I think we can all agree that 2020 has been one hell of a year, so I’m not going to dwell on that. 2021 likely won’t be the marvellous time we thought it might be months ago, but it’ll also be one step closer to the world setting itself right again…or at less wrong than it’s been.
So it’s that time of year again, time for me to “finalise” my Top 20 list of the year. As always, there are going to be things that I haven’t seen either because I haven’t wanted to, haven’t gotten the chance to, or simply just missed it for whatever reason. I know there are some films that could quite make the list if I got to them in time, films like Rocks or Supernova, but I’m just going to have to make do with the films that I saw, all 81 of them.
Since I saw so many great films, I’m going to rattle off 5 honourable mentions that didn’t quite crack the list, but very easily could have done with a rewatch or less competition.
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) dir. Aaron Sorkin
- The Assistant (2020) dir. Kitty Green
- Swallow (2020) dir. Carlo Mirabella-Davis
- Time (2020) dir. Garrett Bradley
- Mangrove (2020) dir. Steve McQueen
I loved these 5 films a lot, but obviously there were 20 films that I loved more this year.
Let’s just see what they were, I know you’re all dying to know!
20. The Lodge (2020) dir. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
The Lodge captured my interest as soon as I knew that Riley Keough was going to be in the film for more 5 minutes. You may joke, but that was genuinely all it took. Keough is a superb actress who seems to have a habit of being in very limited roles, so a lead role was very promising. The Lodge is a dark, atmospheric horror that pleases in its cinematography and style, but admittedly deals in strange plot choices and character decisions that feel a little manufactured. But I was pleasantly surprised by how it progressed and found myself really liking the ending, against all odds. Keough is great here, probably my favourite performance of hers. I love the feel of this movie too, it’s a misty, religious slow burn that pays off by its conclusion. The way it builds its unsettling vibe among the winter cold is a joy to watch, so much so that it makes up for a less than convincing narrative by being so deeply entrenched in its own atmosphere.
I’ve reviewed this on the site, so you all (should) know how much I love this film. If you want to read about it in all of that detail, definitely do, so I’ll just summarise it here. Kristen Stewart is a delight to watch in this movie and she has some ridiculous chemistry with just about everyone in this movie. Mackenzie Davis does a lot with a tricky role, and Dan Levy & Mary Holland steal the show in just about every second of screen time that they have. We love a future Christmas classic!
18. Shithouse (2020) dir. Cooper Raiff
You know sometimes you watch a movie and you’re half convinced that the people making it know you personally and based some of it off your life experiences because it’s just so close to home? Yeah, 2020 brought me this movie and that happened. Cooper Raiff is 22 years old and directed, wrote, produced, starred in, and co-edited this movie. Not only did he do all of that, but the movie is phenomenal. I felt a lot of myself in this film, the protagonist (played by Raiff) being a socially awkward colourblind kid who struggles to make new connections and has a deep admiration for Jennifer Garner. Yeah…that hit very close to home. That’s a lot of why Shithouse works, also thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Raiff and Dylan Gelula, who both excel in their roles. Darling of being in good movies in roles you don’t notice Abby Quinn is also here, continuing her really interesting career. She also appears on this list again, which is fun and I love that for her. Anyway, Shithouse is a very special film for me and I cannot wait to rewatch it again and again down the line and show it to everyone I know. I’m so glad I could include it on this list because it was a really important watch for me this year.
17. Possessor (2020) dir. Brandon Cronenberg
Possessor is a film that I knew I would like a great deal, but not one that I thought I’d love. I should’ve known really, with Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott leading the fray in a twisty sci-fi movie. Two actors I really love in everything they do with a premise that’s both interesting and well-executed. Possessor is a great-looking film that adopts an intriguing style with every scene progression, it may perhaps lack the depth and emotional complexity to fully land its ending, but it does more than enough to satisfy fans of the genre in a big way, leading the way for more original storytelling with that level of technical prowess behind it. Feels like a spiritual cousin of Ex Machina in a lot of ways, which would explain why I loved it so much!
