Reviewing 30 Films I Watched During the Pandemic and What I Learned Cont’d (#10–1)

Part 3 of 3: (#10–1) THE TOP TEN

IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Here we are. The top ten. All of these are awesome. I have already reviewed the other 20 films I watched during quarantine. If you haven’t seen them yet you can get caught up now on Part 1 and Part 2.

Obviously ranking all 30 of these was extremely hard, but I felt that each of these 10 stood out. Each was able to achieve something unique to me, and for that reason, that’s why they are here.

I don’t want to waste anymore time. Let’s talk about some great movies.

#10. Before Sunrise (1995) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Richard Linklater

Synopsis: On his last day in Europe, an American named Jesse meets Celine, a French girl, and the two spend the night roaming the streets of Vienna together.

“You have no idea where I came from. We have no idea where we’re going.”

Before Sunrise, from Richard Linklater follows a similar theme of one of his other popular films Boyhood, where the goal of both is to encapsulate the simple beauty in life. While Boyhood failed to strike a major chord for me, this film definitely did.

Before Sunrise is so different than all the other romance movies that I’ve seen. I love it (I swear that wasn’t a pun). This movie captures love between two people, through conversation and experiences in an unglamorous yet beautiful way.

Love is a complicated aspect of life, believe me I’m not here to claim I know any more on the subject. What I do love is how simple Linklater tries to convey it. Love is often overly-dramatized as this overly complicated moment, yet all it takes is meeting one person, talking to them, and all of a sudden, everything changes. He executes that idea extremely well in this.

While the whole movie may seem boring with just talking and more talking, there’s more happening between the words. Jesse and Celine are getting to know each other, growing more closely, and forming a strong bond.

One scene in particular that shows this to me is right after a poem is read, Jesse tries to make a comment before stopping himself, and changing the subject. To me, it suggests that he’s learning more about Celine, and knows that she loved the poem, and decides not to pour cold water on her feelings. This was actually a turning point in the film for me because at first Jesse sort of comes off as this know-it-all and kind of rubs me the wrong way a few times. However, I will agree that it almost feels like this is done intentional to display his youth and foreshadow irony in the film as Jesse abandons his ‘philosophies’ for Celine.

Another scene I loved was the listening booth scene. It’s subtle but displays so much tension and vulnerability between both characters quietly and effectively. The constant glances at each other while they fail to look at each other directly is such a beautiful moment (I don’t know, I’m weird, okay?).

There were a lot of long takes as well which makes the dialogue seem WAY more organic and free-flowing rather than cutting back and forth constantly. The conversation feels so natural and it gives off the feeling that they’re learning as much about each other as we are about them with no time cutting in between.

I definitely want to go watch the other two films in this ‘romance trilogy’ (lol those things exist?). If you want to watch a romance movie with a different vibe, check this one out!

Available on Crave

#9. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Denis Villeneuve 🇨🇦

Synopsis: Set thirty years after the events of the first film, K (Ryan Gosling), uncovers a secret leading him to a missing former blade runner.

“Sometimes to love someone, you gotta be a stranger.”

Well, I bet if you made it this far, you didn’t see this coming. It wouldn’t have taken you much time into this series to know how little I liked the original Blade Runner. As a recap, I thought the world of Blade Runner was interesting, but the story never grabbed me and I never really found the main character all that interesting. It felt like watching the sequel would be a chore. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It wasn’t without some optimism though given the cast, the director, and with the lovely Roger Deakins gracing my eyeballs behind the camera. It basically took all the minor aspects that got me through the first movie, and cranked the volume up. It’s actually kind of scary how much of a 180 this was for me.

One of the things I disliked about the first film was how little we get to see Deckard do any type of detective work. In this movie, K is actually a cop/detective and gives the movie much more pace than the original in my opinion. While he remains rather uncharismatic like Deckard is in the original, I found this story added a lot more layers to K’s character, including his relationship with Joi, which is actually real and believable (irony).

This is the last time I talk about Roger Deakins on this list so I gotta pay some respects here. This movie won him his first well-overdue Oscar and it was about time. The colour palette and visuals in this are fucking stunning. There’s a lot of purples and oranges used in this to really immerse me in the future — something the first movie also did a great job of. There’s a sequence in a dessert that literally had my eyes in a trance. You can bet your ass it’s my new desktop background and don’t laugh at me. Who am I kidding, I know you’re laughing.

