Top 25 Films of 2020

With Hollywood's biggest blockbusters shelved, smaller titles proved triumphant

2020 Films of the Year
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Our Annual Report continues as we reveal the Top 25 Films of 2020. Stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles in the days and weeks to come about the best music, film, and TV of the year. If you’ve missed any part of our Annual Report, you can check out all the coverage here

Going to the movies ain’t like it used to be, right? What an understatement. With theaters shuttered up and movie chains filing for bankruptcy, one might argue it’s been a pretty crap year for cinema. Financially speaking, they’re not wrong.

But, art is a funny thing. It has a way of enduring even the most arduous obstacles — you know, that whole Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park, “life finds a way” bit — and this year was a testament to that truth. Art had no issue finding a proper stage.

That stage, as fate would have it, wound up being our living rooms. Be it through streaming services or Premium On-Demand drops, film managed to circumvent the closures and still make an impact on us through even the worst of the pandemic.

Hell, one could argue film bruised us even harder this year. With most of the colossal blockbusters shelved, audiences were less distracted, spending more time with smaller titles, the likes of which would have been marginalized any other year.

That’s why, as you’ll see up ahead, 2020 wound up being an incredibly rich year for cinema. There were so many stories told across so many genres that it was almost impossible to keep up with them all. Alas, we tried our damndest.

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief


25. Emma

Emma Movie Review

Emma (Focus Features)

Release Date: February 21st via Focus Features

Who’s in It? Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Rupert Graves, Miranda Hart, Callum Turner

You Gotta See This! Like Shakespeare and Dickens, there’s no shortage of onscreen adaptations (let alone British ones) of Jane Austen’s work, and yet first-time director Autumn de Wilde’s take on Emma feels delightfully fresh and wickedly funny even in its utter faithfulness to the source material.

Anya Taylor-Joy sparkles as the popular, rich, and infinitely poised twentysomething Emma Woodhouse, who would rather meddle in the love lives of her family and friends than take responsibility for her own — including her neurotic father (played by a cutting Bill Nighy) and handsome but frustrating brother-in-law Mr. Knightley (a charming Johnny Flynn).

Sparks fly, hearts get broken, egos are bruised, and love triumphs over all in a surprisingly brisk two hours and twelve minutes with an emphasis on the comedy in this comedy of manners. While Clueless remains the best and most inspired adaptation of Austen’s last and cheekiest novel, de Wilde’s candy-colored vision of Emma is no doubt as irresistible and precocious as its titular heroine. –Emmy Potter

Extra! Extra! Read Irene Monokandilos’ full review here.

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24. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street

Shudder in June

Scream, Queen! (Shudder)

Release Date: June 5th via Shudder

Who’s in It? Mark Patton, Cecil Baldwin, Robert Englund, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin

You Gotta See This! A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has long been considered an outlier in the franchise. Dismissed as “gay,” it all but destroyed the career of its star, Mark Patton, whose queerness was blamed for the movie’s failure. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is his attempt to rewrite the narrative and tell his story in his own words.

Patton describes his early life and career, recounting his experiences during the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic and the pressures of being a closeted gay man in Hollywood. We follow him as he reunites with the cast of Freddy’s Revenge and confronts screenwriter David Chaskin over hurtful comments about the way the film was written and received.

Presented as a tell-all reckoning with the tongue-in-cheek tagline, “The Claws Are Out,” Scream, Queen! becomes a poignant but uplifting journey to forgiveness and self-acceptance. It’s a love letter to an important film in the horror genre and its all-but-forgotten star that beautifully shows the empowerment and reassurance onscreen representation can bring. –Jenn Adams

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

shudder Top 25 Films of 2020


23. Soul

50 Anticipated Movies of 2020

Soul (Pixar)

Release Date: December 25th via Disney+

Who’s in It? Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Rachel House, Questlove, Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Wes Studi, Richard Ayoade

You Gotta See This! Whereas Disney proper still clings to sequels, remakes, and broad properties, one has to give a light chuckle of admiration for Pixar for keeping things not only original, but real, fantastical, and everything in between on this one. The Emeryville artists spent an alleged — and whopping — $150 million to develop and deliver a soul and jazz odyssey about a New York middle-school instructor’s near-death experience. Kids, this is Pixar’s Death & Pianos. But what a glossy, good idea of a riff.

