Like New Year’s resolutions, Best and Worst lists are a year-end tradition I’d just as soon skip. Whatever I resolve to do or not do rarely endures past mid-January, and judging the greatest or most awful films of any year often relies upon the test of time. But for this Best list, I tried to focus on movies that kept me thinking about them, as well as the films released at the end of the year that I suspect I’ll keep thinking about in the future.
And because my initial list of favorites rounded out at 30, there’s a list of runners-up that I like to call 20 Films I’m Glad I Saw This Year: “Benedetta,” “C’mon C’mon,” “Days,” “Drive My Car,” “Fever Dream,” “Holler,” “I Carry You With Me,” “Labyrinth of Cinema,” “Locked Down,” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” “The Novice,” “Pig,” “The Power of the Dog,” “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Red Rocket,” “Riders of Justice,” “Spencer,” “Titane,” “Together Together.”
10. “Swan Song”: One of two films this year bearing this title, writer-director Todd Stephens’ comedy-drama stars Udo Kier as a retired Ohio hairdresser called back into service for one last coif when a wealthy client’s will stipulates he do her up for her open-casket viewing. Kier gives one of the year’s most indelible performances, and this moving character piece tells the too-rarely-told story of the generation of gay men who survived both AIDS and decades of anti-queer discrimination.
9. “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”: Like many of the greatest comedies, this buddy saga starring and written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo wasn’t to all tastes, but if you were on its weirdo wavelength, you rode it all the way to the Florida resort where its heroines go to kickstart their cozy lives. It’s a movie that could accommodate musical numbers — and seriously, Academy music branch, how did you pass over Jamie Dornan’s love song? — a super-villain with a diabolical plot, and the deep, satisfying powers of friendship and of women named “Trish.”
8. “Memoria”: Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes movies that seems to bypass the conscious mind entirely and seep right into audiences’ dream space, and his first film featuring a major international star — Tilda Swinton, performing much of her role in Spanish — is no exception. A British woman living in Colombia begins hearing phantom sounds that might or might not be connected to collective traumatic memory, and she’s helped along the way by people who may or may not exist and events that might nor might not have happened. Just go with it.