Posted January 14, 2021 | Updated January 25, 2021
though I already went into great detail in my previously posted TEN
WORST FILMS of 2020 blog, I'll once again emphasize that 2020 was
the worst year for
movies and the industry as a whole.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the way many
(including myself) have consumed entertainment in the year that was.
consider a few facts:
I've only screened two films in a cinema since last March
(before that, I averaged 2-4 cinema screenings per week over the last 16
Only one film in my Top 10 was screened in a cinema.
One two films in my Top 25 were screened in cinemas.
Six of my Top 25 were Amazon Prime streaming exclusives, with one of them
appearing on my Top 10.
Four of my Top 25 films were Netflix original films, with two appearing on
my Top 10.
yeah, this was unlike any previous year for me in terms of seeking out,
watching, and reviewing films.
gives me no pleasure whatsoever to have been largely away from theaters
for so long (I've placed personal and family health and safety above
anything else...including my love affair with film), but I endeavored to
persevere through and actively sought out as many films that I possibly
could via whatever means necessary in the last twelve months (and, yes, a
majority of them were watched via various streaming methods).
Cinemas were all but dead in the water, but movies continued to
thrive and survive, and my TOP 10 FILMS of 2020 - at least in my humble
estimation - is proof positive of that.
All in all, I screened just nine less films in 2020 than in the
previous year, which allowed for me to post a blog like this as I've done
every year for over a decade and a half.
And one of the positive side effects of the pandemic was that it
forced me to dig deeper into the world of independent cinema, and there
were some joyous discoveries to be had.
I do for every one of these yearly compilations, variety is key,
and I think the ten films listed below are indicative of that.
There's a superb 2D animated film; a horror-thriller remake; a
Vietnam War themed drama; a Vietnam War themed courtroom drama; an ultra
black fact based high school comedy; two vastly different alien invasion
sci-fi thrillers; a drama about sobriety, and a drama that sheds new light
on people with hearing loss.
And as I also have done in past years, I have expanded my TOP 10
into a greater TOP 25 to pay homage to 15 other efforts that I thought
were all worthy of inclusion in a greater discussion of the year's best,
but simply couldn't make the Top 10.
So, read on...enjoy...and let's hope we all have cinemas to go to and discovery movies all over again in 2021.
SOUND OF METAL
was one of the last films that I saw in 2020...but I was firmly convinced
post-screening that it was the best offering of the year.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
- one of the last films I screened in a cinema before they were closed
down for months in my home province back in March - is a horror thriller
remake that had no business being as masterfully executed as it was.
Considering that this was yet another iteration of the Universal
horror film series monster of the Golden Age - which, in turn, was adapted
from the H.G. Welles novel of the same name - it's a minor miracle how
superbly this new film spun this mythology.
THE INVISIBLE MAN represented a supremely confident and expertly executed high concept David versus Goliath #MeToo nightmare scenario, and it was all the more truly terrifying as an end result.
WOLFWALKERS was easily the most uniquely gorgeous animated film of 2020, coming from from the pioneering directing tandem of Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, both of whom founded the studio Cartoon Saloon (maker of 2009's Oscar nominated THE SECRET OF THE KELLS and 2014's SONG OF THE SEA). It rounded off the pair's self anointed "Irish Folklore Trilogy" in thrilling and beautiful fashion, crafting a rousing tale set in 17th Century Kilkenny and one that blended history with the fantastical in equal measure.
One of the things that really stood out for me in WOLFWALKERS was how uncommonly intelligent and sensitive it was regarding its themes and ideas, that of the mutual relationship between mankind and nature and how both need to live in harmony with one another. That, and it told a story of werewolves that's done so fundamentally and refreshingly different than most other previous cinematic iterations of the creatures. Lastly, it was a decidedly rare breed of animated film that honored and respected its young female characters and without portraying as weak victims. Oh, and before I forget, the sheer exquisiteness of the visual palette of this film (animated to have the look and feel of an improvisationally loose 2D/hand drawn affair) is this film's real artistic coup de grace, and it represented such a welcome antidote for the meticulously pristine nature of modern CG animated films. Cartoon Saloon crafted not only an unqualified animated triumph here, but they also lovingly made one of the year's best films...period.