Bear with me. They articulate the afterlife – or is it a theoretical plane of existence? — like Picasso doodles in 3D. The everyday of NYC is light in Autumnal hues. Night clubs are opened up like swirly, gel-lit Blue Note album covers. Famed playwright Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami) backs Pixar magnate Pete Docter (Inside Out) in an irresistible work of fusion, exploring spaces previously unseen, suggesting vividly that everything is connected. From sweat-soaked music making to an abstract expressionist peek at what lies beyond, Soul is serene, silly, and apt. –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Josh Spiegel’s full review here.


22. Tesla

Film Review Tesla

Tesla (IFC Films)

Release Date: August 21st via IFC Films

Who’s in It? Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Kyle MacLachlan, Hannah Gross, Josh Hamilton, Jim Gaffigan, Lois Smith, Ebon Moss-Bachrach

You Gotta See This! As Tesla showcases by means of ice cream cone battles, narrators with MacBooks, and Tears for Fears karaoke, Michael Almereyda has honed a particularly postmodern and lightly surreal slant on the cinematic break from reality. However, if his East Coast war spin on Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and his Y2K NYC adaptation of Hamlet insinuate anything, it’s that his gleeful riffs on history benefit from the anchoring of certain actors, namely one Ethan Hawke.

Infusing the namesake inventor with an aloof, soft-spoken demeanor, Hawke’s performance provides a foundation for the film to conduct its study of a man obscured in his own legacy and speaks to the values of his life through its warped, Brechtian visuals and anachronistic nods to the modern world of technology he’d shape. At essentially zero points in the film does Almereyda set out to craft an objective account of Nikola Tesla’s life. Rather, he’s satisfied as a director to take a sledgehammer to the modern biopic’s conventions and fashion an image in Tesla’s spirited likeness out of the colorful shards. –Sam Mwakasisi

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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21. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

 Top 25 Films of 2020

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

Release Date: December 18th via Netflix

Who’s In It? Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman (in his final live-action performance), Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts

You Gotta See This! Film adaptations about famous Black figures are having a moment right now (see One Night in Miami… elsewhere on this list). But where Regina King’s film is quiet and contemplative, George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of the August Wilson play thrums with the lively energy of a crowded jazz club, even as it sits us with four musicians and their diva (Davis’ show-stopping Ma Rainey) in a sweaty Chicago recording studio.

The colors are as vivid as the songs, but at its core it aches with the pain of Black artists having to work twice as hard to appeal to white gatekeepers who will simply toss them aside as soon as it’s convenient. And smack dab in the middle is the late, great Chadwick Boseman, who literally plays his role as the ambitious Levee as if it were his final part. It’s a turn filled with incredible pain, anger and joy, a true testament to Boseman’s immense range (and a somber reminder that we’ll hardly ever see his like again). –Clint Worthington

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20. Bad Education

HBO's Bad Education

HBO’s Bad Education

Release Date: April 25th via HBO

Who’s in It? Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Rafael Casal, Stephen Spinella, Annaleigh Ashford, Ray Romano

You Gotta See This! Bad Education was like the writing of one of its main characters, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan). Bhagvara, when tasked with doing some puff piece on a new construction project, managed to spend weeks and months uncovering years and millions of dollars’ worth of secrets. Embezzlement and false identities and bad publicity, oh my — the price of higher education.

Bad Education went way deeper with more research, insight, and analysis of the education system than most imagined, offering a tidy and rich deep dive on the shallow side of why we send kids to school. It’s not just about grades, but what high walking schools and brand-name acceptance letters can buy in the long run. Come for the scandal, stay for the career-best work from Hugh Jackman, operating on multiple levels. Jackman’s superintendent Tassone carries the film’s repulsive, heartbreaking, and exasperating tone. –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Matt Melis’ full review here.

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19. Freaky

Freaky Expertly Balances Horror and Humor for a Hell of a Good Time: Beyond Fest Review

Freaky (Blumhouse)

Release Date: November 13th via Universal

Who’s in It? Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori, Katie Finneran, Alan Ruck

You Gotta See This! Christopher Landon once again brings humor and heart to the horror genre with his latest Body Swap Slasher mash-up, Freaky. Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn star as both killer and final girl who each wake up in the other’s body after Vaughn’s killer, the Butcher, attempts to murder Newton’s Millie with an ancient and powerful knife. The swap begins a race against the clock as Vaughn’s Millie must stab Newton’s Butcher with said knife before midnight or they will be stuck in each other’s bodies forever.

