While catching the latest movie may have been a low priority in 2020, the compromised release schedule still offered a particularly unique experience for viewers. Films relied, more than ever, on word-of-mouth which allowed smaller films to ride the same wave as at-home blockbusters; continuing the unpredictable boom of the streaming market.
Without breaking tradition but also considering the past year, Wylie Writes asked its writers to submit their interpretations of their picks for the best movies and the worst movies of 2020. Some chose the conventional list format, while others mixed things up. As always, click any highlighted title to read the writer’s full-length review!
The Best Films of 2020
Honourable Mentions: The Kid Detective, Run This Town, Horse Girl, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Totally Under Control, and a special mention for An Evening with Tim Heidecker.
#10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman’s drama speaks volumes through its intimate, grounded story about friends, painstakingly, following through with an abortion. Also, with Hittman’s quietly observant filmmaking, this is an important film about how vulnerable young women are treated during their coming-of-age phases towards maturity.
#9. The Fight
An eye-opening and inspiring documentary from the brilliant team behind 2016’s Weiner that chronicles ACLU lawyers and some pivotal cases they’re attached to.
Vivarium may be the most divisive film of 2020. For me, Lorcan Finnegan’s slow-burning thriller was sensational and really funny. Whether you view it as a a satirical horror about adulthood or as a game of The Sims gone wrong, Vivarium works no matter how you slice it.
Pixar’s most mature effort to date blends beautiful visuals and ethereal, abstract elements into a life-affirming story about self-discovery, existentialism, and how it’s okay to be unambitious. The jury’s still out on younger opinions of these deeper themes, but the movie’s quick-witted sense of humour helps younger viewers connect with Soul.
Tigertale is the most underrated movie of the year. Master of None’s co-creator Alan Yang brought Netflix audiences a touching tale that spans over generations to great effect. Yang’s film is from the heart, as is Tzi Ma’s outstanding performance as a lovesick man filled with regret.
Being mindful of those who may not have seen Leigh Whannell’s fantastic thriller, The Invisible Man either elaborates on the possessive qualities of its villain, following through with a riveting story about the woman he’s stalking, or offers viewers a heart-wrenching perspective of a woman trying to work through her PTSD caused by an obsessive maniac she once loved. The Invisible Man was the first surprise of 2020, and I’m glad to see it has remained on top.
Grounded by a sensational performance by Carey Mulligan, Emerald Fennell’s feature-length filmmaking debut is a black comedy that pulls off the impossible. Staying committed to its material throughout, Fennell’s film channels jaw-dropping sarcasm and passionate, outspoken heartbreak when pointing out hypocrisies within a gender imbalance.
#3. Sound of Metal
A mind-melting character study about a musician in denial about his newfound hearing loss, with Riz Ahmed’s awesome performance carrying the weight of this complicated character. The movie is also the year’s most amazing technical achievement as a dedicated production replicates the disconnect of losing a key sense.
#2. Disappearance at Clifton Hill
A clever Canadian whodunit cut from the same cloth as Knives Out. This Niagara Falls-set mystery, which previously was my favourite movie of the year, keeps us guessing, laughing, and intrigued from start to finish.
Judd Apatow has made a lot of entertaining comedies but, with Trainwreck and now The King of Staten Island, he’s showing audiences how he can bring the best out of his actors and find their natural connection to the story. Respect and attention should still be paid to the movie’s producers, screenwriters, and the individual cast members who all bring their own essence to this funny and heartfelt slice of life (SNL’s Pete Davidson, especially, proves how he’s a comedic jack of all trades with this loosely autobiographical flick). But, The King of Staten Island is a landmark in Apatow’s long-running career; proving that he’s not only a king of comedy, but also a royally dedicated storyteller.
