My Favorite Movies of 2020

What a strange, strange year.

2020 Viewing Stats

Theater: 2

On a plane: 4

Library Rental: 7

Rented: 16

Streaming service: 174

Total Movies Watched For The First Time: 203

1. Judas And The Black Messiah

Daniel Kaluuya is gives a titanic performance as Fred Hampton, but Lakeith Stanfield’s jittery coolness is the vessel through which the tensions of the movie reverberate. I haven’ t stopped thinking about the scene in which Hampton, fresh out of prison, gives a resounding speech to a crowd of supporters and Jesse Plemons.

2. Minari

A tender, deft movie about the American Dream™ and the toll it takes on a family, Minari had me saying, “Strong boy!” through teary eyes. Perhaps the best look for Mountain Dew in a decade as well.

3. Mangrove (Small Axe)

Director Steve McQueen pumps the titular restaurant and its inhabitants full of life before snatching away the safety that happiness requires before flipping the film into a courtroom drama in the first entry in his Small Axe series. Letita Wright and Malachi Kirby are incredibly winning, especially so in the second half of the movie, but Shaun Parkes carries the burden of the movie’s emotional backbone that brings clarity to the point of it all.

4. Time

An 80-minute picture of a family and its matriarch who refuse to break under the weight of the American prison system. This documentary is as heartbreaking as it sounds but also full of warmth and endearment thanks to its central character.

5. The Vast of Night

A pair of fast-talking small-towners keep pulling at the thread of something way above their heads. Andrew Patterson’s debut feature is a testament to the possibility of telling big-scale stories on a small-scale budget and how sci-fi doesn’t have to rely on CGI. A handful of one-shots in this movie — static and in-motion — took my breath away.

6. Mank

I still don’t understand the discourse around Mank. It’s a well-made, carefully crafted movie that mixes in a cold look at Old Hollywood with an equally strange time in the world politically. Bill Nye is in the movie, we should just enjoy it!

7. Nomadland

A meditative movie which is gives you as much as you give it in your viewing, and in turn, Nomadland is an incredibly fulfilling rewatch. Frances McDormand, perhaps our greatest smile-and-nodder, does so well to allow for her scene partners — who are often not professional actors — the space and time to flesh out the movie’s world in the naturalistic way Chloe Zhao seems like she is trying to capture.

8. Lovers Rock (Small Axe)

Every beat to this house party gets room to breathe and even more to flourish in Steve McQueen’s second Small Axe entry. This is a look into a space where vulnerabilities, connections and even dangers are managed with normalcy, and McQueen trains your eye to look at where those points manifest the most. I miss dancing to music in crowded spaces.

9. Sound of Metal

“Visceral” is reserved for movies like Sound of Metal. A less successful version of this movie would teeter too far into the auditory games available, but Riz Ahmed’s performance holds the movie from falling off that edge.

10. Palm Springs

Perhaps no movie better encapsulated what life felt like in 2020 more than Palm Springs. I’ve never been huge on Andy Samberg (although like anyone else in middle school in the mid-2000s, I did enjoy Hot Rod) but he’s at his most charming with this relaxed, layered character. He and Cristin Milioti carry equal amounts of responsibility in creating the entertaining and classically endearing chemistry demanded in a successful rom-com.

11. Soul

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and John Baptiste give us a gift of a score. Also, confirmation that New York pizza is a spiritual experience that transcends our physical world.

12. Another Round

Definitely a mid-life crisis movie, but it’s also fun to watch a bunch of friends get drunk together and see what happens. At the movie’s center, Mads Mikkelsen gives a vivacious and charming performance, capped by one of my favorite final scenes of the 2020 slate.

13. Shithouse

I am buying so much stock in Cooper Raiff. At times, Shithouse is cringeworthy, but then again, so is freshman year. The film really captures that apathetic floating from one hangout to the next that make college the weird, fun, suffocating and freeing place it can be.

14. Promising Young Woman

The beautiful aesthetic of Emrald Fennell’s directoral debut, from set design to costuming to the cinemetography, give the movie a sanitized beauty that adds so much tension to an already-tense movie. The needle-drops in this movie rule.

15. Dick Johnson Is Dead

A creative documentary that chooses to celebrate a life coming to its end rather than anguish about its ending. Sadness persists, of course, but it’s of the kind you find yourself most willing to accept for the price of squeezing every ounce of time left with a loved one.