Body swap films live and die by their lead’s abilities to distinguish between each persona, and Newton and Vaughn are stellar in their portrayals of two iconic horror archetypes. Their performances transform a simple horror comedy concept into a touching commentary on power, strength, and acceptance while lovingly deconstructing staples of the genre. Throw in some creative kills and revenge fantasy catharsis and you’ve got a modern teen horror film destined to become essential Friday the 13th viewing. –Jenn Adams

Extra! Extra! Read Ryan Larson’s full review here.

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18. Shirley

Hulu's Shirley

Shirley (Hulu)

Release Date: June 5th via Neon

Who’s in It? Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young

You Gotta See This! Shirley Jackson is one of the great writers of the 20th century, and like many writers, her messy life led to inspiring some of her greatest work. The unnerving new film Shirley, based on the novel of the same name, takes its cue from history but takes Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman down a psychosexual route akin to that of the older couple in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Elisabeth Moss plays Shirley as a mix of frayed edges and dry, cutting wit, trying to balance her mental shakiness with caustic humor as she deals with Fred and Rose Nemser (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young), a younger couple living with her and Stanley. As Shirley and Rose build out a disturbing friendship that inspires the writer to tackle one of her darkest novels, Hangsaman, the writer’s grip on reality loosens further. Though Michael Stuhlbarg, as Stanley, handles his role with appropriate menace, it’s Moss and director Josephine Decker who make Shirley stand out from a crowd of uninspired biopics. –Josh Spiegel

Extra! Extra! Read Jenn Adams’ full review here.

hulu Top 25 Films of 2020


17. Mank

David Fincher's Mank Is a Dense, Technically Marvelous Ode to Old Hollywood: Review

Mank (Netflix)

Release Date: December 4th via Netflix

Who’s in It? Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton

You Gotta See This! Rarely do passion projects outlast their expiration date. Originally set to be David Fincher’s follow-up to 1997’s The Game, this biographical retelling of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz has been collecting dust for well over two decades. There’s nothing to sneeze at here, though, as the dense screenplay by Fincher’s late father says more about today than it does of the early 20th century it paints.

Because when you look past the film school porn involving Orson Welles’ landmark picture, a wave of deja vu sets in. Old Hollywood is just as myopic now as it was then, and the breadcrumbs to today’s age of misinformation aren’t as fresh as we want them to be. That’s ultimately the Rosebud of Mank: Change is both rare and slow, and the echoes of the past are all too often the sounds of the present. –Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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16. Nomadland

Nomadland Film Review

Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures)

Release Date: December 4th via Searchlight Pictures

Who’s In It? Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and a caravan’s worth of nonprofessional actors.

You Gotta See This! Chloé Zhao has a profound knack for capturing the dreamlike essence of the American frontier without fetishizing its people as simple, but honest folk who live on an alien world from the elites on the coasts. Much like 2018’s The Rider, Nomadland is another sumptuous swim in the waters of middle American authenticity.

But this time, Frances McDormand is in tow, wringing pools of pathos out of her turn as a widowed woman who’s turned to the itinerant life for purpose in her golden years. It’s astounding in its lyricism, deeply obsessed with showing us the real people forgotten by most Hollywood cinema. Hillbilly Elegy this ain’t. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.


15. Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime Video)

Release Date: December 4th via Amazon Prime

Who’s in It? Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Radloff, Mathieu Amalric

You Gotta See This! Riz Ahmed became a star in the 2010s, appearing in Nightcrawler, HBO’s The Night Of, Rogue One, and, of course, 2018’s masterpiece Venom. Sound of Metal, written and directed by Darius Marder, shows a completely different side to Ahmed in his performance as Ruben, a metal band drummer who begins to lose his hearing. It’s simultaneously a thorough portrait of the deaf community, a triumph over anxiety and loss, and a story about a relationship that naturally falls apart. It’s gut-wrenching and sad, but also warm and optimistic.

