10 Best Movies of 2020
2020 is one of those years many of us, or perhaps all of us, would like to forget for a variety of reasons. Saying that blockbusters are the one thing that brought us together is pretty much a foreign concept considering that theaters across the world are inaccessible. Plus, there were so many other things like the pandemic, racial tensions, and an election, that took precedence over something as minute as a film. Still, if we wanted something to ease to pain of a tragic year known as 2020, we could always rely on any film, no matter the genre.
Sure, our annual highly anticipated superhero films were postponed to a later date, while other films that would have looked beautiful on the big screen were relegated to the confines of a TV from a respective studio’s exclusive streaming service, but we can’t overlook some of the other great films that have come out this year.
As I have always said on my top 10 lists, these are my top 10 films of the year. Meaning, these 10 films had a profound effect on me as it brought out emotions, made me ponder about our existence, was just pure popcorn fun, or had me reflect on my upbringing.
My Top 10 Best Movies of 2020
10 – Birds of Prey
As far as I am concerned, Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” did not nearly get enough of the attention it deserved when it was in theaters for a very short time. One could get into how it was a shimmering display of female-empowerment juxtaposed against bone-crunching action sequences. But there is a lot more to it than just tacking on that kind of imagery into the fights or dialogue, a lot of it had to do with introducing new characters into this world and giving them the kind of depth that would make us care.
Yan brought a lot of that out by giving us a Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who can be vulnerable and strong at once, while also giving us a chance to get to know the other members of the “Birds of Prey”. Flashy introductions revealed the member’s history, tragedies, and the male toxicity they have dealt with in the past. All of that culminates to a one-of-a-kind team up that that blends kinetic and highly-stylized action sequences with energetic music. If there was ever a film that truly embraced the spirit of Harley’s wacky anti-hero vibes along with the dark and grit of the DC films, it would be “Birds of Prey.”
9 – Wolfwalkers
“Wolfwalkers’s” traditionally hand-drawn animation may feel like a thing of the past, but it is a style that is as timeless as the story itself. Though Cartoon Saloon’s latest film is based on Irish folklore, a lot of its themes of colonialism, environmentalism, acceptance, empowerment, and religion remain highly topical in this day and age. Even for a film that looks as beautiful as this, to be able to discuss these dense themes with such empathy is astounding because it doesn’t come off as a simple that has all of the answers but lets its audience decide what kind of message you want to take away from viewing it.
But “Wolfwalkers’s” true strength comes from its voice work, clean script, and stunning illustrative art. The cast keeps us engaged with their voices as though they were telling us a bedtime story. Even the visuals stylings are reminiscent of an illustrative storybook from your childhood. And it’s how these characters emote – whether they are a human or in wolf form – or nature itself moves that draws us into a world that feels anything but flat.
8 – On the Rocks
Sophia Coppola’s “On The Rocks” may take a minimalistic approach to explore a relationship between a father and daughter, but this is a lighthearted jazzy and whimsy adventure brings in well-earned laughs from Rashida Jones as Laura, a wife, and writer living in the heart of New York City, and Felix (Bill Murray), a well-traveled centric and eternally cheerful man, who lives at one sophisticated top shelf alcoholic drink at a time. Sure, the film is not exactly the typical comedy, but it works because of its contemporary setting and chemistry between Jones and Murray.
Jones’s Laura is very much the embodiment of the modern hard-working mom who tries to balance out her family life with work. Murray’s Felix, on the other hand, is a bit of the cliched, but very irresistible, eccentric playboy who knows how to weasel himself out of a ticket and seems to know everybody. Though the two seem be an unlikely pair, but they are able to match each other’s pace without missing a beat. And underneath all of that lighthearted humor lies emotion and vulnerability from both characters that give the film much more depth.
7 – First Cow
Though I am not the biggest fan of Kelly Reichardt’s works, I found “First Cow” to be completely mesmerizing because doesn’t play by the typical rules of a Western genre. Instead, it weaves in those tropes we are so familiar with into a story about capitalism, greed, and entrepreneurship. In its slow pacing and quiet approach, we have a story about John Magaro’s Otis “Cookie” Figowitz and Orion Lee’s King-Lu fighting to survive as they pursue the American dream.
“First Cow” may lack the explosive energy of any familiar action westerner, Reichardt’s brings in a simplicity to a storytelling that makes the film fresh and unique, while also using Cookie and King-Lu’s friendship to make it feel timeless. Both make for very scrappy pair. As individuals, they lack the skills necessary to be the kind of successful business story that would make them filthy rich and legendary. But together, they are able to use each other’s skills and strengths to become something else.
