Even with COVID and cinema disruptions, many films came out this year worth one’s time… and quite a few that did not. Whether better than expected or exceeding the high promise already made, these are the films of 2020 that were my most memorable and best recommended.
10 – The Trial of the Chicago 7
“There are civil trials, and there are criminal trials. There’s no such thing as a political trial.” Until, of course, you find yourself being made an example of. Directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, and many more folks you’ll recognize making the case to call out injustice and political manipulation.
9 – Sound of Metal
“It’s important around here that being deaf is not a handicap… and not something to fix.” Riz Ahmed plays a drummer losing his hearing and afraid of losing his girlfriend/bandmate played by Olivia Cooke. One part acceptance through immersion therapy and another part human drama.
8 – Da 5 Bloods
“War is about money. Money is about war.” Directed, produced, and co-written by Spike Lee and starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Chadwick Boseman about four African-American vets return to Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader… and a hidden fortune in gold.
7 – Onward
“I hope there’s a little magic left in you.” Disney Pixar’s first film of 2020 featuring the voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as brothers in a fantasy realm questing for forgotten magics to spend one more day with their dead father. Co-starring Octavia Spencer in the role she was born to voice: the Manticore!
6 – One Night in Miami
“Everybody talks about they want a piece of the pie. Well I don’t! I want the god damn recipe.” Based on the debut play written by Kemp Powers, a fictional account of one incredible night — February 25th, 1964 — where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown discuss their obligations in supporting the civil right movement. Directed by Regina King and starring Sope Dirisu, François Battiste, Arinze Kene, and David Ajala.
5 – The Invisible Man
“I need to know that I’m not crazy, okay?” Elisabeth Moss plays a woman everyone believes is insane for thinking her abusive dead husband is haunting her, including herself. After false starts with The Wolfman, Dracula Untold, and Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Universal finally unlocks the formula to a modern revamp of their classic movie monsters.
4 – Greyhound
“Dear Lord, let your Holy Angel be with me. That the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.” An edge-of-your-seat WWII drama featuring Tom Hanks as a U.S. Navy ship’s captain responsible for getting an Allied convoy across the Atlantic being stalked by a wolf pack of German submarines. In a time when aircraft technology prevented support across an entire ocean, it’s a realistic yet harrowing experience in naval survival where sailors know they won’t all make the crossing.
3 – Soul
“You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on Earth is for.” Directed by Pete Docter for Disney/Pixar and co-directed by Kemp (One Night in Miami) Powers starring the voices of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey. Losing his life on the eve of his dream shot, an African-American musician tries to cheat the system while assigned to give an uninspired soul the desire to try life on Earth.
2 – Nomadland
“One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye.” Directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Frances McDormand, a woman losing everything in the Great Recession becomes a van-dwelling nomad in the American West, moving between opportunities and making friends along the way. Houseless, not homeless.
1 – Promising Young Woman
“Can you guess what every woman’s worst nightmare is?” Carey Mulligan portrays a woman who preys upon men who prey upon women, but this isn’t your typical gratuitous revenge fantasy. As the details of her prior life become clear, she looks for every reason to forgive and move on, but repentance is in short supply while too many people continue to look away from the truth.
Color Out of Space
“What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science.” Nicolas Cage portrays the head of a secluded household that becomes ground zero for a mysterious meteor straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s imagination. A less-tedious journey into amalgamation of the mind and spirit than Natalie Portman’s Annihilation.
“You know it. I know it. God knows it. That’s all that matters.” Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, and Peter Macdissi lead an all-star cast about a gay man dealing with his less-than-accepting father and other demons from his past. While decidedly the most awards-seeking film of the thirteen mentioned here, the film’s cast and plot subtleties take the story in more interesting directions than similar fare.
Bill and Ted Face the Music
“We have been banging our heads against a wall for twenty-five years. And I’m tired, dude.” Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter reprise their Wyld Stallyns roles to finally fulfill their promised destiny… one that seems as elusive as it does impossible. The nostalgia is strong with the final installment, achieving the effect Wonder Woman 1984 tried and failed to lasso: bringing people together while having good fun doing it.