Ahmed takes full advantage of the camera, which rarely pulls away from his face, completely disappearing into the expressive Ruben. He sincerely captures anxiety and confusion in a transformation that is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far, perhaps a more understated answer to Adam Sandler’s nervous, neurotic energy in last year’s Uncut Gems. The film’s experimental sound design, which contrasts Ruben’s mumbled hearing with either complete silence or sound so clear you could hear a mote of dust move, makes watching the film an immersive and cinematic experience, even from the comfort of your own home –Carrie Wittmer

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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14. Red, White and Blue

Steve McQueen's Red, White and Blue Doesn't Give Easy Answers on Police Brutality: Review

Red, White and Blue (Amazon Prime)

Release Date: December 4th via Amazon Prime

Who’s in It? John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Joy Richardson, Neil Maskell, Stephen Boxer, Antonia Thomas, Liam Garrigan, Tyrone Huntley, Nadine Marshall, Mark Stanley.

You Gotta See This! The third entry in his Small Axe series, British filmmaker Steve McQueen gives an accurate account of Leroy Logan’s (John Boyega) journey from scientist to one of the police department’s most decorated officers. McQueen’s commitment to documenting the human struggle through the eyes of Black people has allowed Red, White and Blue to become an important contribution to this year’s new approach to the cinematic experience.

Boyega gives another powerful performance as Logan, portraying the inner turmoil that many Black officers struggle with across the world. With parallels to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, McQueen told a story universal to many people of color — regardless of social class — and tackled prescient issues of police brutality and large-scale systemic oppression with an objective and unapologetic eye. –Okla Jones, III

Extra! Extra! Check out Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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13. The Dark and the Wicked

The Dark and the Wicked Is Visceral, Bleak, and the Perfect Horror Movie for 2020: Review

The Dark and the Wicked (RLJE Films)

Release Date: November 6th via RJLE Films

Who’s in It? Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr, Xander Berkeley, Lynn Andrews, Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Michael Zagst, Tom Nowicki, Ella Ballentine

You Gotta See This! Over a decade ago, writer-director Bryan Bertino changed the slasher landscape with his chilling contemporary classic The Strangers before tackling two drastically different genres within the realm of horror: found footage flick Mockingbird and minimalist creature feature The Monster. Both were met with middling praise, but now, 12 years after the chilling delivery of “because you were home,” Bertino returns with an absolutely haunting and mesmerizing feature in The Dark and the Wicked.

Bertino melds atmosphere from the past and the present, bits of The Shining and Don’t Look Now meet The Babadook and Hereditary, but still manages to craft something entirely his own. Ireland and Abbott Jr both deliver standout roles as manifestations of different forms of grief, and Bertino uses that theme as the central conceit of the film, packing the movie full of dripping suspense and stomach-punching scares.

The Dark and The Wicked is a return to form for Bertino and stands out as a highlight in a year that was good for horror. –Ryan Larson

Extra! Extra! Read Michael Roffman’s full review here.

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12. One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios)

One Night in Miami (Amazon Studios)

Release Date: December 25th via Amazon Prime Video

Who’s In It? Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Coree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

You Gotta See This! One fateful night in 1964, four Black icons — Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay, soon to be Muhammad Ali — met in a Miami hotel room to discuss the perils of Black success, the responsibilities they held to their community, and the pressure of staying authentic in industries that commodify them.

Regina King proves herself a mighty director of actors in her directorial debut, handling all four of her leads with delicate care and giving each of them ample time in the spotlight and with each other. But it also tackles the difficult discussions evoked by Kemp Powers’ play about what it means to hold Black cultural power, and what to do with their platforms.

As an energetic chamber piece, it sings; as a meditation on race and celebrity, it soars. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.


11. First Cow

first cow Top 25 Films of 2020

First Cow (A24)

Release Date: March 6th via A24

Who’s in It? John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, René Auberjonois, Scott Shepherd, Lily Gladstone, Alia Shawkat

You Gotta See This! After receiving glowing reviews on the festival circuit, director Kelly Reichardt’s latest slow-moving, graceful meditation on the ragged wilderness of the Pacific Northwest became one of the first cinematic casualties of the pandemic, pulled from theaters just a week into its release.

But if anyone understands golden opportunities cut short, it’s First Cow’s Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee): two dreamers on the run in the beautiful and often brutal Oregon Country in 1820 who find friendship and overnight success selling biscuits made with milk stolen from a rich landowner’s cow, which is the first in the territory.

