Obviously, 2020 sucked ass- especially for moviegoers.
The theatre is one of my favourite places to be and the optimal setting to experience a film. In 2019 I was spoiled, I saw over 40 movies on the big screen (all with my amazing girlfriend), and thought the good times would roll on. But this year, despite our own movie fan prime minister winning reelection at the end of 2019 and the correct rapist winning the election south of the border in 2020, we were still only able to see a few films in theatres at the start of the year and a brief window in the summer when Nova Scotia had zero cases for several weeks… but it didn’t last.
So I, like many film fans and film studios, turned to streaming services to salvage the year. While I’d never pay $30 to see another bastardized live action remake of an animated Disney classic (with all the great songs taken out) I did subscribe to Disney+ and shared it with my mom to start paying back the decade of Netflix I’ve mooched. Between Disney+, Netflix and Prime Video I still managed to watch a lot of 2020 movies, and I’m bending my rules a little to include a few films from the very end of 2019 I only got around to this year because they’re just so goddamn good.
So here are my top 10 films from the hellish year we’ve had, and fingers crossed for another unprofitable year for the morally bankrupt, monopolistic Disney corporation in 2021.
Oh, and if you don’t like reading then here’s a video I spent way too much time on.
Enjoy reading, nerd!
Like most filmgoers of taste, I enjoy British culture at an arm’s length, ideally through the lens of a self-absorbed British director and definitely not set during the nation’s weird hat era (sorry, Emma). That made The Gentlemen, a crime thriller about a druglord’s attempt at retirement, the perfect big blockbuster British film for me. The action slaps, the lads are chads and it’s all retold through the silky voice of Charlie Hunnam. Well, that right there’s a good time.
The Gentlemen has some style, and some cringe which I’ve been informed isn’t so much cringe as mainstream British hip-hop culture but uh, be warned. I really dug the action in this movie, it’s dumb it’s fun and I’m also partial to Matthew McConaughey ever since Interstellar so that might be clouding my judgement a little but hey, it’s on Netflix, give it a watch.
This is essentially the 2-hour version of that vine of the football coach asking what’s better than this? Filmed right here on the East Coast, The Lighthouse is a mind-warping dive into isolation and insanity that hit a little close to home being viewed during the self-isolating year many of us had. Don’t let the arthouse, black and white and 4:3 aspect ratio turn you off, there’s so much depth (get it) to this perilous tale of two men trapped in their own little hell under the ever-watching eye of the Lighthouse.
William Dafoe wins my unofficial award for most amazing facial expressions in a movie (most likely ever) and I loved how easily and jarringly he could transition from endearing and funny to terrifying and bone-chilling in a single scene. Robert Pattinson is cool too, a young foil to Dafoe’s old madman vibes. I don’t know how it ended, I don’t think I fully understood everything that happened, but I definitely know I loved it.
Chadwick Boseman’s last two performances of his career were released in 2020. The first is as Stormin’ Norman in Spike Lee’s meandering Da 5 Bloods, a movie I struggled to get through but that’s no fault of Boseman. The second is as aspiring blues band composer and trumpeter Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which released posthumously this December and in so many ways adds a bittersweet tone to Boseman’s final performance.
Directed by playwright George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom really feels like a play in how its scenes are set and its many monologues delivered. Across just a few sets Boseman puts everything into each word, each movement. He slides across the room and pushes through every scene with such charisma and captivating delivery I cannot believe he filmed this whole movie while he had stage four colon cancer.
Carried by Boseman and an amazing cast in Viola Davis, Colman Domingo and the hilarious and heartbreaking Glynn Turman as Toledo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is in no way an easy watch and nor should it be. I also can’t help thinking how fitting that Boseman was able to get his acting career started at the Oxford Summer Program in 1998 because of donations from Denzel Washington, and then ended his career in a film Denzel produced. It’s almost poetic.
It took Pixar twenty-five years but they seem to have finally realized black characters can exist outside of a side character for comic relief. With Soul, the prolific animation studio has finally delivered a story not only about a black character and his lifelong dreams of becoming a famous jazz pianist, but a story about the black community that surrounds him. While they still won’t let this black character be himself for the majority of the movie, presumably because black men aren’t as marketable as cute blueish blobs or adorable cats named Mr Mittens, and they only let audiences experience blackness through the lens of a white-coded perspective, they still delivered a visually stunning film exploring the dreams we set for ourselves and the challenging yet worthwhile process of reexamining who we want to be at all parts of life.
Soul resonated with my girlfriend and I, touching on conversations we’d had many times about why we’re doing what we do, what we want out of life and whether or not it matters if we know the answer to either. I’ve always loved Pixar’s standalone films more than their watered-down sequels, and Soul further cemented my belief this studio is at their best when they’re pushing new ground, exploring new perspectives and giving the mic to new voices.
Okay well not new voices, it stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey… but new characters, rather than cashing out on nostalgia.
I’d recommend further reading Charles Pulliam-Moore’s piece Soul Feels Like Pixar’s First Black Movie Made With White People in Mind for a better critique about the way this film treats its black characters than I could ever make.
