After looking forward to my most anticipated films of 2021, it’s now time to look at the best of what 2020 had to offer. A year which due to more than obvious reasons saw a lot of the biggest films being pushed back. This year actually was fairly tough to pick favorites but thankfully some great stuff came out and provided some solid entertainment and thought-provoking content. So without further ado here are my picks for the best films of 2020.
Number 10- Mank
David Fincher is one of the greatest filmmakers currently in the industry. His attention to detail and sheer mastery of the art always makes it so that his films are worth watching and for the most part outright brilliant. While Mank is far from my favorite Fincher film it’s still a brilliantly made film with a compelling story at its heart despite some clear pacing issues. The film is about the writing of Citizen Kane and focuses on the writer of the film and all of the trouble and issues surrounding the screenplay. The best aspect of the film is the way it perfectly captures the feel of a film from the 1940’s from both the look of the film to the sound design. It has some incredibly interesting things to say about Hollywood although toward the end the political aspect of the film does begin to drag it down somewhat. If you love films especially those from the 40’s then it’s great but generally the film’s story is compelling enough although it may require some homework.
Number 9- The Way Back
The Way Back is a fairly standard sports film that’s held up by its gut wrenching portrayal of alcoholism and achieving redemption. The best aspect of The Way Back is the emotionally honest performance from Ben Affleck who pulls from his own struggles with alcoholism and his past mistakes. It seems that his performance here is being forgotten about already but it truly is a fantastic leading performance and one of his strongest overall. The film really focuses more on these aspects as opposed to the fairly standard sports story and it’s very moving to watch.
Number 8- Possessor
Possessor comes from new director Brandon Cronenberg the son of legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg. Here Brandon channels the style of his father’s early work in a low budget science fiction horror film. I won’t spoil the concept as you’re better off not knowing but Possessor is a visceral thriller that almost plays like the evil cousin of a Christopher Nolan film with a smaller budget. It looks at issues around surveillance and identity. It feels really relevant in a post Edward Snowden society and really uses the concept to touch on these issues while still telling a story that is emotionally bleak with a brilliant lead performance from the very underrated Andrea Riseborough.
Number 7- The Devil All the Time
If you’re looking for a truly disturbing and bleak film to match the tone of 2020 as a whole then look no further than here as The Devil All the Time is a southern gothic horror thriller that captures all the feel of a trashy novel while really saying a lot about the inner darkness of humanity. The film takes an ensemble cast mostly straight out of marvel films and plunges them into characters who are truly dark and disgusting as people. Tom Holland is in his most mature role to date playing the only likeable character in the film as a person trying to be good in an inherently evil world. Robert Pattinson plays a sleazy preacher in a small but show stealing role further demonstrating why he is one of the finest actors of his generation. The film is thrilling and really holds together a number of seemingly random stories very naturally. It’s certainly not for everyone as it provides very little respite in its dark storylines but its very rewarding and one of the more interesting films of the year.
Number 6- Bill and Ted Face the Music
I’m not going to tell you that this film is some kind of perfect masterpiece but as a lifelong fan of the Bill and Ted franchise Face the Music was everything I wanted from a new Bill and Ted movie. It’s a harmless feel good comedy that takes these two loveable characters on an absolutely ridiculous adventure. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves pick up their roles so naturally and again have effortless chemistry. The most surprising aspect was the daughters’ inclusion that really could have dragged the film down but actually elevates it and helps Face the Music properly add something new to the franchise to the point where I would happily watch a spin off about the daughters. Face the Music knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be anything better. Like the first two films it’s very life affirming and aims to give the audience a positive feeling, something which it pulls off very successfully especially in the film’s final sequence. It really came out at the right time when the world was in a really negative place, a theme that will be prevalent in a couple other entries in the list.
Number 5- Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee can be pretty hit or miss as a filmmaker but when he makes a hit it often results in something truly excellent and that’s what we got with Da 5 Bloods. The film came out during the beginning of the George Floyd murder riots and the Black Lives Matter movement. The film reflects a number of these issues even directly including the BLM movement and uses the Donald Trump “MAGA” hat as a character plot point. All of this and it’s easy to forget that Da 5 Bloods at its core is a thrilling treasure hunt movie. The film begins as a fairly light-hearted comedy but eventually morphs into a gripping and emotionally moving action film. The cast are fantastic as a whole but the two clear stand outs are Delroy Lindo as the mentally unstable MAGA cap wearing Vietnam veteran and Jonathan Majors as his son looking to reconnect with his father. There’s a number of incredibly tense moments within the film, especially one sequence involving a land mine and Spike Lee really makes an eye-opening commentary about the neglect of black soldiers in the Vietnam war. Not to mention the film is incredibly funny especially in the first hour or so, it’s Spike Lee doing some of his best work in recent years in what is truly an impactful film.
