2020 was certainly...a year. For my entire existence on this Earth - as it has been for every single person reading this - the movies have offered an escape from the harsh realities of life. Movie theaters have been my sanctuary, my safe haven. And since becoming a professional film critic in 2010 - a fulfillment of a life-long dream - they've become my home away from home...A place that I would visit 2-3 times per week, to catch up with friends and fellow critics and to partake in an activity and place that I apparently had been taking for granted all these years.
I haven't been to a movie theater since March 2020, and it hurts.
Movies are still my passion and a huge part of my life, and as is the case with every one of us in 2020, they've recently been relegated to home TV screens, or in a pinch, iPads or laptops.
It's just not the same, and it sucks.
But when 2020 handed the movie industry lemons, they made delicious, refreshing lemonade. Yes, in a year like no other, there were still great films being made, they just weren't playing on the big-screen. As several major movie releases were postponed or shuffled to streaming services, many smaller films carried the torch for the industry. Oh, there were great films in 2020. Don't let anyone tell you different. The problem has just been that this year, they've been harder to find, and with a slew of streaming platforms, there are just so many places to look.
Luckily I'm still here, watching movies, and organizing for you the best of the best. What follows is a list of my 20 favorite films of the year, and I hope that you get a chance to find them too.
One quick caveat before we begin...it's been harder than ever in 2020 to decipher how to categorize certain works. For this list's purposes, I'm taking the cues directly from the studios. So for example, the five-part Amazon "mini-series" (or is it a collection of five films?) "Small Axe" by Steve McQueen? Amazon is qualifying them for Emmys, not Oscars, so they're not on this list (despite this collection of TV episodes curiously being named "Best Film" by the LA Film Critics Circle). Nor is the HBO concert film by Spike Lee, "David Byrne's American Utopia" for similar reasons.
Last but not least, by far, the absolute best thing I've seen all year was "Hamilton" on Disney+. Not even a close second. But again, this is not technically a movie, so it's not on this list. Speaking of "Hamilton," check out the Hulu doc "Freestyle Love Supreme" and the HBO doc "Siempre, Luis" as great companion pieces, or just to get more of a dose of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Here then, are the top 20 films of 2020:
#20 - "Fatman" (Saban Films)
#19 - "The Trial of the Chicago 7" (Netflix)
#18 - "Minari" - (A24)
("Minari" qualified with a limited-release on December 11th, 2020, with wide-release set for February 12th, 2021. Check back for full review).
#17 - "One Night in Miami" (Amazon Prime)
#16 - "Standing Up, Falling Down" (Shout! Studios)
#15 - "The Invisible Man" (Universal)
#14 - "On the Rocks" (Apple TV+)
#13 - "Promising Young Woman" (Focus Features)
#12 - "The Way Back" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
#11 - "The Outpost" (Screen Media)
#10 - "Wolfwalkers" (Apple TV+)
What I had said about it: "You don't quite realize how "soft" and watered-down animated films in America have become over the years, until you see a film from overseas...an absolutely stunning visual achievement." (Read Full Review).
(Available on Apple TV+).
#9 - "Beasts Clawing at Straws" (Megabox Plus M)
What I had said about it: "Told in a time-bending way that would make "Pulp Fiction" proud, "Beasts" keeps you guessing...You find yourself rooting for no one in particular, just sitting back and enjoying the chaos...I don't know the last time I've truly enjoyed a ride a movie has taken me on more than "Beasts Clawing at Straws." (Read Full Review).
(Available on VOD).
#8 - "Possessor" (Neon)
Why it's on this list: I didn't see "Possessor" when it first came out in October 2020, but after catching up with it I can say there is no other movie that sticks with you after watching it quite like "Possessor." It's not just the goriest film of 2020, it's one of the smartest, and features a killer (no pun intended) performance by Christopher Abbott. It's a must for any fan of the horror/sci-fi genre.
(Available on Google Play and/or VOD).