Pitched as a loose retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, The Half of It is another cheesy, heartfelt teen rom-com that I’ve found myself enjoying more and more the further I get from my own high school years. For those who’ve followed my Top 10 Movie lists in recent years you’ll remember the dumb fun I had watching Netflix’s To All the Boys I Loved Before, and while that film had a sequel this year I found myself drawn to this highschool drama instead.
Starring Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu, a highschooler picking up the slack for her widower immigrant father, Ellie helps her dad pay the bills by writing papers for her peers, filling in for his job at the train station and cooking small pies she can reheat in the evenings. She has a crush on a girl Aster in her class but lacks the confidence to do anything about it, so when another classmate Paul asks Ellie to write love letters for him to give to Aster she initially refuses until Paul offers to pay just like his peers pay for papers. The tangle of love, lies and growth that follow warmed the cockles of my cold, cynical heart- and maybe it’ll do the same for you.
Lindsey Ellis argued in one of her last essays of the year that Borat as a character works even better in 2020 than he did in 2006. Truth be told I didn’t even see the first Borat until earlier this year when my friend Chris found out neither my girlfriend or I had and I got to see where all those memes and quotes I’d been seeing my whole life originated.
There’s some truth to Ellis’ argument. After the election of Trump and the complete breaking down of any legitimacy our political and cultural “leaders” (including Borat) actually have there’s no way to satirize a world like ours anymore, really. So with Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Cohen and his new companion rip across the US of A reminding us all these are just people. We’re all just people and how we treat one another that matters.
I kept thinking of this quote I heard on a podcast earlier this year:
“The great unasked question in our public life is, ‘Given my role here, how should I behave. Given that I’m a journalist, politician or a parent, what should I do in this situation.’
That’s the question I bet that the people that you most respect seem to ask that question, in moments of decision. And the people who most drive you crazy seem like they never ask that question, and everything they do makes it clear they didn’t asked that question first.”
Everyone in this film either asks, or doesn’t ask, this question. These contrasts expose the division more than who voted for who. I think the lesson of this film is that we should all try to ask this question a lot more.
Oh, and the holocaust definitely did happen.
As I’ve seen Jeremy Kaplowitz say time and time again when Christoper Nolan comes up, “he just makes big fun goofy blockbusters,” and I couldn’t agree more. The common theme throughout Nolan’s work is time, from Momentos to Tenet I’m amazed he finds new ways to play with this theme in bigger and bigger budget ways. And while most of the shots in Tenet that I thought were dope was basically normal footage played in -1x, I still hung on every shot like my cat when a bird is on the TV.
There are so many stupid lines in this movie that have been pointed out on Twitter ad nauseam by now and I won’t pretend this script isn’t dumb as balls at times. To the point I can say lines before the character on screen does, a habit I think pisses off my girlfriend more than anything else I do at the theatre. But I simply don’t care. This blockbuster is big, goofy and fun and coincidentally stars another Robert Pattinson foil character I really loved, he’s just killing it lately.
I relentlessly mock the anime fans in my life for their poor choice in entertainment. It’s not fair and needlessly cruel but they understand. After all, anime was a mistake. But where underage girls in school skirts turn many like me away from anime shows, I’ve watched a few anime movies that managed to really hit me in a way a real movie would (just teasing). One such film was CoMix Wave’s 2017 bombshell Your Name. So when I learned the studio’s next film was releasing and actually showing in my local theatre, I hopped on it without even seeing a trailer.
Weathering with You didn’t hit me nearly as hard as Your Name., but it still sported an endearing and funny script (enjoyed best with subtitles, of course) and magical animation that played with wet and water in some really beautiful ways. I’m out of my element in anime and I think that might contribute to my enjoyment of the few I do watch, but even the anime aficionados in my life spoke highly of this film so I’d encourage you to check it out if you’re an anime sceptic like myself or weeb trash like my friends.
Bending the rules cause it’s my list and I dunno, I’ll do whatever I want, I want to give a huge shoutout to all the Pixar shorts released this year for being some of the most gorgeous, heartwarming bits of animation I had the pleasure of watching this year.
Loop captures the frustration of trying to communicate to those who are different than us, and how it can be immensely rewarding to find common ground.
Out is a rollicking look at the struggle of being yourself with those you love most, and the fear they won’t accept us.
And Burrow, especially after the year we’ve endured, showed me that only through working together with those around us can we all thrive.
They’re all on Disney+, and I hope you’ll cuddle up to someone you love and give them a watch.
It might not mean much for some when I say this, but gambling addict Howard Ratner is unequivocally Adam Sandler’s best performance in his entire career. I think Sandler’s been coasting on his few early hits and pumping out abysmal Netflix movies in recent years, but he fucking nails it in this nerve-wracking, incredibly compelling roller coaster of stressful, tense standoffs and devilish cons.
I did experience Uncut Gems incredibly high which may or may not have impacted my enjoyment of it, who’s to say. I will never watch this film ever again in order to preserve my one, perfect viewing experience but I have it on good authority the film still owns sober so check it out if you like risky wagers and/or want to understand all the Sandler memes you may have seen and not understood this year.
Oh, and that ending, come on!
Thank you so much for reading! I’d love to know what you think of my list, if there’s a movie you’re going to check out now or one you think I missed that I should try and watch. I really appreciate every person who takes the time to read my work and I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!