Wednesday, December 30, 2020

My Yearend Roundup: The 25 BEST FOREIGN FILMS of 2020 That I Have Seen

December 30, 2020

This year 2020 was a year not like any other in recent memory for cinephiles. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie theaters in Metro Manila had been closed since March 15, 2020. Therefore, for the past 9 months, all the movies I had seen had exclusively been on online streaming services only (except for one screening event organized by QCinema).

Oscar-winning or nominated films of 2019 which I only saw in 2020 were not included. Potential Oscar-winning films of the year 2020 which had not been uploaded on local streaming sites were also not included here. 

These are the Top 25 best movies of 2020 that I had seen and written about:

25. THE VAST OF NIGHT by Andrew Patterson (My Full Review)

24. THE PROM by Ryan Murphy (My Full Review)

23. BIRDS OF PREY by Cathy Yan (My Full Review)

22. ONWARD by Dan Scanlon (My Full Review)

21. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG by Jeff Fowler (My Full Review)

20. KIM JI-YOUNG BORN 1982 by Kim Do-young (My Full Review)

19. HILLBILLY ELEGY by Ron Howard (My Full Review)

18. I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS by Charlie Kaufman (My Full Review)

17. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM by Jason Woliner (My Full Review)

16. THE INVISIBLE MAN by Leigh Whanell (My Full Review)

15. THE LIFE AHEAD by Edoardo Ponti (My Full Review)

14. THE OLD GUARD by Gina Prince-Blythewood (My Full Review)

13. ENOLA HOLMES by Harry Bradbeer (My Full Review)

12. THE GENTLEMEN by Guy Ritchie (My Full Review)

11. SONG WITHOUT A NAME by Melina Leon (My Full Review)

10. OVER THE MOON by Glen Keane (My Full Review)

Starring: Cathy Ang, Philippa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho

Spirited teenager Fei Fei had been in mourning for four years already following a family tragedy. However, while her family was ready to move on, she still could not accept the inevitable changes about to come into her life. She was also disappointed that legends about the Moon Goddess Chang'e she held dear in her childhood had all been forgotten at her home. Because of this, Fei Fei was determined to build a rocket to bring her to the moon to prove that Chang'e really existed. 

9. THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME by Antonio Campos (My Full Review

Starring: Tom Holland, Bill Skaarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan

This dark complex film interwove the stories of a series of depraved individuals who lived in a remote corner in the backwoods of the American Midwest, from Cook County, West Virginia to Knockemstiff, Ohio. These interconnected stories were happening for about 20 years, from after World War 2 to 1965. The screenplay was adapted by director Antonio Campos from the acclaimed debut novel by Donald Ray Pollock. 

8. BAD EDUCATION by Cory Finley (My Full Review)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Alison Janney

Dr. Frank Tassone was a district superintendent of schools in Long Island, New York. Together with his able assistant of several years Pam Gluckin, Tassone had elevated Roslyn High School into becoming one of the top public schools in the country. One day in 2002, Gluckin's simpleton son Jimmy made suspicious purchases using his mom's credit card, which led to the exposure of her long history of embezzlement of school funds. 

7. MANK by David Fincher (My Full Review)

Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance

In 1940, Herman Mankiewicz or "Mank" was holed up in a small bungalow in the middle of the Mojave Desert to nurse a broken leg he sustained from a car accident. It was during this time, that Mank had been recruited by director Orson Welles to write the screenplay for his next project for which  RKO had granted him complete control. Mank would go on a write the script of what was to become "Citizen Kane," loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. 

6. SOUND OF METAL by Darius Marder (My Full Review)

Starring: Rhiz Ahmed, Olivia Cook, Paul Raci

Ruben was the drummer of his own punk band called Blackgammon, which he formed with his girlfriend and vocalist Lou. One morning, Ruben suddenly felt the hearing in both his ears become muffled and unclear. After doing audiometric tests, his doctor advised him that both his ears are suffering from sensorineural hearing loss. Whatever hearing he had left in his ears totally disappeared. Ruben could never move on from his anger, only progressing to rage. 

5. MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM by George C. Wolfe (My Full Review)

Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman

It was a hot sweltering summer of 1927 in Chicago. "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey was recording some of her songs at the studio of Mr. Sturdyvant as arranged by her manager Irvin. Her trusty band mates were all there: Custer on trombone, Slow Drag on bass, and Toledo on the piano. And then, there was also an arrogant and ambitious trumpet player Levee Green, whose rebellious attitude stirred up major tensions during that fateful recording session. 

4. IDENTIFYING FEATURES by Fernanda Valadez (My Full Review)

Starring: Mercedes Hernández, David Illescas, Juan Jesús Varela

Magdalena was a middle-aged woman from the central city of Guanajuato who decided to go search for her son Jesus when she learned that the dead body of Rigo, her son's companion on their attempt to enter the US illegally, was found buried in a shallow grave along the way. Her ordeal began at the terminal of the bus her son rode, and her search brought her to the remote town of Ocampo, where she met a young man just deported from the US, Miguel.

3. THE SOCIAL DILEMMA by Jeff Orlowski (My Full Review)

Starring: Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, Justin Rosenstein

This American documentary was premiered earlier this year in the Sundance film festival, and has just been released on Netflix for mass distribution. This modern phenomenon of social media had definitely taken a strong foothold in human life these days, and it is now difficult to imagine a world without it. Could these apps that were initially conceived to connect people be the same ones to tear people apart?

2. SOUL by Pete Docter (My Full Review)

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Angela Bassett

High school band teacher Joe Gardner was just about to fulfill his lifelong dream to play the piano onstage with his jazz idol. However, on his way home after his successful audition, Joe met a freak accident which caused his soul to leave his body and wind up on a conveyer belt en route to the Great Beyond. He could not accept this sudden fate so he tried to run back, but he fell off the belt and landed into a place called Great Before, where he was assigned to be the mentor of a troubled soul named 22.

And my Number 1 foreign film of 2020 is ...

1. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 by Aaron Sorkin (My Full Review)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Frank Langella

When bloody riots broke out between the protesters and the Chicago police force in Grant Park during the 35th Democratic National Convention held from August 26-29, 1968, six leaders, namely Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger and Bobby Seale, were arrested and charged as revolutionaries bent on the destruction of the American government -- the new radical Left. On September 26, 1969, the trial was underway to indict them for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite violence.

Aaron Sorkin's storytelling style would bring us back and forth in time to tell the story in seamlessly edited scenes from testimonies from witness stand to scenes in Grant Park the year before, with real news footage integrated as well. His original screenplay was a complex work of writing that dealt with multiple characters based on real life people with distinctive personalities and political motivations. Issues about freedom of speech and assembly is as relevant today as it was back then.  

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