My Moments Out Of Time – Glenn Gaylord’s Look Back at 2020 In Film

I’ve always loved what the movies have brought to my life. The communal feeling of sitting in the dark with a group of strangers and laughing, screaming, or just dreaming together became my “church”. A long-discontinued but influential annual column called “Moments Out Of Time” from Film Comment magazine became my “Bible” and one of the great highlights of my childhood. At the beginning of every year, I couldn’t wait for my father to come home from work with that particular issue. The critics would cite their favorite scenes, images, or lines of dialogue, even from films they may not have liked, because let’s face it, good or bad, most may have a great moment or two.

This past year, of course, resulted in a much smaller screen and no fellow audience members to reassure me with their reactions or to annoy me with their talking and texting. Is it weird that I miss all of it? I viewed most films from my living room with only my doggy and an old set of flannel pajamas to bring me comfort. There may have been popcorn and ice cream involved too, but I’m neither confirming nor denying. Regardless of the delivery system, 2020 had its share of gems. I don’t do Top Ten Lists, but Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Two Eyes, and Small Axe (TV or film be damned) would surely make the cut. I saw hundreds of films, yet even I can’t see them all, but here, in no particular order, are my Moments Out Of Time in film for 2020:

Swankie (Charlene Swankie), a woman struggling with cancer, stops time to simply yet stunningly recount her beautiful experiences as Fern (Francis McDormand) empathetically listens, “I’m gonna be 75 this year and I think I’ve lived a pretty good life. I’ve seen some really neat things kayaking all those places. You know, a moose family on a river in Idaho. Big white pelicans landing just six feet over my kayak on a lake in Colorado or come around a bend, was a cliff, and find hundred and hundreds of swallow nests on the wall of the cliff and the swallows flying all around and reflecting in the water so it looks like I’m flying with the swallows and they’re under me and over me and all around me. And little babies are hatching out and eggshells are falling out of the nests and landing on the water and floating on the water. These little white shells. It was just so awesome. I felt like I’d done enough. My life was complete. If I died right then, that moment, it’d be perfectly fine” – Nomadland

In the late 1800s, two people stand in a field and speak of a Two Spirit person off in the distance. The Native American guide (Kiowa Gordon) explains that “Some are born girls. Some are born boys….some are both man and woman.” His white, English companion (Ben Rigby) says, “That’s quite confusing.” After a pause, in what simply and succinctly shuts down that argument in the film and in all of our lives, the guide responds, “No…it’s not.” – Two Eyes

Put Paris Hilton’s 2006 single, Stars Are Blind together with Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham’s characters singing, dancing and opening up potato chip bags to it in a pharmacy and you get the most swoon-worthy, most romantic scene of 2020. This, despite knowing in a film this dark, the House That Hilton Built will soon crumble – Promising Young Woman

A young Black blues musician finally breaks through a mysterious door in a recording studio only to find out that from his worldview, when one door opens, another door shuts – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

A cow floats on a river raft towards a Pacific Northwest settlement, bringing with it the possibility of milk for a donut recipe, but also ominously kicking off a slow, screw-tightening storyline to cave in on our young protagonists – First Cow

At a gathering in a private residence, couples dance so sensuously to Silly Games, it will make you blush. Then the music stops, but the partygoers keep singing a cappella, allowing us to bear witness to a passionate community in their safe space – Small Axe, “Lover’s Rock” episode

No longer content singing songs made for white audiences, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) performs A Change Is Gonna Come, and in that moment we witness the birth of an activist whose life ended way too soon – One Night In Miami

The camera swoops from a switchboard operator’s office through a small New Mexico town into and out of a crowded gymnasium to land at a radio station in a bravura shot which not only convinces us that maybe there is something “out there”, but that even with a micro budget, films can inspire awe – The Vast Of Night

Right after the end of World War II, a Russian woman sweetly plays on the floor with a little boy. It’s a moment of levity after the horrors and trauma of the past. Suddenly, she has a seizure, which has tragic, unforgettable consequences in this breathless single take – Beanpole

A young woman sinks further and further into despair as she answers a social worker’s multiple choice questions regarding her upcoming abortion. It gives the film its title, and quietly, powerfully gives us an entire life of a character in a few agonizing minutes – Never Rarely Sometimes Always