The movie also left me with a lot more moments thinking about humanity — something I felt the first one couldn’t accomplish. If you’ve never seen the original, I think you could skip it if you wanted to, though it does add a lot of context for emotional payoffs in this movie. However, the opening to this film provides you enough expositional context to watch it.

I’m so happy I watched this and didn’t give up on it. The fact that it was also a sequel to a “classic” movie and that I loved it like a 1000x more to me speaks volumes about how much of an achievement this was. Not just for someone who didn’t like it like me, but how it seemed to please the audiences who also loved the original.

Perhaps what I loved most about this, is how it differs from so many modern sequels to classics. Typically, they return knowing it can attract a large audience, recycling most of the original story with the purpose of adding a more modern take and plenty of fan service (looking at you Star Wars). However in Blade Runner 2049, there is no hidden agenda. In fact, it was kind of box office flop. This film was made because it wanted to be made. It simply existed for the sake of adding to a ‘classic’ movie. It’s not trying to replicate the original, it’s respectfully trying to build on it’s achievement. In my opinion, it did.

#8. The Departed (2006) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: A Boston mob rat in the special investigations unit and an undercover cop infiltrating said mob play cat and mouse as one tries to uncover the identity of the other.

“Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop?”

This was the first Scorsese film I’ve ever watched, seeing it when I was in high school. I loved it then, and love it even a bit more now. I started this movie with the intention of turning it off after five minutes. I watched the whole movie. That’s how quick it grabs your attention. Once the title hits the screen I’m buckled in for the ride. I swear to you I just looked up how long the movie is and I laughed because it feels like half the time.

The screenplay and premise is just so compelling that it’s a slam dunk when it falls into the lap of someone as talented as Scorsese. His third movie on this list, he brings a style that adds a lot of life to this movie. His repetition of a rare shot technique known as split diopter (yes I googled it and yes we’re getting into lenses now), fast camera movements and quick-cut editing choices ramp up the intensity and stress levels even more and doing so in a unique way.

The acting is phenomenal. Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. Probably the best ensemble cast on this list next to Knives Out. This is arguably my favourite Leo role. You can tell how much he bought into his character, with so much raw emotion and vulnerability. He’s always great, but in this movie he really nails it.

The last shot of this movie has to be among one of my favourites that I’ve ever seen. Tying up the plot so perfectly and leaving you with a lasting image in your head.

From the rewatch, I picked up on how Scorsese is able to balance so many high energy characters beautifully in this. It’s an adrenaline ride and I think it’s easy for people to get hooked on this.

Ya I don’t really know much else to say, it’s fucking awesome. Ugh, the soundtrack is also bomb as hell and gets stuck in my head every time I watch this movie. Oh, and I’m uncomfortable with the antagonist being named Colin.

Available on Netflix

#7. The Lighthouse (2019) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: Two lighthouse keepers isolated on an island in Maine begin to plunge into insanity.

BAD LUCK TO KILL A SEABIRD!

This film is so hard to dissect. It’s hard for me to score this because there’s a side of me that sees the unique quality and vision this film had. Then there’s the other side that says I didn’t find this movie life changing. I’ve learned that I tend to gravitate to a more plot-driven narrative, though I have a feeling I’m gonna eat those words down the road when it comes to this film.

I wrote the above thoughts right after watching The Lighthouse. The part highlighted in bold is to emphasize how right I was. After writing my initial thoughts, this film ate at me for weeks. No film up until that point had me feeling like that. This movie is fucked up — almost as much as Midsommar, but that’s not why it ate at me. It’s because The Lighthouse is nothing like anything I watched on this list.

I had heard this film was heavily snubbed at the Oscars. THEY SHOULD HAVE RIOTED. Willem Defoe or Robert Pattinson and you couldn’t pick ONE?! Like ya Joaquin Phoenix was great, but I’m convinced they watched this movie with their eyes closed (oxymoron lol). If you’ve read my previous thoughts on Good Time you’ll know how I feel about Robert Pattinson. If so, just copy and paste wherever those thoughts are here x1,000,000. Both Pattinson and Defoe give award-winning performances in this, I don’t know how much I can stress it.

