My Favorite Movies of 2020
This was a weird year for personal movie watching. I had gotten used to seeing almost everything in a theater - whether it was a new release or a repertory film I programmed. I was also used to attending five film festivals annually - this year I was only able to attend a single festival. I watched more movies in 2020 than in any year previous, but a lot of those films were comfort movies revisited, designed to make me forget the craziness happening in the world around me.
Here are my favorite films of 2020:
AN AMERICAN PICKLE is a super sweet, incredibly well-acted film about family from Seth Rogen in a duel role as a man who was accidentally pickled for 100 years and his modern-day great-grandson. It's easily Rogen's best acting and Brandon Trost nails his first solo directing gig. Highly recommended, watch it as a double feature with AN AMERICAN TAIL.
A critically acclaimed Russian film about two women in post-World War II Leningrad. Iya is a tall, quiet woman who frequently slips into catatonic states as a result of war-related trauma. Marsha fought alongside her in war and now, freshly home from the battlefield, attempts to start a new life alongside Iya. When an unspeakable tragedy changes the nature of their relationship, the two women must figure out what they want from each other. Iya seeks love. Marsha wants a returned obligation. BEANPOLE is a sometimes tender, sometimes troubled look at two women who have feelings for each other, the problem is that their feelings are frequently not on the same wavelength. Beautiful to look at and featuring tremendous performances from the film's leads.
There's a single moment in THE HUNT involving Betty Gilpin and a pack of cigarettes that's responsible for me now dedicating my life and servitude to this tremendous actor and whatever she may do next. I loved this super gory, super mean horror flick. Gilpin now and forever.
A woman falls in love with a carnival attraction and enters into a consensual adult relationship with it. More SHAPE OF WATER than TAMMY AND THE T-REX, the film is beautiful and tender and its very existence is proof that this world is weird and wonderful.
Steven Yeun stars in this film about a Korean family struggling to get a farm off the ground in ‘80s Arkansas. A moving, humane story that explores family bonds, faith, and culture. Come for the high-quality filmmaking, stay for the choice Mountain Dew-related humor.
I love movies like MOPE, films that shift from one tone to another without much consideration for whether the audience is still along for the ride. Many will find this film too mean, too gross, too unsettling - I think it's one of the best films of the year. The based-on-a-true-story and bleak-as-hell film follows two delusional wannabe porn stars as their dreams fall apart and mental illness begets murder. The unpleasant b-side to BOOGIE NIGHTS, MOPE is set in the world of shot-on-digital '90s adult entertainment, It's a world that's misogynistic, filthy, and just, generally, a place most wouldn't want to enter. MOPE is funny and it's super sad and it's frequently both of those things in very quick succession.
Winston Duke stars as a man who must interview prospective souls who vying for a chance to be born. A reverse DEFENDING YOUR LIFE with the heart of Michel Gondry and the aesthetic of the SOCIAL NETWORK trailer. I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Would make an amazing double feature with SOUL.
Like if Richard Linklater directed a BEFORE film in the Winter Olympic village. Funny, romantic, and a wonderful tour of a place most of us will never see. I never got the Olympics before. This may have changed it. I'm calling it now, Nick Kroll wills an Oscar by 2030.
PALM SPRINGS is an absolute delight. I love time loop fiction. GROUNDHOG DAY is probably the granddaddy of the sub-genre but REWIND, the novel by Ken Grimwood, is right up there with it. PALM SPRINGS combines the pathos and emotional weight of REWIND with the comedy and charm of BROOKLYN NINE-NINE. Maybe the best emotional high I've gotten this year just from watching a movie.
I am here for sweet and sentimental Armando Iannucci. This was such an unexpected treat. Dev Patel stars in this fresh adaptation of Charles Dickens' masterpiece. The cast is fantastic, the direction and visual design impeccable - this movie is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Who would have guessed the creator of THE THICK OF IT and VEEP had it in him?
STARKID meets THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE, the movie is so much damn fun - incredible practical effect, rich world-building, and hilarious performances from the two children lead actors. I want to live in this film’s expanded universe forever.
Like THE WITCH, if it was intoxicatingly beautiful and you never wanted to leave that world. Between this, DEERSKIN and JUMBO, I'm a fan of Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel for life.
Wow, what a dark film. I love it! Carey Mulligan stars as a vigilante, who preys on the men who prey on the women who can't take care of themselves. A modern MRS. 45 with a great soundtrack, a wickedly funny bent, and a great ensemble cast.
A super charming film written and starring Kelly O'Sullivan as a woman in her mid-30s trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Drifting through an unfulfilling job, an uncertain relationship and tremendous peer pressure from her friends who are all starting families, Bridget (O'Sullivan) suddenly finds herself in a period of emotional upheaval when two big changes happen in her life simultaneously: She is hired to be a nanny for a six-year-old and she decides to terminate an accidental pregnancy. If you are a fan of Gillian Robespierre's OBVIOUS CHILD, SAINT FRANCES is cut from a similar cloth. Both films feature incredibly funny women trying their best to sort out messy lives.
Hack horror writer struggles to pen werewolf screenplay. I feel seen. I loved this horror anthology that focuses on the art of storytelling, deftly balancing scares, and humor. It's not for everybody, but I love that about it. It's such a specific movie made for a very specific kind of horror fan and it's so damn inspiring that this movie exists and is as fun as it is.
Another great entry in Pixar’s series of films designed to teach children that they will one day die. I really did love it, especially the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score and the fact that Rachel House basically reprised her role from HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE.
Let me add my voice to the chorus: SPONTANEOUS is tremendous and easily one of the year's best movies. I love films that successfully smash through genre walls and the movie, about a high school plagued by random spontaneous combustions, is equal parts funny, scary, and genuinely touching. Explosions with heart .. and gore and viscera and other forms of human goop dripping from the ceiling.
A gay man with OCD decides that he may not actually be as gay as he previously thought he was and decides to experiment with dating women. A woman with razor-sharp wit and a heaping supply of neurotic behavior is recovering from sexual trauma and looking for a relationship that doesn't have a physical component. The two find a connection in each other that will have them questioning what they want out of a relationship. I absolutely adored STRAIGHT UP, an unconventional romantic comedy with classic screwball comedy-inspired dialogue. This was exactly the type of breezy but nuanced entertainment I needed in my life this year.
Proof that art isn’t black and white and good taste can be a complicated issue. Is the movie about a woman struggling with pica exploitive or sublimely sympathetic? I don’t know. Both? A tremendous portrait of a woman working her way through trauma.
The second viewing confirms it: THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF WOLFBOY is a near-perfect film. It’s the closest I’ve gotten in watching a film to experiencing the rush of reading a good YA book when I was a kid. A beautiful film with a pitch-perfect, self-assured tone. Like a long lost Jerry Spinelli novel, this super endearing film is about a boy with hypertrichosis on a road trip to find his mother. I wanna give this movie a big ol’ hug and never let go. Scientifically designed in a lab for me.
A nightmare mosaic biopic about Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, influenced by German expressionist films, Guy Maddin films, and that one dream about sexy cactuses you keep having. Weirder than people who mispronounce biopic.
In a year that’s been incredibly kind to werewolf movies, the best werewolf movie of the year (and for some years) is an animated family film from Ireland. Second time around with WOLFWALKERS and it remains a spectacular good time - beautiful to look at and a damn fun story.