The Worst Films of 2020
Dishonourable Mentions: Battle Scars, The Assent, The Turning, Fatman, The Princess Switch: Switched Again
#10. Love, Weddings & Other Disasters
#6. 365 Days
#3. Artemis Fowl
#2. After We Collided
#1. Coffee & Kareem
The Best Films of 2020
#10. I Use to Go Here
#8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
#5. Horse Girl
#4. Sound of Metal
#3. The King of Staten Island
#1. Promising Young Woman
The Worst Films of 2020
#10. The Christmas Chronicles: Part 2
#9. After We Collided
#8. The Assent
#7. The War with Grandpa
#6. A Fall From Grace
#4. Guest House
#3. 365 Days
#2. Artemis Fowl
#1. Coffee & Kareem
MOST RECOMMENDED: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The surprise release of a sequel to 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan could not have come at a more perfect time. Unlike Netflix’s unfunny Death to 2020, this film examines the current world climate with sharp satire and laugh-out-loud wit. Sacha Baron Cohen’s timely pranks and antics may not be as funny this time around, but there’s an undeniable cohesion to the film’s narrative that elevates the material. At its core, the film’s story is actually pretty heartwarming, in a wonderfully twisted way. Accolades go out to Maria Bakalova for her incredible performance as Borat’s daughter, Tutar.
LEAST RECOMMENDED: A Perfect Plan
An incredibly disappointing attempt at an edgy heist thriller, A Perfect Plan fails in just about every way possible. The writers shoulder the most blame here – the underdeveloped script is littered with gaps in logic unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The production value is also weak though, with poorly choreographed action sequences that shatter any chance at audiences suspending disbelief. A movie this bad can sometimes redeem itself when its flaws make it accidentally funny, but A Perfect Plan lacks both the charm and charisma required to be laughably bad. The only thing this heist movie steals is the time you waste while watching it.
Favourite Film of 2020: Nomadland
Nomadland hit me right in the chest. It cracked open cold, stiff parts of my heart that I hadn’t even realized I’d let calcify. Chloe Zhao’s masterful study of a woman processing grief and reflecting on life while living a nomadic life on the American road soars between the stunningly expansive and curls into the achingly intimate. It is breathtaking in its quiet contemplation, painted on an awe-inspiring, natural canvas.
It fills a deep need to see the stories and lives of mature individuals, especially women. As they are the primary voices of the film, we are made aware of the triumphs, devastations, secrets, and mundanities of their lives; lives that have experienced wonders and tragedies. It is a deep relief to see scores of individuals living life as they so choose, adhering to a lifestyle that they find fulfilling outside of the oft touted traditional “benchmarks” of success and happiness.
Driven by a wrenching performance by the incomparable Frances McDormand, Chloe Zhao masterfully captures the raw grace of a life fully lived, against a wonderous natural backdrop. If I had to describe Nomadland in one word, it’d be this: sublime.
Nomadland opens in select locations on Friday, February 19.
Personal disappointment of 2020: The Gentlemen
I was excited for this film – truly excited. After watching him win hearts in romantic films, I was eager to see Henry Golding (one of the most charming and radiant rising stars in Hollywood right now) play a rough-and-tumble gangster. I so desperately wanted to enjoy this film. Although the A-list cast deliver highly committed performances, I found myself struggling to connect with the film. Its off-kilter, organized crime humour, for which writer/director Guy Ritchie is well known for, didn’t quite land for me. Certain depictions of racialized characters in the film also felt uncomfortable – depictions that felt unnecessary. Although I was excited for the film, and it did have some clever elements, it didn’t stick the landing for me.
The Best Film of 2020: Black Bear
Lush with mystery and manipulation, Black Bear pulls you in from minute one, when you’re dropped off in the woods of upstate New York with Aubrey Plaza’s character. It follows a young couple (with a baby on the way) who are living in a too-large lake house and invite a friend-of-a-friend to stay in one of the spare bedrooms for an artistic retreat. But the movie’s premise is set up like a trick, so right when it becomes convincing in its sincerity, out goes the rug from under you.
The dialogue is natural but energized and the actors are all-in, which is especially necessary for a movie that serpentines as much as this one does. Most importantly, the screenplay is intent on communicating something new, modern, and provocative, even if precisely what is up for debate. Black Bear is not only an entertaining watch, but I dare say its experimental storytelling bodes well for the future of cinema.
The Worst Film of 2020: Blackbird
Like anybody else, I didn’t get a chance to see many movies this year. Even still, I’m confident Blackbird has to be – at least – one of the worst movies of 2020. I can hardly believe such a flat script with so little originality was able to attract the likes of Oscar-winners Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet. In short, it’s about a dying grandmother who invites her squabbling family and dearest friend over for one last weekend before she plans to take a lethal dose of something-or-other and doze off her mortal coil. Character dynamics are hopelessly contrived; save for a soapy twist that is abruptly out-of-place in this seaside sapfest. Forgive this meta take – but in retrospect it’s extra grim to entertain the thought that this movie is supposed to represent the last few experiences a person ever gets to have.
