This article is part of our 2020 return. Follow us and discover the best and most interesting films, shows, performances and more from this very strange year. In this post, our main film reviewer shares his pick for the best films of 2020.
Wanna feel old 2020 was only last year. It was a difficult business all round, and only one of the many victims was the theater experience in the US. We’ve lost some theaters for good while others are still clinging to life, but the films have consistently continued with a new focus on alternate releases and rollouts – with all the roads leading to VOD. Even with this year’s surreal reality, many of the films that have made it to the public by any means are great cinema no matter where they’re seen.
We’ve celebrated them one by one throughout the year, but our 2020 return shows the best of the best. Our shared look at the fifty best films of the year – which all of our staff voted on – will be released shortly, but now it’s my turn to draw attention to my own picks for the best films of the year. I saw nearly two hundred new releases in 2020, low for me but still a solid number, and the following represent twenty of the best.
20. The way back
Ben Affleck gets a lot of shit from people and paparazzi alike and it’s easy to forget that the guy is a solid actor with the right material. This moving story finds its sweet spot as a broken man who gets a shot at redemption with a coaching job at his old high school. He mourns an unimaginable loss and drowns in alcohol and bad choices, and his rise is increasingly insurmountable. Gavin O’Connor It is no stranger to getting tears and tensions out of sporty outsider stories, and he manages to deliver another one in the third act with unexpected twists that reinforce the powerful effect of the film. You’re going to choose Affleck, oh yes you will, and in doing so, you will find that not all underdog sports films follow the same beats.
19. Since 5 Bloods
Spike LeeHe is no stranger to films that combine entertainment with activism, and his latest version is about a time-leap narrative involving black Vietnam War veterans. The four men – played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. – return to Vietnam in search of both gold and closure, but it’s a journey full of memories and conflict. Lee weaves historical footage throughout, highlighting the eternally divided relationship between America and Black Americans until the rise of Black Lives Matter in 2020. The core narrative continues, but these memories highlight the tone and tenor of what the men struggle with well beyond the otherwise traditional action beats. Yes, the deprivation efforts are ridiculous (a Netflix staple at the time), but the film manages to overcome that distraction with its strength and intent along with a powerful supportive twist from Chadwick Boseman.
18. She dies tomorrow
I’ll be honest and admit that I debated including these as the first twenty minutes. I feel like the kind of navel gazing I normally loathe – but the remaining sixty-five remind me that this is a brilliant job. Writer / director Amy Seimetz wrote a story about mortality that copes with great laughter and cosmic horror at the same time. A woman awakens with an unshakable belief that she will die tomorrow and that pathological boredom becomes a transferable feeling. How do you act when you know that you will be dead tomorrow? Who do you treat well, who do you fuck and how do you get into the last minutes of your life? This is something special that being released in a timely manner in a year like 2020 will make it even stronger.
17. Bacurau (Brazil)
Forget the science fiction traps in the descriptions of this incredibly structured dramatic thriller – okay, don’t forget them as they bring a secret to the table – and instead look for a surprising tale of a small town that wards off real intruders and metaphorically. Directors Julian Dornelles and Glue Mendonça Filho Create a gripping adventure here as people come together to fend off both mysterious invaders and the possibility that they could so easily become invisible and forgotten. The political overtones are specific to Brazilian affairs while also providing commentary on a world that is constantly evolving through technology that does not respect people or culture. Bacurau is a fascinating genre mashup well worth a visit.
16. The hunt
Right, Craig SableThe satirical riff of “The Most Dangerous Game,” which conservatives railed against invisible vision, came out in 2020 – and it’s still pretty darn awesome. A lot of deplorable things wake up in a field and are immediately targeted by liberal elites, and while that’s gratifying enough at first glance, there are a few blows in the queue in history that turn things upside down until everyone is a goal. Not every joke works, but there are plenty that manage both laughter and a well-crafted commentary on ideological labels, social media, and our propensity for jerky judgments. Hell, if you don’t care, the film also delivers stellar action, including a brutal, elaborately choreographed brawl between Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank, and that alone makes it a competitor.