Best of 2020- Kern

5. Fourteen

(Dan Sallitt, US)

Dan Sallitt’s woefully underseen film brilliantly depicts something everyone can relate to on some level: an inescapable asymmetrical friendship. Mara (Tallie Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) are lifelong friends, but it’s immediately clear that they’re nothing alike: Mara is ambitious and organized, whereas Jo is impulsive and unrestrained. The film tracks their friendship over the course of a number of years, as Jo often turns to Mara in her frequent moments of need, creating a somewhat parasitic relationship. Anyone who’s had a “Jo” in their life can attest that the question “why keep them around?” is a tough one to answer. Fourteen perfectly captures that ineffable quality through Kuhling’s performance—one of the year’s best—which makes Jo as magnetic as she is chaotic.

Available for rent/purchase on AppleTV

4. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

(Charlie Kaufman, US)

Charlie Kaufman is no stranger to making adaptations his own—quite literally inserting himself into Adaptation. His third directorial outing may not be as formally ambitious as Anomalisa or as existentially monumental as Synecdoche, New York, but I’m Thinking of Ending Things pulls off a remarkable feat of its own, rendering the breezy but lackluster source material, which ostensibly takes place mostly in a car ride, into something energetic and vibrant. All the Kaufman-isms are there on full display, and the film feels as if it shares as much, if not more, DNA with his own recent novel Antkind as it does with Ian Reid’s. The novel’s greatest weakness is its uninspired twist ending, but Kaufman morphs it into abstraction and preserves the story’s enigmatic spirit.

Available to stream on Netflix

3. Boys State

(Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, US)

For Americans who had their faith in humanity renewed with the presidential election this year, Boys State is a brutal and unforgiving reality check. It’s a documentary about the titular Boys State in Texas, a program where hundreds of high schoolers in Texas come together to build a democratic system of their own— they decide on policies, elect leadership, etc. The film serves as a jarring representation of the dire state of modern American politics, with the lust for power and greed often outweighing morality. There are a few voices of hope which the film zeroes in on, but ultimately, it further cements the notion that corruption prevails.

Available to stream on AppleTV+

2. A White, White Day

(Hlynur Pálmason, Iceland)

My year end lists are often split fairly evenly between English and foreign language films, but the only one to crack my top 10 this year is Hlynur Pálmason’s hypnotic character study, A White, White Day. The less said, the better, because one of the film’s biggest strengths is in how it slowly reveals itself, though don’t mistake its deliberate pacing to mean that it’s tedious. The cinematography makes the film immensely gripping, which is immediately evident in the opening scene of a car driving down a winding road through an impenetrable sea of fog. It’s a film of immense formal precision, but there’s an unmistakable human core underneath the chilly atmosphere. Those who found Burning’s pacing rewarding should seek this one out.

Available for rent/purchase on digital platforms

1. Possessor

(Brandon Cronenberg, UK/US/Canada)

David Cronenberg has made a long career out of fusing the cerebral with the visceral, and his son is clearly following in his footsteps. Possessor has all the trademarks of a Cronenbergian techno nightmare, but Brandon puts his own stamp on his sophomore effort, incorporating a lush and vibrant visual aesthetic to compliment the graphic content. It’s an intoxicating, lean, and inventive thriller which stands amongst the best of the genre.

Available for rent/purchase on digital platforms

Best of 2020

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