The Best Films of 2020
#10. TIE: 12 Hour Shift/The Columnist
#9. I Used to Go Here
#8. Strasbourg 1518
#7. Scare Me
#4. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
#3. There Is No Evil
#2. You Cannot Kill David Arquette
#1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
What is left to be said about Charlie Kaufman? He creates works that confound his biggest fans and enrage others. He has been responsible for about a half dozen of the greatest works to come out of America in this millennium. And since he decided to stop relying on others to direct for him, his works have become “pure Kaufman”! This latest offering, a delight of a nightmare (delightmare?) on domestic life, is aided by brilliant performances, and the sort of atmosphere the greatest horror filmmakers could only hope for – the sort of storytelling that can make a half hour car ride seem exciting. But, above all, it shows that Kaufman still has gold to offer the world, even if it is through Netflix.
The Worst Films of 2020
#10. She Dies Tomorrow
#7. True Fiction
#4. Hillbilly Elegy
#3. The New Mutants
#2. The Assistant
I almost wish I didn’t know who Glenn Danzig was. Not because I want to ignore his existence over this awful movie—Astro-zombies is still a banger and I wouldn’t want to lose it—but because if I didn’t know who the director was, the image in my head would make more sense.
Watching Verotika, I couldn’t help but think that this movie was likely directed by aliens, aliens whose only reference for cinema is the dictionary. And not just cinema, but also sex, porn, modeling, acting, spider, murder, plot, narrative, story, pretty much every element of this movie. Ultimately, Verotika is such an absolute failure of filmmaking, it makes Danzig look brilliant, as if the only way he could make this movie was to first discover perfection in cinema and then work backwards.
Biggest Impact: The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is my top film of the year not because it is necessarily the “best” film of 2020 but because it made the biggest impression. It feels like a lifetime ago that I watched The Invisible Man in theatres, but it left me so shaken that I still think it is one of the most psychologically disturbing films I’ve seen in recent years. It certainly isn’t perfect, and the tight plot unravels a bit in the third act, but Elizabeth Moss’ performance is grounded and nuanced enough to make up for the more outlandish elements. When a film deals so explicitly with trauma and abuse it is impossible to remove the viewer’s personal experiences and history from their response. I don’t know if I’ll be watching this movie again any time soon – but I know I won’t be forgetting it either.
Honourable Mentions: Da 5 Bloods, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Biggest Disappointment: The Prom
I love musicals; I have strong opinions about Madonna’s performance in Evita and Idina Menzel in the film adaptation of RENT was a formative part of my teenage sexual awakening. So, while I’ve never quite managed to get into a lot of Ryan Murphy’s work, I was looking forward to his adaptation of The Prom, one of the very few Broadway musicals that focuses on queer women. Unfortunately, The Prom is a lengthy, self-indulgent disaster that leans heavily on harmful stereotypes and de-centers the story of the young lesbian couple (which should be the heart and soul of the film) in favour of its gay cis-male and straight cis-female characters. Much ado has been made of straight actor James Corden’s flamboyant performance. While I don’t think it is my place (I’m not a gay man) to agree or disagree with the critics who view it as offensive, I think that an equally important and less talked-about issue with The Prom is that it feels like it was made by and for straight people and gay cis-men. They are the most important people in the film and their stories and characterization take precedence over the stories of queer women.
There’s a great deal more that I could say about The Prom and why I think it’s an example of everything that is wrong with how queer people and communities are represented in mainstream film (after all, its very premise hinges on the desire of gay and lesbian couples to assimilate into heteronormative traditions and institutions, such as prom, which is not something that everyone within the LGBTQ+ community wants and does not necessarily accurately reflect the lives, experiences, and desires of many queer people). For now, I’ll just keep waiting for someone (hopefully not Ryan Murphy) to make a big-screen adaptation of Fun Home and give us the lesbian/queer women musical we deserve.
Dishonourable Mentions: Chick Fight
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