The acting wasn’t the only thing great about this. I also really liked the aspect ratio and the choice of black and white. The combination of the two made this movie feel as old as when it takes place. Not only that but the cinematography helps provide this feeling too with a lot of low-angle close-ups and its ominous score. The lighting in this was phenomenal (pun sort of intended?), and aided the cinematography choices SO much.

The ending is also pretty awesome. It’s terrifying, but fucking awesome. I’m confused still, so I’m gonna go have nightmare about it.

There’s not really a bad thing I can say about this film besides maybe the first half-hour’s pace. It’s a slow burning character study so it’ll typically be that way, but still. I think I need to watch this one again to truly appreciate its greatness. I also kind of want to watch it with someone who hasn’t seen it yet because it’d be awesome watching them look at me like I’m insane for recommending it.

Available on Prime Video

#6. First Reformed (2017) — 4.5/5 | Directed by: Paul Schrader

Synopsis: After meeting with a struggling couple, a priest begins to question his own beliefs and outlook on life.

Can God forgive us?”

I’ll tell you what God can’t forgive: The academy for giving Black Panther a best picture nomination over this.

Speaking of movies that ate away at me.

After finishing First Reformed, it was the first time on this binge that I felt completely speechless as the credits rolled. Paul Schrader wrote and directed this — the same man who wrote Taxi Driver, and it became clear early on I was in for a similar ride.

Without specifics, I had become more reflective on my religious beliefs the last few years. This film felt like it plucked out a lot of those thoughts. Ethan fucking Hawke, just feels good to say that but man he was great. Amanda Seyfried should also be mentioned since the first time I saw her all I could think about was the weather forecast for some reason, but she was also fantastic in this.

The cinematography at first had me unimpressed before I really grasped the purpose behind it. It’s not trying to wow you with crazy visuals, it’s blunt and unglamorous about what it’s showing you. Theres a lot of still close-ups and wide shots but all are intent on giving the audience visual information. The aspect ratio was an interesting but weird choice in my opinion. I really didn’t even notice it until the midway point of the movie. It didn’t really give me any artistic meaning behind it but I’m sure it was done for a reason.

The pacing is weird because while I felt it was a little slow at times, the development of Toller’s “change of heart” lets call it, feels very complete and properly fleshed out by the end of the film. It’s a similar complaint I had with The Lighthouse, but like I said, it’s common in character studies, and it wasn’t just wasted time.

My one clear issue was that the film can get a little too redundant with its message at times. Perhaps if it shed light on a few other related topics I wouldn’t feel it was nearing the edge of pushing an agenda. A minor complaint though, because the film’s message is strong and woke as hell.

This is another good film to watch with a friend. It evokes a lot of different interpretations and that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

#5. Memento (2000) — 5/5 | Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: Leonard, a man with short-term memory searches for the man who killed his wife.

Another rewatch, but a well needed one. You’d need one too if you only watched it once. Memento is one of the most uniquely told stories I have ever watched. There’s really not another film like it that I’ve heard of, and imitating its structure would just look like a rip off.

Memento doesn’t have a lot of technical aspects like stunning cinematography, intense dramatic acting, or catchy soundtracks to hook the viewer along. What hooks you is that your brain becomes Lenny’s brain, and his brain just so happens to be…forgetful.

It’s hard to talk about this without giving spoilers. It’s such a fascinating way to tell a story and it’s why I love Christopher Nolan’s films. His M.O has always been the ability to tell a story in unconventional ways, and none do it better than Memento.

The film also wouldn’t have the same impact without its achievement in editing. With so many shifts between time, the camera helps the audience’s memory the same way we tend to remember things in our own lives, with high attention to objects. In this film, Nolan often places objects right in front of us, not only for the audience to remember, but to later question what we were told about them. He takes the subjective information we’re given and later makes us decide on how “objective” the information was. I don’t know if that made any sense lol. MOVIE GOOD, STORY CRAZY COOL.

#4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — 5/5 | Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Synopsis: A group of astronauts and a super computer journey through space in search of a monolith discovered on Earth during the dawn of man.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a film I’ve been wanting to watch for a long time. While I’ve heard many people view this film as “boring” and “slow” — and believe me I hear them, they’re also wrong. I don’t even want to call it a movie. It’s more of an experience. If you watch it expecting it to be a movie, get super high and you’ll love it. I actually thought about twenty minutes in I had been Rick Rolled somehow, but my patience prevailed.

