Though 2020 was an incredibly challenging year, we’re thankful we could keep doing what we do. When the world shut down in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to continue posting films daily, though it felt a bit inconsequential at times. Same could be said for screening films during the summer protests for social justice, which weighed heavily on us and led to another difficult period of reckoning. We were disappointed to suspend our live screenings in Brooklyn (until theaters reopen), but it gave us the time to launch a major new endeavor, NoBudge², our new subscription streaming service that will be coming to iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android in March or April (sign up here!). In all, we screened 210 films this year; among those are 16 we’d like to designate as our NoBudge Films of the Year, films that resonated deeply, introduced an exciting new voice, or were most representative of the NoBudge ethos. Note: All films that were released on NoBudge.com this year were eligible but films that have been thus far exclusively available on NoBudge² were not — those films become eligible next year after being screened on NoBudge.com.
A brilliant sci-fi about 10 aliens in human host bodies learning how to be men. Joseph Sackett directs “Dominant Species,” a profound and strangely funny exploration on masculinity and social conformity, executed with gorgeous widescreen compositions and impressively non-human performances.
EAST OF THE RIVER
When Teonna is unexpectedly suspended from school for the day, she sets out with a couple friends on an adventure through Washington, DC. “East of the River,” directed by Hannah Peterson, is a beautifully observed slice-of-life drama carried by wonderfully natural performances and teeming with moments of humanity and humor. It’s top-tier observational filmmaking with a lovely sense of atmosphere and pacing, rendered with warmth and authenticity.
A young cowboy takes his estranged daughter to visit his dying dad. Max Walker-Silverman directs “Lefty/Righty,” a spare Western drama/comedy about fatherhood told with impressive economy of language and tonal precision. The film itself feels like an old country/folk ballad; a steady, patient rhythm allowing quiet touches of humor and scenic visuals of wide open spaces and distant mountain ranges.
POTS N’ TOTS
The bond of a ceramics duo is threatened by a conniving pottery studio head. “Pots N’ Tots,” directed by Kati Skelton, is an absurd tale of love, artistic collaboration and the powers that be. Both over-the-top and grounded, the film hovers around parody while demonstrating a genuine affection for its medley of tropes and narrative twists.
In Haley Elizabeth Anderson’s lyrical new film, “Pillars,” a young girl drifts between her parents’ guidance and her own burgeoning feelings of independence. A tender coming-of-age portrait, beautifully shot and performed, the film captures the complexity of youth in simple, profound ways. We featured Anderson’s previous short, “Get Out Fast,” in 2017, and both films carry with them a wondrous sense of longing and curiosity, each drawn with a striking tenderness and waves of quiet emotion.
A struggling actor suffering from an ear infection takes his pain out on the world. “Ear Ache” is an uncomfortably engrossing dark comedy directed by Alex Kavutskiy carried by a potent, on-the-edge performance from DeMorge Brown. Enlivened by a tense score, Kavutskiy delivers a shrewd psychological portrait of a miserable man, somehow managing to keep it funny and high-energy throughout.
When Rebecca starts believing she can change the world with an old video game controller, it creates a rift with her boyfriend, Octavio. Esteban Pedraza directs “The Nurturing,” a heady parable on empathy and belief, rich in ideas and atmosphere. Pedraza’s film raises a profound set of existential questions about grief, the search for harmony (personal and societal), and what it takes for two people with differing beliefs to come together.
A film crew follows three participants of Miami’s annual T Ball, a gathering of loved ones modeling R.I.P. t-shirts and innovative costumes designed in honor of the dead. Keisha Rae Witherspoon directs “T,” a remarkably original portrait on life and death that operates in both intimate and cosmic modes. The joyful celebration of the dead is complex, layered, and mystical. For a film about death, it’s alive in a way few films are.
BYE BYE BODY
When Nina fails to meet her goal in the final week of weight loss camp, she considers drastic alternatives. “Bye Bye Body,” directed by Charlotte Benbeniste, is a tender snapshot about body image and self-esteem delivered with wonderfully natural performances and lovely 35mm images. Benbeniste has full command over the material, a richly conceived and executed tone poem seeping with feeling that doesn’t resort to easy answers or messaging.
THE FIRST TASTE
An army of Catholic high school girls prepare for their upcoming play while dealing with the ugliness of adolescence and the intrusion of a boy into their drama troupe. Chloe Xtina directs “The First Taste,” an expressive coming-of-age character study about the passions and fascinations of a group of theater kids. While balancing out the larger contextual, cultural, and gender concerns, Xtina’s film is constructed as a series of vivid details, a film that perfectly captures the vulnerability and naïveté of teenage life.
SEE YOU SOON
Vincent travels across the country to spend a weekend in New York with someone he's been talking to for months on a dating app. “See You Soon,” directed by Tyler Rabinowitz, is a tender portrait of young love between two men meeting in real life after establishing a deep connection online. Rabinowitz beautifully captures the romance in stages — the initial awkwardness, the moments of connection, the opening up, the intimacy, the attachment — finding a natural poignancy in each.
EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN
Instructional videos on how to survive an active shooter attack send a paranoid man into a self-fulfilling spiral. Dylan Redford directs “Emergency Action Plan,” a layered satire and personal essay film which explores emergency readiness drills ranging from Redford’s childhood to the present day. A sign of the times project rendered with dry sense of humor and anchored with stylized recreations of earthquake drills and absurd visualizations of (im)possible outcomes.
GAS GETS IN YOUR EYES
Henry loses his vision after being exposed to an unknown toxic gas. “Gas Gets In Your Eyes,” by director Madeline Leshner, is an imaginative experimental drama full of startling images and unsettling developments. Leshner claims a unique voice, at times almost comedic, with her exploration of a dystopian scenario delivered as an immersive sensory experience.
TYLER WORKS AT THE GAS STATION
Nick’s existential pondering is interrupted by the arrival of his girlfriend’s new intern and muse. Samuel Centore directs “Tyler Works at the Gas Station,” a stylish dry comedy about a family unit of cultured young creatives which places its sharply drawn characters in an appealing fashion magazine aesthetic, complete with beautiful clothing, haircuts, and living spaces. Centore’s film is effortlessly witty and fashionable while tackling the age old conundrums of art vs money, creative freedom vs reality, open-mindedness vs jealously.
AN INDEPENDENT MOVIE ABOUT A YOUNG ARTIST
A young artist struggles to make a movie about a young artist who struggles to make a movie. Zenzelé Soa-Clarke directs and stars in “An Independent Movie About a Young Artist,” a meta breakdown on the tropes of slice-of-life indie filmmaking (“mumblecore, character driven, all the shit”), and an attempt to write her own film of the sort. A film about the struggle to create and how to define yourself by that creativity, it manages a light touch with a wry, low-key style, i.e. frames within frames, split screens, and screen shots.
I ADORE DOLORES
Dolores - a manic, overly optimistic divorcée - tries to win back her clown stepdaughter by purchasing the building she lives in under house arrest. Sam Marine and Emily Wilson direct “I Adore Dolores,” an anything-goes Pilot episode of a TV comedy series the world needs. “I Adore Dolores” goes where it wants to go, left turns all the way, an instant classic of inspired buffoonery.