There are some films that I've discovered by complete accident, and after watching them you just want to preach their virtues to the filmgoing world.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS is just one of those types of special films.
While I was searching for content to watch and review when cinemas began closing down I came across this gem, which some would simplistically label as an abortion drama. To do that would be highly misleading, as it was more on an unflinchingly raw, honest, and sensationally acted coming of age piece that managed to do one thing with its highly polarizing subject matter absolutely correctly: It never politicized it, nor took a stance on one side or the other, nor became aggressively preachy minded. Yes, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS has a narrative that deals with a young woman (played in one of the most authentically rendered teenage performances ever by Sidney Flanigan) that has to take an arduous journey across borders to find a place that will allow her to legally terminate her pregnancy without parental consent, but the film was about so much more than the hot button abortion issue. It became an inspiring chronicle of the unending power of sisterhood and how young women find inner strength to battle any of life's roadblocks. In worse hands, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS could have come off as a horribly mismanaged and pandering TV movie of the week melodrama, but on Hitmann's watch it came together as something more powerful, intimate and resonant. And how wonderful is it to see a film about real teenagers with real stressful problems that's done in such a non-judgmental manner?
5. DA 5 BLOODS
Netflix's produced DA 5 BLOODS served as a wonderful historical companion
piece to his Academy Award winning BLACKKKLANSMAN,
which not only was my top pick for the best film of 2018, but also finally
netted the acclaimed filmmaker his first Best Director Oscar trophy of his
career. Both of these films
delved into the past to tell potent stories of racial strife that still
managed to reverberate with timeliness today, and did so from the
prerogatives of those largely unseen in mainstream genre efforts.
The notion of Lee making a Vietnam War film is intriguing. However, DA 5 BLOODS was less a period war thriller, per se, than it was about the Vietnam War's large and nagging psychological impact on the lives of veterans in the present, more specifically African Americans (a group that has been largely disproportionately represented in these types of genre films). Lee conceived a story that's, yes, a Vietnam War drama and a men-on-a-mission thriller in showcasing a squad of black vets in the present that decide to journey back to Vietnam to locate the missing remains of one of their fallen comrades, who died in action in the war decades earlier. While there, the men also obsessively seek out - in pure TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE fashion - a secret stash of government gold that may or may not have been left behind during the war. Not only was Lee's film masterful in exploring what the war meant for black soldiers and race relations in America, but it also accurately displayed the hearts of darkness of some of its characters, who were irreparably damaged by the war and can't ever seem to escape its large shadow.
That, and Lee's film was an absolute embarrassment of performance riches and featured one of the best supporting turns of the year by the great Delroy Lindo, who chillingly played one of these damaged goods ex-soldiers with a fiery passion. He should be Oscar nomination bound, as should this film; Lee once again has made a racially charged historically themed drama that pushes buttons, mixes fact and fiction, and managed to educate and entertain in equal dosages. That's no easy feat to pull off.
TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 takes its title from the group of Vietnam War
protesters from various walks of life (the so-called "Chicago
7") that were charged and subsequently tried for conspiracy and
crossing state lines with an accused intention of inciting riots at the
1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention.
BAD EDUCATION -
which I screened via HBO back in the spring - was director Cory Finley's
follow-up effort to his terribly underrated THOROUGHBREDS
and it told a fact-based story so preposterous, yet anger-inducing that,
if not based on an actual incident, I would have had a hard time
Here's a Russian
made sci-fi frightfest that most definitely got away from most critics and
audiences in the year that was...but not from me.
ANOTHER ROUND was
a triumphant re-teaming of Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and star Mads
Mikkelsen (who last partnered up on 2012's THE HUNT) and it featured
arguably the most deliriously - ahem! - intoxicating premise of any
movie from last year.
