This year has been a strange one for cinema as many films were delayed rather than go straight to VOD or streaming services. However some films did make it out whether pre-pandemic or in limited release. We asked some of the Arkansas Cinema Society (ACS) staff and friends in the creative community about their favorite films of the year, and since we spent most of the year at home, favorite streaming series as well. Here is what they had to say…
Kathryn Tucker - Executive Director at ACS
I have to name two favorite films this year because they are so vastly different - Nomadland and Soul. ACS was so lucky to be able to program Nomadland into our lineup for the Filmland 2020 Drive-In this year. I can’t imagine seeing this film on the small screen. The director, Chloé Jhao, so masterfully offers an authentic “fly on the wall” window into the nomadic world that supports our massive corporate structure. A world most of us wouldn’t know at all without the intimate portrait the film offers. I find it magical and fascinating the way Chloé weaves fiction and reality and professional and non-professional actors together into a seamless story with such ease and harmony. The opportunity to share the film with our audience in Arkansas early, immediately following it’s big wins at Venice and Toronto was an honor and one of the high points in all of ACS’s programming!
The folks at Pixar just have it down. Soul is a hilarious, moving, gorgeous film - I laughed, I cried, I was inspired and forced to question my own motivations and intentions in my own life. The best part, I was able to watch it with my five and two year old children and they enjoyed it as much as I did - or vice versa. The lessons laced in these “children’s films” are for all of us and told in such a gentle, entertaining way. Told through a story about a starving artist Jazz musician who learns through a near death experience that he has been blind to the beauty of the world around him because of his righteous passion for his art. My mom has always said, a lot of times when you get to the place you’ve always dreamt of - there is no “there” there. Soul tells that story beautifully. I hope my kids make me re-watch this film 50 times - so I am reminded often.
Mark Landon Smith - Founder and Casting Director at Actors Casting Agency
With all of the choices out there to stream and see, it can get a bit overwhelming to shift through all of the options. Fortunately there is social media and film YouTube reviewer Chris Stuckman to make me aware of what needs to be seen. And that is how I came across The Queen’s Bandit, a terrific show produced by Netflix 2020. "Beginning in the mid-1950s and proceeding into the 1960s, the story follows the life of an orphaned chess prodigy on her rise to the top of the chess world while struggling with emotional problems, drug problems, and alcohol dependency." This mini-series is beautifully written, performed and produced with exceptional art direction). One of those "just-one-more-episode-then-I'll-go-to-bed" scenarios.
A great movie about the making of movies is Mank in which "1930's Hollywood is reevaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane", (which is one of the best films ever made.) Shot in a 1930's style and in black and white, Mank is also beautifully produced and filled with great performances.
Cade Bethea - Social Media Coordinator at ACS
2020 has changed my perspective in a lot of ways. Additionally, it has changed reasons why I watch movies and TV. Storytelling is always something I look for in good programming and this year has shown me how important escapism is also. I love being able to sit down on the couch and instantly be transported to another place and time, leaving all the fears and anxieties of the world around me for if nothing, but a brief 42 minutes!
I have missed going to the movies so badly that I feel like 2020 has really been the year of binging tv & limited series. Some of my favorites this year (old & new) have been: The Undoing, Outer Banks, The Queen’s Gambit, A Teacher, 13 Reasons Why, Defending Jacob, Vampire Diaries, Miss Americana, All American, Schitt’s Creek, The Good Wife, Little Fires Everywhere, Dash & Lilly + so much more. For me, having some type of place with dynamic characters and wildest dreams is so important for my mental health and sanity during such a crazy time in history. In the coming year we will no doubt be introduced to new works formed in the quarantine and defeat of this year. I cannot wait to witness what will come as a result of that... Cheers!
Julia Trupp - Editor at The Idle Class Magazine
FILM: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
OK, this is definitely in my Top 5 Will Ferrell films. It follows two small-town Icelandic best friends chasing their pop-star dreams together with, of course, some bumps along the way. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams have a fantastic energy throughout the musical comedy (which also features Pierce Brosnan and Demi Lovato), and the music is honestly really catchy - "Double Trouble" made the cut to my 2020 Spotify Unwrapped. I can't wait to see what's next for My Marianne, who plays the singing voice for Rachel McAdams.
SHOW (mini-series): The Queen's Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy - wow. I was first enamored with her in the most recent season of Peaky Blinders, and she has really hit the ground running (she must have a damn good agent, too!). The show follows an orphaned chess prodigy named Elizabeth on her way to become the greatest chess player in the world. Like certain episodes of The Crown, I found myself Googling to find out more about the real Elizabeth - but there isn't one. The mini-series is based on a fiction book, and boy, is it impressive! The direction! The writing! The acting! The costumes! The production value as a whole was spectacular, and I definitely binged this show in a few days' time.
