Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited, time-meddling espionage epic fell prey to social backlash as a result of pandemic politics, but let’s be honest, it was deserved. Such is the case when a filmmaker or studio thinks a movie (or profit) is more important than global health. Not to mention, Nolan and Warner Bros. are about as far from “prey” as anyone or anything could be. Divorcing it from the messy politics that defined it, however, Tenet delivered on its guarantee to bulldoze your frontal lobe. It is as much a spy thriller as it is a sci-fi blockbuster as it is a cerebral action hunt. As the movie makes clear early on, it’s not about figuring out the mechanics behind everything – that is actually impossible – but about being immersed in the see-saw experience, which is, in typical Nolan fashion, absolutely riveting.
The nonstop pace, chaotic but measured sound design, and high-octane stunts are largely to blame for a story that passes in two and a half hours what feels like half that. Performance-wise, Elizabeth Debicki steals the show. But, if you’re going into Tenet for the performances, you might want to readjust your approach. The performances are all fine – save for Kenneth Branagh’s painful Russian accent – but Tenet isn’t here to collect Oscars. It exists to pummel you with excitement, twist your sense of reality, and leave you confounded with the deafening power of its nine-figure budget. And it probably will. (Luke Hicks)
44. And Then We Danced
Georgian director Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced is a gorgeous film that depicts the journey of finding yourself through the beauty of movement and the human body. While trying to prove his expertise in Georgian dance, Mehab (Levan Gelbakhiani) meets Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), the new guy who bursts into rehearsal and impresses with his skill. Slowly, the two begin to fall in love and Mehab is slowly able to understand his sexuality. Mehab tries to navigate his identity and Georgian tradition, constantly feeling pushed and pulled between what he wants and what his country wants. Dance and sexuality become jumbled together, and Mehab must try to untangle them to understand what he truly wants.
There is a needle drop where Mehab is finally able to be himself. He dons a giant furry hat, smokes a cigarette, and dances to an electronic pop song without restraint. Finally, after years of performing structured Georgian dance, Mehab lets go and realizes that dance is more than control. It is a mode of self-expression that should bring happiness, not anxiety. While the love between Mehab and Irakli is a crucial part of the story, it is about more than romance. It is about self-discovery, self-love, and self-acceptance despite living in a culturally and politically conservative country. Mehab’s final dance will bring tears to your eye as he glides across the dancefloor, ignoring orders to stop. He will no longer be controlled by his dance teachers; it is time for him to be free. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
As its title suggests, Alexander Nanau’s Collective is a moving testament to the mutual bonds of solidarity that spring up between people in opposition to a common threat. More literally, it’s about the fire that ravaged Bucharest’s Colectiv nightclub in 2015, in which twenty-six people lost their lives. Collective follows the tireless work of two sports journalists, Cătălin Tolontan and Mirela Neag, as they attempt to uncover exactly why dozens of people who escaped the tragedy with non-life-threatening injuries nevertheless died in the hospital in the weeks that followed.
Nanau’s documentary shares the same tenacity as its two subjects, doggedly working away to expose layer after layer of institutional rot with unflagging energy. It’s a searing watch: with clear eyes and zero tempering of the brutal facts, it lays bare the viral insidiousness of corruption and demonstrates that, when faced with such a pervasive enemy, there are limits to what even the most outstanding investigative journalism can do. For what it shows us about the homicidal potential of corruption and lies, the incalculable value of a healthy press and healthcare system — and even the importance of proper disinfectant use — Collective finds relevancy far outside of Romania’s borders. (Farah Cheded)
42. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey is a blast. It’s a party. It’s a hang. It’s the kind of movie you never want to stop while you’re watching it — living it. Margot Robbie is an infectious Harley Quinn, and assembled around her are a collection of joyous miscreants thirsting to tear down the walls around them. In their war against Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), we find our passions for resistance stoked. Who didn’t dust off their roller skates and hit the streets after the credits rolled. No? Just me?
Cathy Yan doesn’t revolutionize the comic book movie. All the tropes and trappings are present, but she doesn’t adhere to the formula either. Her characters won’t let her. The director brings the kinetic and chaotic energy demanded by Quinn and delivers an action film that thumps. (Brad Gullickson)
41. Sea Fever
When approaching the horror genre with her first feature film, director Neasa Hardiman didn’t want to go for conventional scares and copious gore. Instead, with Sea Fever, Hardiman creates a thrilling eco-horror film about human impact on the world and organisms just trying to survive. When Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) goes out on a fishing boat as part of her Ph.D. research, it seems like a regular trip with a superstitious yet friendly crew. But when they wander into restricted waters, they realize something else is with them under the waves.
The creature is seen in strategically short spurts to acknowledge its existence without the creation of massive set pieces. It is a human versus nature tale that doesn’t always make the viewer fear the monster; instead, they are meant to grapple with what it means to share a world with such creatures. Also, the single moment of explicit body horror is so amazingly executed and is perhaps one of the best scenes in genre filmmaking of 2020. (Mary Beth McAndrews)