HANNIBAL and CASINO
ROYALE star played a down-on-his luck and in midlife crisis
teacher that decides to hatch a devious plan with his other fellow sad
sack colleagues: Using the actual theory proposed by psychiatrist Finn
Skarderud - who believed that having a fairly consistent blood alcohol
level of 0.05 makes one more comfortable and confident in all walks of
life - the men decide to take this to the test in an incredibly risky, but
audacious experiment of being sloshed through the day, but with rules
(like, for example, no drinking past 8pm).
It would be so easy to see how a wacky concept like this could have
been reduced to some Will Ferrell-ian pratfall-heavy ludicrousness, but
under Vinterberg's ever vigilant hands ANOTHER ROUND managed to walk this
remarkably delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, and it showed how
heavy drinking can become both a quick cure and a prolonged curse for
these characters' woes. Shrewdly
written, impeccably acted (especially by the terribly underrated Mikkelsen,
who casts such a large presence in any film he occupies), and brimming
with relatable themes about the dangers of using certain coping mechanisms
to numb pain, Vinterberg's film was an unquestionable crowd pleasing
winner that still managed to say something legitimate about middle aged
I've frankly lost
track over the years how many science-fiction films have tackled close
encounters with extraterrestrial visitors (and/or invasions of our planet
by said aliens), but so very few are done with a startling level of
filmmaking economy and haunting atmosphere like Andrew Patterson's THE
VAST OF NIGHT, which premiered back in the spring on Amazon Prime and has
stayed with me since I first watched it.
|...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2020 with my selections from 11-25:|
11. BLOW THE MAN DOWN: An ingeniously plotted Amazon Prime released maritime noir thriller was one to get lost in.
12. COLOR OUT OF SPACE: Richard Stanley's first feature film in nearly 25 years was a harrowingly offbeat and hauntingly grotesque adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft...and it also showcased a pure gonzo performance by Nicolas Cage.
RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM:
14. THE ASSISTANT: An utterly absorbing drama about the nightmarish work environments, male toxicity, and the distressing struggles that young up and coming women face while trying to climb the corporate ladder.
15. THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW: Criminally little seen horror/comedy/thriller that played like a weird and infectious hybrid of FARGO and THE WOLFMAN.
16. PRIOMISING YOUNG WOMAN: Carey Mulligan gave the performance of her career in this ultra dark comedy crossed morphed with a MeToo themed revenge thriller.
18. LET HIM GO: A thoroughly involving and sometimes disturbing period thriller that featured routinely committed performances by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane.
19. EMMA:. This seemingly umpteenth adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 romance novel offered up a few nifty tricks up its sleeves to stand well apart from other past versions.
DUKED: This utterly hysterical outdoor
survival horror comedy deserved worthy comparisons to films like SHAUN OF
THE DEAD in terms of tone and execution.
This utterly hysterical outdoor survival horror comedy deserved worthy comparisons to films like SHAUN OF THE DEAD in terms of tone and execution.
21. THE WAY BACK: Ben Affleck gave an Oscar caliber performance in this inspirational sports drama that managed to transcend the genre's more overused conventions.
22. THE GLORIAS: Julia Taymor's compelling and richly acted biopic of famed feminist activist Gloria Steinem found highly unique ways to explore her life.
23. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: This moviefilm sequel was...very nice.
24. 7500::A surprisingly tense and genuinely nerve-wracking effort from first-time filmmaker Patrick Vollrath was directed with supreme, go-for-broke confidence and featured a welcome return to the silver screen for actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
25. ORDINARY LOVE: Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville were sublime in this exquisitely made cancer drama that found ways to not fall victim to genre troupes.
|Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:|
BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC: A most excellent sequel that was worth the very heinous wait.
feature film debut was a real cinematic curveball in terms of starting as
a quirky small town comedy that then morphed into something unexpectedly
moving and profound.
Amber McGinnis's feature film debut was a real cinematic curveball in terms of starting as a quirky small town comedy that then morphed into something unexpectedly moving and profound.
UNDERWATER: A beyond obvious oceanic ALIEN wannabe from earlier this year, but one done with remarkable technical polish and an undulating sense of moody tension.
