2020 was a very weird year for film. There was a pushback of plenty of movies, so a lot of the movies I was looking forward to that year was pushed back a year or even more. I also watched a lot less movies from 2020 year compared to past years, having only seen 55 movies from this year. Still, there were good films that came out in 2020 that are worth praising.
I should mention that films like The Father and Judas and the Black Messiah, which would otherwise be higher up on this list, are 2021 movies and so won’t be on this list.
The Nest was a smaller movie that didn’t seem to get a lot of attention from many people, but those who had seen it had very positive things to say about it. I’m glad I checked it out, it’s definitely worth seeing.
It’s a slow moving drama and it does take a while to figure out what it is about. However at its core, The Nest is a family drama portraying a slow but catastrophic disintegration of a marriage, and a deconstruction of the nuclear family, with themes about family, wealth, and what it means to be successful. It made for a slow descent into chaos that really creeps up on you. It was uneasy, uncomfortable and stressful to watch, with a sinister and moody atmosphere throughout, akin to a horror movie. The acting is also strong, with Jude Law being really good in his part and Carrie Coon being the outstanding stand out among the cast. It’s not for everyone and will be too slow for some, but I do think that it is worth checking out.
Weathering with You
I had a feeling that I would really like Weathering with You from the moment I heard that it was from the filmmaker of Your Name, which is one of my favourite anime films of all time. While his latest movie doesn’t quite top his previous movie, I still think that it’s great.
Many of the great elements from Your Name are here. It blends multiple elements and genres including romance, drama, fantasy and coming of age together for its personal and smaller scaled story. The characters are well established and likable, and I liked following them. The direction from Makoto Shinkai as usual is outstanding, with his distinct and hyper-realistic animation style. The visuals are amazing, from the character movements, to the locations and settings. Empathetic and emotional, and under a beautiful direction throughout, I found Weathering with You to be enthralling.
20. One Night in Miami
One Night in Miami was up there in the movie awards conversation, and for very good reason. It’s very strong on all fronts, acting, directing and writing, it’s a very powerful movie, and it’s a great film overall.
One Night in Miami does take a while to get going, but by the time the four main characters meet up, you’re invested in the characters and the plot. It’s a relatively simple movie, mostly taking place in one location. However it dives into many thought provoking and relevant conversations and keeps your attention all the way through. It is very well written, with some brilliant dialogue that’s incredibly well written and compelling (which it would need to be given that it’s dialogue focused and based off a play). The performances from the main four leads in Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr are excellent in their parts, and they play off each other very well. Regina King’s debut here as a filmmaker is fantastic, making the movie feel very cinematic despite it being based off a play. One Night in Miami is a very impressive movie that I was invested in from beginning to end.
19. The Gentlemen
This was actually the first 2020 movie that I watched. Initially I liked it quite a lot, it was very entertaining and was for sure one of Guy Ritchie’s best movies. However, upon a rewatch it held up for me, and I liked it even more. I really wasn’t expecting it to still be in my top 20 of 2020 over a year later.
The Gentlemen is very entertaining, with some strong writing throughout. It’s sharp, memorable, and really funny. Like with Snatch, there are multiple characters and storylines crossing over and intertwining. It may be known as an action comedy, but really the great dialogue is the action of The Gentlemen. The cast are all fantastic on their parts, with Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam, and Colin Farrell being my favourites of the performances. Guy Ritchie is at home directing in this genre. His style in this movie is his substance, it’s polished to perfection and it works to great effect. The Gentlemen is a return to form for Guy Ritchie, more so than RockNRolla, which was released over 10 years earlier. It’s darkly hilarious, constantly entertaining, and I really enjoyed watching it.
This is another movie that I wasn’t expecting to be in my top 20 by the end of the year. Until Emma, I hadn’t watched a single Jane Austen adaptation, but Emma proved to be a delightful experience of a movie that had me entertained from beginning to end.
Emma is great, hilarious, very witty, and snappy, with some rich characters and some great dialogue. Anya Taylor-Joy is pitch perfect in the title role, while the large supporting cast that consists of Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner and performed well on their parts. AAdditionally, Autumn de Wilde’s work as director is incredible. It is visually stunning and gorgeous, and all edited together incredibly well, along with having great production values. Much of the movie is very stylish, but it is done in a way that suits the material. I’ll admit that ultimately it took me a second viewing to understand and really ‘get’ this movie, but from that point, I found Emma to be such a fun and well made movie, and one of the movie highlights from 2020.