Like all of Reichardt’s work, the film teems with gorgeous western landscapes and quiet, tender human moments, but First Cow also digs ever-so-gently-if-purposefully into issues of ownership, class boundaries, and early American Capitalism, revealing just how little we’ve changed in 200 years and how many hurdles to success still exist in the supposed Land of Opportunity. If that’s not deeply relatable this year, I don’t know what is. —Emmy Potter

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10. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things Film Review

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

Release Date: September 4th via Netflix

Who’s in It? Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

You Gotta See This! Perception is reality. So much of our own world is based on what we build around us, and more often than not, we construct a series of illusions not only out of comfort but for survival. To get by. To stay sane. To feel better about our choices in life. All of that messy, existential mumbo jumbo is one of the many lanes within Charlie Kaufman’s labyrinthine adaptation of Iain Reid’s 2016 novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Along the way, Kaufman chews on concepts of memory, ego, grief, time, and loss, all touchstones that litter his puzzling, inimitable resume. Yet, with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, there’s a funereal quality at hand that finds the brazen screenwriter and filmmaker in a dreary purgatory — not too dissimilar from his solipsistic opus, 2008’s Synecdoche, New York. As always with Kaufman, it was equally sobering for us. –Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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09. Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey Review

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)

Release Date: February 7th via Warner Bros.

Who’s in It? Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Jurmee Smollett, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina

You Gotta See This! Birds of Prey is a funny, violent, pulpy action movie that includes a hunt for a missing breakfast sandwich and Ewan McGregor wearing pajamas with his own face on them. But at its core, it’s a story about how powerful men take control over women and everyone around them. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fresh off her liberating break-up with the Joker — whom we thankfully only see in animated form and not Jared Leto form — quickly realizes she can thrive and operate as a criminal independently. (The other female characters in the story have their own journeys along this theme as well.)

Even if the film industry was having a normal year in terms of releases, McGregor should still be a genuine contender for Best Supporting Actor at the 2021 Oscars. His ability to be both relentlessly like-able and absolutely terrifying in one beat was not easy, and out of anyone in the film, he absolutely did the most. It’s not the same without him. The film’s playfulness and quick pace demonstrates the simple and frequent ways women are constantly affected by men who have more power than them. And when the film ultimately gets to the moment when women hold the cards, it’s deserved and focuses on brisk little moments between the characters — such as Harley Quinn handing Black Canary a hair tie — instead of reminding the audience of the concept of women in a movie ad nauseum. –Carrie Wittmer

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

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08. Host

Film Review Host

Host (Shudder)

Release Date: July 30th via Shudder

Who’s in It? Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Edward Linard, Seylan Baxter

You Gotta See This! Perhaps no other film this year has better captured the horror of living through a pandemic than Rob Savage’s Host. This latest entry in the nouveau “screen horror” subgenre cleverly captures the fun, frivolous, and annoying Zoom characteristics that the world has become accustomed to during COVID lockdown.

From the pitch-perfect use of face filters and automated backgrounds to the expiration of the free call at the 45-minute mark, Host plays on both the audience awareness of the video conferencing tool, as well as tropes of found footage films.

In the process, Savage made not just a prescient film that reflects the lengths we’ve resorted to in order to have fun with friends, but also how horror, and by extension filmmaking, has changed in 2020. It’s a wild new era for movies, and Host succeeds by eschewing conventional run times and telling its story in a tight, efficient 55 minutes.

The fact that it’s also super scary doesn’t hurt. –Joe Lipsett

Extra! Extra! Read Michael Roffman’s full review here.

shudder Top 25 Films of 2020


07. Mangrove

Mangrove (Small Axe, NYFF 58)

Mangrove (Amazon Prime Video)

Release Date: November 20th via Amazon Prime

Who’s in It? Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Shaun Parkes, Alex Jennings, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White, Darren Braithwaite, Richie Campbell

You Gotta See This! Some filmmakers just make it look easy. That’s one conclusion of watching each of the “episodes” of the Small Axe anthology film series, encompassing the lives of various West Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. They belong to different genres, with Mangrove falling in the category of true-story legal drama. In 1971, a group of Black protesters were put on trial for having incited riots that the shamelessly bigoted cops had egged on into violence. The Mangrove Nine, named after a local restaurant whose owner (the fierce Shaun Parkes) struggles with taking a stand, decided to upend legal propriety, with a couple members representing themselves and pushing back against a bigoted judge.

