2020 is officially over, thank goodness. It was a very stressful year thanks to a global pandemic and too many social injustices to count, but we made it. This was arguably the strangest year in cinematic history, as movie theaters were open, then closed, then partially opened again, and then mostly closed again, while major studios moved their film slate to 2021 and beyond. There was also a large number of films that went to streaming services and even a studio that decide to put all of their major releases on a streaming service. What does the future hold for cinemas? Nobody knows, but if the 2020 movie year was any indication, the future is looking great.
2020 was a sensational movie year. Though the films weren’t as easy to access as just going to the cinema, there were tons of great movies that came out. With a lot of blockbusters and franchises being pushed, 2020 allowed us to focus on indies, foreign films, documentaries, and other films that would normally get lost in a “regular” movie year. I saw 183 2020 releases and this year was as strong as any, regardless of how weird this year was. These are my pics for the best movies of 2020. I’ve listed ten movies that almost made the list and then my official top ten.
ANOTHER ROUND (Thomas Vinterberg)
- A great midlife crises movie about the enjoyment of life.
BACURAU (Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
- The most unpredictable movie of 2020.
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah)
- We waited seventeen years for a Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett to make a return to the big screen and they did not disappoint.
CHARM CITY KINGS (Angel Manuel Soto)
- A gripping coming-of-age film featuring the surprise performance of the year from Meek Mill.
DA 5 BLOODS (Spike Lee)
- A big, bold, ambitious war film from Spike Lee.
THE DARK AND THE WICKED (Bryan Bertino)
- The best horror movie of the year.
FREAKY (Christopher Landon)
- Vince Vaughn gives the best comedic performance of 2020 in this horror-comedy.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (Eliza Hittman)
- An unflinching, raw look at a teenager’s journey to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
NEWS OF THE WORLD (Paul Greengrass)
- Paul Greengrass’ epic western features top-notch performances from Tom Hanks and newcomer Helena Zengler.
TIME (Garrett Bradley)
- A powerful documentary about one woman’s fight for the release of her husband who is serving a 60-year sentence in prison.
And now, my top ten films of 2020.
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2020
10. THE TRUFFLE HUNTERS
Director: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw
- 2020 was a pretty crummy year filled with negativity, anger, and sadness. A movie like The Truffle Hunters is the exact movie we needed this year. It’s a lovely, moving documentary about a small village in Italy where a few old men and their dogs hunt truffles that sell for thousands of dollars. The Truffle Hunters looks at how these hunters don’t care about the glory of finding these expensive truffles or how much money they go for. These old men care about nothing more than bonding with their dogs. The Truffle Hunters is a sweet, heartwarming, interesting documentary.
9. THE WAY BACK
Director: Gavin O’Conner
- It’s no secret Ben Affleck’s life was in shambles for years after getting a divorce from Jennifer Garner. Partying, drinking, and rehab for Affleck were all over the tabloids and it didn’t look good for the Oscar-winner. But Affleck channels all of his anger, sadness, frustration, and everything that happened to him the past few years to give the best performance of his career in Gavin O’Conner’s The Way Back. Affleck plays a former basketball great-turned-alcoholic who gets a job coaching at his alma mater, which gives him new life motivation. Affleck’s performance is one of the year’s very best and O’Conner proves that he’s the best sports-movie director working today, with authentic, exciting games. This is the redemption story of 2020, both in real life and cinematically.
8. THE FATHER
Director: Florian Zeller
- Florian Zeller made one of the best directorial debuts of 2020 with The Father. Based on his play of the same name, The Father looks at Anthony, a once brilliant man who refuses to accept that he is fading into dementia. Anthony Hopkins plays Anthony and it is the best performance I saw from any actor in 2020 as he fully commits to portraying a once charming and sweet man who becomes frustrating and tragic as his mind begins to go. Olivia Colman is also brilliant and heartbreaking as Anthony’s daughter who is pushing to give him help. Zeller plays with our heads and puts us in the mind of Anthony. We are just as lost and confused as Anthony is until the very end, which will crush your heart. The Father is an acting showcase and a great directorial debut.
