15. Matthias & Maxime (Canada)
Xavier Dolan’s best film since Mommy, Matthias & Maxime fuses the depressing reality of adulthood with the magic of childhood best friends. It follows a group of lifelong pals in their late twenties in Montreal, spotlighting the strange evolution that occurs with some of those friends as jobs, worldviews, and desires start to diverge. After Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) and Maxime (Dolan) are asked to kiss for their friend’s film, complex feelings arise and conflict explodes. The emotionally gripping soundtrack heightens the repressed romance of it all, which plays into some queer cinema tropes only insofar as Dolan was able to make those tropes feel real. And boy, does he.
14. Me and Me (South Korea)
While the English title loses something from the literal Korean translation of “Disappeared Time,” Jung Jin-young‘s atmospheric mind puzzle delivers on both fronts as one man descends into his own off-kilter reality. A detective arrives in a small village to investigate a suspicious house fire, but little is as it seems, and soon he himself becomes a part of the tale. Me and Me is an oddly funny and existential mystery about who we are that asks more questions than it answers, and that’s exactly how it should be sometimes. The ending will leave many cold, but the rest of us will recognize this as a warm, thought-provoking gem. (Rob Hunter)
13. Vitalina Varela (Portugal)
To meet Pedro Costa’s new docufiction where it’s at means to be comfortable bathing in shadow, sitting for minutes in stark silence, confronting relational trauma head-on, and moving in near-slow motion in real-time. At times Vitalina Varela plays like a socially conscious melodrama saturated in the mystery of the past and the pain of present discovery, while at other times it feels like a solemn character study of the central Cape Verdean woman (named Vitalina Varela in real life, too) lugging herself around the shady streets of Lisbon in search of her dead husband’s story. If Rembrandt shot feature-length portraits, they’d look like this.
12. And Then We Danced (Georgia)
There are hetero-masculine norms in Georgian dance like there are hetero-masculine norms in American football, a shared, vain nationalism between them. Levan Akin’s queer dance drama captures an intense, competitive culture, as well as what it means for the youth within it to represent the tradition of older generations. Georgians whose own fears and insecurities have left them in a modern Tbilisi that seems stuck in the past in all the wrong ways. Leading man Levan Gelbakhiani reluctantly took on his first role as an actor for the film, as Akin and company were set on teaching a dancer how to act opposed to the opposite (Gelbakhiani turning out to be a natural in both). The story follows Merab (Gelbakhiani), a minor prodigy, as he tries to navigate his queerness in an oppressive dance culture that heaves shame and failure on the very concept of gay love.
11. New Order (Mexico)
Had I seen Michel Franco‘s terrifying glimpse at class warfare earlier, it would most likely have made my list of the best horror movies of 2020. It’s not technically a genre film, but it captures a violent uprising of workers against the one-percent with such viciousness and harrowing tension that it elicits similar vibes to truly unsettling horror movies. The film paints neither “side” as being in the right — a person’s moral scale isn’t tied to their bank account — and while the rich are callous and prone to robbing the masses in legal ways, the poor resort to more visceral and immediate methods. It’s scary stuff, but Franco is just getting started as kidnappings, torture, and sexual assault follow on a quest for ransom, but it’s the final moments that reveal the futility of individual rage. New Order is designed to provoke, and it succeeds. (Rob Hunter)