Whenever I watch an old movie, typically one that’s highly acclaimed I always try to view it through a lens of how dated it is. I do this mainly to understand how much it was an achievement for its time. However with 2001, it not only feels like this movie could’ve came out yesterday but that it LOOKS like it came out yesterday. When I tell you it can pass as a movie made today I mean it.

Space movies have always been a sweet spot for me growing up because of how much your imagination can run wild about the possibilities beyond our horizon. No space movie has captured this idea better for me than in 2001. I love movies such as Interstellar, First Man, and The Martian. When I watched 2001 realizing how much of the movie had inspired aspects of these films, it’s really hard not to want to give it a big hug and thank it.

There’s so many things to unpack from this movie but they’ve probably all been said before. (EDIT: If you’re interested in 2001 and want an actual intelligent person to talk about this you can watch this review I saw after writing this here)

If you’ve read enough of these reviews to this point, you may notice that good music and cinematography are two elements that really make a movie for me. If I had to describe this movie in three words it would: Fantasia in space. At least half the movie is anyway. The music isn’t just a gimmick either. You sort of think it is for the better part of the first hour until it backhands you with the a lighting quick tone shift that suddenly changes your whole mindset of what you’re watching. While it feels a lot of the runtime is dragged out for little action going on, the shots are fucking stunning. The cinematography is out of this world (sorry I waited as long as I could). There are countless space shots that are beautiful but even when capturing dialogue scenes it doesn’t lose its touch. The pod dialogue scene pictured above is engrained in my brain forever for its amazing framing given the context of the plot.

Despite its minimal and simple role in the film, the story had a big impact on me. I mean human power struggle with advanced AI would sounds like a movie made yesterday but 52 YEARS AGO? The third act is fucking nuts. If you just watched the ending scene, you’d know why I wished I was tripping balls during this.

Thank you 2001. Without you, I probably wouldn’t be interested in space the way I am today — or movies for that rather.

#3. Good Will Hunting (1997) — 5/5 | Directed by: Gus Van Sant

Synopsis: Will, an emotionally-damaged math genius, meets Sean, a therapist aiming to steer Will’s life in the right direction.

“How do ya like ‘dem apples?”

This is honestly one of my favourite movies ever, so it feels kind of unfair ranking it among what are mostly movies I’ve never seen. That being said, I’m still gonna talk about why I love this movie so much.

The entire cast is great in this. Being one of the first movies they ever acted in, and being the movie that really launched them into Hollywood stardom, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck really are standouts in this movie. From both an acting and writing standpoint, they kind of cheat with how believable they are as characters given that a lot of the movie was written from their own experiences. Fun fact: the movie was first written for a school project when Matt Damon went to Harvard.

If you love Robin Williams and have yet to check this movie out, you’re bound to fall in love with it the way I did. If your heart doesn’t get warmed up anytime he delivers a monologue in this, I don’t know if you have a soul. May his soul rest peacefully.

Minnie Driver has a lot of demanding moments in this but she does a great job and has awesome chemistry with Damon. Without her performance, this movie doesn’t impact me the same way.

Regardless of its origin, the film is incredibly relatable, with great dialogue, and powerful exchanges. The park scene, or the scene talking about the World Series (what can I say I love baseball) are two that stand out for me.

Despite us viewing a lot of the cast as these polarizing figures now, their characters and performances are so down-to-earth that it still makes me view them as regular people. Not only that, but being written during their humble beginnings, Affleck and Damon are able to create a very realistic story. It’s heartwarming, and that’s why it’s one of my favourites.

Available on Netflix

#2. Parasite (2019) — 5/5 | Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho

Synopsis: The Kims — a poor resourceful Korean family, begin latching on to the Parks — a wealthy family that is swindled into hiring them as service workers.

Wow. I mean, wow. This movie blew me away. I don’t know if I can really point out any flaw with it, seriously.

