Top 10 movies of 2020
Nothing about 2020 was normal, and it feels a little weird even making this list, which is usually one of my favorite parts of being a film critic.
Normally I would have seen so many more movies than I did this year, and most of those would have been viewed in a movie theater. This year, however, brought a global pandemic that completely altered the way we watch movies, not to mention a national reckoning with systemic racism and the most consequential election of a lifetime.
My job would normally entail sharing my subjective opinions to help people decide what movies were worth their time and money at a movie theater. Instead, in 2020, I initially wrote roundups of movies to stream when we all found ourselves staying at home. I wrote quite a bit about how this year was changing the film and distribution landscape in ways I still don’t think people grasp. I wrote about a collection of available-to-stream films specifically geared at white people who were having trouble grasping the BLM movement.
I also saw fewer movies than I have in a decade, so this year’s list feels a little, well, weird.
My caveat, as always: This is my highly subjective list, but these are the movies that made me keep loving movies.
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1. “Palm Springs”
In a normal year, would an Andy Samberg vehicle top my list? Well, it’s not a normal year, and a dark-comedy-rom-com-time-loop twist on “Groundhog Day” was just what I needed in mid-July, when every day was truly starting to feel exactly the same.
2. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
One unexpected but perhaps not surprising thing I found when I narrowed down my list this year? A lot of horror and comedy. Writer-director Charlie Kaufman’s latest head trip is a bleak exercise in social anxiety with two of the best performances in the year by Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons.
Did you spend too much time alone this year? Asking for a friend. Oh, here’s another head trip, this time via director Brandon Cronenberg's sci-fi, alternate-present tale of corporate assassins who take over the bodies of trusted people to carry out killings. It’s gorgeous, brutal and hard to watch. Welcome to 2020.
4. “Promising Young Woman”
This stylish revenge thriller and/or dark comedy in the directorial debut from “Killing Eve” showrunner Emerald Fennell might not have been so great if not for Carey Mulligan, an actor whose talents in front of the camera are mirrored by her ability to selectively choose projects.
If this list were less subjective, this would be my objective pick for the best film of 2020 and the one I’d be rooting for in a normal awards season. Frances McDormand would be a perennial Best Actress candidate anyway, but this might be her best performance. I’m cheating here due to early access, but we’ll talk more when it comes out early next year.
Pixar’s latest moved from a theatrical release to dropping on Disney Plus on Christmas Day (which is a shame, because it is a big-screen movie for sure). It’s also an imaginative delight that goes in unexpected directions but still feels like peak Pixar. More on this one next week, but now you know I like it.
Yeah, it was a live staging of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical that would have been a tentpole theatrical release. Instead, it was a big move for Disney Plus to get subscribers, but dammit, we needed this. We needed to feel like there could be a better America, and we needed to feel like we were in an audience again.
There’s no one in the world like Miranda July, and her latest film is a delightful tale of a (spoiler) quirky family of con artists. Evan Rachel Wood gives another of the year’s great performances standing in as July stays behind the camera.
9. “On the Rocks”
It’s an automatic assumption given that writer-director Sofia Coppola was reuniting with Bill Murray, but this really was her best and most honest movie since “Lost in Translation.” Rashida Jones is also an underrated dramatic actress, and now we know.
10. “Black Bear”
Eh, it’s 2020, so why not one more head trip? My list is filled with movies I’d call “Lynchian,” and this one features a midstream shift into a totally different narrative that’s a little “Lost Highway” and a lot of third-wall breaking. Add Aubrey Plaza to the list of unexpectedly great dramatic performances.