2020 was probably the weirdest year of our lives. While many blockbusters got either postponed or outright canceled, we got a healthy influx of high-quality indie films that kept us above water. But, no one can dispute that 2020 was a great year for film. What made me the happiest this year was to see smaller films get the spotlight they have desperately been needing.
In 2020, I had a chance to go and watch many 80s and 90s classics that were on my watch list. I also participated in a weekly movie club that led me to watch many films I would have never seen on my own (most of them thrillers and horror movies made for streaming). And, most surprising of it all is that I didn’t break my “most movies watched in a year” record even though I spent so much time stuck at home.
Watched: 143 films
Couldn’t Get To: Mank, Bacurau, Beanpole, Another Round, Wolfwalkers, Promising Young Woman, The Father
Biggest Disappointment: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (not to say I did not like it)
I finalized the list below before I watched this documentary but it was so good that I still wanted to include it. Collective is without a doubt one of the best films of the year.
Collective follows the story of a group of investigators at the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor. The investigators reveal a series of fraud instances in the Romanian health-care system that left many burn victims of the fire at the Collectiv nightclub to die. But that is only a small part of the story. This documentary is so superbly edited that it feels like you are being shown a story as it unfolds in real-time. I highly recommend this film even for those who don’t usually watch documentaries since it has a procedural-like pace that is easy to follow and is deeply engaging.
This is an unranked list of films that almost made my top 10. I enjoyed all of these and would gladly recommend them.
- First Cow
- French Exit
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things
- One Night In Miami
- Palm Springs
- Sound of Metal
- Summer of ’85
10. Black Bear
Can you detail an entire relationship by having a couple argue about gender roles and feminism in front of their guest at their lake house? Black Bear‘s director Lawrence Michael Levine surely thinks so. The most fascinating part of the movie is how it uses a non-linear narrative to deconstruct this layered story. What seems like yet another simple movie about people arguing in a room turns into a fascinating puzzle with many facets. Also, Aubrey Plaza is incredible in this!
9. On The Rocks
Sofia Coppola’s latest film is one of the best of the year. Rashida Jones’ dynamic with Bill Murray rings true to many father-daughter relationships. Coppola is able to navigate this relationship and present a story that is captivating while discussing important themes such as commitment, fatherhood and feminism.
8. David Byrne’s American Utopia/Lovers Rock
American Utopia: I’m not a big fan of Talking Heads but I had a blast spending some time in David Byrne’s American Utopia. His ability to reveal himself through this musical was deeply captivating. This multifaceted performance is one of the most inspiring and entertaining events of the year and it works as a movie thanks to a fantastic job from director Spike Lee.
Lovers Rock: Steve McQueen’s anthology Small Rock (on Amazon Prime Video) is incredibly ambitious. He set out to do six films in a year. Lovers Rock is the standout film of the pack in that it is a love story that is complex but very beautiful. Featuring a big house party and full of rich color and culture, it is the kind of escape that I needed in a year like 2020. This film is an experience of sensorial capacity that captures partying, both the good and the bad, in such a beautiful way.
7. The Invisible Man
Psychological thrillers about couples struggling to stay together have become a sort of a cliched genre. Many of these movies feel generic and uninteresting. But, The Invisible Man is an astute and endlessly thrilling exploration of abuse and control in romantic relationships. Elisabeth Moss gives one of her best performances ever and the film features a scene in a restaurant that has to be THE best scene of the year!
6. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s big movie of the year is a part war movie, part political statement, part comedy, part family drama, and much more. Trying to do too much is a tricky task that many directors fail at. But Spike Lee succeeded at crafting a rollercoaster of emotions that achieved everything it set out to do in a way that made it one of the most interesting movies of the year. The cast is top-notch but Delroy Lindo gives a performance for the ages that stands out!
We live in times with enormous pressures to be productive. But, is trying to become someone more useful to society something good? Possessor is interested in such questions but it explores them in the most bizarre ways possible. Possessor is very methodical in its approach to present this sci-fi world and quickly take over your mind like a parasite. I promise you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
Pete Docter’s latest borrows inspiration from his previous film Inside Out. Soul concerns itself with finding our purpose in life. The story of a musician who is struggling to find inspiration in his life resonates especially well with the frustrations of a year like 2020. The animation and music are so beautiful, but it is the small details in this world that made me so happy to spend time in it.
Lee Isaac Chung’s latest film tells a beautiful story about an immigrant family’s American Dream. As a Korean immigrant himself, he crafted a story that rings true to many. The film concerns itself with relationships, hard work, and sacrifice. Despite being a smaller independent film, it is beautifully photographed and superbly crafted.
2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
I wasn’t expecting a story about a girl from a small town who crosses multiple borders to get an abortion to be one of my favorite movies of the year. But, Eliza Hittman’s follow up to Beach Boys is just that good. It is a nuanced and pensive film, but it touches such an important (and controversial) topic that it is paramount that people watch it. Never Rarely Sometimes Always only works so well because of Sidney Flannigan’s incredible performance.
This film premiered right when COVID was starting to hit, and I couldn’t get to it until it was released on HBO Max.
Nomadland tells a story about those who lost everything in the Great Recession and were forced to become nomads. As a movie, it pushes us to confront this important part of modern history. People without a zip-code have lives full of short-term but sometimes deep connections with others. They don’t know when and how will meet some of those people again but they understand each other’s way of living. In contrary to what many might believe, they are kind to one another and have their network of connections. In a way, this film is an ode to this country, the beautiful and the sad.
Nomadland was written and directed by Chloe Zhao. Zhao is that rare creator that can go beyond writing a story or directing it, she presents the world as it is – at its most beautiful and daunting. Her films are transformational and are a prism for our own experiences. The empathy in Zhao’s films is palpable; she understands people. She creates a space for people to reveal themselves in ways that few other filmmakers can. As with Zhao’s previous film (The Rider), the cast is formed by non-actors who add to the realism of it all. Francis McDormand gives a career-best performance and delivers in every second of this film. I loved this movie, and it is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen.