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2020's best list includes 'Nomadland,' 'Minari,' 'Judas'

by Philip Martin | February 19, 2021 at 1:51 a.m.

"Nomadland," which at the end of December I deemed the best film of 2020, opens in theaters today.

I still think that, though back then I hadn't yet seen "Judas and the Black Messiah" or a number of other movies being considered part of the class of 2020 by various awards-bestowing organizations. Such as the Southeastern Film Critics Association, which I've been a member of for 20 years and which votes on the year's best this weekend.

I haven't filled out my ballot yet, but suspect there will be some changes in the Top 10 I published at the end of December. I'm OK with that because I don't take these things all that seriously and, internally, my Top 10 changes all the time anyway. Or maybe it's more accurate to say I don't rank things in order of their swellness most of the time. It's OK to debate whether Bill Russell or Tom Brady is the greatest winner in the history of American professional sports, but those arguments are only as valuable as the points made by the individuals expressing are interesting. I'm not invested in changing people's opinions about subjective matters, but as a shortcut to a deeper discussion, a listicle is a fine tool.

"Judas and the Black Messiah" will likely find its way onto my list, which means something else will drop off even though "Nomadland" and "Minari" are very likely to remain the No.1 and No. 2 films.

LaKeith Stanfield is going to be my pick for Best Actor for his portrayal of FBI informant William O'Neal in "Judas," though I also like Chadwick Boseman in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Riz Ahmed in "Sound of Metal" and Steven Yeun in "Minari." (See the OnFilm video elsewhere in this section to hear my story about William O'Neal.)

On the Best Actress side (funny how "actress" has become a term of art we only use in discussion of award nominations), I'm definitely voting for Frances McDormand, whose character in "Nomadland" is stunningly complex and instantly recognizable.

I don't know if it's a particularly difficult performance for McDormand to give, I only know how I responded to it. Same goes for Yeri Han in "Minari," Sidney Flanigan in "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman," Julia Garner in "The Assistant" and Jessie Buckley in "I'm Thinking of Ending Things."

For Supporting Actress, I'm leaning heavily toward Yuh-Jung Youn for her turn as the grandmother in "Minari," though I would like to see Maria Bakalova win for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm," even though I wasn't thrilled with the movie. (It's fine, just not my thing. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen, but he has done much better work.)

Glenn Close is getting a lot of love for her work in the otherwise vilified "Hillbilly Elegy," but I prefer Talia Ryder in "Never Rarely Sometimes Always." (I feel silly saying that, which goes to my general level of discomfort with making art a competition. It's not. Being in a bad movie doesn't make anyone any less of an actor.)

Usually the supporting categories are the easiest choices, but this year I'm having trouble coming up with Best Supporting Actor choices. Both Delroy Lindo and Boseman are very good in Spike Lee's "Da Five Bloods," though some are pushing Lindo as a lead. Paul Raci is remarkable in "Sound of Metal," because he's a remarkable human being. Alan Kim in "Minari" is a possibility; and I enjoy Bill Murray in "On the Rocks," another movie I didn't exactly love.

David Strathairn is terrific in "Nomadland," but doesn't have that much screen time. Maybe part of what makes a good supporting actor is that you leave the audience wishing they'd spent more time with your character.

"Minari" is the best ensemble; though Netflix's "Trial of the Chicago 7" and "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" are wonderfully cast and executed. (Jesse Plemons might deserve some special mention for his work in "Things" and "Judas and the Black Messiah.")

Best director is usually easy -- give it to the director who made the best film. That's Chloé Zhao for "Nomadland," with Lee Isaac Chung for "Minari" close behind. It'll take a while to figure who to list third on the ballot. Maybe Shaka King for "Judas and the Black Messiah."

I love Charlie Kaufman's adapted screenplay for "I'm Thinking of Ending Things." In the original screenplay category I'm voting for either Emerald Fennell's "Promising Young Woman" or Chung's "Minari."

"Soul" is best animated picture; with "Wolfwalkers" a close second. (I should defer to Courtney Lanning here; she has proclaimed "Wolfwalkers" the best film of the year, period.)

I listed 15 excellent documentaries in the end-of-the-year piece I did for this newspaper. When it comes to voting, I'm deciding between three very different films: "Collective," a Romanian film revolving around a group of investigative journalists uncovering public health-care fraud, corruption and maladministration; the lovely, heartbreaking "Gunda," a direct cinematic look at the lives of farm animals shot in gorgeous black and white; and Spike Lee's enormously entertaining movie of "David Byrne's American Utopia." I'll decide the order at the last minute.

I was blown away by the cinematography in "Nomadland," but "Gunda" is sneaking up. It deserves some attention.

I hadn't yet seen "Another Round" when I wrote my end-of-the-year piece; now it's my favorite foreign language film of the year. (I thought about "Gunda" for this spot, but "Gunda" doesn't have any human dialogue. It's all grunts and oinks and clucks and moos -- alien enough in context, but not exactly foreign.)

Finally, every year SEFCA awards a special award named for the late Nashville Tennessean film critic Gene Wyatt for the film that best "embodies the spirit of The South." Past winners have included Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories" (2008) and Scott Teems' "That Evening Sun" (2009). For me, the obvious choice for this year's Wyatt award is "Minari."



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