As I type this, it’s been over a year since I set foot in a movie theater. That’s a strange, discombobulating fact for me to set straight in my noggin. Although I’ve hardly kept up the pace of my college and post-collegiate days, when every weekend involved multiple excursions to stare at a wall-sized screen, moviegoing has remained a certain household chore. When mapping out any given week, we usually begin — or began — with a consideration of what new features have slunk into our city. Theaters are operational where we live, but, much as we want to reclaim that particular hunk of our our normalcy, we remain aware that there are few riskier places to go in this time of rapidly metamorphosing, airborne disease that an enclosed space without windows and stationary people guffawing their way through a Hollywood diversion. If the flagrantly irresponsible and proudly idiotic among us were the only ones who suffered due to their actions, the universe would be more just. That’s simply, sadly not how this global pandemic works.
Despite the distance from the cathedrals of cinema I once haunted, I probably tallied viewings of 2020 releases at a quantity that matched or exceeded the count in prior years. I’m confident that freedom from my self-inflicted assignment to sit through major-studio features that were sure to take a prime place in the cultural discourse — because those major-studio films were largely held from release — provided more time and incentive to seek out independent films. Just as importantly, the recalibration of every showbiz model meant that small films that previously bypassed my town altogether, or took a torturously long time get here, were suddenly, thrillingly available at the click of an online interface. There were no Marvel movies? OK. We did get the unexpected opportunity to virtually claim a ticket for the opening weekend of a documentary about the Swedish woman who pioneered abstract act only to be shunted aside so dudes could claim their patriarchal birthright to the proclamations of genius. That’s a fine consolation prize.
As I begin my annual process of naming my personal choices for the best of the cinematic year, I do so knowing that I could easily include a hyperlink to every single one of them. I couldn’t go to the movies from most of 2020, but the movies could come to me. For that, I am grateful. I think some of that gratitude helped sway my selections. Not a single one of the films on my list of ten was created as a reaction to, or reflection of, the pandemic and the sorrow that came from all the loss that piled up over the year: of personal connection, of community, of livelihood, of life. And yet many of the films that spoke to me the most have some level of discernible celebration to them. The celebration might be rueful, or tinged by sadness. Nonetheless, it is present.
And when the process gets underway tomorrow — with number ten on the list, of course — it will be with a film in which the celebration is so joyful that it approaches magic. It is a film that would clearly be marvelous in year. In 2020, it was an oasis.