Hey everyone! Happy New Year! 2020 was a tough year for all of us and that was certainly true for the world of cinema- especially theater owners and employees. Fortunately out of all the mess that the year brought we somehow managed to still have an interesting and eclectic group of movies released mostly via streaming services. It still means to be seen how the film landscape has changed for good but for now I want to share with you the movies I most enjoyed in this tough year. These aren’t necessarily the most expertly crafted films of the year, just my favorite (if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my video version that would help me out as well. Thanks!).
Before I start I will add that this is always a tough process for me and even this year I had about 35 films I could have included. If I didn’t include a film you love on this list I probably still enjoyed it. You have to split hairs at a certain point for these lists. Also the order is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, so don’t put too much stock in that.
Here we go!
15. Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon
Few films were as sweet and delightful as the this latest entry from Aardman Animation. After a bit of a miss for me in Early Man, they redeemed themselves with a lovely little film about Shaun and company coming into contact with an adorable blue alien. Even just them ordering pizza at the beginning made me laugh. The animation is flawless as usual and the entire segment in the grocery store will have you and your family laughing. It may not be as challenging as both of Pixar’s films but in 2020 the pure laughs Shaun and company gave me impacted me just a hair more.
14. On the Rocks
It seems like I enjoyed this father/daughter team up movie more than most. I am usually mixed on Sophia Coppola but I found On the Rocks to be completely charming. If it were up to me I’d give Bill Murray the Oscar for his performance. He is a scoundrel but a charming one and his chemistry with Rashida Jones was lovely. I laughed. I smiled. It was great!
13. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
Ever since the fallout over my Shazam review I’ve had a hard time having the same confidence in my opinions as I once had. I know that might seem lame but it was scary and sometimes it seems easier to just keep my mouth shut than face those kinds of attacks. Well, watching this documentary on the great Pauline Kael really encouraged me to snap out of it and try to be confident in my voice again. The documentary itself doesn’t break any molds or anything but I just loved getting to know her and remembering how she was not afraid to tick a lot of people off with her reviews! She is one of my biggest inspirations as a critic, and I hope I can emulate her in any way.
12. The Truth
The Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda is never mentioned amongst the great filmmakers, and I don’t understand why. Consistently he has made one thoughtful film after another. The Truth is his first film not in Japanese (in French) and it features a standout cast led by Catherine Deneuve. She plays an aging actress who has written a memoir that her daughter (Juliette Binoche) calls greatly into question. The movie is probably too ‘slice of life’ for some people, but I loved spending time with this family. Deneuve should be considered for Oscars and Binoche and Ethan Hawke are great as well. Simple effective family film about memories and how subjective they can be.
11. Save Yourselves
This was my favorite narrative I saw at Sundance. Save Yourselves is a very funny movie about a couple that goes off the grid for the weekend to reconnect. Unfortunately that weekend there is also an alien invasion. I loved Sunita Mani and John Reynolds as our lead couple. They are very funny and have terrific chemistry. The ending isn’t perfect but I still really enjoyed it. One of my favorite comedies of the year.
10. Words on Bathroom Walls
This is the most personal entry I have on my list. I really enjoyed this teen film when I saw it but when I wrote my review I mentioned that I’d like to hear from someone with schizophrenia to see what they think about it. A young man named Zach reached out to me and he came on my podcast and we had an incredible discussion. Then the director Thor Freudenthal listened to the interview and came on the show and I spoke with him. It was an empowering experience and in my own little way I hope it took down some of the BS stigma that still surrounds conditions like schizophrenia. It has to stop. Plus, when Walter Goggins writes a letter in this movie I cried my eyes out.
9. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
I am sure I am the only critic in the country to have Timmy Failure on their best of the year list. All I can say is I loved this little family film so much. I loved little Timmy and his segway zooming around Portland cracking cases. I loved his polar bear friend and when he had to say goodbye I cried. The conversation between Timmy and Craig Robinson about adaptability has stayed with me all year. I love Wallace Shawn as his teacher. It’s sweet, funny and heartfelt. A real hidden gem if you ask me.