Parasite is able to shift tone so seamlessly where you feel like you’re watching a dark comedy, a horror, and a thriller in a matter of minutes. One of the ways I think this was done so great was through the score. The music is very subtle, yet it nudges you toward what is happening and yet to come. This was such an amazingly written story. The pacing is great. The cinematography is also terrific, making me feel like a fly on the wall within the house and I loved every second of it. There are a number of shots in this movie that made me smile wide like a nerd. I felt its commentary on class struggle is well executed and isn’t being overly political, which keeps you in the world of the movie.

I find a lot of casual movie fans get turned off from foreign films because of all of the reading. It’s certainly an obstacle at first, but I feel like with movies as good as Parasite, it’s so easy to get past it because of what’s happening in front of you. It’s themes transcend cultural differences and are communicated so effectively, you don’t have to speak the same language to relate to the characters. I think if you haven’t seen a foreign film before, I encourage you to try so with Parasite.

Available on Crave

#1. Moonlight (2016) — 5/5 | Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: Told over three periods, a young black boy named Chiron struggling to navigate through life meets Juan, a drug dealer, who tries to help Chiron discover his true identity.

“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”

Here we are. The best movie I watched in quarantine. It surprised me because prior to watching this, my expectations were sky high. It’s widely considered one of the best films of this century. I find whenever I see that, it sets me up for failure because I’m expecting my life to be changed afterwards. Moonlight deserves all the acclaim it has received, and then some. Yes, I realized I totally just contradicted myself by saying I hate when movies get overhyped, but I can’t help it, it’s what I’m here for.

What may catch some people’s attention is that I almost cried multiple times watching this. If you know me well enough, you’ll know I only cry watching movies named Moneyball. The powerful moments in this film just hit me that hard I guess.

It was even more powerful after reading more about some of its themes and symbolism, and just seeing how complex and thought-out every detail of this film is. The crazy thing was I actually felt this way watching it, it’s just really overwhelming the first time watching it.

I believe every young person today, regardless of race or beliefs should watch this movie. I hadn’t watched every movie on this list by this point, but I was sure that it would the most socially impactful one. It was.

I tend to stray away from movies like this because of its emotional subject matter. I find they tend to take themselves too seriously. However, in Moonlight, it’s so truthful and raw about the issues it explores. I think what makes it so important is that its issue isn’t explored a lot in media. I wish for a world in the near future where this movie is taught in high school English classes for its rich content for lessons but also for its relevance in today’s society.

I cannot express how beautifully it explores the themes of masculinity and sexuality. Most movies tend to explore these themes with little depth or they apply other tropes you’d expect about the character and it never hits as hard because you get the idea that the writers are generalizing the subculture.

Chiron’s character is so complex despite how little he says in the film. The entire first act he probably has less than 10 lines, yet you feel you know exactly how he’s feeling and just feel all the emotional struggle he’s dealing with. As the film progresses he obviously has more to say but there’s so much visual storytelling being done throughout this.

The cinematography is outstanding and really compliments the style of visual storytelling done by Barry Jenkins. Without copying a lot of other people’s thoughts I agreed with, I’ll give a few original points I had. I really enjoyed the choices of handheld camera when following Chiron a lot through the movie. It makes you feel you’re almost by his side through his journey and it makes me feel so connected to him. The swimming scene is shot so beautifully. I also loved the repetition of behind-the-back shots and how a lot of the time you can still tell exactly how he feels based off his body language.

The score is also an aspect I feel most people don’t highlight. Most of the time, it just hangs in the background, letting the images take centre stage. But when it’s needed, its presence has a large impact on the emotional output in the scene.

None of my words can do this movie justice. I think the most impactful thing I can say is just to watch it. Watch it because Moonlight is special.

This is one of the best films I have ever seen.

There you have it. If you have made it all the way here, I want to again express my deepest thanks. I hope any of you that read this finds a movie here that you can watch and enjoy. If you do, I’m glad and will have considered my job done.

Opinions are subjective and that was a pill I had a tough time swallowing early on in this experience. I’ve always been argumentative towards movies but it took some time for me to just come around to the idea that everyone’s different. We all have different tastes, and they’re something you can’t condition someone into changing. I’ve come to terms with that now.

I’ve given some thought toward future ideas on writing, but if you have one, let me know. I look forward to perhaps continuing something like this.

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Colin Jay

🇨🇦 My thoughts on movies, TV, and anything my brain is dying to spit out. Letterboxd: colinjaay