#7 - "Pieces of a Woman" (Netflix)
Why it's on this list: My full review for this film is coming closer to the movie's Netflix release date in January, but wow. Fans of "The Crown" might be aware of actress Vanessa Kirby, but the rest of the world will be too once they see "Pieces of a Woman," which follows Martha (Kirby) and her husband, Sean (Shia LaBeouf), as they cope with an immeasurable loss. Ellen Burstyn also gives an award-worthy supporting performance in this striking, powerful drama, which also features on of the most harrowing, painful 30-minutes on film this year, or maybe ever.
("Pieces of a Woman" qualifies with a limited-release on December 30th, 2020, and comes to Netflix on January 7th, 2021).
#6 - "The Forty-Year-Old-Version" (Netflix)
Why it's on this list: I also originally missed this October 2020 Netflix release, but man am I ecstatic that I caught up to it. What a bold entrance for co-producer, star, writer and director Radha Blank, whose film about re-invention and friendship was clearly heavily influenced by Spike Lee (Blank actually produced and wrote for Spike's "She's Gotta Have It" TV series). This film is raw and confident, and once you get in its groove it's impossible to not let it affect you. It's a "coming-of-age" film for an age group not accustomed to this level of transformation, or optimism.
(Available on Netflix).
#5 - "Uncle Frank" (Amazon Prime)
What I had said about it: "Uncle Frank" is powered by Paul Bettany and Sophia Lillis, but grounded in the humanity of the script. It's Alan Ball's best work since "American Beauty" and a screenplay that just might land him another nod. Yes, from what's going on in front of the camera to what was taking place behind it, it will be hard to keep "Uncle Frank" a secret come awards season." (Read Full Review).
(Available on Amazon Prime Video).
#4 - "Martin Eden" (Kino Lorber)
What I had said about it: "There is a timeless quality to "Martin Eden"...it's the sort of transcendent, passionate film that will remind you of what made you fall in love with the movies in the first place." (Read Full Review).
(Available on select Virtual Cinemas and VOD).
#3 - "Nomadland" (Searchlight Pictures)
What I had said about it: "A love-letter to the down-trodden, "Nomadland" is one of the most poetic, fascinating and heart-breaking journeys you'll take in a movie this year." (Read Full Review).
(Available on select Virtual Cinemas and VOD).
#2 - "Sound of Metal" (Amazon Prime)
What I had said about it: "From a story by Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine," "The Place Beyond the Pines") and written/directed by first-time filmmaker, Darius Marder, "Sound of Metal" has a raw, lived-in feel to it. Marder proves himself as a master of patience...a virtue not found in many modern films, let alone by newbie directors. He lets scenes breathe, and the sound mixing/editing will all most certainly land the film some award laurels. Through Ruben, he makes the audience experience hearing loss, and the lonely isolation it creates. The effect is - no pun intended - deafening...There isn't a phony note in the entirety of "Sound of Metal."" (Read Full Review).
(Available on Amazon Prime Video).
#1 - "Da 5 Bloods" (Netflix)
What I had said about it: "Leave it to Spike Lee to deliver a timely, deeply resonant - and dare I say -"masterpiece," at this precise time in American history. His latest joint is also his best film in decades, and should be essential viewing...with a fantastic ensemble, award-worthy performances (Delroy Lindo especially), and a filmmaker firing on all cylinders. There are imperfections across this two-and-a-half-hour joint, but never a dull moment. It's also a film that isn't just entertaining, it's essential." (Read Full Review).
Why it's the best film of 2020: Plain and simple, Spike Lee. When "Da 5 Bloods" hit Netflix back in June, the world had no idea that they'd be watching Chadwick Boseman's second-to-last performance. His death in August shook everybody, and focus went his final screen performance in another Netflix film, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." He is no less impressive in "Da 5 Bloods," and if he earns any posthumous awards buzz, it's not simply to honor his legacy, but to honor his achievements this year...they're truly deserving.
Boseman is just one cog in the wheel that makes "Da 5 Bloods" roll. No one makes them quite like Spike, and its fitting that his long-time player, Delroy Lindo, should FINALLY get the attention he deserves with his resonating performance.
You think there's a better film in 2020 than "Da 5 Bloods"? To quote Isiah Whitlock Jr.: "Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit."
RELATED: Top 10 Documentary Films of 2020
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