David’s TOP 10 Movies for 2020 (plus more)
Almost nothing stayed normal for 2020, however I’m still going to publish my list of favorite movies of the year. This is far and away the longest stretch I’ve gone without stepping foot in a movie theatre … since I turned 5 years old. My last in-theatre movie for 2020 was the first week of March, so it’s surely to eclipse a full year by the time it happens again. Of course, like many of you, being stuck at home meant watching more movies, not fewer. My 2020 total was 279 movies, and that’s despite film festivals going virtual, or being canceled outright.
So yes, even the 2020 movie year was strange. The vast majority of blockbuster and big budget films were pushed to 2021 since movie theaters either limited the number of attendees, or closed down completely. This meant an inordinate number of streaming independents and documentaries were eager to slide into the void created. Since those are my two favorite categories, I was thrilled to watch dozens of films that likely would have slipped through unseen. You should know this means even more quirky and unusual films made this year’s list.
Exceptions: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie version of “Hamilton”, but have not considered it for the list since it was a filmed version of a stage performance, and not truly adapted for the silver screen. There are a few 2020 movies that I still need to catch, most notably TENET (which I need to see in a theater) and NOMADLAND.
Obviously a Top 10 list of 279 movies leaves out some really good ones. As I do each year, I’ve included a categorized section of those movies that “Just Missed” the Top 10, in hopes of helping you in catch up on some you might have missed this year.
Annual Reminder: As always, this has nothing to do with predictions for Academy Awards, or any other awards. It’s simply my list of favorite movies of the year.
Best of 2020
Cerebral director David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) has crafted a complex and intricate film that deserves much better than the label of “based on CITIZEN KANE” that so many have lazily applied. Sure, it will appeal on one level to hardcore cinephiles, yet it also excels as a psychological study of power and creativity. It’s a beautiful looking film set in the 1930’s, and features nice performances from Oscar winner Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. It will likely to surprise those who give it a shot.
THE VAST OF NIGHT
A nostalgic, Hollywood throwback to the simpler times of alien invasions! Director Andrew Patterson serves up a thrilling low-budget film with smart, witty, and quick dialogue delivered by young actors we immediately believe in. The uncut long take near the film’s beginning is fascinating to watch and deserves accolades, and it’s the combination of visual style and riffing on Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” that make loving this gem set in the 1950’s easy to love, even if “there’s something in the sky”.
Pixar has always been able to touch our heart with their films, and this time they go straight to our “soul”. In the past, Pixar has balanced the fun for adults and kids, but this one is strictly for grown-ups … those who have had time to question their purpose. Oscar winning director Pete Docter seems to have taken his place as the premier creative force at the studio, and we are the beneficiaries. This is a brilliant, thought-provoking film and the perfect complement to INSIDE OUT.
How can a documentary based on the aftermath of a Bucharest nightclub fire that killed 64 be one of the best films of the year? Because director Alexander Nanau takes us behind the scenes for a jaw-dropping expose’ of Romania’s politically corrupt healthcare system. Distrust of government is a rampant problem around the globe, and this one is a welcome reminder of what a valuable role legitimate journalists can play in society.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
The year’s most effective gut punch is delivered by director Eliza Hittman, who takes on the controversial topic of teenage abortion without leaning on any Hollywood star power. Sidney Flanigan has one of the most memorable acting debuts of the year. The impact of state laws for sexually active teenagers is at the forefront, but so is the importance of loyal friendship in a time of need. This should be required viewing for all politicians, parents, and teenagers.
A smart script from lead actress Kelly O’Sullivan focuses on a thirty-something searching for her path. It’s a grounded story told from a feminine perspective, and includes segments on abortion and acceptance, as well as taking responsibility even when doing so seems overwhelming. The film also reminds us that anyone can affect our outlook on life – even a whip smart 6 year old. Director Alex Thompson packs this one with plenty of emotional moments for self-analysis.
The unforgiving nature of the 19th century American frontier is featured in a most unique manner. A quiet cook and a Chinese immigrant make for an odd couple looking for a big score – or at least enough where they can make their own way. Things get even odder once the titular bovine makes an appearance. Director Kelly Reichardt tells the story slowly and quietly, but the message comes through loudly.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
The latest screen adaptation of an August Wilson play features next-level performances from both Oscar winner Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman (his final on screen appearance). The demand for respect by Viola’s character, Ma, and the urgency to get on with life by Chadwick’s character, Levee, are quite something to behold. Director George C Wolf handles the band rehearsal and recording session exceptionally well.
SOUND OF METAL
We are along for the heart-wrenching journey as a rock drummer loses his hearing, and along with it, the world he knows. A tremendous performance from Riz Ahmed. This is director Darius Marder’s first feature film, and it excels in its use of Sound Design to keep us embedded with the character. Paul Raci and Olivia Cooke provide strong supporting performances. The only downside is the film’s regrettable representation of cochlear implants versus ASL.
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Most writers can only dream of being as creative and unique as Charlie Kaufman, while I simply wish I were talented enough to entice more people to check out his work. His latest may require multiple viewings and a movie buddy that enjoys digging into the phrase “What did we just watch?” This may be his most ambitious and strange film to date, yet being driven to head-scratching by Mr. Kaufman remains a rewarding experience.
There is little doubt that Evan Rachel Wood could have been a major movie star by now if that had been her professional goal. Instead, she tends to choose offbeat and interesting projects, and then deliver performances that elevate the work and leave us mesmerized. She is joined here by Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, and Gina Rodriguez for one of the year’s most interesting and offbeat films. This may be Evan Rachel Wood’s best and oddest performance to date, in yet another creative gem from director Miranda July.
JUST MISSED – by category (click on the title for full review):
ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI
ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY
INMATE #1: THE RISE OF DANNY TREJO
NATALIE WOOD: WHAT REMAINS BEHIND
GORDON LIGHTFOOT: IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND
THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART
World Cinema (foreign language)
INVISIBLE LIFE (Brazil)
LA RESTAURACION (Peru)
LES MISERABLES (France)
THE PAINTED BIRD (Czech Republic)
YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE (doc)
Most Disappointing (not necessarily the worst)
DOWNHILL – a weak and poor imitation of an excellent movie, FORCE MAJEUR
LIKE A BOSS – a masterclass in overacting
PSYCHOMAGIC: A HEALING ART – meaningless bizarro doc from Jodorowski
SEBERG – looks good, but no heft
THE LODGE – biggest horror letdown of the year
UNHINGED – maybe Russell Crowe really is
UNDERWATER – the second Kristen Stewart film, but it’s not her fault
See you at the movies … hopefully sometime in 2021!