With its dazzling wide shots of a bright music classroom, a shadowy nightclub, or a bustling city, this animated film has some of the best lighting and scope I’ve seen in a film all year – Soul

A technocrat, who has tried mightily to fix the broken healthcare system in Romania, has an intimate conversation with his father and realizes it’s completely hopeless as corruption and politics create nothing but dead ends – Collective

A young film production company employee (Julia Garner) starts her very early day by cleaning her unseen boss’s office. Donning latex gloves, she picks up empty bottles, clears trash, and most tellingly and ominously, wipes down the seats of a couch – The Assistant

The adult David says to his younger self, “Don’t worry. You’ll make it through. And you’ll have quite the ride on the way.” Cue me ugly crying for minutes afterward. – The Personal History Of David Copperfield

In a staggering single shot, a woman experiences the pain and joy of childbirth. An unforgettable Vanessa Kirby screams, belches, moans, and cries, taking us on an insane rollercoaster of emotions and dumps us out into an uncertain world – Pieces Of A Woman

“So you’re asking me to go off this theory that you got about a white married male, who happens to be a father, living in the suburbs of Kritika County, who also happens to be your AA sponsor, which I might add, has been secretly running around, cramming objects, animals, and children up his asshole. Then he somehow digests them, and he does this in sprees. Almost in serial killer fashion. Is that about it?” – Butt Boy

A working class Boston man welcomes an inspector into his home to confirm the presence of rats. As he matter-of-factly shows him the hot spots, you subtly feel his shame at his own living conditions – City Hall

An unflappable Korean woman (the incredible Yuh-jung Youn) asks to try her grandson’s Mountain Dew. Unbeknownst to her, he gives her urine instead. She laughs it off, even admitting it wasn’t bad, proving that as unconventional as she is, she’s still a pretty amazing grandma – Minari

A drummer (Riz Ahmed) facing extreme hearing loss tells his departing girlfriend that she’s his entire world. It’s what heartbreak really looks like – The Sound Of Metal

At her wit’s end, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) gets on the phone with her husband’s sadistic boss to confront him about his ill-treatment. The boss uses a tracking device to monitor his employees’ every move even while her husband sits injured at a hospital: “How do you get away with this? How does your company get away with treating people like this? This is people’s lives. This is my family. And I’m telling you now, don’t fuck with my family. And fuck you! Fuck your fucking device and your fucking phone! Put it up your fucking arse!” – Sorry We Missed You

As they stand before the Badlands of South Dakota, Francis McDormand gazes at David Strathairn with a mysterious, Mona Lisa smile. It’s the look of a person being fed by the beauty of her surroundings, or of someone lost in the world, or both – Nomadland

Two people have a tense meal at a fancy restaurant. One of them gets distracted by a knife impossibly dangling mid-air in front of them. Suddenly, a throat bleeds. The knife flies into someone’s hand. A pause to register the shock, followed by screams. The year’s boldest and best WTF moment – The Invisible Man

Perhaps the second best WTF moment in 2020 film occurs when a mine explodes. You knew it was coming. The characters talk a lot about mines, but the tone feels so casual until it descends into carnage, thanks to Spike Lee’s ability to toy with his audience – Da 5 Bloods

Two high school drama students Gene (Nick Pugliese) and Oscar (Nico Greetham), stand in front of a mirror changing out of their costumes and removing makeup. Oscar catches Gene staring at his bare torso, realizes what’s happening, and then slyly defuses the situation by handing Gene a towel and saying, “Try this, cretin.” Gene responds, “Me no bath good” and pounds his chest while they both make ape sounds. Crisis averted. It’s the best “Not Coming Out” scene I’ve ever seen – Dramarama

Tilda Cobham-Hervey as the legendary Helen Reddy, stands in a recording studio, nervously doing a take on her first single. Switching gears, her husband gives her a pep talk and suggests she tries the B-side instead. He does a line of coke while she relaxes and breathes. A sign of future tensions, but not for now. Presented almost in it’s entirety, she beautifully sings “I Don’t Know How To Love Him”, giving us that gorgeously confident star-making moment I never grow tired of in movies – I Am Woman

Marisa Tomei breaks up a fight between her son and her new boyfriend, making sure both know in no uncertain terms that neither is off the hook, thus cementing her status as National Treasure – The King Of Staten Island

Speaking of National Treasures, Olympia Dukakis, the subject of her own documentary, hilariously doesn’t understand Siri, giving us another reason to always love her – Olympia

