Monday, February 1, 2021

Top 10 Films of 2020

Who could have guessed that when we sat down in the theater to watch The Invisible Man, or Bad Boys 3, or The Lodge, that it would be the last time we would set foot in a movie theater in 2020? While COVID kept theaters closed and pushed the release dates of several notable films, there was some movie gold to be found. Below are the 10 films I liked best from the mad-shit year that was 2020.

UPDATED to reflect a movie I missed in 2020.

Honorable Mention: One Night in Miami
Directed by Regina King
Putting Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay), Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in the same room is no easy feat, but first-time director Regina King seizes it. The final 10 minutes of this movie build to such a quiet resolve, that I found myself stuck in my seat long after the credits rolled. Watch on Amazon Prime now. 

10. Rewind
Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Rewind is a DIY doc in which Neulinger uses his father’s home videos to piece together the horrific abuse that the director and his family suffered for decades. It isn’t really about “stranger danger” anymore, as 90 percent of childhood sexual abuse is committed by someone the child has been told to trust. A tough and necessary doc. Watch on Amazon Prime now. 

9. Sound of Metal
Directed by Darius Marder
What a perfect logline for a film: A heavy metal drummer loses his hearing. Marder could take a story like this in any number of directions, and he picks a correct one here, thanks largely to the Oscar-worthy performances of Riz Amhed and Paul Raci. Watch on Amazon Prime now. 

8. Driveways
Directed by Andrew Ahn
What a tender little film. Hong Chau (great in the otherwise forgettable Downsizing from 2017) plays a bitter woman forced to clean out her estranged sister’s house, after the sister has passed. The woman has a precocious boy who tags along, and the neighbor, played exquisitely by Brian Dennehy, helps out too. This is a simple, home-grown film that doesn’t ask a lot of its audience, but has great returns. Watch on Showtime Anytime now. 

7. Let Them All Talk
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Oh Steve, how I love you so. Soderbergh, equipped with his fuck-it-let’s-try-it, would-be attitude, got a cast and crew of about 30 people, put them on the active Queen Mary II ship, and filmed an entire movie with Meryl Streep, Candice Bergen, and Dianne Wiest with no lights, an improvised script, and a whole lot of movie magic. Watch on HBOMAX now. 

6. Another Round
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Another “Yeah, I’m sold,” easy loglines: Four middle-aged friends decide to test a psychological theory that if you have a little alcohol in your system at all times (about two drinks), that will lead to an improvement in your overall life. Oh, and it teams up Mads Mikkelsen and Vinterberg from The Hunt? Yeah, I’m sold. Pay to watch on VOD now. 

5. Quo Vadis, Aida?
Directed by Jasmila Žbanić
This is a great film, and I’m embarrassed that I didn’t get around to it before Oscar night. Nothing against Another Round, which I loved, but this gets my vote for the latest Best International Feature Film Oscar. This is a real movie with a very precise vision, which is all too rare for modern movies. Every shot is composed in what feels the most correct way possible, minimal score, impactful sound, flawless acting from performers I’d never seen before. What a fucking ending. On Hulu now.
4. Mank
Directed by David Fincher
What happened to Mank? Did people care? Do people care? Is this decades-long passion project from David Fincher, about the writer of Citizen Kane, going to be remembered come awards time? The evolution of Mank was one of the most befuddling movie moments of 2020 to me. This movie did take two viewings to fully reveal itself to me, but from then on, I’ve held it in the highest regard. Am I alone on Mank island? Watch on Netflix now. 

3. Possessor
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
A deliciously brutal throwback to smart, violent, sci-fi thrillers in which the audiences had to participate in, as opposed to simply watch. Christopher Abbott, the very finest actor of his generation, is mesmerizing to watch here: Confused, angry, insane. And he may be tired of hearing this, but Brandon Cronenberg is absolutely his father’s son. And that ain’t no bad thing. Pay to watch on VOD now. 

2. Pieces of a Woman
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
The most gutting film of 2020. Fuck. Pieces of a Woman is a harrowing portray of love, loss, of grief. The shadows of pain that this film explores are areas that few filmmakers (and performers) are willing to go. Vanessa Kirby gives the best performance of the year as a shattered woman coming to terms with a horrific loss. I so appreciate the pain of this film, and, despite being on the biggest streaming platform in the world, I really wish more people were talking about it. Favorite movie ending of the year; it destroyed me. Watch on Netflix now. 

1. Small Axe
Directed by Steve McQueen
In the podcast episode linked below, Nick and I go into great detail about whether or not Small Axe is one film, a miniseries, a collection of films, a TV series – all that nonsense. But the point is, whether viewed as a collection, or five films individually, Small Axe is a work of art. I genuinely think Steve McQueen is one of the best living artists we have. Not just the art of film directing; but art as a whole. I have no idea how he decides to craft his stories the way he does; every choice he makes, from narrative structure, to camera placement, is astonishingly correct to my movie-obsessed mind. 

Small Axe is, by my definition, an anthology series comprised of five feature films about five different stories, all involving West Indian immigrants in London in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Three of the films are based on true events (MangroveRed, White and BlueAlex Wheatle), one is a more general representation of a time and place (Lovers Rock), and one is McQueen’s own autobiographical statement (Education). 

