Pedro Almodóvar had a busy 2020. He scored his latest Oscar nomination for “Pain and Glory” in February, shortly before the pandemic took hold, and spent several weeks in lockdown writing a series of essays that were published in English on this site. By midyear, the Spanish auteur was working on his first English-language filmmaking endeavor, the Tilda Swinton-starring “The Human Voice,” which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the fall and opens in theaters in March 2021. In the midst of all that, Almodóvar also found time to watch some new films. Here is his annotated list of favorites, which he published this week on the site of his production company. It has been translated here into English by Deirdre Mac Closkey with his approval.
“First Cow,” by Kelly Reichardt
A captivating, delicious western. It can be seen as a buddy movie, the story of two men in Oregon, at the start of the 19th century, who join their destinies to exploit the milk of a prize-winning cow. The intense presence of nature brings Lucrecia Martel to mind.
“The Devil All The Time,” by Antonio Campos
“The Devil All the Time”
Netflix / screencap
Marvelous, deepest America, heart-rending, poetical, fanatical, narrated with subtlety and precision. I’ll see it more times. A difficult plot resolved with a master’s touch. I remember Antonio Campos as producer on “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which had a tremendous impact on me in 2011.
“Another Round,” by Thomas Vintenberg
A moving, never moralistic story about the group initiation of four friends into the consumption of alcohol, which takes them to the edge of the abyss. (The premise is amusing but I don’t know if it’s very scientific: human beings are born with a deficit of 0.05 degrees of alcohol in their veins.) These four teachers and friends decide, as a group, to make up for that alcohol deficit daily with the pretext that they will function and perform better at their work. It’s a pretext, at times amusing, on many occasions pathetic, that literally drowns them in alcohol while their lives collapse. There is a mixture of optimism and melancholy in this story that transforms it into something very special. The actors are superb — Mads Mikkelsen offers a master class in gestural sobriety. At the end, in the middle of an end-of-term emotional explosion — along with his students who are also drunk — Mads does a dance, a real catharsis, that moves you to tears. Dogma 95 returns to form.
“Swallow,” by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Tribeca Film Festival
Director Mirabella-Davis’ style is a mixture of Yorgos Lanthimos, Jessica Hausner and Todd Solondz. The protagonist, a wonderful Haley Bennett, feels a compulsive need to put small objects in her mouth and swallow them. She later defecates, cleans them and keeps them as trophies. Things get complicated when she starts to swallow sharp objects such as a thumb tack, etc. I saw the film with a constant feeling of amazement. A theme that is difficult to develop but doesn’t flag at any point.
“Ya no estoy aquí” (“I’m No Longer Here”), Mexico’s nomination for the Oscars, by director Fernando Frías
“I’m No Longer Here”
Frías’ first film tells of the miserable life of a gang, Los Terkos, whose young members are more concerned about exotic hairstyles and the dancing, transformed into a ritual, of slow-down cumbia (and their hyper-baggy outfits, which at times remind us of Japanese kimonos) than about violence and drugs. One day they find themselves in the middle of a shootout with members of the local cartel. Ulises, the survivor, flees to New York, where he leads a miserable life and misses his miserable life in Monterrey, with his pals with whom he danced cumbia. An unexpected Mexican film with a protagonist who has an irresistible charm. Wonderful photography and a splendid soundtrack. Perhaps a mixture of “Los olvidados” by Buñuel and “The Odyssey.”
“Little Joe,” by Jessica Hausner
Since her revelatory “Lourdes,” this is the best film from the singular Jessica Hausner. A rarity among rarities.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” by Eliza Hittman
Sidney Flanigan in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Solely for the long first sequence shot that gives the film its title, this deserves to be among the best of the year. A minimalist, serene wonder about two adolescents in Pennsylvania who travel to New York, with no more than the clothes on their back, so that one of them can have an abortion. Delicate and totally exempt of rhetoric.
“The Painter and the Thief,” by Benjamin Ree
“The Painter and the Thief”
A documentary that is seen as a fiction film, it was one of the hits at the last Sundance Festival. The protagonists manage to play themselves with a truth and an expertise rare in a documentary. I’m sure that the director received the story, turned it into a script and asked the protagonists to play themselves. A moving story about a loving friendship, with a character right at the limit.
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