16. Mank (2020) dir. David Fincher
Mank is really interesting to me, because it feels like it’s already disappeared from public consciousness despite being touted as a Best Picture frontrunner. I definitely understand why people wouldn’t be fans of Fincher’s latest, it’s tonally a little scattered and there feels like a more interesting story packed in there that isn’t being told but perhaps should be. Oldman didn’t really impress me here (not that I expected him to), but there are some great performances here. Amanda Seyfried does career-best work, Tuppence Middleton shows why she should be everywhere, Tom Pelphrey stole my heart and soul with his easy good looks and endearing performance, and Ferdinand Kingsley isn’t getting nearly enough attention for his performance as Irving Thalberg, which may be my favourite in the film. I don’t love Mank enough to want to rewatch right away, but I respect Fincher’s direction a great deal and think this is a really well-put together film, despite being a little visually dark sometimes. It’s smoothly edited, framed wonderfully, and Fincher’s signature meticulousness is there in front of your eyes as the camera glides across the lavish period sets. So while Mank doesn’t approach top-tier Fincher for me, it still holds its own and its a great film in its own right.
15. The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020) dir. Natalie Krinsky
In a lot of very real ways, The Broken Hearts Gallery is my favourite movie of the year. It’s without a doubt one of my favourite experiences of watching a film this year, and I feel it very deeply in my bones as a new personal romcom classic. Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery have some of the best chemistry of the whole year and both impress with their performances, as do the supporting cast. Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo are hilarious together and Bernadette Peters does some of her best work in years here. It’s a very easy watch and handles its material in an excellent way, being witty, charming, and intelligent enough to not pander to its audience. The jokes land every time, the story is compelling, and the characters feel so authentic thanks to the brilliant writing and great cast behind them. The Broken Hearts Gallery is the film I haven’t stopped thinking about and will be rewatching very soon, and it hurts to have it this low on the list but sometimes you can’t deny quality.
14. Black Bear (2020) dir. Lawrence Michael Levine
Oh look, Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott show up on this list again. I adored both of these two in 2020 in all the films they were in, but Black Bear is my favourite of them. It’s challenging, bizarrely conceptualised, and smart enough to know that it warrants a rewatch before you start to unpack what’s happening and what it all means. I loved loved loved everything that Plaza was doing and I’m obsessed with her career-best performance. I wrote about this more in my Best Scenes post yesterday, so to be broader Black Bear as a whole film is a mind-bender with an ending that I still don’t really understand, but a film that I’ll happily revisit to find out. It’s so well-done that I want to scream, but a little too dense the first time around to go any higher on the list.
13. Wolfwalkers (2020) dir. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Wolfwalkers was the first film I saw at LFF this year and has been with me ever since. Beautifully animated with an endearing story, it’s by far the best animated movie of the year. Wolfwalkers approaches familiar beats with a freshness of tone, and the female friendship at the heart of it is so honest that it really brings a tear the eye thinking about it. I love the way the film and plot progress, especially the third act which is exciting, emotional, and exactly the way the film should have ended. I love Wolfwalkers and I really hope it gets a chance this awards season, seeing how disappointed I was by Soul it’s no wonder that I’m rooting for this, but I think I’d be rooting for this anyway. Cartoon Saloon truly deserve all the success they can get from this film, something that’s beautiful and heartwarming without being overly cloying. See Wolfwalkers the first chance you can, it’ll be so worth it.
12. The Invisible Man (2020) dir. Leigh Whannell
Another film I wrote about in my previous post, particularly the Opening, so I’ll talk more about the film as a whole. The Invisible Man is one of the best films of the year because of the way treats its audience. It uses sound, space, and performance in such an effective way and lets the audience figure out for itself what is happening, providing just enough exposition to guide you through the story without handholding. I adore Leigh Whannell for what he does here, using the immense talent of Elisabeth Moss to lead the film with her mannerisms and emotionality spearheading the charge. With gorgeous direction and acting, a beautiful score, and one of the best endings of the year, The Invisible Man was one of the last films I saw in the cinema back at the beginning of the year and is so good that it’s lasted all this time at the top of my list and rightly so! I love this movie for everything that it is and can’t wait for whatever Whannell puts out next!
11. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) dir. George C. Wolfe
Featuring what is probably the best acting ensemble of the year, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a capably directed adaptation of August Wilson’s stage play, featuring dynamite performances from everyone. Viola Davis is captivating and thunderous in her role while the late Chadwick Boseman delivers a performance for the ages, including two heart-pounding monologues that cement him as one of our best and make his passing all the more sorrowful. Seeing what he put into this role is so inspiring and this performance will live on forever in my mind and film history. Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, and Glynn Turman also deliver beautiful performances to round out the cast, perhaps they’re not as loud and dynamic at the others, but they’re bolstering the film in their own way and they’re nothing short of brilliant. The script is undeniably great, Wilson’s words being handled amazingly by the actors, while Wolfe zips around the spaces with the camera, keeping the electric flow and energy of the script intact while getting the very best out of these performances. An exceptional film, often hilarious and always doing something really, really great.
Okay, we’ve reached the top 10. Any films past this point are top-tier and beyond reproach. Just kidding, but not really.
10. Shiva Baby (2020) dir. Emma Seligman
Adapted from her own short film of the same name, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is the most anxiety-inducing movie since mother! which it’s honestly not unlike in a few ways. Shiva Baby follows Danielle, a bisexual Jewish woman who attends a shiva with her family and is subjected to old flames, more than one awkward situation, and many, many personal questions about her life that she isn’t equipped to answer. Featuring strong blocking and movement choreography and great natural performances from the cast. Rachel Sennott in particular gives a magical performance in the lead role. Every interaction in this film is loaded with subtext and stomach-churning anxiety that feels like you’re in a horror film watching this happen, backed by the score that only adds to that terror that builds within you as you watch it. This may not be one that I rewatch a lot, but it’s certainly one that I’ll remember for the way it made me feel. And it’s less than 90 minutes which is always a bonus.
9. The Nest (2020) dir. Sean Durkin
My oh my if I was judging these films based on how iconic their lead actress performances are going to be, this is the top of the list no question. The Nest is another film that feels a bit like a horror film but actually isn’t. It focuses on a marriage that’s affected when they make a cross-continent move from America to England, moving into a huge, huge house that is definitely too big for the family of four. Tensions start to rise when façades are challenged, realities are confronted, and Carrie Coon eats everything up with a spoon. She’s seriously fantastic here and deserves awards consideration. Jude Law is also excellent. The film glides along a familiar narrative, but there are small twists and turns throughout that make it distinct, especially the ending which is so satisfying because of how it subverts what you think and presume will happen. Carrie Coon for President.
8. Sound of Metal (2020) dir. Darius Marder
Just utterly fantastic in every way, Sound of Metal is one of the best films 2020 had to offer, including one of the best cast performances. Olivia Cooke is excellent, Paul Raci is beyond that, and Riz Ahmed tears up the whole film with his rampant energy. He’s outstanding and award-worthy. Marder uses sound in such a smart way here, letting the audience fully immerse in what Ruben is experiencing following the loss of his hearing. Pushed to learn sign language and acclimatise to his new situation without thinking of it as a handicap, Ruben goes on a very interesting journey about his inner self and the new people around him and it makes for a beautiful film. It feels like the antithesis of Whiplash in a lot of ways, but definitely not in a bad way. The performances are all fantastic, Marder handles everything so confidently and I really, really love this film.
Another film that I’ve already had the chance to review on the site, and another one that had cemented itself in my Top 10 for a long while. I rewatched this again just last night and it so holds up. Everything I said about this film in my review is true, it’s hilarious, poignant in the right place, and expertly performed. There are so many fun little moments that are sprinkled in there for just a few seconds but it really works, especially the montage moments. Samberg and Milioti are obviously hilarious and I want a whole barrage of time-loop films starring these getting stuck in loops in different situations. Maybe a funeral next time for some super-dark comedy stylings. Maybe a high-school reunion or something? Who do I have to call to make this happen because I absolutely adore this movie and will be watching it until my eyes fall out.
Oh look, another film I reviewed!! I haven’t had the chance to rewatch this yet, but this is still excellent in my mind. King makes the leap from stage to screen immensely well, letting the camera drift through a room and capitalise on her excellent blocking and the unforgettable performance from each of the main four actors. Odom Jr. probably remains my favourite performance, but Ben-Adir, Goree, and Hodge are all strong in their own right. I cannot wait for this to be available on VOD so I can rent and watch it again, confirming its brilliance. But with the pace and quality of the script, the dynamite performances, and the controlled direction, One Night in Miami… is one of my favourite films of the year and sadly just missed out on a place in the coveted Top 5.
