Top 15 Films of 2020 – Allen’s Picks
2020 has been a tough year, to say the least. It seemed everyday something new came and turned our lives upside down. There was racially motivated police brutality that sparked a world-wide reaction, an ugly presidential election in which the ramifications are still coming into light, violent protests, political division at a boiling point – the list goes on and on. And oh yeah, there’s a global pandemic that is still raging out there as I write this.
With everything going on, movies might not have been the top priority for many. Covid has taken a huge toll on the film industry. Theaters have shuttered, blockbusters have been delayed to an undetermined fate, and there’s talk that studios may abandon theater distribution for the comfort of home viewing. Except for a few small exceptions, the communal experience of watching movies teeter toward an unknown future.
And yet, the movies themselves survive. A silver lining to the dread that was 2020 was that great films continued to be seen. Big budget franchises and sequels took a backseat, allowing smaller independent, creative, and personal work to step to the forefront. Instead of elbowing each other for room at the multiplex, movies of all shapes and sizes were released on streaming platforms. As a result, really good films were seen when in most other years may not have gotten that chance. I love going to the movie theater, and hopefully one day soon (when this godforsaken pandemic is over) we’ll all get to do that again. But until that happens, we have to make do with the circumstances at hand. While 2020 was a bad year in many ways, it was a great one when it came to the movies.
As per tradition with these articles, I start my best of the year list with my Honorable Mentions. All of these films have something to offer. Just because they didn’t make the Top 15 does not mean they’re not worth watching. I suggest seeking out as many of them as you can:
Troop Zero, A Sun, Horse Girl, The Lodge, The Invisible Man, Swallow, Big Time Adolescence, The Platform, Blow the Man Down, Birds of Prey, Tigertail, Beastie Boys Story, Bad Education, Spaceship Earth, I’m No Longer Here, Shirley, The Painter and the Thief, Relic, The Rental, Palm Springs, The Hater, Banana Split, The Booksellers, Sputnik, The Half of It, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Boys State, Lucky Grandma, The Assistant, The Social Dilemma, The Way Back, Possessor, American Murder, The Outpost, Vampires vs The Bronx, On the Rocks, Black Box, Nocturne, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, American Utopia, Bad Hair, Totally Under Control, Run, Soul, Tommaso, Crip Camp, The Nest, The Sound of Metal, Promising Young Woman, Jungleland, Small Axe: Mangrove, Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, Small Axe: Education, Minari, Dick Johnson is Dead, Ride Your Wave, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, News of the World, Sylvie’s Love.
Now that we have gotten through that, let’s take a look at the Top 15 Films of 2020.
The Brazilian Bacurau is hard to describe, because it encompasses so many different genres. It is part western, part John Carpenter horror, and part social commentary. It balances a world full of life and color with one of pure terror and violence. Co-writers/directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho focus in on a village so small that it doesn’t even register on any GPS maps. Things start to get weird when citizens notice strange occurrences – random strangers showing up, water supplies getting cut off, and…a UFO? Bacurau is best experienced not knowing anything about it. The secrets don’t just surprise us, they startle us like a shotgun blast.
Haunting, poetic, beautiful. Garrett Bradley’s documentary is a lyrical examination of a woman fighting against a system built to tear down her soul. Shot almost entirely through home video footage, we follow Fox Rich as she spends two decades trying to get her husband (Rob Rich) out of jail for committing robbery. The black and white photography, composed mostly through closeups, puts us intimately into Fox’s thoughts and feelings. We watch her in moments of strength, uncertainty, and unwavering love navigating the prison system while also raising her six boys. Stories like these always bury us in facts and statistics. Time shows us that there are real people behind the numbers, whose lives are forever altered by those iron bars.
The best animated film of the year is the magical Wolfwalkers. With its striking visual palette, this fantasy-adventure follows a young girl (Honor Kneafsey) in 17th century Ireland as she encounters a “wolfwalker” (Eva Whittaker), a human who can communicate with wolves and even turn into one when asleep. This proves to be major problem as the local village despises wolves, hunting them down with reckless abandon. Like the best of Studio Ghibli, Wolfwalkers balances the human world with the world of nature like a folktale. It uses its narrative to consider how a person grows up to make a name for themselves, and how traumatic experiences often fuel closemindedness and bigotry. It’s a story of empathy and compassion, told in a way that could be enjoyed by the entire family.
12) Another Round
Writer/Director Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish tragicomedy explores a group of four friends who come up with the theory that maintaining a low level of alcohol in their blood could help improve their stale lives. Of course, this plan falls apart in disastrous ways. Headed by a superb performance by Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round has many laughs but doesn’t shy away from the risks of alcoholism. These characters walk on eggshells, knowing full well that at any moment they could fall off the deep end. We’ve seen plenty of stories of male companionship wading through the turbulence of a midlife crises, but few are as funny, poignant, and sharp as this. Plus, Mikkelsen’s dance scene alone is worth the price of admission.