Reviewing my Top 50 Discoveries of 2020, it’s hard not to miss that this year has been most notably defined by a falling back into Japanese cinema. There’s no complaint in saying so as I adore Japanese cinema and as there is plenty of variety otherwise appearing on this list – experimental cinema, documentaries, dream cinema, Afrofuturism, animation, Canadiana, and plenty of general weirdness. Certainly this list owes a great debt to the bounty of streaming options out there. This list includes films screened on The Criterion Channel, MUBI, Shudder, Midnight Pulp, Kanopy, Netflix, and this year’s online version of the Fantasia International Film Festival. And if hard media is still your bag, many of these titles are available from The Criterion Collection, Arrow Films, Film Movement, Vinegar Syndrome, Synapse Films, Cult Epics, Third Window Films, and even the Winnipeg Film Group.
And so, without further ado, here are MMC!’s Top 20 Film Discoveries of 2020!
The Blue Sky Maiden (Yasuzo Masumura, 1957)
“An absolutely charming little melodrama featuring a plucky and adorable Ayako Wakao as a true-hearted young woman discovering her estranged family, whether they like it or not. Nice gals finish first!”
I’m generally pretty open-minded about cinema, but I wanted to be challenged in 2019 and so one of my resolutions for the year was to watch films that are too easy for me to avoid — films that are too long, too dense, or too specific. The results of those efforts have been astonishing as 2019 has provided new appreciations for John Waters, Terence Davies, and Tsui Hark, introductions to Toshio Matsumoto, Craig Baldwin, and the Japan Animator Expo shorts, new favourites in already beloved movie franchises like the Showa Godzilla titles and the Tora-San series, and a bevy of brilliant discoveries from Eastern Europe.
Below are my 20 favourite first-time screenings and you can see my top 50 discoveries in my “New to Me for 2019” list on Letterboxd, but the truth is these lists could have gone up to 100 or more and they would still be stacked with killer titles. This is year is almost over so let’s get to it!
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927)
“Berlin in five acts and one day. An astonishing array of footages, from sleepy, early morning hours to commerce and industry, from midday dining and rest to nighttime sport, recreation, and leisure, from children to the elderly, from affluence to poverty. Wonderfully constructed, briskly paced, and always fascinating, I could watch this time capsule again and again and never grow tired of it. Hooray for city symphonies!”
Because sharing is caring!
First, a shout-out for a shout-out! Thanks to Aaron West and the Criterion Now podcast for the dap given to MMC! on episode 82. Aaron was kind enough give MMC! a nod for its precognitive effort on Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Aaron is joined on the episode by Canadian filmmaker Brad McDermott and Matt Gasteier of The Complete podcast to discuss the Collection’s announcements for July, as well as Criterion visits, Claire Denis and Mike Leigh screenings, the potential for further announcements involving Buster Keaton, Wong Kar-wai, Abbas Kiarostami, and others, and Documentary Now! episodes and how the Company episode is not potentially going to be connected to an upcoming Criterion release.
This morning, MMC! awoke to discover big news on the film-nerd front with the announcement of The 25th Frame podcast/media network! Founded by MMC! friends Aaron West, Cole Roulain, Ericca Long, and Matthew Gasteier, the network is a tribute to cinema fandom.
For list-nerds like me, the end of the year is a special time with everyone one and their dog posting their best and worst movie lists for debate and celebration. (For what it’s worth, you can find my still-evolving list of Top 50 favourites for 2018 on Letterboxd and our dogs’ most hated film of the year was Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011).) I particularly love those year-end discovery lists and recommend the Pure Cinema Podcast‘s “Film Discoveries for 2018,” the loads of lists at Brian Saur’s blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, and the “Ants in the Pants of 2018” episode hopefully soon to arrive at The Magic Lantern podcast. But before I get to MMC!‘s favourite discoveries of 2018, I want to take a moment…
This has been a great year at MMC! To be honest, this blog is really meant to satisfy my curatorial, scholarly, and fan-service itches and I really don’t pay much attention to traffic and the like, but it’s hard not to notice that traffic is up a whopping 40% over last year and that’s no doubt due to a lot of good people who’ve contributed to keeping MMC! a rewarding experience. Big thanks to Aaron West for having me on his Criterion Now podcast once again, this time with the great Tim Leggoe. With two visits under my belt, I’m just going to declare myself part of the CN family. Big thanks to all the film festivals who’ve let me participate in their great events – the Chattanooga Film Festival, Ithaca Fantastik, the Buried Alive Film Festival, the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival – and to filmmakers like Ryan Prows and Bo McGuire for being genuinely awesome people to meet and spend time with. Thanks once again to podcast-men Sam and Dan of the Arrow Video Podcast for their kind words. Lastly, big thanks to those out there who regularly support this little corner of film fandom – blogs like Noirish, Sci-Fi Jubilee, Voices From The Balcony, Movie Fan Man, Screen Zealots, The Telltale Mind, Cracked Rear Viewer, dbmoviesblog, 100 Films in a Year, Silver Screenings, Windows on Worlds, and our Finnish friend jnvahtola. (Plus shout-outs to floodmouse, Erin, and Simoneteffect!) Keep up the good work all of you and see you in 2019!
And now, here are my top 20 first time screenings for 2018 along with my Letterboxd reviews:
Our next proposal is taking forever. Maybe with a little effort I can get it posted before Christmas!
While we all wait, how about a quick shout-out to The Magic Lantern podcast! It’s the end of the year, so that means that the show’s hosts, Ericca Long and Cole Roulain, have recently put up their latest “Ants In Your Pants” episode where they share their respective top ten first time screenings for the year (plus some honourable mentions). Included on their list are various MMC! favourites like Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935), ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945), The Lineup (Don Seigel, 1958), and The Hourglass Sanatorium (Wojciech Jerzy Has, 1973). If you haven’t already discovered their wonderful podcast, go take a listen and maybe even buy one of their swell, glow-in-the-dark pins!
And because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (and because I’m incapable of restraint and of not making lists of my own), here are my top 20 first time screenings for 2017 along with my Letterboxd reviews.