2020 saw an unprecedented number of titles delayed to 2021 and 2022 in response to COVID-19. Bond, Black Widow, and a host of other films that don’t feature European superspies were pushed to greener ($$) pastures. What remained was a surprisingly robust group of movies.
Before jumping into the top 10, here are seven more features that nearly made the list: Boys State; Dick Johnson is Dead; The Father; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Mangrove; Mank; Time.
10. Palm Springs: Fittingly, this instant classic of the time-loop genre released in what felt like the initial home stretch of the pandemic in July 2020. Instead of focusing on the self-improvement of a selfish weatherman, Palm Springs mused on long-term relationships. The script reinvented a tired trope and charming leads Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti managed the rest.
9. Soul: Pixar, a studio synonymous with adults sobbing in public, seems to have recovered from its creative slump. Its last three original projects, Coco, Onward, and Soul, are emblematic of the animation giant’s heart. Soul asks viewers to observe, appreciate, and live for the mundane. A lesson worth remembering after a year of loss.
8. Relic: If The Father examined aging from the perspective of its titular octogenarian, Relic expands on the cycle of care from one generation to the next.
7. Promising Young Woman: Of all the movies I saw in 2020, Promising Young Woman would have benefited the most from audience shrieks, cheers, and gasps. The fact that Emerald Fennell’s crowd-pleaser works without an audience is a testament to its quality.
6. First Cow: Kelly Reichardt’s tale of frontier-era Oregon is an allegory about the impossibility of going it alone.
5. Sorry We Missed You: Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and his wife, Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), are gig-economy workers in Newcastle, England. They neglect their relationship and parenting duties to meet ever-increasing quotas at work. Despite the workload, they can’t manage to get ahead financially. Like Parasite before it, these capitalistic stories transcend borders.
4. Another Round: Like Soul, the latest film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg challenges the ordinary before proudly proclaiming that we wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m just glad Mads Mikkelson was able to find another role as interesting as he is.
3. Minari: Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical immigration story was the most beautiful thing put to film in 2020. It is undoubtedly the warmest narrative I’ve ever seen in which one character drinks another’s piss.
2. Sound of Metal: Groundbreaking sound design and remarkable performances by Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci make for a deeply empathetic portrait of enduring and embracing change.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always: Writer-director Eliza HIttman explores why it might be dangerous to live in a pseudo-theocracy. Sidney Flanigan and Kelly Chapman combine for the most devastating scene in recent memory.