6 – Soul
Disney•Pixar’s “Soul” is not your average studio animated feature as it dares to boldly go where few animated features even think about venturing out to. It’s not so much a film about the afterlife as it is about human existence, the meaning of life, and being able to keep our dreams and passions in check without being consumed by them. The film then takes it a step further by adding a certain degree of representation as it is the first Pixar feature to have an African-American as the lead.
Pete Docter and Kemp Powers bring us an emotional story that is ambitious and honest but a bit overly complex for the younger audience. However, “Soul” isn’t condescending, and provides some of the answers to life’s toughest questions with warm child-like humor and not once shying away from the truth about the inevitable. “Soul” is very much a Pixar film, through and through, as it is able to prioritize great emotional storytelling along with groundbreaking animation. It also doesn’t help to have a great score from Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste.
5 – Nomadland
Chloé Zhao‘s “Nomadland” is a expressive portrait of two contrasting modern-day America that is visualized through beautiful untouched landscapes and soulless corporatization. Frances McDormand plays as Fern, a woman who rediscovers her identity by accepting a nomadic lifestyle after being discarded by capitalism. Her journey takes her across America, where we witness its beauty through running rivers, gorgeous sunsets touching the mountainous terrain, and hallowing winds.
As much as Fern’s journey is a transformative one and provides a view of the majestic scenery of America, Zhao’s “Nomadland” is more about the people who live their life on the road and constantly on the move searching for their American dream. The film then adds a layer of authenticity by bringing in American nomads to tell their story and how capitalism has affected their lives. Above all, this is a film that asks its viewers to understand why these nomads have chosen this lifestyle and to be acknowledged as human beings.
“One Night In Miami” may be Regina King’s directorial debut, but the film feels a lot like she has been behind the camera for many years. Based on a piece written by playwright Kemp Powers, the film centers on the discussions of the responsibility of being a successful Black person during the Civil Rights movement. Though it may take place in the 1960s, a lot of the subject matter is timeless because systemic racism continues to plague this country and how successful Black Americans use their platform to help those unfortunate or raising awareness to the reality of the racial and ethnic tensions.
The film centers on a fictionalized meeting between Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown, four icons of activism, music, and sports, coming together in a Miami hotel room in February 1964. Though the film is limited to the confines of one room, it creates for a stage play feel that allows the audience to feel like they are in there with them. And the cast Kingsley Ben-Adir (Malcom X), Eli Goree (Muhuammad Ali), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown) and Leslie Odom Jr (Sam Cooke) all give extraordinary performances to a point where it looks like they lose themselves in the role.
Emerald Fennell makes a stunning directorial debut with “Promising Young Woman,” a wickedly smart and razor-sharp commentary on toxic masculinity that is well-crafted and funny. Carey Mulligan delivers one of the most impressive performances of her career as Cassie, a cunning young woman who uses her appeal and her wits to carry out an act of vengeance for a dear friend that she lost.
“Promising Young Woman” oozes with confidence and turns what could have been a generic revenge flick into something completely unexpected. Designed to be completely uncomfortable and also thought-provoking, the film challenges what we know about a broken justice system that benefits the “straight privledged white male.” But it’s not without its moments of levity that help make the film fun and engaging, but also something that will be remembered for a long time because there is no other film like it.
2 – Sound of Metal
Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal” connects to its audience on a deeply emotional level through Riz Amhed’s transformative role as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer and former drug addict who is suddenly struck with hearing loss. The film is so much more about how Ruben adapts to his near deafness and how his choices impact his life, it dares to explore our relationship with our sense of hearing by showing us a real community that communicates with their hands and their emotions.
“Sound of Metal” is a film that portrays the deaf community with authenticity and nuance, and its use of closed captioning allows audiences of hearing to understand the deaf community’s experiences. Beyond that, “Sound of Metal” is a work of art that uses its sound editing and sound design to bring us a story about a man in recovery who must choose if the loss of hearing is a state of mind and a blessing or fall back into bad habits by getting his hearing back at any cost.
1 – Minari
If there is one film that I truly connected with this year, it would have to be Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari.” Though the film’s immigrant leads speak primarily in Korean, that doesn’t make it a foreign language film because deals with assimilation, family, legacy, identity, and the family’s patriarch’s (Steven Yuen) pursuit of the American dream.
Though many of “Minari’s” nuances are culturally specific, Chung avoids romanticizing that Korean culture by giving audiences a story about the immigrant experience and the sacrifices they have to make to achieve success. The film takes its time to tell its story, giving just enough screentime to all of its characters including Jacob (Steven Yuen), Monica (Han Ye-Ri), David (Alan Kim), and Anne (Noel Kate Cho) so that we can understand what their experiences are living as immigrants or the child of immigrants as they adapt to their new surroundings while also creating their identity and honoring their family’s culture. And watching that story be captured beautifully through excellent performances and a resonating story will surely make anyone feel emotional.
What are your top movies of the year?