Well it is much later than usual for my Best of the Year list but 2020 was not a usual year at the movies or in any facet of life. But I finally managed to see all of the most important movies of 2020. Even the Academy Awards amended their rules and postponed release dates and the award show to make it easier to finish completing movies. Not that it ended up making that much of a difference. The last few months of 2019 featured some of the best movies from the past decade, and 2020 started off very strong. But then in mid March of last year the pandemic went into full swing and everything about our lives changed. Working from home became commonplace, children learning virtually was accepted, and movie theaters shut their doors and only recently began opening them up as the vaccine rollout has continued successfully.
So 2020 the year in film is a strange one but 2020 introduced a new normal to everyone and movies were just one of the many casualties from a bizarre time. While composing my Best of the Year list I noticed that there were two themes in common with the films I admired the most over the past fifteen months, they all dealt with poverty in some form or another, or were direct responses to the #MeToo movement that began a few years ago. Hollywood was finally catching up to the values that reflected society and were responding with their own works of art to display how people felt. Stories about working class people is nothing new but the fact that it seemed to dominate movies this year over celebratory fluff or self-congratulatory movies about Hollywood making strides is a telling fact about the movies trying to speak for how people feel and not provide them with happy comfort food or escapism. Speaking of which, I also noticed that there were zero major blockbusters on my top ten nor were there any movies from established auteurs with big budgets, this was a year that a lot of up and coming writers and directors had their breakout film that finally received a modicum of mainstream attention. Time will tell if these filmmakers were a blip on the radar or will indeed become a big deal, the next important voices in cinema.
Also, One cannot ignore the fact that movies in 2020 seemed to be the first time that diversity was fully embraced in all parts of Hollywood. Not just in front of the camera were actors of color and various ethnicities getting lead roles in motion pictures but also behind the camera with more women writing, producing, and directing their own feature films. We can debate which gap is harder to overcome whether it is gender or racial, or if it is harder to crossover in front of the camera, or behind it, but 2020 is the first year where white males did not completely dominate any awards category. Change comes slow but Al Sharpton should be happy with the progress movies made regarding diversity over the past year and with rule changes from the Academy it looks like we will be seeing and hearing from more ethnically diverse voices.
Best Movies of 2020:
- The Invisible Man
- Sound of Metal
- Promising Young Woman
- The Assistant
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always
- The Lodge
- Hubie Halloween
I also valued:
Mank, Minari, John Lewis: Good Trouble, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet, Da Five Bloods, One Night in Miami, Underwater, The Way Back, The Father, and Bad Boys for Life.
If you want to look at that compilation of movies as a top 20 of 2020 go right ahead, the next ten films were really tough to place a value on whether they are better than the others but were not good enough to make it into my top ten. From that list of movies you may notice a few patterns like I did. Seven movies on my top ten are in some shape or form a result of #MeToo and #TimesUp plus an eighth film not on the top ten that has a strong female lead. That is far more than what I usually would have on my best of the year list. Six films on my top ten are about working class people struggling to make ends meet and there is a seventh film that just missed the top ten that also fits into that category of dealing with poverty in some way. Only one movie on my top ten is centered around a white male actor as the lead, even more surprising to many is probably the fact that the lead is Adam Sandler in a Netflix comedy of all things. This is not the first time Adam Sandler has made a movie in my top ten but it is the first time it has occurred in consecutive years. His movie beat out serious leading roles by Gary Oldman and Ben Affleck for the tenth spot. Plus as much as I love David Fincher and Spike Lee and appreciated their newest films and considered them important contributions to cinema, neither Mank, nor Da Five Bloods made my top ten. All of these factors should emphasize that 2020 was a movie year like no other.
The Worst of 2020:
- The Turning
- Birds of Prey
- The Wrong Missy
- Hillbilly Elegy
- Malcolm and Marie
- Bill and Ted Face the Music
- Wonder Woman 1984
From looking at that list there is not much to say. These are the films that I found had little to no redeeming qualities to recommend to anybody. Last year I stated that Joker and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood were two films that I despised, however they did have redeeming qualities that I could at least understand why people enjoyed them and I would have given them significantly more credit if they were released in 2020. These movies left little to no impact on me just were annoyingly asinine wastes of time that I wish I had back to do something more productive. None offended me, but none gave me anything significant enough to remember and that is sometimes even worse. Some movies on this list even dealt with the same themes of poverty and #MeToo as the best movies of the year did, but they squandered their good intentions with inept writing, directing, editing, or in the case of Hillbilly Elegy, Bill and Ted Face the Music, and Wonder Woman 1984, forcing their newfound feminist and working class values in the audiences face for no other reason but to appear to be politically correct. That my friends results in a very bad movie. Diversity does not always equal a quality production either as the list above illustrates. I really hope that the future of movies does not contain more ill-advised productions as worthless as Malcolm and Marie or Antebellum.
The Best: The Invisible Man
This is one of the best, smartest, most topical and culturally relevant horror films of recent years and it is one that continues the trend of the horror genre maturing and developing beyond just jump scares and slasher villains but combines psychological thrills with something to say about the state of our society today. The movie is a blatant response to the #MeToo movement but it makes its villain invisible as if to say this is everyman, or every bystander that acted as if they did not see the evil and abuse that women were going through. Elisabeth Moss gives the best performance of her career on the big screen (she has already dominated the small screen with her work in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale) and joins Frances McDormand and Carey Mulligan in giving one of the strongest performances by a woman in years and there were plenty. But what makes The Invisible Man stand out is not its social commentary about feminism striking back but how viscerally entertaining it is. From the opening moments to the final shot which does not let our heroine off the hook easy, we are with Elisabeth Moss every step of the way and the movie manages to surprise us in some very enthralling ways. This Invisible Man did not give us just another movie that celebrated girl power. Instead it is an engrossing and intelligent thriller that takes its time building suspense and is held together by an impassioned lead performance. It is never preachy or pedantic. This Invisible Man works on every level as a metaphor for damaging and manipulative relationships.
The Worst: The Turning
As much as horror movies have evolved and matured over the past decade you would never know it if you saw The Turning. A wretched film and one of the worst excuses for a horror movie in recent years. Not the least bit scary, not any fun, and one of the most anti-climactic non-endings from any movie you will see. It was as if the producers ran out of financing and just said, “alright, we’re done here. Roll the credits”. There was no reason for it to take place in 1994 so do not expect any nostalgic moments from this, nor was there any good use of its gothic mansion setting. Just a complete waste of time.
Best Performance of the Year: Riz Ahmed-Sound of Metal
Out of all the great female performances this year, and there were more noteworthy than usual, I would say the single best performance by anyone this year was Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal. A British actor of Pakistani descent, once again 2020 was an incredibly diverse time for movies, he easily gave the most emotional and relatable performance of 2020 as a young man dealing with a permanent loss that will forever change how he has to live. Almost too timely with the pandemic of how we all had to adjust to a new normal, this character has to adjust to a life where music was his life as a drummer from a heavy metal band. But his lifestyle caused serious hearing loss and and Riz Ahmed brilliantly portrayed all of the frustrations a relatively young person would have as their life seemed ahead of them with so many opportunities and he is now drastically limited because of a loss of one of his senses. This performance reminded me of Mickey Rourke’s revelatory performance in The Wrestler (2008) but somewhat more devastating because that was the story of an older man who did not want to give up his career and needed the money. This is a man half his age now being forced to learn a new language and live in a new world of silence and it is heartbreaking and very uplifting at times.