We finally made it to the end of 2020, which was one of the worst years for practically everybody. The coronavirus pandemic, which is still ongoing, caused intense damage this year in many ways. As a result, many movies that , and millions of other film fanatics were highly anticipating ended up getting pushed back to next year, but despite that, 2020 was actually a terrific year for movies. The vast majority of films released this year were released on home video, with only a select few heading to the theatre.
March was really the time when theatres all around the world were starting to close down, with many remaining closed as we speak, and with others closed for good, unfortunately. It’s been a while since I’ve gone to the theatre and it feels extremely weird all this time later. But nevertheless, I managed to watch more new release movies in 2020 than I ever have in my life. I saw more than one-hundred-and-fifty new release films this year and a whole bunch of them were fantastic, but I will only be talking about my top twenty today. Why twenty? Because it’s 2020, so why not?
As with any other personal opinion article you would read online, I have to clarify that this list is entirely my opinion. If you disagree with anything on this list (which I know that you definitely will), that’s completely okay. As a matter of fact, it’s a good thing. Film is supposed to be subjective, and that’s honestly one of the many beauties of it. Films are made to be talked about. They are made to be discussed, critiqued, and analyzed.
I also want to clarify that I have not seen every single movie that was released this year. If I had all the time in the world, then I would have loved to have seen every new release picture, but that simply wasn’t possible. I did see a good portion of what this year had to offer though. So, there’s a good chance that if you don’t see a movie on my list that you loved, perhaps I just never got around to checking it out.
Without further ado, let’s get going with my personal fifteen favorite films of 2020. But let’s get some honorable mentions out of the way.
- All the Bright Places
- His House
- The King of Staten Island
- The Wolf of Snow Hollow
- Yes, God, Yes
Back when the coronavirus pandemic really started to get out of control in the early months of 2020, it practically forced the entire film industry to shut down. All of the exciting movies that were undergoing production had to halt their shoots and it looked as though there would be no new films in 2020.
But filmmaker Rob Savage did something highly impressive and managed to actually make a movie during the pandemic. But don’t worry – he didn’t gather a plethora of cast and crew on set to make a movie because that would be reckless and a bad idea. Instead, he made a fully-fledged horror film told entirely through the perspective of a Zoom video call.
It’s similar in many ways to the Unfriended movies, but Host is definitely the greatest computer/technology-related horror movie out there. Clocking in at a breezy fifty-seven minutes, Host wastes absolutely no time in getting to the thrills. It’s a tension-filled nightmare that feels almost too real. Everything feels uncomfortably plausible and has a shocking ending that gave me the chills.
19. The Hunt
One of the most divisive pictures of the entire year came out back in March, and even before that, it was scheduled to release months prior but was taken off Universal Pictures’ release schedule due to backlash and a wave of controversy.
But I was immensely happy when it finally came out in March and I saw what a clever and timely film it really was. The Hunt touches upon social class, politics, and democracy in tremendously entertaining ways.
If you’re looking for an absolutely brutal and violent action movie, you’ll get that here. If you’re looking for an intricate look at corruption and politics, you’ll get that here too. And if you’re looking for a black comedy, The Hunt also offers a ton of that. It’s a genius movie masquerading as a dumb one. Definitely don’t miss it.
18. Happiest Season
For whatever reason, it seems as though the vast majority of Christmas-related comedies end up being absolutely terrible. Gratefully though, Happiest Season is not a trope-filled Hallmark romance film – it’s a sweet and adorable comedy with a touching and layered lesbian romance at its core.
Happiest Season does the trick of not only getting you in the holiday spirit, but it manages to make you laugh consistently throughout. As Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) spend more time together, the film transforms from an already outstanding comedy into a beautiful romance story.
It has a problem of not developing its side characters, but gratefully, its central characters are excellently developed to the point where you’ll feel like you actually know them personally by the time the end credits roll.
17. Wonder Woman 1984
One of the most recent entries you will see on this list, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 may not have been the most satisfying sequel that we wished for, but it still managed to be chalked full of heart and joy – two emotions that we definitely needed to feel in such a brutal year as 2020.
Action junkies may be surprised to learn that there really aren’t any fight scenes in this superhero sequel. Instead, Jenkins wanted to tell a story of the woman behind the costume – Diana Prince and her lover Steve Trevor.
Wonder Woman 1984 is an over-the-top and goofy comic book movie but it’s all the better for it. It injects you with a sense of happiness right from the beginning and tells an uplifting story and one that I appreciated. Plus, it features Pedro Pascal as a silly and eccentric supervillain. So what more could you ask for?
16. Work It
Is Work It an over-the-top dance movie that caters to millennials? Yes. Is Work It a movie with incredibly impressive dance-numbers and a story that is genuinely captivating and inspiring? Yes. Is it also one of the best movies of the year? In my opinion – yes.