Elizabeth Moss, as famed author Shirley Jackson, finds sadistic joy in messing with her husband, her feminist rage wrapped up in the most devious of smiles – Shirley

I will never look at a thumbtack in the same way ever again – Swallow

A singing superstar (Tracee Ellis Ross) looks across a recording studio at her former assistant (Dakota Johnson) and smiles. Johnson smiles back warmly and shuts her eyes for a moment in a kind of prayer as the strings on the soundtrack swell. She opens her eyes up again and looks back at Ross. Magic has been made as well as a true, well-earned sisterhood – The High Note

Kate Bornstein, in a lovely, empathetic performance as a therapist, brings a hilarious moment of levity to the final moments as she advises her client on how to move forward – Two Eyes

A security guard mocks a gay male couple by asking if they’re boyfriends. One of them responds, “You’re a child. He’s not my boyfriend. This man is more to me than you can dream. He’s the moon when I’m lost in darkness, and warmth when I shiver in cold. And his kiss still thrills me even after a millennium. His heart overflows with a kindness of which this world is not worthy. I love this man beyond measure and reason. He’s not my boyfriend. He is all, and he is more.” – The Old Guard

“Sit and swivel!” – In an otherwise negligible film, Glenn Close’s MaMaw won me over with this introductory line that pretty much sums up how I feel about 2020 – Hillbilly Elegy

The Fertility Dance. Easily the funniest scene of 2020. My dog almost gave me CPR when she saw me doubled over with laughter – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Barefoot musicians in sharp grey suits carrying portable instruments as they dance in unison may be the most striking, joyful image in a film this year – David Byrne’s American Utopia

Two women (Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan) in a museum, look across at each other, a glass display case of fossils the only thing between them, yet they may as well be standing miles apart – Ammonite

A young gay man, one of the victims of torture by the Chechen regime, sits in front of cameras at a press conference. His face obscured by CGI to protect his identity, he speaks and the special effects disappear to reveal the real person. It is one of the most stunning and moving moments of bravery I have ever witnessed – Welcome To Chechnya

Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) appears in court bound and gagged in an attempt to stifle his outbursts and in turn presents oppression at its most demeaning – The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Luca Marinelli transforms over the course of the film from a dreamy matinee idol with aspirations of becoming a great writer to a weathered adult with bad teeth and a faraway look in his eyes – Martin Eden

Bill Murray talks his way out of a ticket by casually schmoozing with a police officer. Some may call it a blatant example of white privilege, while others may see it as yet another example that it’s Bill Murray’s world, and we’re all just his guests – On The Rocks

The President of the Philippines looks a journalist in the eye and threatens her with prison time for daring to challenge him with a question. Sound familiar? – A Thousand Cuts

Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence finally has a worthy successor to great cinematic mental breakdowns with Aubrey Plaza’s gaslit Allison writhing on the floor and holding up a film production – Black Bear

Transgender writer, actress, producer and activist Jen Richards achingly recalls a father looking at his child which made her long for someone to look at her in the same way – Disclosure

The slow-moving train wreck as a talented, middle-aged woman melts down onstage in front of her adoring students by repeatedly shouting “Yo! Yo! Yo!” and little else at a Rap Battle, sadly squandering her big moment – The Forty-Year-Old Version

A young gay man (Matt Pascua) complains about his boyfriend to his housekeeper (Ada Luz Pla), “When you tell me something, I totally get it…but when Ricky tries to help, I hate him for it.” She responds, “That’s because you and I are not fucking!” – Where We Go From Here

Cloris Leachman dons her ice skates one last time and lies down in bed, while in a nightclub, her grandson slays his big drag moment. A baton has been passed – Jump, Darling

A young, exonerated woman stands on the steps of a courthouse simultaneously grateful for her freedom while also devastated that her “accomplice” still faces the death penalty for unwittingly killing Kim Jong-Un’s brother – Assassins

A family of scam artists contort themselves every which way as they try to evade their landlord on the other side of a fence – Kajillionaire

“This table is 100% not acceptable and I think that you know that, don’t you [reading her name tag], Becky? Mmm hmm. Listen, I’m actually not going to go back and forth with you about why this table is unacceptable. You’re gonna seat us over there. Thank you so much, Rebecca! You’re doing great!” Gabourey Sidibe charismatically challenges some not so subtle racist micro-aggressions at a restaurant – Antebellum

