Last year was not a bad time for movies. True, several major releases were postponed as a result of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But these were largely big productions that had cost a lot of money to make and market and whose producers could not risk losing money on. The experience of Tenet, a Christopher Nolan vehicle that showed that there could be such a thing as too much creative liberty, was the warning signal that if audiences were to be goaded out of their houses, it would not be by movies. It has unfortunately been an industry in decline long before countries had to lock down their economies.

But smaller offerings, such as The Father, Minari or Nomadland, the latter of which was the winner of this year’s Oscars for best picture and director, knew that pandemic or not, they would not make money. To their advantage, it also meant that blockbusters did not overshadow them.

Some movies that had received hype earlier were underwhelming. Mank is a David Fincher-directed love letter to Hollywood, but it is too slow-paced. And I entirely failed to comprehend the rave surrounding Nomadland. The performances were first-rate but it also seemed to drag on forever. It also pains me to say that Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things was underwhelming, too vague and convoluted to comprehend. It had none of the spark that his previous eclectic outputs, from Anomalisa and Being John Malkovich to one of the best-written movies of all time, Adaptation, had.

But Thomas Vinterberg’s – the second Danish wonder to Lars von Trier - Another Round was an absolute joy. The Father was heart-wrenching and Anthony Hopkins deserved every bit of the Best Actor award. Sacha Baron Cohen himself was in two fantastic movies. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, by some work of magic, was just as funny a commentary on American political life as its prequel. The actor’s performance in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 was just the courtroom dramedy-cum-appraisal-of-leftwing-politics that we needed.

And let us not forget Sound of Metal, a heartfelt journey that takes audiences through the downward spiral of a drummer that loses his hearing. With fantastic editing and sound mixing, a movie showed what a relatable leading man Riz Ahmed would make. The movie's quirkiness, and yet the film’s ability to be a character study immersed in exploring the lead’s emotions and impulses reminded me of Uncut Gems.

But none of these was the best movie of the year. That honour should go to the angry and loud Promising Young Woman. A thoroughly original work, it has been described as a feminist revenge pyscho-thriller. It is the perfect description.

Directed by Emerald Fennel, it follows Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a young woman, 30, who seeks revenge against “nice” guys. Typically, she would go to a nightclub and appear wasted. A man inevitably approaches and makes a gesture. He asks if she is alone, is she is okay and finally offers a ride. The ride turns into an invitation to his crib and eventually, even though she is clearly in no condition to offer consent, he attempts to sleep with her. At that very moment, and to their horror, she drops her acting and soberly asks, “what are you doing?”

This synopsis must have been a hard sell to studio executives to greenlight the movie. A thriller about a woman that gives her assailers a good, long stare does not necessarily scream exciting. But throw in an uncompromisingly plotted script that could only rarely be matched in its cynicism, deadly serious acting work from Mulligan and excellent scene development from Fennel, and the movie surprises and leaves audiences aghast at every turn. These also make it the best movie of 2020.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 30,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1096]

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