To say my favourite films of 2020 are a reflection of the 2020 experience would be a whimsically reductive assessment of films made prior to the turning of the calendar and shit-hitting of a fan. But the art we gravitate to, be it book, song, film, whatever, are a reflection of ourselves and our state of mind. Could my picks for best films of 2020 be more of a commentary on how I was internally processing the events of the year? Perhaps. But they’re also just quality films worth checking out.
I always lean into genre films at the end of year, preferring sci-fi, fantasy or horror over whatever costume period drama is the heavy favourite of the year. And time-loop has become a fun sub-genre that’s expanded since the gold standard genesis, Groundhog Day. Where Palm Springs sets itself apart is by pulling on a thread hinted at in the Bill Murray classic: the loneliness. The existential dread that comes with the realization of being stuck in a time loop. So even amidst the patented Andy Samberg shenanigans, you get a beautifully contemplative film on going through life alone, whether it’s a normal life or a life on repeat.
I have never had such an intense, visceral, emotional reaction to a film like I have Soul. I hesitate to say it’s Pixar’s best, but it’s certainly on the more philosophical side of Pixar like their best, such as Wall-E, Inside Out or Toy Story 1-3, even The Incredibles. It could be easy to to dismiss it as sentimental tripe, going for an easy heart-tug. But to do so would dismiss what is actually a grand examination of purpose, done as only Pixar can do. It handles the complex and deep with a messy fun panache, falling with style into the finale.
Sound of Metal
This would be an otherwise “damn good” film were it not for Riz Ahmed. It’s an overall strong film with a great script and careful direction. But this goes from good to great with Ahmed’s Ruben. Ahmed never plays Ruben as a caricature or his new found deafness with disrespect. He has the utmost reverence for the deaf community, and he brings Darius Marder’s script to inspiring life.
The Vast of Night
The year without big expensive blockbusters gave the small and simple a chance to shine. There’s nothing particularly earth shattering or genre breaking about a simple UFO story. But the tight, fast-paced filmmaking on display anchored by earnest performances from the two leads put this on the same level as Alex Garland’s Ex Machina or Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane as a superb genre debut film.
Promising Young Woman
As the star, Carey Mulligan isn’t in the position to “steal the show,” since she is the show. Same goes for Emerald Fennell’s script. But both fully command your attention from start to finish. Fennell’s script is one of the hands down most clever spins on revenge flicks. And hard as the stellar supporting ensemble tries to take ownership of any given scene, Mulligan dominates in a way few others can do. She’s rarely showy, but still commanding. The finale payoff requires you suspend disbelief, but is still oh so satisfying.
Most Disappointing Film of the Year
Train to Busan 2: Peninsula
Train to Busan is easily one of my favourite horror films of the past decade, of the 21st century, of all time. The Korean zombie film is a gorgeous examination of classism, of family, of sacrifice, of survival. I cannot recommend 2016’s Train to Busan enough. It’s fantastic. Peninsula? It has none of that. Not really, anyway. It’s not bad, it’s just… a very straightforward zombie, post-apocalyptic action movie. It’s a Korean twist on Land of the Dead. It’s a condensed The Walking Dead arc. Again, it’s not that it’s terrible, it’s a fine movie, it just doesn’t have any of what made the original special, almost in defiance of how good the original was. It’s worth a watch, but you just can’t expect it to be on the same level.
Most Surprisingly Good Film of the Year
The Invisible Man
Best of the Rest
- Palm Springs
- Vast of Night