Work It is most certainly not a perfect movie by any means. It’s story is quite predictable and I’m certain that a large portion of viewers are going to be able to tell what happens a mile away, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an infectiously fun and heartwarming coming-of-age story that we don’t often see.
Work It follows an awkward eighteen-year-old girl named Quinn Ackerman (Sabrina Carpenter) achieves near-perfection by sheer hard work. She vows to transform her gawkiness through dance, and refine her skills until she competes at a competition.
The chemistry that Sabrina Carpenter shares with her co-star Jordan Fisher is some of the best of the whole year. On top of all that, it has one of the most delightfully joyous screenplays of 2020 and an ending that is sure to leave you grinning from ear to ear.
Anybody that knows me knows that there’s nothing I love more than a messed-up, brutal and unforgiving horror film that nearly transports you to another world while watching it. Among these are Midsommar and Hereditary, two of my favorite movies of all-time.
Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is yet another trippy and visceral horror-thriller that’s unforgiving in every sense of the word. The opening scene alone lets you know what the tone of this film is going to be in one of the most exhilarating sequences of 2020.
The world depicted in Possessor is incredibly grimy, gross, and rotten in all the best ways. It has a depressing aura to it, and gratefully, Possessor is a well-told movie with an eerie sense of dread looming throughout.
14. On the Rocks
Sofia Coppola proves herself as one of the most poignant and exciting filmmakers in recent memory with On the Rocks, a movie that follows a young mother named Laura (Rashida Jones) who begins to suspect that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her after noticing strange behavior on his part.
Sounds fairly simple, right? It is, but the story ultimately heads down a comforting and beautiful path as soon as Bill Murray’s character starts to appear. Being the father of Laura, he wants to do anything he can to help her find out whether or not Dean really is cheating. Along the way, they get into some turmoil, making for two of the best performances of their careers.
It also serves as a poetic and meditative movie that feels heavily grounded in reality. Throw this one on if you want a simple yet powerful watch that features two powerhouse performances from great actors.
I unfortunately haven’t seen Minari yet, but my favorite foreign-language movie of 2020 is without a doubt Alan Yang’s Tigertail.
Spanning several decades, this drama follows a Taiwanese factory worker who leaves his homeland to seek new and exciting opportunities in the United States of America, where he struggles to find connection all while newfound responsibilities with his family life.
Tigertail took me on an emotional journey that I will never forget. I truly felt as though I were watching somebody’s life span out through my very own eyes. Yang’s script is one of the most intricately detailed of the whole year, and the ending is one that left me in tears.
12. The Short History of the Long Road
Even though Ani Simon-Kennedy’s The Short History of the Long Road technically premiered at various different film festivals in 2019, it didn’t actually see a full wide release until June of 2020, so that’s why it’s on this list.
This is one of the most fascinating coming-of-age films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Not only does Simon-Kennedy direct the film beautifully, but she penned one of the quietest and most thoughtful scripts in years.
But the true standout here is Sabrina Carpenter in the lead role of Nola. In her strongest performance to date, Carpenter brings absolutely everything she has in her to the table in a quiet and thought-provoking performance I won’t soon forget.
It’s an incredibly simple story of a teenage girl making her way across the world after her father tragically passes away, but it’s so much more than that. It’s uplifting, it’s sad, and it’s hopeful all at the same time.
11. Palm Springs
There are so many comedies out there now, that you would think that most screenwriters would have no more original and exciting ideas to make audiences laugh. But Palm Springs comes along to prove otherwise.
Stuck in a time loop, two wedding guests develop a close and unbreakable romance while living in the same day over and over again. It borrows elements from both Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day for sure, but Max Barbakow’s film is outstandingly original in so many aspects and its otherworldly elements actually make sense.
And as ridiculously hilarious as the whole thing is, the strongest aspect to Palm Springs has to be the chemistry between its two lead actors Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. They work marvelously off one another in this non-stop laugh riot that is tinged with sadness and hope.
10. The Devil All the Time
Look, I too love Tom Holland’s fun and energetic performance as everybody’s favorite web-slinger Spider-Man / Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but with The Devil All the Time, Holland proves that he is an even better actor when given a more serious and gritty script to work with.
He deserves some consideration come awards season, but I’m not too sure if it’s going to happen because this film as a whole has slipped under the radar ever since its release back in September, and I’m not too sure why. It’s an unsettlingly bleak look at a young man battling with inner demons but must protect the ones he loves the most in his corrupt and violent town.
Antonio Campos’ direction is extremely powerful and the screenplay he wrote with Paulo Campos is both invigorating and deeply thought-provoking. It shows just how far some people are willing to go to protect their family, and is one of 2020’s best movies.