Director Guy Ritchie
went back to his roots with this been-there, done-that bit
of pulp fiction that was nevertheless a modestly entertaining ride
OF PREY (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn):
sensory explosion that managed to find a way of harnessing the unbridled
madness of its titular character.
THE HEDGEHOG: A
thanklessly decent and infectiously likeable video game adaptation, and one
that featured the welcome return of Jim Carrey to screwball comedic
Brie's gutsy and superlative performance in this Netflix original helped
overcome its scripting issues.
Ryan's haunting performance in this Netflix thriller helped shed light on
one the most overlooked fact-based murder mysteries.
A wonderfully wicked Twilight Zone-esque premise was given its due in
the moody and tension filled indie sci-fi thriller.
charmer of a high school romcom that successfully found ways of
transcending the genre's most overused conventions.
Hemsworth was in his physical element in this technically proficient
Netflix action thriller.
unexpectedly funny spy comedy got solid mileage out of the odd couple
chemistry of stars Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman.
sometimes unwieldy, but thoroughly interesting documentary about the
infamous Biosphere 2 project.
TRIP TO GREECE:
The fourth film
in Michael Winterbottom's mockumentary series of travelogue comedies fully
harnessed - once again - the appeal and hilarity of its stars.
IRRESISTIBLE: This Jon Stewart written and directed satire did a solid job of capturing
the darker underbelly of the American political landscape.
This Netflix action thriller - adapted from the comic book series of
the same name - had a slick premise and utilized star Charlize Theron in
all of her action goddess glory.
A Tom Hanks
directed and starring World War II nautical thriller boasted superlative
technical merits and a fine ensemble cast.
Gavin Rothery's criminally overlooked sci-fi thriller made old themes feel
Lurie's remarkably intense fact based war thriller was a visceral
powerhouse, especially in its harrowing final half.
IN ITALY: Liam Neeson and
real life son Michael Richardson shined as a father and son tandem that
try to navigate through their wife/mother's untimely death.
AMERICAN PICKLE: One
of the most purely strange comedies of 2020 showcased a dexterous dual
performance by Seth Rogen.
super hero themed Netflix original film featured a very novel premise and
a willingness to do something very different in a very overcrowded
Lili Reinhart and Austin Abrams brought authentic warmth and layers to
their characters in this romance drama that thanklessly twisted genre
Nolan's long gestating and well publicized big budget time shifting
thriller was an unparalleled technical masterpiece that was somewhat
marred by confusing plotting and a lack of emotional
THINKING OF ENDING THINGS:
twisted mind screw job of an impossible to label Netflix film was one to
bask in all of its twisty conundrums.
DEVIL ALL THE TIME: One
of the better ensemble casts of the year typified this ultra bleak Netflix
period crime thriller.
HOLMES: Millie Bobby Brown showed why she is a
bona fide movie star with great
appeal in this delightful take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos.
absorbing and psychologically scary horror thriller that - like GET OUT
before it - used the genre well to explore themes of racial
VS. THE BRONX: Echoes of classic 80s fright fests like THE MONSTER SQUAD reverberated all
the way through this delightfully entertaining horror comedy.
of the strangest and most macabre high school romcoms that I've ever seen
showed commendable audacity it fully exploring its out there premise.
SECRET GARDEN: A
finely tailored and well acted remake of the classic children's
USED TO GO HERE: Proof
positive that the inventing presence of a lead actress can sometimes
overcome an extremely well worn premise; star Gillian Jacobs was so
GROUNDHOG DAY inspired comedy that didn't do much to embellish the well
worn premise, but still featured some sly writing and well oiled
performances by Andy Samberg and
WONDER WOMAN 1984: Although it was afflicted by the same aliments of many other super hero sequels (bloated running time, too many villains, and an overall sensibility or more is better), this follow-up to the stellar introductory installment still did justice to one of DC's biggest icons.
NEWS OF THE WORLD: The re-teaming of director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks (after working together on CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) proved to be modestly successful with this fairly traditional, but enjoyable western.