17. Black Bear
Black Bear was quite an unexpected movie, one that definitely benefits from not knowing too much going into it. While it does make it a hard movie to describe or sell to people, I can assure you that it is well worth the watch.
I must emphasise that it’s a movie worth going into blind, especially with its significant turn some way into the movie. While it’s not perfect and does detach you from the narrative a bit, it does add something interesting to the film. What I can say is that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and analysis. The writing itself is great, the dialogue is chaotic, sharp and very memorable. The acting work from everyone is great, with Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon being solid in major supporting roles. However it’s Aubrey Plaza who gets the most recognition from this movie and for very good reason, she’s fantastic here. Plaza is captivating and intense, some of the best acting work I’ve seen from her, and truly one of the highlight performances from the past year. It’s directed well too, beautiful to look at, and its intense camerawork gives the film a dynamic and real feeling. Sound design is great and sharp, and that paired with the bleakness of the cinematography and its haunting score helps creating a foreboding sense of dread. Black Bear is a mindbending, unexpected and well directed dramatic thriller, with effective tension throughout. To a degree it’s not for everyone, but I do think that it’s worth a watch.
16. The Trial of the Chicago 7
As a major awards season contender, The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems to have become firmly the least liked best picture nominee (which usually ends up happening to at least one nominee every year). I really do understand a lot of the criticisms, in fact some of my praise on this movie has decreased a little bit upon further thought even though I really liked it when I first saw it. But looking back on it, I still like it quite a lot.
The script was all the things you’d expect from Aaron Sorkin, with snappy and captivating dialogue, a fast pace, and some memorable moments. It locks you in with what’s happening from beginning to end. There’s also a massive ensemble cast for this movie, everyone is great including Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abduel-Mateen II, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, John Caroll Lynch, Jeremy Strong, and Frank Langella. Unfortunately, it does have some notable aspects which do take away from the movie, even in retrospect. It definitely has some Sorkinisms with some of the dialogue choices, how he chose to represent certain events and people on screen, and especially the ending. I would’ve liked to have seen a darker and more accurate representation of the real life events for sure. With all that said, I still think it was a good movie and I do think that it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.
Mangrove is the first entry in the Small Axe anthology, all of which are directed by Steve McQueen. I haven’t seen all 5 movies yet, but at the moment in time, I don’t see the rest of them topping this one. It’s solid in every aspect, and I was engaged from beginning to end.
Steve McQueen gives a great examination of the themes and subject matters in the forefront as he sheds light on an incredible true story. It’s smaller scale, yet very compelling story of a community together, fighting for their human rights. It’s quite a powerful movie, and I was invested throughout. It takes a while to get to the trial, but the first half of the movie is necessary as we are introduced to the people and the Mangrove itself. Then when it gets to the courtroom drama, it is riveting and well written. The cast are all great, with the highlights being Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Darcus Howe. McQueen’s direction here is strong, his work here is more subdued and restrained compared to his other work but it’s very effective here. All in all, it’s a well crafted and passionate historical drama. While I can’t speak for the quality of the entirety of Small Axe, I do think Mangrove is worth checking out at the very least.
14. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Never Rarely Sometimes Always was one of the most surprising movies from 2020. It’s a very small indie movie that got a lot of traction, and then acclaim, and it definitely deserved all the attention it has been receiving.
What was immediately noticeable about Never Rarely Sometimes Always was its approach to storytelling. It’s not so focused on dialogue and it makes a lot of use out of silence, speaking volumes by saying a little. It tells a story through subtext and silence, from the character’s actions, the performances and the direction, making the movie feel all the more real. It resists going all in on unwelcome melodrama or larger ‘dramatic’ and overtly emotional moments, instead focusing the attention on being more natural. It’s empathetic and honest too, and by the end is very powerful. The acting is impressive from Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in the lead roles, both performances are subtle, genuine and powerful and share great chemistry together. The whole movie feels authentic from the sets, to the sound, and to the cinematography and camerawork, especially with what they focus and linger on. I did want more character development, but it is the sort of movie where you aren’t given the full context of everything, or know why certain people do what they do, and I think that really works for the film. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a raw, nuanced and powerful movie, and one that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already.
13. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things was definitely one of the most polarising movies of 2020. It’s really not for everyone, however I’m glad that I’m one of the people who liked this movie quite a lot.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things isn’t a horror movie in the conventional sense, but it is quite bleak, melancholic and depressing, yet very well written from Kaufman, with many layers and much to talk about. I was invested, even if much of the movie consisted of long conversations, I was fascinated with what was happening. The acting from everyone is great, with Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette and David Thewlis all performing greatly. However, it’s Jessie Buckley who’s the standout here, delivering one of the best performances from 2020. Kaufman’s direction shines a lot here too, from its stunning (and 4:3 ratio) cinematography, to the great and off kilter editing that indicates that something is really off throughout. There’s not much clear cut explanations about much of what the film is trying to say, and I admit that I don’t exactly understand everything. For me it’s quite possible that a rewatch could improve or break the movie for me. For now, I’ll just say that I had a really good experience watching it. It’s a strange and confusing film that will frustrate many, but I thought it was great.
12. Saint Maud
Saint Maud had been one of the most anticipated horror movies from 2020, and while some people were disappointed with the film after all the hype, I thought it was great. It’s a short and simple, yet effective and intimate psychological horror film.
Saint Maud is less intense horror and scares than creepy, disturbing and unsettling, with a creeping sense of dread throughout. It was a slow burn of a character study, that I was invested in throughout. This movie is a look at religious fanaticism, mental illness, loneliness and isolation. Morfydd Clark is amazing, mesmerising, and captivating in the lead role, one of the highlights of the film for sure. Rose Glass directs this movie incredibly well, I really want to see what she makes next. The movie is visually stunning with gloomy cinematography and memorable imagery, and features some great sound mixing and music, all of which combine together to build suspense and tension as well as a chilling atmosphere. It could’ve benefited by being a bit longer to flesh out its ideas and themes, but all in all, Saint Maud was a great horror film.
11. The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man was one of the earlier movies from 2020 that still managed to get released before cinemas closed and movies started to be delayed. It still remained a very memorable movie even amongst all the other newer releases, and one that I’m still incredibly impressed by.
This is a modern adaptation of the original story, and that certainly seemed difficult to make, definitely hard to make an invisible man actually scary. However, director/writer Leigh Whannell and co. pulled it off, and the tweaks to modernise the story worked to great effect. The story is essentially about domestic abuse and gaslighting, and explores the traumas in an abusive relationship. That was more unsettling than the actual idea of a man being invisible. The movie is unnerving, and you feel as paranoid as the protagonist. While some of the concepts and ideas on paper might sound silly, it actually works here. As great as the rest of the movie around her is, Elisabeth Moss was key to making it succeed as well as it did, she gave an incredible performance on her part. Whannell directed this movie so well, this and Upgrade shows him as a great horror filmmaker and I’m looking forward to seeing what he makes next. The use of lingering camera shots and movements are so effective, making you unnerved at what you’re seeing, or not fully seeing. Combining that with the great visual effects and the powerful sound design and score, and it really escalates the already tense atmosphere. If you’re a fan of horror, I highly recommend checking out The Invisible Man.
There have been some great horror movies from 2020, but Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is my favourite of them all. A disturbing, unsettling and incredibly well-made psychological horror film, it made for a very memorable experience.
Possessor is a very creative, ambitious and unapologetic movie, packed with so many ideas. It doesn’t hold your hand, requiring you to put the pieces together of what’s happening in the story. It’s deliberately paced yet I was very intrigued throughout. The futuristic setting is bleak, and much of the movie is unsettling even before it gets to the brutality and shocking images. The cast are all great, especially Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott as the leads. Brandon Cronenberg directs this film incredibly well. It’s a visually and aesthetically stunning movie with a great colour pallet, and some outstanding hypnotic, surreal and nightmarish sequences. It’s an assault on the sense from the very first scene all the way to the end. Possessor is very much not for everyone, the gore at the very least will turn people off, and some might not be as into the story. But it was one of the most riveting and intense experiences I’ve had watching a horror movie recently.
I went into Soul not being quite sure of what to expect. I just saw one of the trailers and knew that it was a Pixar movie from the people who made Inside Out. I didn’t expect it to be as great as it turned out to be.