9. Da 5 Bloods
How has Spike Lee managed to create so many breathtaking movies without having a misstep in his career yet? It’s a mystery that I don’t think I’ll ever get complete answers to, but that’s okay, because his latest feature, Da 5 Bloods, may be one of his finest works to date.
In Da 5 Bloods, four African-American veterans return to Vietnam where they attempt to find the remains of their deceased squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide. At two hours and thirty-four minutes, the film can feel a tad bit long, but the vast majority of this running-time feels absolutely crucial.
It’s a searing and enthralling look at friendship and loss in the war and contains one of the most intense scripts of the entire year. Delroy Lindo is my personal pick for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work here. Not once did I see an actor behind the character. Lindo portrays Paul, the protagonist of this story, but I never once saw Lindo. I saw Paul. It also serves as one of Chadwick Boseman’s final film roles before his sudden and tragic passing in August of 2020, who delivers one of the best performances of his career here as Stormin’ Norman.
8. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Great success! Sacha Baron Cohen’s second outing as the iconic television personality Borat Sagdiyev is yet another hilariously zany and unbelievable journey that touches upon social class, politics, and the current state of the United States of America.
While not as shocking and fresh as the original outing from 2006, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is still outrageously hilarious the entire way through. Whether Borat puts on a fat-suit and dresses as Donald Trump while crashing an event conducted by Mike Pence or whether it’s him learning about what the coronavirus is, this sequel is full of incredible moments that are sure to satisfy all people looking for a great laugh.
But as great as the titular character as, the true star here is Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar, who delivers one of the most incredible performances of the year. Her performance should not be overlooked as just a comedic performance in a goofy movie – it’s seriously good stuff. She’s layered in every scene and the dynamic she shares with Sacha Baron Cohen is magical.
Clouds tells the tragic tale of a young high-school student named Zach Sobiech (Fin Argus) who loves nothing more in the whole world than playing music. When he’s not at school, he spends most of his time either having fun with his family or writing music. There’s just one problem – he finds out that he has terminal cancer.
Justin Baldoni’s film is one of the saddest stories put to screen in several years. A coming-of-age film that dares to go in horrifyingly tragic directions, Clouds manages to be uplifting yet heartbreaking all at the same time.
Watching Zach and his best friend Sammy Brown (Sabrina Carpenter) make music as a group put a gigantic smile on my face and although I knew what would happen during certain plot beats, it didn’t change the fact that Clouds left me in a puddle of tears by the time the end credits appeared.
Okay, so Tenet wasn’t Christopher Nolan’s greatest achievement in cinema that we were all hoping it would be, but it nevertheless managed to tell a mind-bogglingly clever story that will be analyzed for years to come, faults and all.
Tenet really suffers from some sound editing that makes it nearly impossible to hear what the actors are saying over the admittedly impressive score from Ludwig Göransson. Its story is one that you’ll probably never figure out entirely, but that’s kind of the beauty of the whole thing.
Every scene in Tenet feels so grandiose and so ambitious that you just can’t help but sit back and revel in what Christopher Nolan did with his latest feature film. It’s been described as “James Bond on acid”, and that’s probably the best way to describe it.
I’ll never forget the dizzy feeling I got from watching it the first time, but it was a feeling I actually enjoyed because I wasn’t feeling dizzy due to sickness. I was feeling dizzy because of how staggeringly stunning this crazy world in Tenet is depicted and how bold Nolan’s story is. Check this one out if you like films that don’t hold your hand. At all.
Pixar really hit out of the park this year, delivering two excellent movies that dealt with heavy themes that hit hard once you see where the story is ultimately heading. And although Onward was a great exploration of family and loss, I personally found their second feature this year, Soul, to be one of their greatest movies in years.
As per usual with any Pixar movie, Soul is absolutely gorgeous in terms of its animation, but it’s also gorgeous in terms of its story. It’s a heartwarming and equally heartbreaking tale of a jazz player whose soul gets transported to a strange place known as “The Great Before”, a place that lost souls go to before they inevitably die.
Pete Docter’s film goes to places that most filmmakers would be scared to explore in a children’s film, but Docter isn’t afraid to get dark with this story. It tells an important story that kids will really take away from, but really, more than that, it tells a story that everybody can appreciate. It will make you look at your life differently and may even change your outlook on life for the better. Any film that manages to do that is miraculous.
4. The Invisible Man
I’m honestly shocked to see that most people have seemingly forgotten how truly amazing and terrifying Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man really is. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the movie was released back in February, where the vast majority of terrible horror pictures are released. But The Invisible Man was that rare gem that not only made the beginning of the year exciting but ended up being one of the brightest spots of the whole year in cinema.
