If the bottom half of my top ten proved anything or was a clear indication of the experimental year 2020 was (It all felt like one long month) it’s the diverse, real and grounded storytelling that was told by men, woman and people of color. Despite visiting a movie theater a handful of times, films still came out and were more easily available and accessible to those via VOD. Major Studios made unprecedented business decisions that enraged many because of the alienation of the decision and sadly legendary theaters in the Los Angeles area and other west coast cities closed their doors for good. Other studios / distributors gave premier access to view their feature films that failed miserably – all to make some return even with a loss of profit. And we finally got the #releasethesnydercut.
Given the landscape “what could have been” will be asked for the rest of our lives if the release schedules never changed 1, 2 or even 3 times. Could Marvel keep up the quality of their cinematic universe? Who knows, it’s difficult to think about but also the year gap in MCU releases eased the fatigue many were probably feeling.
Think about it, Black Widow was supposed to be the first film in their “phase 4”. With the reshuffling, the first release became Wandavision on Disney plus. Now Black Widow is releasing in July (the fourth phase 4 project) with more and more vaccines becoming readily available.
If the pandemic proved anything, people love the movie theater experience and we missed it so dearly. There is something about the energy in a sold-out theater (who knows when theaters will be at full capacity again) on opening night and experiencing a blockbuster on the biggest screen possible. Even with a limited capacity seeing Godzilla vs. Kong with a room full of strangers in my favorite Dolby theater is a memory I won’t ever forget.
Being in a lockdown gave us something special – time. I watched a lot of movies and reviewed a lot of movies. Here are some honorable mentions that just couldn’t crack the top ten:
Bad Boys for Life
Yes, God, Yes
Movie Trailers: A Love Story
News of the World
Borat subsequent Moviefilm
The King of Staten Island
The Way Back
The Old Guard
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Lovers Rock (Small Axe)
Pieces of a Woman
The Invisible Man
One cannot ignore the amazing television that came out on the 50 + streaming services either. A few of my favorites include Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit, The Mandalorian, Wandavision, The Flight Attendant, The Last Dance, McMillions, The Boys, Umbrella Academy, The Undoing & Euphoria.
And now, for the main event, here is the remainder of my subjective top ten of 2020 (and some 2021, since the academy awards were pushed back this year). #5 – #1.
5) The Father
Sir Anthony Hopkins gives yet another outstanding lead performance which we should all be used to by now. The way Hopkins can switch personalities within his character is nothing short of an incredible piece of acting. The characters he’s embodied over his illustrious career proves he’s one of the best actors to ever act. The Father explores the fractured, disoriented, and decaying mind of a person with dementia and how they perceive reality as they know it. What stands out the most is the different perspectives that we are shown and how each character interprets those moments. Adapted from a stage production by writer/director Florian Zeller, the atmosphere mimics what would be put on stage. Using a smaller more contained set allows the production design to really stand out and act as its own character in the film. From the subtle changes in decor or the mind tricks in who is actually on screen interacting with Anthony, The Father is one of the best acted films of the year by both Hopkins and Olivia Coleman. Coleman gives such a heartbreaking performance as her character must come to grips with the fact that her father isn’t her father.
What would you sacrifice to achieve the American dream. This is what Minari explores with its main characters Jacob (Steven Yeun)and Monica (Han Ye-ri) who leave an easier life in California working as chicken sexers and move to Arkansas for the dirt. America has the best dirt. Minari is a hybrid of Korean and English speaking dialogue which is never a bad thing. In 2019 Bong Joon-Ho said it best “if you can get over the one inch barrier that is subtitles there is a world of great films that’s to be explored”. Of course, I’m paraphrasing. What Minari does best from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung is make you tear up in one scene and in the next make you smile and hopeful that things will work out for Jacob and Monica. Minari isn’t a dialogue heavy film, instead Chung uses the characters will power and passion to drive the story forward. Each character in Chung’s story (based on his own life experiences) has their own standout moments especially with David (Alan Kim) and Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-jung). Their relationship is my favorite among the rest of the cast that never stops evolving the moment Soon-Ja arrives.
3) One Night in Miami
What If four giants spent the night together in Miami? Inspired by true events and of the stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, to be a fly on that wall and hear the genius that is Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke and Muhammed Ali all discussing ideas and conversing together. One Night in Miami is a powerhouse directed by Regina King (her directorial debut). Its a special night for the four men. Clay (Eli Goree) beating Sonny Liston which catapults him to the star he promised to be, Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) wrestling with his identity that surrounds the music he makes and his career path, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adit) and his standing within the Muslim faith and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) contemplating his retirement from football to go into acting. To me, Eli Goree is the clear standout performance in King’s film. The way he moves, speaks and holds himself is identical to Ali. In my opinion Goree gives a better performance as Ali than Will Smith. One Night in Miami finds a way to balance each larger than life titan where one isn’t more important than the other but only Leslie Odom Jr. gets a nod by the academy for best supporting actor (which is criminal).
Imagine if the plant that runs your hometown goes completely bankrupt and shuts down and in the process you lose your significant other? Its an unbearable situation to be placed in yet Fern (Frances McDormand) never stops pushing forward despite the creeping depression she deals with. Put yourself in her shoes. All her possessions are sold and she lives out of her van – she’s houseless not homeless and that difference is made abundantly clear. Fern holds several seasonal jobs traveling from town to town where she meets and befriends real life nomads. People who have given up the “American dream” to live a richer more full life. Each nomad Fern encounters impacts her life in ways she never thought imaginable. This is one of Nomadland’s strength – the characters. Written and directed by Chloe Zhao, the decision to use real people to tell her story is way more poignant than if all were actors playing a role. The struggle and strength each of these people have is something to marvel as they survive by any means necessary. Frances gives yet another powerful performance to add to her immaculate career.
1) Judas and the Black Messiah
Repeat after me – I am… a Revolutionary! it’s a shame that both Lakeith Stanfield (Bill O’ Neil) and Daniel Kaluuya (Fred Hampton) are both considered supporting actors considering one has to win over the other. Both are co-lead actors in my opinion but if one wins i’d be more than thrilled (I’m leaning more toward Daniel to win) since both are two of my favorite actors. The life of Fred Hampton is a short and tragic one. Chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, Hampton is labeled as a radical by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. His main goal is to create the Rainbow coilition that unites all races and people of different backgrounds to gather to fight injustice together nonviolently. On the opposite side is Bill O’Neil, an FBI informant who struggles with his identity as both a member of the Black Panther Party and as an informant who helped bring down Hampton in the worst way possible. It’s as relevant a story as it is today with #Blacklivesmatter and I Can’t Breathe. Kaluuya is Fred Hampton in heart, mind and spirit. Where Kaluuya ends and Hampton begins is tough to distinguish – it’s a career defining role. With a stellar supporting cast that includes Martin Sheen, Jesse Plemons and Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah is the best film of the year by director Shaka King.
There you have it folks, my top ten best films of the year. Tell me, do you agree or disagree with me? What is your top ten of this wild and unprecedented year? Leave your thoughts below. Can’t wait to see what 2021 brings us now that a sense of normalcy is upon us and theaters are opening back up.