Top 5…here we go, things are getting serious now!
You’ll notice that I both wrote about this film yesterday and published a longer review of it, the third film in a row to have one! Are you sensing a theme? I love reviewing films I love! I don’t think there’s much more I can say about Never Rarely Sometimes Always that I haven’t already said in better detail so go read that review if you haven’t already! Basically, Eliza Hittman is a goddess with the camera placements and Sidney Flanigan gives one of the best debut performances I’ve ever seen. This film deserves everything, also Talia Ryder deserves more love for her performance here because she’s so quietly one of the best things about it! Title sequence obviously remains unchallenged but the entire film really just resonates in a way that not a lot of films do lately. I hope this is given the awards love it deserves despite being such a small film, it really does a lot with so little and I adore this movie.
Aaaaaand another film that I’ve reviewed, I’m really making this easy for myself coming into the Top 5 by having pre-existing pieces up about this already! I’m Thinking of Ending Things soared into my Top spot in September and has only fallen a few places since, which was sort of inevitable really with all the other great movies that would come out. My first 5-star movie of the year and in the additional viewings I’ve done of it, it’s stayed that way. It’s brilliant, complex filmmaking with a litany of terrific performances and atmospheric cinematography to accompany them. I have one complaint and that is that the Jesse Plemons version of Lonely Room is not yet on Spotify and neither is the score, two things I very very much need to get through 2021 intact. So yeah, this is amazing and it’s on Netflix, go crazy!
3. Nomadland (2020) dir. Chloé Zhao
Nomadland is just really phenomenal filmmaking. Chloé Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards work together magnificently to create indelible magic-hour filmmaking that at certain points invokes When The Credits Roll favourite Terrence Malick, which obviously increased my enjoyment of this. Frances McDormand is really great in the lead role, some of her best work in recent years, while the real nomads and non-actors do some lovely work…Oscar nomination for Swankie I think! The screenplay is richly written, though could have definitely taken a decidedly political stance and doubled down on the thematics, but Nomadland still works excellently as a deep, sensually shot film that is just really, really terrific.
I am certain that nobody needs me to talk about this film any more than I already have in a plethora of posts on this site, so I’ll just review my thoughts. It’s brilliant filmmaking from Fennell, a gorgeously twisty script with lots of attention to detail and one that provides an opportunity for a magnetic performance from Carey Mulligan, who pulls off lots of relatively unachievable things in this movie, balancing a variety of tones, moods, and styles to accomplish one of the best performances of the year and of her career. Promising Young Woman is so much more than it seems on paper and deserves all the love and attention from audiences and all the awards each voting body can bestow upon it.
1. Minari (2020) dir. Lee Isaac Chung
Yep. Minari is my favourite film of the year. It was one of those instances where I just sort of knew when I was watching that that I was paying attention to something really special. Welcomed in by Emile Mosseri’s luscious Oscar-worthy score, Minari tells the story of a South Korean family who try to settle down in America in the 80’s. The film is about family more than anything else, the expectations of family, and what people do for their families. The entire cast is absolutely excellent and I cannot fault anyone. Steven Yeun is exceptional here and Youn Yuh-jung steals every second that she’s on screen. Alan Kim gives an impressively perceptive child performance that ranks among the best, and Han Ye-ri is not getting nearly enough credit for her beautifully worn performance. Chung directs this film in such a way that it feels more like you’re being initiated into the Yi family yourself as everything is so intimate and captured by Lachlan Milne in such a dreamlike way that Minari sort of wraps you up in this big, beautiful hug and doesn’t let go until the very end. This film had a massive impact on me and I will love it until the end of time.
So there we go, 2020’s year in film coming to a close and those were my 20 favourites. I’m hoping 2021 sees some good content with the awaited releases of many delayed films, but one can only hope.
What were your favourites of the year? Do you disagree with my list? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter, I’d love to discuss 2020’s film slate with you all!
Have a very Happy New Year and see you all in 2021, I’ve got some exciting posts planned that I can’t wait to get started on! As always, take care and stay safe!