In this quiet thriller, a woman named Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) soon begins to suspect that her deceased abusive ex-husband may be stalking her from the afterlife after she starts to notice bizarre things going on around her. What ensues is one of the most relentlessly surprising and white-knuckling stories of the whole year.
There’s a scene in the second act of the movie that takes place inside a restaurant that left everybody frozen in shock. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly which scene I’m talking about. With this film, Whannell managed to bring an old story back to life thanks to a wonderfully creepy script and marvelous direction.
Elisabeth Moss delivers without a doubt the strongest performance of the entire year here as Cecilia Kass, a woman who feels on-edge throughout the entire running time, and a character who gets incredible development throughout this story. Seeing as how the Academy doesn’t like to acknowledge horror as an actual genre, don’t expect to see Moss or The Invisible Man, in general, receive any nominations, but that doesn’t mean this horror story isn’t worth exploring.
3. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Filmmaker Charlie Kaufman kind of has a reputation in the film industry for making some remarkably bizarre and head-trippy movies, but I did not expect his latest feature, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, to be the weirdest movie that this year had to offer.
Right from the opening scene all the way to the bone-chillingly creepy and unsettling final moments, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a movie that seeps into your skin and refuses to come out. Each and every single second of this movie feels earned and there is not a minute of screen-time that is wasted here.
In the movie, we follow a young woman who travels with her boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farmhouse. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, things take a drastic turn as soon as she arrives. Throughout the film, she starts to question his parents but more than that, she starts to question her own reality. It’s a movie that begs repeat viewings and even still, I feel as though I’m Thinking of Ending Things is going to require another viewing to fully understand it. It’s a puzzle piece of a movie that needs to be put together, and attempting to do so was one of the most fun and creepy experiences of 2020.
2. Birds of Prey
It’s kind of a known thing that the first couple of months in any new year is absolutely littered with garbage when it comes to films. Usually, we get a cheap, depressingly forgettable horror movie that Hollywood likes to just dump on us (this year we got the dreadful The Grudge), but surprisingly, one of the greatest movies 2020 had to offer was released all the way back in February.
Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is not only a mouthful of a title, but it’s a movie that wasn’t made for everybody. I know some people that watched this film and thought it kind of sucked. But I couldn’t disagree more. Its screenplay by Christina Hodson is one that is so witty and meta and chalked full of hilarity.
There are so many emotions I feel whenever I put on Birds of Prey (which is quite often). It’s an excellent comedy with virtually every scene managing to make me laugh out loud, but at the same time, it’s a truly compelling story of friendship and family. On top of all of that, it also serves as an engrossing heist movie that contains some of the year’s best performances in Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Ewan McGregor as Black Mask respectively.
I’m genuinely convinced at this point that writer/director Christopher Landon is incapable of making a bad horror movie. Sure, he did direct a Paranormal Activity film many years ago and has been a long-time collaborator on the franchise, but those days are seemingly long gone. Landon is an absolute genius when it comes to his craft, especially with his past three movies.
With the first two Happy Death Day installments, Landon has made movies that have honestly spoken to me and mean something to me. This is kind of interesting too, considering how I didn’t like Happy Death Day the first time I watched it. But with every repeat viewing, I found myself being enthralled by everything that was going on. I was laughing, I was crying, and I was on the edge of my seat (all of these emotions were doubled in the sequel which is somehow even better), and the exact same feelings were felt during my viewings of his newest picture – Freaky.
It’s a brilliant twist on the whole Freaky Friday concept, in which we follow a high-school girl named Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) who gets stabbed by an infamous serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher, and in turn, the dagger’s magical curse causes them to swap bodies. What follows after for the duration of the movie is a highly hilarious and infectiously warm horror-comedy that I just cannot get enough of.
Sure, perhaps the aforementioned I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a more well-made film as a whole, but Freaky means more to me and it’s a movie that I will be rewatching the most out of any other movie on this list. I’ve already seen the movie a handful of times and yet I still want to go back and watch it.
Kathryn Newton deserves serious awards consideration for her nuanced and layered performance as Millie Kessler and the Butcher. Portraying two wildly different characters would be a difficult task for any actor, but Newton almost makes it look too easy. Her incredible blend of being a funny, everyday girl mixed with a ruthless and brutal serial killer makes for one of the year’s best performances and it’s a shame that nobody is going to acknowledge it come awards season. Also not to be overlooked is Vince Vaughn who portrays a teenage girl in hilarious ways.
It’s one of the most wildly entertaining and zany films I have had the pleasure of watching in many years. It has a certain sense of humor that I absolutely adored and even after several viewings, I still can’t get enough of it. Landon is going to go on to make some truly phenomenal stuff. He already has, but I just can’t wait until I see a movie of his be nominated for some awards because he’s a force to be reckoned with.