When I first saw Spontaneous I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It’s such a weird and unique movie but it really stayed with me. I kept thinking about it and wanting to watch it again and again. I love Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford in this (2 of my favorite young actors. Charlie is also in Words on Bathroom Walls). The whole concept of a world where you might explode at any moment is crazy and certainly keeps us the viewers on our toes. It’s sad and scary but it also has a sense of humor and a lot of romance. It’s got it all and how fun to see something fresh and new especially in the teen genre (although it is rated R). It is one of the most unpredictable, innovative and exciting movies I saw all year.
7. The Personal History of David Copperfield
Another movie that shook things up and surprised me is The Personal History of David Copperfield. Everything from the casting to the production design was different in this new take on the Dickens novel. I am not a literary purist so I don’t mind they clearly left out sections and ideas prominent in the novel. I love Dev Patel in the lead and the supporting cast with Peter Capaldi and Tilda Swinton to name a few are outstanding. It’s a period piece those who don’t like period pieces might enjoy. Charming
6. Bad Education
Bad Education is probably the best script I saw all year. It manages to walk the line of making the characters despicable while still likable. You hate what they are doing and yet you can see why they charmed their way through it for so many years. Hugh Jackman is great. Allison Janney is fantastic (better than her rather one note role in I Tonya if you ask me). Geraldine Viswanathan is also tremendous as the teen who starts asking questions.
5. Dick Johnson is Dead
Dick Johnson is Dead was the best movie I saw at Sundance this year. It is a documentary where director Kirsten Johnson explores the reality of her father’s impending death by staging mock deaths for him to experience. It’s weird and wacky and so sweet. I loved Dick Johnson. He reminds me of my Grandfather who I miss every day. I lost both my Grandmas last year so the themes of death and loss really hit home. I loved Kirsten at Sundance. She was awesome, but I loved her film even more. Anyone who’s ever lost anyone should be able to relate to this charming film.
4. Love and Monsters
Love and Monsters was a big surprise in the year. I didn’t know about it and then my friend Sean Chandler raved about so I had to check it out. Fortunately I completely agreed with him and found this film to be the most engaging blockbuster of the year. It has everything you could want in a film. It’s exciting with creative world-building and visuals. It has a terrific star making performance by Dylan O’Brien. Michael Rooker is fantastic in a supporting role. The creatures are unusual and fresh. I laughed. I cried. It has romance. It’s just a great time everyone will enjoy. There’s even a cute doggie in it!
Emma is exactly what I want in an adaptation. It stays close enough to the book to be satisfying for a fan like myself but it gives its own style and flair to make it its own creation. Director Autumn deWilde did a great job in her debut film. I loved all the production design and costumes. The music was wonderful. Anya Taylor-Joy was young and more innocent than most Emmas and Mia Goth is my favorite Harriet ever. And I absolutely loved Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley. I’ve seen it at least 5 times including 3 times in the theater and I love it!
I went back and forth on whether to include Hamilton in this list. It just feels so different than the rest of the films (I literally filmed my Best of video 3 times trying to decide what to include). Eventually I went ahead and included it because it is so wonderful and was such a breath of fresh air in July 2020. Especially after the devastating news of Broadway closing down to get to see Hamilton with the rest of the world on Disney Plus meant so much to me and all the other musical theater fans. I have seen Hamilton previously on the stage when the touring company came through Salt Lake and that’s an incredible experience but this was something different. In the filmed version you get close up to the actors in a way you can’t at the show (the show has more spectacle so I still recommend it) and it feels intimate and close. I love the mixture of Broadway and hip-hop into the music and lyrics. I love the take on history and the way it makes you think about this great nation of ours. I love the eclectic casting and the way the production moves and flows from scene to scene. It’s a masterwork brought to the screen!
The top spot was no argument. It had to go to Tomm Moore’s new film Wolfwalkers. His stunning new animated film continues his three movie hit streak with gorgeous animation and a heartfelt story of two girls who have a special tie to the forest. The story definitely has ties of Princess Mononoke but without the blood and violence. I loved the 2 girls and Robyn’s complicated relationship with her protective father. I loved the animation and the music. It will make you smile and tear up at the same time. It has it all. Get Apple Plus and watch it!
So there you have it. The best movies I saw in 2020. What about you? What are some of your favorite films? I would love to hear in the comments sections. Thanks for supporting me in 2020 and reading my silly thoughts on films. Now on to 2021!
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