16. Selah and the Spades

A fun-as-hell, heavier-than-you-expect high school movie that thrusts you into its world quickly and without much warning. At times, it is a blatantly heavy-handed movie with a point to make, but then again, so are teenagers. Tayarisha Poe’s directorial debut is dripping with distinct style, blending in-your-face shots with distinct selection on what to show in each frame.

17. Emma.

Period movies are fun! This one is colorful, quippy and fun. Anya Taylor-Joy holds the screen as anyone who watched The Queen’s Gambit knows, and everyone radiates the same energy.

18. First Cow

No other line stuck in my mind the most this year than when Orion Lee says of the Pacific Northwest in the 1820s: “History hasn’t gotten here yet.” This story, much like the discovery at the film’s opening, is one nobody would’ve intentionally told due to its lack of the spectacular, but friendship and a love for fried cakes are timeless.

19. The Assistant

Julia Garner’s restrained performance is all the more impressive in contrast to her turn as Ruth in Ozark. The system in which she finds herself a cog facilitates a reluctant timidity that holds the attention and tension of the movie together.

20. One Night In Miami

One Night In Miami has the near-impossible task of having its cast of characters consist of iconic and incredibly visible historic figures, and yet, the actors and Regina King’s direction really toe that line between impression and interpretation wonderfully. Leslie Odom can siiiiiiing.

21. Residue

Sometimes, art can’t save the world. Merawi Gerima’s debut is a poignant window at how gentrification can both inspire and run down a community. It is a movie that doesn’t pull any punches, and if you think you’re missing the point, it’ll paint it out clearly for you by the story’s end.

22. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee is at his most Spike Lee in this movie that pivots from buddy hangout to war drama to family drama to heist movie to action flick and investigates how trauma — both internationally and domestic — weighs heavily on all of it. Delroy Lindo for Best Actor, please and thanks.

23. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

An effective movie at showing the frustrating reality of trying to do right by yourself from Eliza Hittman as well as potentially the most harrowing “say the name of the movie in the movie” sequence I can remember.

24. The 40-Year-Old Version

This movie made me miss New York and 90s hip-hop even though I’ve never actually lived in New York nor did I grow up in the 90s listening to hip-hop.

25. Tigertail

A quiet movie that spells out the price of the sacrifices neccessary in order to create space for dreams and the strain that puts on a family, especially when that dream is of the American variety.

26. Red, White and Blue (Small Axe)

John Boyega plays Leroy Logan, a real life scientist who decides to hang up the lab coat for a police uniform much to his father’s chagrin. Steve McQueen’s third Small Axe entry refuses to pump in sympathy for a character who knows not what he gets himself into but only a look at how racism persists no matter what the quality of a person is.

27. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Movie adaptations of plays sometimes fall into a trap of trying to “make up” for the lack of cinematic nature in a stageplay. Ma Rainey, instead, leans all the way into its roots and digs up a Best Of performance from Chadwick Boseman in his final role. It made me sad for all the characters we will not see him embody, but happy that he was able to deliver this one before passing away this year.

28. Let Them All Talk

If anyone could direct a movie on a cruise in which Meryl Streep, Dianne West and Candice Bergen reflecting on old friendship and petty feuds with a breeziness to the movie, it’s our productive god Steven Soderbergh. Gemma Chan and Lucas Hedges hang well enough in this mostly-improvised movie. Just hop on for the ride and then go about your day.

29. The Old Guard

Charlize Theron is one of our greatest action stars, and Kiki Layne’s performance as our entrance into this world is layered with all of the timidity and acquired toughness you want from an emerging hero. Sure, some of it is silly, but it’s a damn fun time. Also, I want a remake of Hancock with Theron’s character as its center.

30. Be Water

I’m admittedly a sucker for Bruce Lee stories, and the archival-centric storytelling style with which this documentary is delivered allows for the mind to never stray from its central subject.

31. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Honestly, I have no idea if I actually enjoyed watching this movie, but I have enjoyed thinking about the several layers Charlie Kauffman pumps into it. Also, shoutout to Jessie Buckley, an Irishwoman, pulling a Minnesota accent into a Pauline Kael impression for a monologue. Toni Collette is at her creepiest as well.