Mangrove arrived on Amazon Prime a couple months after Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven, also a true-story legal drama about a group of protesters railing against old-fashioned legal mores and running up against a bigoted judge. To compare the two movies is like comparing a filet mignon to a fast-food hamburger. Mangrove confronts racial inequity as violently as necessary. Its intelligent script (from McQueen and Alistair Siddons) creates depth in the protesters, from Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) to Mangrove owner Frank Crichlow, and refuses to look away from the cruelty that led these innocent people to fight for their lives in court. Mangrove, with its impassioned characters and McQueen’s intense filmmaking style, is a vicious cry for justice that’s a truly fitting cinematic capper to this year. –Josh Spiegel

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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06. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Release Date: March 13th via Focus Features

Who’s in It? Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ruder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten

You Gotta See This! Few films at Sundance 2020 operated with the level of authenticity and empathy as Eliza Hittman’s immersive drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always. An issues-driven film working equally efficient as a character study, Hittman’s sparse but impactful narrative follows Autumn (Sindey Flanigan) — a girl as imperiled by her toxic family household as her pro-life small-town Pennsylvannia community — traveling to New York City with her best friend, Skylar (Talia Ruder), to have an abortion. Along the way, in her fight for autonomy, she encounters greater hurdles than she initially predicted: predatorial men, lack of funds, and a corrupted urban setting.

The pair can only depend upon each other, making the drama into a girls against the world story. This point is further punctuated by Hittman’s exploration and normalization of the abortion process, populating her film with women characters: doctors and nurses, who extend the film’s empathy beyond the lens into the very touch of the frame. Both Flanigan and Ruder provide startlingly mature and sincere performances in a powerful narrative that parses through quietness and the meaning behind autonomy, while emotionally redefining the prompt “Never. Rarely. Sometimes. Always” for greater importance and resonance. –Robert Daniels

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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05. Palm Springs

palm springs hulu record breaking streaming Top 25 Films of 2020

Palm Springs (Hulu)

Release Date: July 10th via Hulu

Who’s in It? Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin, Camila Mendes

You Gotta See This! A riff on Groundhog Day’s classic “time-loop” shtick, Palm Springs sees Nyles (Andy Samberg), a reluctant wedding guest, living the same day over and over again after wandering into a mysterious cave in the desert. Alone and with no apparent way out, Nyles resigns himself to a life of eternal solitude, misery, and meaninglessness — that is, until a fellow wedding guest, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) accidentally gets herself stuck in the same loop.

Palm Spring’s razor-tight script and perfectly-paced narrative make it a short but sweet romp full of snappy one-liners and a surprising amount of heart. Both Samberg and Milioti turn out in full force, and the duo have the type of easy chemistry (both romantic and comedic) that other actors can only dream of. Remarkably poignant when it wants to be, yet never ceasing with its nihilistic sense of humor, Palm Springs is the kind of unsuspecting feel-good film that will leave you grinning ear-to-ear. –Lauren Coates

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

hulu Top 25 Films of 2020


04. Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)

Release Date: June 12th via Netflix

Who’s in It? Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Jean Reno, Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser

You Gotta See This! Spike Lee has long been a bold reclaimer of historical and cinematic modes; as one of the most prominent (and long-lasting) Black filmmakers in American cinema, he’s consistently preoccupied with not just highlighting the shameful corners of American racism throughout history but telling Black stories in film genres that has so often excluded them. In Da 5 Bloods, one of his most ambitious works yet, he tackles the Vietnam war epic, with the tale of four Black Vietnam vets (including a show-stopping Delroy Lindo) returning to the country to dig up some buried gold they left there during the war.

But in classic Spike Lee fashion, he throws in so much more: American warfare as another arm of Black disenfranchisement, the complicated fissures between fathers and sons, and the loaded political contradictions of Trumpism. And in all that, cinematic odes to everything from Apocalypse Now to Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s shaggy and unsubtle in all the ways you expect of the filmmaker, but in those bold choices, you see a veteran filmmaker in the middle of a thrilling second wind. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

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03. Minari

minari Top 25 Films of 2020

Minari (A24)

Release Date: December 11th via A24

Who’s in It? Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

You Gotta See This! Coming-of-age films often get so hung up on the nostalgia that it’s easy to lose a grip on why these moments became timeless memories. Not the case with Minari. Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical drama has zero interest in the ’80s milieu, focusing instead on the things our families carry for life: our traditions, our heritage, our bonds, our struggles. You know, the stuff we wind up taking for granted.

Chung meditates on these notions through the rural dreams and nightmares of a Korean-American family. With humor and heart, he wields a deeply allegorical story that’s never too tall and never too small. Steven Yeun is at the center of it all, delivering a career-best performance as a young father juggling his ambitions and paternal instincts against myriad odds. It’s a pursuit that’s as palpable as it is poignant.

