Since I began writing film reviews, I’ve written a top ten list every year. Of course, being a film critic in St. Louis, welcoming to the arts though it is, means missing out on some things. Without the privilege of living in New York or L.A., catching something like Licorice Pizza or Drive My Car early enough to include it in your year-end wrap up is pretty unlikely. I can’t help but think things would be different if I’d been able to not only watch but process the latest films from some of the world’s most renowned working directors. Likewise, all top ten lists miss something crucial—hindsight. Opinions change, tastes evolve, and movies reveal more of themselves as they age, for better or worse. A top ten list works better as a record of one’s movie going experiences of that particular year, and not necessarily a definitive ranking meant to withstand the test of time. If I could go back, I would significantly alter my year-end lists from 2015 on to include things I never got the chance to see, and to give less appreciated films their due.
My original 2015 list is as follows (ranked): Spotlight, The Wolfpack, Victoria, Room, Mustang, Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hateful Eight, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Revised, it’s more like this: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Wolfpack, Spotlight, Ex Machina, Mustang, Victoria, Room, Going Clear, The Nightmare, The Look of Silence
I stand by most of my selections, but Mad Max deserves a bump to the top for being a film I basically want to watch all the time.
There are two flat-out replacements, here. Both Star Wars and The Hateful Eight were films that felt special when seeing them in the theater, but don’t really hold up with age. There’s nothing wrong with Force Awakens, but it has no place on a year-end list when said year gave us brilliant documentaries like The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s tense and heartrending follow-up to The Act of Killing. The Hateful Eight, on the other hand, probably stands as Tarantino’s worst film. Maybe that’s why he shot it on 70mm and released it roadshow style, to build up the hype and make the film feel like a big event. I gotta say, it worked on me. I considered The Hateful Eight one of the best films of 2015, but upon rewatching it, I found the movie to be a rather grating and dismal affair, one that regrettably sullies all of its technical brilliance with an exasperating script that reads like an edgy 14-year-old’s reimagining of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, full of puerile racist humor and an embarrassing amount of swearing.
Original List: The Lobster, Wiener Dog, Arrival, Harmonium, Swiss Army Man, La La Land, The Witch, Toni Erdmann, The Witness, Knight of Cups
Revised List: The Witch, The Lobster, Wiener Dog, Harmonium, Arrival, Swiss Army Man, Toni Erdmann, The Witness, Moonlight, 13th
Just like the famous Oscars gaffe, I gave La La Land the recognition over Moonlight, which I hadn’t yet seen. Upon realizing my mistake, I immediately swapped the two, and also kicked off the good-but-not-great Knight of Cups, replacing it with Ava Duvernay’s excellent documentary on the loopholes of the 13th amendment that allow slavery to persist under another name.
As time has gone on, The Witch has become one of my favorite movies, period, and really deserves the top spot.
Original List: The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Good Time, Casting JonBenét, Get Out, Twin Peaks: The Return, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Personal Shopper, Coco, Patti Cake$, It Comes at Night
Revised List: Twin Peaks: The Return, Good Time, Casting JonBenét, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Get Out, Coco, Personal Shopper, Dawson City: Frozen Time, The Florida Project, A Ghost Story
The Florida Project and A Ghost Story both excel over the films they replaced in my original list. And I don’t know what I was thinking not putting David Lynch in the top spot. Oops!
Original List: Hereditary, The Favourite, BlackKklansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, You Were Never Really Here, First Reformed, Happy End, Blindspotting, The Rider, Bisbee ‘17
Revised List: Bisbee ‘17, Hereditary, The Favourite, You Were Never Really Here, Eighth Grade, If Beale Street Could Talk, Happy End, First Reformed, Burning, The Rider
Burning and Eighth Grade blew me away. Better late than never! Bisbee ‘17, like The Witch, has become one of my favorite films, and therefore goes straight to the top.
Original List: Midsommar, Parasite, The Lighthouse, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, An Elephant Sitting Still, Transit, Uncut Gems, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Raft
Revised List: Midsommar, The Lighthouse, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Parasite, An Elephant Sitting Still, Luz, The Raft, Uncut Gems, Transit, One Child Nation
Aside from some switching of places, the only real change to my list is the addition of Luz, Tilman Singer’s arresting supernatural debut that puts all other throwback horror to shame and manages to be a trippy art film at the same time.
Not enough time has passed to really revise my 2020 list. But if I were to change one thing, I’d move The Invisible Man up a little higher. | Nic Champion