A task that has become progressively more polarized for me each year has been coming up with a best films of the year list each year. I love the practice of sitting down and working my way through the films critics decided were the best, as well as others that had been on my list for other reasons, but the pressure to find things before the end of the year stresses me out. This year, I allowed myself a slight reprieve, and instead of cramming everything in by December 31st, I’m working my way through my to-watch list and will put together my final thoughts when I’m ready. Speaking of 2020 films on my to-watch list…
Minari (2020, dir. Lee Isaac Chung)
Much like the Criterion “C” at the beginning of a home release, any film that begins its runtime with stylized A24 is going to have my attention. A24 existing as a low budget outlet for creative voices to make bold statements unbeholden to the impact on box office performance. Minari is the perfect film for the studio in that sense. While an American film, the dialogue is primarily in Korean, and the drama of the Korean-American Yi family is not something that will play to the masses.
Despite all of this, for people willing to give the A24 brand a watch, Minari does what so many of their dramas accomplish: highlight the universal through the specific. The film is portrayed as a classic American Dream story when the family purchase a farm in Arkansas. Unlike the American fairy tale that has been told for generations, the American Dream has never been true. There will be no pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. Instead, the film focuses on how the poisonous indoctrination to father capitalism creates rifts in the family.
I don’t think it’s just my politics that are finding this reading; the only way that the film is specifically dated as being from the 1980s is through a Ronald Reagan name drop after all. The movie opens with their relocation to the remote acreage that will become their farm, and from the beginning it’s clear that the father is making decisions for the family in accordance with his dream. While he may think it’s in the family best interests, it’s clear that it’s not. The mother, rightfully, counters that the lure of financial independence is no reason to live an hour away from the nearest hospital when you have a child, David. with a potentially deadly heart condition. This argument once again comes to a head when the family is in an Oklahoma City hospital for David to get an ultrasound, and the father chooses the safety of his crop samples over being with David for the appointment. The climax of the film, which I’ll avoid spoiling, plays directly into this thesis as well.
I got a little lost on a tangent with this one. The film is beautiful and will undoubtedly be appearing on my best of 2020 list when I get around to it. It pulled at my heart strings as well as my political mind, and the blurb it receives on an eventual year end list will reflect that. Expect quite a few more 2020 movies in the weeks to come. There’s still 20 or so films that I’d like to see before then.