If 2020 were a movie, it would be one of two things: so terrible nobody could sit through it, or strangely, morbidly fascinating, even as we all muttered that clearly the screenwriters had quite the overactive imaginations.
It hasn't been a normal year — now there's an understatement for you — and lots of normal things have vanished, at least for now. One of those things is my annual list of 10 favorite movies of the year. With pandemic restrictions devastating the local arts scene, and with Seattle cinemas closed since March (some of them reopened in October, only to close again in November), I found myself spending the year writing many different kinds of stories — and far fewer movie reviews than usual. Though I saw some new movies — a few in theaters early in the year and others later via streaming — it wasn't enough to feel that a list of my 10 favorite ones would be at all meaningful.
But that's not to say that I didn't have meaningful movie experiences in 2020. Though I haven't set foot in a movie theater since early March, those last few cinema screenings have loomed large, like something beautiful dangling just out of reach. "The Invisible Man," with Elisabeth Moss, surely works better in a movie theater than at home — you need that nervous laughter from strangers in the darkness. (Between this film and "Shirley," Moss had her best year since the height of "Mad Men.") "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" and "The Assistant," two quietly intimate dramas about young women navigating an unwelcoming world, likewise seemed to fill up that enormous space, haunting me long afterward. "Emma," with its over-the-top prettiness (the hairstyles alone seem crafted by mad angels), clearly needed the biggest screen imaginable; I watched it in a theater twice, the second time all too aware that it might be my last time in a while.
We watch movies for so many reasons, but 2020 might be the year we watched movies for company; unable to gather with our friends and family, we reunited with our favorite characters onscreen. At home, during dark days, I found myself seeking familiarity, rewatching "In the Mood for Love" for its beauty, "Sense and Sensibility" for its joy, "Moonstruck" for its warmth. I watched "The Talented Mr. Ripley" with my friend and colleague Bethany Jean Clement, each from our own home while we texted about the coats and giggled about Jude Law and pretended we were sitting in a movie theater together, lost happily in the dark. Revisiting these favorites made me think of something I once heard the late Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne say: When you're watching a beloved movie, "you're with friends, and you're never alone."
But it wasn't all rewatching; some of my favorite streaming experiences this year were dazzlingly new. Was there a sweeter movie this year than "The Half of It," Alice Wu's enchanting "Cyrano de Bergerac"-flavored lesbian teen rom-com? A performance more intricate and nuanced than Annette Bening's as a deserted wife in "Hope Gap," or Nicole Beharie's as a hardworking, devoted single mom in "Miss Juneteenth"? Two hours more invigorating, inspiring and joyful than the long-awaited arrival on screen of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton"? A love story more beautifully told than the slow-burn masterpiece "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," perhaps my favorite film of the year? (It's technically a 2019 release, but it didn't play Seattle until February this year.)
And, in the silver-lining category, has there ever been more to watch? In between movies, I fell deeply in love with "Schitt's Creek," whose sixth and final season was a wondrous journey of love, acceptance and hysterical laughter. (And don't even get me started on Moira Rose's outfits. I am busy trying to replicate them.) I treasured the small miracle of ballet at home, with Pacific Northwest Ballet's digital season letting me watch the company's artists in vivid close-up. And I was reminded, for the first time since childhood, of the pleasures of watching a movie at a drive-in, even as my Honda Fit proved itself not the world's most comfortable theater seat.
I know I missed some great movies this year; some of them I'll try to catch up with, some will disappear into the chaos that was 2020, and some have slipped away to some future date. (Looking back on a story I wrote in January, listing 10 movies to look forward to in the new year: Four moved to 2021, and several others never played in local theaters.) The film industry is changing: Warner Bros. shocked moviegoers (and some of its own filmmakers) by announcing that its entire 2021 slate would open simultaneously in theaters and virtually. A lot of us don't know when we'll sit in a movie theater again. I hope to return to regular movie reviewing sometime next year when it's safe and the cinemas return, but that decision isn't mine.
But has there ever been a year that we needed movies — and books, and music, and art — more than this one? How bleak 2020 would have been without all the experiences I've listed above, and so many more; movies that took me away from the year's quietness and worry, leaving me feeling richer and happier and in good company. I hope many of you found that kind of pleasure and companionship in movies and television this year (if you saw something you loved, tell me!); here's to finding even more of that in 2021, as we wait and hope for movie theaters to safely reopen. Our screens at home may be small, but they can still hold the world.
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