So, 2020… what can I say that hasn’t been said already? There’s no denying that this will go down as one of the most stressful years in modern history, but was 2020 a bad year for movies? Well, it was a frustrating year on the cinematic front. From March onward, it feels like a day hasn’t gone by without news about another tent-pole release being delayed. Some were ultimately sent directly to streaming platforms, others tried to reignite the box office, and several explored both venues. Many potential blockbusters have been shelved until 2021, although it remains uncertain if theater chains will recover by this time next year or ever.
While the future isn’t set in stone, 2020 is officially in the can. For all the hardships this year brought, the movies did help us get through it, even if we didn’t get to experience all of them in a packed theater. Although we’ll have to wait longer to see Black Widow, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and various others, 2020 gave us so many great films that it’s hard to call this a bad year for the medium. Some of them reflected the madness of 2020, others helped take our minds off 2020, and today we’re going to discuss the best 2020 had to offer.
After much consideration, I’ve decided not to include Hamilton since it’s technically a live stage recording. If I were willing to bend the rules, however, this musical sensation would fit in comfortably around the #5 spot. I fear I may be throwing away my shot, but I think my 10 picks will leave you more than satisfied nonetheless.
The best movies don’t always follow a conventional three-act structure. Minari simply shows a Korean-American living their lives as they adapt to a new home. That may sound straight-forward, but the places Lee Isaac Chung’s film takes us to are never short of profound. It’s carried by a wonderful cast, the two highlights being little Alan Kim and screen legend Youn Yuh-jung.
9. Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal may be the best movie about the deaf experience since Children of a Lesser God. Riz Ahmed gives a heartbreaking performance as a drummer who loses his hearing and much more on his reluctant road to acceptance. Paul Raci and Olivia Cooke are equally strong as his deaf mentor and girlfriend, respectively, but the real star of Darius Marder’s film is the brilliant sound design.
From The Secret of Kells, to Song of the Sea, to The Breadwinner, Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon has only gotten better with each new feature. Wolfwalkers might be their masterpiece, telling a timeless story about friendship and following your own path. It’s all executed with a stunning 2D style that pops out at the audience with every shape and color.
7. Palm Springs
After Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day, and numerous others, you’d think that the time loop genre would start emitting déjà vu. The characters are what make each of these movies unique, however, and Palm Springs has two winning leads in Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Andy Siara’s screenplay, Max Barbakow’s direction, and a slick editing team further make for one of the year’s most original romances, as well as a thoughtful story about maturity.
6. The Invisible Man
Who would’ve guessed that a contemporary version of The Invisible Man would wind up being among the year’s most enthralling entertainments? Of course, when you have a filmmaker like Leigh Whannell, a leading lady like Elisabeth Moss, and a cinematographer like Stefan Duscio, familiar source material can catch you off guard around every turn. What makes the film especially eerie is its real-world parallels concerning abusive relationships and rapidly advancing technology, making a stalker in an invisibility suit seem practical.
5. Promising Young Woman
Behind its inviting candy colors, Promising Young Woman is one of 2020’s darkest comedies. Much like a box of chocolates, though, you never know what you’re going to get. Emerald Fennell’s debut feature is indeed a revenge thriller with a quirky edge, just as the trailer promised. Fennell’s recipe is made up of several unique ingredients, however, one of which is Carey Mulligan, who has never been more invigorating to watch. The film ultimately leaves you with a devilishly delicious taste in your mouth.
4. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar for co-writing BlacKkKlansman. He deserves to win another for directing Da 5 Bloods. While Do the Right Thing remains Lee’s best film, Da 5 Bloods might be his most well-made and well-acted. Delroy Lindo has been doing strong work as a character actor for decades and he turns in a career-best performance here as a former soldier forever haunted by his past. His character arc accumulates with a deeply emotional scene featuring Chadwick Boseman in one of his last performances.
3. One Night in Miami
What happens when you put Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and the athlete formally known as Cassius Clay in a room together? You get one of the most passionately written, exquisitely acted, and masterfully directed films of the year. 2020 gave us several powerful movies about the black experience, although few were more thought-provoking than One Night in Miami. Regina King and Kemp Powers have made a film well-worthy of the four legends at its core.
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Almost a decade after the Social Network, Aaron Sorkin has written another thoroughly gripping drama charged by his rapid-fire dialogue. Sorkin also gets behind the camera this time in what’s easily his finest directorial achievement. Between Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, and Frank Langella, you could easily pack the Best Supporting Actor lineup with this film’s cast, although my favorite is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman.
What’s the meaning of life? It’s a question we’ve pondered for eons and the answers found in Pixar’s latest triumph range from humorous, to inventive, to wise. It’s only fitting that Soul would be released on Christmas Day, serving as a reminder that, despite the countless struggles we must endure, it truly is a wonderful life. In a year like 2020, you couldn’t ask for a more meaningful message or a more delightful film to get that message across.
Honorable Mentions (Alphabetically)
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Your Woman
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
News of the World
On the Rocks
Over the Moon
Pieces of a Woman
Wonder Woman 1984