by Rosalie Lewis
10. The Half of It (directed by Alice Wu, on Netflix)
Is this movie full of plot twists and surprises? Not really—but it’s not that kind of movie. Instead, it’s a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve and loves its characters and steeps itself in clever pop culture references. If you need some serotonin in your life, give it a watch.
9. Lovers Rock (directed by Steve McQueen, on Amazon Prime)
8. The Wild Goose Lake (directed by Diao Yinan, on Tubi)
7. Blow the Man Down (directed by Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole, on Amazon Prime)
6. Run (directed by Aneesh Chiganty, on Hulu)
I’m hesitant to reveal more because this is one best watched with very little information. But if you’re not sold yet, I’ll give you a little more. First, Sarah Paulson stars as the mom of teenage Chloe (Kiera Allen), a homeschooler with numerous health issues who uses a wheelchair and hopes to go to college next year to study engineering. Something happens that makes Chloe wonder if she can fully trust her mom’s judgment, and the movie takes off from there. Pat Healy pops up in this movie too, which for me is always a selling point. I practically hyperventilated at certain points in this film, which is a good thing I swear, and wished I could see this with an audience to hear the collective gasps that would no doubt occur. Don’t miss it!
5. Wolfwalkers (directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, on Apple TV+)
Our heroine is Robyn, who likes to sneak out of the house with her pet falcon and explore the woods while her dad is out hunting all day. She’s supposed to be doing chores like cleaning and cooking and sewing, but those are boring! There’s a whole world outside the city to explore, even if that world is rumored to be filled with dangerous creatures. When Robyn encounters a wolf that shape shifts into a young girl, she sets her fears aside and determines to befriend the mysterious Mebh. This friendship might have unforeseen consequences, though, if her father and the Lord Protector get wind of it.
4. She Dies Tomorrow (directed by Amy Seimetz, on Hulu)
So many things about this movie felt prescient for 2020. The most obvious is a contagious spread from person to person, which immediately brings the dreaded Covid-19 to mind. But on a deeper level, this movie is about the spread of an idea that seems ludicrous but still somehow takes hold of even the most seemingly stable, “normal” people. And on that level, I couldn’t help but think of the way conspiracy theories and fake news seemed to take root in our culture in unprecedented ways last year. There are, even now, members of my extended family and people I grew up respecting who believe all kinds of things that make no sense whatsoever. People who buy into QAnon, crisis actors, and Bill Gates tracking us through vaccines. It’s like a large swath of the population got brainwashed and joined a cult of misinformation, and it’s legitimately terrifying. This movie is unsettling, too, but it has some funny moments as well, including a monologue about the sex lives of certain sea mammals. The story doesn’t give us a lot of answers to our existential dread, but it burrowed into my psyche and I found myself thinking of it often in quiet moments.
3. Buffaloed (directed by Tanya Wexler, on Hulu)
Zoey Deutch plays the charismatic capitalist of a main character, Peg Dahl. The phrase “every day I’m hustlin’” doesn’t even begin to sum up this character. She’s been very adept at eliciting profit from unsuspecting people through devious means from a young age. When she gets a call from a collection agency one day, instead of being annoyed or blocking the call she realizes that she may have a future as a debt collector herself. Other reasons to watch this movie: Judy Greer plays Peg’s mom, Noah Reid of Schitt’s Creek plays her brother, and Jermaine Fowler plays a character whose role in Peg’s life is a little bit complicated and best discovered in the context of the story. This movie sheds light on the shadiness of the credit collection business, a seedy underbelly of the American economy that deserves to be exposed for all its exploitive practices. Ken Loach would’ve probably told this story in a much more dramatic way, but Tanya Wexler’s approach is entertaining instead of depressing. I watched this movie yesterday and yet I’m still tempted to stop writing and watch it again right now.
2. The Old Guard (directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, on Netflix)a whole podcast to this movie over the summer so you probably already know all the reasons I love it if you listened to that episode. But to recap! Charlize Theron is a badass who leads a group of immortal warriors that have been alive for centuries and intervene when humans are on the brink of royally fucking themselves. KiKi Layne is a Marine who survives a near death experience against all odds, and begins to wonder how. As you might guess, she has something in common with the immortal folks. There’s a ton of great action sequences, expertly directed by Prince-Bythewood, and a surprise romance between two members of the team that I found incredibly moving. I hope there’s a sequel, and judging by the numbers it did for Netflix, that seems distinctly possible. There’s also something significant to a movie about immortality being so close to the top of my list this year, not to get all philosophical on you.
1. Dick Johnson Is Dead (directed by Kirsten Johnson, on Netflix)
Calling this a documentary feels inadequate, because there are many transcendent moments and striking visuals that go well beyond cinema verite. It does document a relationship a state of mind, though, in a way that feels intimate and sublime. You will cry when you watch it, but it will feel cathartic and necessary and when it’s over you’re going to breathe in the air of being alive and feel grateful, just like we all felt when the clock struck midnight and 2021 dawned.
Lots of movies almost made my list, including Palm Springs, Class Action Park, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Invisible Man, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Birds of Prey, Soul, Jasper Mall, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I’m Your Woman, Sound of Metal, The Photograph, Underwater, Yes God Yes, and The Painter and the Thief. I look forward to seeing everyone else’s lists so I can fill in the gaps of my own viewing. Happy 2021!