Is it February 2021? Indeed. Am I still writing out a list pertaining to perhaps the worst financial year in Hollywood history? Absolutely. Yes, there is no denying that 2020 was the definition of unconventional when it came to the world of movies. And though Tinseltown faced some impressive challenges, many wonderful and significant pieces of art were still able to hit some screens – whether they be big or at home.
So in “celebration” (if you ever could use such a word) of the achievements Hollywood made (despite a global pandemic), I wanted to give a list of my favorite movies of 2020. Are they what most would consider the best? No. But are they significant to me? Yes, and that’s all that matters when it comes to these sorts of things.
Honorable Mention: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Though technically released in 2019, Portrait of a Lady on Fire did get its full domestic run in February of 2020. And there is no doubt that if I saw it during its initial run, it would have taken my number one spot the year before. But since it’s in a bit of a weird movie limbo, I’m giving it a very much deserved honorable mention.
What is there to say that hasn’t already been noted? This movie is a literal work of art. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything on celluloid that has so perfectly depicted the evolution of love between two people like Portrait does. From the stunning gazes of the two leads to the incredible cinematography on display, Portrait is more than just a movie – it is an experience.
In a cinematic year where movie theaters were hard to attend, Netflix’s Extraction had me on the edge of my comfortable home seat. Steered by stuntman turned director Sam Hargrave, this Chris Hemsworth flick might seem like your typical explosion-filled punch fest. But deep beneath its Russo Brother produced surface is an intimate character piece, shot with heart-pounding emotion in every frame. And though it might not be a stylistic as the John Wick franchise, Extraction certainly proves that the action genre has a lot of imaginative fight left within it.
9. Bad Education
Featuring one of Hugh Jackman’s best performances, Bad Education takes a true story that was already fascinating and dashes it with some indie film excellence. Sure, maybe the details were a bit more melodramatic and flourished than what really happened in 2004. But when adapting a story that is almost impossible to believe, sometimes the movie version needs to be even that much zanier. And with a final act that left many holding onto the arms of their couches for dear life, Bad Education took the term “gripping drama” to new heights.
8. Over The Moon
When news broke that Disney Animation legend Glen Keane was going to direct his own animated film, I was already sold. But when Over The Moon finally hit Netflix, every bit of excitement I had for the final product increased multiple times over. Every scene of this emotional tale could be framed in an art museum, while many of the musical numbers stay stuck in your noggin and heart. But what makes Over The Moon a treasure is how it blends the charms of 2D animated storytelling with modern visuals and sensibilities. Proving that though Keane may be part of the “old guard” of his industry, this won’t be his last time in the director’s chair for sure.
7. Vast of Night
Taking the quirky aesthetics of The Twilight Zone mixed with the broad directorial styles of prior indie greats, Vast of Night takes viewers on the oddest of cinematic journeys. Helmed by first time director Andrew Patterson, this refreshing monster movie takes a while to get going. But once the wheels start really turning, this imaginative sci-fi tale pays homage to the classics while taking the genre into new territory. Plus, with its captivating leads (Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz) you almost never want to leave Vast‘s kitschy yet mysterious world.
6. Birds of Prey
Many would argue that Birds of Prey is as un-DC of a movie to ever exist within the brand’s legacy, which may explain why I fell under its unique spell. Helmed by Cathy Yan, this Harley Quinn-led adventure portrays the iconic baddie in the most fascinating ways, with bold and colorful direction. And though the script (and title) definitely has its weak elements, Yan (along with producer/actor Margot Robbie) boosts the material to new heights. It definitely isn’t the comic book movie for everyone, but it indeed checked all of my 90’s girl power boxes, with the sparkliest of metaphorical gel pens.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with analyses of the LGBTQ+ community’s representation in the media. And though I’ve seen my fair share of incredible documentaries on the subject, nothing could have prepared me for the thought-provoking rollercoaster that was Disclosure. Directed by Sam Feder, the film examines a detailed look at Hollywood’s bumpy road towards depicting transgender people. From the highs to the lows, Disclosure doesn’t back down from being completely honest about the topic at hand. To simply put, it should be required viewing for all those that still need to learn tolerance and acceptance.
Known for their catalog of thought-provoking animated tales, Pixar’s latest creation, Soul, certainly stacks as among their top tier greats. Directed by studio head Pete Doctor, Soul takes audiences on one of the studio’s most honest and intimate adventures. One that makes mature viewers question things that maybe they always kept in the back of their minds. And with a memorable score by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Jon Batiste, along with stunning artistic choices, Soul isn’t just a film – but a beautiful experience.
Many film critics might consider Summerland to be one of the more forgettable films of 2020. But in a time where a pandemic and political unrest are right outside our doors, the comforting nature of this British period drama is hard to let go of. Centering around a reclusive myth-focused writer who takes in a boy during World War II, Jessica Swale’s film evokes the magical qualities of 90s adaptations like The Secret Garden and FairyTale, but with a mushy yet modern twist. Though perhaps too predictable to some, Summerland is the cozy sweater of movies that we needed in 2020.
Every year, an animated film steals my heart – a distinction that has now been passed on to Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers. Continuing in the grand tradition of the studio’s prior whimsical tales, Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s latest focuses on two girls from two very different worlds, and how magic brings them together in the most emotional of ways. And with the stunning 2D meets 3D animated hybrid the studio is known for, Wolfwalkers is a treasure to behold in both its classic story and revolutionary visual splendor.
- Promising Young Woman
Often, films that make the festival circuit will gain a sort of hype that eventually feels unwarranted. But in the case of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, even the praise it gained prior to its release wasn’t enough. Sure, it has its flaws like any of the films on this list. But as a 31-year-old who grew up in the same social media landscape as it’s lead character, its hard to not feel (despite the tough subject matter at hand) that this movie was made for you. And with a career-defining performance by Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman may never leave my mind.
So those are my favorite movies of 2020. What are on your list? Comment below and let me know your picks!