ITOL Top 15 Films of 2020 (So Far), Numbers 5-1

Phew! We’ve finally reached numbers 5 through 1. We hope you like our picks and maybe seek out the films that you haven’t yet seen. You can find numbers 15-11 here and numbers 10-6 here. Please let us know which films make your top 15 list and what films are you looking forward to catching later this year! A massive thank you to all the ITOL writers who contributed and voted. Here’s hoping the rest of 2020 won’t be so eventful!

Number 5: Babyteeth

By Bianca Garner

First off “Babyteeth” is not a film for everyone, some may find the entire premise and plot of the film a little too controversial, but even if you’re slightly offended by the content of the film there is a lot to admire in terms of its mise-en-scene and the performances from its actors. 

Directed by Shannon Murphy (who has directed episodes of “Killing Eve” in the past) and penned by Rita Kalnejais, “Babyteeth” is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. Loud, colourful and often at times a little surreal. It’s comedy can be a little too bleak for some, but in my personal opinion, I regard it as a reflection of reality. Sometimes to cope with tragedy, one has to embrace a morbid sense of comedy.

“Babyteeth” follows the unusual love-story of 16-year-old Milla (Elizabeth Scanlan) and Moses (Toby Wallace), an older drug dealer and addict. Milla is dying from cancer and her parents, psychiatrist Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and neurotic musician Anna (Essie Davis), are having their own crisis trying to come to terms with what is happening. Moses’ intentions aren’t made clear, does he actually care for Milla or is he simply getting close to her so he can obtain drugs?

Copyright: IFC Films

“Babyteeth” is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen this year. Loud, colourful and often at times a little surreal.”

For me, I personally enjoy films where the characters are complicated messes, all of the characters here have their flaws and faults, they can be unlikable at times and frankly infuriating. However, what I feel that Murphy and Kalnejais manage to do brilliantly is show us that these characters are truly human and they’re suffering emotionally as well as physically. Each actor delivers an astounding performance, the real crux of the film is the scenes between Scanlan and Davis, the troubled relationship between mother and daughter as they come to terms with the transformation from childhood to young adolescence.

Yes, “Babyteeth” is not for everyone. However, I applauded the filmmakers for attempting to tell an all too familiar story in a new and innovative manner. As mentioned in my original review, “the best way to describe Shannon Murphy’s engrossing and visually stunning “Babyteeth” is to imagine if Andrea Arnold directed “The Fault in Our Stars”. If that sounds like your kind of film, then go seek it out.

Number 4: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

By Mique Watson

Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a 17-year old girl living in rural Pennsylvania; she goes to school and works part-time at the local grocery store. She’s a girl you’d see every day, at the mall, walking down the street, and in the hallways of school. You’d never know just how difficult her life, and the life of all the other Autumn’s in the world is. The film opens up with Autumn performing at a talent show; she gets heckled by a man–her response? To say “fuck him”–internally–and perform her song in spite of him. 

This opening scene sets the stage for the story that will play out. This is the story of a woman–a stand-in for every woman whose story you don’t know (or actively choose to deny)–forced to soldier on in spite of the world around her. This film confronts the notion that women should have to ask permission before they’re allowed to do anything. “Don’t you ever just wish you were a dude”, her cousin and best friend Skylar (Talia Ryder) asks her at some point; “all the time”, Autumn says in response. 

Autumn confides in Skylar–we learn that Autumn has just learned that she has gotten pregnant. We see that Autumn’s mother is quite young (her mother has been purposely cast to be this age), we can infer that Autumn has witnessed, firsthand, the difficulties of being a young mother…and all the trauma that comes with it. Autumn wants an abortion. We learn that the procedure can’t be done in Pennsylvania unless a parent gives their consent…because 17-year olds, apparently, can’t make their own decisions? It’s hard to disregard the thought that all these barriers to freedom and personal autonomy have nothing to do with her gender. They oh so clearly do. So, the two travel to New York to have the procedure done; they end up spending days and nights on the street with a dwindling cash supply and nowhere to sleep.

“No matter where you stand on this issue; there’s something here for you. What everyone takes away from this film will be different; that’s the beauty of it.”

Copyright: Focus Features

The film’s title comes from a series of multiple choice questions asked of Autumn at the clinic. The further the interrogation goes, the more personal and uncomfortable the questions get. We aren’t explicitly told about what has led to Autumn’s pregnancy; but this scene deploys some hints… spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty. Flanigan’s performance in this scene is revelatory; we learn about her character by the silence of the moment. As each question gets asked, we see nuance in how she uncomfortably glances around the room, the change in her breathing, the pauses between words, and the inflection in her voice. This scene tells you all you need to know about her. 

This film aims to have a very frank discussion on this topic. This discussion is presented to us–not with exposition, plot, and standard infodump–but with characters. Characters that filmmaker Eliza Hittman gives room to breathe, exist, and live in their own world; as such, we are permitted to immerse ourselves in their lived experiences (if only at an arm’s length). This is a film about the lived experience of a woman, vulnerable, in spite of her pragmatic and hardened demeanor. No matter where you stand on this issue; there’s something here for  you. What everyone takes away from this film will be different; that’s the beauty of it. 

Number 3: The Invisible Man

By Zofia Wijaszka

This bloodcurdling, sci-fi thriller by Leigh Whannell came out before the world fell apart. Based on the legendary Universal monster, “The Invisible Man” touches many subjects that are not exactly fictional. 