32. Enola Holmes

Millie Bobby Brown is a star, and we knew that, but it’s fun to see her just completely carry a movie off her charm and flourishing jiu-jitsu skills.

33. Yes, God, Yes

Karen Maine’s coming-of-age comedy has a layer of darkness bubbling to the surface at times and is either frustrating to watch or hilarious at all times depending on your mood.

34. The Way Back

Honestly, this movie is fine. I would, however, totally watch a sequel in which Ben Affleck has to coach through the gauntlet of summer basketball tournaments and handle college coaches recruiting, mixtapes, etc. In other words, I want my basketball equivalent to Friday Night Lights already.

35. Big Time Adolescence

The lesser-buzzed-about Pete Davidson movie probably utilized him better in the sense that he was kind of on cruise control for the movie (a compliment).

36. The Trial of the Chicago 7

I mostly just want Aaron Sorkin to let someone else direct his movies again. I do laugh at the French-breakfast-egg joke every time though.

37. Alex Wheatle / Education

The fourth and fifth installments of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe round out the themes of the series in poignant ways.

38. Birds of Prey

Look, this was the last movie I saw in theaters, and if I knew that’d be the case, I would’ve appreciated it all much more. It’s a loudly goofy movie and everyone pretty much understands that. The bacon-egg-and-cheese looked delicious.

39. Women of Troy

I didn’t understand Cheryl Miller’s greatness — and that of the entire USC women’s basketball program — until watching this. That said, Miller now tops my “What if?” list of basketball players whose careers ended or were impacted by injury.

40. Unpregnant

A fun road trip movie that has an important message in it, but it’s also a fun time. Haley Lu Richardson gets to cook (I’m buying stock), and she and Barbie Ferreira have a good comedic chemistry. However, Giancarlo Esposito’s cameo and the Maggie Rogers needle drop stole the movie.

Older Releases Watched For The First Time:

A Few Good Men
After Hours
A Hard Day’s Night
All About Nina
All the President’s Men
Almost Famous
American Graffiti
American Ultra
An American in Paris
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Attack the Block
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
The Big Lebowski
Big Night
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Bleed For This
Blue Jay
Bonnie and Clyde
Boogie Nights
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
Bringing Up Baby
Broadcast News
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
The Candidate
Charlie Wilson’s War
Citizen Kane
Cool Hand Luke
Crimson Tide
Dazed and Confused
The Departed
Dial M For Murder
Dirty Dancing
Do The Right Thing
Edge of Tomorrow
Enter the Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Everybody Wants Some!!
Ex Machina
Fight Club
Fighting with My Family
First Reformed
Free Solo
From Russia With Love
Fruitvale Station
Gangs of New York
Get on Up
Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas
The Graduate
Hail, Caesar!
Hard Eight
Heaven Can Wait
Hell or High Water
High Society
His Girl Friday
Hot Summer Nights
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Imperial Dreams
Inside Llewyn Davis
Inside Man
Jackie Brown
Juliet, Naked
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Killing Them Softly
Knives Out
Lady Macbeth
The Last Black Man In San Francisco
Let the Sunshine in
The Limey
Logan Lucky
Lost in Translation
Magic Mike
Malcolm X
The Maltese Falcon
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Margot at the Wedding
Marie Antoinette
The Master
The Matrix
Mean Streets
Meet Me in St. Louis
Michael Clayton
Midnight Run
Miracle On 34th Street
Molly’s Game
Moulin Rouge!
Mr. Jealousy
My Best Friend’s Wedding
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Natural
The Nice Guys
North by Northwest
Only You
Out of Sight
The Outsiders
The Philadelphia Story
Point Break
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Prestige
Pretty Woman
Rear Window
Safety Not Guaranteed
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Sex, Lies and Videotape
The Shop Around The Corner
Short Term 12
Shot Caller
Sleepless in Seattle
Spirited Away
St. Elmo’s Fire
The Sting
Sunshine Cleaning
Support the Girls
Take the Ball Pass the Ball
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Terminator: Dark Fate
Thunder Road
To Catch A Thief
Training Day
The Two Popes
The Verdict
The Virgin Suicides
What If
When We Were Kings
Woman of the Year
Working Girl
The Wrestler
Your Sister’s Sister
You Were Never Really Here
Zombieland: Double Tap



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