If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend going into Soul without not knowing much about it. It was a lot deeper than expected, with it being a journey that really makes you think about life. It’s a beautifully told and very human story that’s full of sincerity, honesty and heart about what it means to be alive, as well as the purpose of life. It’s Pixar’s most mature movie by far, in fact I see older audiences getting much more out of the movie. At the same time, it is entertaining and there’s some good humour here too. The characters are great, even the brief characters who only have a few minutes of screentime are memorable, and they are voiced by a great cast including Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton and Rachel House. The movie is also directed well by Pete Doctor, beautifully and stylishly animated with its stylised photorealism approach to the locations and characters (at least when the movie takes place in the real world). It’s only enhanced further by the outstanding score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Soul is one of Pixar’s most clever, poignant and honest films, and one of their best.
There had been a lot of hype and anticipation for Minari based off the early reactions, and they were absolutely justified. It’s fantastically made on every level, and was all around an incredible experience.
Minari is a heartfelt and empathetic portrait of the immigrant experience from the perspective of a Korean-American family in the search of the American Dream, showing the hardships they go through. Their story is tender, genuine, funny and heartwarming. Director Lee Isaac Chung translates his own personal childhood story to the big screen in such a beautiful way. The cast all deliver truly great performances, especially Steven Yeun, Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung. Minari is a great and truly personal family drama. Watch this as soon as you can.
Nomadland is one of the most acclaimed movies from 2020 and it’s for very good reason. It’s a poetic, quiet and contemplative character study, and an intimate look at grief and loss. It’s great on pretty much every front.
Nomadland is plotless yet character driven as we follow the main character become a nomad over the course of the movie. It really is a story about real people and real stories, full of many memorable and heartfelt side characters who leave their mark on the film in an effective way. Despite it not really having a driving force throughout, we get lost and invested we follow the main character on her spiritual journey. The acting from everyone is great. Along with the performances from the real life nomads in the supporting cast, Frances McDormand here gives quite possible her best performance yet. Chloe Zhao’s direction is nothing short of extraordinary, and on a technical level the movie is pretty much perfect. The cinematography is natural, personal and gorgeous. Whether its be capturing beautiful landscapes or mundane areas, Zhao makes everything look beautiful. I do understand if people don’t like the movie, but I do think that it’s worth a watch at the very least.
6. Another Round
Released later in the year, Another Round quickly became one of my favourite movies of 2020. A dark comedy about drinking, life and more, it is energetic, hilarious yet heartbreaking and compelling.
The plot is about drinking but instead of just focusing on the negative effects, the film shows both the positives and negatives, while looking at serious subject matters including alcoholism, discontent lives, midlife crises, and marriage. It’s honest in a way that’s not sappy, it feels genuine. There’s a lighthearted tone throughout, so it’s easy to watch and is entertaining, but it also has emotional moments and darker aspects that stick with you. The cast are great especially the main 4 actors in Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe and Magnus Millang, with Mikkelsen giving one of his all-time best performances. Another Round is a humane, warm and cathartic dramedy that shows the benefits and drawbacks of alcohol, and is a very reflective and entertaining movie about life, friendship and day drinking. Check it out if you haven’t already.
5. Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal really crept up on me, an impactful and genuine drama that’s incredibly thoughtful, powerful and well made. I’m so glad that it’s receiving all the acclaim and awards recognition, because it absolutely deserves them.
While Sound of Metal might be structured in a predictable way in that it’s about someone who has something happen to them that changes their life, and then they have to grow to accept their new circumstances, it doesn’t play out how you’d expect. It feels real and you are invested with what happens. It’s thoughtful, sensitive, and impactful, never once getting to the point where it feels heavy handed. It’s an insightful look into the experiences of people that we can only imagine ourselves. It focuses on quiet and powerful character interactions and moments over larger dramatic moments. This is only also helped further by the impressive direction from Darius Marder, especially with the incredible use of sound mixing. Then there’s the outstanding acting, Olivia Cooke and Paul Raci giving memorable supporting performances, and Riz Ahmed’s powerfully affecting performance is his career best. Definitely worth checking out as soon as possible if you haven’t already.
4. Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman was one of the most talked about movies from 2020, leaving quite an impact on critics and audiences. Stylish, provocative and excellently made, it was one of the past year’s most memorable movies.