Bill Nighy hops from a stairway and busts into a trot for my favorite character introduction of 2020 – Emma

After an hour and twenty minutes of fairly inconsequential fluff, this largely unnecessary musical remake of an 80s classic finds its footing as the entire teen cast preps for the Prom and the expectations of sex it brings. This well-directed and edited sequence to the David Bowie/Queen classic, Under Pressure delivers the gravity – Valley Girl (2020)

From overhead, we see a seemingly drunk Cassie (Carey Mulligan) splayed on a bed as a man removes her panties in an effort to take advantage of the situation. Suddenly, with a thump on the soundtrack, Cassie looks up and right at us, her co-conspirators. Quickly, she sits up in bed, clearly sober, and confronts the man by saying, “Hey.” He ignores her, but she persists, “Hey! I said what are you doing?” – Promising Young Woman

The term “couch potato” takes on a new, sickening, body horror meaning and gifts us with yet another fantastic Nicolas Cage freakout moment – Color Out Of Space

“This would be an empty world without the blues.” It’s a simple observation made profound by Viola Davis’ lived-in, slurred, and delicious delivery – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

A cell phone is held up to camera with those familiar flashing dots indicating a text is forthcoming. As Juice Newton’s Angel Of The Morning hits its first percussive moments, the message, diabolical, darkly comedic, and richly satisfying, appears – Promising Young Woman

“My problem? My problem is you. It’s the people who trot their poor children out like race horses at Belmont; who derive some perverse joy out of treating us like low-level service reps. Do you remember the teachers who sat with you, who held you by the hand, who taught you to add and subtract, or showed you Gatsby and Salinger, for the first time? Mockingbird even? Do their names escape you? Are their faces a blur? You might forget, but we don’t. We never forget. Ever.” The mask drops on Hugh Jackman’s endearing school superintendent to jaw-droppingly reveal the monster behind his misdeeds – Bad Education

An angst-ridden man sits on a bench and takes in the world before him in a way he hadn’t considered before. A moment of sheer beauty in its depiction of people living with disabilities – The Sound Of Metal

The image of an impossible, clearly gravity-defying and utterly dangerous waterslide, and the subsequent discussion about blood and flesh being scraped off the insides, is proof enough that parents and regulations in the 70s and 80s were way too lax – Class Action Park

Chadwick Boseman’s heartbreaking speech, made even more so by his tragic demise: “Now, death? Death got some style. Death will kick your ass and make you wish you never been born. That’s how bad death is. But you can rule over life. Life ain’t nothing.” – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

As they drive through a melancholy wintry landscape on their way to a disturbing family dinner, Lucy (Jessie Buckley) is clearly not connecting with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). Right before reciting a poem called Bonedog, Lucy turns around in her seat and gives us a conspiratorial look. What it means, she’ll keep to herself – I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Two people embrace in a wheat field as a lightning bolt appears in the cloudy distance…and every single shot of this fantastic film is just as evocative and gorgeous – Two Eyes

Framed in a doorway, a woman walks outside to a snowy, mountainous landscape. An homage to The Searchers which manages to surpass it with emotions as vast as the world ahead – Nomadland

Jews on their way to a concentration camp jump from a moving train, a rare moment of hope in this bleak film, only to be mercilessly gunned down moments later – The Painted Bird

The genesis of Barry Gibb’s famous falsetto revealed during a recording session of Nights On BroadwayThe Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

A tense, off-the-grid thriller goes completely Fangoria magazine exploitation gonzo in its ultra-violent final moments – Hunter Hunter

Kristen Stewart, in full on Ripley mode with her sports bra and sweats, brushes her teeth in the opening moments. A jolt rocks her subterranean station followed by a flood, giving her just enough time to escape certain death. Perhaps the shortest lead-up to an inciting incident this year – Underwater

By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic

2 thoughts on “My Moments Out Of Time – Glenn Gaylord’s Look Back at 2020 In Film

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  1. I loved reading ALL of this and can’t wait to search for the ones I want to see. Love you ❤️❤️❤️

  2. Nice read, great Moments! Too sad that Richard T. Jameson (who was the man behind the “Moments” in Film Comment, and continued them on his website until 2020) has seemingly stopped his own traditional Moments-post.

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