Was there a successful movie released last year? For months at a time, it felt that no movies were released at all, as we hunkered down in our homes and lived with the modern world of various ways to access television. But Hollywood did work out how to bring new movies in front of the public (though the balance of streaming and the occasional branch out into the safe-as-possible theatrical distribution), and a few of them were pretty decent.
My Top 10 list for 2020 is so rare that it is an apt reflection of the year itself. There are conventional storytelling forces, big studio fare, few independent classics, and the best movies I’ve seen on streaming platforms. But because this year was so untraditional, I couldn’t think of any other means of documenting, by moments, the bizarre year we’ve just been through. Looking back on 2020, these are the ten films that moved me, encouraged me, spoke about where I was as a human, and amused me at a time when we were all desperate for distractions. These are the ten best movies I’ve seen this year.
We should predict this from Pixar by now. In particular, director Pete Docter, who used the animation art form to tackle such wonderfully human subjects as sorrow (Up), depression (Inside Out), and terror (Monsters Inc.), continues to lead them through the family-friendly Pixar lens. Those were the appetites for the Doctrine. The soul is the main course, and there’s nothing short of life-changing.
It’s beginning with death. Joe (Jamie Foxx) disappears at the worst possible time… as if he had a decent time to go. Yet Joe was just about to make his life dream come true. But his path across The Great Before shows him that his “life dream” may have been the wrong quest, which might have made both of us wonder whether we had wisely spent our time on this planet. Soul swings through the fences then link over and over. It’s a magnificent pursuit of aspirations, both those we have in other stuff and those others have in us. It’s artistic, sensitive, funny, and sincere. It’s the best movie I saw in 2020.
I saw Christopher Nolan’s Tenet just once. It’s a felony, and I know that this mind mystery framework can be compensated only by repeated sightings. Knowing where the plot is heading and knowing how/why things are going will make more sense of the number of times you’re going back to this thrilling spy thriller, but you shouldn’t have to watch a movie more than once to make it work. Luckily, also on the first attempt, Nolan’s Tenet is a ground-breaking visual and mental storytelling, challenging the viewer to execute acrobatic leaps to draw jaw-dropping conclusions. Simultaneously, the director performs mind-blowing action and sets pieces that practically most directors can’t even think of.
John David Washington cements himself as a badass but a sophisticated king. Kenneth Branagh hams it up like an old-school Bond villain. Tenet may be remembered as a film that took the theatrical discourse to the forefront, but I think that overshadows the mastery of Nolan’s achievements in this film. It’s wonderful.
3.News of the World
We invested too much time in 2020 arguing whether or not movies should be on the big screen, where they belong. Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, to me, was the only one that needed to be seen on the most significant screen possible. The United 93 producer re-teamed with his Captain Phillips star, Tom Hanks, to rejuvenate Western classics, and filmmaker Dariusz Wolski uses every camera in his arsenal to catch the vast expanse of the American border.
What’s been taking Hanks too long to make a Western? The history buff effortlessly switches to the atmosphere and sound of this timeless genre, and Greengrass balances his enthusiasm to create a retro border tale about heroism, love, the trustworthiness of our news providers, and the optimism that comes from the bonds of friendship (or newfound family). The Planet’s news is top-notch filmmaking from any contributor, contributing to one of the most exciting, inspiring, and satisfying features released this year.
4.The Kid Detective
Too many people slept on Evan Morgan’s genius, volatile The Kid Detective, even as the films it resembles—the Good Men, Kiss Kiss Boom Bang, and Brick—are regularly praised as under-appreciated satirical film noirs. Luckily, like those shows, The Kid Detective builds its following over time, and it’s fantastic. Evan Morgan has effectively made an adult Encyclopedia Brown film, casting Adam Brody as a once-loved child mystery solver. The latter has outgrown his gimmick but wants to unravel the mysteries.
Kid Detective builds one of those realms that you want to inhabit, soaking up the quirky specifics and spending more time with the colorful array of weirdo characters. I had such a blast with this show, and I didn’t see the end coming, which helped make this one of the best film experiences I had in 2020.
5.Promising Young Woman
I can’t remember the last time a film took me by the necklace and shook me as hard as Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Lady. The writer-director dishes up a nasty anti-date-rape PSA that is shrouded in a pitch-black satire, making it all the more depressing that the Promising Young Woman’s lessons must be replicated at all in 2020. Not that Fennell is preaching to her crowd. Quite the reverse of that. She flips the keys to her ingenious protagonist, Carey Mulligan. She lets the versatile Oscar nominee dance vividly through the uncomfortable reality of this eye-opening tale, right up to the very last twist. Mulligan has been turning heads for years with shows like this.
I’m astounded that this is Fennell’s feature-film directorial debut, and I’ll be interested to see if this was her passion project or if she’ll add the same wit, style, bravado, and sass to future tales because damn, this one packs a wallop.