Sidenote: It took me a second to get past the fact that the charismatic (and dare I say, kind of sexy!?) Benny Watts was the little drummer boy in Love Actually played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, but delving further into the show, it becomes easier to do because of his acting chops... Just in case anyone else had some trouble as well.
SHOW: The Umbrella Academy, Season 2
Three words: Klaus and Vanya. Gawd, I went to sleep each night and woke up the next morning thinking about this damn show. I love that it's based off of a comic (which is on my reading list), and the show does a wonderful job fusing the counterculture and civil rights movements of the '60s with the characters' actual present-day lives. The soundtrack: Flawless. The storyline: Gripping, heart wrenching. It will keep you on the edge of your seat (and if the storyline doesn't, the various moods of Number 5 will). 12/10 recommend.
Lillie Peterson - Director of Operations at ACS
This time a year ago I was settling into the knowledge that my brand new movie theater membership allowing me to see unlimited movies was a great power that came with great responsibility—I was going to see more movies in 2020 than in any previous year, and I already saw a lot of movies. I was excited to see movies I might otherwise pass by in favor of more bang-for-my-buck tent poles and broaden my horizons. As with most everything in 2020, my horizons then shrank to what I could see out of the windows of my house.
Fortunately, ACS was able to bring a film to our reimagined Filmland Drive-In that I had already been anticipating, The Way I See It. My previous life in presidential politics combined with a love for how-its-made documentaries came together for an expectedly emotional look inside the Obama presidency through the eyes of its biggest fly on the wall, official White House photographer Pete Souza. Left, right, or center, this film was a reminder of a different time and a different way of doing things that wasn’t that long ago, but feels lightyears away from our present position. I’ve already seen it twice and I’m sure I have a few more viewings ahead of me.
Bo Counts - Boom Operator/Co-host of The Drive-in Speakerbox
I've been reviewing movies somewhat professionally for over 15 years now, and the annual "year end list" or or "favorite of the year" article is nothing new to me. However, 2020 has been anything but routine, especially for the entertainment industry. Being asked to pick my favorite film of 2020 has left me filled with a lot of strange emotions. I started to write a review of a movie I enjoyed, but half way through I paused and asked myself what I was doing. It just didn't feel right. 2020 hasn't felt right. Movies don't feel right. That's when it hit me. Films are about feelings, experiences, memories, hopes, dreams, fantasy turned to life. It's storytelling at its most immersive form, and theaters have been closed, and the ones that aren't haven't had a new release in months. Films have become "content". Images on tiny screens to fill our time as we sit idly in our quarantines waiting for everything to return to normal...and by doing so, we are making the abnormal become the normal. This unusual timeline we are all stuck in has produced one thing that I can easily say has been my favorite film experience of the year. Seeing classic films on the big screen again.
Theaters have been open for a while now, and many of you don't realize it. They are empty, hollow and down right eerie to be inside of right now, but they need us. They need to be alive with people like us to help create the magic they provide. Often I find myself the only person that isn't an employee in the whole complex. However, for a film lover like myself, this is my home, my church of sorts, where I come to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the world and let myself escape into a different reality that doesn't require me to reset my password, connect to my Wi-Fi and wait for a firmware update. Scrolling on your phone, going to the kitchen, letting your animals out and letting the world interrupt is not how films are intended to be viewed. Seeing a film in a theater is an experience, and one I hope we don't lose. The smell of popcorn, a giant fizzy soda at your side, giant screens, booming speakers, curtained walls surrounding you, commanding your undivided attention and focus. To use a modern phrase...films just hit different in a theater. Thanks to the pandemic, movies I had never had the chance to see on the big screen I was able to experience in a new way, finding a new appreciation for films I'd seen many times before. Never in my life had I thought I'd get to see Raiders of The Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, or Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. Being able to enjoy Jurassic Park, Beetlejuice, Friday the 13th and Gremlins on the big screen as an adult was healing in a way that's hard to describe. Movies make us feel. They bond and unite. There's nothing more unifying than a room full of strangers all sitting together in communal enjoyment, and while we can't have that right now, at least I can enjoy the fact that I got to see some of these old classics the way they were intended before the chance to do so may be lost forever.
At the ACS, we believe that if we provide filmmakers an arena to exhibit their talents, and film enthusiasts a healthy diet of quality programming, we can inspire more Arkansans to make and watch more films. By supporting filmmakers, festivals, theaters and young people interested in filmmaking throughout the state, we hope to create statewide network, pool Arkansas’s resources and be an umbrella organization that feeds all things film. We believe a rising tide lifts all boats.
To be a filmmaker, we have to connect to create. A painter needs a brush, paint and a canvas. A director needs a writer, a cinematographer, a sound mixer, production designer, editor, actors, distributors, and an audience. We cannot do it alone. This art form forces one to collaborate and thus, creates jobs. Filmmaking is unique in the arts in this way. It takes an army.