It’s that time of year again when we look back at the year’s best movies.
This year my list has a giant asterisk attached to it. That’s because, of course, of the COVID 19 pandemic. Normally, I review movies seen at the theaters, nationwide releases that all of us have access to seeing. This year, that experience sadly came to an end in mid-March, when theaters closed as it became unsafe to attend them.
I have continued to review movies throughout the year, but movies on streaming and OnDemand services, meaning, these films haven’t all been major releases, meaning that we moviegoers haven’t seen all the same movies this year. I know as I scan “best of” lists from other critics, a lot of the films on their lists I have not seen.
So, this list you are about to see, is the list of the Top 10 movies that I have seen this year. I am certainly not making the argument that they are the best movies of the year, simply because I know there are a lot of films that I simply didn’t see this year because I did not have the usual access to them which movie theaters normally provide.
That being said, I had fun this year all the same, as I saw many small releases, films I normally would not have seen because I would have been busy watching the major releases at the theaters. So, for me, all was not lost, although I certainly missed the movie theater experience. How long will this go on? Since the medical experts have been clear, that it will not be safe to visit a movie theater until well after a vaccine makes its rounds, it sounds like to me that most of 2021 will be a similar, “no movie theater” experience. Oh well. Most of that is beyond my control, other than I will continue to do my part to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing.
Okay, enough of the COVID 19 distraction. Now onto the list! Here they are, my picks for the 10 Best Movies that I saw in 2020:
One of the weirdest movies I saw all year, but I liked it very much. Mel Gibson plays a disillusioned Santa Claus who is forced to sign a contract with the U.S. military to mass produce consoles for military aircraft in order to make ends meet. Meanwhile, he’s the target of a relentless hitman played by Walton Goggins, hired by a rich brat who is sick and tired of getting coal every Christmas. A black comedy that retains a dark, gloomy tone throughout and is better for it. What you get if the Coen brothers had made a Christmas movie. Definitely for adults only.
It was another good year for horror movies, and ANTEBELLUM was one of the best. Janelle Monae plays a slave trapped on a Civil War era plantation run by a group of very sadistic Confederate soldiers. And that’s just the beginning. Jumps back and forth between the past and the present, leading up to a rather questionable plot twist of a conclusion that in fact turned off many viewers. I didn’t like the twist, but I still liked the movie. Also features a powerfully haunting music score by Roman GianArthur Irvin and Nate “Rocket” Wonder.
8. DA 5 BLOODS
Spike Lee’s story of four Vietnam vets returning to Vietnam to reclaim the remains of their fallen squad leader is as stylish and moving a movie on Vietnam in quite a while. Also speaks clearly to the state of race relations in the here and now. Features Chadwick Boseman in one of his last roles.
7. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA
It’s been a while since one of my Top 10 movies has featured Will Ferrell, but this Netflix musical/comedy/fantasy was a complete surprise. I found myself loving it. Loved its message of the need to produce art, and the enthusiasm of the two main characters, played by Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, who steals the show, is infectious. While silly and over the top, the best part about this one is it never departs from its sincerity. As such, its conclusion is actually quite moving. A pleasant surprise.
6. THE INVISIBLE MAN
Another horror movie, and this one is the best movie I saw at the movie theaters this year. Not so much a remake but a reimagining of the Invisible Man concept. The emphasis here is on a woman played by Elizabeth Moss who’s the victim of an abusive husband, and when he dies, she is overjoyed. But when she starts sensing him around, she becomes convinced that he faked his own death and has found a way to become invisible, an assertion that her friends see as… well, you know. This one is best when it plays as a pyschological thriller… is he invisible, or is she crazy? It plays its hand a bit too early for my tastes, but I still really, really enjoyed this one. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who both wrote and starred in the INSIDIOUS movies.
This Netflix bio pic of U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello features two knockout performances by Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas, who share a strong and powerful chemistry together as real life couple de Mello and Carolina Larriera. Stylish and moving thoughout, SERGIO was the best of the Netflix bio pics I saw this year.
Another horror movie, which makes three horror flicks in my Top 10 List. As I said, 2020 was a good year for horror movies. SPUTNIK tells the story of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring a mysterious and deadly creature inside him. The story focuses on pyschologist Tatyana Klimova, played by Oksana Akinshina, who is called in to assess the cosmonaut’s mental state. Akinshina is phenomenal in the lead role, and she carries this movie, a deliberately paced thriller that had me both intrigued and on the edge of my seat throughout.
3. MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
The most fascinating movie I saw all year. This Netflix documentary about a man and his relationship with an octopus features both incredible underwater photography and a story— which is true— which will tug at your heartstrings. To see an octopus… a mollusk… develop a bond and a friendship with a gentle human being just might restore your faith in humanity, that loving relationshps on earth are indeed possible.
I loved this movie. Based on a true story, MISBEHAVIOR tells the tale of the group of women who marched on the 1970 Miss World Beauty pageant in London to protest the sexist treatment of women, an event that is widely credited as the birth of the Women’s Rights Movement. Keira Knightley is outstanding in the lead role as Sally Alexander, Greg Kinnear is just as good as legendary entertainer Bob Hope who hosted the pageant that year. Intelligent screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe, and director Philippa Lowthorpe successfully captures the mood and feel of 1970 London.
My pick for the best film I saw this year may come as a surprise, but it is EXTRACTION, a Netflix action movie starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to extract the young son of a drug lord out of Dhaka, Bangladesh, even as the countless and relentless forces of a rival drug lord close in around them. Directed by Sam Hargrave, who worked as a stuntman on many of the Marvel superhero movies, EXTRACTION features hands down the most exciting action sequences put on film all year. And these phenomenal scenes just keep on coming. The movie is relentless. A lot of folks did not like this one, but I absolutely loved it. I loved the story, Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, the amazing action sequences, but most of all, the reason this movie is my pick for my favorite movie of the year, is it was the one movie…. the only one…. that I saw at home that really had me feeling like I was in a movie theater watching it on the big screen. EXTRACTION is big time cinematic. And for that, I loved this movie.
Okay, there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 movies I saw in 2020. Coming soon, my list of the Worst 10 Movies I saw in 2020.
Until then, happy movie watching!