In 2020, I joined the Boston Online Film Critics Association (BOFCA). It was a strange year for everyone, and that certainly did not exclude movies. Most, if not all, theaters were closed. In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time I saw a movie in a theater (probably January or February of 2020). 2020 became the year of streaming, and this was true for critics and audiences alike.
At the end of each calendar year, BOFCA releases a “best of” list. This includes the group’s choices for best film, performers, directors and on. 2020 was my first year voting as part of BOFCA, and with all theaters shut down material was either sent physically (DVDs on my doorstep) or by digital link. As I noted in my roundup of the top films of 2020, more titles were sent to me in the run up to voting than I could ever hope to view.
This nearly doubled in 2021, even with movie theaters back open! No one knows if theaters will ever regain the footing they once held in American life. This is not just because of the pandemic but also because watching from home or laptop or phone is much more convenient. But more convenience has not necessarily made life easier for the film critic.
With cable networks and streaming services, in addition to traditional film studios, there is more material than ever vying for awards and it’s easier than ever to deluge a critic with things to watch. Prior to the 2000s, each year there might be 25 domestic films and a handful of foreign ones film critics could agree were the ones to watch for award consideration, and most of the time the critic would see this at a theater. This year I received close to 200 titles to consider, from all over the world, and I never had to leave my living room to see one.
To be fair, some of these were not true awards material, but a studio like Amazon has money to burn so it cannot only make bad movies (I’m looking at you Coming 2 America and The Tomorrow War), but it can also shower critics with material and swag and hope to get a few votes in so doing.
But even if one removes a few titles from the consideration quiver, this is not the 1980s, with seven movie studios putting out the only films a critic can view. MGM, Universal et al have been joined by HBO and Showtime and smaller distributors such as Neon and A24. And then there are the streamers…Netflix and Apple TV and Disney Plus….and…I could go on.
In one sense it’s a privilege, to be able to see such a variety of choices, but at the same time when people ask me if I have seen a particular film I often chuckle. There isn’t time enough in the year to see all the great (and bad) movies out there, let alone documentaries and television shows .
There are no must sees anymore because there is too much to see. Over 100 million people watched the MASH finale in 1983. Outside of the Superbowl you can’t get that many people to view any film or TV show. It’s probably one of the reasons the country is so divided. We’re not only watching our own news shows, we also are unable to unite around our entertainment.
As for the process of this year’s voting, it was similar to 2020. Beginning in late October, I received a steady diet of streaming links and physical DVDs. The BOFCA voting deadline was December 10th. My goal was to watch a movie per day. I did not achieve this but came close, with over 30 titles viewed in that time period.
As with the year before, the same pressures and incentives regarding what to watch came into play. Should I even bother wasting a day on Coming 2 America? I knew it wouldn’t be good, but I had to see if Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate would make another appearance (they did, which almost made the whole bad story worthwhile). Netflix again led the charge in swag. A whiskey flask (not filled unfortunately) to get me to watch The Harder They Fall. A bottle of wine (fortunately full) for The Lost Daughter. A coffee table book for The Hand of God. It’s a tactic that works oftentimes because you feel somewhat compelled to watch the film that comes with a shoe box full of goodies.
Despite these temptations, I was able to watch a variety of material. Overall, nothing with a bigger budget (save Dune) impressed me. The smaller, more independent films –many of them foreign—were far stronger.
My top ten films with some honorable mentions are below, followed by a link to the BOFCA website where the group’s top ten movies, as well as awards in all other categories, can be seen.
As with last year, I’m sure I missed some very worthy titles, but such is the landscape of cinema today, even if that cinema is our family room couch.
MY TOP TEN
There is No Evil
No Sudden Move
The Worst Person in the World
Drive My Car
Being the Ricardos
Wife of a Spy
Riders of Justice
The Hand of God
The Power of the Dog