Top Films I Saw in 2020

Let’s be honest: 2020 was a fucked up year. But there was still some damned good filmmaking. Here’s the best films I saw last year.

1. #TheTrialOfTheChicago7 Should be mandatory viewing in the United States, especially during this election cycle. One of the best films in years, and a lock for a Best Picture nomination and at least a screenwriting nomination for Aaron Sorkin. Couldn’t have been better. 5/5*

2. #MaRaineysBlackBottom Every actor in this film should win an Oscar – this is the best performance by ensemble cast in years. Boseman lights up the screen every time the camera hits him. The story is timely, compelling and paced to perfection. And, of course…the MUSIC!! 5/5*

3. #MarriageStory Should win every acting award there is…can’t say I’ve seen a series of powerhouse performances like this in some time. The compassion that Baumbach has for all his characters, their worlds and their stories, is what makes this special. Hard to watch though. 5/5*

4. #Mank Could well go down as a classic film about the making of a classic film, though the subtext often outshines the actual A-story. A wonderful juxtaposition of political plotting – contrasting yesteryear Hollywood politics with the dysfunction of this year’s shit-show. 4.5/5*

5. #DolemiteIsMyName So how is it possible that Eddie Murphy missed out on an Oscar nomination for this? Murphy was just outstanding in a well-told story with enough twists, turns, heart and of course humor to go around. Shows great cinema can be a whole lot of fun, too. 4.5/5*

6. #UncutGems @AdamSandler is freaking amazing and was mugged out of a Best Actor Oscar nomination. The film jumps out of the gate and barely lets up. The result is exhaustion at the end, and any film that can do that with tension and character conflict is brilliant. 4.5/5*

7. #Parasite I’ll be honest; I’m still digesting this film. It’s tempting to pass it off as a one theme film, but it’s so much more layered and complicated than that. The performances were perfect, and no frame is wasted by the DP. Going to be thinking about this for a while. 4.5/5*

8. #HoneyBoy You can feel the catharsis moment for screenwriter/actor LaBeouf coming through the screen. It could very easily be one note and heavy, but the world is well-drawn with a light touch, the characters 3 dimensional, with incredible performances from the leads. 4.5/5*

9. #PalmSprings Far better than it has any right to be. Andy Samberg & Cristin Milloti are fantastic together and their chemistry would carry even a bad film…but this is a well-written, fresh, enjoyable story on top of it. Hit me right where I live, being stuck in quarantine. 4/5*

10. #Tenet A complex film which requires the fullest attention from the most active viewer. The story, which can only begin to be understood in the first viewing, is ambitious, layered and thought provoking…though I could’ve used more emotional investment in the characters. 4/5*

11. #UncleFrank Great vehicle for the underrated Paul Bettany, who is fantastic. Stylish direction and smart writing makes for a delightful film with heartwarming moments, which balance off some of its more melodramatic ones. Left a little more on the table than it should’ve. 4/5*

12. #Da5Bloods Seldom have I seen a film with so many different things going on work as well as this film. Spike Lee walks the line between thematically rich and muddled as well as any filmmaker, and never more so here. It never quite comes together, but that may be the point. 4/5*

HONORABLE MENTION

#TheAssistant When you get 1/3 of the way through and realize that it’s a day in the life movie, you wonder if you’ll get bored. But you don’t. With spot-on performances and tensely drawn scenes, you realize it’s a horror-thriller…that happens every day. Chilling, really. 4/5*

#BadEducation More proof that Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney can play anyone, anywhere. Material is reasonably compelling but the performances and storytelling elevate it to a highly watchable, darkly funny and entertaining film with a strong message. 4/5*

#DarkWaters A slow-burn, compelling true-life drama on a complicated subject. Ruffalo has never been better; wish he could’ve seen an Oscar nom for it. The story is deeply disturbing, the scope unbelievable. Does a great job at showing how those cases work and the stakes. 4/5*

#JustMercy is an important film with a clear message, even if it is a shade paint-by-numbers at times. Cretton is a director on the rise, and one who knows how to draw the best from his performers. Jordan proves again he’s a top leading man, and Foxx has seldom been better. 4/5*

#TheReport is an important film that everyone should see. Burns does a great job keeping the film moving and compelling, despite a lot of politicians talking. Driver delivers another understated yet powerful performance. The film will tire you out, but isn’t that the point? 4/5

#TheTwoPopes is surprisingly a lot of fun amidst its heavy discussions of the past, present & future of the institution it shows & the man who now leads it. Lacks structure, but makes it work. I’ll steal this line though: “A liberal fantasy about a conservative institution.” 4/5*