Director Chloé Zhao
- With only three films under her belt, Chloé Zhao has solidified her name as one of the premier directors working today. Nobody makes movies like Zhao and Nomadland is a perfect example of what makes her great. Frances McDormand is sensational as Fern, a woman living out of her van after the 2008 recession and moving from community to community, job to job. Zhao brings us into the modern West where lost souls roam the country in search of independence and away from materialistic world we think is the American dream. Shot with a small crew and mostly non-actors, Nomadland is a breathtaking look at a lost America.
Director: Christopher Nolan
- Tenet might best be remembered for how persistent director Christopher Nolan was on releasing the film in theaters in the middle of a pandemic. You might also have heard that the dialog of the film is nearly inaudible due to the sound mixing and ultra-loud score and sound effects. None of these “complaints” bothered me one bit. Tenet is still a truly stunning film. It’s an ambitious, globe-trotting, mind-benind spy thriller that will have your head spinning. The scale is huge, the score is a banger, and the action is thrilling. Say what you want and think what you will, Christopher Nolan knows how to make movies and Tenet is his most bold venture yet.
5. DAVID BYRNE’S AMERICAN UTOPIA
Director: Spike Lee
- The best documentary of 2020 is also one of the greatest concert movies ever made. Playing as a sister movie to Jonathon Demme’s Stop Making Sense, the great Spike Lee stepped behind the camera to give us David Byrne’s American Utopia and he did not disappoint. Lee gives us the full concert experience. He pits the camera in the audience and makes us feel like we’re sitting dead center in the theater. But what Lee does that makes this concert so special is show us the genius of David Byrne. This isn’t just a film about the songs, though they are are sensational, but this is a showcase of creativity, love, passion, and art and it is one of the best experiences I had in 2020.
4. PALM SPRINGS
Director: Max Barbakow
- Palm Spring was the best comedy of 2020 and it wasn’t even close. Coming from a stellar original screenplay from Andy Siara, Palm Springs is unlike any romantic comedy of the last ten years. Andy Samberg is brilliant as Nyles, a man who lives the same day over and over again. How long has he been doing this? Who knows, but it gets a little more interesting when Sarah (Cristin Milioti) unintentionally joins Nyles in living the same day over and over again, though she isn’t as keen about it as Nyles. Hilarious, sweet, and wildly original, Palm Springs is a look at two loners who are trying to find a purpose for living and a reason to love, even when their life is going nowhere. Palm Springs has the makings of a comedy classic.
3. FIRST COW
Director: Kelly Reichardt
- Director Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow is a quiet, sweet, tragic look at a friendship between two people and their magical cow. John Magaro and Orion Lee give delightful performances as two travelers in 1860’s Oregon who strike up a friendship and become successful businessmen when they create delicious oily cakes using the milk from the first cow they’ve seen. Gorgeously photographed with great colors, sets, and costumes that really put us in the time, First Cow is a meticulously made gem that continues to show that Reichardt is a master at looking at the small details of a massive world.
Director: David Fincher
- Mank was David Fincher’s return to the silver screen since 2014’s Gone Girl and what a return it was. Mank takes us behind the scenes of how Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (an outstanding Gary Oldman) wrote Citizen Kane, a film many people consider to be the greatest of all-time. Directing from an intricate and masterful screenplay from Jack Fincher (David’s late father), Fincher gives us a time capsule film about old Hollywood as well as a look at a misunderstood, unappreciated genius. Like all Fincher films Mank is a technical wonder, filled with stunning cinematography, editing, visual effects, and an awards-caliber score. Mank is a captivating lesson in film history and another hit from the great David Fincher.
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
- When I first saw Minari at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, I thought the movie was pretty great and one of the best movies I saw at the festival that year. But as the year went on, Minari was a movie I was constantly thinking about. I kept thinking about the powerful, insightful immigrant story, the gorgeous cinematography and score, the brilliant ensemble led by Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, and Youn Yuh-jung, and the delicate, passionate direction of Lee Isaac Chung. When I rewatched the movie later in the year, it not only solidified Minari’s greatness, but elevated it. This is a movie that really sticks with you long after the credits roll. There is so much detail and so many layers to what seems to be a simple American story that you pick up more and more with every viewing. Minari is a quiet masterpiece and the best movie of 2020.
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