Yet, also downright beautiful. Chung mines the majesty of his desolate Arkansas landscapes by juxtaposing its tranquility against the family’s histrionics, particularly the hilarious, budding relationship between young Alan Kim and his on-screen grandmother, Youn Yuh-jung. Something wild happens in the process, though: Eventually, these landscapes don’t feel so empty; they feel like home, and that’s the power of Minari.

You never want to leave. –Michael Roffman


02. The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man Op-Ed

The Invisible Man (Universal)

Release Date: February 28th via Universal

Who’s in It? Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Benedict Hardie

You Gotta See This! It treads in the waters of science-fiction, horror, thriller, and drama, but The Invisible Man swims as a portrait of the mind through and through. It’s how the film translates its central story of psychological unrest that creates its lingering effect. Leigh Whannell’s H.G. Wells spin shifts the crux of its dramatic weight on to Elisabeth Moss’ lead as she navigates figurative and literal remnants of an abusive past.

Thankfully, not only does Moss deliver with a remarkably sympathetic performance, but she serves a perfect centerpiece for the film to build its language of emotional subjectivity. The audiovisual arsenal is extensive — sleek camerawork, a slithering pace, sound design wrought with anxious rumbles and ringing — and the end result is an atmosphere that tunes and taints the audience’s perception to a nerve-shredding degree. Toss in a story geared to take some wild turns, and the film cooks up an indelible interplay of slow-burn dread and high-octane thrills. —Sam Mwakasisi

Extra! Extra! Read Allison Shoemaker’s full review here.

amazon button Top 25 Films of 2020


01. Lovers Rock

Steve McQueen's Lovers Rock Is Joyfully Intoxicating: Review

Lovers Rock (Amazon Prime)

Release Date: November 27th via Amazon Prime

Who’s in It? Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Michael Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Alexander James-Blake, Kadeem Ramsay

You Gotta See This! Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series has been nothing short of a miracle. In 2020, he gifted us with not one, not two, but five stupendous films of varied tone and length about the West Indian experience in London through the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. McQueen, a gifted structuralist, has a knack for staging tales of inequality with an elegant hand. And with the Small Axe films, McQueen still digs deep, now in a different key.

Yes, McQueen is still very much interested in the many forms of injustice that beset minority communities, but the Small Axe films afforded the filmmaker to explore lithe minutiae not normally seen in his body of work. These movies are hysterical and inhabited, in addition to socially-minded. And it works. Courtrooms and police lockups and awful academic administrations are put on the stand, yes. But in films like Alex Wheatle, he demonstrates the restorative powers of reggae and family meals. Education is about the racist doctrines of school systems, but still finds room for the pleasures and wise-assery of youth. And in the Axe pentalogy’s centerpiece effort, Lovers Rock, McQueen basks in the joys of hanging out, expressing yourself, and what it means to be a young person empowered by heritage.

Perhaps the power of Lovers Rock lies in its unabashedly sonic qualities. It’s a bottled expression of a special moment in 1980, let loose on the ears and vibrating right down to the heart. In the simplest terms, you could call this a grand party film or a nostalgia tale. But what makes Lovers Rock so special is the elevation of everything to an ethereal place. It’s in the loose Steadicam. The smiling, innocent, bombastic characters in their conquests and dance moves. The lingering racism at the edges, capably sidelined for one night of pleasure for a gang of young people. And the song choices (The Revolutionaries, Cry Tuff & The Originals, a barn-burning use of Janet Kay’s “Silly Games”) permanently stick. It’s a blast of joy, whittled down to fit within a jam-packed 70-minute frame. McQueen puts out the most inviting vibe imaginable, exploring memory banks to assemble an unmissable playlist of moments and music. And the parting feeling is elation. When’s the next party? What’s the next story?

Perhaps it’s this moment that makes this film feel like it inhabits such rarified air. The inability to gather in our own time makes watching a crowded dance party feel distant, but McQueen creates an atmosphere for onlookers to get off the wall and onto the floor. The proverb goes, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.” McQueen keeps that very much in mind in his stirring community anthology, and Lovers Rock is his most communally blessed effort of the bunch, the high note from a grand album. –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

amazon button Top 25 Films of 2020

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Top 25 Films of 2020