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) seems like an ordinary, wealthy woman. She has a beautiful house and a good husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who is a scientist. But it’s all a lie. Inside the four walls that keep many dark secrets, Adrian physically and mentally abuses his wife to almost madness. The film picks up right from the beginning where the crucial point is sound – or rather its lack. As the audience, we grit our teeth, sitting at the edge of our seat and beg Cecilia not to make one sound while she finally escapes this mental prison. When we already feel like our character is safe at her friend’s house (Aldis Hodge), the nightmare comes back, but it’s a million times worse – it’s invisible. 

“The Invisible Man” is created around that intense feeling, and together with the immense importance of the sound, Whannell created one of the best thrillers of this year that works on different levels.”

Copyright: Universal Pictures

While “The Invisible Man” is a fiction created by one man and based on a legendary character, Cecilia’s nightmare is very real. Frequently (even more so than not), the others don’t believe women. Although it changes, we still have a long way to go as a society that listens to women. That’s what happens to Moss’ character. Throughout the thriller, she desperately wants to prove what she knows is true. At the same time, she needs to deal with the aftermath of years of mental and physical abuse. While doing so, Cecilia also reminds us of a horrible feeling that someone is watching us. Probably all of us felt that at one point in our life. 

“The Invisible Man” is created around that intense feeling, and together with the immense importance of the sound, Whannell created one of the best thrillers of this year that works on different levels. If you didn’t happen to catch it at the cinema in February, you could rent it on Amazon and other streaming services. It’s worth it. 

Number 2: Da 5 Bloods

By Rosa Parra

Spike Lee‘s “Da 5 Bloods” couldn’t have had better timing for its release. This film follows a group of Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam in search of some hidden gold and the remains of one of their closest friends. This film has a powerful and vital message to convey. Opening with a collage of archival footage and photographs from civil rights movements, and speeches, the viewer immediately gets a sense of the subject matter. It’s easy to speak of a specific war or read it from a textbook or even watch a documentary about it, but Lee makes sure you perceive the horrors of war. Warning, some images and footage may be uncomfortable to watch.

Accompanied by Lee’s trademark camerawork and some phenomenal acting, “Da 5 Bloods” is sure to make you contemplate for hours after you’ve seen this film. All the hype surrounding Delroy Lindo‘s performance is real! I do have to give a shoutout to the entire cast who did a phenomenal job. If this film makes you uncomfortable, not for the gruesome pictures and footage, but due to its stats that further validate racism, this film is accomplishing its goal. It’s time we eliminate the mentality of “it hasn’t happened to me; therefore, it doesn’t exist.”

Copyright: Netflix

“Accompanied by Lee’s trademark camerawork and some phenomenal acting, “Da 5 Bloods” is sure to make you contemplate for hours after you’ve seen this film.”

This film explores the consequences of war, including mental and psychological trauma; these veterans must experience for the rest of their lives. Otis was taking pain medication, and it’s implied he’s been abusing the drug. Melvin has a daughter with a Vietnamese woman (perhaps not all consequences are adverse). We also witness a father and son relationship that’s been affected by this war. This film has one of the most intense and heartstopping moments that’s still effective on a second viewing. It’s one of the most memorable scenes of this year so far, and all I’ll say is forest and rope.

“Da 5 Bloods” is one of the most influential films this year for its subject matter. We’ve seen many Vietnam War films but never from the perspective of Black veterans, and knowing its written and directed by a Black person adds authenticity and relevance. With the current Black Lives Matter movement ongoing, this movie will be a reminder of why this movement has been continuous for decades & why all lives can’t matter until Black lives do.

Number 1: The Assistant

By Tom Moore

Although it may not be directly about Harvey Weinstein or any specific cases of sexual assault/harassment within the film industry, writer/director Kitty Green creates a hauntingly realistic portrayal of how this horrific cycle of abuse has remained intact with “The Assistant”. 

Taking viewers into a day in the life of an assistant named Jane (Julia Garner) as she works tirelessly to please the powerful executive of a film company, “The Assistant” take a methodical and slow-burning approach in revealing the under-handed abuse and toxic masculinity that’s festering in Jane’s workplace. At first, things seem to move at a snail’s pace in the film with Green showcasing the most mundane parts of Jane’s day, but it actually works in giving viewers an insight into the powerless nature of Jane’s position. From there, the film is an absolute masterclass in delivering chilling moments that reflect an even more horrifying reality. 

“The Assistant” boasts a new voice in cinema with Green creating a top-tier narrative that unflinchingly showcases why the #MeToo movement is so important and what they are fighting to stop.”

Copyright: Bleecker Street

Throughout Jane’s discoveries of her boss’ abuse of power and what really happens when the doors close for “auditions,” viewers can feel nasty chills constantly run down their spine as they discover a system that lets the cycle of abuse continue. From how her two co-workers essentially telegraph apology emails from Jane to her boss after he threatens her position to how Jane’s attempts to bring her boss’ acts to light get shut down, the film holds nothing back in fleshing out the ugly truth in a subtle, yet satisfying fashion. Not to mention, Garner gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance as she evokes all of the crushing blows and genuine powerlessness that Jane feels as her desires to simply work within the film industry are harshly dashed by her work atmosphere. 

“The Assistant” boasts a new voice in cinema with Green creating a top-tier narrative that unflinchingly showcases why the #MeToo movement is so important and what they are fighting to stop. It’s also one of the best debuts I’ve seen in quite some time as it slowly tears your nerves to shreds and leaves you an emotional mess.

Do you agree with our picks? Which films made your personal top films of the year so far? Please let us know in the comments. And make sure to drop by at the end of the year to see which ones make it to the final list of the year.

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