I loved them all, damn near equally. The highlight of the group is Lovers Rock, a 70-minute-long museum installation of a film in which a group of people enjoy being themselves for one night of loving and rocking. They turn one of their homes into a musical haven that shields them from the outside white world. If it’s easier to digest, I’m completely fine calling Lovers Rock my favorite film of 2020. What a statement of powerful wonder, from a creator with a wholly singular vision. Watch on Amazon Prime now.


  1. I haven't seen any of these films though I do have Small Axe, Mank, and Pieces of a Woman in my hard drive waiting to be watched as my current list right now is just extremely underwhelming.

    1. I'm excited to hear your thoughts on all of those. And damnit, I still need to see Soul, and the Bee Gees doc.

  2. Great list! So many that I still haven't seen - Possessor is really high on my must watch list.
    It might not have been a great year for cinema but it gave us the chance to appreciate smaller, indie movies which is a plus!

    1. Thanks so much! And yep, I completely agree. We had to dig a little deeper to find good ones in 2020, but they were there.

  3. Just finished Possessor.. woah!! I'll have to write some words up on that bad boy! Great list too, what would your 11-15 be if you had to say? :)

    1. Isn't it nuts?! I think that's the only 2020 Blu-Ray I've purchased, which is pretty wild. And hmmm, let me think...

      11. On the Rocks
      12. The Outpost
      13. News of the World
      14. Antebellum
      15. Docs: Time; Collective; City Hall

    2. Really dug The Outpost, gotta catch the others at some point!
      It's gonna be weird with Oscars because Kaluyya will probably get nom'd for Judas even if it's technically a 2021 release.

      The Way Back and Bad Education, while not the best movies I've seen from 2020, have stayed on my mind more than others. Btw, are yall doing a performances of 2020 episode at some point?

    3. Not on the pod, nope. Maybe in a stronger movie year, but we haven't really found that there's a lot to talk about with 2020 movies, you know?

  4. I have not watched nearly enough movies from 2020. I spent most of the year going through older movies i hadn't seen yet, but never really got around to watching a lot of new ones. One of the big problems with movies only going to streaming services is that it's easy to forget about them right away. I have noticed that with a lot with Netflix especially. They pump out new movies all the time so it's impossible to keep up with their releases. I have only seen three of the movies on your list and while i liked them all, i must say i was a little disappointed with Mank. I just found it to be a bit boring. But that also might have had something to do with the way i watched it. It would probably work a lot better in a dark theater with no distractions than sloughed on the couch in the middle of the day constantly checking how much was left of the movie. I really need to give that one another go i feel. I usually love David Fincher movies. But anyway, here is my list so far at least of top 10 on 2020.

    10. First Cow
    9. Da 5 Bloods
    8. Possessor
    7. Nomadland
    6. The Invisible Man
    5. Sound of Metal
    4. Palm Springs
    3. Minari
    2. Tenet
    1. I'm Thinking of Ending Things

    Most of these movies, at least in the latter half, probably wouldn't even crack my top 20 in a normal year, but i still really enjoyed all of them. And again, there is still a ton of movies i really need to check out. One Night in Miami, Another Round, Pieces of a Woman and Small Axe are all movie i have been meaning to check out, but haven't gotten around to yet. Hopefully 2021 will be a better year for movies and, well, everything else as well.

    1. I agree with all of this. I spent my 2020 watching mostly older movies too, and I also have the issue of forgetting about movies when they are on streaming. And I dig your list! Some of the movies on my list definitely wouldn't make my top 10 in a normal year either.

  5. I've also wondered about Mank. How strange it was to see it go from this much anticipated "masterpiece" to... well, kind of forgotten about? It's so bizarre. I'm also so happy to see Riz Ahmed getting the attention he deserves. He's such an underrated actor.

    1. Right?! Always props for Riz, really hoping he gets that Oscar nom. But Mank, damn. I think it'll get the Oscar noms, but will it win anything?

  6. Thank you so much for recommending Rewind. I'm literally crying as the credits are rolling. Thank you

    1. Oh man, I'm so glad you checked it out. I didn't even know if I should include it, because it's so little-seen. Heavy shit man. Be well.

  7. 1. Small Axe: Lover's Rock - The "Silly Games" scene alone would put this at the top spot. Also similar to #4, makes everyone miss going to parties smh.
    2. Vitalena Varela - Jaw-dropping cinematography and a great central performance.
    3. Bacurau - Leftfield Western goes absolutely bonkers at the end.
    4. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets - Kinda-sorta documentary that made everyone miss going out in bars smh.
    5. Sound of Metal - Strong character piece that makes a great use of sound design.
    6. First Cow - Comfy buddy western that puts me in the mood for oily cakes.
    7. Time - Beautifully filmed documentary about an unfair prison system.
    8. Nomadland - Chloe Zhao is becoming a force. Hope she has a long career.
    9. Minari - Very Ozu-esque immigrant drama. Steven Yeun is one of the best in the business.
    10. Soul - Pixar's still got it. Love both the jazz and the Reznor/Ross scores.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment! LOVE that Lover's Rock gets your number one. And you've opened my mind to some new movies here; I have to check these out!