rambling on, I shall start with my top 5 books so far, as always I’ve linked my review so you can check that out if you want more information:
swan song   5. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Swan Song seemed to have divided book bloggers. I fall into the ‘loved it’ camp as it contains pretty much all the stuff I like reading about. It is set in the 1960s and 1970s American (tick, with bonus points for being set in NYC) and follows the talented but morally ambiguous Truman Capote (tick) and his relationships with various socialites he has nicknamed his ‘Swans’. I really enjoyed how Greenberg-Jephcott explored these women through a sort of Greek chorus and gave them their voices back after Capote exploited them. I found all the nods to other famous people, such as Lauren Bacall, Ernest Hemingway, and Bennett Cerf really fun and made the whole story seem more realistic. I know some people found the multiple names confusing but I didn’t notice that at all. Overall, I’m really excited to see what Greenberg-Jephcott writes next.
The Skylarks War   4. The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

I never thought the one book that would make me cry in 2019 would be a children’s book but there you have it! We follow Clarry and Peter, siblings who love visiting their cousin Rupert in Cornwall. They also befriend another brother and sister, Vanessa and Simon. However, the shadow of the First World War looms, threatening everything they have ever known. McKay cleverly examines the horror of WW1 through the gaze of children, which I found worked really well. Everything seemed so much more heart-breaking, perhaps because you’re witnessing the loss of innocence. She also captured a child’s voice really well. I believed Clarry when I was reading her inner thoughts and feelings; it never felt like an adult pretending to be a child. There was something so natural about it. I think fans of Private Peaceful will definitely enjoy The Skylarks’ War, as both deal with one of the darkest periods in human history seen through the eyes of ordinary people.
Circe  3. Circe by Madeline Miller

This was my favourite to win the Women’s Prize as I adored it so much. Miller’s novel tells the story of Circe, a witch who plays a minor figure in The Odyssey. I loved how Miller structured the novel to be a little like The Odyssey. It is a series of adventures which follow a main character, and what a main character Circe is! At first I wasn’t sure if I would connect to her, as she is a goddess or witch who can turn men to pigs or conjure up lions. Yet Miller imbues her with human qualities which make her incredibly endearing, and places her in situations which the reader can relate to. Everyone can identify with the idea of unrequited love for example. Circe’s character arc as well was a joy to read. Seeing her evolve from an insecure girl to a capable, intelligent woman was delightful and empowering. You don’t need to have read The Odyssey to enjoy Circe as the novel stands up very well on its own.
My Sister the Serial Killer  2. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

At first, I wasn’t sure if Braithwaite’s novel should have made the Women’s Prize shortlist. I did really enjoy reading it, but I felt that more novels on the list were more experimental and perhaps boundary-pushing. But My Sister, the Serial Killer has since grown on me, and I bloody love it. It focuses on two sisters; Korede, who works as a nurse and has a crush on a doctor, and Ayoola, the prettier, younger sister and serial killer of the title. The novels with Ayoola killing her third victim and her sister helps her dispose of the body. However, when Ayoola and Korede’s crush fall in love, Korede has a decision to make. Does she hand her sister into the police, or risk the life of the man she loves? The novel has been described as a thriller, and I can see why critics would describe it as such. But I found it more a study into this complex relationship between the sisters; certainly I found their dynamic to be the most interesting aspect of the book. There are also flashbacks to their childhoods which may provide some clues as to their behaviour. The chapters are short and sharp, and Braithwaite has written some darkly humourous moments into the narrative, making My Sister, the Serial Killer a fast, enthralling read. It is hard to compare it to anything as I’ve never read anything like it.
Blonde   1. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

My love of Marilyn Monroe (and again, set in America in the 1960s) trumps all. Blonde is a fictional account of the actress, starting with her childhood all the way to her death in 1962. Oates has done an incredible job researching Monroe’s life, I’m currently reading a biography on her and the majority of events from the novel match it. Oates doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of Monroe’s life, especially her career and the sexual assaults that happened in Hollywood. In some ways it is hard to imagine that Blonde was written in 2000, before Weinstein, before MeToo, it just feels so current. I also loved how Oates played around with language, for example she includes actual quotations from Monroe throughout, blending the fact and fiction really well. When Monroe starts to break down so does the language, often seen through the use of repetition and ellipses. Not only is it a brilliant, creative, intelligent novel but also a celebration of a remarkable woman who fought to take control of her work and image away from the men who treated her as nothing but a warm body. Fans of Monroe will get more out of this book, but anyone who hasn’t seen a single movie of hers will also enjoy it.

And there you have it! Like I said, I will be returning to the top 10 format in December. I reckon quite a few books I’ve got on my TBR will make it; the ones that jump out are the aforementioned Monroe biography, Daisy Jones and the Six, The Radium Girls, and The Five. But we shall see in another six months whether these live up to their hype. Fingers crossed they do!