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)
Set 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)
I 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)
At 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)
This 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)
My 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.