Number 4- Tenet
Christopher Nolan is most likely if not outright the best blockbuster filmmaker currently in the industry as he continuously uses big budgets to push the boundaries of cinema and tell complex stories with huge action set pieces and Tenet is no expectation. Tenet contains in my opinion the best action sequences Nolan has ever directed and perhaps is the most complex of his filmography. Take away all of the time inversion and you still have a very solid spy thriller with some great performances at the center. John David Washington is effortlessly cool as The Protagonist (yes, it’s the character’s name) and actually does a lot with a character who is given very little backstory but his performance tells us enough about the character to get invested. Robert Pattinson is scene stealing as Neil who is a character the less said about the better and Elisabeth Debecki really provides the main emotional core of the film with her character and carries this extremely well. As I said the set pieces are what really sell the film and the use of inversion with which we get some jaw dropping moments throughout the film. It runs at such a fast pace with a lot to take in so nothing feels dull and it really feels like true blockbuster filmmaking. Whether you like the film or not there’s no denying how much effort Nolan put into this just like all his films. Some were rubbed the wrong way by his insistence the film be shown in cinemas, but to me this just shows how passionate Nolan is about the film experience and giving audiences something to be in awe of which is refreshing to see from a filmmaker especially one who continues to push himself and do new things with the medium.
Number 3- Palm Springs
Palm Springs was a big surprise for me as I expected to find it enjoyable but I really fell in love with this film especially on repeat viewings. Firstly, the film is hilarious mixing in some great dialogue with slapstick comedy but actually having a darker more mature edge than a number of modern comedies. It’s a time loop comedy in the vein of Groundhog Day but does enough different to avoid feeling like a retread. It has fun with the concept but has a lot to say about the loss of having hope in life and feeling a general sense of pointlessness. The performances by the two leads are fantastic, Andy Samberg can be hit or miss but here the character has much more substance than he usually plays and he does really well in some of the more dramatic moments. The same goes to Cristin Milioti who is also brilliant and brings some edge to the role. Something about Palm Springs just hit me different than your run of the mill comedy as I was genuinely invested in the characters and the film has more of an emotional honesty compared to most modern comedies. If anything my one issue with the film was that I wish it was longer, it runs at an hour and twenty five minute length and absolutely breezes by. I felt like I could have spent much more time with these characters which is a great thing to feel.
Number 2- Another Round
Another Round is a film about four friends who test out the work of a philosopher who claimed that the human body should have a certain amount of alcohol to function better – like being relaxed in social situations, etc. These friends then try out this idea and see some improvements in their lives. The film is very personal for the director, Thomas Vinterberg, who wrote the film with his daughter intending to have her star. His daughter tragically passed away but he continued on and further adapted the project fulfilling his daughter’s wish to make a film that was life affirming and showed the truth about Denmark’s drinking culture. Another Round of course acknowledges the dangers of alcohol but still shows the positive effects it can have and why people enjoy drinking it so much. Really the film is a celebration of life, something which is really needed in this year above all and is so fun to watch as a result. Mads Mikkelsen gives in my mind the best performance of the year as he perfectly captures the behaviors of being drunk while also delivering on all of the drama and comedy required for the role. In fact, all of the cast is brilliant and the four friends at the center of the film share a natural chemistry and feel so genuine you would actually believe these are friends in real life. The film manages to be heart-warming without ever being overly sentimental and in all culminates in a final scene that is easily my favorite ending of the year.
Number 1- The King of Staten Island
I know I’m probably one of the only people in the world who would say this is the best film of 2020 and it’s a huge surprise to myself that this is my number 1. I really had no real expectations for this film as for me Judd Apatow is very hit or miss. I hadn’t the slightest clue who Pete Davidson was and the story seemed so bland. Yet when I watched the film not only was I absolutely aching with laughter but I was so emotionally moved by the film in ways I just did not expect at all. Pete Davidson, who now I know much more about is essentially playing a version of himself but nevertheless is great in the film as he perfectly switches between the comedy and the drama and due to the material, it all feels so genuine. He has so much charisma and natural likeability which really helps as the character can be fairly awful at times. Bill Burr who is a master comedian is also brilliant again using his comedy but bringing a warmth to the character and has an instantly loveable screen presence, same goes for Marisa Tomei as the Davidson’s mother. Bel Powley, a young British actress, really stands out in a smaller role but steals every moment she is on screen and is completely convincing to the point where I had no clue she was British until after I finished the film. The film does nothing especially new but the way it balanced the tones was brilliant to watch and I found the story to be the most moving of the year. It’s very character based and may be too slow for many but I just enjoyed watching these characters develop. The emotional core from the story comes from Davidson’s real-life loss of his dad and he uses this in the film showing its effect on the character of Scott who is struggling to move on with his life and make his own way. The film is a tribute to his father and the New York fire department who are portrayed by a small group of characters in such a loving way as is Staten Island itself. Perhaps that is what really gravitates me toward the film more than any other this year is that it all feels like it’s coming from a place so genuine and personal. It’s a film about people more than anything else. There’s a scene toward the end between Scott and his Mother in which they just talk about how much they miss his dad. It’s very basic yet so heartfelt and has a raw emotional honesty that I didn’t see in anything else this year. There are also just happy moments such as a Scott and a group of firefighters in a bar singing along the song One Headlight. Its moments like these and more why The King of Staten Island is my favorite film of 2020.