Thanks to a horrible pandemic in a stressful election year that saw the keys to the White House change hands, it was arguably the most trying year for cinemas and the film industry in general since the advent of television. Theatres across the world closed, film festivals were cancelled or moved to a digital format, streaming became the go to for the little major releases we got, awards season was turned upside down and extended into the following year causing havoc for many “Best of the Year” lists just like this one. And yet in such a rough year for cinephiles, we still got some great movies that will leave marks on our consciousness.
Out of the 160 films I watched for my 2020 season of movie watching, I picked out 15 that stood out to me as the best of the year. Among them are two films directed by women, two films that aren’t live-action, three films that aren’t English in their spoken language, eight films that feature diverse protagonists, and appropriately ten films that were premiered through streaming services. The genres that make them up range from dramas to comedies to sci-fi to even a Broadway play. Their settings range from Georgian England to Meiji era Japan. In an incredible world-changing and trying year like 2020, these were the 15 best films I saw - presented in alphabetical order.
Another solid collaboration between Director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, this Danish film which explores the effect an experiment has on a group of friends that keep their blood alcohol level at 0.5% could have easily turned into an anti-alcoholism PSA but instead ends up a touching movie about friendship through the highs and lows - finished off by what is hands down the best ending scene I saw all year from any movie which will leave everyone with a smile on their face when the credits roll.
A modern western set in a fictional small town in Brazil, this film takes you through a wave of emotions as it flips between different sub-genres to tell a violent tale of political allegory that will leave you on the edge of your seat from start to finish as you try to figure out exactly what is going on to these downtrodden villagers.
Yet another adaptation of the Jane Austen literature classic, this version directed wonderfully by the debuting Autumn de Wilde drips with personality and humor coupled with beautiful cinematography as you watch the exploits of Emma Woodhouse.
Another Spike Lee political film that hits you over the head with its message, but includes a breathtaking performance by Delroy Lindo and offers up adventure as you follow along with a group of veterans who have come back to Vietnam to get back their fallen comrade’s remains and buried treasure.
More of a Broadway musical performed in front of the cameras than an actual film, this is my pick for my favorite movie from the year as I was introduced to this genius musical that has joined my list of my favorite musicals on either stage or film.
This homerun of an independent kaiju flick has a brisk runtime of just 45 minutes, but its amazing puppetry work and creature effects coupled with a haunting ghost story left me as if I had just seen one of the best creature features I’ve ever seen in a year lacking of such type of films.
Oscar worthy performances by Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman anchor this incredible stage play come to film as you hang on every word and action of each band member on a hot 1927 afternoon as they attempt to record a single of the legendary blues pioneer Ma Rainey.
Arguably a niche film that will speak best to cinephiles like me, this dramatization of the writing of the iconic Citizen Kane film tells a 1940 story in the manner a 1940 film would thanks to incredible technical filmmaking and directing from David Fincher.
Yet another stage play come to cinema for the year, this one felt less like an adaptation and more like a story made for cinema; this film is anchored not just by an incredible ensemble of actors but an impressive directorial debut from Oscar winning actress Regina King.
Its one thing to use a trope concept like repeating a day over and over, its another when you do something completely different with it and somehow manage to squeeze everything you can from such a concept without overstaying your welcome; If you don’t think Hamilton should count as my favorite from the year than this would be my pick.
A bit of a cop-out from me here as this is more of a film anthology consisting of five films than an actual standalone, but what Steve McQueen pulled off with this was nothing short of magic and leaves us a great set of narratives to enjoy both separately and together as one masterpiece.
Pixar’s hit or miss in the last couple years has also come with some true masterpieces and this one is among them as it uses several tropes other animated movies have tried and used them to great effect by subverting expectations; I defy anyone not to find themselves without a tear in their eye when this one wraps up.
Another Christopher Nolan mind-bender, this time tackling time travel and inversion, this is a film that might not be among the best of the best from Nolan’s library but still left me pretty entertained and satisfied at the end as I followed along with “the protagonist” and his tried and true quest to literally save the world.
A miscarriage of justice played out with some entertaining and comedic effect that is appropriate to learn from for today’s time, I was very pleasantly surprised by this Aaron Sorkin historical and trial drama even if its dialogue can leave one feeling like its a bit too nice and neat.
An incredible debut from Andrew Patterson, this film follows two young people along as a UFO sighting starts to plague their neighborhood just as the big basketball game is being played; You’ll leave this one feeling as if you just watched a brand new Twilight Zone episode.
Honorable Mentions: Ammonite; Arkansas; Bad Education; Godmothered; Greyhound; Let Him Go; News Of The World; The King Of Staten Island; The Personal History Of David Copperfield; The Way Back; Tigertail; Troop Zero