The writing is strong, subversive and unpredictable. It is tonally all over the place, jumping between dark drama and thriller to comedy, it’s a movie that’s rather hard to categorise. It is a little more than what I expected it to be, while it is sort of a revenge movie as advertised, it’s also a character study, and the film was surprisingly nuanced. The performances from everyone are all great, but it’s the career best performance from Carey Mulligan that stands out most of all. At the very least, this movie is an excellent showcase for her excellent acting talents. Emerald Fennell’s directorial feature film debut is great, sporting an intoxicating visual style with the cinematography, costumes and production design. Unpredictable, well crafted, shocking and timely, Promising Young Woman is a movie where everyone is going to have a strong opinion on it. If you haven’t already, watch it for yourself.
3. Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods showcases all of Spike Lee’s greatest talents and is amongst his best movies. Ambitious, urgent and impactful, it’s very well crafted and all around incredible.
Da 5 Bloods really is an epic war movie from Spike Lee. It’s very well written with a balanced tone, featuring dark comedy as well as emotional and character driven moments, with multi-dimensional and complex characters. It’s a truly emotional journey that works on so many levels, with so much depth here. There’s some hard-hitting commentary about race in America, PTSD, the ramifications of war and more, and it’s done in an intelligent and relevant way. It’s deeply empathetic, and through and through feels like a passion project. The acting is fantastic from everyone including Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, the late Chadwick Boseman, and especially Delroy Lindo. On a technical level it’s great, from the stunning cinematography to the well-tuned editing and more. Da 5 Bloods is one of the best films about the Vietnam War, and one of the most powerful war films I’ve seen. I feel like it’s been forgotten as more movies came out in 2020 but I really do think it’s one of that year’s best.
One of the more divisive awards movies, Mank definitely didn’t work for everyone really, it’s a rather niche movie. It’s not one of David Fincher’s more rewatchable movies by any means. However, I’m one of the few people who loved this film, and I do think it’s great for what it is.
While as it was pitched and seemingly marketed as a movie about the writing of the classic film Citizen Kane, it’s more about the main character of Mank, and the events and people which inspire him to write the movie. It’s a film about Hollywood during the 30s and 40s, the politics at that time and the flaws of the Hollywood system. While it took me a while to figure out what the movie is about, I thought it succeeded in just about every single way imaginable. The whole cast is great, with the likes of Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Lilly Collins delivering some great works, with Oldman particularly giving the best performance I’ve seen from him. It’s also perfect on a technical level, David Fincher directs this excellently. There’s a lot of attention to detail to recreate the look of film in the 40s with the black and white, film grain, and sound mixing, and there’s tributes to Citizen Kane as to be expected. While it could easily be seen as just another typical Hollywood biopic, Mank really does feel like there’s passion behind it. As I said earlier, it is one of the more divisive movies from 2020 and very much isn’t for everyone. But I do think that it is worth a watch.
Tenet was one of my all time most anticipated movies of 2020, Christopher Nolan’s name already sold me on it and the film itself looked spectacular from the trailers. I managed to watch Tenet in cinemas twice, and I loved it. While I expected another 2020 movie to come along and take the top spot on this list, nothing really had come close to topping Tenet as my favourite movie of the past year.
Tenet is at its core is a large-scale espionage and spy movie, which just happens to have a sci-fi time aspect to it. There are plenty of twists and turns, and the story itself could be complex and challenging. While it’s confusing on a first viewing, on repeat viewings it makes so much more sense, and you can see how well put together it is. Even if you can find issues in the movie like how some of the characterisations aren’t as strong as they could be, it’s nonetheless one rollercoaster of a ride. It’s ambitious, thrilling and such a fantastic experience from beginning to end. The cast including John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenenth Branagh all perform their parts greatly. However of course much of the film’s success comes down to the direction from Christopher Nolan, on a technical level it is pretty much perfect. It’s very well shot and has some incredible action sequences, in fact I’d say that this movie has some of the best action that Nolan has done. From the opening opera house sequence to the climactic action scene, it’s exhilarating and overwhelming. The practical effects and sound design are outstanding too, and that’s even before you get to Ludwig Goransson’s excellent score, which fits the rest of the movie perfectly. It’s one of my favourite Christopher Nolan movies, it’s among my very long list of favourite movies, and it’s my favourite film of 2020.
What are you favourite movies from 2020?